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The Turbulent World with James M. Dorsey

News & Politics Podcasts

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.




Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.






Reforming Islam - How Many Ways To Crack An Egg - A Conversation With Andrew March.

Islamic Law is at the centre of debates about what constitutes moderate Islam and what it would take to reform Islam. Essentially two schools of thought dominate the discussion. Islam's traditional approach simply picks and chooses which elements of Sharia it opts to ignore. That is the approach adopted by autocratic rulers like Saudi Crown Prince Moham bin Salman and United Arab Emirates. President Mohamed bin Zayed. Indonesia's, Nahdlatul Ulama, the world's largest and most moderate civil society movement challenges the traditional approach. It insists that removal of outdated, obsolete, and supremacist concepts in Sharia is the only way to fortify Islam against religious and political extremism and promote political, social, and religious pluralism, religious tolerance, and democracy. My guest today, Andrew March, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor is an Islam scholar and author of several books published last month. Andrew's last book on Muslim democracy is a translation of essays by Rached Ghannouchi, a Tunisian politician, public intellectual, religious thinker, and founder of a political party that evolved from Islamism to Muslim democracy in many ways comparable to Christian democratic parties. The book is also a philosophical discussion between the two. Mr. Ghannouchi was named one of Time's 100 most influential people in the world in 2012 and Foreign Policy’s top 100 global thinkers. Eighty-two years old, Mr. Ghannouchi is the latest high- profile figure to have been arrested on charges of incitement against state authorities by the autocratic regime of President Kais Saied. Ghannouchi went on hunger strike this week. Ghannouchi is a middle ground figure in the debate about what constitutes moderate Islam and how to reform the faith. Reform of Sharia may be one step too far for him. Yet, his evolution from Islamism or political Islam to Muslim democracy positions him as a democratic reformer. It raises the question of whether Mr. Ghannouchi and his Ennahda Party are models for groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or the exception that confirms the rule that political Islam is inflexible, rigid, and opposed to moderate interpretations of Islam and a threat to secularism. Andrew March joins me to discuss all of this.


Saudi - Israeli Deal Would Be A Gamechanger But Not For The Reasons Discussed

A Saudi-Israeli agreement to establish diplomatic relations involving enhanced US commitments to Gulf security could be a game-changer for great power rivalry in the Middle East.


Keeping Saudi Ultra - Conservatism Alive And Kicking Meet Sheikh Awesome

Meet Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem, aka Sheikh Awesome, a multilingual, ultra-conservative, and charismatic Saudi cleric. Mr. Al-Hakeem is more than just any Saudi Islamic scholar. An erstwhile Friday prayer imam of a mosque in Jeddah, Mr. Al-Hakeem articulates views that at times align with those of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman but, at others, contradict the recasting of Saudi Arabia’s religious image projected by the kingdom’s de facto ruler.


The Global Enduring Disorder A Conversation With Jason Pack

It's a no-brainer to suggest that we live in an increasingly polarised world. Geopolitics are polarised, so are societies. Polarisation marks the transition from a unipolar world dominated by the United States to a bipolar world with China, or more likely a tripolar world that includes India, in which middle powers assert themselves more forcibly. The polarisation is fueled by populism and civilizationalism, led by men with little regard for international law or rules of the game that would limit their freedom of action. To be fair, adherents of the rule of law also ignore international law when convenient. The result is a breakdown in conflict prevention mechanisms; the US toppling of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, despite foreseeable disastrous consequences; Russia's invasion of Ukraine; and rising racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and distrust and hostility towards the other as it manifests itself in anti-migrant sentiment. Polarisation is also driven by a clash between liberal and conservative values in which both sides attempt to impose their definitions of all kinds of rights. Jason Pack, my guest today, argues the coherent management of the world order has been replaced by what he calls the Global Enduring Disorder. Jason suggests that conventional geopolitical theories fail to explain a world in which many states no longer rationally pursue their long-term interests. A Middle East expert focused on Libya, Jason is the host of the Enduring Disorder Podcast out now with Goal Hanger Podcasts, a senior analyst for emerging challenges at the NATO college in Rome, and the author of Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder published in 2021 by Oxford University Press.


Confusion And Uncertainty Shape Debate About US Gulf Policy

Debates about the US commitment to Gulf security are skewed by confusion, miscommunication, and contradictory policies.


Libyan Floods And Fault Lines A Conversation With Ethan Chorin

Libya has figured prominently in recent headlines. These days, it's floods that have devastated Eastern Libya and killed more than 5000 people, days after a catastrophic earthquake rocked Morocco like much else. Some 10,000 people are missing. The floods could not have occurred at a worse moment for Haftar. The short-lived mutiny in June by the Wagner Group has cast a shadow over Russian backing for the rebel leader. Add to this, recent protests following a controversial meeting in Rome between the foreign ministers of Libya and Israel, raised the spectre of a disconnect between Middle East and governments and public opinion. Overall, Libya may not be the most influential player in the Middle East, but the impact of what happens in Libya resonates across the region and beyond frequently impacting the domestic policies of countries like the United States, France and Italy. My guest today, Ethan Chorin, notes that Libya, if ignored, “may be marginal for policy formation, but it's poisonous when neglected.” A former US diplomat, who served in Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East East, Ethan skipped a dinner a decade ago with US Ambassador Christopher Stevens at the US Consulate in Benghazi. Mr. Stevens and three other Americans were killed that night in an attack by Islamic militants on the consulate.


Gulf Sports Diplomacy Could Enter Choppy Waters

Storm clouds may be gathering, potentially casting a shadow over Saudi Arabia's shock-and-awe sports buying spree and complicating the geopolitical and geoeconomic sports strategies of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.


The Indonesian Presidential Election Produces An Unexpected Twist

An unexpected twist in the run-up to next year’s Indonesian presidential election puts Centrist Democratic International (CDI), the world’s largest alliance of conservative political parties, and Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest and most moderate Muslim civil society movement, in a bind.


Arab Winter What Arab Winter

Protesters in Syria, Bahrain, Libya, Iran, and Israel are dashing autocratic and authoritarian hopes of a prolonged winter.


The Politics Of Middle East Sports - Karim Zidan 28082023

Gulf States like Saudi Arabia and Qatar dominate sports headlines, particularly when it comes to football and golf. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's sports ambitions seem to know no limits. He's paying unprecedented sums of money to hire many of the world's top players, like Christiano Ronaldo and Neymar, in a bid to turn the Saudi Pro League into one of the world's top soccer competitions. Most recently, Saudi Arabia set eyes on Egyptian born top Liverpool player, Mohamed Saleh. The buying spree follows the controversial acquisition in 2021 of Newcastle United by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund. Moreover, Mr. Bin Salman has muscled his way into golf with the merger of PGA Tour, the organiser of the sports top events, and the Saudi backed upstart, Live Gulf. Not to be left behind, a member of the Qatari ruling family is bidding $9 billion to acquire Manchester United. If the sale goes through, it would turn the Manchester Derby into a dual between the Gulf State and the United Arab Emirates, long, a critic of Guty policies and the owner of Manchester City. All of this raises a host of questions. Why are Gulf States willing to invest huge amounts in sports? Will Gulf money change sports like football? Should states be allowed to control sports clubs or are they vital parts of civil society that should be shielded from encroachment by the state? Should democracies make human rights a qualifying condition for club ownership would to do so be hypocritical at a time that European and US adherence to human rights is backsliding. To discuss this and much more, I'm joined by Kareem Zidan, an acclaimed journalist whose Sports Politika Substack column covers the nexus of sports, politics and society.


Spain’s La Liga Challenges Gulf States’ Business Model

Saudi Arabia’s stunning sports acquisition blitz, alongside Qatari and Emirati European club purchases, may reshape the beautiful game, just not in ways Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Gulf rulers like Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani envisioned.


Middle East Sports Go Global With Politics In Tow

A potential sale of storied soccer club Manchester United to a member of Qatar's ruling family could take the Manchester derby to new heights.


Saudi Arabia And Israel Put A High US Price Tag On Diplomatic Relations

It’s not just Saudi Arabia that puts a high US price on diplomatic relations with Israel. So does Israel.


Arab Youth Seek Certainty In Religion And Tradition

A just-published survey suggests Arab youth are returning to traditional values. The survey contrasts starkly with another, only partially released poll, in which a growing number favour religious reform.


NU Indosphere

An Indonesian push for a Southeast Asian return to values rooted in an ancient Indo civilisation amounts to an innovative attempt to manage polarisation.


Saudi Soccer A Game Of Geopolitics And Religion, Not Just Sports

Saudi Arabia's soccer player buying spree is about more than sports and the diversification of the kingdom's economy. It’s also about geopolitics and religion for Saudi Arabia and, at least, some of the world’s top players moving to the kingdom.


The UAE The Middle East’s Teflon Nation

The United Arab Emirates resembles US ‘Teflon President’ Ronald Reagan.


A Saudi Pastime Poking The United States In The Eye

Poking the United States in the eye appears to be a Saudi pastime. In the latest incident, Saudi Arabia detained five relatives of a US resident whose family in 2020 filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania against the Saudi government in a long-standing commercial dispute involving an oil refinery on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, according to human rights groups.


Bin Salman Toys With Religious Reform

For Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, religious reform has long been a question of when rather than if. Mr. Bin Salman’s potential embrace of religious, not just social and economic reform, could have far-reaching consequences for the role of religion in Saudi Arabia and religious soft power rivalry in the Muslim world.


Indian Pundits Rally In Support Of Europe's Anti - Migrant Sentimen

Indian politicians and commentators have rallied in defense of anti-migrant sentiment in Europe to forge alliances and undercut criticism of Hindu nationalism that targets minorities, foremost Muslims.