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from The Great Debate:

The religion-fueled fight in Syria

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The second round of peace talks in Geneva between representatives of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria and rebel forces has ended with both sides blaming each other for the lack of progress. Beyond the finger-pointing, however, lies a growing danger to the goal of a negotiated settlement. The civil war’s religious divides are widening, making compromise unthinkable.

Representatives of the Syrian regime went to Geneva solely with the hope of convincing the opposition to let President Bashar al-Assad stay in power so he can forge an alliance against jihadist forces fighting in Syria, most notably the al Qaeda affiliates Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Their argument -- one that many, including former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, have made -- was that Assad is better than any likely alternative.

But the Syrian National Coalition, representing opposition forces, rejected the proposal outright. The coalition, which purports to be a post-Assad transitional government in waiting, has decided, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, that al Qaeda will be dealt with after Assad is gone. Its standing, however, is severely constrained by its lack of political credibility on the ground. It has become little more than a vehicle for Qatar and Saudi Arabia to vie for control of Syrian politics.

The problems in Syria, however, are far greater than the shortcomings of each side’s negotiating teams in Geneva. When the civil war began in 201l, it was a fight between Syrians demanding greater civil rights and a government that ultimately provoked them into violent confrontation through its own brutality. That political struggle quickly morphed into a wider sectarian war between Sunni and Shia, flaring up across the Middle East.

from David Rohde:

Dooming the Syria talks before they begin

The United States won a short-term diplomatic victory over Iran this week. Under intense pressure from American officials, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon withdrew an invitation for Iranian officials to attend the Syria peace conference.

Disinviting Tehran is the latest example of the Obama administration’s continual search for easy, risk-free solutions in Syria. As the conflict destabilizes the region, however, Washington must finally face the hard choice: Either compromise with Iran, or decisively support and arm the rebels.

from Breakingviews:

Sovereign fund chiefs not created equal

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By Una Galani

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

China Investment Corporation finally has a new boss. But compared to most companies, a change of the top at a sovereign wealth fund doesn’t always mean a change of tack. A sovereign fund’s proximity to the government and its investment approach are critical when it comes to determining the importance, or relative unimportance, of who sits at the top.

from The Great Debate:

Behind the abdication of Qatar’s emir

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Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, speaks at a summit in Rome, Nov. 16, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianch

Nothing was trivial about the moment: Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani gave up his post as emir of Qatar to his son at the pinnacle of his influence, in an act as rare and surprising as his ascending to power through a bloodless coup against his own father in 1995.

from David Rohde:

Changing Assad’s calculus

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A deserted street with building destroyed by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad , near Aleppo International airport, May 20, 2013. REUTERS/Nour Kelze

AMMAN, Jordan – Secretary of State John Kerry and 10 European and Arab foreign ministers gathered here Wednesday night to again talk about helping Syria’s rebels.

from Global Investing:

Paid for the risk? Egypt’s tempting pound

Surprising as it may seem, the Egyptian pound has got some fans.  The currency has languished for months at record lows against the dollar and the headlines are alarming -- the lack of an IMF aid programme, meagre hard currency reserves, political upheaval. So what's to like ?

Analysts at Societe Generale say that just looking at the spot exchange rate of the pound is missing the bigger picture. Instead, they advise buying 12-month non-deliverable forwards on the pound -- essentially a way of locking into a fixed rate for pound against the dollar in a year's time depending on where you think it may actually trade. They write:

from Breakingviews:

Qatar gives SocGen an honourable exit from Egypt

By Una Galani

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

Qatar has given Societe Generale an honorable exit from Egypt. State-backed Qatar National Bank will buy the French bank’s 77 percent stake in its Egyptian unit, National Societe Generale Bank (NSGB), through a mandatory tender offer valuing the whole at $2.6 billion. The valuation of 2 times book value is lower than pre-revolution multiples, and SocGen will have to carry some currency risk. But with few-sizeable buyers willing to live with Arab spring volatility, it makes sense for SocGen to shrink while it can.

from Global Investing:

A scar on Bahrain’s financial marketplace

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Bahrain's civil unrest -- which had a one-year anniversary this week -- has taken a toll on the local economy and left a deep scar on the Gulf state's aspiration to become an international financial hub.

A new paper from the Sovereign Wealth Fund Initiative, a research programme at Center for Emerging Market Enterprises (CEME) at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, examines how the political instability of 2011 is threatening Bahrain's efforts in the past 30 years to diversify its economy and develop the financial centre.

from Global Investing:

Iran looms larger on Gulf radar screens

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Tensions over Iran may be helping to push up oil prices as traders worry about a widespread embargo on the country's crude oil but markets in neighbouring Gulf energy-rich economies are not benefiting.

One year after the Arab Spring started in Tunisia, investors remain sensitive to political risk in the Middle East.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

A game of three thirds in Qatar?

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FIFA could allow matches at the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar to be played over three 30-minute periods if temperatures in the stadiums became dangerously high for the players, a senior stadium engineer told delegates at a conference on Wednesday.

Michael Beavon, a director of Arup Associates who helped to develop the zero-carbon solar technology that will cool the 12 stadiums, told delegates at the Qatar Infrastructure Conference in London that the air-cooling would maintain a comfortable temperature of around 24 degrees Celsius in the stadiums.

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