Category Archives: Arab Politics

Muslims and the White House: on Sunnis, Shi’as, Diet Pepsi, Diet Coke, and Fascist Goulash…….

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A popular beloved Kuwaiti actor (comedian) died this week. He was popular across the region, especially in the Gulf states.
Many people of all faiths across the Arab world expressed condolences. But there was a snag: he also happened to be Shi’a, and his first name indicated that he could be nothing else. That is not a problem in his home country, sectarianism is a new phenomenon and limited to Islamist extremists. But it proved to be a bit of a problem in a couple of neighboring countries and on social media.
Some Arab Salafi and Wahhabi extremists on social media as well as some of their prominent clerics (sheikhs) expressed outrage that others (Sunnis) expressed sympathy for the death of a Shi’a whom they consider a heretic. Some basically issued their
own fatwas saying the act of condolence for someone of a different sect is sacrilegious.

Other prominent clerics took the hint from their bosses and took  new route: they actually opposed the messages of sectarian hate. Especially the Imam of the Holy Mosque in Mecca.
Odd: nobody, none of these dissenting clerics, had expressed outrage for condolences sent about the deaths of many others, mostly non-Muslim potentates. Including Cheeta the Chimp (my favorite childhood film star)…

Even an alleged heathen like Herr Professor Doctor Sebastian Gorka PhD knows that the differences between Sunni and Shi’a are minimal. Or so he claims. The Herr Doctor Gorka (PhD) has reportedly opined that Sunni or Shi’a Muslims are both evil: it is like Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi (See? Even in this present and least eloquent of White Houses). He probably even knows the differences between German Nazis, Austrian Nazis, and Hungarian Goulash Nazis of the good old days.

Yet many Muslims don’t know such distinctions but emphasize others, especially those of the Salafi (and some Muslim Brotherhood) sects.

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Mystery of the Disappearing Arab Princes in Europe………

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“Saudi Arabia’s missing princes. In the last two years, three Saudi princes living in Europe have disappeared. All were critical of the Saudi government – and there is evidence that all were abducted and flown back to Saudi Arabia… where nothing further has been heard from them………. Sultan refuses, at which point Abdulaziz excuses himself to make a phone call. The other man in the room, the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Saleh al-Sheikh, leaves too and after a few moments masked men rush in. They beat Sultan and handcuff him, then a needle is plunged into his neck. Unconscious, Sultan is rushed to Geneva airport – and carried on to a Medevac plane that is conveniently waiting on the tarmac……….”
BBC News

The most famous case of a Saudi citizen disappearing abroad occurred in Beirut, many years ago. Nasser Al Saeed was a famous regime opponent and Pan-Arabist. But he was a commoner in exile, who was almost certainly kidnapped and murdered and buried in Lebanon.

Now, under the current father-son rule, even some princes are beginning to vanish across Europe. But then again, does anyone know what happened to the former Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef who was deposed last month, was reported to be under house arrest? He has vanished in the Gulag that has absorbed many ordinary citizens, although he lives under better conditions of house arrest.

Revolutions are known to end up devouring their sons and daughters, from France (Danton, Robespierre) to Russia (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin) to Iran (uncounted revolutionaries both communist, secular, and theocratic). Now the Saudi case is different: it is a throwback to a much earlier era of plotting kings and princes. An absolute monarchy eating its own sons (sorry, no daughters: verboten).

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Egypt and GCC Bubble Gum Policy: Al Sisi Ups His Price to Gulf Potentates…….

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Generalissimo Field Marshal Al Sisi of Egypt had  a bunch of top Persian Gulf potentates, money bags, in Cairo this past week. He was making a speech, during which he said

“You in tiny countries, Egypt is huge. In ne day, Egyptians eat worth as much as some of you eat in one year. If you can’t spend $100 billion a year on Egypt, if you can’t spend enough money on Egypt, then stay out. Then don’t interfere in Egypt if you can’t afford it …….”

This is the speech. The Gulf potentates who were present there in Cairo laughed. Especially the leader of the UAE.

Qatar was not there, which suggests the laughter was supposed to mean Sisi’s barb was aimed at Qatar, since those potentates present laughed. Yet Sisi could also be sending a message to the other (anti-Qatar) Gulf princes and potentates. The comment also applies to ALL GCC countries, and at least two of them interfere in Egypt, or try to. They financed street agitation in 2013, and the Al Sisi military coup against the elected president Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood), who was at the time receiving billions of aid from Qatar.

Of course one of those present, the tiny Empire of Bahrain, can’t even afford to supply Egypt with enough bubble gum for one day, but it has been interfering in Egypt since 2012, along with the rest of them….

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Rex Tillerson Tackles the GCC War of Fake News on the Gulf….

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“Secretary Tillerson Participates in a Joint Press Conference in Qatar. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson participates in a joint press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Doha, Qatar on July……….” US State Department

” KUWAIT CITY — The United States and Qatar signed a memo of understanding Tuesday on steps the tiny Persian Gulf nation will take to stop the funding of terrorism, U.S. officials said Tuesday. The agreement aims to encourage Qatar’s neighbors to abandon their embargo on the country. The memo was announced in the Qatar capital of Doha, where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spent the day working to resolve a regional feud that the United States fears could derail efforts to fight groups like the Islamic State and could embolden Iran…….” N Y Times

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson started this trip in Kuwait, the only Gulf GCC country that could mediate, given its long experience in trying, often hopelessly, to mediate Arab disputes. Oman is another possible sane GCC member, but the Omanis have kept their distance from clashes between the ruling families of the Gulf.
From Kuwait Tillerson went to Qatar, reportedly for a tri-partite American-Qatari-Kuwait meeting. From Qatar he will fly to Saudi Arabia. Tillerson’s statements seem to be quite critical of the Saudi-UAE claims and demands. Politely he seems to point out the absurdity of their demands.

But this whole project is almost like Fake News. The claims and 13 demands of Saudi Arabia and the UAE were based on a combination of elements of the real policies of Qatar and on the skillful use of Fake News by the Saudis and Emiratis. At some point all these states supported terrorist activities, especially in Iraq and Syria. The September 11 terrorist attacks of 2001 had no Qatari involvement. ISIS ranks have many Saudis and Bahrainis, but I have never seen a Qatari name.

The Saudi-UAE demands of Qatar were no doubt inspired by Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh in May and his later tweets. The heavy use of the term “terrorism” was a clever attempt to shift the topic away from the Saudi roots of Jihadism and to use two terms that resonate with American politicians. Qatar was charged with supporting “terrorism” and with moving close to “Iran“: nothing makes Americans politicians salivate more than these two terms, except maybe the term “campaign money“.

The Qataris and Iranians share one of the largest natural gas fields in the world, in the waters of the Persian Gulf, so they need to keep some cordial ties. Besides, Oman and Kuwait keep cordial relations with the mullahs in Iran, and nobody among the Saudi-UAE potentates has criticized them, not yet.

The whole “GCC crisis” is odd and relies heavily on Fake News. The demands presented to Qatar by the Saudi-UAE side are vague, and they are absurd to present to a sovereign country. Especially the deman of closing the AlJazeera News Network. Even though Qatar has dabbled in supporting Jihadis in Syria, so did Saudi Arabia (in Syria and Iraq), probably even more so.
And as if to add some weight to their demands, the Saudi-UAE side recruited Egypt’s hapless dictator Field Marshall Al Sisi, possibly as a military muscleman. Almost laughable, given the underachieving military history of modern Egypt.

Now it seems that, in spite of Donald Trump, Tillerson may have managed to convey the real American position on this issue. Trump was no doubt moved by the accolades and the flattery he received at the Riyadh Summit in May, (did I leave the promised billions of dollars?). Now it looks like there is consensus that the Saudi-UAE attempt has failed to destabilize Qatar. This is not the first Saudi failure in Qatar, there was an attempted coup in the late 1990s.

There is another Arab state where the Saudis under King Salman and his son are facing even worse failure: perhaps Rex Tillerson can help extricate the princes from the quagmire of the Yemen war they foolishly started two and a half years ago.

Cheers

Mpohammed Haider Ghuloum

 

Just Who Are the Terrorists? Playing the Field in the Middle East……..

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“Syria: Israel coordinated attack with Islamist militants, giving air support to Nusra assault on Quneitra…… The Syrian army claimed that the Israeli airstrikes coincided with an attack by Islamist militants on the same positions. The Syrian army said it seemed the two attacks were coordinated and that the attack by Israeli military helicopters supported the Nusra Front’s assault on a Quneitra suburb………”  Haaretz (a very lonely Israeli newspaper)

Middle East wars used to be simple clear-cut affairs (with one particular side persistently led by simpletons). Arabs against Israelis. Iraqis against Iranians. Americans against Iraqi Baathists. Saudis against Yemenis.
Now things have become confused and confusing: various parties and regimes and groups two-time or three-time each other. Everybody plays the field now.

Now we have Al Nusra, the local franchise of Al Qaeda reportedly getting some cover from Israeli forces (Arab media and pro-Syrian media have been noting that for months now). Yes, that same Al Qaeda, the one that attacked the USA and killed about 3,000 Americans, to start with (most of the perpetrators were Saudis terrorists). The same Wahhabis that perpetrated the Boston attack, San Bernardino, and Orlando, as well as Paris, Nice, London, Brussels. And the daily attacks in Iraq, Pakistan, and the bombings in Kuwait and Tehran. And more. The same Wahhabis whose clerics have often claimed that Jews are “descendants of apes and pigs“.

Mr. Trump, of course, has a different view of history. He stood in the capital of Wahhabism and pointed his greedy fat finger across the Persian Gulf and declared that the mullahs on Iran are responsible for terrorism in the world.

Like I said, anything is possible in the Middle East these days. Just look at the predicament of Qatar and the GCC.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Mother of All Persian Gulf Miscalculations: Petulant Princes and the Ultimatum that Failed……..

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” Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that have cut ties to Qatar issued a steep list of demands Thursday to end the crisis, insisting that their Persian Gulf neighbor shutter Al-Jazeera, cut back diplomatic ties to Iran and sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a 13-point list — presented to the Qataris by Kuwait, which is helping mediate the crisis — the countries also demand an end to Turkey’s military presence in Qatar. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the list in Arabic from one of the countries involved in the dispute…….— Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence currently in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside of Qatar…… If Qatar agrees to comply, the list asserts that it will be audited once a month for the first year, and then once per quarter in the second year after it takes effect. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance……” AP

The princes and potentates along the Persian Gulf region are rarely original. But it seems that on the occasions when they do show some originality, they can be breathtakingly so.

All these countries have foreign military bases on their territories, which is fine. The UAE has several bases on its land: American, British, French, and allegedly imported mercenary forces organized by Blackwater (later renamed Xe then Academi). Bahrain has American, British, and Saudi bases, plus thousands of Jordanian and former Arab Baathist and Asian mercenaries, so far. The Saudis have American ‘bases’ coordinating the war on Yemen, possibly British as well, as well as reportedly humorless Jordanians and other foreign military personnel. Yet they demand that Qatar end the small Turkish military presence of Caliph Erdogan. No mention of the huge US Central Command base at Al Eidid.

The brotherly, or is it sisterly, princes also want Qatar to reduce ties with Iran, yet the UAE is reportedly the main regional trading partner of Iran. Dubai’s ties with Iran precede the rule of the mullahs in Tehran and precedes the creation of the UAE. And Oman has historical and growing trade ties with Iran. Kuwait is normally neutral in disputes among Gulf GCC potentates, and it has normal ties with Iran. Yet the focus is on Qatar, or perhaps Qatar is the first target, with others to follow.

Yet Qatar is also almost umbilically tied to Iran: it shares a huge offshore natural gas field with Iran in the Persian Gulf, and that is something that cannot be broken. Besides, Iran has been on the Persian Gulf since the early Aryan invasions/migrations from the north many thousands of years ago. Long before Bush, Obama, and Trump showed up. Long before Percy Cox and Gertrude Bell and T.E Lawrence showed up. Ironically, the Emirates Airlines (UAE) flights from the United States cross the whole of Iran, over Tehran, to land in Dubai. Yet these petulant potentates have a blockade against the Qatar Airlines, banning it from their airspace.

The oddest demand is supposed to be an imitation of the IAEA nuclear task as part of the Iran Nuclear Deal with the world powers (JCPOA): they want Qatar periodically monitored for compliance with the demands of these silly princes and potentates. Can’t Arab leaders ever be original? Apparently only when they go beyond reason and into the realm of absurdity.


My conclusion? the Saudi-UAE siege of Qatar seems to have failed. Another failure to be added to their adventures in Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon. Only their huge investment in General Al Sisi seems to have paid off for now, but Egypt is now a monumentally unstable war-torn mess. In Egypt it is like this: they broke it, and now they own it.

They probably thought surprise tough measures combined with hints of military action and attempted internal coup would bring the troublesome Qatari rulers down. That combined with some vague supportive comments from the new Muslim Caliph Donald Trump, a hardly reliable advocate of complex policies. They did not. The ruling princes and potentates of the Gulf have miscalculated, again.

Let us hope these petulant princes don’t keep misreading Donald Trump or James Mattis and make the Mother of All Miscalculations, plunging the region into another war, this time the Mother of All Persian Gulf Wars.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

A Tale of Two Miserable Arab Summers: June 1967, June 2017….

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On June 4 1967, most Arab peoples were expecting a victory over Israel. Or so they were told by their regimes, all of their regimes. Given the size of Israel at the time, an Arab victory and an Israeli defeat would have meant a reversal of 1948, when Israel replaced Palestine. Not completely: Arabs still controlled Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, all of them parts of Mandate Palestine. But the Jordanians who held onto the West Bank and East Jerusalem were not eager to develop a Palestinian entity, and Gaza remained neglected under Egyptian control.
So, on the morning of June 5, 1967, the Israeli Air Force struck, and quickly destroyed Arab air forces. Arab regimes continued to claim their forces were on the outskirts of Tel Aviv even as Israelis were sweeping though Sinai. By afternoon the war was effectively over. Mop up operations secured the Sinai for the second time in eleven years. The Jordanians basically put up a half hearted fight for the West Bank and East Jerusalem (King Hussin must have thought the Egyptian army will hand him the rest of Jerusalem).
The biggest loss of Arab land in modern history took barely more than one day. So much for the vaunted Arab Army of Jordan.

But what is shocking now, looking back, is that even after that huge defeat the Arab world was better of than it is now, June 2017. Fifty years later.

Before June 1967 the Arabs had already lost one war, the war for Palestine. Now we know that the loss of Palestine was the beginning: the Arab states have continued to lose every single war against outsiders. With the exception of Lebanon in 2000 and 2006.
Before 1967 there was hope, pride, exuberance. The Arab world was young, most of it recently independent, some of it getting there. There was hope that it can progress, perhaps unite and improve its lot. Young people were sure, they were certain that they were facing a bright future. Most of the students who came to the West, especially to the United States, looked forward towards to returning home and helping build or rebuild. Most did not think of immigration.

After 1967, with pan-Arab secularism defeated, Wahhabism ran unchecked. Fueled with oil money, it busted out of its Saudi desert homeland and spread its poison through mosques and schools that spread in poorer Muslim lands. This was the ideological and financial basis of Al Qaeda and ISIS/DAESH. It still is.

Fast forward to June 2017. Half a century of defeats, dictatorship, absolute tribal rule, and internal Arab wars. Crowned with the tragedy that Westerners, and some Arabs, thought was an Arab Spring. It turned out to be anything but a spring. All rebellions against exiting order failed, from Bahrain to Yemen to Syria, to Egypt, and North Africa.Those states that succeeded in overthrowing their rulers ended with civil wars.

Now the fate of the Arabs is almost totally in foreign hands. The interactions among the West, Iran, Turkey, Israel, and Russia determine the future. A couple of absolute repressive tribal ruling families dominate domestic Arab politics. Not what the Arabs need just now. They have managed to buy many of the other Arab regimes, and they have possibly bought off the current President of the United States. Ignorant of history, Trump and his British counterpart have given the oligarchs a carte blanche to do what they want, what they can do, in the Gulf and in the rest of the region. They are also giving them all the weapons they need to start new wars and suffer more defeats.

So, here the region stands. Sophisticated expensive American and British weapons in the hands of repressive regimes will not create stability, not for long. Some foolish young prince is bound to start a fire that would engulf the region, just like Saddam Hussein brought on thirty years of warfare.

The hope has faded, and there is hardly any light at the end of the tunnel, regardless of what some well-meaning Western analysts and academics opine.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Arabian Wars, American Folly: Summer 1990, Summer 2017……

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This Saudi, UAE, and now Trump frenzy and ratcheting up attacks on Qatar reminds me of Saddam Hussein and Kuwait in the summer of 1990. How he escalated his threats against his little neighbor, miscalculated the American reaction, and started an invasion and another foolish war.

Donald Trump is now openly giving the Saudi/UAE potentates the green light in the Persian Gulf. But suppose Trump’s new Arab allies (the ones he hated and despised before last January) screw up as I expect? As they have done in Yemen? I mean they could not even subdue a few tribes in Yemen. Suppose they get stuck in another classic quagmire?

Trump has been tweeting today in support of the Saudi-Emirati position. All based on what two princes in Saudi Aabia and the UAE had told him last month (according to him)!
No doubt Qatar has supported some Syrian Jihadis with money, but so have the Saudis and others in the Persian Gulf states. So has Turkey. So why focus on Qatar now? Is it pressure from Saudi-UAE funded lobbyists and Think Tanks in Washington? It can well be.
Will Donald Trump then send American fighting boys and girls to pull their royal nuts out of the fire?

In the end the United States is thousands of miles away, it is an interloper. The countries on the Gulf belong there, it is their native region. The USA can defend its allies and whatever interests it has in the region, but it cannot establish its own hegemony on the Persian Gulf. That would be a pipe dream. The era of old gunboat imperialism is (probably) over.

(Interestingly Kuwait, the old victim of Saddam Hussein’s media attack and brutal invasion, is trying to mediate this new crisis between Qatar and her larger neighbors).

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Quest for Gulf Hegemony: GCC Cyber Attacks and Media Warfare Escalate After the Trump Summit, What Next?…….

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Interesting things have been happening in the Persian-American Gulf region, especially in the aftermath of President Trump’s visit and his speech in the Arabian Peninsula.

The website of the “official” Qatar News Agency was hacked last week. The hackers inserted headlines that quoted the Emir of Qatar criticizing the Saudi and Emirati leaders and praising closer ties with the Iranians.
This led to some fury in the royal and princely palaces along the Persian Gulf. Followed by a flurry of visits among Gulf potentates and leaders.

Qataris claimed their official news agency website had been hacked and fake statements inserted, but the Saudis and UAE media continued a relentless barrage of attacks and threats against the Qatari regime. It is possible that the UAE and/or Saudis may have hired some hackers to create a cause for attacking Qatar, a casus belli from their point of view.

In the United States, the issue of Al Udeid Air Base in Doha, where the US Central Command has its Persian Gulf headquarters, could be under consideration again. Saudi and Emirati (UAE) surrogates among paid lobbyists, paid American journalists, and paid American Think Tank analysts are again suggesting that the regional CENTCOM HQ be moved to the UAE. My unreliable sources report that the UAE potentates have been lobbying for it furiously.
Kuwait tried to mediate by sending it foreign minister to calm things down. The Emir of Qatar visited Kuwait, which is usually neutral in inter-GCC and Gulf disputes. The goal seems to have been to get some intermediation going.
The leader of the UAE, Crown Price Mohamed Bin Zayed visited Saudi Arabia to coordinate. Bin Zayed is reputed to be close to Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, the Dauphin in Waiting of Riyadh. But the Saudi and Emirati potentates are having serious differences over the Yemen war. Egyptian media, very close to the UAE potentates since General Sisi staged his military coup, have also escalated even more against Qatar.

Then the website of the corpulent foreign minister of Bahrain Khalid Al Khalifa (effectively a satellite of Saudi Arabia) was hacked, his tweets replaced with anti-regime items and photos of unrest and repression in Bahrain.

Then GlobalLeaks started releasing emails and messages implicating UAE (Emirati) officials with gifts, bribes, to US journalists and think tanks. It published info of close ties between UAE ambassador to Washington and the pro-Israeli organization Front for the Defense of Democracies (itself an Israel right-wing front financed by Las Vegas Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson). Apparently the ambassador, known in Washington as a man-about-town and generous party-giver, is pushing for some kind of American confrontation with Iran in the Persian Gulf, the same goal of the Israeli right-wing Likud. Except that the United States and Israel are both outside interlopers, located far from the Persian Gulf.

All this turmoil and the Iranian mullahs did not have to lift a finger: all of the turmoil locally made by the Gulf GCC internal struggle for and against Saudi hegemony.
Perhaps an understandable aftermath of the ill-fated visit of Trump and his clan to the Wahhabi summit in Riyadh, in the aftermath of his famously nonsensical speech.

Then on Sunday (today) came proof that the intermediation attempts have failed. UAE and Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain severed diplomatic relations with Qatar.  The controlled media of those countries escalated their campaign against the government of Qatar. There is no doubt that there will be attempts by UAE and Saudi Arabia to instigate a military coup for regime change in Doha. Oman and Kuwait usually refuse to join such inter-Gulf conflicts and have so far maintained relations with Qatar (as they did with Iran after the others broke relations).

Oddly, news agencies reported yesterday that six Qatari soldiers were wounded while “defending” the southern Saudi border against Yemeni retaliation for the Saudi-American-British bombing of their cities.

Stay tuned….

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Fallout of Donald Trump’s Poisonous Middle East Visit to Saudi Arabia……..

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Donald Trump‘s Middle East visit was not only the most expensive ever for his Saudi hosts, reportedly to the tune of about $460 billion that they cannot afford. The princes may even be forced later to scale down and stagger payment of some of what many natives consider a “ransom” paid to Trump. If and when the dust from his unfortunate and disastrous visit to the Arabian Peninsula ever settles down. (Already some independent Arab media claim the Saudis are canceling big weapons deals with Turkey, presumably a result of the Trump holdup)

The visit is proving a most poisonous event, one that has raised passionate sectarian tensions to levels that even Al Qaeda and ISIS could not do. Having a world superpower take direct sides in a sectarian conflict largely created by Trump’s new regional allies and urging one side side to “go for it”. That will also prove disastrous for US foreign policy. If the princes are foolish enough to take Trump at his words, they would see his speech as an invitation for them to escalate, with a promise of American collusion and participation in the event of a new war.
(Of course, some of the princes may know, like we do, that Trump is prone to exaggeration, that his word can’t be taken seriously. Hopefully that is the case, but still, so much lethal hardware in the hands of a spoiled young prince….).


First came the accession of King Salman and his rash son. Almost a future reckless Saddam Hussein of the Arabian Peninsula, if the past two years are any indication.

Then enter Donald Trump, whose knowledge of the region is focused on how much money he can extort from the native princes and potentates. An incompetent and greedy Western leader who is after loot: that is how most Arabs and Muslims see him. Regardless of the propaganda headlines of the controlled and royally-owned media of some Gulf GCC states.


Trump‘s Saudi visit was the most poisonous event for the Middle East since the accession of Saudi King Salman and his son, in itself retroactively an event that started the slide towards deeper more open sectarian conflict in the Persian Gulf and the wider Arab World.

The American visitor and his clan were not even out of Riyadh before the fallout from his visit started to poison the air over the Persian Gulf to a degree unprecedented in modern times.

More on this later…..

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum