Category Archives: Saudi Arabia

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

A Saudi Defeat in Lebanon? Hariri and Nasrallah’s Beard and the Shifting Alliances……….

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Former prime minister Saad Hariri returned recently to Lebanon carrying a visible mark of a major political shift. That visible mark is also on his face, in a physical sense.

Hariri, a Lebanese who also grew up in Saudi Arabia and also carries its citizenship, was telling a story. Until recently known as leader of the pro-Saudi faction in Lebanon, he had always sported the goatee (saksooka) that senior Saudi princes (and all kings) sport. It is a tell-tale Saudi symbol, almost as much as the red/white shmagh checkered ghutra (kafiyya) is.
Hariri now sports a full beard, somewhat neater than the one Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah chief) sports, but similar.

He has also taken a political step that clearly signifies a break with Saudi Arabia. He now supports the same candidate as Iranian ally Hezbollah for president of Lebanon, former General Michel Aoun.
Some neutral Arab media speculate that the Saudi break has been in the making for months. Since Hariri-controlled Saudi Oger LTD faced financial trouble and the Saudi princes refused to help. Instead there have been reports of some prince seeking to take over the company.

So, now Harriri has surprised some allies of his right-wing traditionally pro-Saudi Al-Mustaqbal (Future) Movement by announcing his support for Hezbollah’s ally General Aoun (Maronite Catholic). This may open the door for Hariri ro return as prime minister of Lebanon. The Saudi support and money may now shift to other former Hariri sycophants, like former prime minister Saniora and some others. Not very strong allies.

Lebanese claim (credibly) that the Saudis traditionally send a large personal check ($10-20 million) to every new Lebanese prime minister and president, as personal pocket money. Just to break the ice and insure loyalty. Mr. Hariri, reportedly having lost a few billions recently from his Saudi ties, is not likely to even get that much now.

Saad Hariri may be returning to his Lebanese roots, and the heavy-handed Saudis may try to make up for this big Lebanese defeat by nurturing other (mainly Sunni) politicians. But it is a big gap to fill.

(Some Lebanese media have reportedly quoted the latest/newest American ambassador in Beirut as saying that one of her tasks is ‘to weaken the hold of Hezbollah on Lebanon‘. A tough task. This recent development is not a mark of her success. Not yet.)

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

 

Middle East Sands Shift Again in the Mayhem of Post-Post-Arab-Uprisings……

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In the beginning there were the Arab uprisings……
The era of the Arab Uprisings is over. The era of Post Arab Uprisings is over. Now the Middle East is going through the era of Post-Post Arab Uprisings.

The Arab convulsions that started at the end of 2010 were initially expected to usher in a new era of revolution against the stagnant order. That hope quickly shifted as the newly-anointed Arab Center of Power, represented by Persian Gulf oil wealth and Gulf Wahhabi-Salafi ideology basically took over the Arab League and its institutions. Or so it seemed.


But a few unseemly things happened on the way to the royal takeover of the Arab World.

The initial Syrian uprising of 2011, which had been taken over by Gulf-backed Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood Jihadists, stalled. Having been hijacked by essentially agents of even more repressive Arab regimes, it veered into the darkest realm of sectarian and confessional divisiveness, a normal Wahhabi inclination. Foreign intervention has made a solution even more difficult. But the military situation has now decidedly shifted in favor of the Damascus regime and its allies.

In Bahrain, the regime cracked down hard on the uprising of 2011, ‘invited’ Saudi and UAE forces to help its repression, and turned to the old divide and rule policy by going sectarian. That country is still very unstable, heavily dependent on foreign Arab forces and foreign mercenaries to keep order.

In Yemen, the GCC and the UN arranged for dictator Colonel Ali Abdallah Saleh to leave office. But they chose his deputy, another general named Abd Rabuh Mansour Hadi to be “elected” with 99.8% of the vote. Even Kim Jong Un does not get that kind of victory. Hadi was quickly co-opted by corrupt military and tribal forces, along with a very corrupt local version of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Eventually Hadi was overthrown by a rebellion of the tough northern Houthis and elements of the old Yemeni army. He was basically allowed to escape (reportedly dressed as a woman in Burqa).
As the Houthi alliance expanded south into Aden, Hadi (who had resigned AND his term had expired) and his henchmen escaped to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis made the same mistake they had made before, they tried to invade Yemen with a force of hired African and Arab mercenaries. It is now a quagmire, helped by the Obama Administration which arms and refuels the Saudi bombers that commit what is essentially a murderous genocide.

In Libya, the dreams of American and European liberals and conservatives alike were shattered by the aftermath of the overthrow, torture, and murder of Gaddafi and his son. The Western powers had engineered a UN resolution past Russia and China that had wordings that created a loophole for NATO to bomb Gaddafi’s Libya. All based on false claims by opposition rebels. Russia and China have not forgotten that Western deception at the UN, and they are unlikely to vote along the same lines again. Libya itself is now a smaller version of Syria.


The biggest prize as usual was Egypt. After one year of elected Muslim Brotherhood rule, a couple of Gulf states ‘financed’ a series of huge opposition protests and eventually a military coup. Shades of the CIA Operation Ajax in Iran, circa 1953. Egypt was to become basically a satrapy of the Saudi and Emirati potentates, rich but uncultured tribal despots. An absurd notion to anybody who knows anything about ancient Middle East history.

Now Egypt is reported to have swung another way. A media war is raging between Egypt and her presumed Gulf sisterly (or brotherly) bosses, and regional policies are shifting. From Yemen to Syria to Iran, possibly even to the Gulf, Egypt is seeking new alliances and restoration of old ties in the face of a Wahhabi blackmail.
The Egyptian-Saudi dispute has gotten so serious that former Yemeni officials, all Saudi agents who urge the bombing of their country from their comfortable Saudi exile, now are accusing Egypt of supplying the Houthi rulers of Sanaa with missiles.

Other Gulf media mouthpieces have accused neutral Oman of expediting the transfer of Iranian weapons to the Houthis. These are certainly attempts to justify the miserable failure of the expensively-armed and Western-guided but incompetent Saudi and UAE forces to win the war in Yemen.
Another major twist, but it is not over. Stay tuned…..

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

 

Egypt and Her Sisters: Al Sisi and Syria and the Indian Givers of Riyadh………

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Only a few months ago Saudi King Salman visited Cairo to inspect “his newest acquisition”. Or so jubilant Salafis and opinion-ators in Saudi and Gulf media screamed. Many fell for it. Even an astute person like myself, born and raised amidst the sandstorms and the annual locust invasions and under the loving truly burning sun of the (Persian) Gulf. But I did express some doubt.

At that time Saudi media claimed the King had a ‘pleasant’ surprise for the Egyptian people. It turned out that surprise was anything but pleasant. It was the draft of an agreement that cedes two Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir in the Gulf of Aqaba, to the Saudis. The people of Egypt, with the exception of Saudi-financed Salafis, were furious at the Sisi regime. Other Arabs were also skeptic, except for the Salafi-Tribal types of the Gulf region. The whole thing backfired on the Cairo regime. Now the islands issue looks unresolved.

Then there is Syria. The Saudi-Qatari-Turkish axis, although frayed by now, has been consistent in its resolve to help replace the secular Assad regime with an Islamist-Jihadist one. More recently the Turks have given in to American pressure and tightened border controls a bit. They have also developed some focused worries about Syrian Kurds and their drive for autonomy. The Egyptian regime has been skeptic of the Saudi-Turkish position on Syria. Now they are openly so, as reflected in their latest UN Security Council vote on Syria.

The Saudi ruling elites are not very subtle or classy about showing their displeasure. They can be called “Indian Givers”, a politically incorrect term now here, I know, but succinctly describes them. Now they have retaliated by cutting off the billions of promised aid, starting with oil shipments. Reports claim Kuwait has stepped in to replace the promised Saudi oil shipments to Cairo. Their is a media war brewing between the two countries.
But it is not realistic to expect an ancient country like Egypt to remain long subservient to a bunch of tribal oligarchs in Riyadh

Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir used to go around the world asserting that the Syrian Assad regime will go, peacefully or by military means. Tough words for a Saudi minister whose well-armed country has been losing a war to the lightly-armed tribal Houthis of Yemen and their allies. For a few weeks Mr. Al Jubeir was silenced, by order. Now he is back, again threatening that his country is considering arming “moderate” Syrian rebels. Moderate by Wahhabi standards, no doubt.
That requires agreement by Washington which supplies most of the Saudi weapons in question.

And that is where the sisterly, or is it brotherly, relations stand now.
Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers

M.H.Ghuloum

 

Kingdom of Delights: ‘Pokemon Go’ Declared a Heretic, Banned by Fatwa…….

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“The decree was issued by General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars on the website of the General Presidency for Scholarly Research and Ifta, Arab News reported Wednesday. The edict actually updates an existing ban on the Pokemon card and video games before they morphed into the mobile phone virtual reality game that has swept the world. The clerics issued the old fatwa, (No. 21,758), 16 years ago, declaring the original Japanese game a form of gambling, which is forbidden in Islam, Sheikh Saleh Al-Fozan, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said the virtual reality version of the game is the same as the old one. The game has not been officially released regionally………….”

MuftiSaudi The Mufti vs. Pokemon Go

A Fatwa is a religious edict often issued by Muslim clerics, whether they are authorized or not, that aims at one of several things: (1) keeping the faithful, and the unfaithful, away from sin and abominations (not always the same); (2) making life a bit harder, making sure not everybody is having more fun than they should be decently having (excluding the princes and their minions); (3) making the faithful and the unfaithful aware that the particular cleric exists (not exactly: I Fatwa, ergo I am).

The Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Al Al Shaikh finally had his group issue a fatwa asserting the ban on Pokemon Go in the Kingdom of Fun and Delights. No news about the fate of Pokemon Go in Iran yet: the mullahs have not opined yet. On the other hand, why would they need Pokemon in Saudi Arabia when everybody is having so much fun already?

Meanwhile, in the ultimate Salafi Wahhabi realm, in the Caliphate of Islamic State, I hear they are looking for Pokemons to behead in public in Raqqa and Mosul. You see, Pokey is suspected of being a Shi’a, hence a heretic who is behead-able, whose throat is slit-able by Salafi standards.

FYI: Gambling, gaming, and other types of sin, are banned in Islam, except for princes who can travel to Europe and Las Vegas. Having a palace with walls also qualifies one for exemptions, without reducing their chances at deferred heavenly delights.

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Conflicting Plans for Syria: Hezbollah Plan A, Saudi Plan B, and American Plan C…..

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Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah gave a public speech today. That was in the aftermath of the death of yet another senior Hezbollah military leader in Syria: Mustafa Badreddine who was suspected of anti-American violence in Beirut bombings and also convicted of terrorism in Kuwait in the early 1980s (before Hezbollah was established).

Nasrallah asserted that his group will remain in Syria until the Jihadi “Takfiri” terrorists are defeated. He added that there is no evidence of an Israeli involvement in the assassination. He also noted that even the Israelis know that he always says what he means and does what he says. Oddly hinting that the Israeli “enemy” knows the truth and tells it publicly, unlike some “Arabs”, meaning the Saudis & Qataris. (I have to agree with him on that point).


Nasrallah also said that the Saudis are leading and arming and financing the Jihadist campaign in Syria from Jordan, with some cooperation from Qatar and Turkey. That the Saudis are sabotaging a political solution.

It is still not clear to me how the general Shi’a population of Lebanon now feel about the Syrian involvement. Clearly if there is any opposition it is limited and muted, although some Arab and Western media tend to magnify it. The Jihadi terrorists themselves may have helped solidify support for Syrian involvement by destroying historical shrines and monuments of all faiths, a favorite Wahhabi pastime. Many Shi’a would be willing to fight and die for the Shrine of Zainab in Damascus (as they would for Karbala). That is Plan A of one side.


For his part, Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir repeated that “it is time for Plan B” in Syria. Nothing new there, just the same mantra. Someone once called him the Saudi version of Baghdad Bob.


My guess for this Saudi Plan B?
The Saudis and Qataris and Turks are waiting for a hawkish American president to take over next year. Maybe even someone who will allow supplying the Jihadists with anti-aircraft missiles (as in Afghanistan in the 1980s). That is not likely to happen: the Syrian regime and its Russian and other allies are creating facts on the ground.

Besides, there is also a well-known popular American plan, I call it Plan C. Plan C has been devised by the American people. The American public largely does not care who rules in Syria, as long as it is not a Wahhabi-type regime like ISIS or Al Nusra or Jaish Al Fath or………. never mind, I should quit typing now while I am ahead.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Gulf of Confusion: from Religious Police to a Commission for Entertainment……

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Saudi Commission for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has been notorious for restricting all kinds of freedoms. Especially the freedom to have fun, be it innocent or not. I have taken to calling it Propagation of Vice.
Now there is a new Saudi “commission”: the Commission for Entertainment ( in the least entertaining city in the least entertaining country in the whole wide world). Allegedly the idea of the young influential son of King Salman. This could have been inspired by a step taken months ago by the UAE government to improve the state of ‘happiness’, so long as it does not involve the freedom of expression. The Saudi opposition (in exile of course) claim that the UAE potentates have a lot of influence over the new Saudi Deputy Crown Prince (MBS).

The UAE established a Ministry of Happiness. Sounds like a good idea to me. It sounds like something that defies irony, perhaps something from North Korea. But it is the thought, the intention that counts, and it seems to be good.

Could the Society for Islamic Heritage Revival back home, the intolerant Salafi group designated a terrorist supporter by UN, change its name to Society for Revival of Islamic Joy and Tolerance? Could the local Muslim Brotherhood become a Brotherhood of Joy?

Or maybe the Wahhabis are softening, becoming gentler. Maybe they want to keep up with the mullahs next door in Iran who permit street music, as this photo of urban entertainment in Iran shows:

IranStreetMusic

Don’t get me wrong. I believe these are all steps in the right direction. Long overdue, but better late than never.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

New Old Saudi Vision of Total Conformism: from Riyadh to Pyongyang………

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“The Council of Ministers endorsed during its session on Monday under the chairmanship of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. The Cabinet session was devoted to discuss the vision, which was drafted by the Council of Economic and Development Affairs upon instructions of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Following is the text of Saudi Arabia’s vision 2030……..”

The new phrase Saudi Vision 2030 has been covered extensively in Saudi, Gulf, and some Arab media. There has been some good coverage in international media as well, until a heavy dose of realistic skepticism set in. I am in no position to openly express my own judgment yet, but I will soon. There is certainly a need to look beyond the years of oil boom, a need for some new (and serious) vision.

Yet I don’t like the quick and intimidating cheering in the Gulf GCC region, the exclusion and rejection of any doubt or questioning.  No debate of  such a vital issue. The distinctly Saudi conformism that is spreading to all GCC states.

As expected, Saudi and Gulf GCC media are not critical: not one iota of criticism or healthy (or unhealthy) doubt has been expressed. A lot of enthusiasm has been expressed, in blissful ignorance. Suddenly everybody on the Arab shores of the Gulf is as conformist as any good Saudi citizen in Riyadh or Qassim, anyone who is not in the safety of foreign exile or in a local prison. It is like the old days when Saddam was issuing his Baathist drivel across the Persian Gulf media and nobody was allowed to criticize him.

No doubt there are many ‘secret’ doubters, especially in the other Gulf GCC states if not in heavily brain-washed Saudi Arabia, but they dare not express their doubt. It is almost like having Kim Jong Un of North Korea (the Cute Leader) publish an economic “vision” for his country! Nobody would even think of criticize him in old Pyongyang.

Similarly, some Persian Gulf states are moving rapidly toward a new common repressive model. Even in places where the press “used to be” relatively free. Criticism of the plan by Prince Mohammed, the the favorite son and possible successor of King Salman, would be considered “insulting a sisterly or brotherly” state. That is a new category of crime that could land you in prison anywhere in the GCC (as in Pyongyang).

If the open doubter is a true Wahhabi terrorist-supporter he could go to prison and maybe get rehabilitated from his doubts. If he is a Shi’a agitator or doubter, he will likely be charged with “terrorism” and lose his head to a sword.

But is this emperor, in this case Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his vision, also naked (as in the famous parable or fable)? I am not certain yet. That will be covered in a new post coming soon to a theater right here. I have not read the detailed outlines of this economic vision in detail, yet. Who knows, I might become an enthusiastic supporter as well.
But the devil is in the details.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum