Category Archives: Saudi Arabia

Trump just gave a massive gift to Iran: the Arab autocrats should fear their street

 

Until now Iran had lost its credibility on the Arab Street, because of its rescue of the Assad regime. All will now be forgiven as the penny drops. The Iranians were perhaps right to support Bashar, despite his despicable character and his Neanderthal régime.

Trump’s move is -woefully, blatantly – in contempt of international law and UNSC resolutions, which the UNSC itself didn’t fail to point out to its US representative. The US has lost it’s position as a fair arbiter in the Middle East process – some say it has finally shown its hand – and now its international reputation is as sullied as Israel’s.

Liberal Jewish groups in the US see this danger clearly. The Union of Reform Judaism stated: ‘… any relocation of the American Embassy to West Jerusalem should be done in the broader context reflecting Jerusalem’s status as a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike…the White House should not undermine these efforts by making unilateral decisions that are all but certain to exacerbate the conflict.’

J- Street released a statement saying that a Palestinian capital must also be established in the East Jerusalem: ‘… the effect of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or of declaring that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital prior to a negotiated agreement will be to anger key Arab allies, foment regional instability and undermine nascent US diplomatic efforts to resolve the larger conflict.’

New Israel Fund also criticized the decision in a statement: ‘President Trump many not understand what’s at stake here, but we do. Moving the embassy risks igniting the tinderbox of anger, frustration and hopelessness that already exists in Jerusalem. Throwing…balance off with this unilateral gesture could have grave consequences.’

The US has either been sowing discord or waging war directly in the Middle East for 35 years. So far Iran won the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, the 2003-9 Iraq war, and the 2011-7 Syrian war. Let’s see what happens in the next war. Ali Abdulla al-Saleh supporter and funder of violence and militancy across the board is dead. Yemen is open. What will the Arab autocrats, who are the allies of the US, do apart from buy paintings by Leonardo for $450m, and yachts for $500m, all the while mistreating former Gulf allies?

Saudi Arabia’s formal statement denouncing the Trump decision belies their co-operation with him over this new roughing-up of the Palestinians. It smells of fear and double-dealing. The news from Jerusalem is being “managed” by Saudi authorities.

Hopefully, the liberal voices in America above will help undo Trump’s idiocy and the influence of the Christian right on US Middle East policy. Turkey’s efforts to create international consensus against this move will definitely help to keep the pressure on. Erdoğan calling the OIC to a conference on the matter of Jerusalem is a symbolic move, although welcome of course. What people don’t recognise, on the other hand, is the crucial importance of Turkey’s position as the energy transit hub for Mediterranean gas, offering the cheapest route to Europe, which Israel is banking on for its future.

Certainly Abbas has kicked the so-called peace process into the long grass. He doesn’t look too phased by the events and Mike Pence will be disappointed if he thinks he can restart peace talks on his visit to Israel next month.

Although the Palestinian Authority has continually disappointed in the prime task of keeping the Palestinians united and resisting pressure, Abbas has shown more mettle recently in taking Israel to the ICC.

 

The collapse of the Hariri “mansion”

Madawi al-Rasheed writes about the uneasy post-civil war truce between the ‘mansions’ of the various sectarian leaders in Lebanon, in an allusion to the familial structures of medieval Italian city states, and the explosive potential of the mysterious departure to Saudi Arabia and subsequent resignation from the post of Lebanese Prime Minister of the Sunni leader, Saad el-Hariri.

“Today the famous central “Solidaire” area is a dying hub of finance and entertainment beyond the means of most Lebanese. The Solidaire Park is a legacy of the vision of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri (Saad’s father) who represented the Sunnis in Lebanon, as a dual national of both Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, while at the same time nurturing his Saudi Arabian interests. Under post-civil war reconstruction efforts, he emerged as a financial tycoon who, in the neoliberal vein, wiped out small traders and businessmen in favour of global capitalism.

With his assassination in 2005, his son Saad became the face of Sunni power in Lebanon, albeit that this power declined in the face of the rise of Hezbollah. Money earned in Saudi Arabia was translated into philanthropy in Lebanon. Patron-client relations became the core of the Sunni za’amat, leadership, like other sectarian leadership.

Saudi Arabia seems to have lost its historical importance in Lebanon as Iran consolidated its presence there. So the last card Saudi Arabia can play to snub Iran was to summon Saad Hariri, its man in Beirut, to Riyadh where he surprisingly and unexpectedly read his resignation letter on the same night that Mohammed bin Salman started his anti-corruption purge.” Read full article here.

Mass arrests: Replay of Egypt Sept. 1981 in Saudi Arabia

His tool is the new “anti-corruption committee” as Mohamed bin Salman (MbS) arrests Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, removing him from his post as leader of the National Guard; something he has been itching to do since launching the Yemen War for the sole purpose of consolidating his power over the country’s armed forces.

The new committee puts itself above and beyond the law, it is “exempt from laws, regulations, instructions, orders and decisions while the committee shall perform the following tasks: … the investigation issuance of arrest warrants, travel ban, disclosure and freezing of accounts and portfolios, tracking of funds, assets, and preventing their remittance or transfer by persons and entities who ever they might be. The committee has the right to take any precautionary measures it sees, until they are referred to the investigating authorities or judicial bodies”.

MbS also arrests 10 other princes, as well media moghuls Al-Walid Bin Talal (Rotana), Walid Al Brahim (MBC) and Saleh Kamel (ART), whilst freezing their assets. This puts MbS at the head of all of the Saudi media outlets. His arrest of Bakr bin Laden, and his recall of Saad el-Hariri from Lebanon (the Bin Laden group and Saudi Oger being the Kingdom’s two largest contractors)would appear to be part of MbS’s massive wealth grab. Hariri’s explanation that he is fear for his life in Lebanon, and cannot go back, is cover for the fact that he is under house arrest in Riyadh.

All this follows the arrests of many intellectuals, writers and activists as a pre-emptive measure to hinder potential opposition to new secularisation policies.  While this early phase of arrests was purely political, the quality of wealth grab clearly evident in this second phase points to failure of Riyadh’s Plan A in that regard: the invasion and absorption of Qatar. It would appear that all these arrests have been organised for MbS by operatives of his adviser and confidante, Mohamed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, whom he is relying on as an outside force unconnected to Saudi society and therefore not subject to any pressures to resist the crown Prince’s orders.

These events are an ominous replay of September 1981, when Anwar el-Sadat ordered a highly unpopular roundup of more than 1500 people, including many Islamic Jihad members in Egypt, but also the Coptic Pope and other Coptic clergy, intellectuals and activists of all ideological stripes, who were protesting the manner of his headlong peace deal with Israel.

A new totalitarian adventure in the Arabian desert

A precog being inducted into Saudi citizenship

Mohamed bin Salman has called for ‘Moderate Islam’ in Saudi Arabia. The words will mean nothing and will be the cause of much social instability, until some kind of process has taken place, where Saudi society has come to an understanding. Simply introducing a secular lifestyle into a previously rigid religious environment would be explosive. However, if a new process of dialogue about Saudi religious reformation has begun, the signs are not good, given that a large number of activists, clerics, professionals and even poets, not all of whom are radicals or critics of his new vision, have been jailed by Bin Salman in the latest wave of detentions a couple of months ago.

As Madawi al-Rashed explains: “For a religious reformation to take hold, it has to be the product of debates within Islamic circles, completely free from state control from above. Liberation theology is not always born in the courts of autocratic monarchs and princelings. But the prince has in mind something else, a royal theology that criminalises criticism, dissent, and even peaceful activism.”

A harbinger of what is to come is the scathing attack by the Supreme Council of Muslim Scholars (SCM), the highest religious body in Saudi Arabia, on the International Union of Muslim Scholars (ISU), a non-governmental organization headed by Dr. Yusuf Qaradawi, last Thursday. The SCM, under pressure from Bin Salman called the ISU a “partisan” organisation, directed by “political agenda”. If, by political agenda, the Saudi body meant the openness of the ISU to pluralism and democracy, then they would have been right. Now the Saudi body, ever seeking royal pleasure, and desperately trying to maintain a role for itself in the new Saudi totalitarian adventure launched by Bin Salman, has warned Saudis to stay away from the ISU and all organisations outside the Kingdom like it.

While the religious police in Saudi Arabia (the institution of which contradicts the most basic rights under the Qur’an) will be prohibited from monitoring Saudis indulging their inclinations, they will now acquire a new role in monitoring their political thoughts. Given Bin Salman’s science fiction vision of the future, he will probably engage Tom Cruise as an adviser to train “precogs” for the Kingdom’s very own “pre-crime” unit. Presumably the SCM will be engaged in the difficult task of generating the “majority reports” from conflicting precognitions as fatwas.

 

Tensions suddenly erupt between Saudi society and UAE anti-Islamic strategy

Abdel-Aziz bin Fahd has reacted strongly to UAE Ambassador Otaiba’s announcement that the UAE seeks secular government to be installed throughout the Arabian peninsula, which was clearly aimed at pushing Mohamed bin Salman (MbS) to take yet another leap in the dark by distancing himself from the Wahhabi establishment. Ex-King Fahd’s son said that ‘… we will die before we will allow our religion to be sidelined’. Given the powerful hold Mohamed bin Zayed (MbZ) of the UAE has over MbS, Otaiba’s announcement was not only a brazen attack on the Saudi establishment but a clear indication that MbS seems helpless in the face of UAE machinations, which is extraordinary for someone holding all the reins of power in Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, behind UAE Ambassador to Washington Otaiba’s statements about “secular” government, which upset Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd lies the influence of the UAE, or more precisely Abu Dhabi, in the US. Ziad Jilani and Alex Emmons discuss evidence of the shady relationships of the UAE with Beltway think-tanks: ‘One of the documents obtained by The Intercept [from ‘GlobalLeaks hackers of UAE Ambassador Otaiba] was an invoice from the Center for New American Security, an influential national security think tank founded in 2007 by alumni from the Clinton administration. The invoice, dated July 12, 2016, billed the UAE embassy $250,000 for a paper on the legal regime governing the export of military-grade drones. It was signed by Michele Flournoy, a senior Pentagon official under President Barack Obama; Hillary Clinton was widely expected to name Flournoy as her secretary of defense. Flournoy co-founded CNAS and, in addition to outside work as a management consultant, currently serves as the think tank’s CEO.’

They continue: ‘The UAE has one of the most repressive governments in the world. The Gulf dictatorship brutally cracks down on internal dissent and enables abusive conditions for its massive migrant labor force. It also plays a key role in the bloody war in Yemen, running a network of torture prisons in the “liberated” parts of the country. That makes it all the more shocking that the UAE is so rarely criticized by leading U.S. think tanks, who not only ignore the Gulf dictatorship’s repression, but give a privileged platform to its ambassador, Yousef Al-Otaiba. Otaiba is a deeply influential voice in U.S. foreign policy circles, and is known in Washington for using his pocketbook to recruit allies.’ Read their full article here.

Background to the Gulf rift: Trump real estate deals

Ben Walsh, Ryan Grim, Clayton Swisher at the Intercept write: Not long before  a major crisis ripped through the Middle East, pitting the United States and a bloc of Gulf countries against Qatar, Jared Kushner’s real estate company had unsuccessfully sought a critical half-billion-dollar investment from one of the richest and most influential men in the tiny nation, according to three well-placed sources with knowledge of the near transaction.

Kushner is a senior adviser to President Trump, and also his son-in-law, and also the scion of a New York real estate empire that faces an extreme risk from an investment made by Kushner in the building at 666 Fifth Avenue, where the family is now severely underwater. Read full article here.

G-4 mulling Qatar’s negative response to their ultimata

 

The G-4 group of the world’s TOP Tyrannical Nations (TTN) (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Bahrain) have received Qatar’s response to their ultimata. Note that they blinked first. When they initially received no response, they unilaterally extended their deadline by 48 hours.

Qatar refuses to shut down Al-Jazeera. It has the backing of most of world on this. A link is now provided at the top of this page for all those who wish to watch Al-Jazeera LIVE either in English or in Arabic. The TV and news network is riding high on current events, as the world takes note of the self-inflicted discomfort these events are causing the G-4 TTN.

If Al-Jazeera stays, so does the Turkish military base, which the G-4 sought to unwind, in the event that a Bahrain-type intervention by Saudi Arabia would be in the offing. In Qatar, unlike Bahrain, Saudi forces would have to confront a military response, rather than merely unarmed protestors. The Turks pushed forward the agenda for supplying new troops to the base as soon as the G-4 announced their siege of Qatar.

The Turkish base became part of an urgent discussion between Javad Zarif and Erdoğan  which took place in Ankara at the request of the Iranians immediately the siege started.

Thirdly, in its only concession, Qatar announced it would be willing to sever relations with Iran, if the UAE and Bahrain did so as well. Saudi has already severed relations. The Qataris are fully aware that this is a matter of severe disagreement between Mohamed bin Zayed (MbZ) and the Maktoum family in Dubai. Dubai’s success as a marketplace is largely due to its massive trade links with Iran. Sever these and Dubai goes into decline. MbZ maintains that he rescued Dubai during the financial crisis, and therefore has a right to set the foreign policy of the UAE. Nevertheless, the UAE will not end up severing ties with Iran. Besides, to keep its lights on, Dubai needs Qatari gas, which Qatar astonishingly continues to supply despite the UAE’s ridiculous behaviour.

In any event the intelligence agencies of the G-4 TTN are meeting in Cairo to plan their response to Qatar’s refusal to bend. It is clear that a covert war will now be launched against Qatar, since there are no other possible routes for them to take, given the stance taken by Turkey and Iran. As the Qatari response, delivered by the Emir of Kuwait says ‘there are no Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Qatar’. However, Iran’s missile capability is not far away and communications between the Turkish base and the Iranians have been set up. It is in Iran’s vital interest to protect Qatar, since the two countries share the North Dome/South Pars gas field (the largest in the world).

Moody’s have downgraded Qatar, although quite why this is necessary given it is a surplus nation that doesn’t require borrowing, is not clear. However, the G-4 will seek to launch cyberattacks and media storms against Al-Jazeera, and to hound its journalists and bar them from entering diverse countries around the world which cow-tow to Saudi Arabia and the UAE (the Comoros Is and the Maldives come to mind). There will also be a financial war launched against Qatari global assets, which is possibly what Moody’s is worried about. International banking groups will suddenly have to take sides, which will make for turbulent financial markets. Already the Qatari Rial has been suspended from trading in many outlets.

The G-4 TTN cannot stand the light that Al-Jazeera regularly shines on their dysfunctional nations, although its reporting is always balanced. Talking heads from all sides are invariably included in their broadcasts. Everybody gets a chance. Its just that the arguments put forward by those defending the policies of the G-4 TTN more often than not, embarrassingly, fail to hold water. Al-Jazeera is key to Qatar’s response to the covert war that is about to start. It can raise or lower the temperature of its broadcasts as time goes on and as circumstances dictate. For closed tyrannical nations existing in a satellite and internet dominated world, the propaganda of their state media, whether it be through Sky News Arabia, Al-Arabiyya TV, OnTV, or whatever, can never achieve the ratings of Al-Jazeera with their own locals.

From another perspective, the Qatar debacle is yet another victory for Iranian domination of the Gulf, and signals the end of any Trumpian dream to create some kind of Sunni front against Iran. Saudi Arabia is in fact up for grabs in the medium to long term.