Category Archives: Saudi Arabia

Political Prisons: What the Bastille, Tzarist Siberia, Stalin’s Gulag, Tehran’s Evin, and Saudi Ritz-Carlton Have in Common…..

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The French monarchy had the (now) notorious Bastille.
The Russian tzars had the vast Siberian land mass.
The Soviets had the infamous Lybyanka prison. (Stalin was familiar with cold exile from his days plotting against the tzars, thus he preferred to exile opponents and suspects to faraway cold places).
The Iranians (under both the Shah and the now-ruling mullahs) had/have the Evin prison in Tehran for their troublesome political dissidents.
Even Alexandre Dumas and Edmond Dantès had Château d’If, like Elba conveniently located close to France, from which one could only escape inside a coffin.

Now the Saudis have gone more 7-star in their prisons for the rich and famous corrupt rivals of crown prince MBS. Don’t get me wrong, they still have dungeons (no dragons) and cellars for ordinary dissidents and opponents. But this new purge of the young and reckless Crown Prince includes too many of the elite, who are used to luxury living. Some of these princes, potentates, and oligarchs now under detention would not survive in an ordinary prison. They would not even survive in a 3-star or maybe even 4-star hotel. Hence, as widely reported, the Ritz-Carlton of Riyadh. That super-luxury hotel is now a sort of prison.

That very same hotel that Donald Trump and his family and entourage occupied during the wild hootennany in the desert last May, when he was almost anointed the Sixth Pillar of Islam. That was when Mr. Trump, the foreign interloper from far away, handed the keys of the Persian Gulf and the Arab World to the Saudi princes, or so he naively and foolishly thought.
The Ritz-Carlton was (and still is) also in some ways, a prison for Donald Trump. The luxury, the accolades, the over-the-top praises, and mainly the huge sums of money offered, locked him into the dangerous and futile agenda of the princes.


Which brings me to the mysterious fate of Lebanon‘s prime minister Saad Hariri. Can he also be incarcerated at the Ritz-Carlton now? Mr. Hariri, normally Saudi Arabia’s proxy man in Lebanon, has his own residence in Riyadh. But even his supporters in Lebanon now concede that he is not free to travel from Saudi Arabia, that he is not allowed to com home to Beirut. Not yet. In effect: a prisoner of his former allies and bosses. That he can’t speak for himself after his Saudi hosts forced him to resign and deliver a speech they wrote for him. Even the U.S. State Department has hinted that maybe he is being held involuntarily in the Kingdom Without Magic.

I know: Saddam Hussein is dead. But, just in case, long live the new Saddam Hussein, whoever he is or will be…….

More later……

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

After JCPOA and UNESCO: Will the USA and Israel Join the Arab League?…….

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President Donald Trump has taken the USA out of a whole bunch of international institutions, agreements, and deals. From the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) to the Paris Climate Accord, to the United Nation’s UNESCO organization (Mr. Trump and Israel both withdrew this week).

He is on the verge of breaking and violating the JCPOA (the international community’s nuclear deal with Iran). He is also threatening the NAFTA deal with Canada and Mexico. Early in his term he threatened US ties with NATO, the bedrock of the Western Alliance since after the last world war.

For most of the rest of the world Mr. Trump is not the usual credible American president. He has very little credibility. He is not liked (to put it politely) anywhere in the world, with the exception of Israel and some Arab royal palaces (and maybe in Manila). Predictably Netanyahu made a short speech welcoming Trump’s non-withdrawal from JCPOA, while the controlled Saudi media cheered on.

So here is a suggestion: why not declare the United States, and Israel, as members of the Arab League. They can start as observer-members. It is all an incredible fantastic circus anyway……….

Cheers
M Haider Ghuloum

Donald Trump the Peacemaker: New Apostle of Wahhabi Islam and Virgin Drivers……

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“The imam of the grand mosque of Mecca has claimed Donald Trump, the US and Saudi Arabia are “steering the world to peace”, in comments during a visit to New York that sparked an outcry on social media. They are “steering the world and humanity to the ports of security, peace and prosperity,” he added, claiming that the two countries should unite to “combat terrorism” and to “realise security and international peace”. The conference, on ‘Civilisational communication between the United States of America and the Islamic World‘…….”

No doubt the royal princes are now throwing all their eggs into the basket of Donald Trump. George W Bush refused to do their bidding in the Persian Gulf and wage another war after Iraq. Barack Obama mocked their sectarian war demands in his Atlantic Magazine interview. They have tried to get Netanyahu to go to war on their behalf, but he is no fool: he has been all talk and no action as far as my Gulf is concerned.

During the Riyadh Summit/Circus last May, I posted here about Donald Trump as the Sixth Pillar of Wahhabi Islam. I was referring to the extremely deferential way the Saudi leaders treated Donald Trump, knowing his proclivity for praise (and money). His near-anointment as a sort of guardian of Islam (to the cheers of General Al Sisi, Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka). Even the top Saudi clerics in Mecca praised Trump in their speeches during the summit (as they were allegedly ordered to do so).

Now comes the “mother of all praises”. The Imam of the Holy Shrine in Mecca, no less, has opined that the world depends on the Saudi king and Donald Trump for peace. Now, you can’t kiss it lower or better than this. It is very likely that Mr. Trump will believe all this. The Saudi king, like all Arab kings, knows better. They also know his weaknesses: they are buying Trump, and not only with money….


In 2011, a Saudi scholar/cleric wrote a study for the appointed Shura Council about women and driving. In it he warned that if Saudi women were allowed to drive, that would be the end of virginity in the magic kingdom. The men were given a choice: women drivers or virginity. Possibly something in the local water made a woman go wild as soon as she got hold of a car’s steering wheel (rather suggestive, don’t you think?).
Apparently all this has changed, now the Wahhabi clerics believe that Saudi women can drive and keep their virginity….


I suspect President Donald Trump can now publicly take credit for this new driving policy that also allows women to keep their virginity even as they drive cars.
Interesting times we live in, no?

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

Gulf Godfathers Competing for Israeli Love, but Real Target is U.S. Congress…..

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Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him…” (Sal Tessio to Consigliere Tom Hagen: Godfather 1)

“Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a discreet visit to Israel despite the fact that the Jewish state and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic ties, Israeli and Arab media speculated earlier in the week. Rumors about the momentous visit, which was not confirmed by Israel, started swirling when Israel Radio’s diplomatic correspondent covering Arab affairs, Simon Aran, took to Twitter to announce the visit……. Israel Radio’s Arabic-language broadcast reported that the the senior figure was a “Saudi prince” who met with senior Israelis to discuss regional peace. According to the report, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry refused to comment………”

Qatar is trying to arrange meetings between its senior leadership and the heads of major Jewish American organizations during next week’s UN General Assembly. The natural gas-rich country has reached out to the heads of a number of prominent Jewish groups and asked if they would meet with the emir and crown prince while they visit New York City……….”

You’ve come a long way baby (addressing the Arab World).
Gone were the days when Palestine was the main, nay allegedly the only, Arab (and Muslim) cause. The excuse for all military coups and for absolute dynastic rule. Now it is on the verge of being a non-cause.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (non-elected Mayor of Ramallah) flies to Paris to join generously-paid American politicians (of both parties) in extolling the virtues of the Iranian terrorist cult Mujahideen Khalq (MEK). MEK/MKO was formerly an ally of Saddam Hussein and on the US terrorist list, but is now reportedly a joint project of the Mossad and Saudi royal princes.

Unofficial and semi-official “rumors” spread this week that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the country’s effective king, has “secretly” visited Israel, and neither side denies it. But much of official (and unofficial) Arab media ignored the alleged visit: apparently one doesn’t mention such visits in mixed or polite company. And if you do, there is a stiff price to pay, especially in other Gulf states and in Egypt. Apparently to the Arab princes Israel is like a proverbial mistress: the relationship is there but nobody talks about it in public. Even the secretly ISIS-loving Gulf Salafis, perennial Saudi fifth columnists, have completely ignored the visit (and other visits before it).

Not to be outdone, the rival Qatar‘s princes now scramble to send signals to pro-Israeli Jewish groups in New York that the Emir and his deputy would love to meet with them. The Qatari rulers have been facing repeated coup attempts from their big Gulf “sister” for twenty years, and now they have to put up with Donald Trump, a businessman whose instinct is to go with the highest bidder.

Now it is cool, it is hip, among certain Arab classes, especially in the Persian Gulf, to blow kisses and whisper sweet nothings to Israel. Especially to its current right-wing government. This seems to be especially true in the case of the two feuding Wahhabi dynasties of the Gulf GCC. Gone are the days when official Wahhabi clerics (and some diehard official Muslim Brothers) habitually called the Jewish people “descendants of monkeys and pigs” in their sermons.

Still, this is not true love. It is all about business. As Sal Tessio famously told Tom Hagen: “Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him…” (Godfather 1)


But the true target of all this Arab royal serenading and wooing is not Israel, nor the Jewish people in general. The real target is the United States Congress (both houses and both parties). The current U.S Congress may be hopeless and useless in passing domestic policy, but it can do a lot of damage in the Middle East. As much as Donald Trump seems determined to cause. And the princes and potentates know it, hence the appearance of lust.

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

Mystery of the Disappearing Arab Princes in Europe………

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“Saudi Arabia’s missing princes. In the last two years, three Saudi princes living in Europe have disappeared. All were critical of the Saudi government – and there is evidence that all were abducted and flown back to Saudi Arabia… where nothing further has been heard from them………. Sultan refuses, at which point Abdulaziz excuses himself to make a phone call. The other man in the room, the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Saleh al-Sheikh, leaves too and after a few moments masked men rush in. They beat Sultan and handcuff him, then a needle is plunged into his neck. Unconscious, Sultan is rushed to Geneva airport – and carried on to a Medevac plane that is conveniently waiting on the tarmac……….”
BBC News

The most famous case of a Saudi citizen disappearing abroad occurred in Beirut, many years ago. Nasser Al Saeed was a famous regime opponent and Pan-Arabist. But he was a commoner in exile, who was almost certainly kidnapped and murdered and buried in Lebanon.

Now, under the current father-son rule, even some princes are beginning to vanish across Europe. But then again, does anyone know what happened to the former Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef who was deposed last month, was reported to be under house arrest? He has vanished in the Gulag that has absorbed many ordinary citizens, although he lives under better conditions of house arrest.

Revolutions are known to end up devouring their sons and daughters, from France (Danton, Robespierre) to Russia (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin) to Iran (uncounted revolutionaries both communist, secular, and theocratic). Now the Saudi case is different: it is a throwback to a much earlier era of plotting kings and princes. An absolute monarchy eating its own sons (sorry, no daughters: verboten).

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

The Body Snatchers of Arabia: It Is Not Just ISIS……

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“The families of 14 Saudi Arabian men sentenced to death fear that they are at risk of execution after they were transferred to Riyadh on 15 July. The men were sentenced to death on 1 June 2016 after a grossly unfair trial based on “confessions” they said were obtained under torture


I have been reading Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and other reports that Saudi Arabia plans to execute 14 young Saudi (Shi’a) men by beheading and/or crucifixion. Any day now. The princes have accelerated the rate of executions of Shi’a men specifically as a political tool to stifle protests, and there is fear that other Persian Gulf states may follow their example.

Saudi Arabia has a peculiar way of dealing with those it executes. Especially if they are Shi’a. In fairness, others get executed as well, and not only for staging public protests. Some are considered sorcerers or users of magic and witchcraft. Some of them are even convicted killers, although the method of obtaining confessions is not considered up to acceptable humane standards.

Wahhabis who plan to join terrorist groups are often sent to re-education schools. They are allowed to pretend that they have reformed, given jobs, and even encouraged to take appropriate Wahhabi wives. Their weddings are financed by the regime. But not the Shi’as.

Execution for men is done in public squares, by beheading and/or crucifixion. Nobody knows when someone will be executed, they announce it after the fact. And the Shi’a bodies are never returned to their loved ones.
All civilized regimes announce the date of execution. Even not so-civilized regimes usually return the bodies of those executed to their families. That is a human right.


Saudi Arabia often returns most bodies of those executed, unless they are Shi’a. This has been a consistent policy. Shaikh Nimr Al Nimr, the Shi’a dissident cleric was executed by beheading in January 2016, but his body was never returned to his family. Other Shi’a, Saudi or foreigner, faced the same fate. Years ago about 16 Kuwait Shi’as were beheaded on charges of plotting. Their bodies were never returned to their country or to their families. There have been other cases. And I know the Saudis do not use these bodies as (practice) cadavers for their medical students.

They usually just announce that so many were executed, a day after the fact. The bodies are presumably thrown in some hole in the desert.

The Caliphate of ISIS also does that sort of body snatching…..

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Rex Tillerson Tackles the GCC War of Fake News on the Gulf….

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“Secretary Tillerson Participates in a Joint Press Conference in Qatar. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson participates in a joint press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Doha, Qatar on July……….” US State Department

” KUWAIT CITY — The United States and Qatar signed a memo of understanding Tuesday on steps the tiny Persian Gulf nation will take to stop the funding of terrorism, U.S. officials said Tuesday. The agreement aims to encourage Qatar’s neighbors to abandon their embargo on the country. The memo was announced in the Qatar capital of Doha, where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spent the day working to resolve a regional feud that the United States fears could derail efforts to fight groups like the Islamic State and could embolden Iran…….” N Y Times

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson started this trip in Kuwait, the only Gulf GCC country that could mediate, given its long experience in trying, often hopelessly, to mediate Arab disputes. Oman is another possible sane GCC member, but the Omanis have kept their distance from clashes between the ruling families of the Gulf.
From Kuwait Tillerson went to Qatar, reportedly for a tri-partite American-Qatari-Kuwait meeting. From Qatar he will fly to Saudi Arabia. Tillerson’s statements seem to be quite critical of the Saudi-UAE claims and demands. Politely he seems to point out the absurdity of their demands.

But this whole project is almost like Fake News. The claims and 13 demands of Saudi Arabia and the UAE were based on a combination of elements of the real policies of Qatar and on the skillful use of Fake News by the Saudis and Emiratis. At some point all these states supported terrorist activities, especially in Iraq and Syria. The September 11 terrorist attacks of 2001 had no Qatari involvement. ISIS ranks have many Saudis and Bahrainis, but I have never seen a Qatari name.

The Saudi-UAE demands of Qatar were no doubt inspired by Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh in May and his later tweets. The heavy use of the term “terrorism” was a clever attempt to shift the topic away from the Saudi roots of Jihadism and to use two terms that resonate with American politicians. Qatar was charged with supporting “terrorism” and with moving close to “Iran“: nothing makes Americans politicians salivate more than these two terms, except maybe the term “campaign money“.

The Qataris and Iranians share one of the largest natural gas fields in the world, in the waters of the Persian Gulf, so they need to keep some cordial ties. Besides, Oman and Kuwait keep cordial relations with the mullahs in Iran, and nobody among the Saudi-UAE potentates has criticized them, not yet.

The whole “GCC crisis” is odd and relies heavily on Fake News. The demands presented to Qatar by the Saudi-UAE side are vague, and they are absurd to present to a sovereign country. Especially the deman of closing the AlJazeera News Network. Even though Qatar has dabbled in supporting Jihadis in Syria, so did Saudi Arabia (in Syria and Iraq), probably even more so.
And as if to add some weight to their demands, the Saudi-UAE side recruited Egypt’s hapless dictator Field Marshall Al Sisi, possibly as a military muscleman. Almost laughable, given the underachieving military history of modern Egypt.

Now it seems that, in spite of Donald Trump, Tillerson may have managed to convey the real American position on this issue. Trump was no doubt moved by the accolades and the flattery he received at the Riyadh Summit in May, (did I leave the promised billions of dollars?). Now it looks like there is consensus that the Saudi-UAE attempt has failed to destabilize Qatar. This is not the first Saudi failure in Qatar, there was an attempted coup in the late 1990s.

There is another Arab state where the Saudis under King Salman and his son are facing even worse failure: perhaps Rex Tillerson can help extricate the princes from the quagmire of the Yemen war they foolishly started two and a half years ago.

Cheers

Mpohammed Haider Ghuloum

 

GCC Crisis: Are There Cracks in the Anti-Qatari Gulf Axis?……..

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Saudi and other Arab media report that the countries blockading Qatar in the Persian Gulf have decided to extend their deadline for 48 hours. The Emir of Kuwait is usually sensibly neutral in regional disputes, like Oman usually is, and he has been handling intermediation between the two sides.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and the Empire of Bahrain (the latter always unquestionably on the Saudi side) had said their deadline for Qatar to give in to Saudi hegemony would end on this Sunday (July 2). They call it “Qatari sponsorship of terrorism”, knowing that the word “terrorism” has a Pavlovian effect on American leaders and politicians, s well as the media.
Yet not a single Qatari was involved in the major terrorist attacks in the West, as far as I know (too many Saudis and even some Bahrainis have been involved). But in the past they have helped Hamas in Gaza, which is listed as a terrorist group by the United States. Meanwhile a huge number of Al Qaeda and ISIS Jihadis are Saudis (with some even from little Bahrain).

The foreign ministers of the four “axis” countries were supposed to meet Monday in Cairo to make the appropriate noises and threats to get the stubborn Emir of Qatar to cry “uncle”. Perhaps if they roar some more, instead of their usual whining, the Qataris may be impressed and give in.

Still, it is hard to see anyone being intimidated by the little Saudi Foreign Minister Adle Al Jubeir or the corpulent Bahrain FM Al Khalifa (inevitably), or any of the others (including Al Sisi for that matter unless one is in Egypt).


But there is one odd thing these days that is worth keeping an eye on, also mentioned by other Arab observers. The UAE foreign minister Abdullah Bin Zayed, a normally influential brother of the Abu Dhabi leader, has been recently silent about the whole Qatari affair. At least he has not commented for several days, leaving the stage for a lower-ranked minister of state (Gargash) to do the nasty Twitter Trump-like job on the Qataris.

Stay tuned: there may be some surprising signs of discord in Abu Dhabi as no doubt there is in Riyadh about this whole adventure against the Qatar ruling class. As there probably has been about the messy failed bloody adventure in Yemen.
Maybe: things are not kept secret for long on the Gulf…..

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum