Saudi Arabia

The Middle East’s new donors: rogues or team players?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/02/2018 - 7:50pm in

Turkey and the Gulf monarchies in their savvy, if reactionary, use of aid have become important players in the international donors club.

Participants pose for a group photo during the extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey, on Dec. 13, 2017. Picture by Anadolu Agency/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.With
his bullet-proof limousines at hand, and an entourage of 1500
conveyed from Riyadh in six jumbo jets, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman
bin Abdulaziz visited Indonesia in March 2017. A pledge of a billion
dollars for “various development projects” was among the
mega-deals signed. The monarch’s other promise of aid, probably of
higher priority, was for education centers to promote Islamic
teachings consistent with Saudi preferences. At the same moment, in
Pakistan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was calling
attention to Turkey’s aid during a summit of Economic
Cooperation Organisation, a group of Muslim-majority states (several
with Turkish cultural affinities) jointly committed to building a
Central Asian common market like that of the European Union.

Such
events highlight concerns, voiced for many years In western
chancelleries and think-tanks, about ‘rogue’ aid wielded by
autocrats. Overtly developmental and humanitarian, such aid is
regarded as covertly political. Where aid is supposed to adhere to
technocratic ‘good practices’ such aid is patently ‘bad
practice’, and poses geo-political risks. ‘Rogue’ donors
include the usual suspects: China, Venezuela and Iran. But some of
them lurk in the west’s own camp, notably Saudi Arabia and others
in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Kuwait, Oman, Qatar,
and the United Arab Emirates. In addition, Turkey, where a
faith-based political party has steered foreign aid for nearly 20
years, is by no means above suspicion.

The
Gulf monarchies and Turkey are increasingly welcome in the
western-led aid congregation

Especially
awkward for the United States – whose military and diplomatic
protection of the Gulf monarchies and of Turkey has never wavered –
was those states’ covert promotion of Islamic fundamentalism, the
ground from which so many troubles for the US and its allies have
sprung since 9/11. Beyond politico-cultural hazards, their aid also
carried economic risks for western interests. Apprehensions have
grown that new donors are using their aid to gain
lucrative footholds in markets hitherto the exclusive preserves of
western exporters and investors. In command-posts of the aid system
(IMF, World Bank, OECD) there are further concerns that their
worldwide project of diffusing market fundamentalism may be put in
jeopardy. In that scenario, cheap and unconditional loans from ‘rogue
donors’ may weaken recipients’ acceptance of ‘improved’
policies (that is, austerity and other neoliberal measures) that
western donors demand in exchange for their aid.

On
the aid stage, Arab and Turkish donors aren’t big
players. Aid from the GCC monarchies (at least $14 billion in 2016,
up from $1.2 billion in 2000), and from Turkey ($6.5 billion in 2016,
up from $0.1 billion in 2000) attest to their rising importance. In
2016, aid outlays by GCC donors combined ranked fourth (behind the
US, UK and Germany) while outlays by Turkey ranked seventh (after
those of Japan, France, and Italy). Total spending is even larger,
since many transfers go unrecorded, especially those from the Gulf
monarchies, where elites make few distinctions between public and
private money and
where public finance is almost totally opaque.

But
have western fears been borne out? Do Gulf monarchies and Turkey use
aid in ways that violate OECD aid norms, and fuel business
competition and political tendencies unwelcome to western powers?

Over
the past two decades western donors have worked to gain the adherence
of Turkey and the Gulf monarchies to norms and rules of the aid
mainstream, and ultimately to recruit them into their old ‘club’,
the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC). Aid system idioms
and policy formulas are transmitted routinely through publications
and gatherings, such as the annual ‘Arab-DAC Dialogue on
Development’. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait together with several
Arab development banks are signatories to the OECD-driven Paris
Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005) and numerous other statements
of resolve, which focus chiefly on technocratic matters of aid
management. Performance according to these standards seems to be
rising (OECD/UNDP
2016). When selecting recipients
and apportioning them aid, GCC
and Turkish donors behave like western donors
in weakly favouring
recipient ‘good behaviour’ (especially the vaguely-defined ‘good
governance’) and in showing little regard for social and economic
rights.

Today,
having begun to sing from the same policy song-sheets, and having put
some money in UN
and other global collection boxes, the Gulf monarchies and Turkey are
increasingly welcome in the western-led aid congregation. Yet a deep
and genuine interest in management performance, and in recipient
‘good behaviour’ as defined by established donors, is not
self-evident. Of far greater interest to the Gulf monarchies and
Turkey are religious affinities, political allegiance and export
markets. Their aid goes chiefly to states, multilateral development
banks and non-state actors in the Muslim world or Ummah,
preferably of Sunni Islamic persuasions. With exceptions like
Pakistan and Somalia, countries in the ‘near abroad’ of the
Middle East and North Africa have priority.

For
the private sector, aid can be a competitive contest with high
stakes. It helps open doors to new markets for donor economies, and
is often provided on condition that recipients accept goods and
services only from the donor land. Turkey (like the US, Austria and
others) overtly “ties” its aid in that way, but the Gulf
monarchies do not, at least formally. Yet boosting non-oil exports is
a GCC priority, and aid is supposed to play its part in promoting
them. Recipients, for their part, seek aid on the softest possible
terms, especially when money
is conditional on
wrenching and thus politically risky changes of policy, such as the
ending of subsidies for fuel and food. But China offers aid without
internal meddling. Faced with that competition, Washington’s hard
conditions tend to turn soft. Aid from the Gulf Monarchies had such
effects up to 2000, but
no longer
.

Today
the GCC and Turkey pose no challenges to mainstream aid’s leading
paradigms. In terms of developmental vision, they have gone along
with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (although Saudi Arabia
wished to see the target on ‘reproductive rights’ deleted). Yet
in practical terms their vision is probably better captured in
statements about their own development, drawn up by the management
consulting firm McKinsey – jokingly referred to as the Ministry
of McKinsey
, a sign of its powerful influence in the Gulf states.

Little
of this aid was invested for productive purposes

Western
powers’ indulgence of this aid is encouraged by the simple fact
that petrodollars are routinely recycled to western financial
interests, notably
on Wall Street
. The story of Arab aid fuelled by an oil rent
boom is illustrative. As revenues flooded into oil-producer
treasuries in the 1970s, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE
began an aid-spending binge. Up to the mid-1980s they accounted for
as much as one-third of aid worldwide. It was a massive windfall for
state treasuries of Muslim-majority lands: Egypt, Syria, Jordan,
Yemen, Morocco, Pakistan etc. Subsequent research in pursuit of the
question ‘how is foreign aid spent?’ reveals that little of this
aid was invested for productive purposes. Instead, most went toward
consumption (mainly of imports) or departed rapidly as “huge
unaccounted capital outflows”, probably to offshore accounts in
OECD
jurisdictions
. Recipient
countries benefited only in part, and then only for short-term
purposes; a substantial but unknown number of those benefiting were
private firms and individuals elsewhere.

Risks
remain high that their aid will not yield a lot of development but
instead a lot of debt

Might
today’s aid produce the same results, boosting short-term
consumption and capital flight? Perhaps not to the same extent,
since today both donor and recipient capacities to use aid
productively and transparently are better than 30 years ago. Yet in
the face of continuing indulgence if not promotion of secrecy
jurisdictions, the rise of high-cost ‘public-private partnerships’
and of GCC donor preference to provide loans (notorious as sources of
capital flight) rather than grants, risks remain high that their aid
will not yield a lot of development but instead a lot of debt.

Under
banners of ‘security’ western donors welcome Turkish and Gulf aid
where it might stabilize conflict-prone situations such as Somalia,
where since 2011 Turkey has taken big risks in its aid efforts. Its
interventions have been intense and intentionally visible – so
visible that for one Somali
resident
“Turkey has become the McDonald’s of Mogadishu.
Their flags are everywhere, just like the yellow arches of McDonald’s
are everywhere in America.” Humanitarian action under a Turkish
flag is meant to demonstrate Islamic solidarity and virtue, to
enhance Turkey’s political and diplomatic standing, and not least
to raise revenues through public donations. In recent years, Syria –
that is, support of Syrian refugees in Turkey – accounted for well
over half of Turkish aid worldwide, which includes charitable
donations raised through government sponsored telethons. A
highly-publicised case of humanitarian action was the 2010 ‘Gaza
Freedom Flotilla’: six Turkish ships carrying hundreds of activists
and thousands of tons of relief goods attempted to breach the
blockade of Gaza, but were stopped, with deadly violence, by Israeli
commandos.

Gulf
monarchies have for many decades used their aid for political,
diplomatic and cultural ends, usually to the satisfaction of key
allies in the west.
In the 1970s, the demise of secular pan-Arab nationalism was at
least in part a result of Saudi Arabia’s skilful use of its money.
It routinely bolstered autocratic regimes in Egypt and Morocco and
bankrolled small anti-communist wars such as Siad Barre’s incursion
into Ethiopia and the Mujahidin’s campaign in Afghanistan. It
fortified Muslim inter-state relations pivoting on itself, notably in
the creation of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. And for the
time being it has helped contain popular upheavals from 2011 to 2013
across the Arab world.

Less
satisfactory for western allies is the powerful impact of aid used to
diffuse a particular brand of conservative,
yet militant, Islam
. Today, however, a kind of ‘buyer’s
remorse’ is detectable in the Gulf and beyond, since a nihilistic
militancy – the ‘blowback’ from decades of investment in
Salafist/Wahhabi missions, schools and media – has become a
nightmarish threat to the monarchies and their allies.

The
patterns noted here – aid as a seeding-mechanism for business
interests, and especially as a tool of statecraft to gain prestige,
build coalitions and inter-state institutions, and to promote a
transnational ideology – are also commonplace in the aid
mainstream. The spontaneous, rapid and fluid practices of the Gulf
monarchies and Turkey as donors, especially for political ends, would
normally meet disparagement from the donor mainstream. Yet some
established donors may be giving such practices a second look. In its
latest flagship
report

the World Bank encourages aid
strategists to move beyond technocratic approaches and to take
domestic and international politics seriously. In that new
perspective, Turkey
and Gulf monarchies
in their savvy, if reactionary, use of aid may have stolen a march on
western citadels of donor power.

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

The inconvenient truth about foreign aid

When bully boys dictate the West’s agenda, Turkey invades Syria with impunity

Education, Islam and Criticality

How communication technology became a tool of repression: the case of the UAE

Country or region: 

Saudi Arabia

Turkey

United Arab Emirates

Topics: 

Democracy and government

Economics

International politics

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

How Saudi Arabia and Iran shared the rise and fall of Ali Abdullah Saleh

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 05/02/2018 - 8:57pm in

The commonly held view that the conflicts in Yemen – and elsewhere in the region – are a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia must be revised.

A supporter of Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Picture by Hani Al-Ansi/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.It is often said
that the troubles of the post-Arab Spring nations is their
unfortunate metamorphosis into a regional proxy war between Saudi
Arabia and Iran. In the case of Yemen, this takes the form of
understanding the roots of the conflict as taking place between Saudi
Arabia and the ‘pro-Iran Houthi rebels’. Such analysis, however,
often presumes the disappearance of the original Arab Spring forces,
and consequently the way regional status-quo powers such as Saudi
Arabia reacted to their development. In the case of Yemen, a product
of such approaches was the dangerous underestimation of the critical
role of one crucial actor: the recently-deceased Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Even by the
standards of the region’s dictators, Saleh was known for his desire
never to hold onto power, constantly promising not to run for
re-election and reneging at every cycle. Despite also being a member
of the Houthis’ Zaidi sect, he had little regard for sectarian
loyalty; in the pursuit of power he allied with Sunni Salafists
against Zaidi Houthis, and later with the Houthis against everyone
else. In power, he was accused of simultaneously fighting and keeping
alive insurgencies
in order to extol military aid from Saudi
Arabia and the US.

For years after the coup, Houthi sympathisers and outlets portrayed Saleh as a ‘leader’ and ‘national symbol’

In the Houthis,
it appeared that he had met similarly pragmatic allies, who were
prepared to break with the consensus of Yemen’s various
revolutionary forces and opposition parties - stretching
from Islamists to socialists to Nasserists
- to provide Saleh
with the necessary public relations cover for the coup against the
transitional government of Abd-Rabbo Mansur Hadi in 2014. For years
after the coup, Houthi sympathisers and outlets portrayed Saleh as a
‘leader’ and ‘national symbol’. Somewhat similar to the
Muslim
Brotherhood’s failed partnership
with the military during the
post-Mubarak transitional setting, their opportunistic and
counter-revolutionary alliance with Ali Abdullah Saleh turned the
plethora of Yemen’s Arab Spring forces against them. Eventually,
the man who once said that “ruling Yemen is like dancing on the
head of snakes” finally overplayed his cards, getting killed by the
last pet snake he had empowered over the past three years.

Ironically, Saleh was the architect of his own death. Here, contrary
to the notion often proclaimed by western media of a ‘Houthi rebel
takeover’ of Sana’a in 2014, the capture of Sana’a was in
reality far less a rebellion against the state than a coup by
anti-Arab Spring forces within it. The Houthis would never have
succeeded in entering Sana'a in September 2014 were
it not for Saleh's loyalists
in Yemen’s unreformed security
forces; the majority of the Yemeni Army as well as the fearsome
Republican Guard - armed for decades by Saudi Arabia and the United
States - stayed loyal to Saleh and rejected the authority of Hadi.
Expectedly, the ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC)
sided
with what became known especially in Arabic media as the
‘Houthi-Saleh forces’ in the coup against Hadi in 2014, decrying
the latter as a ‘traitor’.

After the coup
succeeded, it was Saleh who (perhaps somewhat surprisingly) conveyed
to his loyalists the necessity to subsume themselves to the new
official Houthi-fronted military and political command. Perhaps
believing that they will always return to him when the time came, it
is clear however that this plan backfired, and the events suggest
that in the years since the coup the Houthis may have consolidated
their position amongst the old Yemeni security forces to the extent
that their authority outstripped that of Saleh.

Yet Saudi Arabia
and the UAE could also be said to have unwittingly aided in the
execution of Saleh, via the unlikely executioner of the Houthis. In
recent months Saudi’s new effective ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed
Bin Salman, had effectively adopted the UAE position of supporting
Saleh loyalists instead of President Hadi, and in recent weeks
pursued a new strategy of attempting to wean Saleh off from the
Houthis in return for Saudi support for his (or rather, his son’s)
return to power. Previously, Saudi Arabia had been effectively allied
with the various forces grouped within the anti-Houthi/Saleh Popular
Resistance, prominently including unlikely allies such as the Yemeni
Muslim Brotherhood branch, the Islah party, and the Yemeni
Socialist Party. Power-hungry as always, Saleh clearly could not
resist the offer and in another one of his trademark U-turns,
betrayed the Houthis. Surprisingly, however, the coup-master did not
play his cards right and failed in the planning of the execution of
his newest coup; his loyalists were not well-positioned in Sana’a
at the time of his announcement, and the Houthis pre-emptively
struck.

Saudi
folly

The whole Yemeni
crisis can in the first degree be seen as a confluence of Saudi
decisions. To start with, Saudi Arabia safeguarded Ali Abdullah Saleh
with immunity as part of the GCC-initiative that sought to pacify the
Yemeni revolution. Indeed, as well as keeping Saleh’s ruling party
in power and his relatives
and loyalists in place across the military and security forces, the
GCC initiative even
preserved
Saleh personally as the head of the General People’s
Congress, creating a bizarre scenario whereby his successor from the
same party, President Abd-Rabbo Mansur Hadi, belonged to a party
still headed by the dictator he replaced.

Between 2013-14 Saudi Arabia would even ally with the Houthis

Not only did
Saudi policy set the groundwork for Saleh’s inevitable return and
marginalise demands to either dismantle or radically reform state
institutions, but between 2013-14 Saudi Arabia would even
ally
with the Houthis as a counterweight to the Yemeni Muslim
Brotherhood branch, the Islah party, which became increasingly
influential within the transitional government and political setting.
Thus, far from a proxy conflict, Saudi Arabia and Iran were at that
point supporting
the same forces
.

This did not mean that Saudi Arabia
ideally wanted the Houthis in Sana’a, but it did mean that a Houthi
alliance with the counter-revolutionary forces of ‘stability’
represented in the Yemeni ‘deep state’ was seen as a lesser evil
to the increasing reliance by President Hadi on the Islah - as
well as combatting the unprecedented open democratic space which had
opened for civil movements within the transitional setting. Iran
similarly
enticed
Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, Saleh’s son who had been
effectively exiled by Hadi as Yemen’s ambassador to the UAE and
effective leader of Yemen’s feared Republican Guard, to not stand
in the way of the Houthis in exchange for recognising a return to
influence in Yemen.

Indeed, the
majority of Houthi weapons had
been supplied
by Saudi Arabia and the United States to the Yemeni
Army under Saleh – entire stockpiles which were then opened to the
Houthis. In their drive to take the country – a process which
almost culminated during the near-capture of Aden in 2014 – the
Houthis would fight alongside the same army and Republican Guard
units which killed hundreds of Yemeni revolutionaries in 2011.
Crucial offensives by the Houthi-Saleh coalition were in fact
dominated not by the ‘Houthis’, but by
these loyalists
. In their subsequent drive across the country
after the coup, the Houthi-Saleh coalition led by the fearsome
Republican Guard would rain misery on anti-Saleh sites of resistance
such as Taiz
(which they continue to besiege to this day), Aden and elsewhere.
Indeed, whilst Saudi Arabia expectedly condemned the coup against the
GCC Initiative-derived legitimate government of Abd Rabbu Hadi, the
signals from Riyadh at the time were that Saudi Arabia was willing
to acquiesce
to the new arrangement of the Saleh-Houthi coalition
in power, at least in the short term. Meanwhile, a far cry from its
support of what it called the ‘legitimate’ Syrian president Assad
and his family’s four-decade rule, Iran supported
the “legitimate uprising” and Saleh-led coup against Hadi, in
power since 2012.

With the death of
King Abdullah in January 2015 and the ascension of the significantly
more anti-Iran King Salman, Saudi policy would be completely
reversed. Ironically, for the first time during the Arab Spring Saudi
Arabia would take the lead in a decisive intervention on the side of
Arab Spring revolutionary forces, fighting the onslaught of the
Houthis and Saleh’s loyalists in the Yemeni Army and aligning with
unlikely allies such as the Islah and Yemen’s southern
socialists. The poignant image of Saudi bombing of Republican
Guard
headquarters or even
the house
of their erstwhile former ally Saleh, pointed to this
radical reversal in policy under Salman. Unfortunately however, even
this rare occasion of Saudi intervention on the ‘right’ side of
the Arab Spring was nullified by the massive civilian casualties and
humanitarian
disaster
inflicted by Saudi’s brutal military campaign, which
would soon
outstrip
the deaths caused by the Saleh-Houthis forces. Saudi’s
policy in Yemen, in short, has been folly from start to finish; both
when siding with Saleh’s counter-revolutionary loyalists and even
when opposing them.

Echoes
of Egypt

Whilst commonly
being miscategorised as a ‘Houthi rebel takeover’, the Houthis
thus presented an alternative front for the return of old regime
interests under a new image – similar (though not identical) to the
front presented by the Tamarod (‘insurrection’) movement
for the military coup in Egypt. Here as with the Houthi movement, the
Tamarod movement along with the military-backed media
presented the movement as a ‘rectification’ of the path of
January 25th revolution which had been ‘hijacked’ by
the Muslim Brotherhood. Again, similarly to the “Death to America”
slogans which became prominent during the Houthi rise to power in
2014, the military-backed Tamarod movement had similarly
adopted an anti-US line as part of its official campaign (its logo
was the burning of a US flag) – accusing Morsi of being a US
stooge. Loyalists of the old Mubarak regime accepted the necessity of
this revised rhetoric. In reality of course, this was merely a
smokescreen for a vicious counter-revolution launched by the military
against the January 25th forces, a reality which would
eventually emerge into the open with explicit public and media
condemnations of the January 25th revolution once the
military regime had consolidated itself (after a period of expected
diplomatic criticisms, with western backing).

The immediate aftermath of the coup saw a continuation of US drone strikes with “no discernible reaction” from the Houthis

Meanwhile, the
immediate aftermath of the coup in Sana’a would see Houthi
officials declare
that they want a “good relationship” with
the United States based on mutual respect (any implication of a
rejectionist boycott implied by the ‘Death to America’ was
rebuffed as “just
a slogan”
), engage in diplomatic
talks
with the US, and even enjoy intelligence
coordination
against Al-Qaeda. Indeed, the immediate aftermath of
the coup saw a continuation of US drone strikes with “no
discernible reaction”
from the Houthis (indeed, even after the
start of the US-backed Saudi-led intervention, the Houthis did
not reject
US airstrikes against Al-Qaeda outright, declaring
only that they should be carried out mainly in coordination with them
and not the Saudi-backed Hadi government). The US meanwhile has
repeatedly criticised
the Saudi intervention
in the country and urged a political
solution with the Houthi-Saleh forces – contradictorily even whilst
facilitating the military campaign and selling the country arms.

The
new
entrants’
of the post
-Arab
Spring state

However, unlike
the case with the myriad of liberal and leftist groups grouped within
Tamarod (and the post-Morsi ‘civilian’ transitional
government) on the one hand and the military ‘deep state’ on the
other - whereby the former’s influence was largely swatted away by
the military within a short space of time, the Houthi alliance with
Saleh’s loyalists constituted much more of an amalgamation of the
two forces, not dissimilar to the increasing amalgamation between
Hezbollah and the Lebanese state in Lebanon or the Shia Islamist
Popular Mobilisation Units and the central government in Iraq. The
consistent theme of such amalgamations was the reinvention of
Iranian-backed Shia Islamists from excluded targets and opponents of
the so-called ‘war on terror’ to active engagers and proponents
of it. The reliance by the old regimes on previous ‘pariah’
sub-state militias was justified in the name of a renewed ‘war on
terror’ targeting the Sunni Islamist forces which emerged in the
post-Arab Spring (both ‘moderate’ such as the Muslim Brotherhood
and ‘extreme’ such as ISIS).

In reality, this
amalgamation resulted in both a degree of ‘moderation’ of the
insurgent forces entering the state – making them willing to enter
the realm of ‘pragmatic’ diplomatic dealings with
previously-condemned foes – as well as a degree of ‘radicalisation’
of the rhetoric of existing regimes – entailing their adoption of
populist criticisms of ‘imperialist’ powers they had long avoided
condemning. Thus both previous and current western allies (both past
such as Yemen’s
Saleh
and present such as the Egyptian
military
) would increasingly adopt criticisms of the west, whilst
meeting them from the other direction, the ‘new entrants’ (the
sub-state forces now increasingly relied-upon to prop up the besieged
state) quietly accepted practical collaboration with both
western-backed regimes and the west. In short, the new ‘stabilising’
post-Arab Spring arrangement required a formula whereby a historical
‘principled’ reluctance to deal with imperialist powers (quietly
supporting counter-revolutionary regimes despite publicly condemning
them) and their regional ‘lackeys’ was shedded, whilst a previous
reluctance to rhetorically condemn allied ‘imperialist’ powers
(portrayed as the cause of the upheaval by virtue of such
‘interfering’ condemnations) was abandoned.

Thus the likes of
Hezbollah would be hosted
by the Israeli-backed Al-Sisi regime after years of being condemned
by the Egyptian government as an extremist movement (and condemning
Egypt in the opposite direction as an ‘Israeli puppet’), and
Egypt would refuse
to follow the Saudi line
in branding Hezbollah a ‘terrorist’
organisation. In other domains, Hezbollah would even participate
alongside US operations inside both Lebanon
and Syria.
The reality that sectarianism rather than ‘revolutionary’ or
‘anti-imperialist’ politics served clearly as the driving policy
would be evidenced in the support groups such as Hezbollah provided
to the US-installed government in Baghdad – which for years had
fought and killed thousands of anti-occupation insurgents (both Sunni
and Shia) – as well as more symbolic actions; thus Hebzollah would
poignantly host the likes of Ahmed Chalabi, known as the architect of
the ‘false dossier’ inviting the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, in
a conference in
Beirut
– whilst the Houthis would routinely praise the former
‘US collaborator’ Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saudi
Arabia’s
Arab Spring policy:
from
Abdullah to Salman to Muhammed Bin Salman

Saudi Arabia’s general hostility to the Arab Spring nevertheless saw its regional popularity plummet to unprecedented lows 

Saudi Arabia’s
policy towards the Arab Spring could be surmised as lying between the
two poles of general support as represented by Qatar, and total
opposition as represented by the UAE. The predominant part of Saudi
policy towards the Arab Spring as established under King Abdullah
could be seen to have been aimed first and foremost at weakening
anti-status quo Sunni Islamist forces that found a popular
constituency within the monarchy, forces such as the Muslim
Brotherhood, and indeed Saudi policy entailed even aligning with
Iranian proxies in certain domains as a lesser evil in pursuit of
this aim. Nonetheless, King Abdullah recognised the need to support
aspects of the uprisings in some capacity to avoid increasing
domestic disquiet, though he did so whilst recognising a division of
influence with Iran (thus Iran would be left by Saudi to take free
reign in Iraq, its geopolitical ‘backyard’, in exchange for the
expectation of having a free hand in Bahrain; meanwhile Yemen and
Syria would see partial commitment from Iran to the Houthis and Saudi
to the rebels).

Yet Saudi
Arabia’s general hostility to the Arab Spring nevertheless saw its
regional popularity plummet to unprecedented lows (unilaterally
amongst Arab Spring Egyptians, Syrians and Yemenis), a reality which
Salman sought to somewhat address. Thus whilst Saudi media under
Abdullah would portray the Arab Spring in general terms as a Fitna
or dangerous ‘strife’ to be avoided, under Salman Saudi Arabia
would be portrayed as a ‘protector’ of the uprisings.

Saudi policy and
priorities were considerably reversed under Salman. Thus Saudi Arabia
would provide military support to the armed militias of the Islah
in Yemen - a scenario unthinkable under Abdullah - as well as
Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups such as Faylaq al-Sham (and even the
Qatari-backed Ahrar al-Sham) which Saudi had long opposed arming in
Syria. By contrast, such groups were designated as ‘terrorist’
organisations by Jordan
and the UAE,
which along with Egypt would
support
Russia’s military intervention on the side of Assad
(and effectively Iranian militias) in 2015. Saudi relations with
traditional allies such as Egypt,
Lebanon
and even the UAE
deteriorated under Salman, with relations significantly improving on
the other hand with Qatar and Turkey.

The events of the
past few months however have demonstrated a shocking reversal from
the foreign policy direction established under Salman, as symbolised
in particular with the crisis with Qatar. Whilst initially
unexplainable to many observers, this was eventually explained by
what was described as a ‘palace coup’ by Mohammed Bin Salman,
months before the purge of rival power centres that would take place.
From the early signs so far, it would appear that the approach
Mohammed bin Salman is attempting to undertake is a radical
combination between the two approaches, in what can perhaps be
described as ‘purest’ and most unapologetic adoption of an
anti-Arab Spring Saudi policy and the closet yet to the UAE approach.

Giving up any
necessary pretences to undermine ‘stability’ (that is, support
some of the Arab Spring revolutionary forces in such places as Syria
and Yemen), bin Salman seemingly expects Iran to similarly reign in
its ‘disruptive’ expansionist activities in return for Saudi
Arabia giving up its support to anti-Iranian Arab Spring forces (such
as arms to the Syrian rebels and the Yemeni Resistance, and
diplomatic criticisms of the Iraqi government). To put it simply,
whilst Abdullah was somewhat acquiescent to the expansion of
regime-aligned (Iranian-backed) Shia Islamists at the expense of
pro-Arab Spring Sunni Islamists, and Salman to the opposite
direction, Muhammed bin Salman is attempting to take a hard line
against both Sunni Islamist and Shia Islamist forces. After years of
being urged to do so by the UAE, Saudi Arabia is now back
to supporting
Saleh’s forces (led by his son, Ahmed), a policy
which had
been rejected
under Salman.

Saudi Arabia may find that it cannot turn the time back

In this
‘reinvigorated’ confrontation with Iran, Bin Salman’s Saudi
hopes to rely on the backing of Donald Trump’s administration (and
perhaps covertly, Israel), which has given off signals that it will
attempt to contain Iran after years of accepted (and in certain
domains, arguably facilitated) Iranian expansion under Obama.
However, whilst the signs from Israel have been a consistent
rejection of western normalisation with Iran since the Obama years
(whilst having initially quietly acquiesced to Iranian expansionism
in Syria, seeing it as fomenting a distractive sectarian war) and as
a precursor to increased western pressure on finding a peace
settlement with the Palestinians in a new ‘normalised’ Middle
East (whereby Israel has routinely been reluctant to arrive at peace
treaties even with pliable neighbours, such as Egypt, Jordan and
Syria - preferring to maintain a scapegoating image of ‘hostile
neighbours’), the US policy is yet to be seen – with Trump’s
statements masking an alarming reality of practical
US support for Iranian expansion
in Syria, and even explicit
praise
for pro-Iran proxies in Iraq.

The UAE
preference in Yemen has been to back Ahmed Abdullah Saleh, but in
lieu of Saudi approval till recently, it has been wary of practically
doing so. Instead, it has found allies in the secular (and
anti-Islah) forces represented in the Southern secessionist
movement of the old socialist South Yemen, and has focussed its
efforts on targeting the Islah and other Sunni Islamists.
This, however, may not succeed; simply speaking Saudi Arabia may find
that it cannot turn the time back, and that the ‘original’
military and security apparatuses of regimes like Saleh’s and
Assad’s are no longer strong enough to stand without the propping
up of Iran’s Shia Islamists (this however is certainly far more the
case for Assad than Saleh).

It is thus likely
that Bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia will have to find itself again
choosing between whether it would prefer to back Sunni Islamists
represented in the revolutionary forces, or acquiesce to the
expansion of Iran’s Shia Islamists. With the anti-democratic and
anti-Arab Spring impulse of Bin Salman appearing even stronger than
that of Abdullah, it is not unlikely that they come to accept the
latter; indeed, signs which have emerged so far are that Saudi Arabia may
effectively end any resistance (partial and lacking as it was) to
Iranian domination in Syria and Iraq, but may hope to test its luck
with Saleh’s loyalists in Yemen. Ultimately, the stage in the
short-term is set for a confrontation between Saleh’s loyalists
(now headed by a vengeance-promising Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh) and
the Houthis, in which Saudi military support for the former –
depending on how many Saleh loyalists abandon the Houthis and return
to the son’s side – may be expected.

Ultimately in
perhaps the greatest irony of all, the dream of thousands of Yemeni
revolutionaries of Saleh being brought to some justice was achieved
by one half of that counter-revolutionary alliance he had forged
against Yemen’s Arab Spring.

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

Iran and Houthis: Between political alliances and sectarian tensions

Yemen: 2017 in review

Yemen: a tragic tale of humanitarian hypocrisy

Western complicity is fuelling Yemen’s humanitarian crisis

Can the Saudi-led coalition win the war in Yemen?

Country or region: 

Yemen

Topics: 

Conflict

International politics

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

You've kept your power, Arab rulers, but at what cost?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/01/2018 - 6:55pm in

Let us never forget that those who make peaceful uprisings impossible will eventually make violent revolution irresistible. 

AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, June 15, 2012. AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.Seven years after the Arab
uprisings, the political and socio-economic conditions in many Arab countries
remain dire, if not more disastrous.

In Tunisia, the cradle of
that popular revolt, impoverished youth, facing tremendous austerity measures,
issue desperate calls like “Employ us or kill us”.

Close by on the
Mediterranean, hundreds of marginalized young Moroccans have been jailed for
rising up against corruption, severe unemployment, and poor social welfare
infrastructure. 

Egypt has reverted to a
vicious military rule. Syria is mired in an endless bloody war. Libya is a
political disaster. Yemen is in the grip of a savage war between rebels and a
hawkish Saudi Arabia, and Gulf dictatorships are blissfully the same. 

Wherever you look, the
light is dim.  

This is undoubtedly a
damning portrait of a region with rich human and natural resources but where
hardship is a way of life. 

There are 105 million Arabs
between the age of 15-29 but they face
an abysmal 35 percent unemployment rate, 20-40 percent illiteracy in some
countries, increasing armed conflicts accounting for 17 percent of all
conflicts in the world, a heightened likelihood of forced displacement, and
poverty levels reaching 30 percent in some cases. 

This is the land where a
crown prince can go on a $1.5
billion-spending spree
to buy a yacht, a Da Vinci painting, and a French
castle in a few days while scores of poor Arabs self-immolate in public to
protest their utter precarity, their dispensability, their social death.

Between the horrid
extravagance of the prince and the piercing despair of the self-immolator, life
with dignity is extremely difficult, if not impossible. 

As we pause this month to
reflect on the legacy of these historic uprisings, we must remember not to
simply idolize the heroic acts of the Bouazizis of the revolution with clichéd
slogans and vapid ceremonies.

We must re-center their
ultimate sacrifice and demand accountability from leaders who govern by brutal
decrees and paralyzing fear. 

suicide by self-immolation in Tunisia alone has tripled since 2010

An honest celebration of
the Arab Spring means eliminating the very edifice that produces citizen
suicide in the first place.

Since Bouazizi torched
himself on that fateful day in December 2010, hundreds across the Arab world
have committed similar acts in public for the same reasons. According to a
recent study,
suicide by self-immolation in Tunisia alone has tripled since 2010 and affects
most frequently young unemployed men.  

Seven years after the
uprisings, much of the social energy of the average Arab is spent trying to
cope with this dehumanization in the face of police states, lack of freedom,
and poor economic prospects exacerbated by a neoliberal order that favors
shopping malls to public schools and fancy resorts to hospitals. 

Besides the monstrous
despotism in all Arab countries, the International Monetary Fund and the World
Bank demand
tighter fiscal austerity which means further wiping out the scarce social
welfare benefits the poor depend on for survival.

In Egypt, ironically, the
minister of solidarity recently announced
deep cuts in vital government subsidies on fuel and food to secure a
$12-billion loan from the IMF. The same heartless calculus of global capitalism
that forced millions of Arabs into city squares in 2011 is returning as a
farce under the garb of “helpful” austerity measures.  

Meanwhile and with no
economic or political alternative in sight, more Arabs brave the treacherous
seas for a chance of salvation. According to a Carnegie study,
17 million Arabs have left their homes. And half of the refugees in the world
are Arab because 143 million people in the region live under war or
occupation.  

The gains of the Arab
Spring are unfortunately dwarfed by the haunting memories they left behind. The
chilling picture
of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy whose lifeless body washed out on the shores of
the Mediterranean in 2015 should haunt our existence as we ponder the futility
of our indignation.

The video of five-year-old
Bouthania al-Rimi, a beautiful Yemeni girl who lost her mother, father, and six
siblings in a Saudi overnight air strike on her residential building just a few
months ago should shake us out from the idleness of our Twitter outrage. Her
eyes were so bruised from the attack she couldn’t even open them to see her
rescuers.

Three entire families
perished that night and the world barely noticed. More Arab kids are
traumatized that a Syrian neuropsychologist recently coined
a new condition to capture their boundless pain: “Human Devastation Syndrome”.

a Syrian neuropsychologist recently coined a new condition: “Human Devastation Syndrome”

This is how cheap Arab life
has become. This is the deplorable situation of the wretched of the Arab world.
How much more can the human spirit tolerate in the midst of this degradation
and humiliation?

Cameroonian philosopher
Achille Mbembe talks about
a new form of sovereignty he calls necropower, the capacity of a minority to
decide who deserves to live and who can be left to die, who matters and who
does not, who is disposable and superfluous and who is not.

Today, rogue leaders and
vile economic logics have that power to castigate people to zones of non-being,
non-living. Arab life now exists mainly in bursts of pain, atrophy, and
perpetual anger. Death itself is now both the manifestation of this form of
domination and a desperate tool of resistance. This is
unsustainable.  

The Arab Spring was a
beautiful display of a downtrodden people peacefully rising up against this
kind of cruel power. Let us not sully their legacy with silence or tamed
commemoration, lest we consign them to the bins of fleeting history. And let us
never forget that those who make peaceful uprisings impossible will eventually
make violent revolution irresistible. 

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

Alain Badiou on the Egyptian revolution: questions of the movement and its vision [video]

The Tunisian revolution seven years on

Egypt: character assassination as a weapon

Sisi’s neoliberal assault: context and prospects

The revolutionary arena: a battle of minds

From the end of one revolutionary wave to preparing for another

Where are you, Arab intellectuals?

Egypt and the Arab uprisings

Country or region: 

Tunisia

Egypt

Saudi Arabia

Syria

Yemen

Bahrain

Libya

Morocco

Topics: 

Conflict

Democracy and government

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

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]

Country or region: 

Saudi Arabia

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

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]

Country or region: 

Saudi Arabia

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

Western complicity is fuelling Yemen’s humanitarian crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 06/01/2018 - 5:41am in

A besieged and starved population has been pushed to the brink of famine. The UK, US and France need to re-evaluate their relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Giles Clarke for UNOCHA. All rights reserved. Young students play in the ruins of the Aal Okab school in Saada City, Yemen. Giles Clarke for UNOCHA. All rights reserved.On 26 December,
a crowded market in the Al Hayma district in Yemen was hit by airstrikes from a
Saudi-led coalition that left 54 civilians dead, including eight children with 32 others injured. 

It was the
latest bloody episode in a conflict that has been raging for a thousand days and
claimed 10,000 victims
with 20 million more (from a population of 28 million) in dire need of
assistance.  

The United
Nations Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, has described
the conflict as "absurd" and "futile", characterised by "the destruction of the country and the incommensurate suffering of
its people."  

The Saudi Coalition airstrikes began in
March 2015 in response to Houthi rebels’ seizing control of much of Yemen in
late 2014. There was widespread disillusionment in
Yemen with Saudi-backed president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, whose
transitional administration was dogged by corruption, unemployment and food
insecurity.

The Houthi uprising forced Mr Hadi to
flee abroad in March 2015 which signalled the start of Saudi airstrikes. On the
larger canvass of Middle-East relations and current tensions, the Sunni Saudis
accuse the Houthis of being proxies for Shia Iran,
their main regional rival.  

Targeting
civilians

Yemen’s impoverished civilian population
has been caught in the middle of this contagion of hostilities with Human
Rights Watch
finding in 2016 that 60 per cent of civilian deaths resulted
from air strikes. 

It reported that "[a]irstrikes
have damaged or destroyed numerous civilian objects including homes, markets,
hospitals, and schools, as well as commercial enterprises" which "appear to be
in violation of international law."

This
assessment is based on the monitoring of attacks that "do not discriminate
between military targets and civilian objects." "Taken together", the report argues, "the
attacks on factories and other civilian economic structures raise serious
concerns that the Saudi-led coalition has deliberately sought to inflict
widespread damage to Yemen’s production capacity."  

The effects of the conflict have been
compounded by an air, land and sea blockade
of Yemen imposed from November 2017 by Riyadh allegedly "to stem the flow of
arms to the Houthis from Iran."

The war and blockade has pushed some seven million people to the brink of famine and left nearly 900,000 infected with cholera.

The
blockade of Yemen’s Hodeida port in particular has been disastrous for a
country "90
per cent dependent on imports
", 70 per cent of which came through the port.

The war and blockade has pushed some seven
million
people to the brink of famine and left nearly 900,000 infected with
cholera. 

Mark
Lowcock
, who co-ordinates humanitarian affairs and emergency relief for the
UN, has said that without urgently needed humanitarian aid, Yemen would be
subject to "the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with
millions of victims."

Jamie McGoldrick has denied that Yemeni
rebels are smuggling arms through Hodeida port saying that a UN verification
mechanism had "never found any weapons" on arriving ships. 

As with the Israeli ten-year
siege of the Gaza Strip
, we are witnessing the collective punishment of a
civilian population in Yemen for political ends. 

The blockades of both Gaza and Yemen are
causing enormous humanitarian suffering, are man-made disasters and could
easily be lifted with political will.

Western
complicity

Western governments have been fuelling the
Yemeni crisis through lucrative weapon sales to Riyadh used in Saudi’s three
year bombing campaign. Amnesty
International
has argued that:

“Countries such
as the USA, UK and France, which continue to supply coalition members with
arms, are allowing Saudi Arabia and its allies to flagrantly flout
international law and risk being complicit in grave violations, including war
crimes.” 

Amnesty urges these countries to: "immediately
halt the flow of arms and military assistance to members of the Saudi-led
coalition for use in Yemen. This includes any equipment or logistical support
being used to maintain this blockade."

The UK has licensed $4.6
billion
worth of arms sales to the Saudi regime, a relationship described
as ‘shameful’ by Campaign
Against Arms Trade
, given Riyadh’s record as "one of the world's most
authoritarian regimes."  

France, too, has
sold "€9 billion of weaponry to Saudi Arabia from 2010-2016, amounting to 15-20 per
cent of France’s annual arms exports." 

And the United States has "designed and negotiated a package totalling
approximately $110
billion
" with Riyadh in 2017 following on from a total of $115 billion approved
in arms sales by the Obama administration in 2009-2016.   

Su-ming
Khoo
has argued that "[i]n conflict
situations, the deliberate, indiscriminate and criminal targeting of civilians
and civilian structures such as hospitals and schools marks an all-time low in
respect for the most basic humanitarian norms and laws." This is underscored by the Human Rights Watch
World
Report 2017
which warns against a "global assault on human rights."

Yemen
appears to be a prime example of this deterioration in the climate for human
rights which, perhaps, really took root in the ‘war on terror’ that followed
the 9 September 2001 attacks on Washington and New York. 

Even in the context of new ‘lows’ in the
application of international laws and norms, the scale of the Yemeni crisis should
cause international alarm and provoke immediate action to end hostilities,
particularly the Saudi airstrikes and blockade. 

A besieged and starved population has been pushed to the brink of famine
and is already subject to malaria, dengue fever, diphtheria, and cholera. This is a moment when the UK, US and France
should re-evaluate its relationship with Riyadh and the diplomatic and
humanitarian poisoning caused by their trade in arms.

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

Famine in Yemen finally reaches western headlines

Yemen: a tragic tale of humanitarian hypocrisy

Time to rethink UK’s engagement with Saudi Arabia

The details: surviving the war in Yemen

Gaza: ten years of economic blockade

Country or region: 

Yemen

Saudi Arabia

United States

UK

France

Topics: 

Conflict

Democracy and government

International politics

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

Western complicity is fuelling Yemen’s humanitarian crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 06/01/2018 - 5:41am in

A besieged and starved population has been pushed to the brink of famine. The UK, US and France need to re-evaluate their relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Giles Clarke for UNOCHA. All rights reserved. Young students play in the ruins of the Aal Okab school in Saada City, Yemen. Giles Clarke for UNOCHA. All rights reserved.On 26 December,
a crowded market in the Al Hayma district in Yemen was hit by airstrikes from a
Saudi-led coalition that left 54 civilians dead, including eight children with 32 others injured. 

It was the
latest bloody episode in a conflict that has been raging for a thousand days and
claimed 10,000 victims
with 20 million more (from a population of 28 million) in dire need of
assistance.  

The United
Nations Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, has described
the conflict as "absurd" and "futile", characterised by "the destruction of the country and the incommensurate suffering of
its people."  

The Saudi Coalition airstrikes began in
March 2015 in response to Houthi rebels’ seizing control of much of Yemen in
late 2014. There was widespread disillusionment in
Yemen with Saudi-backed president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, whose
transitional administration was dogged by corruption, unemployment and food
insecurity.

The Houthi uprising forced Mr Hadi to
flee abroad in March 2015 which signalled the start of Saudi airstrikes. On the
larger canvass of Middle-East relations and current tensions, the Sunni Saudis
accuse the Houthis of being proxies for Shia Iran,
their main regional rival.  

Targeting
civilians

Yemen’s impoverished civilian population
has been caught in the middle of this contagion of hostilities with Human
Rights Watch
finding in 2016 that 60 per cent of civilian deaths resulted
from air strikes. 

It reported that "[a]irstrikes
have damaged or destroyed numerous civilian objects including homes, markets,
hospitals, and schools, as well as commercial enterprises" which "appear to be
in violation of international law."

This
assessment is based on the monitoring of attacks that "do not discriminate
between military targets and civilian objects." "Taken together", the report argues, "the
attacks on factories and other civilian economic structures raise serious
concerns that the Saudi-led coalition has deliberately sought to inflict
widespread damage to Yemen’s production capacity."  

The effects of the conflict have been
compounded by an air, land and sea blockade
of Yemen imposed from November 2017 by Riyadh allegedly "to stem the flow of
arms to the Houthis from Iran."

The war and blockade has pushed some seven million people to the brink of famine and left nearly 900,000 infected with cholera.

The
blockade of Yemen’s Hodeida port in particular has been disastrous for a
country "90
per cent dependent on imports
", 70 per cent of which came through the port.

The war and blockade has pushed some seven
million
people to the brink of famine and left nearly 900,000 infected with
cholera. 

Mark
Lowcock
, who co-ordinates humanitarian affairs and emergency relief for the
UN, has said that without urgently needed humanitarian aid, Yemen would be
subject to "the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with
millions of victims."

Jamie McGoldrick has denied that Yemeni
rebels are smuggling arms through Hodeida port saying that a UN verification
mechanism had "never found any weapons" on arriving ships. 

As with the Israeli ten-year
siege of the Gaza Strip
, we are witnessing the collective punishment of a
civilian population in Yemen for political ends. 

The blockades of both Gaza and Yemen are
causing enormous humanitarian suffering, are man-made disasters and could
easily be lifted with political will.

Western
complicity

Western governments have been fuelling the
Yemeni crisis through lucrative weapon sales to Riyadh used in Saudi’s three
year bombing campaign. Amnesty
International
has argued that:

“Countries such
as the USA, UK and France, which continue to supply coalition members with
arms, are allowing Saudi Arabia and its allies to flagrantly flout
international law and risk being complicit in grave violations, including war
crimes.” 

Amnesty urges these countries to: "immediately
halt the flow of arms and military assistance to members of the Saudi-led
coalition for use in Yemen. This includes any equipment or logistical support
being used to maintain this blockade."

The UK has licensed $4.6
billion
worth of arms sales to the Saudi regime, a relationship described
as ‘shameful’ by Campaign
Against Arms Trade
, given Riyadh’s record as "one of the world's most
authoritarian regimes."  

France, too, has
sold "€9 billion of weaponry to Saudi Arabia from 2010-2016, amounting to 15-20 per
cent of France’s annual arms exports." 

And the United States has "designed and negotiated a package totalling
approximately $110
billion
" with Riyadh in 2017 following on from a total of $115 billion approved
in arms sales by the Obama administration in 2009-2016.   

Su-ming
Khoo
has argued that "[i]n conflict
situations, the deliberate, indiscriminate and criminal targeting of civilians
and civilian structures such as hospitals and schools marks an all-time low in
respect for the most basic humanitarian norms and laws." This is underscored by the Human Rights Watch
World
Report 2017
which warns against a "global assault on human rights."

Yemen
appears to be a prime example of this deterioration in the climate for human
rights which, perhaps, really took root in the ‘war on terror’ that followed
the 9 September 2001 attacks on Washington and New York. 

Even in the context of new ‘lows’ in the
application of international laws and norms, the scale of the Yemeni crisis should
cause international alarm and provoke immediate action to end hostilities,
particularly the Saudi airstrikes and blockade. 

A besieged and starved population has been pushed to the brink of famine
and is already subject to malaria, dengue fever, diphtheria, and cholera. This is a moment when the UK, US and France
should re-evaluate its relationship with Riyadh and the diplomatic and
humanitarian poisoning caused by their trade in arms.

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

Famine in Yemen finally reaches western headlines

Yemen: a tragic tale of humanitarian hypocrisy

Time to rethink UK’s engagement with Saudi Arabia

The details: surviving the war in Yemen

Gaza: ten years of economic blockade

Country or region: 

Yemen

Saudi Arabia

United States

UK

France

Topics: 

Conflict

Democracy and government

International politics

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

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

Country or region: 

Saudi Arabia

Topics: 

Democracy and government

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

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

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/12/2017 - 8:35pm in

Trump-MBS strategy has not made significant headway. Will they succeed in escalating anti-Shia confrontation against Iran and its allies?

Pool/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved. U.S. President Donald Trump (R) meets with Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in the Oval Office at the White House, March 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pool/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.With ISIL reeling in the decisive battle
to recapture Mosul – ISIL’s biggest urban stronghold –, Masoud Barzani
president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) declared,
on June 7, that the KRG would hold an independence referendum on September 25. 

Barzani’s announcement sent shock waves
across the region, and what made it profoundly alarming was his determination
to conduct this controversial referendum in Kirkuk, an oil-rich multi-ethnic
city, as well as in other disputed areas, which were seized by the Kurdish
fighters (Peshmerga) as the Iraqi Army unravelled in the face of ISIL’s
lightening advance in June 2014. 

While Iran swiftly declared its strident
opposition to the referendum, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al Abadi’s initial
response was muted.

Turkey’s president Erdogan by contrast,
scathingly criticised
Brazani’s move. This was highly unexpected, since Turkey consistently enabled
the KRG to defy the Iraqi Central Government (ICG) by selling oil
independently.

Even with Turkey and Iran standing by
the ICG, Abadi nevertheless turned to the US to resolve this contentious issue.
Washington sought to persuade Barzani to postpone the referendum, arguing that
it would deflect attention from fighting ISIL.

However, the offensive
by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) on August 20, to recapture Tal Afar, without
any Peshmerga participation, demonstrated that battling ISIL superseded all
other priorities.

In essence, the US’ chief objection was
essentially the timing of the referendum, only a few months before the
parliamentary elections due in May 2018, which would undoubtedly torpedo
Abadi’s prospects of being re-elected, as his premiership would be inextricably
linked to surrendering Kirkuk. 

Barzani’s rejection
of an international proposal on 14 September prompted the US special envoy for
the war on ISIL, Brett McGurk, to explicitly emphasize that
the referendum lacked any international legitimacy. 

Consequently, Barzani vowed to press
ahead with the vote, prompting Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Barzani, to
dispatch on September 17 its Gulf affairs Minister Thamer al Sabhan, who
appealed to Barzani to back down.

In the eyes of Riyadh, Barzani has
doubtlessly been playing an instrumental role in not merely destabilizing its
arch foe Iran by enticing Iran’s Kurds to rise up, but also encouraging
Turkey’s Kurds to severely undermine Turkey’s government which has emphatically
backed its arch rival Qatar in the face of a tight blockade it has imposed in
partnership with UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. 

On September 21, ICG ordered the ISF
including the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMFs) – consisting of mainly Shia paramilitary units
and volunteers, who spearheaded Iraq’s fight back against ISIL – to launch an offensive
to not only retake Hawija, a strategic ISIL bastion, but also to send a stark
warning to Barzani. 

Buoyed by US and Saudi ringing endorsement, Abadi
demanded on September 24, that the KRG must hand
over
airports and border crossings to ICG and also halt oil export.

Even though, Barzani’s independence vote was
overwhelmingly backed, on September 29 it was abundantly clear that it has
spectacularly backfired when all international flights ceased and US Secretary
of State Rex Tillerson underlined that the US
rejected it.

While Iran and its allies in Iraq and Syria were
gaining the upper hand against ISIL, came Trump’s desperate attempt to turn the
tables on Tehran by refusing
on October 13, to re-certify the nuclear deal, claiming disingenuously that
Iran was violating the spirit of the 2015 accord.

Iran, fired back by defiantly showcasing its
significant influence, sending the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Corps Qasem Soleimani to Sulaymaniyah in Kurdistan on October 15.

Soleimani utilised his close ties with the Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leadership, especially Bafel Talabani, practically
securing the withdrawal of PUK Peshmerga units and enabling ISF not only to
sweep effortlessly into Kirkuk on October 16, but also the remaining disputed
areas. 

Paradoxically however, the collapse of Brazani’s
independence dream – thanks undeniably to Iran –
has been exploited by Trump and Riyadh to bolster Abadi’s inherently weak
leadership by presenting him as Iraq’s National hero who crushed ISIL and
foiled Kurdish independence.  

Ever since 2003 when the US toppled
Iraq’s ruthless dictator Saddam Hussain, Saudi Arabia has not only adamantly
refused to recognize Iraq’s fledgling democracy but has been working tirelessly
to derail the political process. 

Against this backdrop, Obama’s administration sought
to assuage Riyadh’s distrust by compelling Iraq’s ex-PM Nuri al-Maliki, who is
deeply loathed by Riyadh, to step aside despite winning the 2014 election, in
favour of Abadi.

Riyadh however, only appointed al Sabhan as its first
ambassador to Iraq in December 2015. And in a stunning speech
in July 2016, from Washington, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafri, who
was well-connected to the Saudis during the nineties through his business of
organising and acting as a religious guide for Iraqi Haj pilgrims in London, expressed
his resounding shock at Riyadh’s relentless efforts to destabilise Iraq,
acknowledging that Baghdad has persistently been covering up Riyadh’s
subversive activities.

Clearly Baghdad’s expulsion
of al Sabhan in August 2016 was an act of last resort.

Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections was
beyond doubt music to King Salman’s and his –
young inexperienced – son Mohammed bin
Salman’s (MBS) ears. He has fervently embraced Riyadh’s uncompromising stance by
considering Iran’s nuclear agreement as the worse deal ever, pledging to scrap
it.

Additionally, regarding Iran’s growing influence as
the primary threat to the region, while also supporting Riyadh’s vociferous yet
unsuccessful campaign – given the growing chorus of highly credible US and
European leaders, including ex-President Obama, ex-Secretary of State Clinton
and ex-Vice President Biden, all of whom have firmly pointed the finger of
blame at Saudi Arabia for funding, arming and exporting its extremist hard-line
Wahhabi Salafi ideology to terrorist groups, such as ISIL, Al Qaeda and Jabhet
Al-Nusra – to shift the responsibility for instability and insecurity to
Iran. 

Although, Trump initially treated Abadi as Obama’s
poodle, but apparently had a major change of heart, largely due not only to intense
lobbying by Tillerson and the defence secretary James Mattis, but also Abadi’s
tacit support to Trump’s quest to tackle Iran’s threat, as revealed by Trump’s readout
of his phone conversation with Abadi in February 2017.

This clearly laid the foundations for a new strategy
spearheaded by Trump and sponsored by MBS, aiming to prop up Abadi’s powerbase
ahead of the May 2018 elections, ultimately empowering him to steer Iraq away
from Tehran and towards Riyadh. 

Yet ironically, Trump-MBS strategy has relied heavily
on weaning Iraqi Shia blocs off Iran and pushing them towards Riyadh, thereby
inevitably creating a Shia-dominated bloc that is ostensibly led by Abadi but
in reality controlled and employed by Riyadh to combat Shia blocs aligning with
Iran.

To implement this strategy Saudi Foreign Minister Adel
al-Jubier arrived in Baghdad in February 2017, and Abadi was invited to meet
Salman in June 2017, opening the door for Iraq’s Interior Minster Qasim
al-Araji, who is a leading figure in Badr Organisation, which is part of the
PMFs, followed by Moqtada al Sadr, who is a highly influential cleric and head
of the al-Ahrar bloc, to converge in Riyadh in July 2017.

Trump, has sought to shore up the new strategy by
first sending McGurk in August 2017 to attend the reopening of the Arar border
crossing between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and then Tillerson on October 21 to
join Salman and Abadi in Riyadh for the inauguration of the Saudi-Iraqi
cooperation Council.

Without doubt, Tillerson’s demand while in Riyadh that
the PMFs should go back home, was intended to consolidate MBS’s credentials as
guardian of Sunni Islam, while also boosting Abadi’s image by allowing him to
slam Tillerson’s remarks in a face to face meeting the next day in Baghdad. 

So far Trump-MBS strategy has not made any significant
headway, suffering its first major setback in August 2017, when al-Araji revealed
from Tehran that MBS had asked him and also Abadi to mediate to ease tensions
with Iran.

MBS had to make a stark choice, either losing face or
spoiling the perfect pretext used by Iraqi Shia leaders to justify their
eagerness to visit Riyadh. Of course, MBS denied making such a request.   

And while Riyadh would prefer to trumpet Sadr’s bloc
alliance with Ayad Allawi’s al-Wataniya coalition, which was announced
in June 2017, as tangible evidence that its strategy is delivering, in fact it
was merely an agreement to coordinate positions in parliament. 

Surely, Riyadh must be disappointed that Ammar Al-Hakim’s
leadership of the pro-Iran Islamic Supreme Council has so far been reluctant to
openly edge closer towards Riyadh. 

And again, Sadr’s declaration on November 21, that he
strongly supports Abadi’s bid for a second term is definitely not inspired by
Riyadh, but instead driven by Sadr’s implacable obsession with blocking
Maliki’s prospects of becoming PM. It is also in retaliation for Iran’s
full-blown backing to his arch rival Qasi al-Khazali, head of Asaib Ahl al Haq.

Trump-MBS strategy constitutes a major turn around in
the US outlook for post-2003 Iraq, shifting the emphasis from constructing a
fragmented Iraq that could potentially break up to a more united Iraq under the
leadership of Abadi, who is not merely heavily dependent on its support, but
also prepared to bend backwards to tow its line on Iran. In this context,
Barzani became an obstacle and Kirkuk a mere detail.

Indeed, Abadi’s declaration
on December 9 of the end of war against ISIL signals the beginning of the
elections campaign. But with MBS engaged in an escalating anti-Shia
confrontation against Iran and its allies, it is very hard to imagine how Shia
leaders such as al-Sadr and al-Hakim could join a coalition hell-bent on taking
the fight to Tehran.    

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

Will the re-launch of the Mosul battle by the Iraqi PM reverse Trump’s hostile stance?

The survival game: post-referendum politics in Iraqi Kurdistan

Eastern Kurdistan: a silent politics with huge casualties

Country or region: 

Iraq

Saudi Arabia

United States

Iran

Topics: 

Conflict

Democracy and government

International politics

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

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

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/12/2017 - 8:35pm in

Trump-MBS strategy has not made significant headway. Will they succeed in escalating anti-Shia confrontation against Iran and its allies?

Pool/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved. U.S. President Donald Trump (R) meets with Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in the Oval Office at the White House, March 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pool/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.With ISIL reeling in the decisive battle
to recapture Mosul – ISIL’s biggest urban stronghold –, Masoud Barzani
president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) declared,
on June 7, that the KRG would hold an independence referendum on September 25. 

Barzani’s announcement sent shock waves
across the region, and what made it profoundly alarming was his determination
to conduct this controversial referendum in Kirkuk, an oil-rich multi-ethnic
city, as well as in other disputed areas, which were seized by the Kurdish
fighters (Peshmerga) as the Iraqi Army unravelled in the face of ISIL’s
lightening advance in June 2014. 

While Iran swiftly declared its strident
opposition to the referendum, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al Abadi’s initial
response was muted.

Turkey’s president Erdogan by contrast,
scathingly criticised
Brazani’s move. This was highly unexpected, since Turkey consistently enabled
the KRG to defy the Iraqi Central Government (ICG) by selling oil
independently.

Even with Turkey and Iran standing by
the ICG, Abadi nevertheless turned to the US to resolve this contentious issue.
Washington sought to persuade Barzani to postpone the referendum, arguing that
it would deflect attention from fighting ISIL.

However, the offensive
by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) on August 20, to recapture Tal Afar, without
any Peshmerga participation, demonstrated that battling ISIL superseded all
other priorities.

In essence, the US’ chief objection was
essentially the timing of the referendum, only a few months before the
parliamentary elections due in May 2018, which would undoubtedly torpedo
Abadi’s prospects of being re-elected, as his premiership would be inextricably
linked to surrendering Kirkuk. 

Barzani’s rejection
of an international proposal on 14 September prompted the US special envoy for
the war on ISIL, Brett McGurk, to explicitly emphasize that
the referendum lacked any international legitimacy. 

Consequently, Barzani vowed to press
ahead with the vote, prompting Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Barzani, to
dispatch on September 17 its Gulf affairs Minister Thamer al Sabhan, who
appealed to Barzani to back down.

In the eyes of Riyadh, Barzani has
doubtlessly been playing an instrumental role in not merely destabilizing its
arch foe Iran by enticing Iran’s Kurds to rise up, but also encouraging
Turkey’s Kurds to severely undermine Turkey’s government which has emphatically
backed its arch rival Qatar in the face of a tight blockade it has imposed in
partnership with UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. 

On September 21, ICG ordered the ISF
including the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMFs) – consisting of mainly Shia paramilitary units
and volunteers, who spearheaded Iraq’s fight back against ISIL – to launch an offensive
to not only retake Hawija, a strategic ISIL bastion, but also to send a stark
warning to Barzani. 

Buoyed by US and Saudi ringing endorsement, Abadi
demanded on September 24, that the KRG must hand
over
airports and border crossings to ICG and also halt oil export.

Even though, Barzani’s independence vote was
overwhelmingly backed, on September 29 it was abundantly clear that it has
spectacularly backfired when all international flights ceased and US Secretary
of State Rex Tillerson underlined that the US
rejected it.

While Iran and its allies in Iraq and Syria were
gaining the upper hand against ISIL, came Trump’s desperate attempt to turn the
tables on Tehran by refusing
on October 13, to re-certify the nuclear deal, claiming disingenuously that
Iran was violating the spirit of the 2015 accord.

Iran, fired back by defiantly showcasing its
significant influence, sending the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Corps Qasem Soleimani to Sulaymaniyah in Kurdistan on October 15.

Soleimani utilised his close ties with the Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leadership, especially Bafel Talabani, practically
securing the withdrawal of PUK Peshmerga units and enabling ISF not only to
sweep effortlessly into Kirkuk on October 16, but also the remaining disputed
areas. 

Paradoxically however, the collapse of Brazani’s
independence dream – thanks undeniably to Iran –
has been exploited by Trump and Riyadh to bolster Abadi’s inherently weak
leadership by presenting him as Iraq’s National hero who crushed ISIL and
foiled Kurdish independence.  

Ever since 2003 when the US toppled
Iraq’s ruthless dictator Saddam Hussain, Saudi Arabia has not only adamantly
refused to recognize Iraq’s fledgling democracy but has been working tirelessly
to derail the political process. 

Against this backdrop, Obama’s administration sought
to assuage Riyadh’s distrust by compelling Iraq’s ex-PM Nuri al-Maliki, who is
deeply loathed by Riyadh, to step aside despite winning the 2014 election, in
favour of Abadi.

Riyadh however, only appointed al Sabhan as its first
ambassador to Iraq in December 2015. And in a stunning speech
in July 2016, from Washington, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafri, who
was well-connected to the Saudis during the nineties through his business of
organising and acting as a religious guide for Iraqi Haj pilgrims in London, expressed
his resounding shock at Riyadh’s relentless efforts to destabilise Iraq,
acknowledging that Baghdad has persistently been covering up Riyadh’s
subversive activities.

Clearly Baghdad’s expulsion
of al Sabhan in August 2016 was an act of last resort.

Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections was
beyond doubt music to King Salman’s and his –
young inexperienced – son Mohammed bin
Salman’s (MBS) ears. He has fervently embraced Riyadh’s uncompromising stance by
considering Iran’s nuclear agreement as the worse deal ever, pledging to scrap
it.

Additionally, regarding Iran’s growing influence as
the primary threat to the region, while also supporting Riyadh’s vociferous yet
unsuccessful campaign – given the growing chorus of highly credible US and
European leaders, including ex-President Obama, ex-Secretary of State Clinton
and ex-Vice President Biden, all of whom have firmly pointed the finger of
blame at Saudi Arabia for funding, arming and exporting its extremist hard-line
Wahhabi Salafi ideology to terrorist groups, such as ISIL, Al Qaeda and Jabhet
Al-Nusra – to shift the responsibility for instability and insecurity to
Iran. 

Although, Trump initially treated Abadi as Obama’s
poodle, but apparently had a major change of heart, largely due not only to intense
lobbying by Tillerson and the defence secretary James Mattis, but also Abadi’s
tacit support to Trump’s quest to tackle Iran’s threat, as revealed by Trump’s readout
of his phone conversation with Abadi in February 2017.

This clearly laid the foundations for a new strategy
spearheaded by Trump and sponsored by MBS, aiming to prop up Abadi’s powerbase
ahead of the May 2018 elections, ultimately empowering him to steer Iraq away
from Tehran and towards Riyadh. 

Yet ironically, Trump-MBS strategy has relied heavily
on weaning Iraqi Shia blocs off Iran and pushing them towards Riyadh, thereby
inevitably creating a Shia-dominated bloc that is ostensibly led by Abadi but
in reality controlled and employed by Riyadh to combat Shia blocs aligning with
Iran.

To implement this strategy Saudi Foreign Minister Adel
al-Jubier arrived in Baghdad in February 2017, and Abadi was invited to meet
Salman in June 2017, opening the door for Iraq’s Interior Minster Qasim
al-Araji, who is a leading figure in Badr Organisation, which is part of the
PMFs, followed by Moqtada al Sadr, who is a highly influential cleric and head
of the al-Ahrar bloc, to converge in Riyadh in July 2017.

Trump, has sought to shore up the new strategy by
first sending McGurk in August 2017 to attend the reopening of the Arar border
crossing between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and then Tillerson on October 21 to
join Salman and Abadi in Riyadh for the inauguration of the Saudi-Iraqi
cooperation Council.

Without doubt, Tillerson’s demand while in Riyadh that
the PMFs should go back home, was intended to consolidate MBS’s credentials as
guardian of Sunni Islam, while also boosting Abadi’s image by allowing him to
slam Tillerson’s remarks in a face to face meeting the next day in Baghdad. 

So far Trump-MBS strategy has not made any significant
headway, suffering its first major setback in August 2017, when al-Araji revealed
from Tehran that MBS had asked him and also Abadi to mediate to ease tensions
with Iran.

MBS had to make a stark choice, either losing face or
spoiling the perfect pretext used by Iraqi Shia leaders to justify their
eagerness to visit Riyadh. Of course, MBS denied making such a request.   

And while Riyadh would prefer to trumpet Sadr’s bloc
alliance with Ayad Allawi’s al-Wataniya coalition, which was announced
in June 2017, as tangible evidence that its strategy is delivering, in fact it
was merely an agreement to coordinate positions in parliament. 

Surely, Riyadh must be disappointed that Ammar Al-Hakim’s
leadership of the pro-Iran Islamic Supreme Council has so far been reluctant to
openly edge closer towards Riyadh. 

And again, Sadr’s declaration on November 21, that he
strongly supports Abadi’s bid for a second term is definitely not inspired by
Riyadh, but instead driven by Sadr’s implacable obsession with blocking
Maliki’s prospects of becoming PM. It is also in retaliation for Iran’s
full-blown backing to his arch rival Qasi al-Khazali, head of Asaib Ahl al Haq.

Trump-MBS strategy constitutes a major turn around in
the US outlook for post-2003 Iraq, shifting the emphasis from constructing a
fragmented Iraq that could potentially break up to a more united Iraq under the
leadership of Abadi, who is not merely heavily dependent on its support, but
also prepared to bend backwards to tow its line on Iran. In this context,
Barzani became an obstacle and Kirkuk a mere detail.

Indeed, Abadi’s declaration
on December 9 of the end of war against ISIL signals the beginning of the
elections campaign. But with MBS engaged in an escalating anti-Shia
confrontation against Iran and its allies, it is very hard to imagine how Shia
leaders such as al-Sadr and al-Hakim could join a coalition hell-bent on taking
the fight to Tehran.    

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

Will the re-launch of the Mosul battle by the Iraqi PM reverse Trump’s hostile stance?

The survival game: post-referendum politics in Iraqi Kurdistan

Eastern Kurdistan: a silent politics with huge casualties

Country or region: 

Iraq

Saudi Arabia

United States

Iran

Topics: 

Conflict

Democracy and government

International politics

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

Pages