Category Archives: Persian Gulf

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

In the Persian-American Gulf: a Tribal Sectarian Island of Mad Snakes……

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An island, or islands, in the sun.

The United States has its largest regional naval base on it.
Britain, its former colonial master and perennial enabler of its despots, is re-establishing a permanent military base on it.

Saudi Arabia has a military base since 2011 when it helped crush a democratic uprising.

Assorted imported foreign mercenaries, goon squads, are based on it: interrogators/torturers from the humorless Kingdom of Jordan, security forces recruited from Pakistan and Syria and other places.

An island of poverty and tear gas once one leaves the Potemkin facade glitter of the capital. A majority of its native people are being gradually ghettoized, terrorized, and disenfranchised by the ruling tribal oligarchy.
Pro-democracy advocates, original natives, and critics of the ruling family are rendered stateless and sent into exile. Often they are arrested on trumped up charges and imprisoned, tortured.
Western powers, especially the USA pay lip service to the need for freedom and equality. Others don’t even bother to pay lip service to the idea of freedom on the island.

The British establishment (government, royal family, and business) are part of the problem of the people of the island. They are the greatest enablers of repression on the island. The royal family of Britain goes out of its way to show its support of the despotic rulers of the island. Idle English princes and princesses of questionable character fly occasionally to show their support (and get Saudi contracts). The despots are often feted at Buckingham and other palaces.

You know which small captive island I am talking about. A small monarchy ruled by a nest of tribal sectarian snakes and thieves, it is very close to the southeastern shore of the Persian-American Gulf. Just across the waterway from the oil fields.

I have called it a Devil’s Island in the past, a slight exaggeration. I have also called it an Island of Tear Gas, a slight exaggeration.
Any exaggeration here about this island is bound to be “slight”.

I will not name names here, leaving it to your knowledge or imagination, although it is a very real island. In the Persian-American Gulf.
Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Islands Afloat: Lebensraum from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea……..

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Speaking of Al Sisi selling two strategic Egyptian islands in the Red Sea to the Saudi ruling family (my previous post).

I must add that Generalissimo Field Marshal President Al Sisi got a better deal, financially speaking, than the potentates of what is now the UAE did a few decades ago. Rather better than some rulers of the Gulf (emirates) Sheikhdoms in 1970. At that time, many of the smaller sheikhdoms of what was called Sahel Oman (Omani Coast) on the Persian Gulf had no oil fields, and they needed cash. They usually sold colorful stamps, passports, as well as their share of the rights to some of the islands in the Persian Gulf.

That was before the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was created to join all these small tribal neighborhoods. Through a deal brokered by the British overlords of the Arab side of the Gulf, the Shah of Iran paid a few million dollars for the deal to “get the islands back”, according to the Iranians. The islands are near the Strait of Hormuz. Actually the agreement was for “joint administration” of Abu Moussa. The Iranians claim the British took the islands in 1921 and put them under the jurisdiction of the sheikh of Sharjah, which was part of the British Empire. They also claim the Qasismi ruling sheikhs were at one time living on the Persian shores of the Gulf, and hence were Iranian subjects.Another convoluted complication.

Now the UAE leaders, who were not part to the deal since the UAE did not exist in 1970, would like to re-purchase the islands from Iran. Not sure why they want the islands since they have had to import 6 million foreigners to populate their own country on the mainland. It is not like they need Lebensraum.

In short: both sides in the Gulf are using any argument, whether it makes sense or not to support its case. Nobody seems in a mood to share the islands anymore: that would be too sensible for the Middle East mindset. History has been telling us this for at least 70 years.

Anyway, all this is history, but some sheikhs in the smaller Emirates of the UAE are now kicking themselves for not knowing at the time that they had so much oil under their privies and outhouses. Right under where their pet goats dropped their pellets. (FYI: I had pet goats as a kid, as well as pet birds. We also had chickens but I ate my pet eggs whenever I could).
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

On the Gulf: Tribal Statecraft, an Embarrassment of Poor Alliances……..

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Statecraft is not an extended form of tribalism. Its goals are different, so should its tools  Me

Too many international and regional alliances, created at too frantic a pace, are a sure sign of weakness rather than strengthMe

Saudi Arabia has been keeping its military forces active: mostly in doing large military exercises and maneuvers with invited, convinced, and bribed ‘allies’. They have been almost monthly events, all these military exercises, with promising names like Thunder of the North. May as well; given that their real southern war, like the Storm of Determination (the massive war against poor, under-armed Yemen) has failed miserably.

None of the titles given these military exercises and wars are original: they are all plagiarized from the original Desert Storm, the American name for the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 from Iraqi Baathists. As I wrote once before, the Saudi leaders and their minions are rarely, if ever, original.
The Saudis have also been very busy announcing new ‘alliances and pacts’, also on an almost monthly basis. Sometimes even the Arab (and Muslim) countries listed as part of an ‘alliance’ are reported to be surprised. Clearly the Saudis don’t believe that their “allies” need to agree to an alliance, or that they may have legislatures that need to have a say. But they must know that not all Muslim (or Arab) countries are ruled by absolute tribal princes.

The Iranians apparently realize that “alliances” are complicated things, given that they have not had many in recent years. So they seem to take them more seriously. They do, however, try to match the Saudi military exercises with some of their own. They also apparently realize that too many international and regional alliances, created at too frantic a pace, are a sure sign of weakness rather than strength. This last fact is something the Saudi princes don’t seem to understand.

Statecraft is not an extended form of tribalism. Its goals are different, so should its tools.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Is It Brotherly Blackmail? Lebanon in Arab Financial Crosshairs………

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The Saudi move to cancel the $4 billion promised aid to Lebanon (and indirectly to France) is apparently a ‘first step‘ in something bigger.  At least that is what Saudi proxies and allies in Beirut are gleefully threatening.

The Saudis are frustrated with their failure to weaken Hezbollah and pull Lebanon out of what they claim is an Iranian orbit. It is hard for them to believe that all the inducements they have offered Lebanon could fail, that their top proxies in Beirut, occasional billionaire Saad Hariri and his sidekick Fouad Saniora, could not bring the small country along. One Lebanese minister, a Mr. Mashnuq (the Hanged Man) who is part of the Saudi-financed March 14 (Hariri) camp has warned of more pain to come. Clearly a not subtle Saudi threat-by-proxy.
The threat of “more pain to come” could include a renewal and expansion of previous expulsion measures against the expatriate Lebanese citizens in some GCC states of the Persian Gulf.  The UAE has recently been reported to have resumed its old policy of summarily expelling Lebanese expats who are Shi’as. The secretary general of the GCC, a Bahraini close to the ruling autocrats, has ominously warned Lebanon for going against what he called erroneously “Arab consensus on Iran“. The GCC secretary was of course lying, to put it politely: in fact there is no Arab consensus on Iran or on anything else whatsoever.
An expulsion of the Lebanese expats would not be in the interest of the Gulf states. They are not normally involved in politics. Many businesses and institutions benefit from the Lebanese experience and skills in various economic sectors. It would effectively lower the efficiency of business and the quality of life in the host countries.

Some Arab media speculate that the Saudis are canceling the promised aid partly because of their own dire financial situation. A situation largely created by their own short-sighted oil policies of recent years.

Another possible factor that Saudi and Gulf media ignore is that the Lebanese authorities are holding a high-ranking young Saudi prince who had tried to smuggle large quantities of illegal drugs on his private jet through Beirut airport.

Will all this economic pressure against Lebanon work? Will the small country where pro-Wahhabi sentiment is restricted to a small fraction of the population yield to Saudi pressure?  It looks highly unlikely now, given the political realities and the demographics of Lebanon.

The Israelis are watching this game next door with great interest.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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From Persian-American Gulf to Gulf of Mercenaries and the New Ottomans…….

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It is a problem, this faraway little Gulf of ours. A few years ago I modified its name, I started to call it the Persian-American Gulf, but it is getting harder. The population is shifting. The princes and potentates in their little kingdoms have now imported a majority of the non-Arabic and non-Persian speaking population from South and Southeast Asia and claim it should be called, no, not the Gulf of Bengal………..  Could it be the Gulf of Mercenaries, as I suggested a year or two ago? Gulf of Wahhabis, heaven forbid? How about the Gulf of Salaf? Gulf of Foreign Military Bases? Gulf of Tribal Sectarianism?

  • For example, the little oppressed repressed robbed sectarian island of Bahrain is now nearly sinking under foreign bases:
    U.S Naval Base Gulf HQ – Saudi Military Base post the Spring of 2011 invasion – Even the old British colonial masters have not stopped helping the ruling gangs in their robbery and repression. They are starting a new military base – Add to all that assorted imported mercenaries/interrogators and torturers from Jordan, Pakistan, Syria (former security), Iraq (former Baathists), among other foreign places. With an occasional obscure idle English prince and princess or two paying visits to shore up the kleptocratic autocratic outpost.
  • Little rich Wahhabi power Qatar where 90% of the population is temporary foreign laborers (mainly South Asian housemaids raising the kids and keeping house):
    U.S. Central Command has its regional headquarters at the Al-‘Adeed base – It is now also the Muslim Brotherhood HQ (outside Turkey) – Now reports say that Turkey, under its new Ottoman Caliph Sultan Recep Erdogan, will also establish a military base in Qatar. So, the Ottomans are coming back, with a new sultan. Which might indicate that the on-again-off-again sisterly relations with the fellow Saudi Wahhabis may be heading up the proverbial ‘unsanitary creek’.
  • United Arab Emirates (UAE, where some 90% of the population is composed of imported foreign laborers and housemaids), ruled by a Band of Brothers who own Abu Dhabi (lock, stock and barrel). I think it has:
    British base – French base – Canadian base (sorry, it was closed over a commercial dispute) – Colombian mercenary military base (no, not FARC) – (Former) Blackwater mercenary force: mainly South American, South African, Australian, etc- Actually I have lost track: for all I know even Monaco or Vanuatu may have military bases in Abu Dhabi by now.

But I don’t have anything against friendly military bases. They can be a protective measure that started with Saddam’s Baathist brutal invasion of Kuwait in 1990. But I suspect they are not only aimed against Iraqi dangers anymore, and not only aimed against the mullahs in Iran, but probably also needed not-so-secretly to keep the sisterly Wahhabi princes next door at home. The princes are only a few tanks’ drive away, as the unhappy people of Bahrain discovered in the Spring of 2011.

As well as the dangers that may emerge from the troubles in Iraq/Jordan/Syria. Dangers that were largely created and financed by wayward Persian Gulf Islamist groups and some princes. As well as some unsettled tribal issues and risks that Gulf GCC states have experienced (attempted Saudi-backed coup in Qatar in 1998) and others may be experiencing.

Still, a Turkish military base in Qatar? But why not? After all there is a Saudi Wahhabi base in Bahrain. The Muslim Brotherhood Turkish base in Qatar could balance that.

But there is still the same nagging question that won’t go away for me: whoever the hell heard of a country welcoming a Turkish military base?

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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How I Died and Lived again: from the Persian Gulf to the Pacific Northwest, P.S…….

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Over the years I have gone through several lives. That probably means I have one or two left to spare. The last experience, this past July, was a close one, or so I have been told.

I lost my life the first time during a hot Gulf summer (is there any other kind?) when I was a child. I fell into the warm motherly but turbulent waters of the Persian Gulf. I was leaning over the edge of the dhow, peering into the waters, probably trying to locate some fish, when I fell. A captain of the boat (which was associated with my father and uncles) dived after me and saved me. He must have been acquainted with CPR first aid techniques, or what passed for them at that time. They told me, as I recall, that his name was Khamees (Thursday).

There were a few other times. During my student days a Parisian Bread truck almost finished me off on a Berkeley (Calif.) street intersection some years later. The driver must have jumped a red light, or so I was told. I woke up in the hospital with no memory of the incident. But I lived to try another day. And I did. I left out when my head was almost bashed in, but apparently I survived that one too, didn’t I?

Back home on the Gulf, just after one of our wars, I got my first (and only) massive heart attack. The company driver got me to the emergency entrance of the Amiri Hospital just in time. That was some years ago. When I came to an Indian nurse was trying hard to beat some life into my heart. She succeeded.

That was when I got some advice on how to proceed. Some neighbors said that since I had worked with influential potentates (shaikhs) I should plead with some of them to apply their influence with the government to send me overseas for treatment. Others had done it, although I noted that most of those did not survive ‘the royal favor’. I toyed with the idea, and wisely decided instead to spend a month on the beaches and in the mountains of Cyprus. Maybe a reckless part of me thought death was not the worst thing that can happen to me, given the options offered by the neighbors.

I survived that one too, and later moved back to the American Pacific Coast, to the Northwest, where over time I had  a few stents inserted into my body even as I led an active life (hiking, biking, etc). Without the need to plead with any potentates.

Last month I almost did it again: I almost cashed in my chips outside Everett (Washington). Except that a Mr. Snyder and his wife (or girlfriend) caught me in time with some timely CPR first aid and a call to 911. The Snyders and the excellent Providence Hospital staff in Everett saved my life at a time when my family were anxiously looking for me at a nearby shopping mall. When they called my cell phone the hospital emergency staff answered, a terrifying surprise (or so I’d like to think). Apparently I had a seizure (or was it a stroke?). I remember nothing of that day or the next five days.

I have another MRI scheduled for next week. But I believe I am regaining my health and my energy. So, who knows: maybe a few more rounds………

There is an addendum to the above post:
P.S. (10/1/2015): A surgeon had done a biopsy on my brain on that day of my “incident” in July. He dug inside my skull and tested some brain tissue on that day, as I understand. He said the lump in my brain was NOT a tumor. Now he says the results of the last MRI show that it has vanished. Looks like good news. We shall see………….

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum   

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Iran Nuclear Deal: Who Speaks for the Arabs?………

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No other group of Middle East countries have ever sought so tenaciously to keep a foreign blockade against one of their neighboring countries in modern times. With the exception of about three absolute Arab regimes along the Persian Gulf who fought tooth and nail to keep the Western Blockade against Iran.
President Obama is reported this week to have arranged telephone calls with the king of Saudi Arabia and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi (effective ruler of the UAE). The goal is to explain to these potentates the nuclear deal with Iran. American media claim that Mr. Obama seeks to explain the Iran nuclear deal “to the Arabs“. Except that the Saudi king rules over only about 17 million citizens, the Abu Dhabi (UAE) potentate rules over only about one million citizens. These two potentates may speak for their own citizens only (maybe). They don’t represent 250-300 million Arabs extending from the Persian Gulf to the Atlas Mountains. Most of these other non-Gulf Arabs don’t oppose this deal. There are also many people along the shores of Gulf, from Oman through Dubai, Bahrain, Qatif and other places who don’t oppose it. The rulers of Saudi Arabia, and much of their “inland” Wahhabi peoples, plus the rulers of Bahrain and their local allies, and many in Qatar (only the tiny minority who are citizens) are probably among the strongest opponents of the deal and support continuation of the Western Blockade.

As are Salafis along the Gulf and across other Arab regions, including the likes of ISIS (DAESH) and Al-Nusra and many of their leading Abu’s. They join the Israelis and their strong American lobby in pushing for a continuation of the blockade as the second choice if an American war is not on the table. The nuclear program has never been the real issue for these bedfellows: it is more about the expansion of Iranian political influence across the region.
Most Arabs in the Eastern Mediterranean support the deal and the lifting of the Western blockade, or are at least indifferent. Most in North Africa, from Egypt to the farthest western Arab country of Morocco also hold the same position. But then there is hardly any Iranian political influence across North Africa.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter
m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

On the Gulf: Westerners Confusing Luxury Hotels with Human Rights……..

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“I had been looking forward to this year’s International Human Rights Rank Indicator (IHRRI) which was due to be issued tomorrow but – alas – it has suddenly, and without explanation, been postponed for several months. The IHRRI is (or perhaps was) an international league table of human rights, covering 216 countries. Last year, unbelievably, it placed the United Arab Emirates in 12th position worldwide – between New Zealand and Iceland. No other Arab country came anywhere close to the UAE in terms of human rights performance; Morocco was nearest, in 67th position. When this claim about the Emirates was noted (and ridiculed) on social media, IHRRI deleted the entire league table from its website – again, suddenly and without explanation…………….”

It is not the first time Western experts, pundits, journalists, even some politicians, have confused luxury accommodation and wining and dining with human rights. Especially in the Persian Gulf states. It is the traditional Arab hospitality of the Gulf, misunderstood in the West. This often happens for visitors to the United Arab Emirates-UAE. I have in the past commented on articles by Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohen (I usually enjoy reading Cohen) and possibly David Ignatius (Washington Post) and how they confuse things like luxurious 6-star hosting and accessibility to ‘human rights’ and ‘credibility of leaked information’.

Of course the overwhelming majority of residents of the UAE and other places on the Gulf (95% of them) cannot afford the luxury of these 6-star hotels. So they probably don’t merit human rights.

It is usually hard to be critical of those who offer you 6-star hospitality. Although I recall that Nicholas Kristof (N Y Times) visited Iran a year or two ago and came back to write in favor of tougher economic sanctions against Iran. I am assuming Kristof did not get 6-star or 7-star hospitality from the mullahs in Iran. I doubt that they have it in Tehran now. I blame the Western blockade……..
So maybe the folks at IHRRI are waiting for the UAE to mend its ways so that it can merit being placed next to Iceland on human rights. Perhaps in a year or two, or maybe when hell freezes over……….

    

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter
m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

In the Beginning: Shifting Dynastic Alliances in the Gulf GCC……….

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In the Beginning………….

There were two major recent Middle East alliances: (1) the alliance of Qatar and Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood-MB- (that was after the MB regime in Egypt was overthrown by the Al Sisi military coup) and; (2) the alliance of military-ruled Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Now the old alliances have been shaken and jumbled so that there are, for now: (1) the alliance of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Turkey (hard to believe that five years ago the Saudis used to accuse Qatar of being allied with Iran and Iraq and Syria and Lebanon) and; (2) the alliance of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE potentates shared an intense mistrust and hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood, while the Qatari potentates financed and supported the Brotherhood. Apparently the Qatari potentates have so much money that they are always looking for some foreign ally willing to accept some of it, including the FIFA sports officials. The Qataris still support the MB, but the Saudis have modified their view somewhat of their ancient ally and later enemy the Muslim Brotherhood. After all they are allied with the Brotherhood in both Yemen and Syria. The UAE still violently opposes the MB and has moved closer to Al Sisi of Egypt even as the Al Saud have moved closer to Qatar and Caliph Erdogan of Turkey.

Now apparently the Saudi opposition, the Wahhabi branch of it that is overseas, is confused or conflicted about the Saudi-Qatari ties. One school of thought claims that the new Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Nayef Al Saud strongly influences, nay dominates, the Qatari Emir Tamim Al Thani. Another school of Wahhabi opposition thought sees the influence reversed: it claims that it was Emir Tamim of Qatar who influenced the Saudis and talked them into easing up on the Muslim Brotherhood.
They both agree that the real power in the UAE, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed, lost out because he had betted on and was closely allied with Saudi Prince Meteb Bin Abdullah who has lost out after his father died.

P.S:So far only Oman and Kuwait have remained outside these flexible shifting sub-alliances among the potentates of the GCC. Probably wisely, for now.

    

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter
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