Category Archives: Arab Politics

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

Trump Visits His Wahhabi Empire: Saudis Summon Sunni Arab and Muslim Satraps and Viceroys to Riyadh……

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President Donald Trump makes his first official foreign trip later this week, and it will be to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi officials are so excited, their media are making Trump almost into the newest Muslim Caliph. They stress that he is visiting Riyadh before anywhere else, that he is some sort of a phenomenon (I agree with the last one about him being a phenomenon). For their part, jealous media of the  potentates of the rival UAE (United Arab Emirates, occasional Saudi ally) have headlined how their own strongman and crown prince will visit with Trump in Washington to ‘discuss’ issues before he flies to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis are making a Wahhabi-style hootenanny out of the Trump visit. A Veritable Spring Break invasion of the desert for their Arab and Muslim allies, would be allies, and clients. They have invited tens of Arab and Muslim leaders to attend a special meeting with Trump, where they will kiss his ring, and he will bless them all. Maybe he will cure a few among them who are blind or lame and some who are afflicted with Erectile Dysfunction among them. There will be no turning water into wine in Riyadh, he is no real Jesus. Besides Wine is frowned upon, just like fun and free speech and any other religion that is not Wahhabism.

So, the Arab and Muslim leaders have been summoned, and they will flock to Riyadh, attracted by Saudi promises of money and the delusional hope of American aid and the approval and blessings of the former American casino mogul and Fake University hustler. They don’t realize that their new prophet, a rapacious capitalist and hustler, is not in the business of helping anybody but himself, and maybe the shady dealings of his in-laws.

FYI: the Saudis have left Iran out of the invite list, and Syria as well. I am not sure about Iraq and Lebanon. They want to make it a Sunni-dominated summit, which means they will try to line up some of them against their mullah rivals across the Persian Gulf. Netanyahu would have loved to attend, but maybe another time.

Independent Arab media, those few not owned or controlled by the potentates, and the Saudi opposition abroad report that the Saudis have spent several hundred billion Riyals to get Trump to make Riyadh his first foreign stop. Reports of over $200-300 billion in U.S investments and in purchases of weapons are abound. Effectively bribing him, something they are very good at. Something they can’t really afford, and their people know it.

Some Arab media hint at a NATO-style Arab and/or Islamic alliance, although it is not clear what threat it will face. Israel? Iran? Popular demand for reform and free speech and elections and end of corruption? Variations of all those are seen as the enemy or rival by some Arab and Muslim leaders.

Trump will pocket the money, hint for his flock not to worry about human rights, say the right vague words about Israel and Palestine. Then he will launch into the main event: threats against Iran, right across the Persian Gulf. Right in front of his Arab and Muslim satraps and viceroys. The Casino Man, the Fake University hustler from 8,000 miles away threatening the Persians right on their Persian-American Gulf. Now that is chutzpah.

These earlier posts below might be relevant to this topic:
Ignorant Abroad: is Trump Encouraging a Foolish Prince to Start a Sectarian War in the Persian Gulf?……

Kissing It in Arabia: Saudis Discern a Trump ‘Axis of Adults’, or is it an ‘Axis of Kissers of Trump’s Rump’?………

 Donald Trump’s AI War: Alexa, What Should I do about Iran?…..

A Farce is Not a Joke: Saudi Arabia ‘Elected’ to UN Commission on Women……

Stay tuned for more on this…..

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Image Problem of Arab Regimes: from Incredibly Mediocre to Incredibly Criminal……..

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“DUBAI: An Arab News panel discussion held on Tuesday proposed solutions to the Middle East’s image problem in the West, as new research emerged illustrating the severity of the US “knowledge gap” about the region. The panel, held at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, detailed the importance of cultural diplomacy, effective government communication and the importance of student exchange programs in boosting awareness…….” Arab News (Saudi)

Sometimes I suspect that the ruling Arab oligarchs can never learn. In fact I am convinced that they can never learn about some issues. So many of these media events are staged, all blaming outsiders (the West) for the lousy image Arabs have.
I’ve got news for them, but I suspect they already know: the blame lies squarely with the Arab ruling classes. They are almost uniformly oppressive. At best these ruling classes are incredibly mediocre, at worst they are incredibly criminal (including many regimes perceived as being allies of the West).

So this panel, and many other events before it and after it, all seek ways to to improve the “image” of Arabs in the world. Meaning to improve the image of Arab regimes: the potentates, princes, and dictators. Arab regimes, mostly corrupt and repressive, confuse the image of their countries with their own image.
Such staged media events are part of a “real” and not just perceived Arab problem. The “image” is bad because the “reality” as imposed by the ruling oligarchs is bad. Staged media events or highly-paid lobbyists in Washington and London cannot hide the reality.
Arab regimes and their controlled media want to change the image without changing the reality. Getting rid of the symptom will not cure the illness. Morphine makes the pain go away but only for a while. The disease outlasts the patient if a serious “cure” is not applied.


How about ending the wold-class repression and corruption: that should go a long way towards improving the “image” of Arab oligarchs.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Kissing It in Arabia: Saudis Discern a Trump ‘Axis of Adults’, or is it an ‘Axis of Kissers of Trump’s Rump’?………

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“Trump’s ‘Axis of Adults’ sends powerful messages to Iran. In Washington, they call them the “Axis of Adults” — Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the UN. These are the pillars of the Trump-Pence administration, if not the pillars of the state. Other influential stakeholders exist. There is the wing led by Jared Kushner, son-in-law of the president, which includes his Wall Street friends Gary Cohen and Dina Habib Powell, who is deputy national security adviser. There is also a rival wing led by Donald Trump’s top adviser, the hawkish Steve Bannon. The so-called Axis of Adults has taken advantage of the tension between the two in the White House to make inroads into Trump’s heart and mind………” Arab News (Saudi)

First time I read, or hear, about “Trump’s Heart and Mind”. Didn’t know he had either. Now that is ‘kissing it’ creatively, Saudi style…..
“How do I dish thee out, oh journalistic rubbish?…..
Let me count the ways……..”

When it comes to hypocrisy towards potentates or towards a new US president, nobody can do it like Saudi semi-official media. Networks (Alarabiya), Newspapers (Asharq Alawsat, Al-Hayat), English Dailies like Arab News. All owned by princes and potentates. They hire the best, most sycophant media writers, mainly Lebanese but also other Arabs.
A few months ago Donald Trump was a pariah in Arab media. They thought their old pal Hillary Clinton will win and Trump was royally trashed in their controlled media. It is quite a different story now. Trump has been transformed into a genius. He hasn’t been elevated to the ranks of the Early Muslim Pioneers, the Sahaba, yet. But watch out!

How does an Axis of Kissers of Trump’s Rump sounds? That is what it is, but British prime minister Theresa May actually beat them to it last January. In front of a hundred cameras at the White House.


Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Imagine If You Can: a Bloody Middle East Science Day…….

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Today is Science March Day. All over the world people are meeting in solidarity with science. You’d think there is no need for a “day of solidarity” with science now. But we’ve come a long way backward, back to Ante Ante-Bellum, Ante-Galileo, Ante-Newton’s Laws, Ante Kennedy’s pledge to go to the Moon.

Science is being celebrated everywhere in the world, almost. Except for the Middle East. In some Arab capitals, and possibly in Turkey, imagine if you can that a bunch of enthusiastic young men and women gathered in city squares. They gathered for Science Day, not to push for the Sharia implementation, and not to denounce Wahhabism, and not to call for elections and free speech and an end to corruption. That would have been too much. They gathered just to celebrate Science Day, just imagine that if you can.

That is what could have happened from Riyadh to Cairo to Istanbul. That is what may have happened, had the young people decided to follow the example of their colleagues in Europe, Asia, and America. Imagine that if you can.

The dictators and the absolute tribal kings and the robber princes did not understand. To them a crowd is a crowd: a threat to their golden goose. The soldiers and the security goons and the foreign mercenaries, the men who usually crash down doors at dawn, acted on orders. In broad daylight. On this Science Day, Science watered the city squares with blood. Imagine that if you can, because you should.

Why is it that only Arabs, and some Muslims, risk shedding their blood if they publicly gather to celebrate Science?

Allies, indeed……

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Exchange of Qatari Royals in Iraq for Syrian Captives of Jihadis Ends in Bloody Massacre…….

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“The fates of 26 members of a Qatari royal hunting party held hostage for more than a year in Iraq were used to help negotiate a population swap in Syria, where residents on Friday started leaving two Shia villages and two Sunni towns in a synchronised easing of a four-year siege brokered by regional powers. Residents of the Shia areas of Fua and Kefraya, in northern Syria, were transported to nearby east Aleppo as the first buses began leaving Zabadani and Madaya, Sunni strongholds between Damascus and the Lebanese border, for a final destination somewhere in the rebel-held areas of Idlib province. The deal was finalised in recent days after nearly two years of negotiations between one of Syria’s main opposition groups, Ahrar al-Sham, and Iran. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Qatar have also been central ……..”

Reports from all sides in the Middle East indicate that there may be several thousand Saudis held captive in Iraq. Most of them apparently went north to join the Jihadi campaign of terrorism against Iraqi civilians, a sectarian campaign mainly targeting Shi’as. Many joined Al Qaeda in Iraq in the days of Jordanian terrorist Al Zarqawi, and later joined ISIS (DAESH). They represent a huge headache for the Saudi government, and it probably has influenced the recent Saudi warming up to the new political order in Iraq. Families and especially tribes as well as clerics form an important lobby in Saudi Arabia, as the authorities try to get these prisoners released. Some have reportedly been sentenced to death for terrorist acts and some already executed.

An unfortunate development. Today, Saturday, reports came that Jihadi rebels bombed some of the same Syrian refugee buses, killing at least twenty, wounding many others. Not clear yet how this will affect the release of Qatari potentates held in Iraq.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

IDEX and MAGA in MENA: How Arab Regimes Buy More Weapons to Kill Other Arabs……

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Arab kids in IDEX candy store…

“The world’s largest military fair is wrapping up in the United Arab Emirates. The IDEX exhibition attracts mainly African, Arab and Asian officials who are shopping for weapons. For defence companies at the fair, it’s a highly lucrative market. Never since the end of the Cold War have countries spent so much on defence, with deals worth a total of 100 billion dollars signed worldwide last year. Our correspondents report from Abu Dhabi…….”

They call it IDEX (the International Defense Exhibition), but much of it is not defensive. It is a new form of Newspeak. Most of those Arabs who buy the weapons have not been attacked by anyone in recent history, at least not in a quarter century. Those few who have been directly attacked were attacked by other Arab regimes (let’s leave Israel out of the equation here: these weapons are aimed at other Muslim/Arab states). Many of the rich Arab buyers are actively involved in wars in other poorer Arab countries. Some of these oligarchies are also stockpiling weapons to help repress their own people’s aspirations. Western weapons bought by Arabs from foreign “friends” to kill other Arabs.

Sometimes the local potentates get “commissions” from weapons deals (an important consideration). In some cases the weapons purchases are used to exert political influence on the exporting Western governments (British governments have been easy targets for such blackmail, and occasionally the French as well).

As Donald Trump would say or tweet (but he won’t in this case): Sad! So Sad! …….While he runs to the bank.

According to SIPRI data:
Saudi Arabia ‘s share was second largest world weapons importer: 7% of total international arms imports in 2011-2015 (compared to 2.1% in 2006-2010). The United Arab Emirates (UAE) share was fourth largest weapons importer: 4.6% in 2011-2015 (compared to 3.9% in 2006-2010). Each imported more than much bigger countries. But then one of these two Arab states (Saudi Arabia) has been engaged in indirect wars in Syria and Iraq and both are engaged directly in Yemen (active air and land war against local Yemeni forces). Saudis were the largest importers of total American arms exports (9.7% in 2011-2015), while the UAE were the second largest (9.1%).

Some of these Arab-bought weapons find their way into the killing fields of Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Possibly other places as well. In an era when revenues are declining and poverty expands even in petroleum-producing countries. Helping Make Arabia Great Again.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

 

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