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For Saudi Arabia, BeoutQ row is a colossal own goal

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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

Escalation of violence in Jerusalem

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Image source: protothema.gr

According to some analysts, a clause of the Emirates-Bahrain and Israel agreements opens the door to the prayers of Jews in the sacred place

On the afternoon of May 10, the Al-Qassem brigade in Gaza gave an ultimatum to the Israeli occupiers to leave the Al-Aqsa complex and release the prisoners. An hour later, missiles were fired from Gaza towards Jerusalem. An anti-tank missile was fired at an Israeli army jeep near the Gaza border. Subsequently, other volleys of missiles were fired by other resistance groups at targets near Gaza.

The Israeli military canceled the start of a large-scale maneuver it had planned to carry out over the next 30 days. That move was seen as a preparation for an all-out attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon. Yesterday Hezbollah announced a general mobilization of its forces to deter a potential surprise attack. Israeli troops are now on alert for potential escalation within Israel and Gaza. After four elections, Israel still does not have a new government. Prime Minister Netanyahu is on trial for corruption. A broader war that can turn into a victory could help him avoid judgment and get votes in the next election. According to Jewish tradition, the ancient Jewish temple was located exactly where the Al-Aqsa mosque is now located. The Zionist movement aspires to rebuild the third temple, but in order to do so they must first remove the mosque.

According to an investigation by Terrestrial Jerusalem (TJ) an Israeli non-governmental organization, the claims contained in the normalization agreements between the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Israel (known as the “Abraham Accords”) mark a “radical change. status quo ”and have“ far-reaching and potentially explosive consequences ”. The violence that is taking place these days depends on those agreements.

According to the status quo established in 1967, only Muslims are allowed to pray on al-Haram al-Sharif [the Noble Shrine in Arabic, i.e. the Temple Mount], Temple Mount, according to the Jews, also known as the Al mosque complex Al-Aqsa. Non-Muslims can visit the site, but not pray. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, confirmed this status quo in a formal statement in 2015. However, a clause included in the recent agreements between Israel and the Gulf states indicates that this may no longer be the case. According to the joint statement between the US, Israel and the UAE issued on August 13, 2020, by US President Donald Trump: “As set forth in the Vision for Peace, all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque, and Jerusalem’s other holy sites should remain open for peaceful worshippers of all faiths”.

But Israel defines Al-Aqsa as a ‘mosque structure’, as in the statement, clarifies TJ’s report: “…according to Israel (and apparently to the United States), anything on the Mount that is not the structure of the mosque is defined as ‘one of Jerusalem’s other holy sites’, and open to prayer by all–including Jews”, says the statement.

Consequently, thischoice of terminology is neither random nor a misstep, and cannotseen as anything but an intentional, albeit surreptitiousattemptto leavethe door wide open to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, thereby radically changing the status quo”.

The same statement was repeated in the agreement with Bahrain.Palestinians have long been concerned about possible attempts to partition the holy mosque, as happened with the Ibrahimi mosque [Tomb of the Patriarchs for Jews] in Hebron.

A Temple Movement has developed over the years, consisting largely of “far-right nationalist religious Jews seeking to change the status quo” reports TJ. Some ask for prayer for the Jews inside the sacred complex, while others aim to build the Third Temple on the ruins of the Dome of the Rock which, according to Messianic prophecies, would announce the coming of the Messiah.

Over the years, the Israeli NGO Ir Amim has published numerous reports of this once marginal group, but which is now part of a dominant political and religious trend and enjoys close ties with the Israeli authorities.

These activists believe that allowing Jews to pray as a whole and divide the sacred site between Muslims and Jews is a step towards sovereignty, to one day achieve their ultimate goal, the construction of the temple.

A more brazen statement was included in the “deal of the century”, the plan for the Middle East unveiled in late January 2020 by Trump and Netanyahu in the White House.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, was the most prominent person working on the proposal, while Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, was credited with formulating the agreement.

The plan stipulates that “the status quo of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif should remain unaffected”, but the next sentence also says that “people of all faiths can pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif”.

The clause caused controversy and prompted David Friedman, US Ambassador to Israel, to retrace his steps during his press meeting on January 28, 2020. “There is nothing in the plan that would impose any alteration of the status quo that is not subject to agreement of all the parties”, he said.

Friedman’s quick retraction of the sentence contained in Trump’s plan attests that Dermer probably inserted it and that Kushner did not understand it. The fact that it was Friedman who retracted and not the White House also means that the language of Trump’s plan is still official and decisive when it comes down to it.

The normalization agreements come after the Israeli authorities installed loudspeakers on the east and west sides of the Al-Aqsa complex without the permission of the Waqf (Islamic institution).

The sacred complex is administered by the Islamic Waqf based in Jordan. According to the status quo, Israel is only responsible for security outside the gates. In his report, TJ notes that the agreement does not mention the Waqf and its autonomous role.

Meanwhile, Israel has killed 20 Palestinians in Gaza and injured hundreds in Jerusalem as tensions in Al-Aqsa flare up.

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Middle East

Attack On Jerusalem – Where Is The International System?

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Since mid-20th century the conflict has been referred to as the ‘most intractable conflict’ in the world with the ongoing Israeli occupation. For more than about 54 years the international system has failed to settle this dispute and the two countries did not reach a peace agreement. In past, the Israeli Government had restricted the Palestinians and have been involved in many illicit activities violating human rights. Palestinians remain subject to Israeli military occupation and the recent attack on Masjid Al-Aqsa is strong evidence of this fact. Tensions in Jerusalem and West Bank accelerated during the Holy month of Ramadan including evictions of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.  

The third holiest site for the Muslim community, Temple Mount also known as Masjid Al-Aqsa, located in the city of Jerusalem has been attacked by the Israel forces on the Holy night of Laylat al-Qadar and again after two days in the morning. The incident has been brought forward by the media in several ways calling it an attack conflict or clash. The Israeli police forces stormed hundreds of Palestinians during prayer time. The unrest resulted as cops entered the compound, creating an atmosphere of fear echoes of prayer together with the noise of stun grenades and fires. More than 200 Muslims offering prayer have been targeted and hit by rubber bullets and a score of attackers themselves were wounded. When the prayer zone was turned into a battlefield, the loudspeakers of the mosque called for peace and calm.

“Police must immediately stop firing stun grenades at worshippers, and the youth must calm down and be quiet!”

Violation of Human Rights pushed Palestine to demand a session of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas “held (Israel) responsible for the dangerous developments and sinful attacks taking place in the holy city.” Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law have been violated many times and now the international community is no more silent about it. Whatever is happening in East Jerusalem its occupation,  has no legitimate claims. UNSC has asked Israel to withdraw many times and has passed a number of resolutions demanding this. The United Nations has asked Israel to cancel any forced evictions in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, warning that its activities could add up to “war crimes“. Moreover, Israel has no legal claim on the city but is still carrying out an ethnic cleansing campaign in East Jerusalem. The most recent example includes the eviction of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah.

Once again many statements have been given by the international community condemning the actions not finding the solution to end this. Muslim countries united joining hands in hands with their Muslim brothers and sisters. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, UAE gave their stance against Israeli actions and made it crystal clear that such actions cannot be tolerated at any cost. Moreover, European Union (EU) and United States (US) also expressed their concerns about violence.

The atrocities of Israeli police forces have now met the definitions of apartheid and persecution as stated by the report of Human Rights Watch (HRW); “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution” released in April. This includes the crime against humanity in the region of Ghaza Strip, West Bank, and Israel. This well-researched report however has very little impact on the bilateral relations between Palestine and Israel. It states that a system of systematic oppression and racial domination with a claim over land and demographics is what Israel intends to have. Israel’s foreign minister claimed it to be an ‘anti-Israel agenda’ being both false and preposterous.

Blockade of Ghaza strip and freedom movement limitations further poses a serious threat to the population during the COVID-19 pandemic, making it more vulnerable. The firing by Islamic Jihad and its counter-attack, airstrikes against Ghaza and Hisbullah, demolitions, forcible transfers, violation of international law, discrimination, and use of force are all factors that aided the current situation between the two countries. Lack of access to health care units, feeling of fear and terror everywhere, insecure atmosphere all poses a serious question; “Where does the international system stand?”

With each escalation, all that comes forward is another resolution by UNSC for Israel to withdraw, statements from various states condemning the situation, and wait for another incident. While considering the Israel-Palestine conflict one might comprehend this issue as a failure of the international system to maintain peace. Many predictions and solutions have been brought forward by analysts and researchers each with some evidence supporting their stance. However thinking about a solution and solving the problem in actual seem to be two opposite poles of a magnet, but definitely not attracting one another.

For negotiations and peace agreements, the two states need to share a common vision which seems to be very unlikely to happen. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories seems to end only by establishing a relationship between the two that involves a feeling of trust and security for other states. For this, the political arrangement should be right with adequate involvement of International Organizations such as the UN. Boarder modifications and acceptance for two-state solution tend to develop the ideal conditions for this relationship.

Thus reality points in a different direction and this raises a question to the international system. Where is the international law securing the lives and freedom of people in East Jerusalem? Where is the UN Charter providing education, health, and other facilities to the people of Gaza? Where are the efforts of great powers such US, China, Russia to safeguard and secure the local citizens and maintenance of peace? Where are the rights of citizens during occupation under Geneva Convention? Where is the role of International Organizations while considering this dispute? And last but not least where the answer to all these questions is.

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Middle East

Saudi Arabia and Iran cold war

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After almost seven decades, the cold war has reached the middle east, turning into a religious war of words and diplomacy. As Winston Churchill says that “diplomacy is an art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they ask for the direction”. So, both the regional powers are trying to pursue a policy of subduing the adversary in a diplomatic manner. The root of the conflict lies in the 1979, Iranian revolution, which saw the toppling of the pro-western monarch shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and replaced by the so-called supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. From a Yemini missile attack to the assassination of the supreme commander QassimSoleimani, the political, ideological and religious differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia are taking the path of confrontation. The perennial rivalry between the two dominant Shiite and Sunni power house ins an ideological and religious one rather than being geo strategic or geo political. Back to the time when Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussain against the united states of Americathe decline of Saddam and his authoritarian regime was made inevitable and with this, Iran and Saudi Arabia rosed as the powerful, strategic and dominant political forces in the middle east.it was from here that the quest for supremacy to be the prepotent and commanding political powercommenced. The tensions escalated or in other words almost tended to turn into scuffles when in 2016, the Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy as a demonstration of the killing of a Shia cleric. The diplomatic ties were broken and chaos and uncertainty prevailed.

This cold war also resembles the original one., because it is also fueled by a blend of ideological conviction and brute power politics but at the same time unlike the original cold war, the middle eastern cold war is multi-dimensional and is more likely to escalate .it is more volatile and thus more prone to transformation. This followed by several incidents with each trying to isolate the other in international relations. The Saudis and Iranians have been waging proxy wars for regional dominance for decades. Yemen and Syria are the two battlegrounds, fueling the Iran-Saudi tensions. Iran has been accused of providing military assistance to the rebel Houthis, which targets the Saudi territory. It is also accused of attacking the world naval ships in the strait of Hormoz, something Iran strongly denies.  This rivalry has dragged the region into chaos and ignited Shia-Sunni conflict across the middle east. The violence in the middle east due to this perennial hostility has also dire consequences for the economy of the war-torn nations. In the midst of the global pandemic, when all the economic activities are at halt, the tensions between the two arch rivals will prove hazardous and will yield catastrophic results. The blockade of the shipping and navigation in the Gulf, attacks on international ships, and the rising concerns of the western powers regarding this issue has left Iran as an isolated country with only Russia supporting her.

A direct military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have dire consequences for the neighboringcountries. A direct military confrontation might not be a planned one, but it will be fueled due to the intervention of the other key partners, who seek to sought and serve their personal and national intrigues. Most importantly middle east cannot afford a conflict as it is a commercial hub for the world. The recent skirmishes in Iraq sparked fears of wider war when Iraq retaliated for killings of QassimSoleimani. If the US president had not extended an olive branch, the situation might have worsened. The OIC, which is a coalition of 57 Muslim countries has also failed in bringing measures to deescalate the growing tensions. The OIC, where the Saudi Arabia enjoys an authoritarian style of dominance has always tried to empower her own ideology while rising the catch cry of being a sacred country to all the Muslims. Taking in account, the high tensions and ideological and the quest for religious dominance, the international communities such as UN and neighboring countries should play a positiveand vital role in deescalating these tensions. Bilateral trade, communications between the two adversaries with a regional power playing the role of mediator and extending an olive branch to each other will yield better results and will prove fruitful in mitigating the conflict if not totally subverting it.

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