Category Archives: Arabian Peninsula

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

Muslim Wars: Mufti Condemns Iranians and Catholics as Descendants of the Magi…….

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The name-calling between the regimes in Riyadh and Tehran has escalated. It has also spread to large segments of the populations of the two countries.

The Saudi Mufti has recently declared or fatwad (again) that Iranians (and almost certainly Arab and other Shi’as) are not Muslims, that they are enemies of Islam. The Mufti, like most good Wahhabis and Salafis, has called Iranian Muslims “Majus“, meaning the Magi. (It will be a shock to many in the West that the term “Magi” can be considered derogatory by anybody. He is referring to the ancient Zoroastrian faith of ancient Persia, before the spread of Islam).
To many Wahhabis, and some other modern Arab, er, thinkers(?), these are considered “fire warshipers” because some of their rites involve using fire. This is equivalent to calling Catholics “candle worshipers” because they light and use candles in their churches. It reflects a shallow and often deliberate attempt to insult and distort the history of “others”.

Some Iranians and other Shi’as have pointed out that the Peninsula tribal Arabs who are now ruled by the Al Saud and their palace muftis were in pre-Islamic times worshipers of idols, many little statues that occupied the Kaaba at Mecca. That the ancient Egyptians used to worship their kings, the pharaohs who married their own sisters, until the Persian conquest about twenty-five centuries ago. That in the Levant they worshiped Baal and Astarte and others

No doubt the Mufti and most Wahhabi Salafis believe that all Shi’as are not Muslims, including a majority of Iranians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Bahrainis, Azerbaijanis, as well as tens of millions in other countries like Turkey and Pakistan.

The Wahhabis have always used the Iranians’ ancient empire and culture as an indication of the aspirations of the current theocratic regime in Tehran. That is also part of the Salafi war on everything that is ancient and predates Islam. In fact, even early Islamic monuments and historic sites have been destroyed in Saudi Arabia as idolatry (as they are under ISIS) .

The Iranian mullahs have retaliated by Ayatollah Khamenei calling for the Holy Places to be placed in other non-Saudi hands. An unrealistic proposal that is politically and emotionally motivated.  Some mullahs were reported to have now created a newer category of their favorite epithet “Satan”. Perhaps calling the Saudis a “smaller Satan”. We all know whom they name the two bigger Satans.

So, the war of words goes on. As do the wars of proxies in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon. And in other Muslim and non-Muslim lands.

Some Arab media now report that the Mufti Shaikh Al Shaikh is being eased out of his job as a result of his latest sectarian tirade. This would be an unusual development since he is a direct descendant of Mohammad Bin AbdulWahhab, after whom the Wahhabi sect was named. They have been co-rulers with the Al Saud family for along time.
Some radical Wahhabi elements among the exiled Saudi opposition have been claiming for some time now that the new regime of King Salman & Son are trying to ease Wahhabism out of mainstream Saudi life, pushing the Saudi state away from its traditional theocracy.
That would be an improvement, but only a small step.

Cheers

M.H.Ghuloum

 

The War in Yemen: Exactly Whose Side is Allah On?…..

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Saudi media, like most Arab and Middle East and Muslim states media, is controlled or severely-monitored by the state. Like most Middle East media, the reporting on the news reflects the state’s official policy. This is also true for Iran and especially for Turkey and to a much lesser extent for Israel.

The war in Yemen has not been going well for the Saudi side. The Houthi militias and their army allies have been stubborn in resisting the attempted well-armed and well-financed foreign assault. Moreover, the ISIS and AQAP terrorist groups have grown stronger in South Yemen, the main sector of operations for Saudis, Emiratis, and their hired African allies like Sudan and others (in addition to logistical and intelligence, air-fueling, and the siege help by the USA and Britain).

The Yemenis are also taking the war seriously into southern Saudi territory, areas some Yemenis still remember were their own land before the Saudis annexed them. It is almost like a war between the Yemenis and most of the rest of the world, and the lightly-armed and besieged Yemenis are winning so far.

More recently the attacking coalition has been losing some expensive aircraft. Apparently God, Allah, or Yahweh has decided to join the Houthi-Salih alliance for now. According to Saudi and UAE media, all their warplane and helicopter losses have been due to “bad weather”. Occasionally “technical issues” are mentioned. This scape-goating has not escaped the notice of some Yemeni commentators on social media. Since bad weather, like good weather, is the work of God, I lean toward concluding that God is moving against the Salafi-Wahabi-Muslim Brotherhood coalition fighting in Yemen. To further complicate matters, Arab media report that the UAE has its own plans for South Yemen, possibly as an independent-again entity but dependent on Abu Dhabi for financial support.

So that is where it stands. You’d think Allah would side with the good pious Salafis, Wahhabis, and MB against an alliance that is dominated by Zaidi quasi-Shi’as with alleged ties to Persian Magi heretics. But apparently not this time, not yet. I personally suspect that HE is remaining neutral in this Yemeni folly.

(Which also brings up another point embarrassing to many Salafis: how come Allah always allows the Israeli Jews to easily win all their wars against the Arabs (except for one in Lebanon)? True, they are a People of the Book, HIS earliest clients, but to the Salafis they are still accursed heathens and, as their more rabid Salafi shaikhs always claim at the mosques, “descendants of pigs and monkeys”).

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

NIMBY on My Gulf: of Muslim Brothers, Tribal Islamist Politics, Divisions over Yemen, and All That……

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Muslim Brotherhood “thinkers/propagandists” in the Gulf region have been recently blasting the UAE government about developments in the southern Yemeni city of Aden. Apparently the UAE is exerting some influence in that port city.

They are too fearful to criticize the Saudis (or their Bahraini appendix) openly, since local Saudi (and Bahrain) embassies in the GCC states have been actively pressing host governments to prosecute and persecute public critics. It it now considered a ‘crime’ to insult other GCC regimes, even on Twitter and Facebook. It is also a crime in the GCC to criticize Al Sisi of Egypt. (In a positive step, a Kuwaiti court last week rejected this argument, opening the door for more freedom of expression).

Many Gulf Islamists are strongly tribal, and some have tribal roots inside Saudi Arabia. That, as well as an enduring alliance with Salafists (also dominated by pro-Saudi tribal ties), keeps many Gulf Muslim Brotherhood (outside UAE & Qatar) from criticizing the Saudis openly. Most Gulf MB outside the UAE and Oman have roots from Saudi kin. Hence they go easy lest they upset tribal (as well as business) allegiances and balances.
In that sense, especially in Kuwait and Bahrain, the MB are essentially as Wahhabi as the local Salafis are. In Qatar, it is likely that any public strong criticism of Turkey’s strongman Erdogan is not tolerated.

Oddly, or maybe not, this is also true for many Persian Gulf academic and media types with tribal affiliations (even those who are classified as ‘liberals’ by twisted Gulf standards). Most proclaim support for freedom/democracy, but not in the Gulf region, especially not in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. A unique Gulf version of the American term NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).

The MB in Kuwait, for example, these days seem to think that the Saudis are accommodating the Houthis of Yemen too much. Meaning they are still bombing their towns, but not as intensely as in the past fourteen months. It must be kept in mind that the powerless former Yemeni president Generalissimo Abd Rabuh Hadi was and is allied with the Islah, the notoriously corrupt local version of the MB. But they keep their “best” and most vocal criticism for the UAE, which is the most antagonistic Arab regime toward the MB (other than Egypt). But they criticize the UAE without mentioning it: a skill some Gulf Islamists have mastered in recent years.

(On the other hand, it is also unacceptable in Iran to openly and strongly criticize allies like the Syrian government or Hezbollah in the media. Even though there are no tribal ties involved. Just strategic and some sectarian ties).

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Control of Aden: Arab-African Royal Alliance Gives Jihadis a Head Start……

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Three sure signs that Saudis and Colombians and other assorted corsairs have liberated the largest Yemeni port city of Aden from the Houthis and Saleh and from law and order:

(1) Suicide bombings are escalating in the city. The latest today killed at least 22.

(2) There are no signs of escaped ex-president General Hadi Al Zombie and his PM Khalid Bahahahahah (except in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi 7-star hotels). This is is a blessing for all concerned.

(3) The city is largely lawless now, as is the surrounding country. Ripe for Al Qaeda and ISIS. AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), ISIS, and other local militias are now fighting for control of the city as well as the countryside.
Even the hired Sudanese forces have reportedly disappeared from the streets. Not that they matter much in a real fight. The Sudanese are probably some of the worst soldiers in the world, except against unarmed civilian women and children as in Darfur. The UAE pulled their own troops days (or maybe weeks) ago.

So Aden is now liberated from law and order as ell as from the Houthis and Colonel Saleh’s forces. Other parts of Southern Yemen as well are enjoying the same. All with extensive help from the weapons and intelligence provided by the USA and Britain. Yemen is now heading toward the same fate as Libya and Syria. In all three cases thanks to the sisterly and brotherly intervention by extremely democratic and extremely tribal Arab autocratic kings and princes and potentates.

I just hope these democracy-loving autocratic kings, princes, and potentates don’t get the notion of trying to liberate their own countries. That would be even more disastrous than liberating other countries.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

 

Sex and Starbucks in Riyadh: Wahhabi Logic ……..

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Some Arab media report that the Saudi Commission for the Propagation of Vice (the Religious Police/Vice Squad) has issued an order banning women from entering Starbucks cafes. Saudi women who have a hankering for a latte or mocha now have to send their drivers (usually unrelated Asian males) into the shop to purchase what they need. A sign on the window of a Stabucks would read “Please no women allowed entry. Send your driver to get your order“.

So the woman are not allowed entry because there are also men in the cafe, yet the woman is allowed to be “alone” with a driver in a dark and “very private” car or SUV. Saudi women are not allowed to drive cars or ride motorcycles or bicycles or mopeds or skates. And we all know what happens when a Saudi woman in Burqa or Niqab is alone in a dark car or SUV with a male foreign driver. Satan will not be far! According to Wahhabi logic, the Devil will make it a threesome.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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Mystery of Oman and the Never-Ending Arab and GCC Wars……

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Every Arab country is engaged in some kind of war these days.
In fact every Middle East country, including Iran, Turkey, and Israel are involved in some kind of warfare. Look at the map, and name one country that is not fighting either its neighbors or its own people (civil war)  or somebody else. We can’t blame it all on Iran or Israel or the West, can we?

For example ISIS/DAESH is a purely Arab creation, although now it has Chechens, Uzbeks, Bosnians, etc, etc. There are no Iranians or Israelis in North Africa, none that have been caught and blamed.
Saudi Arabia and its allies are fighting directly in Yemen (there are no Israeli or Iranian or Lebanese forces in Yemen). They are fighting indirectly in Syria. There are wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Sinai, Libya, Tunisia, North Africa, East Africa. You name it, it is involved in some war. Even Jordan is involved in Yemen, Syria, and possibly other places.

I can think of one Arab state that is NOT involved in any war, I think. At least not yet. It is Oman, right at the southern tip of the Persian Gulf. For some odd reason Oman is not involved in any regional war. And it never claims to be threatened by anyone, at least by anyone that is not Arab. Unlike Bahrain, Oman does not claim to discover weekly plots by Iranian agents nor by Hezbollah, nor does it ever feel that its national security is threatened by anyone. At least not by anyone outside the GCC.

In fairness the UAE and Qatar also never seem to uncover any such plots either. Not since the Qataris uncovered a Saudi plot to overthrow their regime in 1998. The same is mostly true for Kuwait, where the most serious current security threat seems to come from Wahhabi Jihadists. Kuwait has recently convicted one network of Iranian espionage agents and plotters, a mix of Iranians and locals. But it has also uncovered several Wahhabi terrorist cells (the country had two lethal bombings of Shi’a mosques by ISIS sympathizers last year). Bahrain of course claims to uncover such plots on an almost weekly basis (grain of salt alert).

Odd, no, about Oman? Can it be that they are wiser than their neighbors? Is it their historic focus on the sea and beyond, away from the rest of the Arab world and its troubles? You figure it out…….
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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Tale of Two Civilized Cities: Stockholm vs. Riyadh…….

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“Is there a sharper knife that tears at the fabric of society than the threat of physical violence on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, gender or political affiliation? The recent images of young men, wearing hoods and dressed in black, roaming the streets of central Stockholm looking for “north African street children” to “punish” for their mere existence reminded Sweden and the world of the worst elements of European history. People immediately took to social media to express their shock that this could happen in a country like Sweden. Or, to be more accurate, Sweden as they imagine it to be………..”

Media reports increased incidents of physical attacks on “dark” people or people who look “foreign” in some European cities. Even in Stockholm. Especially in Stockholm, capital of Sweden. The latest was a report of a hundred or so masked people beating up people who looked foreign at train stations. Which means it was probably organized, premeditated.
Now let’s go to Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia, a country I often criticize strongly for its human rights abuses and intolerance. A country most Europeans consider so different that it is “barbaric” to them, even as they happily take its money as they forget their own much more barbaric recent past.
Nobody gets attacked by mobs of masked men at a bus station for looking “different”, not even in intolerant Riyadh. Unlike cities in Europe, where foreigners are being assaulted from Paris across to Budapest and Athens. Nobody wears funny bed sheets and burns crosses in front of “others” homes in Riyadh either, even if crosses are banned.
Could it be that instinctively bigoted Europe is going back to its old habit of a few hundred years ago, especially when times are hard? When “others” were persecuted, tortured, and killed for being “different”? It could, it could.
Civilized” is truly a relative term, it is in the eye of the beholder………
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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King Quagmire of Arabia and his Prince Harming: One Year Later……..

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“King Salman bin Abdulaziz marks one year in power since becoming the ruler of Saudi Arabia after the death of his half-brother, the late King Abdullah. Salman was crowned as the new King following the death of King Abdullah who passed away on Jan. 23 last year. After his crowning, in a televised speech, King Salman said: “We will continue to hold on to the strong path on which Saudi Arabia has walked on since King Abdulaziz.”……….”

Strong path indeed: I beg to differ, strenuously. Controlled Saudi media have been making a lot of the first anniversary of King Salman’s reign. They always do, for every king.
This one certainly started quite different from the reigns of the three kings that preceded him. While all Saudi kings picked, mostly, their own successors from among their brothers and half brothers, Salman quickly cut to the chase. He appointed his favorite young son Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) as a crown prince to the crown prince. The crown prince himself is his nephew Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef (MBN) who, tellingly, is reported to have no male heirs.
MBS is already acting as almost a king, not even a king in waiting. He is now Minister of Defense, a very lucrative post in Saudi Arabia (and the Gulf). He has also been given a lot of powers over the economy as well. Yet the rival MBN is also powerful: he is minister of interior and controls the police, the religious police, and the domestic security apparatus.

Saudi opposition of its various stripes (Wahhabi and otherwise) claim that MBS is plotting to get rid of cousin MBN while his father the king is alive. That would leave his uncles Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz and Prince Ahmed Bin Abdulaziz as possible blocks in his way.

Yet King Salman’s reign has not gone well, an understatement. The Saudis had earlier started a campaign to reduce crude oil prices with the goal of harming their Iranian and Russian rivals. That was when prices were well above $100 a barrel. They probably thought a price around $100 would be okay for their economy but still harm their regional rivals, and harm the U.S. shale industry. I opined here that this was a stupid policy and could backfire on them. It did backfire, big time, and it may end up harming the Saudis more than their rivals and neighbors. Oil reached down to $100 and kept going down. Now it is around $30, well below what can be considered the Saudi break-even point, reportedly closer to $80-$100. No firming of prices is in sight, give that more Iranian and Iraqi crude will be flowing in the near future.

Then there is the costly quagmire in Yemen, in which some of the most advanced and most lethal Western weapons are being used against lightly-armed opponents. And against unarmed civilian populations. The most advanced Western weapons also happen to be the most expensive weapons in the world to service and replenish. And they need Western logistics and guidance support for targeting. So the Saudi war in Yemen is also a Western war on a party that has never threatened the West, unlike its Wahhabi rivals like AQAP and IS.
It is a war not only against the Houthis and the Yemeni army; it is a war on the painfully-built infrastructure of the poorest Arab country outside Africa. They are stuck in Yemen with no victory in sight, but they have plenty of foreign mercenaries for hire to fight the war, mainly from Sudan, Somalia and from far away places like Colombia and Australia and South Africa. The costly self-inflicted war has come at a bad time for the Saudi budget and people, but the princes always manage to thrive financially.

Then there are the military and diplomatic losses in Syria and Lebanon. I forgot the potential coup de grâce: finalization of the Iran nuclear deal and the lifting of Western sanctions on the mullahs.

Not bad for one year’s work! Long live the king, I think………
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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