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Saudi-UAE: Despite turmoil geopolitical goals remain steadfast

The Middle East’s most meaningful alliance between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is currently being tested by economic aspirations, however, both sides continue to share geopolitical agendas.

The relationship between UAE and Saudi Arabia is based not merely on the friendship of their respective rulers, but also on a long-lasting alliance that has survived various crises over the years. But one constant theme has always remained omnipresent.

Traditionally, Saudi Arabia and the UAE share similar geopolitical and foreign policy interests, Yasmina Abouzzohour, visiting fellow at Brookings Institution, told Al Jazeera.

“During the 2011 [Arab Spring] uprisings, neither favoured revolutionary movements across the region. They also perceive Iran as a threat to traditional monarchism and Sunni regimes in the region, and both have had tense relations with Turkey,” said Abouzzohour.

Both sides sometimes adopted slightly or moderately different stances on various issues, such as the war in Yemen, the Syrian war, and normalisation with Israel, she said.

In recent years, however, the partnership has gradually turned into a competition. The recent oil dispute is just a final symptom of the fracture, said Abbouzzohour.

“Riyadh had decided in February of this year to only award state contracts to companies based in the kingdom. This challenged Dubai’s role as the region’s financial hub.”

‘Competing for investment’

Disagreements over economic aspirations are likely to continue to play a pivotal role in their respective agendas, said Abbouzzohour.

“Given their similar economic goals, Saudi Arabia and the UAE may clash as they attempt to diversify their economies away from hydrocarbons by developing similar sectors [such as tourism, financial services, and technology], thereby competing for expertise and investment.”

These developments mark a significant change, considering Saudi’s de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) and the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) acted as the Middle East’s new leadership duo.

The cause of the current rift, however, is more profound than mere economics, analysts say.

In the past two years, the liaison between MBS and MBZ has increasingly cracked. Initially, both went to war against the Iran-aligned Houthi militia in Yemen in 2015, and lobbied the United States against the Iran nuclear deal.

Both also imposed an economic blockade on Qatar, which they considered too friendly to Iran, too kind to the Palestinian Hamas movement, and too close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The UAE ceased its fight against the Houthi rebels in the north of Yemen in the summer of 2019 and concentrated only on supporting the separatists in the south. In doing so, Abu Dhabi essentially abandoned Saudi Arabia, whose greatest fear remains a Houthi state on its southern border.

“Although they collaborated closely in many areas such as Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, they were not always fully synchronised. They shared major visions, but when it came to operationalising those ideas, they differed,” Afshin Shahi, senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Bradford, told Al Jazeera.

In Yemen, in particular, one witnessed how quickly their partnership turned into competition when UAE carried out air attacks against government forces in south Yemen to support their southern separatist allies, Shahi said.

‘Strongly invested’

In August 2020, the UAE normalised its relations with Israel, essentially undermining the Saudi peace offer for the Middle East conflict – recognition of Israel in return for a Palestinian state.

The UAE’s embrace of the Israelis resulted from a long process that was carefully thought through and calibrated, James Worrall, associate professor in international relations and Middle East studies, told Al Jazeera.

The relationship that has emerged so openly has been extensive and far from the half-hearted “cold peace” with Egypt and Jordan, he said.

“This is a strategic partnership which offers both countries a great deal and has been strongly invested in. Much political capital has been gambled, and thus it is highly unlikely that the Saudis have not been consulted extensively.”

The UAE recognition of Israel and its engagement clearly brings multiple benefits for Riyadh, said Worrall.

Nonetheless, most recently the Saudi-UAE rift was further exacerbated when the kingdom decided it would exclude imports from “free zones”, or those linked to Israel, from a preferential tariff agreement with neighbouring Gulf Arab countries.

Essentially, what the Saudis have done is to alter their laws – given their lack of recognition of Israel and continuing boycott of Israeli goods – to ensure that goods produced by Israeli companies in the Emirates do not benefit from preferential tariff agreements that the kingdom has with the UAE, said Worrall.

The rationale behind it is apparent.

“It would be difficult for Riyadh’s legitimacy at home for it to see a flood of products made by Israeli-owned companies on its shelves,” he said.

‘Return to the norm’

In view of these developments, the question now is how the relationship between the two Gulf powers will unfold geopolitically in the region.

“What we see now – and indeed have been seeing for a few years in terms of differing priorities and approaches within the Yemen quagmire – is more of a return to the norm of not only Saudi-Emirati relations, but also of how Gulf states interact more generally,” said Worrall.

All GCC states seek to manage complex relationships with Riyadh and deploy multiple tools to maintain a degree of independence of action, he noted.

“Saudi Arabia is a dominant actor, but none of the five other GCC member states can afford to have Riyadh being too dominant and overbearing. This necessitates strategies of hedging, bandwagoning, and balancing,” Worrall said.

While the events of recent weeks – especially in terms of more public disunity between the UAE and Saudi Arabia than is typical in the context of OPEC+ and specific Saudi moves to challenge the dominance of the UAE, especially Dubai as a regional hub – are not insurmountable issues, it is always going to be a challenge in the Gulf because of the similarities of various strategies and vision documents for economic diversification and reform.

The core concerns of both sides – namely containing Iran, countering the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, dealing with “terrorist” threats, and cooperating to preserve dynastic rule in the region – “all remain exactly the same”, Worrall concluded.

The divergence in a range of policies between Abu Dhabi and Riyadh has its roots both in the international environment – especially the arrival of the Biden administration – and in the evolving dynamics within the region, which are seen differently by the leaderships in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Gerd Nonneman, professor of international relations and Gulf studies at Georgetown University-Qatar, told Al Jazeera.

Firstly, Iran does not hold the same priority for both sides, Nonneman noted.

“While both remain distrustful of the Iranian regime, Riyadh has judged it both necessary and feasible to figure out a modus vivendi with Tehran, while for Abu Dhabi the most important threat was always the Muslim Brotherhood and those aligned with or sympathetic to it.”

Within the UAE, there has been constant pressure from Dubai against the all-out anti-Iranian policy that prevailed for some time, based on the Emirate’s significant commercial interests in trade with Iran, and the large Iranian and Iranian-origin community in Dubai, Nonneman said.

‘Forced to go along’

Then there is the ongoing uncertainty regarding Gulf neighbour Qatar.

“On Qatar, the Saudi judgement was that the boycott had been a failure and was not worth continuing in the face of US opposition. MBZ has been more resistant to adjusting his stance but was in effect forced to go along as remaining the sole holdout was pointless, especially also under US disapproval,” said Nonneman.

Last but not least, the Yemen war and the UAE’s strategic realignment also play a significant factor.

“The divergence in Yemen policy, too, long predates the current partial rift between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi – with the latter having judged some time ago that the military operation in the middle and north was failing and was unwinnable. Whereas they decided they could more effectively shape the situation in the south, without a massive boots-on-the-ground presence,” Nonneman said.

While the UAE did add to the elements of friction with Saudi Arabia, it has not fundamentally changed attitudes towards the questions of Iran, Yemen or Qatar.

“Shifts in policy towards Iran have been a cause, not a symptom, of the evolving divergence between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Saudi attempts to achieve a modus vivendi with Iran will continue, and Abu Dhabi, too, will continue to look to achieve a pragmatic arrangement with Tehran,” Nonneman said.

As to the effect of the current friction on the war in Yemen, Nonneman sees little change moving forward, either.

“The divergence between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in that theatre will remain as it already was.”

As for Qatar, the question of reconciliation will be no different from that of the earlier divergence between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi since the beginning of 2021.

“Abu Dhabi will quite likely continue to drag its feet and continue to needle Qatar, including by media and lobbying campaigns, but will not formally go against the Al-Ula agreement,” said Nonneman.

“Now as before, it remains pointless and likely counterproductive to try and reestablish elements of the [Qatar] boycott on its own.”

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This post originally posted here Al Jazeera – Breaking News, World News and Video from Al Jazeera

Britney Spears conservatorship case back in court amid turmoil

Three weeks after Britney Spears’ dramatic comments in court condemning the conservatorship, a judge and others will convene for a hearing.

LOS ANGELES — Three weeks after Britney Spears’ dramatic comments in court condemning the conservatorship that has controlled her life for 13 years, a Los Angeles judge and others with legal power over the pop star will convene for a hearing Wednesday to deal with the aftermath.

Spears’ remarks led to the resignation of her court-appointed lawyer, the withdrawal of an estate-management company that was supposed to oversee her finances, and a volley of accusations between her father and a professional conservator over who’s to blame for the legal circumstances Spears said are “abusive” and need to end.

Spears is not expected to speak again at the afternoon hearing, in which all the parties are expected to take part remotely, but she may weigh in as she seeks to hire a lawyer of her choice.

At the June 23 hearing, her first public words in court on the matter, Spears said she was being forced to take medication and use an intrauterine device for birth control, said she was not allowed to marry her boyfriend, and said she wanted to own her own money.

“I just want my life back,” Spears said.

She was harshly critical of her father, who serves as conservator of her finances, and had more measured criticism for Jodi Montgomery, the court-appointed professional who serves as conservator of her person, overseeing her life choices.

James Spears said in a legal filing that the court needs to investigate the allegations and Montgomery’s role, pointing out that his daughter’s personal life has been beyond his control since he resigned as conservator of her person in 2019, a role he played for 11 years. He opposed Montgomery’s request for money to hire security because of recent death threats, saying he has been subjected to similar threats for years.

Montgomery denied that Britney Spears was prevented from marrying or forced to use birth control. She lashed back at James Spears, saying that Britney Spears has expressed no desire to oust her as she has with her father.

Montgomery said she is committed to staying on the job and is putting a care plan in place to help end the conservatorship, something she said James Spears has expressed no desire to do.

“Mr. Spears, as the Conservator of the Estate, and Ms. Montgomery, as the Conservator of the Person, should be working as a team to ensure that Ms. Spears’ best interest are being met, that she is on a path to recovery and termination of her conservatorship, and that she is living her best life possible,” Montgomery said in a court filing. “Instead, Mr. Spears has decided it is time to start the finger-pointing and media attacks … The mud-slinging by Mr. Spears and his new ‘It wasn’t me!’ strategy — after being her sole or co-conservator for more than 13 years — leaves Ms. Montgomery no other choice but to defend herself.”

Despite nearly two years on the job, Montgomery’s status is still technically temporary. She appeared to be on track for permanent appointment before recent events.

Britney Spears will still be represented at Wednesday’s hearing by her longtime court-appointed lawyer, Samuel Ingham III, who filed documents last week saying he resigned, effective as soon as she got a new attorney, which at the June hearing she said she wanted.

The Bessemer Trust, a financial company that Spears had sought as a replacement for her father last year but was instead appointed to work alongside him, also withdrew from the conservatorship last week, saying it no longer wanted to take part in a legal arrangement that she didn’t want.

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This post originally posted here CBS8 – Entertainment

How the Assassination of Haiti’s President Follows Years of Turmoil

The country freed by slaves from French colonial overlords more than 200 years ago has struggled with a legacy of corruption, violence and political paralysis.

The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti in a brazen attack at his private residence on Wednesday compounded the Caribbean nation’s turmoil and deepened fears of more widespread political violence.

The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, said the president had been “cowardly assassinated,” called on the country to “stay calm,” and sought to reassure Haitians and the world that the police and army were controlling the situation.

But Mr. Joseph’s words did little to blunt concerns of possible chaos.

“There is no more Parliament, the Senate is missing for a long time, there’s no president of the Court of Cassation,” said Didier Le Bret, a former French ambassador to Haiti, adding of Mr. Joseph: “Everything will rest on him.”

A history of political violence.

How the Assassination of Haiti's President Follows Years of Turmoil
Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press

The assassination of Mr. Moïse is the culmination of years of instability in the country, which has long been seized by lawlessness and violence. Haiti, once a slave colony notorious for the brutality of its masters, won independence from France after slaves revolted and defeated Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces in 1803. But in the two centuries since, Haiti has struggled to emerge from cycles of dictatorships and coups that have kept the country impoverished and struggling to deliver basic services to many of its people.

For two decades, the country suffered under the dictatorship of François Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, and then his son, Jean-Claude, known as Baby Doc. A priest from a poor area, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, became the first democratically elected president in 1990. But in less than a year, he was deposed in a coup, then returned to power in 1994 with the help of thousands of American troops.

Mr. Aristide was re-elected in 2000, but forced out again after another armed uprising and went into exile. He has called it a “kidnapping” orchestrated by international actors, including the American and French governments.

Earthquake, cholera, corruption.

Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

When a devastating earthquake flattened much of the country in 2010, the disaster was seen as an opportunity to resuscitate battered infrastructure and start fresh, by shoring up the government’s own capacity to rebuild. More than $ 9 billion in humanitarian assistance and donations poured in, buttressed by an additional estimated $ 2 billion-worth of cheap oil supplies and loans from the then-powerful ally Venezuela. International aid organizations rushed to help manage the recovery.

But the money did not set Haiti on a new path — and many experts believe the country is worse off since the reconstruction began. A cholera outbreak soon after the quake that killed at least 10,000 Haitians was linked to the arrival of infected peacekeepers from the United Nations, which only admitted involvement years later but denied legal responsibility, shielded by international treaties granting the organization diplomatic immunity.

Michel Martelly, a one-time popular singer who became president in 2011, was accused of widespread corruption and mismanaging funds intended for reconstruction.

Reports by Haitian court-appointed auditors revealed in lengthy detail that much of the $ 2 billion lent to the country by Venezuela was embezzled or wasted over eight years. Before he entered politics, President Moïse, then a little-known fruit exporter, was implicated in one of the reports for his involvement in a scheme to siphon off funds intended for road repairs.

Fed-up Haitians take to the streets.

Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

In the years that followed, persistent economic malaise, rising crime and corruption led to protests by Haitians fed up with their government and demanding Mr. Martelly’s resignation. But he held onto power and after one term tapped Mr. Moïse to succeed him in 2015 elections.

Mr. Moïse’s bid for power was marred from the beginning. His campaign was accused of fraud and corruption and he took power 14 months after voters went to the polls, after an electoral tribunal found no evidence of widespread electoral irregularities. He took office in 2017 facing an indictment for graft related to Venezuelan aid.

Over the next several years, Mr. Moïse used his control of the judicial system to dismiss the charges and undermine the opposition, which never accepted his electoral victory. The result was an increasingly paralyzed government that became gridlocked completely in early 2020, just as the country faced the coronavirus pandemic.

A leadership crisis, power vacuum, and Covid-19.

Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press

A disagreement between Mr. Moïse and the opposition about the start of his presidential term spiraled into a full political crisis, leaving the country without a parliament or a new election date. As the crisis dragged on, Mr. Moïse began governing by unpopular decrees, further undermining his government’s legitimacy. Protests against his rule accelerated.

The political gridlock severely undermined the country’s already weak health care system as coronavirus cases spread. Haiti remains the only country in Western Hemisphere to not receive any Covid-19 vaccines as it now struggles to deal with the latest spike in infections. Although official coronavirus deaths remain relatively low because of limited testing, aid workers have said the hospitals are overwhelmed.

Criminal gangs and a reign of terror.

Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press

Haiti’s power vacuum has been increasingly filled with the leaders of organized crime, who have taken over parts of the capital over the past year, instilling a reign of terror. Kidnappings, lootings and gang-associated violence have made parts of the country ungovernable, leaving many Haitians fearful to even leave their homes and forcing some aid organizations, on which many in the country depend for survival, to curtail activities.

Rights organizations have linked a surge in gang violence to the country’s political deadlock, accusing prominent politicians of working with organized crime to intimidate opponents and settle scores in the absence of a functioning government.

Last month, one of Haiti’s most prominent gang leaders publicly declared a war against the country’s traditional elites, calling on citizens to raid established businesses.

“It is your money which is in banks, stores, supermarkets and dealerships,” the gang leader, Jimmy Cherizier, better known by his alias Barbecue, said in a video message on social media. “Go and get what is rightfully yours.”

Harold Isaac contributed reporting.

Author: Natalie Kitroeff and Anatoly Kurmanaev
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One Direction: Harry Styles fan fiction twist leaves readers in turmoil – 'Losing my mind'

One Direction fans have been writing fan fiction about the five members of the band for years. One of the most popular fanfics being released at the moment is titled Duplicity, hosted on WattPad. It centres around a young woman, Aven Brooks, who has been hired to take photos for a world-renown punk band called Duplicity. One of the band’s members is named Harry Styles.

For the past 89 chapters, the fanfic has followed Aven trying to figure out the dark mystery surrounding Harry and his past.

She, and readers, have spent a lot of time theorising over what the international superstar is hiding, ranging from mafia involvement and secret pregnancies.

However, the truth came out in the most recent chapter when Aven uncovered the death of a family in Washington.

She took the theory to Harry, asking him if that was his real name.

READ MORE: One Direction Zayn Malik: ‘I didn’t make any friends from the band’

The fanfic revealed Harry’s real name all along was Sebastian and his family died in Washington in a terrible fire.

The character used this event to fake his death and start anew with a fresh identity, Harry Styles.

Sebastian also revealed he was American, not British.

Fans have become furious by this reveal, after realising they weren’t ever reading One Direction fanfic at all, but regular fiction.

Wattpad hosted the first draft of 2014 novel After, which followed another fictional version of the band member.

Instead of being named Harry Styles in the book, however, his name was Hardin Scott.

The novel was subsequently made into a movie with the same name and released in 2019.

The film starred Josephine Langford as Tessa Young, the protagonist of the story, and Hero Fiennes Tiffin as her love interest, Hardin.

Last year, the sequel to After was released on Amazon Prime Video, titled After We Collided.

The film made a staggering $ 48 million on a $ 14 million budget.

After We Collided’s success has sparked talks of further sequels, two of which have been greenlit and are expected for release in the next few years.

After and After We Collided are available to watch on Amazon Prime Video now.

This article originally appeared on Daily Express :: Entertainment Feed