Category Archives: Gulf states

Fire and Frying Pan in the GCC: Sectarian Politics, Tribal Politics, Oligarchy Politics……..

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Thinking of my post yesterday about oligarchy and meritocracy made me go back and do some uncharacteristic critical rereading of its general topic.

If you read a list of ministers in any Gulf GCC state, one fact stands out: the most important and most powerful public positions are almost always taken by members of the ruling families. That is often cited as a gateway to corruption. In most cases it is true, as I have pointed out in some examples here.

The issue of regime security is an important factor why security and armed forces are kept ‘within the family’. But in some of these tribal societies the issue is more complicated by two divisive factors which create some support for this concentration of power: 

  • Tribalism: tribalism is rampant in the region, as is tribal nepotism. Tribal ministers or other high officials who are not from ruling families tend to create their own corruption in some of the Gulf states. Any tribal cabinet minister or high official worth his salt will usually tend to favor members of his own tribe. In some of these countries a minister of oil (for example) from Tribe X will literally stuff his ministry and its subsidiary companies with his own tribal kin. A minister of finance from Tribe Y will do the same. Ditto for ministers and directors of various service ministries and departments. One can see it just from a list of heads of departments and the concentration of employees.
    All that creates suspicion and insecurity among other non-tribal or minority members of society.
  • Sectarianism: members of minority sects tend to fear that a minister from a particular majority sect will favor members of his own sect. Members of a majority sect will also fear that a minister from a minority sect will favor his own.

Hence there are specific cases where large swathes of society prefer a minister from the ruling family to another from among the ruled. Especially if the alternative is someone from another specific sect (or tribe). Members of ruling dynasties are often deemed relatively more neutral and seem more like arbitrator of society than others. Even if they also often abuse, misuse, and mismanage the resources. This attitude is especially true among ethnic and religious and tribal minorities. This is quite clear in one particular GCC state where most opposition political leaders and many members of the political opposition are from one large tribe (plus another tribe) and from among extreme sectarian Islamists. It has very few members of the minority sect supporting it. I have written on this particular case before.

Of course that is not true in all cases: in some Gulf and Arabian Peninsula states, in two GCC kingdoms in particular, members of the ruling oligarchy are as tribal and sectarian as anyone else, if not more. And they beat everyone else in corruption.

It is a tough choice for some, stoked by fear, a choice between the frying pan and the fire……..

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter

Gulf GCC Comes to Camp David: the Addled, the Wretched, and Emma Lazarus……..

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“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
 Emma Lazarus

The Huffington Post headlined (exaggerated) on Monday: “The Great Gulf Back-Out. Saudi King, Other Gulf Nation Rulers To Skip Camp David Summit………..”. Other US media have also repeated this idea of the hesitation of the tired, poor, huddled, wretched of the Gulf to make the trip to Washington. This is a bit of an exaggeration. There are solid non-political reasons why most of the top GCC leaders will not attend; Several of them are physically unable:

  • King Salman of Saudi Arabia: the Saudi princes are as unhappy about the Iran nuclear deal as Netanyahu claims to be. Maybe even more so, given that Netanyahu is a faker: he uses it as a red herring. Saudis want Iran under blockade, impoverished and preferably attacked by Americans or Israelis or both. Because it is the only way they can be the most important player in the Persian Gulf. The Iranian population is about 77 million, almost all native, and they sit over the world’s largest gas reserves. The Saudi population is about 16 million citizens (plus about 9 million temporary foreign laborers who rotate). Some Saudi (Wahhabi) opposition groups claim that King Salman is suffering from Alzheimer’s and that he will never attend any foreign summit anyway. This self-serving rumor has not been totally corroborated yet.
    (Bahrain doesn’t count as completely independent here. The rulers of Bahrain ape the Al Saud: with thousands of Saudi troops in their country, they do as they do and probably they do as they are told).
  • Oman: the Sultan of Oman has had surgery and lengthy medical treatment in Europe. In recent years he has had someone else represent him at all foreign summits. Besides, he maintains friendly relations with both sides of the Iranian-Saudi rivalry.
  • United Arab Emirates: the president of UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed is ill, and he has been absent from all summits. The real power is with his brothers, especially crown prince Shaikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, who will attend. Nothing new here. So, in spite of claims by some UAE minor officials and professors about a reaction to the Iran deal, this is not exactly true: the ruler has not attended any summit for several years, nor should he, and he would not attend Camp David anyway.
  • The Emir of Kuwait and Emir of Qatar apparently are the only two healthy rulers of the GCC. They will attend.

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In the GCC: the Islamists and the Magi and the Average Six-Pack Jihadi………

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“In contrast to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Bahrain’s government has nurtured a political alliance with the Bahraini MB, primarily rooted in a sectarian agenda that serves a unique purpose in Bahrain, the only Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state with a Shi’ite-majority population. For years, Bahrain’s MB has played an open and prominent role in Bahraini civil society while functioning as a charity organization. The MB operates a political wing (Islamic Minbar) that holds seven seats in the parliament. Some members of the ruling Al Khalifa family are deeply connected with key figures in the Brotherhood and Bahrain’s government even reportedly funds Islamic Minbar. The pains that the Al Khalifa family take to avoid alienating Islamic Minbar are best understood within the context of Bahrain’s Arab Awakening. Since 2011, Islamic Minbar has played a critical role in uniting Bahrain’s Sunni Islamists behind the monarchy that faces steadfast Shi’ite opposition. However, recent geopolitical developments in the GCC and the wider Middle East are complicating this political alliance………….”

Actually almost all Islamists in the Gulf GCC states, including some who are in opposition in their own countries, have taken pain to openly side with the ruling Al Khalifa clan against the uprising in Bahrain. Some of them avoid the embarrassing issue altogether. They have also shown great reluctance to look at the real big reactionary elephant in the neighborhood, to criticize the Saudi regime. In fact, many have occasionally expressed support and reverence for the Al Saud. This can be based on sectarianism or it can be based on tribal ties or on business interests. The tribes often straddle the border and some of their branches are close to the princes and tribal bonds are thicker than political rhetoric.

The Salafis are a special case here: they are widely known as a Saudi fifth column and they certainly do not believe in electoral democracy or human rights of any kind. The Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf is somewhat different from those in other Arab states. Some Muslim Brothers in other states, like in Kuwait, have in the past shown strong reluctance to support the Saudi opposition of all shade and color. Thy usually skirt the Saudi issue, and if they do they tend to stay away from the ‘human rights’ violations and the corruption they complain about so loudly at home. They would rather criticize their own governments, Israel, the West, and Iran. But one must not generalize: this does not apply to all.

In Saudi Arabia itself, Wahhabism is so entrenched not only in the general society but within individuals that it is almost part of the genetic makeup. This is especially so in the heartland that lies between the Eastern Province and Hijaz and Asir. More so than, say, Shi’ism is in Southern Iraq or Iran. The more liberal strain of ‘thought’ is divided between Wahhabi liberals who are tied to the regime and strongly support it and the independents who advocate accountability and human rights. Many of the latter, like Mohammad Al-Qahtani and S Al Reshoudi and Mukhlif Al-Shimmari and many others are usually found in prison.

It is possible that the strongest ‘opposition’ in Saudi Arabia may be the Wahhabi opposition rather than the human rights advocates who are few, for now. These groups exist within the kingdom and in European exile. Many are supporters of Al Qaeda and ISIS and other such terrorist groups. Some of their outspoken members (like the Tweeter @Mujtahidd) actually often complain on Internet social media that the Al Saud regime is soft on the Shi’as (of the Eastern Province) and harsher on the average Wahhabi Joe. Others complain, quite seriously, of joint conspiracies forged by America, Israel, Iran, and the Al Saud, perhaps with the Freemasons and Zoroastrian Magi (their favorite term for Iranians and often for Shi’a in general) thrown in for good measure.

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Saudi and Qatari Monarchs Meet to Push for Democracy……….

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Saudi media report the Emir of Qatar Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani flew to Jeddah and met with Saudi King Dr. Servant of the Two Holy Shrines Abdullah.

I will guess why such a sudden meeting: they met to discuss how best to introduce electoral democracy into Syria AND how to improve the state of electoral democracy in Iraq. With the help of their Wahhabi elves and helpers who had snuck into these tow countries uninvited.

Speaking of democracy, agencies report the meeting was attended as follows:

  • On the Saudi side those attended were: the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – and Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef Al Saud
  • On the Qatari side: Shaikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani (prime minister & minister of interior) – Shaikh Ju’an (Hungry in Arabic) Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani – Shaikh Mohammed Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani – Shaikh Khalid Bin Khalifa Bin Abdulaziz Al Thani – Shaikh Abdullah Bin Thamer Bin Moahmmed Al Thani (Qatari ambassador in Saudi Arabia).

But it couldn’t just be about Syria and Iraq and Lebanon and other hard to deal with Arab countries. Not even just Gaza and Hamas. Prince Mohammed is the Saudi minister of interior, the man in charge of police, internal security, religious police, prisons, arrests, interrogations, enhanced interrogation, and all the interesting things that happen to those convicted (and even some who are never convicted).


Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Part 1: The Kuwait Opposition in a Velvet Society: a New Life or a New Nail in the Coffin of the Old Leadership?……..


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The Kuwait opposition
 has long managed to avoid and evade its main problem: it is only a partial opposition. It has failed to convince large identifiable segments of society to join it. I will list some of its failures in the next posting (Part 2). 

The (partial) opposition had seemed to be basically fading away for a few months now, until last night. They had a big public protest, a contained gathering, with chairs provided for the VIPs while everybody else had to sit on the ground or stand up (considered by some undignified and too plebeian back home, especially for the elites, be they regime elites or opposition elites). 

The organizers initially estimated more than 20 thousand would attend, which probably means they had about 8 thousand. But that’s okay: it was a hot night in June and many of the politically-inclined on both sides had decamped for European vacations. (Some used to call these elite types of both sides members of the velvet society, based on their lifestyles and, er, financial resources and how much access they had to nepotism).

of the leaders of the opposition at the gathering, former MP Mr. Musallam Al Barrak, presented a bunch of heavily redacted documents he claimed show huge amounts of money of public funds transferred by the “elites” of the regime to their own and their children’s foreign bank accounts. Oddly, and shockingly, he claimed that some of the money was transferred into an Israeli bank in Israel with close ties to the Likud, and that these officials also donated funds to the Likud Party of Benyamin Netanyahu. He did not name names, presumably for “legal” reasons, but some names were published on another website. All this needs to be verified of course: I could not accept them at face value so I will reserve my judgment for now. He did show some slides that he claimed prove the alleged financial transactions, but these were partial and heavily redacted documents and need to be verified by experts. Their sources also need to be verified, a thorny point. A
nd there had been much redaction and photocopying: only the committed would jump at them accept them at face value.

this is not new: no doubt corruption is widespread. Corruption and petroleum go together. In the 1980s and early 1990s, even while Kuwait was under Iraqi occupation, there were cases of huge embezzlement of public money by very high officials and their minions. Some escaped abroad to spend the fruits of their treachery, a couple went to prison. The alleged big man of the scandal was not touched. Oddly a couple of the leading figures of the opposition worked for years for a media empire presumably built from the embezzled public money, all allegedly of course. Go figure……….

The Kuwaiti opposition needs to clean house to become a truly broad representative national movement. I will cover some self-inflected issues that the opposition faces in Part 2 in my next post. 

Photographic Back to the Arab Future: Thinkers, Plutocrats, Former Hacks, Seat-Warmers……..


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I refer to my earlier post titled
A Pointless Arab International Conference on the Gulf: Missing Ahmed Shafiq and Adnan Arour:

This is a photo of the participants of the mentioned conference.

Back to the Arab Future…………….

These gentlemen (okay, okay, and lady) are supposed to represent fresh insights into the future of the Arab world. With these folks in charge, it’s got to be a bleak future. I discern the following assorted: thinkers (dunno of what), intellectuals (maybe a stretch), hacks, yes-men, crooks, oligarchs, plutocrats, and mischief-makers:
Ayad Allawi (briefly appointed PM of Iraq, by mistake), Fouad Saniora (cash-and-carry seat warmer for Saad Hariri), Amr Mussa (but no Kussa), Prince Turki al-Faisal, Hanan Ashrawi (Tyrannosaurus Regina). And a few more.
Same old, same old.
Too bad General Ahmed Shafiq and Mo Dahlan are body-guarding the sons of Al-Nahayan in Abu Dhabi. Could have been entertaining.

Lion of Sunnis, King of Falafel, Pious Prince of Baba Ghannouj………


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                       Neck of the woods
Saudi crown prince (for 8 months) Nayef Bin Abdulaziz died last week, Saudi and Salafi media started calling him “assad al sunna”, Lion of the Sunnis (or Lion of Sunna). Post-mortem, post-very-mortem. When some irreverent citizens in the GCC states started mocking this title on Internet social media, the Saudi Embassy in Kuwait reportedly retained lawyers to sue them. Other lawyers volunteered their services to suppress free expression and free speech.
Now Prince Abdulaziz Bin Fahd, son of late King Fahd has taken to calling himself Khadim al Sunna (Servant of the Sunnis or Custodian of the Sunna or Janitor of the Sunna or Housemaid of the Sunnis). He is allegedly a former (and occasional current) play-prince who reportedly spends around $7 million per day when on European vacation. I expect some prince will soon be calling himself Lion of Shish Kebab or Servant of Machbous or a future Falafil King (not the one near UCLA).

More seriously
, Saudi media, almost totally owned or partly owned or controlled by the ruling family and their retainers and in-laws, has gone viral about the sectarian thing. It is their main defense against popular resentment and anger: to divert it toward others. Implicitly they are warning the faithful that the “enemy” is waiting in the wings to “get” them. The enemy are the Shi’a Muslims of the Gulf and beyond. At some point last year or the year before there were reports that Saudi online media and supporters were campaigning in a Scandinavian country against permitting a Shi’a mosque, claiming it will be a hotbed for “terrorists” (it was like the pot calling the kettle black). I think it was probably in Norway but I need to check my older posts here.


Dhahi Khalfan in Kuwait: Warns Gulf GCC of a Muslim Brotherhood Plot….


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Dhahi Khalfan,
the Dubai Chief of Police, is the most outspoken official in the United Arab Emirates. The most outspoken official in all the Gulf states. He rose to public prominence after the Israeli Mossad killed a Palestinian Hamas official in a Dubai hotel. Mossad botched the killing by reportedly using more than 35 operatives just to kill one man, all with false passports, and it was all caught on hotel cameras.
Since then Colonel Khalfan has been venturing into the realm of regional politics more than law enforcement.
These days

Dhahi Khalfan has his sights on the  fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. He started with a dispute with Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian cleric who is close to the Qatari rulers. Apparently Qaradawi had criticized the UAE rulers and Khalfan could not help responding, noting that Qaradawi is now banned from the UAE and that he ought to issue an order for his arrest.

he publicly opined in an interview with the Kuwaiti daily al-Qabas that the Muslim Brothers are plotting to take over the Gulf GCC states. He warned that they will take over power in Kuwait in 2013 then move on to the other Gulf states. (Kuwait’s current parliament, elected last month, is dominated by Islamic extremists allied with reactionary tribal elements. Some argue, credibly, that it is the worst parliament in the country’s history. The deputy speaker is a Salafi multimillionaire, wtf that may mean in the grand scheme of things). Khalfan opined that by 2016 the Muslim Brotherhood will dominate all the Gulf GCC states. He claims reports of the plot have been leaked by Western intelligence agencies.

is quite a departure from the usual Saudi and Salafi (and local Gulf Muslim Brotherhood) claim that the Gulf GCC states face some wild Iranian or a Shi’a plot, or a combination plot from both.
I have no comment on this today. Maybe later. definitely later.


Nuclear Persian Gulf: Abu Dhabi Mon amour, Bushehr Mon Amour, Fukushima Mon Amour ………..


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The capital is the “gold standard” on which other countries should model their quest for nuclear power, an international nuclear energy industry expert said this week. The oil-rich UAE has been forward-looking in its pursuit of nuclear power and has employed a “logical, well thought-out approach” to building the country’s first four nuclear reactors, said Dr Dale Klein, the former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the associate director of The Energy Institute at the University of Texas. Central to any new nuclear power programme is transparency, a technique that Dr Klein said the UAE has used to build both international and local trust. “The United Arab Emirates has been very good at explaining to the public what nuclear means, why it’s important for the country, and what steps it’s taking,” Dr Klein said. “It’s very important that people understand how nuclear power plants work and why they’re being built.” Dr Klein’s comments came on Tuesday as part of a lecture delivered at the majlis of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.……….

Cute of Mr. Klein to say that “as part of a lecture delivered at the majlis of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.” Neighborly, mighty nuclear neighborly. Yet there are no nuclear reactors in the UAE, not yet.
Besides, didn’t the Gulf GCC ministers raise a concern (well, they raised a stink) about the dangers posed by Iran’s Bushehr plant right on the Persian-American Gulf? That was during one of their powwows just a few months ago, I believe. That was just before they decided that nuclear plants are kosher again, provided they are designed, built, managed, operated, and wtf else by foreign “experts” of the Western faith for our very own potentates.
Sorry about the new name of the Gulf, it should be amended to Persian-American-Nuclear Gulf. The United Nations should revisit its old resolution of some forty years ago asserting “Persian Gulf” as the official name. It should now issue a new resolution renaming the Gulf with this new name. It has a nice ring to it, très moderne, Persian-American-Nuclear Gulf

Middle East Focus-Arabia Deserta

GCC to AGUC: Camel Gives Birth to a Mouse, Arabizing the Leaders……….


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تمخض الجمل فولد فأرا

تمخض الجبل فولد فأرا

The Camel (mountain?) went into labor but gave birth to a mouse” Succinct Arabic saying

The GCC consultative committee met here yesterday and proposed to change the name of Gulf Cooperation Council to Arab Gulf Union Council. Muhammad Al-Rasheed, chairman of the committee, proposed the new name and hoped the new move would speed up integration of GCC states. He commended Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for making his proposal at the last GCC summit to transform the council into a powerful union to confront growing challenges. The GCC leaders have instructed the consultative committee to study a new strategy for youths, ways to enhance the spirit of citizenship, a strategy for employment in the public and private sectors, formation of a united commission for civil aviation, tackling noncontagious diseases and a GCC confederation. He commended the committee for conducting studies on global warming, climate change, unification of efforts in translation and Arabization, promoting the Arabic language and alternative energy resources. He thanked GCC leaders for appointing him chairman of the committee. He commended the achievements made by the committee in the past, adding that some of its proposals have already been implemented. Al-Rasheed emphasized the need to implement the resolutions taken by the Supreme GCC Council as many of them are still awaiting execution…………

“Still awaiting execution”: yadda yadda yadda.……..
The Arabic language is one of the most beautiful languages. It has great literature that goes back many centuries: great poetry, great prose, great old films, lousy new films, lousy newspapers, but many great and wise and clever sayings. One of these great Arabic sayings is:the Camel went into labor but gave birth to a mouse.
I am not sure what these sub-potentates, the flunkies of the potentates, who met in Riyadh meant by “Arabization and promotion of the Arabic language and alternative energy sources”. This is odd: all GCC citizens speak Arabic, most of them speak it much better than their leaders. The only people who do not speak Arabic are the majority of the population of the GCC who are laborers and housemaids who hail from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Philippines, Ethiopia, and other faraway lands. That means only 85%+ of the population of the United Arab Emirates don’t speak Arabic, that only one third of the people in Saudi Arabia don’t speak Arabic, that only……….. etc, etc.  But these expatriate people, the majority, are in the Gulf on a temporary basis.

Which leads to my four unavoidable WTFs:

  • WTF1:
    is it possible the Mufti off Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Al Al Al Shaikh, was behind the language?

  • WTF2: what the hell did they mean by alternative energy sources? Could they mean corn ethanol or grain alcohol (100-200 proof)?
  • WTF3: now that they have promised it, how do they presume to tackle the issue of “global warming”? I mean it can’t be handled through more extensive air-conditioning.
  • WTF4: do these council members even know what they are talking about? I mean in a technical sense. I hope so, because I sure don’t. On the other hand, maybe it is better if they have no clue: they can do less damage.