Category Archives: Middle East

Confusing Rex Tillerson: Iraqi Militias Must Leave Iraq, Assad Must Leave Syria, No Pasaran in Arabic…….

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Almost everybody has been after Bashar Al Assad to leave Syria since well before 2011. But the open calls for his departure came soon after the early uprising of the spring of 2011. That Syrian uprising was quickly bought and hijacked by the Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood of the Arab World, mainly the Wahhabi money bags of a couple of the Persian Gulf states. Jihadis poured into Syria from Arab states and Europe, seeking plunder, free women, and Shi’as/Christians/Others to abuse and kill. Eventually the Jihadist international brigades of ISIS and Al Qaeda inherited most of what was left of the active Syrian opposition. Here are some of the calls:


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2009-2011): “Assad Must Go. His days are numbered“.
Secretary of State John Kerry (2012…): “Assad Must Go“.
Various Arab absolute Kings & their Ministers and their media: “Assad Must Go. Assad will go soon, Inshallah“.

Saudi Foreign Minister Al Jubeir, who made a career out of it, even regularly specified in an odd weekly rant: “Assad will go soon, if not peacefully then by force” (For a while I was almost convinced he knew something I did’t).
Barack Obama: “Look, fact is that: Assad Must Go“.
Francois Hollande: “Assad Doit Partir. He Must Go (2011-2016). 
David Cameron: “Assad Must Go
Turkey’s strongman Erdogan (once a major enabler of Jihadists in Syria until about 2016): “Assad Yok! Assad Must Go (2011-2015)

Many others, opinion-ators, pundits, journalists, American hawks, and European cafe men-about-town: “Assad has a few weeks left in Damascus. His top officers are defecting to the joys of Salafism and Wahhabism“.


Donald Trump: “Maybe Assad can Stay. Or maybe not. We must defeat ISIS“.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley: “Assad Must Go“.

Finally, this covering-all-bases doozy from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “Assad Must Go. Also as a bonus: Iraqi Militias that saved Baghdad from DAESH in 2014 and fought ISIS must leave Iraq. (But he didn’t specify go where? Definitely he doesn’t want them in Yemen)”

Assad must go” became the battle cry of the West and many Arab despots and leaders. Sort of like “No Pasaran” during the Spanish civil war. Except that it now looks like it was the Assad side that made sure the refrain of “No Pasaran” applied to the other side.

And the rest of the Middle East is all run by popular elected democratic men and clans and families and oligarchs and kleptocrats of the people.
And that is where it stands, but Assad is still with us, for now. Eventually he will go, but then so does everyone else, even Arab leaders, eventually……..

Inshallah….. God Willing…….

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Saudi Arabian Perestroika but No Glasnost: Ditching Wahhabism, the Aramco Dilemma…….

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“Saudi Arabia unveiled a $500bn plan on Tuesday to create a vast economic zone in the kingdom’s north-west, the most ambitious and expensive project in Riyadh’s efforts to diversify the oil-dependent economy. Details of the new city, called Neom, were released as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hosted some of the world’s most powerful investors and bankers at a conference designed to showcase his vision to modernise the conservative kingdom and lure investment to the country…….”

Interesting and unprecedented things may be about to happen in Saudi Arabia, if the ruling crown prince keeps all his promises. Possibly positive things. It will have reverberations across the Arab world.

Saudi Crown Prince MBS seems to be impressed by the example of the United Arab Emirates, especially Dubai. It will be a tough sell in the Wahhabi heartland of Najd in Central Arabia. To diversify the economy also means to diversify the society, and open it not only economically, but also culturally. That is the most closed of Middle East societies.

So far there are signs that the top Wahhabi establishment is falling in line, but that may change: the prince had to incarcerate several mid-level but prominent Wahhabi clerics before he started talking of his version of Perestroika (perhaps not so much Glasnost for now).

A few independent Arab media outlets have been hinting for months that the new Saudi order is impressed with the economic experience of the UAE. At the same time, the substantial Islamist (mainly Wahhabi) opposition in exile has been warning and complaining that the ruling Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in the UAE (an economically and culturally open Gulf state, definitely non-Wahhabi) has too much influence over the Saudi Crown Prince. There might be some truth in that, and it will create a dilemma for the Salafist movement from the Gulf to Egypt. Persian Gulf Salafis, who are practically Saudi proxies, have always been very critical of the openness of the UAE and its social and religious openness.


The domestic impact depends on success in keeping the population content, economically speaking. But times are hard, with oil revenues declining, and the weapons-selling pressures of Donald Trump are strong. Add to that the expensive and stalemated war in Yemen, and the new financial commitments to select remaining “friends” in Syria and Iraq.
So it may require disengagement in Yemen and reducing commitments in the Levant, as well as reducing the huge weapons deals with the Western powers. But then there is a catch in all that too: it might mean ceding the Northern Tier of the Arab world, the Levant/Fertile Crescent, to long-term Iranian influence. The Saudis already seem to have given up on Lebanon, where a Hezbollah-Christian coalition seems to have strengthened its hold on power.

Stopping the bleeding from Yemen will be a tough one: that country is the soft underbelly of the Arabian Peninsula, and a reasonable cause for worry. But war will not solve the Yemen problem, only some kind of political deal that is agreed upon by the Sanaa coalition and the Saudis. That still leaves the problem of Aden in secessionist-oriented Southern Arabia, now largely dominated by the UAE. And I haven’t even mentioned the expansion of AQAP and ISIS in Southern Yemen.

It would be quite interesting to see how the Wahhabi kingdom is transformed into a truly modern state (without the political opportunities of Glasnost).

(P.S: As for selling off the huge state oil company, ARAMCO, we can forget about that for now. My educated fatwa about ARAMCO? It will take much longer than two or three years or even five years to get it ready for privatization. IF it ever happens: I have seen similar films before in our Gulf region.)

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Which Saudi King will Visit Donald Trump? What about Sisi, the Big Magical Globe, and Male Exotic Dancers…….

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“Saudi Arabia’s king will visit Washington in early 2018, according to a White House readout on the monarch’s latest call with Donald Trump.The three-sentence statement did not elaborate on the substance of the US president’s conversation with King Salman bin Abdulaziz, other than to note the two leaders discussed “ways to continue advancing shared priorities, including enhancing security and prosperity in the Middle East”. However, it did state that the Saudi monarch had agreed to visit the White House “in early 2018″…….”

My very own global correspondent has added: Saudi King Salman will visit Trump early next year, if he is still king of Saudi Arabia. Otherwise the new king, so far slated to be his favorite son Mohammed Bin Salman (affectionately called MBS in the palace), will do the visit. The timing of the Washington pilgrimage/Hajj in that case will depend on if and when the new king replaces his father on the throne.
It almost like a race: whether the royal visit precedes or follows the new king taking the throne. Some Saudi exiles who claim to know are betting that King Salman will not be king for long: some give him weeks, others give him only a few days from now.

My global correspondent also is not certain if the Saudi King will try to create a certain magic of the Riyadh Summit last May. That would require that he bring along a certain magical white ball (globe), and perhaps Generalissimo Sisi of Egypt as well, as per this following photo and my appropriate comments at the time—>

 

No, not this one below, this was just an irreverent Scandinavian mockery of some serious global Arabian/American magic of the May summit—>

It is also not clear whether the king will ask for a complete recreation of the magic of the Riyadh Summit in May. Complete with the Guru Stephen Bannon, Herr Doctor Sebastian Gorka (PhD), the all-male Arabian exotic sword dancers, and the other more fetching accoutrements.


Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

The Lebanese Gorilla in the West Wing: Trump and Hariri and Hezbollah Meet in DC………

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Today President Donald Trump held a private meeting followed by a brief joint news conference with his visitor du jour Saad Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon.

It is impossible to discuss anything about Lebanon (except maybe the cuisine and fashion) without talking Hezbollah. During the news conference, Trump mentioned Lebanon’s main military and political party Hezbollah several times. He ominously hinted at new measures he will inflict on the Lebanese party in the next 24 hours. Hopefully that is something he has discussed with officials outside his West Wing cabal of delusional uninformed crazies and culture warriors.

At the news conference, Saad Hariri never mentioned Hezbollah, his major partner in the Lebanese government, and the major political and military player in Lebanon. Mr. Hariri battled politically with Hezbollah for several years, when he was firmly a leader of the March 14 movement, strongly allied to Saudi Arabia and financed by it. Hezbollah is a strong ally of Iran, which finances it, and has led the March 8 movement.

The reactions of the two men to questions about internal Lebanese (and Syrian) matters were in stark contrast. Trump, as usual, was belligerent about what he will do with Hezbollah. His Lebanese guest did not deal with his major partner in the current Lebanese government, not publicly in a foreign capital. (But what the two leaders discussed privately about the famous Iran-allied and dominant militia is another matter).
Tells you something about the realities on the ground in Lebanon. Realities inside Lebanon, not as understood by some in Washington, nor as told by outside Arab potentates…….

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Long Live! Arab Rules of Succession from Saddam in Iraq to Jordan, Syria, and now Saudi Arabia……

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“King Salman of Saudi Arabia promoted his 31-year-old King Salman of Saudi Arabia promoted his 31-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, to be next in line to the throne on Wednesday……As defense minister, he also had primary responsibility for the kingdom’s military intervention in Yemen, where it is leading a coalition of Arab allies in a bombing campaign aimed at pushing Houthi rebels from the capital and at restoring the government. That campaign has made limited progress in more than two years, and human rights groups have accused the Saudis of bombing civilians, destroying the economy of what was already the Arab world’s poorest country, and exacerbating a humanitarian crisis by imposing air and sea blockades.Prince Mohammed has taken a hard line on Iran……….”  N Y Times

Arab kings, potentates, oligarchs, and assorted dictators have often preferred their sons (or other kin) to succeed them.

King Hussein of Jordan had his brother Prince Hassan as his crown prince for many decades. That was how the ruling Hashemite family had decided when young Hussein took the throne. But when Hussein felt his mortality approaching in the 1990s, he dumped his brother in favor of his eldest son Abdullah (from his British wife).
But there was a catch: King Hussein stipulated that his other son Hamza, from his American wife Lisa Halaby, become crown prince. This did not last long after Abdullah took the throne: he soon sidelined his half brother Hamza and appointed one of his sons as crown prince.

Hafez Al Assad (the not-king) of Syria had allegedly set his eldest flamboyant son Basil to succeed him. Basil died in a car accident, and Bashar, being trained as an eye doctor in London, was brought home to learn the ropes. The rest is history.

The most relevant to the events of today in Riyadh occurred in Baghdad in 1979. Perhaps a few years before. Vice President Saddam Hussein became the real power behind the Baath rule of his cousin Al Bakr from the early 1970s.. In 1979 he staged his own palace coup, forcing Al Bakr into retirement. Al Bakr and many of his close associates died soon after, in the usual Iraqi Baathist fashion.

Even more relevant to the recent Saudi events, Saddam was facing rebellion and discontent from minorities inside Iraq. Similarly, he was contemplating what to do about his revolutionary neighbors next door in Iran. Saddam also had the support of most Western powers and most Arab oligarchs (with the exception of Syria, some Palestinian factions, Libya, and Algeria).

About one year  after taking power, Saddam saw messy revolutionary factional Iran as an easy target to help him consolidate his power over the region. He invaded Iran without having first read the history of the German Operation Barbarossa that started in 1941. He got bogged down in Iran for eight years, lost some territory, was forced by a stalemate to sue for peace. His country ended the war bankrupt and deeply in debt to the tune of almost $200 billion (I had estimated in a paper that Iraq enjoyed tens of billions of foreign reserves before that war).

That was the beginning of the end for Saddam and the old order in Iraq. He invaded Kuwait to regain his financial losses, and thus eventually finished his bloody career hiding inside a hole near Baghdad. Before he was tried for three years and hanged.

Now we have a young man rise to power in Saudi Arabia. He has managed to push every rival aside, just like Saddam Hussein did in Iraq in the 1970s. He has also started a messy unending war in Yemen. Two and a half years of bombings by Saudi warplanes, with American and British help, have killed many thousands of civilians in Yemen and destroyed its infrastructure. Genocide with lipstick is still genocide.

With failures in Yemen and Syria under his belt, the new Saudi prince in power is looking across the Persian Gulf for a new adventure. Apparently being egged on by the greed and reckless rhetoric of Donald Trump and some paid American journalists and think tanks, he is talking of taking a war into Iran. Even as his own country, the most-expensively armed in the region, is bleeding in Yemen against lightly-armed Houthis and Saleh allies. He is also targeting his former ally Qatar with an economic blockade. He might even threaten other GCC members in due time.

Can this prince see the light and avoid another war he expects the Americans to help him wage?

Saddam Hussein is dead, but modern day Arabs often tend to repeat the worst of past mistakes. Already some approved writers in Saudi media are shouting: Saddam is dead, long live Saddam.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Price of Protest: Donald Trump’s Terrific Arabian Sectarian Gauleiter of the Death Machine………

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“Saudi Arabia should immediately quash the death sentences of 14 members of the Shia community for protest-related crimes, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today. The Court of Appeal of the notorious Specialized Criminal Court upheld the sentences in May 2017, after they were handed down a year ago on June 1, 2016, following a grossly unfair trial of 24 Saudi Shia citizens. The Specialized Criminal Court is Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism tribunal. “The rise in death sentences against Saudi Arabian Shia is alarming and suggests that the authorities are using the death penalty to settle scores and crush dissent under the guise of combating ‘terrorism’ and maintaining national security,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch……..”

So, Donald Trump’s Terrific (his word) Sectarian Arabian Death Machine grinds on. His doomed Persian Gulf royal Gauleiter of the chopping block….

As I tweeted last week: if this were some other country, one that would not spend hundreds of billions on weapons imports, the US Congress and the Senate will be passing resolutions. Fox, CNN, and the rest of the media would be headlining, beating the drums of more sanctions. Even David Ignatius would suspend his quarterly Washington Post article in praise of the absolute King and his princes Ayatollahs ….

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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

رمضان كريم؟ الاسلام الوهابي يبايع الاهبل ترامب في قمة الرياض الطائفية قائدا للامة و يرفضه الاوروبيون

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الاخبل دونالد ترامب اقبح عدو للعرب و الاسلام في تاريخ البيت الابيض، ويود جزء كبير من الشعب الامريكي ان يتخلص من حكمه الفاسد، و قد ينجح في ذلك

في قمة الرياض بايعه الوهابية وبعض القادة المستوردين من افريقيا و مشارق اسيا  تقريبا كخليفة جديد و قائد للامة الاسلامية والعربية، و مدحه مشايخ القصر و باركوا لقمته من على منبر المسجد الحرام ثم دفعوا له جزية اسلامية تاريخية لم ير مثلها لا عمر ابن الخطاب ولا هارون الرشيد.  450 مليار دولار منهوبة من قوت و مستقبل شعوب الجزيرة العربية. و كانوا على وشك يسمون ابنته و زوجته اخوات المؤمنين ووسوسوا له و حرضوه ضد مسلمين اخرين ، كما انه استخدم ذلك لابتزازهم بوعود انتصارات طائفية وهمية لا يستطيع تحقيقها لهم في منطقة الخليج او في العراق او كافة بلاد الشام 

 
ترك ترامب رعيته من العرب الاعراب و شد الرحال الى اسرائيل ثم الى اوروبا و رفض المسيحيين و الملحدين هناك مبايعته، ويبدو انهم  اختاروا امراة المانية قائدة لما يسمى العالم الحر

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum