Category Archives: Arab Politics

Arab Leaders Blowing in the Wind: Torn Between Many Lovers…….

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The Arab regimes that care, mainly in the Gulf region, have failed to devise and implement a strategy against the expansion of Iranian influence in the Middle East. Military attempts in Iraq and Syria (via insurgent Jihadi proxies) have failed. An extended and ferocious destructive bombing campaign with Western help seems to have failed against the fierce Yemenis. Attempts at forging various reliable foreign alliances, from Turkey to Africa, have failed. Now they think they have a chance at a reset with the Trump administration, but that is probably just another illusion.

A leading Saudi newspaper editor, Mr. Turki Al Dakhil who is close to some potentates, has asked Saudis to launch a campaign on Twitter and other social media praising Donald Trump’s criticism of Iran. In the process also exaggerating it. Many, including the huge official Saudi Electronic Army have been tweeting hashtags (most common hashtag has been #TrumpWarnsIranianTerrorism or something like it) supposedly egging Mr. Trump on, pushing him toward a confrontation with the Iranian regime.

Wahhabi extremists, Salafis, ISIS fans, Al Qaeda fans and other assorted fans of Jihadi cutthroats are all suddenly tweeting in praise of the new President of the United States.

Remember when President Obama complained to the Atlantic Magazine last year that some Arab oligarchs in the Persian Gulf were trying to get the USA to join their regional sectarian conflicts? They are now trying to egg Trump on to fight their sectarian war in the Gulf region and possibly beyond. Only a few weeks ago they were blasting Trump as an Islamophobic racist, now they are clinging to him as a potential war ally. The last great (very) white hope.

Of course this is not new. After the fall of Baghdad in 2003 some Arab autocrats tried with George W Bush to provoke yet a new Gulf war. But he turned out smarter than that, less cooperative. Obama was even more skeptical of the Arab oligarchs, especially after the uprisings of 2010/2011 started. So, the oligarchs soured on Obama and hitched their wagons to Benyamin Netanyahu of Israel. As they waited for their old Clintonista friends to retake the White House.

Netanyahu talked tough against the mullahs, but he would not go to a risky war for the sake of Wahhabi kings and princes who don’t even recognize his country. You see, I suspect that much of Netanyahu’s bluster about the Iranian regime was to divert attention from the settlements in the West Bank (he has been warning since 1995 that Iran will have a nuclear weapon within six months). Some Iranian leaders helped him along with their absurd and bigoted comments about the Holocaust and their silly “Death To” slogans. The Iranian hardliners are good at milking these hostile slogans to their advantage in the Middle East, even if they harm their country’s interests in the halls of power in the West.

Enter Donald Trump and his frustrated hawkish former generals and cultural religious racial warriors.

So that is where it stands now. The Arab oligarchs are suddenly admirers of the American leader they called a clown only a few weeks ago. They think they have a chance against Iranian expansion with Trump, given that the president is surrounded by hawks and by cabinet members and advisers who have been close to the Iranian Mujahideen-Khalq opposition group.

Trump promised to avoid foreign wars and focus on America, but he is now making ominous noises. Will he go to war for his new autocratic admirers? Hopefully not: the Middle East has had enough of foreign meddling and Western wars.
Just help defeat ISIS and Al Qaeda, Mr. Trump, then get the hell out. You don’t belong in the Middle East permanently. The Iranians and the Arabs (and Kurds and Jews and others) belong there, and they have for thousands of years.

Cheers

M. H. Ghuloum

The GCC Game of Musical Alliances: from the Gulf through Africa and Beyond………

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Something strange has been going on recently among member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
They had their summit in Manama a couple of weeks ago, which ended with nothing spectacular to announce. The Salafis of the Persian-American Gulf and the usual Bahrain potentates (both fiercely Saudi proxies) have tried, again, to create some excitement about a possible “union” based on the European model. But it would be a union of ruling families, not based on the popular will, since Kuwait is the only GCC country that has free popular elections. But Kuwait has the misfortune of being stuck between three large and menacing neighboring countries: Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia (the country was invaded by both Iraq and Saudi Arabia in the last century).

The idea of a Gulf union was a no-go, and DOA at the summit: it was not even discussed publicly. Some others within the GCC saw it as a way to formalize a fearsome Saudi attempt at hegemony. They/we all know how the Saudi Kingdom was formed during the last century by swallowing smaller neighboring emirates in the Arabian Peninsula.

After the summit, Saudi King Salman visited every member country except for Oman. Certainly because Oman is the least likely member to follow Saudi policies and wishes. It is odd for the ruler of a member of GCC to start visiting other member states immediately after the summit ends. Why not meet them individually during the summit? They apparently want to send a message to other members and to some Arab counties.

Soon after all that, a Saudi delegation last week visited Ethiopia, a country with which Egypt has serious disputes over the Nile waters. The delegation also pointedly visited a new Ethiopian dam that Egypt claims seriously reduces its share of the Nile waters. That visit created an uproar within Arab media and social media.
But wait, that is not all, there is more (as the TV ads say)…..

Now there is an announcement that the foreign minister of Qatar is visiting, you guessed it, landlocked Ethiopia. Almost certainly just to bother the hell out of the Egyptians.

Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar (and Turkey as well) have just suffered an immense strategic defeat in Syria, when their Jihadist surrogates were forced out of the eastern part of Aleppo. Egypt has been moving towards siding with the Assad regime (and hence by association with Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Russia) in the Syrian war. This has clearly angered some of the Gulf allies who either support the Jihadis in Syria or need to show that they do so for domestic political reasons.

That leaves out the UAE, the third major partner in the Saudi regional alliance. The UAE shares one very important thing with the current government of Egypt: they both hate and fear the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile Qatar is practically a Muslim Brotherhood monarchy (and so close to the Turkish Islamist regime that they have agreed to have a Turkish military base in their country). The Saudis have warmed up to the Brotherhood recently because they are their allies in the Yemen War (through the corrupt Islah Party).
These are fascinating developments that are now unfolding in the Middle East.

As I said: wait, there will be more, and soon. The GCC states, especially Saudi Arabia, have been playing a game of “musical alliances’ in recent years. Since 2011 they have allied on and off with Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Eritrea, Djibouti, Mauritania, Sudan, and now Ethiopia, among others. A list of mainly countries with deep economic problems. And the game of Musical Alliances goes on.

As I said: but wait, there will be more, and soon………..
Cheers

M Haider Ghuloum

The Enemy Within? the Extremist Salafi Islamist Opposition Returns to Kuwait Politics……..

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Kuwait has the most free and open elections in all the Gulf GCC states. The others don’t really have any. She will have new parliamentary (National Assembly) elections in the last week of November. Much of the ultra-reactionary Islamic-Tribal alliance that boycotted the last election has given up and decided to run for office. That should be good news, but in this case it is truly bad news for the country, its social cohesion, and sectarian tranquility.

The Kuwaiti political opposition are a mix that is dominated by Salafis, Muslim Brothers, and reactionary tribal seekers of office. These have cleverly dominated the smaller Wahhabi-Liberal and pseudo-academic types who are nominally secular.

Last time the so-called Kuwaiti political opposition mustered a majority in parliament, their first act was to vote to convert the country into a Wahhabi-Salafi theocracy by instituting the Shari’a literally. Apparently their ideal of a democratic civil society. The proposal got a majority of votes: every member of that opposition group voted for it. Only the few urban members and the Shi’a members refused to support it. Luckily, the Emir thought correctly that it was a bad idea and refused to sign it. He vetoed it and saved the country from the ritual of beheading, crucifixion, public flogging, chopping hands, and other such Wahhabi-Salafi pleasures and pastimes that exist in a neighboring country.

Most of the opposition members had claimed they would not run again until the election laws were changed away from the new one-man-one-vote system, and until one of their leaders is released from prison. They made a lot of noise about ‘principles’ and about a ‘democracy’ that most of them never believed. Apparently four years on the outside have cured them. Basically they have surrendered and, in true Salafist fashion, betrayed their imprisoned ally Musallam Al Barrak.

The years of absence of any political influence and tribal pressures have caused most of them to announce they are running for the November 27 elections. That means that they will again apply pressures to move in the Wahhabi-Salafi direction. To interfere in the private social lives of people, and to start another book-burning episode. Some of them are already announcing their intention to try again to make the Shari’a the law of the land.

And to fan the flames of sectarian tensions that they introduced to the country. They will also start hounding the Shi’as and maybe the few Christians. Last time they were in parliament this Salafi-MB-Tribal alliance asked the government to start “monitoring” the Shi’a religious services. Meaning to spy and intimidate the minorities. Some, possibly many, of these members no doubt will get elected, and they will start making the country and society even duller that it is now.

We shall see soon enough how the post-Thanksgiving turkeys turn out. Certainly no better than the same turkeys looked last time around…..
Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

 

A Saudi Defeat in Lebanon? Hariri and Nasrallah’s Beard and the Shifting Alliances……….

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Former prime minister Saad Hariri returned recently to Lebanon carrying a visible mark of a major political shift. That visible mark is also on his face, in a physical sense.

Hariri, a Lebanese who also grew up in Saudi Arabia and also carries its citizenship, was telling a story. Until recently known as leader of the pro-Saudi faction in Lebanon, he had always sported the goatee (saksooka) that senior Saudi princes (and all kings) sport. It is a tell-tale Saudi symbol, almost as much as the red/white shmagh checkered ghutra (kafiyya) is.
Hariri now sports a full beard, somewhat neater than the one Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah chief) sports, but similar.

He has also taken a political step that clearly signifies a break with Saudi Arabia. He now supports the same candidate as Iranian ally Hezbollah for president of Lebanon, former General Michel Aoun.
Some neutral Arab media speculate that the Saudi break has been in the making for months. Since Hariri-controlled Saudi Oger LTD faced financial trouble and the Saudi princes refused to help. Instead there have been reports of some prince seeking to take over the company.

So, now Harriri has surprised some allies of his right-wing traditionally pro-Saudi Al-Mustaqbal (Future) Movement by announcing his support for Hezbollah’s ally General Aoun (Maronite Catholic). This may open the door for Hariri ro return as prime minister of Lebanon. The Saudi support and money may now shift to other former Hariri sycophants, like former prime minister Saniora and some others. Not very strong allies.

Lebanese claim (credibly) that the Saudis traditionally send a large personal check ($10-20 million) to every new Lebanese prime minister and president, as personal pocket money. Just to break the ice and insure loyalty. Mr. Hariri, reportedly having lost a few billions recently from his Saudi ties, is not likely to even get that much now.

Saad Hariri may be returning to his Lebanese roots, and the heavy-handed Saudis may try to make up for this big Lebanese defeat by nurturing other (mainly Sunni) politicians. But it is a big gap to fill.

(Some Lebanese media have reportedly quoted the latest/newest American ambassador in Beirut as saying that one of her tasks is ‘to weaken the hold of Hezbollah on Lebanon‘. A tough task. This recent development is not a mark of her success. Not yet.)

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

 

Middle East Sands Shift Again in the Mayhem of Post-Post-Arab-Uprisings……

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In the beginning there were the Arab uprisings……
The era of the Arab Uprisings is over. The era of Post Arab Uprisings is over. Now the Middle East is going through the era of Post-Post Arab Uprisings.

The Arab convulsions that started at the end of 2010 were initially expected to usher in a new era of revolution against the stagnant order. That hope quickly shifted as the newly-anointed Arab Center of Power, represented by Persian Gulf oil wealth and Gulf Wahhabi-Salafi ideology basically took over the Arab League and its institutions. Or so it seemed.


But a few unseemly things happened on the way to the royal takeover of the Arab World.

The initial Syrian uprising of 2011, which had been taken over by Gulf-backed Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood Jihadists, stalled. Having been hijacked by essentially agents of even more repressive Arab regimes, it veered into the darkest realm of sectarian and confessional divisiveness, a normal Wahhabi inclination. Foreign intervention has made a solution even more difficult. But the military situation has now decidedly shifted in favor of the Damascus regime and its allies.

In Bahrain, the regime cracked down hard on the uprising of 2011, ‘invited’ Saudi and UAE forces to help its repression, and turned to the old divide and rule policy by going sectarian. That country is still very unstable, heavily dependent on foreign Arab forces and foreign mercenaries to keep order.

In Yemen, the GCC and the UN arranged for dictator Colonel Ali Abdallah Saleh to leave office. But they chose his deputy, another general named Abd Rabuh Mansour Hadi to be “elected” with 99.8% of the vote. Even Kim Jong Un does not get that kind of victory. Hadi was quickly co-opted by corrupt military and tribal forces, along with a very corrupt local version of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Eventually Hadi was overthrown by a rebellion of the tough northern Houthis and elements of the old Yemeni army. He was basically allowed to escape (reportedly dressed as a woman in Burqa).
As the Houthi alliance expanded south into Aden, Hadi (who had resigned AND his term had expired) and his henchmen escaped to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis made the same mistake they had made before, they tried to invade Yemen with a force of hired African and Arab mercenaries. It is now a quagmire, helped by the Obama Administration which arms and refuels the Saudi bombers that commit what is essentially a murderous genocide.

In Libya, the dreams of American and European liberals and conservatives alike were shattered by the aftermath of the overthrow, torture, and murder of Gaddafi and his son. The Western powers had engineered a UN resolution past Russia and China that had wordings that created a loophole for NATO to bomb Gaddafi’s Libya. All based on false claims by opposition rebels. Russia and China have not forgotten that Western deception at the UN, and they are unlikely to vote along the same lines again. Libya itself is now a smaller version of Syria.


The biggest prize as usual was Egypt. After one year of elected Muslim Brotherhood rule, a couple of Gulf states ‘financed’ a series of huge opposition protests and eventually a military coup. Shades of the CIA Operation Ajax in Iran, circa 1953. Egypt was to become basically a satrapy of the Saudi and Emirati potentates, rich but uncultured tribal despots. An absurd notion to anybody who knows anything about ancient Middle East history.

Now Egypt is reported to have swung another way. A media war is raging between Egypt and her presumed Gulf sisterly (or brotherly) bosses, and regional policies are shifting. From Yemen to Syria to Iran, possibly even to the Gulf, Egypt is seeking new alliances and restoration of old ties in the face of a Wahhabi blackmail.
The Egyptian-Saudi dispute has gotten so serious that former Yemeni officials, all Saudi agents who urge the bombing of their country from their comfortable Saudi exile, now are accusing Egypt of supplying the Houthi rulers of Sanaa with missiles.

Other Gulf media mouthpieces have accused neutral Oman of expediting the transfer of Iranian weapons to the Houthis. These are certainly attempts to justify the miserable failure of the expensively-armed and Western-guided but incompetent Saudi and UAE forces to win the war in Yemen.
Another major twist, but it is not over. Stay tuned…..

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

 

Egypt and Her Sisters: Al Sisi and Syria and the Indian Givers of Riyadh………

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Only a few months ago Saudi King Salman visited Cairo to inspect “his newest acquisition”. Or so jubilant Salafis and opinion-ators in Saudi and Gulf media screamed. Many fell for it. Even an astute person like myself, born and raised amidst the sandstorms and the annual locust invasions and under the loving truly burning sun of the (Persian) Gulf. But I did express some doubt.

At that time Saudi media claimed the King had a ‘pleasant’ surprise for the Egyptian people. It turned out that surprise was anything but pleasant. It was the draft of an agreement that cedes two Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir in the Gulf of Aqaba, to the Saudis. The people of Egypt, with the exception of Saudi-financed Salafis, were furious at the Sisi regime. Other Arabs were also skeptic, except for the Salafi-Tribal types of the Gulf region. The whole thing backfired on the Cairo regime. Now the islands issue looks unresolved.

Then there is Syria. The Saudi-Qatari-Turkish axis, although frayed by now, has been consistent in its resolve to help replace the secular Assad regime with an Islamist-Jihadist one. More recently the Turks have given in to American pressure and tightened border controls a bit. They have also developed some focused worries about Syrian Kurds and their drive for autonomy. The Egyptian regime has been skeptic of the Saudi-Turkish position on Syria. Now they are openly so, as reflected in their latest UN Security Council vote on Syria.

The Saudi ruling elites are not very subtle or classy about showing their displeasure. They can be called “Indian Givers”, a politically incorrect term now here, I know, but succinctly describes them. Now they have retaliated by cutting off the billions of promised aid, starting with oil shipments. Reports claim Kuwait has stepped in to replace the promised Saudi oil shipments to Cairo. Their is a media war brewing between the two countries.
But it is not realistic to expect an ancient country like Egypt to remain long subservient to a bunch of tribal oligarchs in Riyadh

Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir used to go around the world asserting that the Syrian Assad regime will go, peacefully or by military means. Tough words for a Saudi minister whose well-armed country has been losing a war to the lightly-armed tribal Houthis of Yemen and their allies. For a few weeks Mr. Al Jubeir was silenced, by order. Now he is back, again threatening that his country is considering arming “moderate” Syrian rebels. Moderate by Wahhabi standards, no doubt.
That requires agreement by Washington which supplies most of the Saudi weapons in question.

And that is where the sisterly, or is it brotherly, relations stand now.
Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Islamic Mercenaries of the Persian Gulf: Have Quran, Will Travel………

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This is not a new phenomenon on the Persian Gulf: religious sheikhs (clerics) for hire.

Often they come from Egypt, Jordan, North Africa and other Arab countries/regions. They usually attach themselves to one or another among the ruling absolute oligarchies, of the Gulf, especially in the UAE or Qatar. Attracted by money and opportunity, they start issuing statements or Fatwas in favor of their benefactors and against others who displease these benefactors. They are absolutely mercenaries: clerics for hire. No different from the armed foreign mercenaries that some Gulf regimes hire to do their repression or wage their regional wars.

Here is a man with the impressive-sounding title of Deputy President of the International Union of Muslim Clerics, basically a clerical bureaucracy for hire. He is here accusing another cleric-for-hire, the Religious Adviser, whatever that be, of the top man in the UAE, Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ), of being among “devil worshipers”. He also called him a religious traveling salesman. MBZ and the UAE are among the strongest anti-Muslim Brotherhood in the whole Middle East. This is a sore point of contention with their Saudi “allies” in the stalling war on Yemen.
Of course all this name-calling is a case of one soot-covered pot calling another pot ‘black’.


The Persian Gulf GCC states are full of these hired expatriate clerics, like Al Qaradawi (in Qatar) and others, basically mercenaries, religious guns for hire. Often they are either Muslim Brothers who have found the joys of oil money (in Qatar) or others hired by the UAE potentates to blast the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamic gunslingers and mud-slingers.

All these people do their own interpretation of the Quran or Hadith to serve their masters. They are almost as bad as the Salafis, almost.
Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Cameron Steps Down: Inspires Several Arab Kings to Hara-Kiri……

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Hara -Kiri: “suicide by disembowelment,” 1856, from Japanese, literally “belly-cutting,” the colloquial word for what is formally called seppuku “cut open the stomach;” from hara “belly” + kiri “to cut.” Dictionary.com

“Britain’s David Cameron said he would resign as prime minister on Wednesday, paving the way for interior minister Theresa May to take over the job the same day. Cameron said he expected to chair his last cabinet meeting on Tuesday and then take questions in parliament on Wednesday………..”

Rulers in the Middle East, Arab and Muslim, are probably amused. That someone they think has power would give it up. Especially someone who has been their ally, their helper and supplier of weapons of war and repression.
In the Middle East, almost nobody ever resigns or steps down voluntarily. Not only leaders, even top bureaucrats, even lower bureaucrats hang on for decades. As for rulers, be they kings or dictators or other Muslim theocrats, blood can flow first: and I don’t mean Hara-kiri although it would be something to avoid beholding…..

Wouldn’t it be nice to read, for example, that a couple Arab kings of the kleptocratic sectarian despotic school of thought have decided to quit? Without giving the throne to their sons (well, maybe to a daughter for a change). They can take their loot and their brood, their leeches, with them to Europe, given safe passage from wherever they have been looting in a kingly fashion.
One can dream, even an impossible dream……

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

An Arab Human Rights Court in Bahrain? ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ in Arabic……..

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There are more recent reports of something called an Arab Human Rights Court, what I (and anybody with sense) would call Mother of All Contradictions. Reports that the Arab League’s current owners have chosen Bahrain as headquarters of the so-called Arab Human Rights Court are apparently not a joke or a prank.

There is or will be an entity called the Arab Human Rights Court. I am guessing, an expensively educated guess, that its specialty will be to prosecute human rights advocates in the Arab countries. And to try and bully foreign and international NGO’s who support them.

The report of its location in Bahrain? Just adding a bit of insult to injury, telling the Arab peoples what their rulers think of them and of their level of intelligence. But then they don’t care what their peoples think anyway.
It is aimed at the outside world. An Arab court can and will always issue verdicts in support of these despotic regimes. Friendly Western media from the Washington Post to CNN, and friendly Western regimes like the one in Britain can point to these verdicts and repeat them like mindless zombies, as alibis.

Terrible. Yet when I first read about this project months ago I could not help laughing. Imagine four terms: Human Rights, Justice, Arab League, Bahrain. How can they all fit in one sentence, one paragraph, or even one page without provoking frustrated mirthless laughter?
Frustrated mirthless laughter is supposed to be more seemly, for men at least, than frustrated weeping which would be the more honest relieving reaction.

This is the equivalent of having a huge sign hanging over the whole bloody Arab World:
Arbeit Macht Frei……..
Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

France Ships Vladivostok to Egypt: How the Saudis Financed Gamal Abdel Nasser….

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There was once a huge French-made naval vessel: a huge helicopter carrier of the Mistral class. It was ordered from France by Russia in 2011, but with Russia producing a large portion of it.
Then the Ukraine crisis occurred and the West initiated a boycott of Russia. France under pressure decided not to deliver the Mistral, to be named The Vladivostok, to Russia as scheduled in late 2015.

It had a bit of a problem finding a home, a paying home, meaning somebody to pay for it more than Euro 1.2 billion.
It looks like now the Saudis (and very likely their Emirati rivals) have paid for it to be sent to Egypt. Who else, since the Egyptian economy is in no position to buy rice.
So the princes and potentates on the Gulf have financed a new Egyptian battleship named after their toughest historic rival, the secular leftist strongman who sought to overthrow their regime. Another irony of modern Arab history…..

But who will Egypt be fighting in the near future in the Mediterranean or Red Sea that it keeps buying so many weapons with Gulf money (or plentiful Gulf “rice” according to Al Sisi)?


Cheers
M Haider Ghuloum