Democracy

Not a Saudi ‘Arab spring’: Mohammad Bin Salman, a threat not a reformer [Part 2]

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/01/2018 - 2:12am in

Mohammad bin Salman is now MENA’s main threat to peace, stability, and hope for democratization in the Arab world.

A boy walks on rubble of a house destroyed by recent airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen, on Dec. 29, 2017. Picture by Mohammed Mohammed/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved. While
Thomas Friedman
was taking Mohammad bin Salman’s claims about
fighting corruption
at face value
,
many
were seeing extortion, and an abuse of power. Consider what follows, all of which also mysteriously escaped Friedman’s
journalistic acumen:

In
the summer of 2015, while vacationing in Southern France, MBS
purchased
,
on a whim, one of the biggest and most expensive yachts in the world
from Russian billionaire Yuri
Shefler

(who incidentally made his fortune selling
vodka), after spotting it once in the bay. The deal was finalized
right there without further waiting, for a staggering $500 million
(twice
the cost of the most expensive house in the United States,

itself already the ultimate billionaires’ dreamland.) While
indulging himself with such lavish luxury purchases, His Highness was
pushing for and implementing economic reforms

of the IMF type, meaning, drastic austerity measures, budget cuts,
salary cuts, freezes of government contracts and so on and so forth,
following the drop in oil prices which has since resulted in the KSA
losing a stunning one
third

of its currency reserves in less than three years since 2014.

This
itself would be enough to prove that MBS, supposedly a paragon of
morality, moderation and integrity, a “wise king”, is one of
those morally and politically corrupt rulers and “wealthiest 1%”
(0.0001% in his case) for whom austerity, “necessary sacrifices”,
and belt-tightening measures apply to others but never to oneself.

But
there is worse.

In less than 2 years, our wise ruler bought for himself two luxury yachts for over $600 million

The
Serene

was actually the second
yacht MBS bought (at least the second that we know of). Less known is
the fact that in 2014, namely not even a year before that July 2015
half billion “impulse purchase” of the
Serene
,
MBS had already bought a yacht, the Pegasus
(now Pegasus
VII
)
for $120 million, at a time when he was special advisor to the royal
court and state
minister
.

So,
in less than 2 years, our
wise ruler bought for himself two luxury yachts for over $600
million, while making his Saudi subjects tighten their belts. It is
also to be noted that the KSA currency reserves were
already at that time being depleted faster than the speed of light,
yet that did not seem to matter either for MBS. It would be
interesting to know what else he
bought and how much of the Kingdom’s shrinking oil money he has
spent on himself during his
shopping binge.

Furthermore,
let us remember that by the time he bought this second
yacht, MBS was the head of the Royal Court as well as Saudi Arabia’s
Defense Minister (he was appointed to that crucial position by his
father on January
23, 2015).

He
had also
already
started his bombing campaign in Yemen (“Operation Decisive Storm”
was launched in March
2015
),
to devastating consequences for
the civilian population
,
who quickly ran out of food and medicine and started dying en masse
from a lethal mix of hunger and disease, provided they were not
killed by the Houthi rebels or MBS’s own indiscriminate air
strikes.

So,
what we have here is a Defense Minister who shortly after initiating
a murderous bombing campaign in one of the poorest countries on
earth, quietly goes on vacation in Southern France, indulges himself
for weeks there, and on a whim buys a second yacht to the tune of
half a billion, while imposing austerity on his own Saudi people and
killing thousands of civilians in Yemen.

Which
Defense Minister just leaves the country for weeks on end (MBS even
extended his French Riviera stay by 10 days just so he could finalize
the contract) to vacation in France (or anywhere else) shortly after
launching a major military intervention in a neighboring country?
That incredibly casual, reckless, and criminally irresponsible
behavior is highly reminiscent of Bush spending weeks on his Texas
ranch after being warned by his own intelligence agencies that an Al
Qaeda commando had managed to infiltrate the U.S. and was preparing a
major attack on American soil (this was 9-11); or Trump, another
buddy and ally of our Crown Prince, spending half his time as
president
of the United States on golf courses. MBS, evidently belongs to that
category of heads of states.

And
there’s even more that keeps coming if one digs a little.

As
revealed by France’s top daily Le Monde and the Paradise
Papers

/ International
Consortium of Investigative Journalists

(this remarkable ongoing investigation on a global scale involving a
network of nearly 400 journalists and financial experts who have
coordinated their efforts to track down how the rich and famous hide
their money and other assets to escape tax evasion through legal and
illegal means), MBS and Yuri Shefler hired the British Appleby law
firm (the
same one

at the center of the Paradise Papers scandal itself) to organize for
them a complex and opaque financial montage of fake off-shore
companies in the Isle of Man (one of the world’s Top 10 tax
havens
)
whose sole purpose was to allow His Majesty to escape paying the 84
million euros in taxes he should have paid to France, where he saw
and purchased the boat (Le Monde, which is part of the Paradise
Papers consortium, was able to get a leaked copy of the actual yacht
contract signed by the two men.) Though the English-language press
does not seem to have kept up with this, MBS’s deal with the
Russian owner of the yacht is actually one of the thousands that has
been exposed by the Paradise Papers investigation.

Meanwhile,
MBS
does not seem particularly keen on helping the world, and his fellow
Muslims, deal with that mammoth refugee crisis: “As Amnesty
International

recently pointed out, the ‘six Gulf countries — Qatar, United
Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — have
offered zero
resettlement places to Syrian refugees
.’
This claim was echoed by Kenneth Roth, executive director of
Human Rights Watch.” What a shame for a regime who brags about
being the “guardian of Mecca”.

A clear and present danger

On
foreign policy, MBS is the worst thing that could have happened to
the Middle East at this particular, already volatile moment. In a
mere few months, he has proven to be the main threat to stability and
peace in the region, and with Assad and groups like ISIS, a major
agent of destabilization and violence. As if the Middle East needed
more of that.

Like with all powerful men, when he fails, it’s others who pay the price

There
are at least four reasons why MBS is both a danger for the region and
the Saudi people. First,
he has
acted as the most hubristic Saudi supremacist in the kingdom’s
history. Second,
there is his
paranoia about, and against, Iran, KSA’s regional rival. Third,
his
character, which has a lot of common with Trump’s: behind his
misleadingly mild manners there
is
a toxic mix of recklessness, extremism, amateurishness, lack of
experience, absence of good and wise advisors around him, substandard
education (a B.A. in law when the standard at the Saudi royal court
is often a Ph.D. in one of the world’s top elite institutions),
greed (for power, money, luxury etc.), indifference to the suffering
he is causing around him, and brutality—including against members
of his own family if he thinks they could one day become rivals. His
good connection to some of the Saudi youth and his populist appeal to
them will not be enough to redeem that. And
fourth, largely
due to that character, unfit for a head of state especially that of a
major world power, his quasi systematic failures in pretty much all
his enterprises. The
problem
is that like with
all
powerful men, when he fails, it’s others who pay the price.

When
it comes to failure, our Prince
of Mayhem

fails a
lot,

as we have seen these past several months. Here is a non-exhaustive
list:

His
blockade
of Qatar

and attempt to bully that nation, even to bring it to its knees (for
reasons evidently different from those he stated, the usual “fight
against terrorism” invoked by all of the region’s despots) failed
miserably, and actually backfired by pushing
Qatar in the arms of Iran, Turkey

and other regional powers. MBS’s poorly-conceived anti-Qatari
“policy” actually resulted in the creation of a strong tactical
Iran-Qatar-Turkey axis likely to undermine his own supremacist
regional ambitions.

His
laughable yet dangerous Lebanese /Hariri operation (also initially
meant to counter Iran and Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon) failed
equally miserably. Prime Minister Hariri has now rescinded the
resignation that MBS forced upon him, and even received a true hero’s
welcome when he returned. Again,
the bullying backfired.

The
Hariri adventure shows the reckless and dangerous nature of MBS: had
he succeeded, Lebanon may have been profoundly destabilized with
risks
of civil wars and additional violence

on its soil. The crown prince also revealed that he would not
hesitate to trigger yet another war on Lebanese soil by using Israel
as his attack dog against Hezbollah and Iran. Israel, was wiser and
more cautious than to play into the Saudi bullying.

In
Iraq, he has also failed to counter the ever-growing influence of
Iran at all levels of government and society.

For
many analysts, MBS has fallen into the Yemen trap set up for him by
the much smarter and subtle Iranian regime, thus shooting himself,
and his country with him, in the foot, as researcher Elizabeth
Kendall explains here.

But
it is Yemen that remains his worst, bloodiest adventure and most
atrocious failure so far.

Launched
in March 2015, operation “decisive storm”, now mockingly referred
to as Operation indecisive
storm
,
has turned out to be a quagmire in which the KSA and its coalition
have been stranded for almost three years now. And again, it is the
civilian population who is paying the very heavy price of MBS’
adventurist, violent and criminal policies. He, on the other hand, as
mentioned earlier, went on vacation in Southern France buying luxury
yachts shortly after pushing the KSA in this new and
amateurishly-conceived military operation.

The
most concrete consequence of MBS’s actions in Yemen has been to
throw fuel on the fire of what was essentially a domestic
civil war

(not an Iranian foreign operation as he is led to believe), and to
push
7 million Yemenis

to the brink of death by starvation and disease.

His
cruel and indiscriminate bombing campaign has turned Yemen’s
civilian infrastructures including apartment buildings, schools and
hospitals into dust while killing civilians by the thousands, leading
even his E.U. allies to call for an arms
embargo against Saudi Arabia
.
There is no doubt left at this point that this prince has been
committing war
crimes

on a large scale, helped in that by western powers like France and
the U.S. who keep selling him billions worth of weaponry, in full
knowledge of how he uses them. Which incidentally makes heads of
states like Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump themselves war
criminals

and major sponsors of Saudi (and
Egyptian)
state terrorism, if words still have meaning.

The
cruelty and extremism of MBS became even more apparent when on
November 4, he implemented a complete
blockade of Yemen

well after that population had reached a critical stage and was
already being decimated by famine coupled with the world’s worst
epidemics of cholera (here,
here,
here,
here,
and here).
Yet, unfazed, uncaring, solely motivated by his blind hatred of Iran,
he did not hesitate for a second to make it even worse. Saudi Arabia
has since partially lifted that murderous blockade but it is not
nearly enough
,
and that decision was mostly due to the considerable international
pressure

and global outrage—even
Trump

asked the KSA to end its blockade!

Let
us remember here that MBS’ blockade of a population that already
was in critical condition and dying from a mix of military
operations, famine, and disease, even included humanitarian aid, food
and medicine.

What
kind of leader does
this to a
defenseless civilian population
before giving himself a little luxury vacation on the Riviera,
wasting billions of his kingdom’s money on luxury goods bought from
offshore fiscal paradises?

The
young Saudis, who naively believe his propaganda or put
their hopes

in that sordid, despotic character with already so much blood on his
hands and a long record of abject failures, may want to reconsider.

Let’s
also notice how, in that particular context of a mass famine largely,
though not solely, of MBS’s own making, it was particularly
disgusting for Friedman to gleefully evoke all the rich meals of
lamb, “several dishes of them!”, he was served by his autocrat in
his " ornate adobe-walled palace in Ouja". This
little boy here

was not served Saudi lamb for dinner, though.

Failure, abject strategies, and bad luck

He has already started to sabotage his own economic plan

When
it comes to murderous policies, MBS has been second only to Assad.
Even el-Sisi looks like a cautious, wise and reasoned strategist by
comparison, and it is no small feat! Despite his attempt at creating
a cult of personality around him through individuals like Friedman,
MBS
should be renamed Prince
Shoot Himself in the Foot

or The
Reverse Midas Touch
.
He will probably manage to wreck by himself his one good, smart,
much-needed and timely project: his grandiose Vision
2030 economic plan

aimed at diversifying the Saudi economy for a post-oil future, which
he essentially cut-and-pasted from Abu Dhabi’s own…Vision
2030
 whose name he did not even bother to change.

And
as a matter of fact, he has already started to sabotage
his own economic plan
:
apparently, no one in his “young” entourage explained to him that
it is bad for business to scare potential investors away by
arresting, kidnapping, robbing then ransoming hundreds of them
including the most globally known
ones like billionaire and
international
businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. This may fare well among some
Saudi youth, providing them with a populist outlet, but in the world
of business investors and high finance that the KSA now increasingly
depend on for its future, such a behavior is unacceptable
especially at a time when the kingdom is badly in need of hundreds of
billions of foreign investment while there’s growing skepticism
around Vision 2030 (here,
here,
here).

In
that context, the spectacle of MBS locking businessmen and forcing
them through blackmail, threat and actual violence to spit their
assets is yet another mark, this time a domestic one, of his
recklessness (his brutality, too) as a head of state. Whatever
billions he may have obtained that way have probably been offset by
the many more he must have already lost right there.

One
also observes that, to make things worse, MBS is also a very unlucky
man. For example, just when he thought that former Yemen president
Saleh reaching out to him would finally help the KSA extract itself
from that nightmare of his own making, the
man gets killed almost instantly
!
On Saturday December 2, Saleh makes his overture to Saudi Arabia and
everyone thinks this could be the breakthrough that may help end the
war. On Monday December 4, the man is dead, the hope for an exit from
that quagmire is no
more
,
and Saudi Arabia has to reengage
itself even further

in Yemen through stepped-up bombings.

Similarly,
MBS strikes an alliance with Israel (hoping to instrumentalise that
country too through a war-by-proxy against Iran), but a mere few
weeks later, his other ally Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s
capital, provoking outrage throughout the Middle East and beyond and
putting our prince in an even more delicate and frankly impossible
situation regarding this unholy alliance with Israel, whose regime is
hated throughout the whole Arab world including the KSA.

It
recently came out that while
hypocritically opposing the decision, MBS
gave Trump the green light

and behind the scenes has been helping
Israel and some
American
zionists grab Jerusalem and the West Bank
.
Multiple sources including Israeli, Arabic, European and American
ones reported that despite his criticism of Trump (for PR to his Arab
public), MBS was allegedly from the start  in bed with
the Israelis and with characters like Trump's son in law Jared
Kushner to help them get Jerusalem and more including the West Bank.
MBS is probably hoping to put Israel further on his side in his war
against Iran. He allegedly also tried to convince Palestinian
President Mahmoud
Abbas
offering him money in exchange for his acceptance of the pro-Israel
deal. In particular, the New
York Times,
reporting
its own version of the meeting on December 3,

confirmed through multiple insider sources that MBS offered Abbas
“vastly increased financial support for the Palestinians, and even
dangled the possibility of a direct payment to Mr. Abbas, which they
said he refused.” All this is perfectly congruent with the rest of
MBS foreign policy. It is therefore not just with Israel that MBS is
fully in bed for cynical anti-Iranian reasons and goals, but
with
the most right-wing Israeli government and Trump’s White House.

Such
a deadly mix of incompetence, inexperience, brutality, adventurist
recklessness, and indifference to the suffering caused by one’s
ill-conceived policies would already represent a major threat to any
country with such a head of state. But coupled as it is with regional
supremacism and great power and outreach, it can only mean disaster
for the whole region, the KSA included. And it is therefore no
surprise that in a few short months since he rose to prominence, Bin
Salman has already hurt the region badly (Yemen, support to Egypt’s
brutal
regime, etc.) or tried to do so (Qatar, Iran, Lebanon). Although he
has not killed as many people as Assad, MENA’s worst mass murderer,
MBS’ capacity and potential for nuisance is a lot greater than the
Syrian president’s.

Contrary
to MBS, Assad has no imperialist ambitions
and is merely content with staying in power and controlling his
little western corner of “useful” Syria. But our prince wants to
drag, push and suck the whole region, and the west, U.S. included, in
an all-out war without end against Iran, or a series of hot and cold
wars, no matter the cost. He has shown he was even willing to use
Israel as his attack dog and have it start a war in Lebanon against
Hezbollah and Iran. Let’s just imagine the result had he succeeded.

Friedman
describes bin Salman as the right person at the right time. Instead,
he is the wrong—the worst, actually—person at the wrong time at
the wrong place. His belly filled with those “many dishes of lamb”
served to him by a despot while 7 million poor people were dying of
hunger next door starved by his own princely guest, Friedman, happy
like a child and proud of himself at how “important” he felt, had
probably stopped thinking at that time. But this remark should have
given him cause for concern, as that is the kind of bellicose
rhetoric we heard before, for example during Bush’s 2003 invasion
of Iraq:

“Iran’s
‘supreme leader is the new Hitler of the Middle East,’ said
M.B.S. ‘But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work.
We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in
Europe in the Middle East.’”

When
a world leader starts comparing his public enemy number one to
Hitler, calling him “the New Hitler”, the “Hitler of the Middle
East” and that sort of thing, you know it is not good news for the
future.

Besides
his important and timely attempt to modernize the Saudi economy, Bin
Salman has two essential goals, which help understand each and every
one of his domestic and regional policies including his aggression
against Qatar, his alliance-building activity with the UAE and Egypt,
his war in Yemen, his efforts to secure western support by talking a
little “liberal Islam”, and more: the first goal is to prevent a
resumption of the ‘Arab Spring’. Those autocrats have all felt
the heat in 2011, they feel a bit better now, but they also know that
the ashes of that historic revolution are still burning under the
snow and ice of the ‘Arab winter’. The second goal is, as
mentioned earlier, regional Saudi supremacism and, if he could, the
destruction of the KSA’s arch enemy and rival, Iran.

There
is nothing this crown prince and future king will not do or push
others (Israel, Trump, etc.) to do to accomplish those two
goals. If this dangerous character has his ways, it will mean the end
of hope for Arab democracy, and wars without end throughout the whole
region.

That
is why Mohammad bin Salman is now MENA’s main threat to peace,
stability, and hope for democratization in the Arab world.

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Not a Saudi ‘Arab spring’: Mohammad Bin Salman, a threat not a reformer [Part 2]

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/01/2018 - 2:12am in

Mohammad bin Salman is now MENA’s main threat to peace, stability, and hope for democratization in the Arab world.

A boy walks on rubble of a house destroyed by recent airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen, on Dec. 29, 2017. Picture by Mohammed Mohammed/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved. While
Thomas Friedman
was taking Mohammad bin Salman’s claims about
fighting corruption
at face value
,
many
were seeing extortion, and an abuse of power. Consider what follows, all of which also mysteriously escaped Friedman’s
journalistic acumen:

In
the summer of 2015, while vacationing in Southern France, MBS
purchased
,
on a whim, one of the biggest and most expensive yachts in the world
from Russian billionaire Yuri
Shefler

(who incidentally made his fortune selling
vodka), after spotting it once in the bay. The deal was finalized
right there without further waiting, for a staggering $500 million
(twice
the cost of the most expensive house in the United States,

itself already the ultimate billionaires’ dreamland.) While
indulging himself with such lavish luxury purchases, His Highness was
pushing for and implementing economic reforms

of the IMF type, meaning, drastic austerity measures, budget cuts,
salary cuts, freezes of government contracts and so on and so forth,
following the drop in oil prices which has since resulted in the KSA
losing a stunning one
third

of its currency reserves in less than three years since 2014.

This
itself would be enough to prove that MBS, supposedly a paragon of
morality, moderation and integrity, a “wise king”, is one of
those morally and politically corrupt rulers and “wealthiest 1%”
(0.0001% in his case) for whom austerity, “necessary sacrifices”,
and belt-tightening measures apply to others but never to oneself.

But
there is worse.

In less than 2 years, our wise ruler bought for himself two luxury yachts for over $600 million

The
Serene

was actually the second
yacht MBS bought (at least the second that we know of). Less known is
the fact that in 2014, namely not even a year before that July 2015
half billion “impulse purchase” of the
Serene
,
MBS had already bought a yacht, the Pegasus
(now Pegasus
VII
)
for $120 million, at a time when he was special advisor to the royal
court and state
minister
.

So,
in less than 2 years, our
wise ruler bought for himself two luxury yachts for over $600
million, while making his Saudi subjects tighten their belts. It is
also to be noted that the KSA currency reserves were
already at that time being depleted faster than the speed of light,
yet that did not seem to matter either for MBS. It would be
interesting to know what else he
bought and how much of the Kingdom’s shrinking oil money he has
spent on himself during his
shopping binge.

Furthermore,
let us remember that by the time he bought this second
yacht, MBS was the head of the Royal Court as well as Saudi Arabia’s
Defense Minister (he was appointed to that crucial position by his
father on January
23, 2015).

He
had also
already
started his bombing campaign in Yemen (“Operation Decisive Storm”
was launched in March
2015
),
to devastating consequences for
the civilian population
,
who quickly ran out of food and medicine and started dying en masse
from a lethal mix of hunger and disease, provided they were not
killed by the Houthi rebels or MBS’s own indiscriminate air
strikes.

So,
what we have here is a Defense Minister who shortly after initiating
a murderous bombing campaign in one of the poorest countries on
earth, quietly goes on vacation in Southern France, indulges himself
for weeks there, and on a whim buys a second yacht to the tune of
half a billion, while imposing austerity on his own Saudi people and
killing thousands of civilians in Yemen.

Which
Defense Minister just leaves the country for weeks on end (MBS even
extended his French Riviera stay by 10 days just so he could finalize
the contract) to vacation in France (or anywhere else) shortly after
launching a major military intervention in a neighboring country?
That incredibly casual, reckless, and criminally irresponsible
behavior is highly reminiscent of Bush spending weeks on his Texas
ranch after being warned by his own intelligence agencies that an Al
Qaeda commando had managed to infiltrate the U.S. and was preparing a
major attack on American soil (this was 9-11); or Trump, another
buddy and ally of our Crown Prince, spending half his time as
president
of the United States on golf courses. MBS, evidently belongs to that
category of heads of states.

And
there’s even more that keeps coming if one digs a little.

As
revealed by France’s top daily Le Monde and the Paradise
Papers

/ International
Consortium of Investigative Journalists

(this remarkable ongoing investigation on a global scale involving a
network of nearly 400 journalists and financial experts who have
coordinated their efforts to track down how the rich and famous hide
their money and other assets to escape tax evasion through legal and
illegal means), MBS and Yuri Shefler hired the British Appleby law
firm (the
same one

at the center of the Paradise Papers scandal itself) to organize for
them a complex and opaque financial montage of fake off-shore
companies in the Isle of Man (one of the world’s Top 10 tax
havens
)
whose sole purpose was to allow His Majesty to escape paying the 84
million euros in taxes he should have paid to France, where he saw
and purchased the boat (Le Monde, which is part of the Paradise
Papers consortium, was able to get a leaked copy of the actual yacht
contract signed by the two men.) Though the English-language press
does not seem to have kept up with this, MBS’s deal with the
Russian owner of the yacht is actually one of the thousands that has
been exposed by the Paradise Papers investigation.

Meanwhile,
MBS
does not seem particularly keen on helping the world, and his fellow
Muslims, deal with that mammoth refugee crisis: “As Amnesty
International

recently pointed out, the ‘six Gulf countries — Qatar, United
Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — have
offered zero
resettlement places to Syrian refugees
.’
This claim was echoed by Kenneth Roth, executive director of
Human Rights Watch.” What a shame for a regime who brags about
being the “guardian of Mecca”.

A clear and present danger

On
foreign policy, MBS is the worst thing that could have happened to
the Middle East at this particular, already volatile moment. In a
mere few months, he has proven to be the main threat to stability and
peace in the region, and with Assad and groups like ISIS, a major
agent of destabilization and violence. As if the Middle East needed
more of that.

Like with all powerful men, when he fails, it’s others who pay the price

There
are at least four reasons why MBS is both a danger for the region and
the Saudi people. First,
he has
acted as the most hubristic Saudi supremacist in the kingdom’s
history. Second,
there is his
paranoia about, and against, Iran, KSA’s regional rival. Third,
his
character, which has a lot of common with Trump’s: behind his
misleadingly mild manners there
is
a toxic mix of recklessness, extremism, amateurishness, lack of
experience, absence of good and wise advisors around him, substandard
education (a B.A. in law when the standard at the Saudi royal court
is often a Ph.D. in one of the world’s top elite institutions),
greed (for power, money, luxury etc.), indifference to the suffering
he is causing around him, and brutality—including against members
of his own family if he thinks they could one day become rivals. His
good connection to some of the Saudi youth and his populist appeal to
them will not be enough to redeem that. And
fourth, largely
due to that character, unfit for a head of state especially that of a
major world power, his quasi systematic failures in pretty much all
his enterprises. The
problem
is that like with
all
powerful men, when he fails, it’s others who pay the price.

When
it comes to failure, our Prince
of Mayhem

fails a
lot,

as we have seen these past several months. Here is a non-exhaustive
list:

His
blockade
of Qatar

and attempt to bully that nation, even to bring it to its knees (for
reasons evidently different from those he stated, the usual “fight
against terrorism” invoked by all of the region’s despots) failed
miserably, and actually backfired by pushing
Qatar in the arms of Iran, Turkey

and other regional powers. MBS’s poorly-conceived anti-Qatari
“policy” actually resulted in the creation of a strong tactical
Iran-Qatar-Turkey axis likely to undermine his own supremacist
regional ambitions.

His
laughable yet dangerous Lebanese /Hariri operation (also initially
meant to counter Iran and Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon) failed
equally miserably. Prime Minister Hariri has now rescinded the
resignation that MBS forced upon him, and even received a true hero’s
welcome when he returned. Again,
the bullying backfired.

The
Hariri adventure shows the reckless and dangerous nature of MBS: had
he succeeded, Lebanon may have been profoundly destabilized with
risks
of civil wars and additional violence

on its soil. The crown prince also revealed that he would not
hesitate to trigger yet another war on Lebanese soil by using Israel
as his attack dog against Hezbollah and Iran. Israel, was wiser and
more cautious than to play into the Saudi bullying.

In
Iraq, he has also failed to counter the ever-growing influence of
Iran at all levels of government and society.

For
many analysts, MBS has fallen into the Yemen trap set up for him by
the much smarter and subtle Iranian regime, thus shooting himself,
and his country with him, in the foot, as researcher Elizabeth
Kendall explains here.

But
it is Yemen that remains his worst, bloodiest adventure and most
atrocious failure so far.

Launched
in March 2015, operation “decisive storm”, now mockingly referred
to as Operation indecisive
storm
,
has turned out to be a quagmire in which the KSA and its coalition
have been stranded for almost three years now. And again, it is the
civilian population who is paying the very heavy price of MBS’
adventurist, violent and criminal policies. He, on the other hand, as
mentioned earlier, went on vacation in Southern France buying luxury
yachts shortly after pushing the KSA in this new and
amateurishly-conceived military operation.

The
most concrete consequence of MBS’s actions in Yemen has been to
throw fuel on the fire of what was essentially a domestic
civil war

(not an Iranian foreign operation as he is led to believe), and to
push
7 million Yemenis

to the brink of death by starvation and disease.

His
cruel and indiscriminate bombing campaign has turned Yemen’s
civilian infrastructures including apartment buildings, schools and
hospitals into dust while killing civilians by the thousands, leading
even his E.U. allies to call for an arms
embargo against Saudi Arabia
.
There is no doubt left at this point that this prince has been
committing war
crimes

on a large scale, helped in that by western powers like France and
the U.S. who keep selling him billions worth of weaponry, in full
knowledge of how he uses them. Which incidentally makes heads of
states like Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump themselves war
criminals

and major sponsors of Saudi (and
Egyptian)
state terrorism, if words still have meaning.

The
cruelty and extremism of MBS became even more apparent when on
November 4, he implemented a complete
blockade of Yemen

well after that population had reached a critical stage and was
already being decimated by famine coupled with the world’s worst
epidemics of cholera (here,
here,
here,
here,
and here).
Yet, unfazed, uncaring, solely motivated by his blind hatred of Iran,
he did not hesitate for a second to make it even worse. Saudi Arabia
has since partially lifted that murderous blockade but it is not
nearly enough
,
and that decision was mostly due to the considerable international
pressure

and global outrage—even
Trump

asked the KSA to end its blockade!

Let
us remember here that MBS’ blockade of a population that already
was in critical condition and dying from a mix of military
operations, famine, and disease, even included humanitarian aid, food
and medicine.

What
kind of leader does
this to a
defenseless civilian population
before giving himself a little luxury vacation on the Riviera,
wasting billions of his kingdom’s money on luxury goods bought from
offshore fiscal paradises?

The
young Saudis, who naively believe his propaganda or put
their hopes

in that sordid, despotic character with already so much blood on his
hands and a long record of abject failures, may want to reconsider.

Let’s
also notice how, in that particular context of a mass famine largely,
though not solely, of MBS’s own making, it was particularly
disgusting for Friedman to gleefully evoke all the rich meals of
lamb, “several dishes of them!”, he was served by his autocrat in
his " ornate adobe-walled palace in Ouja". This
little boy here

was not served Saudi lamb for dinner, though.

Failure, abject strategies, and bad luck

He has already started to sabotage his own economic plan

When
it comes to murderous policies, MBS has been second only to Assad.
Even el-Sisi looks like a cautious, wise and reasoned strategist by
comparison, and it is no small feat! Despite his attempt at creating
a cult of personality around him through individuals like Friedman,
MBS
should be renamed Prince
Shoot Himself in the Foot

or The
Reverse Midas Touch
.
He will probably manage to wreck by himself his one good, smart,
much-needed and timely project: his grandiose Vision
2030 economic plan

aimed at diversifying the Saudi economy for a post-oil future, which
he essentially cut-and-pasted from Abu Dhabi’s own…Vision
2030
 whose name he did not even bother to change.

And
as a matter of fact, he has already started to sabotage
his own economic plan
:
apparently, no one in his “young” entourage explained to him that
it is bad for business to scare potential investors away by
arresting, kidnapping, robbing then ransoming hundreds of them
including the most globally known
ones like billionaire and
international
businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. This may fare well among some
Saudi youth, providing them with a populist outlet, but in the world
of business investors and high finance that the KSA now increasingly
depend on for its future, such a behavior is unacceptable
especially at a time when the kingdom is badly in need of hundreds of
billions of foreign investment while there’s growing skepticism
around Vision 2030 (here,
here,
here).

In
that context, the spectacle of MBS locking businessmen and forcing
them through blackmail, threat and actual violence to spit their
assets is yet another mark, this time a domestic one, of his
recklessness (his brutality, too) as a head of state. Whatever
billions he may have obtained that way have probably been offset by
the many more he must have already lost right there.

One
also observes that, to make things worse, MBS is also a very unlucky
man. For example, just when he thought that former Yemen president
Saleh reaching out to him would finally help the KSA extract itself
from that nightmare of his own making, the
man gets killed almost instantly
!
On Saturday December 2, Saleh makes his overture to Saudi Arabia and
everyone thinks this could be the breakthrough that may help end the
war. On Monday December 4, the man is dead, the hope for an exit from
that quagmire is no
more
,
and Saudi Arabia has to reengage
itself even further

in Yemen through stepped-up bombings.

Similarly,
MBS strikes an alliance with Israel (hoping to instrumentalise that
country too through a war-by-proxy against Iran), but a mere few
weeks later, his other ally Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s
capital, provoking outrage throughout the Middle East and beyond and
putting our prince in an even more delicate and frankly impossible
situation regarding this unholy alliance with Israel, whose regime is
hated throughout the whole Arab world including the KSA.

It
recently came out that while
hypocritically opposing the decision, MBS
gave Trump the green light

and behind the scenes has been helping
Israel and some
American
zionists grab Jerusalem and the West Bank
.
Multiple sources including Israeli, Arabic, European and American
ones reported that despite his criticism of Trump (for PR to his Arab
public), MBS was allegedly from the start  in bed with
the Israelis and with characters like Trump's son in law Jared
Kushner to help them get Jerusalem and more including the West Bank.
MBS is probably hoping to put Israel further on his side in his war
against Iran. He allegedly also tried to convince Palestinian
President Mahmoud
Abbas
offering him money in exchange for his acceptance of the pro-Israel
deal. In particular, the New
York Times,
reporting
its own version of the meeting on December 3,

confirmed through multiple insider sources that MBS offered Abbas
“vastly increased financial support for the Palestinians, and even
dangled the possibility of a direct payment to Mr. Abbas, which they
said he refused.” All this is perfectly congruent with the rest of
MBS foreign policy. It is therefore not just with Israel that MBS is
fully in bed for cynical anti-Iranian reasons and goals, but
with
the most right-wing Israeli government and Trump’s White House.

Such
a deadly mix of incompetence, inexperience, brutality, adventurist
recklessness, and indifference to the suffering caused by one’s
ill-conceived policies would already represent a major threat to any
country with such a head of state. But coupled as it is with regional
supremacism and great power and outreach, it can only mean disaster
for the whole region, the KSA included. And it is therefore no
surprise that in a few short months since he rose to prominence, Bin
Salman has already hurt the region badly (Yemen, support to Egypt’s
brutal
regime, etc.) or tried to do so (Qatar, Iran, Lebanon). Although he
has not killed as many people as Assad, MENA’s worst mass murderer,
MBS’ capacity and potential for nuisance is a lot greater than the
Syrian president’s.

Contrary
to MBS, Assad has no imperialist ambitions
and is merely content with staying in power and controlling his
little western corner of “useful” Syria. But our prince wants to
drag, push and suck the whole region, and the west, U.S. included, in
an all-out war without end against Iran, or a series of hot and cold
wars, no matter the cost. He has shown he was even willing to use
Israel as his attack dog and have it start a war in Lebanon against
Hezbollah and Iran. Let’s just imagine the result had he succeeded.

Friedman
describes bin Salman as the right person at the right time. Instead,
he is the wrong—the worst, actually—person at the wrong time at
the wrong place. His belly filled with those “many dishes of lamb”
served to him by a despot while 7 million poor people were dying of
hunger next door starved by his own princely guest, Friedman, happy
like a child and proud of himself at how “important” he felt, had
probably stopped thinking at that time. But this remark should have
given him cause for concern, as that is the kind of bellicose
rhetoric we heard before, for example during Bush’s 2003 invasion
of Iraq:

“Iran’s
‘supreme leader is the new Hitler of the Middle East,’ said
M.B.S. ‘But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work.
We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in
Europe in the Middle East.’”

When
a world leader starts comparing his public enemy number one to
Hitler, calling him “the New Hitler”, the “Hitler of the Middle
East” and that sort of thing, you know it is not good news for the
future.

Besides
his important and timely attempt to modernize the Saudi economy, Bin
Salman has two essential goals, which help understand each and every
one of his domestic and regional policies including his aggression
against Qatar, his alliance-building activity with the UAE and Egypt,
his war in Yemen, his efforts to secure western support by talking a
little “liberal Islam”, and more: the first goal is to prevent a
resumption of the ‘Arab Spring’. Those autocrats have all felt
the heat in 2011, they feel a bit better now, but they also know that
the ashes of that historic revolution are still burning under the
snow and ice of the ‘Arab winter’. The second goal is, as
mentioned earlier, regional Saudi supremacism and, if he could, the
destruction of the KSA’s arch enemy and rival, Iran.

There
is nothing this crown prince and future king will not do or push
others (Israel, Trump, etc.) to do to accomplish those two
goals. If this dangerous character has his ways, it will mean the end
of hope for Arab democracy, and wars without end throughout the whole
region.

That
is why Mohammad bin Salman is now MENA’s main threat to peace,
stability, and hope for democratization in the Arab world.

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

Not a Saudi ‘Arab spring’: Mohammad Bin Salman, a threat not a reformer [Part 1]

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Virgin Trains Bans the Daily Mail – Right-Wing Heads Explode!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 15/01/2018 - 10:18pm in

Last week Virgin Trains announced that at least on one of the lines they operated, they would no longer carry the Daily Mail due to customer complaints. Immediately the Mail and its legions of followers started frothing at the mouth and complaining of censorship. But they don’t really have any basis for complaint, as the ban by Virgin is part of the very capitalism and privatisation that their heroine, Maggie Thatcher, promoted.

As a private firm, Virgin is under no obligation to anyone except to turn a profit for its shareholders and bloated paychecks for its board members. Thatcher deluded herself into believing that privatisation would lead to better services, due to the action of market forces and competition. But this didn’t happen. We’re paying more now in subsidies, for a worse service, than we did under British rail. But this hasn’t bother the Tories, whose ideological commitment is for private industry to run everything, even when this would produce a manifestly worse service, as it would if and when they decide to go all out and privatise the Health Service completely.

But as a private firm, ‘Beardie’ Branson can do whatever he likes with it. It’s his property. And so, by the nature of property rights, the Tories can’t argue against what he’s done. It is censorship, yes, but it hasn’t been done by the state. It’s been done by a private individual, whose right to do what he likes with his property has always been regarded by the Tories and the Republicans in America as absolutely inviolable. Branson is free to decide whatever magazines his trains will, or will not carry, in the same way that newsagents can decide which papers to stock. Way back in the 1980s I tried to order the English version of Pravda, which was then coming out, from my local newsagents in my part of Bristol. No such luck. I was told that Bristol had been divided up between the two national distributors. One operated to supply the newsagents in one half, while the other operated in my area. And the distributor that supplied the newsagents in my area wouldn’t carry it. So I had absolutely no choice whatsoever. Private enterprise had decided that where I was, I couldn’t obtain Pravda. Just as Branson has now decided that the Heil will be unavailable on his trains.

Yes, the decision makes a mockery of Thatcher’s constant mantra that privatisation and private industry would bring more ‘choice’. It hasn’t. But this has been the result of privatisation generally. People have been left with a plethora of companies, all actually providing a worse service than when the utilities were nationalised, and for many people choice is actually an illusion. It doesn’t matter who you go to, you’re still paying very large amounts for services that arguably aren’t worth it. If you want an example, think of the privatised dentists. Thanks to Thatcher’s decimation of the dental service back in the 1980s, there are now few dentists taking NHS patients. The dentists that have gone private charge fees that, for many, make going to them unaffordable. Yes, you can change dentists, looking around for a cheaper service, but unless you find an NHS dentist, you’re still going to be charge very high fees. So from that perspective, you don’t have a choice. And the same applies to the railways and other public services taken over by private contractors.

Secondly, Branson was responding to ‘market forces’. This was the other buzzword of the Thatcherites. The operation of the market was held to be good, just and a guarantee of commercial efficiency and success. Capitalism won over socialism, because socialism took no account of market forces. There’s some truth in that when it’s applied to completely socialised economies such as those of the Communist bloc. But as we’ve seen, various capitalist firms have since failed, and then had to be bailed out by the taxpayer. If you just have market forces as your guide, then these firms, which now include Carillion, should be allowed to go under because of their failure to respond to what the market wants. But instead the right demands that we bail them out, because it’s private enterprise and so can’t be allowed to fail. It’s why the corporatist capitalism ushered in by Reagan and Thatcher has been called ‘socialism for the rich’, as the state is always required to support them, while denying welfare services and healthcare to those genuinely in need.

As for Branson’s ban on the Heil, he was responding to market forces. People had complained about the Heil, and as the service provider, he responded to what his customers wanted. The Mail, which has vociferously and consistently fallen over itself praising Thatcher to the rafters, cannot complain. Thatcher stood for market forces, and market forces have dictated that Virgin’s customers don’t want the Daily Mail. So it’s just too bad for them that Virgin trains will no longer be carrying it. There’s also an element of hypocrisy here. If Virgin had said that they wouldn’t carry what remains of the left-wing press in Britain – the Mirror, the Groaniad or the I, the right-wing press, including the Heil, would be delighted. This shows that the great British public despise the left and its journalism, they would announce proudly. But now that the great British public, or at least that section of it that travels by train, have decided that they don’t want the Mail and its hate and bigotry travelling with them, the Tory press has been screaming ‘censorship’.

Yes, Virgin’s ban on the Daily Mail is censorship, but it’s been done because of the nature of capitalism, Thatcherite ‘choice’ and ‘market forces’. Except that in this case, they haven’t acted to empower the right, but attack it.

Proud Haitians Defend Country as Free Black Republic after Trump’s ‘Sh*thole Countries’ Comments

Yesterday there were mass demonstrations in America, and expressions of outrage around the rest of the world at Trump’s grotesque comments about immigrants to America from ‘sh*thole countries’. As Mike put up on his blog, one of the countries that was most definitely not impressed was Botswana in Africa. This tiny African state, with a population of 2 million, has, as Mike pointed out, the highest growth rate in Africa, and a tradition of stable democratic government. It’s a developing nation, but definitely not a ‘sh*thole’. And the country’s authorities seemed determined to make that point when they called the American ambassador in to explain if their nation was one of the countries Trump was sneering at.

I was particularly impressed by a young Haitian woman, who appeared on the BBC news yesterday when the Corporation covered a demonstration against Trump and his racist comments in Florida. She stated that Haitians were a proud people, and that their country became the first Black republic, where the slaves overthrew their masters. She’s absolutely right. Modern Haiti was created by the ‘Black Jacobins’ under Toussaint Louverture, who organised a slave revolt inspired by the Revolution in France. Haiti had been a French colony, but they toppled colonial rule, and threw the French out. Louverture then renamed the country ‘Haiti’, rather than continue using the old French/ European colonial name, justifying the change by claiming that this was the indigenous name for it.

Lourverture’s revolution sent a shock wave throughout the Caribbean and America. It was an inspiration to Blacks struggling for their freedom, and alarmed the colonial authorities. The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw a series of slave revolts break out in the Caribbean, by enslaved people impatient for their freedom. These were ruthlessly and brutally suppressed, as the colonial authorities feared the influence of Haiti upon their enslaved subjects, and that the slaves would be in contact with the Haitian revolutionaries. And some free Black Americans moved to Haiti after they obtained their freedom. Major Moody, a British army officer, who was sent to the Caribbean in the 1820s to produce a report on whether the enslaved people of the British colonies were ready for emancipation, includes in his report correspondence between a Black American, who had done this, and his former mistress in America, who had freed him.

Haiti is a desperately poor country, as has been shown by the suffering and destruction it has sustained in recent years through a series of disasters. But much of this poverty and deprivation comes from American imperial intervention. The Americans invaded in the 1920s as part of their campaign to assert their dominance over the Caribbean, and defend their economic interests. And they’ve done the same thing at various intervals throughout the 20th and now the 21st century. A little while ago I found a piece on YouTube – I think it might have been by Abby Martin of TeleSur English’s The Empire Files, or it could have been the Real News people, which made the point that when the Americans invaded again a few years ago to overthrow the latest dictator, it wasn’t because of his human rights record. Rather, it was because he was redistributing wealth, which threatened American corporate interests once again. And the dictator’s left-wing opponent was kept from standing and taking over office through armed soldiers posted outside his house. It was the same pattern of invasion and coup that has been repeated over and over again, around the world, whenever a smaller, weaker country elects anyone remotely left-wing, or otherwise threatens the dominance of the big American corporations in their country’s economy. Just like Hillary Clinton five years ago in 2012 gave her backing to the Fascist coup which overthrew the liberal regime in Honduras.

One peculiar consequence of the American invasion of Haiti has been the rise of the zombie movie. The first of these appeared shortly after the 1920s American invasion, and left-wing, anti-colonial critics have argued that the movies represent an attempt by the country’s new colonial masters to present a picture of it as a terrifying land, steeped in superstition and black magic. Since then the zombie movie has moved away from Haiti to America itself, and under George A. Romero also developed satirical overtones criticising contemporary American society and capitalism. Like in one of his movies, the survivors seeks refuge in a mall.

Trump’s comments were offensive, and they clearly stung the pride of migrants to America, who nevertheless still felt strong bonds with their countries of origin, as well as the other peoples in the Developing World. But the young Haitian woman speaking up for her mother country made a very good point about how important it was for Black history. And if many of these countries are poor, ruled over by brutal, corrupt governments responsible for human rights abuses, one of the reasons is because the Americans have assisted these thugs into power to stop any redistribution of wealth or growth of democracy. All under the guise of protecting the world from the threat of Communism, and upholding American corporate interests. People around the world have been demanding that Trump apologise for his comments. They’re right, but it’s not just his comments that need to be critically analysed and opposed. It’s American imperialism itself, and the underlying cynical contempt for the nations of the Developing World and their people, who are there to be abused and sneered at in the interests of American corporate capitalism.

The Tunisian revolution seven years on

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 14/01/2018 - 9:43pm in

Seven years after the Tunisian revolution one can dissect four main conflict issues in Tunisia today.

A rally marking the third anniversary of the uprising that ousted long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2014 in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis. Picture by Palacio Marieau/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.Thirty years last
November Zine
el Abidine Ben Ali assumed power in Tunisia ending thereby the rule
of ailing Habib Bourguiba who ruled the country since its
independence in 1956. Ben Ali promised political reforms that lured
large segments of the Tunisian polity, including the Islamists. Those
hopes were soon shattered by the brutal crackdown following the 1989
general elections in which Ennahda ran on independent lists, and came
second after Ben Ali’s RCD party. Leftists were not spared either
and by 2010 Ben Ali managed to unite most Tunisians against his
authoritarian rule. Tunisians embarked on a political transition that
has been underway seven years now.

Dubbed the Arab Spring’s
exception, a number of explanations have been put forward by
different analysts. There is the role of a vibrant civil society,
high levels of education, the homogenous fabric of the Tunisian
society, and the limited geostrategic interests. One important
factor, however, is experiences of dialogue and coalition building
among political and civil society actors of different worldviews,
especially between secular leftists and Islamists. Those
involved in the 18 October 2005
dialogue initiative rightly argue
that the outcome of that experience facilitated reaching the
agreement on which the 2012 Troika government was formed.

The international community hailed the 2014 constitution as unique in the Arab world

Political transitions
following bottom up upheavals are very difficult to navigate in that
they bring to the surface all the contradictions that were suppressed
by the authoritarian regime. It was inevitable that the Troika
government would hit stubborn obstacles that threatened the entire
democratic change. In addition to the old ideological battles among
Islamists and secularists, the 2011 uprising allowed the emergence of
the Salafi voice as a new political actor that attracted sizable
segments of Tunisian youth. The 2013-14 national dialogue managed to
ensure a minimal consensus on issues that blocked drafting of a new
constitution in the 2011 Constituent Assembly. Yet, key issues were
either avoided or formulated in vague language. Besides, the
participative
Salafi voice
was not formally present at the negotiation table
between Ennahda and its political adversaries led by Nidaa Tounes.

This reality could explain to some extent the bloody political
violence during the first months of the post-Troika era, under Habib
Essid’s 2015 government. The international community hailed the
2014 constitution as unique in the Arab world and the Quartet that
convened the dialogue was rewarded with
a Nobel
Peace
Prize.

As Tunisians embarked on
a fresh start led this time by Nidaa Tounes high hopes were nurtured
by the media campaign that supported Nida Tounes and its electoral
promises. The reality was, however, more complex than defeating
Ennahdha in elections as Nida learned while
the party set off to form its government. President Beji Caid Essebsi
witnessed the emergence of differences that tore apart the
secularists’ alliance against Ennahda. Essebsi understood he needed
Ennahda in the government if it were not going to play the shadow
government role in the parliament. This decision shattered the
secularists’ 2014 alliance and pushed the Popular Front into the
opposition.

Soon after, Nidaa Tounes as well started to disintegrate
due to a combination of party leadership struggle thinly disguised as
political orientation differences. Current and former figures of
Nidaa Tounes disagree on the assessment of this episode. Some evoke
the 2013 Paris Consensus
between Essebsi and Rached Ghannouchi
, others explain it by a
genuine commitment on the part of President Essebsi to rise above
narrow partisan politics and act in the ultimate national interest,
as any statesman should do, especially during historical junctions of
the country.


The Nidaa-Ennahda
coalition
has so far survived three years. Ennahda has become the
first political force in the parliament following the string of
splits in Nidaa party and its parliamentary bloc. This reality that
was unthinkable hereto has shaken the Tunisian civil and political
landscape and forced shifts in alliances. While the leadership of the
two political parties are busy conceptualising ways to
institutionalise the coalition for it to hold for the next decade,
other secularist political groups have been repeatedly trying to form
new fronts in order to undo the coalition.

The rank and file of Nidaa-Ennahda are not however completely in tune with their respective leaders

The rank and file of
Nidaa-Ennahda are not however completely in tune with their
respective leaders. Segments of Ennahda youth, especially in the
south have not yet swallowed this shift of alliance from former ally
Moncef Merzouki, to Ennahda’s Bourguibism foe Essebsi.
The same applies for Nidaa’s youth who were recruited and mobilised
on an anti-Islamist platform but are now told to make peace with
Ennahda. Some figures in the opposition think this coalition of the
“Big Two” is killing the spirit of pluralism and fair political
play. Some even think that it would ultimately produce the same
conditions that fuelled the 2011 uprising.

Analysts and Tunisian
political
figures offer diverging assessments
on the transition strategy. Some argue that holding local elections
first could have spared Tunisia all the political violence and
economic hardship it has suffered over the last seven years. They
argue that
the root
causes of the uprising that began in the marginalised inland regions
has not been addressed seven years on; which explains the recurring
unrest
throughout those regions.
The debate around the economic
reconciliation project defended by Ennahda and Essebsi has to some
extent shifted the traditional ideological fault lines in favour of
new rapprochement among Islamist and leftist youth who all oppose the
law that they consider a license for impunity.

Seven years on, one can
dissect four main conflict issues in Tunisia today. First, the issue
of the coalition of Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda; second,
the nature of the political system; third,
the political role of the UGTT labour union; and finally, the urgency
of holding the local elections.
These
represent the main obstacles to the democratic transition in Tunisia
but there are other aspects of the transition that contribute to the
social unrest other than the economic hardship. A great deal remains
to be done in term of dealing with the past. The
Truth and Dignity Commission has embarked on a promising journey

but there is no consensus on its mandate and role among the Tunisian
polity. The Islamist-secularist ideological divide continues to
underpin the political debate in the country, the latest episode
being President Essebsi’s call to reform the inheritance law in
order to promote equal sharing between all citizens in a civic state
as the country’s constitution stipulates.

The coalition
of the ‘Big Two’

Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda
agree that their coalition based on the Paris consensus is vital for
the success of the transition. Ennahda even thinks that the coalition
should be developed and institutionalised to devise a development
strategy backed by the two parties in parliament and government, over
the next five, even ten, years in order to consolidate the
transition.

Other parties, however, fear this coalition of the Big Two

Other parties, however, fear that this coalition of the
Big Two will pave the way for the return to authoritarian rule. They
are in favour of a consensual rule that is enlarged to all political
actors (big and small, inside and outside the parliament). Two recent
acts reflect these dynamics. Nidaa Tounes, Ennahda and Slim Riahi’s
UPL have backed a single candidate to preside the
elections’ watchdog ISIE
and voted for Mohamed Tlili Mansri
last November.

The response came from Mohcen Merzouk’s El Houra
bloc, the Democrats bloc by the formation of the Progressive
Parliamentary Front
. This new front’s stated objective is to
“re-establish power balance in the parliamentary affairs and
guarantee political stability”. But few weeks later the talk is
about challenging the Nidaa-Ennahdha coalition in general.

The nature
of the
political
system

There has been growing
calls to review and amend the current hybrid political system that is
semi-parliamentary / semi-presidential. Some in Nidaa Tounes think
that in order to guarantee the ideal conditions possible for the
success of the transition (re-vitalise the economy, and pass the
necessary laws and policies), Tunisia needs an electoral law that
brings about a majority party rule. They are not necessarily calling
for amending the 2014 constitution, but they argue a reform of sorts
should be undertaken. This unnerved the other small political parties
who consider such a step would pave the way to the return of
authoritarian rule. They argue that the institutions enacted by the
2014 constitution have not even been fully established yet to judge
the sustainability of the constitution.

In his
interview
for the national Watania 1 TV on 18 September, Essebsi
said that
he
understands why some are calling for the reform of the hybrid system,
and that although the current constitution allows him to take such an
initiative, he nevertheless won't take it. At the same time, he
added, the parliament is free to launch such an initiative. In other
words, he is leaving the door open. Politically, opponents of Ennahda
consider a presidential system would ensure that
opponents
of Ennahda control the presidency (last line of defence of
secularists), since they are convinced Ennahda will have the control
of local, regional assemblies as it has the majority in parliament
now. Ennahda, however, is not clear on this issue.

During the Troika
years, Ennahda first called for a parliamentary system (convinced of
their popularity), but after the 2013 crisis the party agreed to the
current hybrid system. Since the beginning of the coalition
Nidaa-Ennahda some advisers around Ghannouchi, such as Lotfi Zeitoun,
have been on the offensive for a general reconciliation and a
presidential system. The party’s Shura
council is, however, divided. Some think if a reform of the system is
on the agenda, then a parliamentary system should be Ennahda's choice
not for partisan calculations but to prevent the return of the
despotic practices of the presidential rule under which Islamists
suffered most.

The political
role of the labour union

Figures of Nidaa Tounes
and even some leftists have expressed strong disapproval of the
political
role of the labour union,
UGTT. They consider that the labour
union should cease exerting political pressure on the government and
the political system (through the Popular Front). This is of course a
thorny issue in Tunisia given the historical role the UGTT played in
Tunisia's independence struggle and state building since then.
Besides, the labour union played a critical role in the downfall of
Ben Ali's regime as well as the Troika. It was crucial in the
National Dialogue 2013-14.

There is no consensus on the urgency of holding the local election

Since the temporary alliance between Nidaa
Tounes and the PF fell apart because of the inclusion of Ennahda in
2015, government tensions have been growing to unprecedented levels,
especially after the PF / UGTT voted against the civil servants
reconciliation law. In the above-mentioned interview president
Essebsi openly and aggressively attacked Hamma Hammami, PF’s
leader, in words with negative connotations. While the president
could have opted for another word, he used the term
Faasiq
that is religiously loaded. The interview stirred a polemic in mass
media and social media.

To hold or not to
hold elections


There is no consensus
on
the
urgency of holding the local election
: Disagreements on the
urgency of local elections have resulted in postponing them to next
spring 2018. Opponents of Ennahda think that holding the local
elections now is technically not feasible because the new local
governance law is not ready to discuss and pass, and because the
electoral body in charge of organising elections, ISIE, has just been
fully staffed. In addition to these technical arguments, they argue
that for voters’ mobilisation sake, budget savings, and to avoid
electoral fatigue, it would be logical to combine the local elections
with the upcoming regional elections sometime mid-2018.

Ennahda,
however, considers those justifications are baseless and that the
real reason other political parties have been dragging their feet is
their fear that unlike other secularist parties Ennahda is ready for
elections, which would give it an advantage for the legislative and
presidential elections in late 2019.

This disagreement is
reflected in the parliament. Party blocs in the parliament have spent
months before they could finally elect a president for ISIE, this
November. Ennahda fears that even the April date being floated by the
opposition is not definite since there are calls to postpone them
further and combine with regional elections, which is another dossier
on the agenda next year. Meanwhile, there is growing frustration at
the local
level and minor parties (who have nothing to lose) think that holding
elections on time, regardless of partisan gain, is crucial for
establishing the democratic culture during this founding phase of the
second republic. Opponents of this group think that holding elections
before arriving at a large consensus is more dangerous for the
transition than postponing them.

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

But what was so appealing about ISIS?

Attacks on Tunisia’s transitional justice process threaten women’s advancement

Despite Tunisia's positive reforms, more changes are needed

Political Islam in Tunisia: a history of Ennahda and the Tunisian exception

Tunisia’s struggle against corruption: time to fight, not forgive

Blogging at the time of dictatorship

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Now is the time for complacency: RBA v Bank of England edition

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/01/2018 - 4:43pm in

Tags 

Democracy

Reposted from the Mandarin

I

In our contemporary lexicon ‘independence’ – for instance of a government body – is usually a Good Thing. 1

But if we’re thinking of independence as a good thing for an agency to have – for instance the Productivity Commission (PC) – it’s not sufficient. It also needs to be used by the agency, and the agency must be worthy of it by virtue of the quality of its work. The odd thing is that so many such agencies have such a strong flavour of bureaucracy about them. There’s the same cultural emphasis on what I call being a sound chap. I’ve come to think that this is a kind of natural product of groups. They are … well … groupish.

They acquire the same kinds of social dynamics you notice at high school when nearly everyone wants to be one of the cool kids. But in government there’s an institutional basis to this also. Even if they have their own act,  even if their independence is prized in our public culture, most government statutory agencies are tethered to the career public service. Their officers enjoy the privileges of the Commonwealth public service career structure. So we should not be so surprised that those in such independent agencies think like bureaucrats. And there are few things more important to bureaucrats than appearing to be in control. To be thought of as sound chaps.

That means that what independence has been successfully cultivated is both highly specific and highly acculturated. Gradually from the 1960s on initially under the bureaucratic leadership of Alf Rattigan, a new orthodoxy grew in favour of freer trade, then free trade and then freer markets. The PC’s ‘independence’ was built around this.2 It was independence to pursue free trade. Likewise, the RBA’s independence is about setting monetary policy. As a senior officer of such a body, you might occasionally annoy the politicians in power and sometimes even other powerful people in the bureaucracy, but if you hiked rates when it was inconvenient, you were still a sound chap – indeed, this was evidence that you were the soundest of all chaps, answering to the institutional logic of your institution – and its role read within the intellectual orthodoxy.

This is a fortunate, alchemical trick in which institutional courage is founded on the quiet careerist culture of bureaucracy. In this sense, to put it in its best light, independence can breed courage in the institution while economising on its presence within individuals in the same way that markets are said to meet social needs while economising on altruism. But this independence is mainly about being ‘tough’ when the imperatives of day-to-day political and bureaucratic management might favour sweeping inconvenient things under the carpet. Any intellectual leadership that one might hope for from this independence seems largely confined to the terrain that’s already been marked out in advance for the institution.

II

Just as Thomas Kuhn distinguishes between normal science and the ‘revolution’ of moving between paradigms3 according to my account of independence, it is generally for ‘normal’ purposes – setting interest rates (RBA), tariffs (Tariff Board and IAC), making weather forecasts (BOM) or economic predictions on the fiscal cost of alternatives in the case of the PBO. But here’s the thing. There will come times when, to do it’s job well, an independent agency will need to be bolder. The PC is seeking to rise to this challenge of rethinking things, and thinking in ways it hasn’t in the past in a number of its inquiries such as its recent report on Data Availability and Use.

Still, expecting ‘paradigm change’ from government agencies somehow reminds me of the cartoon of a man playing chess with a dog in a park with the man saying to amazed onlookers “But I can beat him”. What we should hope for I think is an independence which is more humble – less preoccupied with the bureaucratic ‘steady-as-she-goes, the adults are in charge’ role-playing – and more prepared to lead the process of intellectual search.

Certainly that’s what I’d expect from central banks given how much money and independence we lavish on them – and, more to the point, how little we really understand either how to run the macro-economy or how to construct a healthy monetary and banking system 4

III

There’s only one institution I know of that’s like this. The Bank of England. Here’s a list of some of the more interesting research it’s published in the last six or so months.

Our RBA’s discussion papers seem a lot less exploratory. Here’s the full list for 2017.

Bank of England Speeches are often a lot classier, more educated and urbane than I’m used to from most Australian policymakers. That’s true of virtually all speeches by Andy Haldane my favourite public servant in all the world, but for another example, try this speech:

Though in some ways perhaps not an ideal model [for the Bank of England’s – Financial Policy Committee], the Committee of Public Safety showed in its short life – two hectic years from foundation to collapse – that policy committees can make a difference.

IV

Then there’s the Bank of England blog, Bank Underground, in which Bank officers explore all sorts of interesting questions with the usual disclaimers that their views are not necessarily those of the Bank. Indeed, though it was in the context of the Government 2.0 Taskforce, our own modelling of and support for blogs for public sector agencies was, at least in my case, inspired far more by my view of what it is to think effectively than it was for the greater good of ‘transparency’ in government. 6

It’s been a source of great disappointment to me how timid the public sector has been in embracing blogs to report and further the lines of inquiry public servants are considering, particularly those in policy research positions. Though line departments have some excuse and, if they did it would need to be more circumspect, I can’t see any excuse for the many agencies that have independence and research departments. Blogs can engage with the wider community about tentative lines of inquiry and concern without necessarily proposing or even discussing proposed policy proposals.  The Bank of England blog is both a record of, and I have little doubt an engine of a more engaged intellectual life than exists in most similar policy shops.

Quite a few of the posts are digests of research papers – some of which are very interesting as I’ve suggested above. Others are more exploratory. Perhaps as part of writing a research paper, perhaps not, one looks at whether the crisis of attention is harming the economy. Another explores the importance of second order preferences (that is the extent to which we exercise agency in developing some preferences over others) which seems to me to be about the most important ‘meta-question’ in micro-economics. Adam Smith devoted his first book The Theory of Moral Sentiments to it. But it’s invisible in the neoclassical framework lest, on being given visibility it blows up the whole edifice. 7

Beyond blockchain: what are the technology requirements for a Central Bank Digital Currency? and The Dog and the Boomerang: in defence of regulatory complexity are others.

Sadly there’s very little of this in Australian policy making. Indeed even the Grattan and Mitchell Institutes don’t seem to have a blog, preferring to ‘publish’ their minor outputs as little performance piece op eds in newspapers – but this serves a quite different function. The Lowy Institute on the other hand does have a very lively blog.

V

For me anyway, the contrast between two kinds of independence couldn’t be more clearly on display than in Governor Philip Lowe’s recent speech on an e-AUD?. To which I’ll return in due course.

  1. other Good Things include ‘appropriate’, ‘modernised’, ‘reform’, ‘enhance’, ‘principled’  It’s sobering to realise how rhetorical we are. There’s usually a way of saying something to make it sound very positive or very negative. Today debates between the Government and Oppositions of the day often get down to a war of adjectives of choice. Is the Minister being Strong and Principled, or Inflexible and Stubborn? And on it goes. Anyway, independence, in central banks at least has been very popular in recent decades.

    Chart From: A Little More Conversation A Little Less Action, Speech given by Andrew G Haldane, Chief Economist, Bank of England, 31 March 2017.

  2. And that of its predecessor institutions – the Rattigan Tariff Board, the IAC and the IC.
  3. Kuhn, it turns out, didn’t coin the term “paradigm shift”.
  4. (to say nothing of our ignorance of the great micro-economic trends of the coming decades – like the impact of AI, the path of productivity growth and the distribution of the dividends from it – and how we might influence them for the better.)
  5. This is a fairly standard research topic but is handled in a way that weighs in very effectively on contemporary post-GFC debates.
  6. To put it differently, transparency in thinking is fundamental to thinking itself – as we’ve seen from the rise of science which is predicated on transparency and critique. Indeed in government, while the right degree of transparency is necessary for good government – it is not an absolute value. There are limits arising from the inevitable dilemmas and conundrums. In any kind of deliberation under our system, there must be some forum in which people can deliberate privately and provisionally. Deliberation is not performative. Without necessarily defending the specific balance we have struck in this regard, cabinet papers are secret for a good reason. Secrets might arise as part of science, but as the upshot of competition between scholars. They are not logically necessary to science itself and in some sense are naturally inimical to it.
  7. I greatly lament the choice to lump this discussion in with ‘mindfulness’ which, in the piece is then pretty directly related to meditation and Buddhism. The considerations in the piece were quite central to the economic thinking not just of Smith but also of Marshall, Pigou and Keynes to name just a few and when I last checked none of them were Buddhists or mediated.

Do Black Politicians Matter?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 09/01/2018 - 12:01pm in

Tags 

Democracy

Do black politicians matter

Abstract:

This paper exploits the history of Reconstruction after the
American Civil War to estimate the causal effect of politician
race on public finance. I overcome the endogeneity between
electoral preferences and black representation using the number
of free blacks in the antebellum era (1860) as an instrument for
black political leaders during Reconstruction. IV estimates show
that an additional black official increased per capita county tax
revenue by $0.20, more than an hour’s wage at the time. The
effect was not persistent, however, disappearing entirely at
Reconstruction’s end. Consistent with the stated policy
objectives of black officials, I find positive effects of black
politicians on land tenancy and show that exposure to black
politicians decreased the black-white literacy gap by more than
7%. These results suggest that politician race has large effects
on public finance and individual outcomes over and above
electoral preferences for redistribution.

by Trevon D. Logan – #24190 (DAE)

Not a Saudi ‘Arab spring’: Mohammad Bin Salman, a threat not a reformer [Part 1]

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/01/2018 - 8:09pm in

Putting “Mohammad bin Salman” next to “Arab Spring” is either an oxymoron or an antithesis.

A demonstration to protest against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in Gaza City, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. Picture by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/PA Images. All rights reserved. Whatever
was left of “star-columnist-and-best-selling-author” Tom
Friedman’s credibility as a serious reporter was most likely lost
in his November
23 NY Times’ infamous op-ed
, where he described crown prince
Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) as the Middle East’s “most significant”
liberal reformer, and the true reincarnation of the ‘Arab Spring’
after a long ‘Arab winter’. “At last”, as the title says, a
new Middle Eastern savior has been born, and Friedman ambitions to be
his messenger.

Despite
his three Pulitzer Prizes (for his already distant work of the 1980s
and 1990s), Friedman is probably the most overrated international
reporter in the western world. His best-selling books are essentially
lame platitudes and easy popularizations of trends that have been at
work for decades (globalization, etc.) and were far better explained
by countless, more substantial intellectuals and analysts before him.
They often seem to be far more about Mr. Friedman himself, and
usually read as much as exercises in narcissistic self-aggrandizement
as the enlightening explanations of the world destined to educate us,
the masses, that he wants them to be.

Besides
his self-complacency, analytical sloppiness, intellectual laziness,
frequently glaring ignorance
or misunderstanding

of the topics he writes about , crude “Washington Consensus”
ideological conformism, cheap and easy optimism, and repetitive,
formulaic, predictable stance on trends he aspires to reveal to us
though he often seems to be behind the times and the last one to
discover, in childish awe, things everyone had been writing about for
years if not decades,
Friedman sounds
like
an egotistic,
pompous megalomaniac.

Is Friedman really the best the NY Times can find?

Serious
thinkers, intellectuals,
analysts, and scholars stopped paying attention to this
media figure a long time ago (if they ever did), and for a while, he
has been a subject
of mockery
.
Some would say he is just a joke. Even for the NY Times itself and
its
journalists, he has become an embarrassment,
to the point one truly wonders why this character is still on the
payroll of such a prestigious and serious newspaper. Is
Friedman really the best the NY Times can find?

Yet,
he definitely grabbed our attention (the negative type) with that
column, which has provoked outrage, disgust and dismay at the fact
the NY Times was publishing this truly awful and shocking piece of
shameless propaganda for Saudi Arabia’s new despot. Daniel Larison
described Friedman’s full-page piece as a “love
letter to a war criminal
”,
which was echoed by Daniel Martin Varisco calling it “an
undisguised love-song for a brutal and calculating potentate
”,
while Mehdi
Hasan

righteously ripped him apart on Democracy Now.

All
of which will without a doubt be seen by our globe trotter as further
evidence he “nailed it”, that he has once again created a “buzz”,
and that he is indeed “important”. Friedman’s arrogance will
most likely prevent him from considering the fact that everyone
immediately saw the exact same problems with his “reporting”, as
any real journalist would do in such a case. Besides, he has already
answered his critics with a
sophistication

that matches his writing and analytical skills.

It
is not the first time, far from it, that Friedman writes repellent
pieces
.
But this one reaches a new level in abjection. Its complete lack of
journalistic ethics and its shamelessly propagandistic nature is
immediately obvious to anyone reading it. But it is the tragic
context of the post-Arab Spring Middle East that makes Friedman’s
op-ed particularly repugnant on all levels—journalistic,
professional, ethical, or simply human.

Is MBS
the rebirth of the Arab Spring?

Arguing
as Friedman
does that MBS is presiding over some kind of rebirth or continuation
of the Arab Spring is probably the most absurd and counterfactual
claim of
the
year, one that already reveals Friedman’s dishonesty and bad faith,
or if we want to be charitable, his ignorance of the basics. Either
way, this one claim is sufficient to prove Friedman is no credible
reporter or analyst. The
Arab Spring was a grassroots chain reaction of rebellions against
precisely the type of despotic regimes MBS represents.
It was a series of large scale, interconnected popular
revolutions-from-below that toppled or tried to topple MENA’s
autocrats, not a top-down set of limited cultural “reforms”
granted to his subjects by some dynastic absolute monarch. So not
only is MBS no Arab Spring, but he is the exact opposite of it.

The Arab Spring was a grassroots chain reaction of rebellions against precisely the type of despotic regimes MBS represents

Besides,
it was the Saudi regime who in 2011 helped
the authorities of Bahrain crush in blood its own Arab Spring
.
The KSA even sent military forces there to quell the demonstrations,
and during the following years continued
to police their neighbor
.
Though bin Salman was not in charge yet, no one heard him protest
against that.

Finally,
the KSA under MBS remains firmly the main Arab ally of the
ultra-violent
Egyptian regime

of President el-Sisi, himself one of the worst
totalitarian dictators

in the region, ruling with
terror
,
fear and repression, and a proven mass murderer who in one single day
killed
nearly 1,000 of his own people

when they were staging a sit-in protest against his July 3, 2013
military coup. As this
Egyptian activist explains
,
the Sisi regime, a major MBS ally, is erasing in pure totalitarian
Orwellian fashion every trace and memory of the Arab Spring to make
sure it does not happen again. It is even claiming the 2011
protestors were traitors paid by foreign powers to sabotage the
country. Tahrir Square, which was the heart and furnace of the Arab
Spring, is now a military zone where demonstrations and gatherings
are forbidden.

Those
are the kinds of policies MBS fully backs, both at home and abroad in
countries like Egypt. Bin Salman’s major allies such as Egypt and
Bahrain systematically rank among those who repressed the Arab Spring
the most violently and will not hesitate to do it again, with his
full consent and support should the rebellions resume one day.

Some
commentators pointed
out how
outrageous it is for Friedman to take at face value MBS’ laughable
explanations on how the Saudi justice system is investigating and
prosecuting those alleged corruption cases in perfect independence.
Friedman does not seem to realize that it is the KSA, where there
is no
such thing as checks and balances, let alone separation of powers or
the independence of the justice system from government. Though
another
explanation is
that
he knows well,
but chooses to pretend that MBS’ explanations are truthful. For a
professional journalist, ignorance and naivety are sins that can
nonetheless be forgiven, but bad faith and deliberate dishonesty to
mislead one’s readership, furthermore in order to serve a tyrant,
are far graver crimes, the kind that cannot and should not be
forgiven. And Friedman’s bad faith in that piece is constant from
beginning to end.

Fake “liberal reformer”, true despot

Unless
Friedman deliberately forgot, it has escaped his attention that the
man he praises as some “liberal”, wise, visionary and generous
“reformer” is the ruler of an absolute monarchy who furthermore,
in blatant rupture with Saudi’s tradition of horizontal
power-sharing within the royal family, seeks
to establish a totalitarian one-man-rule.
He
has concentrated
all powers—political, economic, cultural, religious, and
military—in his own hands to
an unprecedented level

even
by Saudi absolute monarchy’s standards,
which
is
precisely
what the Arab Spring revolted against.

“Mohammad bin Salman” next to “Arab Spring” is either an oxymoron or an antithesis

This
“liberal reformer” is one who mercilessly suppresses dissent,
eradicates any form of opposition (even potential) through a wave of
purges,
silences critics, and cracks down on human
rights activists
,
judges,
intellectuals, clerics,
academics, and writers
—under
the usual alibi of “national
security

that every autocrat and tyrant out there now conveniently uses. Even
insufficiently
enthusiastic shows of suppor
t

are not tolerated. Friedman describes as “liberal” and “open”
a despot who has actually eliminated
whatever was left

of freedom of expression in the KSA while allegedly
having
his security forces beat
up and torture

businessmen and investors (including fragile old men in their 60s) to
make them reveal the details of their accounts so he can confiscate
their assets.

In
a nutshell, “Mohammad
bin Salman” next to “Arab Spring” is either an oxymoron or an
antithesis. Behind his civil, mild-mannered exteriors and charming
smile, Mohammad bin Salman is by far the worst, most extremist
totalitarian despot in the history of Saudi Arabia.

Nonetheless,
he has been praised lavishly in western media for his projects of
cultural reforms such as allowing women to drive (starting in June
2018, it is not even done yet) and attend games in sports stadiums,
authorizing some concerts once in a while, or opening some more movie
theaters, “one
day
”.
Though
such novelties are presented as major cultural revolutions—by Saudi
standards—and are certainly welcome by the bored Saudi youth, they
are hardly as groundbreaking or revolutionary as we are invited to
believe.

Take
the whole hype about movie theaters: there is already one IMAX
theater in Saudi Arabia, video rental stores appeared there as early
as the 1980s, and Saudis have been watching movies of all sorts for
ages on satellite TV
channels, the internet, smartphones and DVDs. Besides, it will be
interesting to see what
kind of films
are
allowed in those new movie theaters. The authorized selection, which
will no doubt be in the hands of some state censorship committee,
will probably look bleak to a true cinephile!

Friedman
doesn’t even see the irony of praising “men-only concerts” and
“women-only classical opera” as major revolutions!

It
blew my mind

to learn that you can hear western classical music concerts in Riyadh
now, that country singer Toby Keith held a men-only concert here in
September, where he even sang with a Saudi, and that Lebanese soprano
Hiba Tawaji will be among the first woman singers to perform a
women-only concert here on Dec. 6.”

Lost
in his western-centric little bubble, feeling superior and important,
neither does he realize how patronizing, paternalistic, chauvinistic
and condescending some of his remarks can be

"Saudi
Arabia would have a very long way to go before it approached anything
like western standards for free speech and women’s rights."

Middle
East scholar Madawi Al-Rasheed, who unlike Friedman shows an
independent and critical free spirit on this, eloquently asks:

Does
this moderate Islam mean the abolition of the death penalty,
prohibiting polygamy, allowing religious debate on hereditary rule,
the nature of Islamic government, and the illegitimacy of monarchy in
Islam? Does moderate Islam mean allowing civil society and trade
unions to flourish as these are modern versions of the old Islamic
guilds that protected society, professionals, and craftsmen against
the excesses of power and abuse? Does this projected moderate Islam
mean real consultation, shura, that translates into an elected
national assembly, representative government, and a constitution akin
to the old documents of Madina where the Prophet Muhammad established
the first Islamic state? Far from it. The prince's moderate Islam is
a new specific project in which dissenting voices are silenced,
activists are locked behind bars, and critics are forced into
submission. It is a moderate Islam that ironically justifies,
sanctions and praises the most radical government practices. But note
that this moderate religion has ample scope for entertainment, fun
and leisure.”

Or
to save time, one could simply have asked one rhetorical question:
will our oh-so-liberal Islamic reformist and enlightened sovereign,
who allegedly desires to “open” the Saudi society and put an end
to “radical Islam”, allow freedom of religions to exist in his
kingdom? Or short of that, will he at least allow the mere existence
of an opposition? Though, for that last question, we got the answer
through his repeated purges and waves of repression.

will
he allow demonstrations to take place? Or will he allow
the public practice of freedom of religion, the absence of which his own
ally, the
U.S.
State Department
has
strongly criticised?

Those
are certainly not the kind of questions we can imagine Friedman
asking his Saudi host. We all know the answers, and that too puts in
perspective MBS’ alleged Islamic “moderation” and liberalism,
whose limits are reached quickly and which boil down to allowing some
more fun and entertainment in order to pacify the Saudi youth or keep
it quiet.

All
those realities clash diametrically with the propaganda motif of
“MBS, a liberal, moderate, reformist Prince”

Friedman
and MBS’ pseudo women’s lib’

Friedman’s
vision of women
emancipation is equally laughable and as typically western and
chauvinistic as the rest, not to mention how easily and obviously
manipulated (with his full consent) he is by MBS and his entourage,
who must have had a good laugh at their NY Times guest
after his visit.

"Then
one of his ministers got out his cellphone and shared with me
pictures and YouTube videos of Saudi Arabia in the 1950s — women
without heads covered, wearing skirts and walking with men in public,
as well as concerts and cinemas. It was still a traditional and
modest place, but not one where fun had been outlawed, which is what
happened after 1979."

Besides
the poor writing (“women without heads covered”?), Friedman, who
claims to have been traveling there “for 30 years” and presents
himself as some Middle East expert, was apparently not even aware of
those facts. He had to wait until 2017 to discover, all amazed at
that revelation, what anyone a
tad knowledgeable about Saudi Arabia had always known.

Furthermore,
for Friedman like for most pseudo-feminists or feminist wannabees,
freedom means no hijabs, no traditional or visible Islamic outfits,
and instead: skirts, hair, and "fun". This shallow
conformist ideologue also doesn’t even try to conceal his classism
and open contempt for the more conservative rural areas:

"Alas,
who Saudi Arabia is also includes a large cohort of older, more
rural, more traditional Saudis, and pulling them into the 21st
century will be a challenge." 

Oh,
those old backward retarded peasants who may ruin our party and most
likely do not even "talk the language of high tech" like
all those wonderfully "young" people around him at MBS’
court... If only they could just drop dead or evaporate in the air!

In
passages such as those, Friedman reveals that far from being this
hypermodern, future-oriented, visionary Alvin Toffler type he tries
to be and who will explain to us the present and future shocks, he is
actually a crude reincarnation of the west’s archaic civilizing
mission

towards the “inferior Arabs”: gotta’ educate those backwards
folks and do so in alliance with their local despots, while
“liberating their oppressed women” too by helping them show some
hair and ankles, like ours, free women, proudly do!

But
the real ignorant here is Friedman himself, not those rural
populations he so obviously despises without even knowing them.
Friedman’s trips and interests in foreign populations are usually
limited to a few encounters with members of the economic and
political elite, plus chatting informally and randomly with “personal
friends” who think like him or some cab drivers, then presenting
this as if it were worthwhile sociological analysis.

But
to come back to our real power
that be
,
MBS’ cultural reforms, refreshing as they may be to a young
population who needs to breathe better in that society, are hardly
anything more than classic pacification at a moment when some of the
Saudi youth has become a bit restless about austerity measures, lack
of jobs and uncertain future or aspires to the western-style instant
gratification hedonistic fun they see in the media and experience
during their travels abroad.

Even
the future driving permit for women was announced the same day as the
arrest of 11 princes and hundreds of Saudi businessmen, in a clear
attempt to divert the attention from this latest crackdown (and from
the confiscation of the fortunes of those arrested without any hint
of where exactly, in whose pockets those billions are going).

But
here is another development Friedman did not mention, whether due to
sloppiness or ignorance: France’s top daily Le Monde reported that
the very same
day His Highness announced he would be lifting the driving ban, each
of the initial group of 15 courageous women drivers/activists who
challenged the ban were summoned one by one by the Saudi authorities
and were ordered to no longer talk to the media without the prior
approval of His Highness. This took place in the night of September
26-27, a few hours after the announcement that the ban would be
lifted. Before that, the announcements on the forthcoming lifting of
the driving ban coincided
with crackdowns, arrests, and kidnappings

of human rights defenders, in a clear, cynical attempt to create
smokescreens and diversion.

3 of those 15 women testified
to Le Monde, on condition of anonymity since they too are being
closely monitored now. They specified that the order not to talk
was "serious" and was
communicated
to them in a "threatening manner and tone". Most of them
have now stopped tweeting and refuse to talk to the media. Even
those who accept only do so reluctantly, insisting on absolute
anonymity. One of them, Tamador Al-Yami, tweeted on her personal
account: "For reasons beyond my control, I can no longer
continue to comment on the lifting of the ban."

On
the other hand, the government is summoning those other women who
support MBS (for example those appointed to his councils) to talk to
the media and praise him
for having granted this right to women.

The activists who
were interviewed explained that the reason for censoring their free
speech and banning them from the media was to allow MBS to take all
the credit for the measure, to be perceived as the one who initiated
it and as a benign "liberal reformist" or “good king”,
and above all (they all concurred on this) to avoid spreading the
notion that grassroots activism like theirs could indeed force the
Saudi regime to grant such measures: "They are afraid that if
people see our campaign has been successful, it will open more doors
and people will realize public pressure can indeed bring about
change", they say. 

That about puts this whole
“liberal reform” and driving permit thing into perspective. But
don’t expect to find any of it in a Friedman’s column. As those
women said, he indeed gives all the credit of that future measure
exclusively to MBS without mentioning even once the major role played
by those courageous activists, who, as Madawi Al-Rasheed writes,
“will probably also be allowed to drive themselves to jail if they
criticize Mohammed ben Salman”.

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

Will Iraq’s PM embrace a Trump-inspired Saudi-sponsored drive to curb Iranian influence?

The return of authoritarianism is priming the Middle East for more conflict

All ‘hail’ the real king

Contagion effect and the Saudi grand game in the Middle East

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Declassified Irish Documents: MI5 Tried to Get UVF to Assassinate Charles Haughey

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/01/2018 - 2:43am in

There’s an interesting article in Counterpunch today by John Wight, which might add a new dimension to the government losing around 2,000 files from the National Archives last week. The files were supposed to have been taken out by Home Office civil servants, and covered a range of very sensitive incidents, from the notorious Zinoviev Letter, through to the assassination in the 1970s of the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, and the dirty war in Northern Ireland. Human Rights campaigners were alarmed in case this was an attempt to cover up human rights violations by the British state in Ulster in the long campaign against the IRA and related terror groups. The Zinoviev Letter, you will remember, was the forged letter by the British security services, which purported to be from Zinoviev, the head of Stalin’s Comintern, congratulating the Labour party on preparing to take over Britain in a revolution.

A number of Labour MPs have already made their feeling about the disappearance of the files clear, stating that this is another Orwellian attempt by the Tories to rewrite or obscure history.

It is, and this isn’t the first time the Tories have borrowed sensitive files to make sure they’re out of circulation. Anyone remember a similar incident a few years ago, when government documents similarly went missing from the archives, only for the minister responsible to claim that he had just ‘innocently’ taken them away to help him with a book he was writing? I didn’t believe that story then. The Tories have offered no excuse now, which does make you wonder what they’re trying to hide.

Some clue to this comes from Irish government documents from the 1980s that have been released under their 30-year rule. This includes a letter from the Protestant terrorist group, the UVF, to Charles Haughey, informing him that they were approached by an MI5 officer, who wished them to assassinate the Irish president. John Wight in his article about this in today’s Counterpunch writes

Said papers confirm that in 1987 the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), one of the oldest and most notorious of the various loyalist/Protestant paramilitary organizations that were engaged in sectarian violence in the province during the Troubles, wrote to the then Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey in Dublin, informing him that in 1985 they were approached by Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, with a request to assassinate him.

We learn that in the letter the UVF told Mr Haughey, “In 1985 we were approached by a MI5 officer attached to the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) and based in Lisburn, AlexJones was his supposed name. He asked us to execute you.” The letter subsequently goes on to allege that Britain’s MI5 supplied the group with information such as pictures of Haughey’s home, his private yacht, and details of the vehicles he travelled in.

The UVF refused follow through on MI5’s request, telling Mr Haughey, “We have no love for you but we are not going to carry out work for the Dirty Tricks Department of the British.”

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/01/03/britains-dirty-war-in-ireland-revisited/

In fact, MI5 and the British government probably weren’t the only ones making covert plans to overthrow the opposite side. Way back in the 1980s or ’90s, Lobster covered a piece in the Irish Republican newspaper, An Phoblacht, which claimed that there had been a scheme during Haughey’s premiership to stir up sectarian violence in order to provide a pretext for an invasion of Ulster from the Republic. The plan was that after rioting and sectarian violence, armed forces from the south would enter the Six Countries as a peace-keeping force. If this is also true, then nobody, on either side of the Irish border, ends up looking good. Or anything other than deeply duplicitous and murderous.

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that the British state was supplying intelligence to the loyalist terror gangs, so that they could assassinate leading Republicans, as Wight’s article goes on to discuss. And there is also evidence that secret SAS units were being embedded within regular army units in Northern Ireland to act as death squads. All of which makes it very clear that there’s much in the files that this Tory government would very, very much want to hide.

Mike has already suggested that a way to stop files going missing in the future would be for the National Archives to be run like a proper library: those borrowing books have a ticket, and it is known who has borrowed what, and that they must return it on time. I completely agree, but this is too efficient, and would prevent the government from having a convenient pretext with which to lose files when their contents prove inconvenient.

And the government’s behaviour in this respect is very much like the Russian authorities during the old Communist system. Foreign researchers were at liberty to use files in the Soviet archives. However, if you wanted something sensitive or incriminating, you’d be told that those files were out. Which sounds exactly like what has been going on here.

Americans Are Only Now Beginning to Learn that We Live in a Dictatorship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 03/01/2018 - 1:00am in

by Eric Zuesse first published at StrategicCulture.org The first time it became clear to me that I live in a dictatorship was in 2014 when reading, prior to its publication, the landmark (and still the only) scientific empirical study to address the question as to whether or not the United States federal Government is, authentically, a democracy — or, whether, alternatively, it’s instead more of a dictatorship, than a democracy. This study documented conclusively that America’s Government is the latter. So, on 14 April 2014, I headlined “U.S. Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy, Says Scientific Study”. Subsequently, my editor linked it to the published article in Perspectives on Politics, from the American Political Science Association (the full study can be read there). On 30 April 2014, was posted at youtube the video that remains, to this day, the best and clearest ordinary-language summary of what that badly-written academic study proved. See its explanation here: That summary’s title is also better than the title of my article. Every American citizen should know what this 6-minute …

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