In the current moment it is not possible to consider trajectories of museums and nation-building in the Arabian Gulf without taking into account the ongoing diplomatic crisis, or blockade that began on 5th June 2017. On this date, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt abruptly closed their borders and cut diplomatic ties with Qatar amidst accusations that the small Gulf state supported terrorism, had become too close to Iran and was meddling with their own internal affairs.
When it comes to nation-building strategies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the role of religion, and particularly of sectarian differences, is difficult to ignore. In the below, we explore the ways in which Bahrain and Kuwait, two states with sizable Shiʾi populations and relatively active legislatures, formulate national narratives around these sectarian differences.
The outbreak of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis on 5th June 2017 led to dramatic polarization between United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain plus Egypt and, on the other hand, Qatar, due to Doha’s alternative foreign policy supporting Muslim Brothers’ political ideology, especially during the Arab spring revolts. On the other side of the GCC, Kuwait tries to multiply its mediator efforts and Oman has strengthened its commercial relations with Qatar to avoid its isolation.
The Gulf monarchies have been experiencing deep economic, social and generational changes; at the same time, open rivalries and subtle competitions are undermining the Arab Gulf (khaleeji) identity as a shared value. National history museums, art exhibitions, traditional festivals and military symbols are increasingly adopted by the governments as top-down tools of nation-building. What are the strategies to instil national awareness, and in which direction? How are concepts like citizenship, nationhood and belonging redefined in the post-oil era?
In December 2017, at the end of a bilateral meeting, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Sudanese counterpart Umar al-Bashir announced a deal to restore Suakin, a ruined Ottoman port town on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. The agreement also gave Turkey the right to build a naval dock to maintain civilian and military vessels. More than one year later there are doubts as to how much work Turkey will do beyond restoring the Ottoman town.
On 6 April the US temporarily pulled out its forces from Libya following the offensive on Tripoli launched by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar, a military operation that has plunged the North African country into a new phase of the civil war.
On April 14th the ‘National Conference’, a much-vaunted event in Libya’s political calendar and arguably over three years in the making, was due to begin. The brain child of the UN’s latest special-representative to the troubled country, Dr. Ghassan Salamé, it was designed to break the political stagnation entrenching since the last UN initiative the ‘Libyan Political Agreement’ (LPA) had been signed in 2015. The LPA birthed a transitional system of governance that was dead-on-delivery with rival institutions unwilling to cooperate.
While Turkey is on its way to consolidating the shift to a presidential system of government, the country is facing a number of domestic and foreign policy challenges. Domestically, the economic crisis is a major threat to stability. As Turkey headed for important local elections on March 31, the economy has officially entered its first recession in a decade after years of sustained growth.
On December 16th 2016, there was an unusual – even by the post-coup attempt standards – police presence near the Cagdas art centre in Ankara. It didn’t take me long to figure out what was going on. On that evening, Andrei Karlov, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, was shot by an off-duty Turkish police officer at a vernissage right there at the Cagdas centre. Even if there had been street protests over Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict in Ankara during the previous days, nobody could have ever anticipated such a tragic accident would occur.
Defining the nature of Turkish-US relations has become a challenge in itself. Although institutionalised and historical, these relations are suffering from an accumulated series of crises, an outdated framework, and diverging threat perceptions. A glimpse into the files on both countries’ agendas in recent years clearly confirms the nature of their relations.
Alliances and rivalries in the Middle East have become liquid. The proliferation of regional conflicts and a more acute sense of regime vulnerability across the region explain why realignments are more frequent and countries are able to ally on one particular front and be at odds on another one. In the past, alliances shifted but were far more consistent. Making sense of Turkey realignments is paramount to understand both the geopolitical shifts in the MENA region and tensions in transatlantic relations.
On 7 August 2011, the then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared the Syrian issue to be a ‘domestic affair’ for Turkey and that his country could not stay idle in the face of the political crisis in Syria. Almost eight years later, the Syrian crisis has indeed become an issue of Turkish domestic politics, albeit not in the way President Erdogan envisaged. At the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Turkey was seeking to project its power throughout the Middle East, seeing its immediate neighbourhood as Ankara’s hinterland.