Author Archives: Omar

Omar

About Omar

I graduated from the University of Cambridge in economics. My special interests were social choice theory and monetary theory. I am a postgraduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies with a doctorate in monetary economics 1984. I left academic studies to work in the financial sector for a number of years (CEO Moseley Securities), and then to manage companies in the industrial sector in the Middle-East (CEO Egyptian Cotton Company). My work in the Middle-East led to a change of path to politics in that area since 2000. Since 2012 I have written articles on politics for current affairs journals, under my own name and under pseudonyms. My area of special academic interest is the idea of instrumental rationality, its use in the development of economic and social theories, especially neoliberal constructions, and the impact of these theories on our political life, on which subject I am writing a book. Parts of the book are appearing in various academic journals, beginning with Max Weber Studies vol. 16 (2).

With Qatar on the backfoot, MbS grabs power in Saudi

Mohamed bin Salman (MbS) buys a £472m yacht from Russian oligarch Yuri Schefler, as he imposes austerity on Saudi Arabians and total misery on the Yemeni population.

The endless pointless war in Yemen, as I wrote when it started, has ‘everything to do with [his]’ succession’ to the throne. More than 8,000 people have been killed since a Saudi-led coalition launched the military campaign in March 2015, 17 million people face dire food shortages – 7 million of whom are only one step away from famine, in a country now ravaged by illness including a cholera outbreak, which has killed more than 1,100 people.

Just as the Yemen War was launched to subjugate Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and his control of the National Guard, after he had been sidelined from the line of succession to the throne, the Qatar blockade was instituted to put Al-Jazeera and the outspoken Sheikh Tamim on the back foot while Mohamed bin Nayef bin Abdelaziz was knifed in the back. Now that two of the major obstacles to MbS’s ambitions have been overcome, as his dementia-ridden father’s direct successor, and in his roles as Secretary to the Court (i.e. Prime Minister), Defence Minister, and Economic Supremo, he is effectively acting king.

Mohamed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi (MbZ) has guided the young prince to power, and gained his confidence despite having plotted against him and his father when Abdullah bin Abdelaziz was still king. The apparently odd alliance between them, however, is testament to the extent to which there is generalised mistrust between members of the Saudi royal family, as well as the extent to which MbS is gullible.

MbZ will undoubtedly want his pound of flesh, which as far as I can see will involve the division of Yemen to enable him control the entire South and with that, control of the Bab al-Mandab straits. This must ultimately lead to conflict between Saudi and the UAE, at some stage. Expect also conflict between members of the royal family after the unprecedented political changes which were engineered in hushed and rushed meetings before dawn of the 21st. The dawn of the longest day was also the night of the long knives.

Egypt: consolidating repression under Sisi

Public criticism and peaceful opposition to the government remain effectively banned in Egypt, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2017. Security forces routinely tortured detainees and forcibly disappeared hundreds of people during 2016.

Having jailed tens of thousands of political opponents since the military’s removal of former President Mohamed Morsy in 2013, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government in 2016 took unprecedented steps to criminalize human rights work and cripple independent civil society groups.

“President al-Sisi’s government is consolidating and escalating repression,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Absent strong responses from the international community, authorities will continue to squeeze the space for exercising basic freedoms into nothing.”

In late November, Egypt’s parliament approved a highly restrictive draft law on associations that, if signed by al-Sisi, would place the work and funding of independent groups under supervision of a committee including representatives of the Interior, Justice and Defense Ministries and the General Intelligence Service, Egypt’s top spy agency.In September, a Cairo criminal court approved a request from a panel of investigative judges to freeze the assets of three human rights groups and the personal assets of five people who founded or led such groups.

Authorities have banned at least 15 group directors, founders, or staff members from traveling outside Egypt, most of them in 2016, since the judges opened their investigation into the foreign funding of such groups. On December 7, one of the investigative judges ordered the arrest and interrogation of Azza Soliman, founder of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance. Soliman was released after paying bail, but it was the first time the judges had ordered the arrest of a human rights defender.

Activists fear the judges will eventually charge them with illegally receiving foreign funding, punishable by up to 25 years in prison.Officers of the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency routinely tortured and forcibly disappeared suspects with few consequences. Many of the victims were accused of sympathy with or membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Between August 2015 and August 2016, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, an independent group, documented 912 victims of enforced disappearance by the police, 52 of whom had not reappeared by the time the group issued its report.

Between January and October 2016 alone, 433 detainees were able to register claims that police or prison officers mistreated or tortured them in custody, according to the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture. When these claims were reported in November, authorities froze the Nadeem Center’s assets and banned its co-founder, psychiatry professor and longtime anti-torture activist Aida Seif al-Dawla, from leaving the country.

Pakistan and the changes in the Middle East balance of power

 

In the wake of Turkish troop deployment to Qatar, Pakistan also sent troops, to the anger of Saudi Arabia with whom Pakistan has been a traditional ally. Last week in Jeddah, the Saudi King berated Pakistan Prime Minister, Nawas Sharif, over the move, but Sharif wouldn’t back down on a stance he considers to be “neutral”.

Pakistan’s circumstances are changing with a changing Asia. The massive investment China is making in Pakistan as part of the inter-Asian “One belt-one road” project, linking the Chinese north-western communications hub Urumqi with the Indian Ocean port of Gwadar in southern Pakistan, has transformed the Pakistani economic situation and given it greater financial independence.

After the imprisonment of Shakil Afridi, the doctor who guided the CIA to the place of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, where he was killed in 2011 in Abbottabad, relations with the US soured. Obama, after a while, sought to turn things around towards the end of his administration, by endorsing in 2016 a $ 1 billion aid package.Trump, however, is seeking to cancel the greater part of the package.

The move to place troops in Qatar suggests that Pakistan is seeking better relations with Iran, by declaring its independence from Saudi tutelage. This in the long term serves will serve its interests in Afghanistan, where it can cooperate with Iran, and in Asia more generally. The decline of Saudi Arabian influence in Central Asia, which is  accelerating since its blockade of Qatar, will ultimately impact on US influence in a region where, in the past, Saudi has been an important partner.

Macron confounds sceptics, revives De Gaulle’s European vision

Emmanuel Macron’s new party, La République En Marche (LRM), established weeks ago on the internet streaked ahead in parliamentary elections. The main opposition party LR (Les Républicains, the conservative right, which has been changing its name for the umpteenth time since 1950) obtained around 21 percent of the vote, equaling François Fillon’s score in the presidential elections. They were counting on a parliamentary victory to challenge President Macron during his five-year-mandate, but this has been a failure. LR will get only one-sixth of the seats in the Assembly. The Parti Socialiste (PS), on the other hand, does a vanishing act; with a meager 10 percent, the Marxist Left of Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FLI) would only get 11 percent of the vote, while the Front National (FN) of Marine Le Pen scored less than 14 percent.

According to estimates, the second round of the elections would give LRM between 415 and 455 seats out of 577, with LR, the main opposition, getting between 70 and 110. PS, which had controlled half of the seats in the outgoing National Assembly, would only get between 20 and 30 seats; LFI between eight and 18 seats; and FN would achieve between one and five seats. This is a landslide victory for Macron and represents total destruction of established French politics.

Macron met Theresa May yesterday floating the idea that if Britain wanted to stay in the EU, it could. That was sheer PR: Macron wants to see the back of Britain and will give as much as necessary to see that happen. His political strength in France will allow him to rekindle the vision of Europe last held by Charles de Gaulle in 1968, one without Britain and without US interference (albeit that the balance of power between the two nations has changed). The US under Trump has given up on Europe after the impossibility of getting TTP through, and with worsening relations with Germany. While Merkel will come back to power happy that Macron is in a good place, it will be Macron who will set the pace, since he doesn’t only have reform of French laws in his sights but also reform of the EU.

Germany is stuck in a rut of its own making with massive intra-EU trade imbalances, and needs the momentum garnered by Macron in France to set a new course. Macron will invest this situation to return to the Gaullist vision of the French-German alliance which the German Bundestag, dominated by its US colonial masters, had undermined in the 1960s.

Mohamed Morsi is dying of neglect in jail

The life of imprisoned former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi is in danger because of his deteriorating health and lack of treatment. A week ago today, his lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud filed a complaint with the public prosecutor asking for an investigation into the medical negligence he is facing. He told them he experienced two diabetic comas this month and did not receive proper treatment in prison, and is demanding to be moved to a private hospital at his own expense. No one is listening

 

The politics of hope over fear

Mehdi Hasan writes: Corbyn has reminded us that a politics of hope can go toe to toe with a politics of fear. Millions of people will turn out to vote for a leader who preaches optimism over pessimism, who offers inspiration instead of enervation.

Corbyn has showed how it is possible for progressives to build a coalition between the young, people of color and cosmopolitan liberals on the one hand and, yes, those dreaded white working class communities on the other.

Here in the United States, meanwhile, the Corbyn-esque Sanders has become the most popular politician in the country and would probably win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination by a landslide if the contest were to be held tomorrow. Read full article here

Trump walks into a trap designed by the UAE, but comes out with tons of money

Trump’s jamboree in Riyadh was intended as part of a US plan to ‘confront’ Iran. This certainly will be good for the stock prices of Northrop Grumman, Lockheed-Martin and Raytheon as Saudi Arabia, fresh from spinning its way out of responsibility for the 9/11 attacks in NY, piles up an unbelievable amount of weaponry, most of which it can’t possibly use. Nobody has told the Saudis that the Iranians have developed an asymmetrical style of warfare for the past 35 years, which has defeated all attempts by even the US to overcome it.

But from the Saudi point of view the $110bn arms (+ $220bn commercial) deal signed with Trump is nothing but a bribe to get the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) repealed, to keep the US onside in the increasingly unpopular Yemen War, and to buy the US President’s acquiescence to the whims of Saudi foreign policy. This, Trump is quite happy to do for the money, being as it is in character for him to issue contradictory statements within minutes of each other, even if, in the case of the Saudi/UAE sanctions against Qatar, this stands in stark contrast to the Pentagon’s statements on the effectiveness of its alliance with the country and the importance of CENTCOM’s HQ there.

On the face of it Saudi and the UAE leaders came out of the Trump meeting feeling they had carte blanche to crush Qatar as part of the ‘anti-Iran’ front, because of Qatar’s friendly relations with Iran with whom it shares its most important asset, the South Pars/North Dome Gas Condensate field. The odd thing is that the UAE is actually itself one of Iran’s largest trading partners. Nevertheless, this doesn’t compare with the strategic importance of Qatar’s cooperation with Iran over LNG exports from the joint field and through the Straits of Hormuz. This lies at the centre of Qatar’s independent foreign policy which Saudi and the UAE view antagonistically.

Over the past four years the relationship Between Qatar and the UAE has been strained over Qatar’s independent stand against UAE leader Mohamed bin Zayed’s (MbZ) counterrevolutionary rampage across the Middle East.

The UAE media has developed and promulgated the meme that Qatar ‘supports terrorism’ which the help of neocon think-tanks such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), which are only too thankful for the new UAE largesse coming their way and for the attention they are getting, having been marginalised within the Washington Beltway after the advent of Trump.

In sum, Trump’s anti-Iranian project is being invested by MbZ, who has considerable personal influence on the ambitious and highly impetuous Mohamed bin Salman (MbS), son of the dementia-afflicted Saudi king, to further his personal goals. These have been understood to have always centered on the division of Saudi Arabia, and the integration of the Eastern Province into the UAE.  The fact that Qatar lies next to this area, and that its leadership is keenly aware of MbZ’s machinations, has made them traditional enemies.

Oddly, while MbZ’s previous involvement in a plot against King Salman, MbS’s father, during the last Saudi succession, is well known, all seems to have been forgotten from the Saudi government perspective since the UAE agreed to join MbS’s signature war in Yemen: a war which he would direct as effective Prime Minister and Defence Minister and which was supposed to catapult the young man over two generations of claimants onto the throne in short measure. This meant MbZ turning against the Houthi rebellion, which he had backed and funded against the Yemeni government led by the Muslim Brotherhood party, al-Islah, from the start.

The sudden sanctioning and cutting of relations with Qatar is clearly a step beyond the 2014 diplomatic row, and an invitation for a coup to take place in Qatar. But while UAE media claims that Qatar, among its ‘terrorist’ activities, is supporting the rebel Houthis in Yemen, it is well known that MbZ is actually host in Abu Dhabi to Ali Abdulla al-Saleh the ex-Yemeni president and chief backer of the Houthis to this day, and that his  support for the Houthis had never really ended. MbZ is playing both sides against the middle.

Meanwhile, Qatari soldiers are regularly reported killed, fighting the Houthis in support of Saudi Arabia. The Qatari Emir’s resistance to MbZ’s idea of a formal north/south division of Yemen was the most recent flashpoint between the two leaders. Called the ‘Aden Coup’ plot, the UAE leader was planning to control Aden, which would have then given him control of both sides of Bab el-Mandab, given his newly acquired military bases on the Horn of Africa.

There is no end to MbZ’s ambitions. He runs a police state in the UAE almost out of science fiction, which has followed a systematic counterrevolutionary policy against Muslim Brotherhood political parties throughout the region. Having funded the military coup in Egypt, he now controls Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, and he followed that gambit with similar but less-successful ones in Libya and Tunisia. He was opposed to pro-Muslim Brotherhood and anti-Assad Qatari and Turkish policy in Syria, and backed Turkish coup plotters in July 2016 (recently confirmed in email leaks from the UAE Ambassador’s computer in Washington).

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Russia’s announcement that it doesn’t care about this new row between Gulf States, in the face of contradictory US statements, reflects its new geostrategic strength in the Middle East region. If the Gulf states become an area of instability, this massively enhance Russia’s position as a reliable source of energy, and will boost its oil and gas exports. But a Saudi/UAE invasion of Qatar, given the failure of the expected coup, is highly unlikely given the open wound of the Yemen War. Such a move would also open up a direct front with Iran, which will respond aggressively in defence of what it will understand as a threat to the South Pars Field, exactly where CENTCOM HQ is located.

If MbS might be thinking of such a move, under the influence of MbZ, this would destabilise his position within the Saudi Royal Family, given that his signature war isn’t going that well. The Yemenis didn’t roll over like he expected. Furthermore, many powerful elements in Saudi society have close relations with the Qatari al-Thani family. The Saudi/UAE move against Qatar is unlikely to achieve it objectives, and an embarrassed retreat will be more than likely.

As it is, Qatari sources deny the UAE media reports of panic buying in the shops in Doha. The Prime Minister’s office announced that food supplies have been secured for the foreseeable future, despite the closure of the Saudi border. Indeed, on the evening following the Saudi/UAE gambit the Qatari Emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, was filmed hosting iftar with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood scholar, as a guest. The message was clearly that he was unmoved.

After Javad Zarif’s hurried visit to Ankara, Erdoğan now deploys Turkish troops to its Qatar military base ahead of the relevant legislation which has also been fast-tracked, and also changes his tune to take a hard line against the Saudi position after earlier making more diplomatic statements. With Turkish and Iranian help, Qatar will easily ride this storm. Even if there is reconciliation with Saudi, the die are cast. Qatar will have moved further away from the GCC axis and strengthened it relationship not just with Turkey, but Iran. The future looks bleak for MbS and more generally for Saudi Arabia.

Also read David Hearst on this subject.

Are the polls accurate this time?

As of Monday June 5: The trend lines display the rolling median of the seven latest polls. The median being the middle value of a set of numbers, when new polls are added, the median recalculates to take account of the latest 7 poll values, using results from Survation, YouGov, ComRes, ICM, Ipsos Mori, Panelbase, ORB, Opinium, Kantar Public.

The question is (as much as who will win the election): will polling regain the public confidence in 2017 after a disastrous 2016?

An important point about the outcome is that the SNP is one of the greatest beneficiaries of the first past the post system of voting (unlike the Lib Dems and UKIP). A low national percentage converts into a huge number of seats. If the SNP gains 47 seats as expected, they could be kingmakers. This is important in the context of the difference of approach to devolution between Conservatives and Labour. Theresa May wants to roll back devolution. Jeremy Corbyn wants (it seems) to go the other way, towards a greater ‘federalisation’.

It is thus in the interests of the SNP to cooperate with Labour in order to head towards ‘DevoMax’, which is probably a better outcome than full independence. It is also in Corbyn’s interest to cooperate with the SNP to neuter the Blairite MPs who will continue to dog him until they are replaced, which is a long term project. So, although Corbyn has ruled out a coalition, it doesn’t mean that he will not cooperate with the SNP strategically.

The essential point about such developments is that Conservatives may not be able to pass laws which both Labour and the SNP oppose (if the polls are right).

Manchester and now London: ‘Prevent’ faces its ultimate indictment

Theresa May tries to shore up a shaky electoral campaign by exploiting the inevitable ‘Islamist ideology’. Her claim that there had been “far too much tolerance of extremism” in the U.K. was an obvious direct attack on the Labour leader during a supposed suspension of election campaigning. Given this, it is worth remembering that the two attacks are actually happening on her watch, both as acting Prime Minister and long-standing Home Secretary.

The Prevent Programme, which she helped launch, was actually founded on the post Iraq War drive of the US, through the concerted campaign of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Europe (GMFUS), to shift the causal arrow of terrorism from its foreign policy in the Middle East onto ‘Islamic ideology’.

Britain under David Cameron as Prime Minister along with Theresa May was the most receptive of the European nations to this idea. Prevent was launched by Cameron in his 2011 speech at the Munich Security Conference (organised under the aegis of GMFUS) designed to profile non-violent extremists in the political space (i.e. critics of government policy) as potential violent extremists, despite authorities on the subject deeming the link logically absurd.

To hear Theresa May posturing days before the vote, one would have thought that Prevent had at least been a mild success. In fact, it has failed miserably and turned the Muslim community of Britain into the ‘enemy within’. If May does become Britain’s next Prime Minister,  she should be advised to follow more evidence-based counter-terrorism strategies.  Counter-terrorism Intelligence specialist Richard Barrett warns that May’s new policy could easily make things much worse. ‘The prime minister must be careful, he says, not to equate terrorism with Islamist extremism.

The attempt by British tabloids and Tory ministers to stymie criticism of UK foreign policy, especially in Libya, by saying that it implicitly lends succour to terrorists is inane and insane. As Paul Rogers has written’… the links between the attack and the ongoing war in Iraq and Syria must be made. That Britain is still at war after fifteen years suggests that some rethinking is required.’

Furthermore, the suspicious circumstances under which ‘national security’ was recently invoked to stop the trial of the murderer of PC Yvonne Fletcher in front of the Libyan Embassy in St James’ Square in 1984, brings up a different but important point. If the default position of the Westminster foreign policy community is to be uncritical, then such steps will only suffer the worst possible interpretation in the public’s mind. A national security necessary immediately becomes a cover-up. Openness and criticism as the default position actually serves everybody including the security establishment.