“Egyptian President Abdul Fatah Al Sissi has reportedly launched a damage control operation to ensure that his country’s relations are not affected by the alleged audio recording suggesting that Egyptian officials close to him viewed Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries with disdain. The conversation between Al Sissi who was then minister of defence and two aides, released on Saturday, includes remarks that some Gulf countries were half states, that they had more money than they needed and that Egypt should adopt a strict policy of give-and-take with them. It also includes verbal personal abuse of the Emir of Qatar…………..”
“The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received a telephone call today from Egyptian President Abdulfattah Al-Sisi. During the conversation, they reviewed bilateral relations between the two sisterly countries as well as the developments of situations at the regional and international arenas. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques confirmed to the President the stand of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by the side of the government and people of Egypt, and that the Kingdom’s position towards Egypt’s stability and security is firm and never changes, adding that the ties binding the two sisterly countries are an example to be followed in the strategic relations and common cause. He also indicated that the relation between the Kingdom and Egypt is beyond any attempt to disrupt the distinguished and firm relations between them……….”
These Sisi Tapes have gone viral on Arab social media, even as most controlled Gulf GCC and Egyptian media ignore them. Al-Jazeera, being a Qatari network, was quick to publicize and publish the tapes. Among what Generalissimo Al Sisi and his top aides said according to the tapes:
– “these are ‘half-states’, or half-countries”
– “Some of their (GCC) rulers have more money than their countries have”
– “billions to dollars that to them (to the rulers) are like grains of rice, they have so much”.
– “Egypt will ask for payments of $10 billion each from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait”. In addition to deposits at the Egyptian Central Bank.
– “The billions of demanded payments will be deposited in the accounts of the Egyptian army“.
– Sisi said they should be tougher with these countries after “we helped ‘liberate’ them from Iraq”. This is a misconception (actually a lie) that Egyptians keep repeating and now they may believe it. It is true what Sisi and aides mentioned about Syria: that the Syrians who also sent a symbolic brigade were more aggressive in asking for money in 1991. They certainly were. I will have more on this later.
Egyptian official daily Al Ahram quotes a Kuwait newspaper that Generalisimo Field Marshal El Presidente Al Sisi met in Cairo with a delegation of businessmen and “thinkers” from Kuwait. Now I know we have some “thinkers” back home, but I never knew we had dedicated full-time, 24/7 thinkers who did nothing but think. And what better topic to think of than the greatness of Generalisimo Field Marshal El Presidente Al Sisi? Mr. A. Al Babtain, a big businessman and president of Al Babtain Institute for “Creativity”, of course led the delegation of businessmen and, er, full-time “thinkers” who like to tag along with businessmen on travels to visit Al Sisi in Egypt. He, Al the businessman, reportedly did not surprise Generalisimo Field Marshal El Presidente Al Sisi by telling him that the great trust the Egyptian people have shown Generalisimo Field Marshal El Presidente Al Sisi extends to the whole wide wonderful Arab world (although it may not sell in Peoria). That he is universally admired and loved, even if he can’t sing worth a lick. No opinion polls needed, no free and fair elections necessary. In the spirit of meeting these “thinkers”, Al Sisi must also be thinking something like: “Wow, being president is neat. How else could I get to meet full-time 24/7 Gulf ‘thinkers’ and oligarchs in one meeting“. Odd, though this Insitute of Creativity. I had thought “thinkers” only thought and never created anything besides thoughts (and maybe a couple of mundane regular everyday things that I should not mention here).
“Bahrain witnessed mass pro-democracy protests against the royal family of King Hamad Al-Khalifa in February 2011 before authorities, backed by neighboring countries, crushed the uprising. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors sent troops into Bahrain in March, reinforcing a crackdown that led to accusations of serious human rights violations…………….” The Bahrain uprising of 2011-14 and its suppression continue to create tensions among the GCC countries and around the Gulf region. Initially, only the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and to a lesser extent Qatar joined the Saudis in sending forces to crush the uprising in 2011. Kuwait, given her own recent experience of foreign invasion and occupation, declined that invitation. That has created a certain amount of tension between certain elements within the two countries.
A certain section of the population in Kuwait, mainly but not exclusively the Shi’as, sympathized with the Bahrain uprising, but the so-called main opposition forces sided firmly with the regime and with the Saudi intervention. By the end of 2011 support for regime or opposition in both Bahrain and Syria were firmly largely based on sectarian factors. This is probably not so surprising, given the strong tribal and Wahhabi and sectarian factors at work.
Now a Shi’a member of the Kuwait parliament has drawn the ire of the Bahrain authorities for making critical statements on the social media. The same assembly member was also reported to support the Syrian Al Assad regime even before the Wahhabis took over the Syrian opposition. Which makes him also somewhat hypocritical. He sparred briefly on Twitter with the corpulent foreign minister of Bahrain (another of the Al Khalifa), and this has displeased the Bahrain potentates. So they reportedly complained to the local authorities about this parliamentarian. The local authorities are making the right polite noises about respecting the brotherly and sisterly and neighborly state and by implication its brotherly and sisterly and neighborly little potentates.
So far, so good. Kuwait is one rare Gulf state were political debate and controversy have been usually a guaranteed part of public life since before independence. So far without much sisterly or brotherly or neighborly interference. But another interesting factor has been the position of the Kuwaiti ‘opposition’. What I would call the tribal Islamist Wahhabi-liberal opposition, because these three strains dominate and lead it. They have been noisily demanding more rights of free speech in front of the world media, right?No, not so fast. Many of their more prominent members have always supported the repression in Bahrain and the absolute Saudi oligarchy. Now they have sprung again on social media to demand that the government crack down on those who criticize these foreign governments. (Some but not all of their influential members are also sympathizers and supporters of such humanitarian groups as Al-Nusra and ISIS and other assorted cutthroats in Iraq and Syria. But that is another issue).
Cheeky monkeys: they want the same government that they complain is stifling their own right of dissent to ban criticism of foreign governments, albeit sisterly and brotherly and neighborly governments. Can it be the tribal factor? Can it be the Wahhabi factor? Can it be the sectarian factor? Can it be all of the above? Yes, it can………….
It could be hypocrisy and chutzpah, probably on both sides, rolled in one joint and smoked with regional prejudice………. Cheers
“Kuwaiti lawmakers have announced proposals to withdraw passports from any Kuwaiti citizen who harms their country’s reputation abroad. According to Gulf News, Nabeel Al Fadhel, member of the parliament said “We would like also the health minister to suspend the right for treatment trips abroad for any patients or their relatives who misbehaves abroad. The situation has gone beyond the point of resentment among Europeans who are now calling for the expulsion of all Arabs.” MP Abdul Hameed Dashti said he would call for a debate on the issue of Kuwaiti acts abroad that affect their country’s reputation………….”
Pretty dumb, if this is taken seriously, but what should we expect? Actually perhaps getting dumber if they take this proposal seriously and act upon it. Still, probably not as dumb as when the tribal and Islamist Wahhabi opposition controlled it in 2012, and voted to convert the country into a Wahhabi theocracy, but the Emir used his veto power to block them.
August 6, 2014: “The U.S. Department of the Treasury today imposed sanctions on three key terrorist financiers under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. Two of the individuals designated today, Shafi Sultan Mohammed al-Ajmi and Hajjaj Fahd Hajjaj Muhammad Sahib al-‘Ajmi, are Kuwait-based and support the Syria-based, al-Qaida-linked terrorist organization Al Nusrah Front (ANF); one individual, ‘Abd al-Rahman Khalaf ‘Ubayd Juday’ al-‘Anizi, is a financier and facilitator of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), previously known as al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI). Each has been designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT). ANF and ISIL continue to receive donations from private citizens located predominantly in the Arabian Peninsula to fund their operations. Today’s actions target individuals who play key roles in the external financing and facilitation of terrorists in Syria and Iraq, including particularly dangerous foreign fighters……… said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen……………”
June 13, 2008: “The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated the Kuwait-based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS) for providing financial and material support to al Qaida and al Qaida affiliates, including Lashkar e-Tayyiba, Jemaah Islamiyah, and Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya. RIHS has also provided financial support for acts of terrorism. The RIHS offices in Afghanistan (RIHS-Afghanistan) and Pakistan (RIHS-Pakistan) were designated by the U.S. Government and the United Nations 1267 Committee in January 2002 based on evidence of their support for al Qaida. At that time, there was no evidence that the Kuwait-based RIHS headquarters (RIHS-HQ) knew that RIHS-Afghanistan and RIHS-Pakistan were financing al Qaida………………”
In other words: not only funding and encouraging sectarian takfiri volunteers to massacre civilian citizens of Iraq (and Syria and Lebanon), but also ally with remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Baath henchmen.
One overlooked detail of the recent noise about ISIS (or is it ISIL) and its threat to all of Iraq has been overlooked. The new black map of their proposed Wahhabi Caliphate ominously includes Kuwait. Kuwait, as everyone knows (well as many know) was occupied by the Baathist Iraqi regime in 1990-991, and declared the 19th province. Until American forces and some other Western allies liberated it during what is officially called the Persian Gulf War.
There have been hints, repeated in Arab media, that the ISIS (or ISIL) now may include former Baathist generals from the old Iraqi Army, the one that refused to defend Baghdad in 2003.
As I noted in my last posting (Part 1) the Kuwaiti opposition has long avoided dealing with its
main problem: it is only a partial opposition. So far it has failed to move away from its tribal and Islamist genesis (no pun intended). It has failed to convince
large identifiable and distinct segments of society to join it.It needs to clean house to become a truly broad representative national movement. Its leaders also face several problems of their own making and not related to regime policies:
They are heavily lead by tribal and Islamist men whose electoral success is based mainly on a couple of large tribes. That is how most of them win elections: cross-tribal voting is rare. The shift last year to “one-man-one-vote” reduced that effect.
They are an extremely reactionary group, which is natural given the tribal, sectarian, and Islamist hue of the bloc. When they gained a majority in the Assembly in 2012 some of their members immediately joined the Saudi Mufti in calling for the destruction of all churches in the Gulf GCC states. They all prepared and voted for and passed a blasphemy law: to make “blasphemy” punishable by death. Presumably “blasphemy” according to the definition of the Wahhabi Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood who control the ‘movement’ (it was fortunately vetoed by the Emir).
They have consistently shown a strong aversion to criticizing the (much) more repressive Saudi and Bahrain regimes. They are against those who would call for the same thing they want for Kuwait: accountability and elected governments in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. That is partly sectarian and partly related to tribal (and possibly some business) connections across the border. They strongly supported the Saudi quasi-invasion of Bahrain to crush the popular uprising.
Many of their tribal and Islamist leaders are heavily and proactively sectarian. Their Salafi (and some Muslim Brother) members, a dominant majority of the bloc, called in 2012 when they controlled the Assembly for restrictions of worship on the country’s Shi’a Muslims. That call specifically included stationing government spies inside all Shi’a religious services (no sense of irony here).
Their leadership seems fixated on the former prime minister, who has been out of office for two years. However, the alleged documents (partly) shown at last night’s gathering concerned transactions purportedly by the former prime minister. It comes across almost like a personal vendetta between the some of the opposition leaders and the ex-PM.
The Kuwait opposition has long managed to avoid and evade its main problem: it is only a partial opposition. It has failed to convince large identifiable segments of society to join it. I will list some of its failures in the next posting (Part 2).
The (partial) opposition had seemed to be basically fading away for a few months now, until last night. They had a big public protest, a contained gathering, with chairs provided for the VIPs while everybody else had to sit on the ground or stand up (considered by some undignified and too plebeian back home, especially for the elites, be they regime elites or opposition elites).
The organizers initially estimated more than 20 thousand would attend, which probably means they had about 8 thousand. But that’s okay: it was a hot night in June and many of the politically-inclined on both sides had decamped for European vacations. (Some used to call these elite types of both sides members of the velvet society, based on their lifestyles and, er, financial resources and how much access they had to nepotism).
One of the leaders of the opposition at the gathering, former MP Mr. Musallam Al Barrak, presented a bunch of heavily redacted documents he claimed show huge amounts of money of public funds transferred by the “elites” of the regime to their own and their children’s foreign bank accounts. Oddly, and shockingly, he claimed that some of the money was transferred into an Israeli bank in Israel with close ties to the Likud, and that these officials also donated funds to the Likud Party of Benyamin Netanyahu. He did not name names, presumably for “legal” reasons, but some names were published on another website. All this needs to be verified of course: I could not accept them at face value so I will reserve my judgment for now. He did show some slides that he claimed prove the alleged financial transactions, but these were partial and heavily redacted documents and need to be verified by experts. Their sources also need to be verified, a thorny point. And there had been much redaction and photocopying: only the committed would jump at them accept them at face value.
Now this is not new: no doubt corruption is widespread. Corruption and petroleum go together. In the 1980s and early 1990s, even while Kuwait was under Iraqi occupation, there were cases of huge embezzlement of public money by very high officials and their minions. Some escaped abroad to spend the fruits of their treachery, a couple went to prison. The alleged big man of the scandal was not touched. Oddly a couple of the leading figures of the opposition worked for years for a media empire presumably built from the embezzled public money, all allegedly of course. Go figure……….
The Kuwaiti opposition needs to clean house to become a truly broad representative national movement. I will cover some self-inflected issues that the opposition faces in Part 2 in my next post.
Kuwait News Agency reports from an assembly member who is head of the Committee for Negative Phenomena (لجنة الظواهر السلبية) that they discussed and approved a proposal to ban ‘nudity’ in all swimming pools and in hotel lobbies and hallways. The committee also approved a proposal to establish a ‘center’ for Foreign Negative Phenomena in Kuwait just of the kind they have in other Gulf GCC states
I did not know that we had people running around naked in hotel lobbies back home. I had never seen one naked person, male or female, in a hotel lobby. Not back home on the Gulf anyway. But then again, ‘naked’ is in the eye of the beholder: it depends on what the definition of ‘naked’ is. Showing a woman’s bare toes might excite the imagination of a Wahhabi Salafi and hence be considered a form of nakedness (naked toes?). Showing any part of the face other than the eyes might be considered “nakedness” to some tribal worthies.
Perhaps the Committee could have suggested a new law (or even a constitutional amendment) declaring that we are a fully-dressed society. Which we certainly are, possibly more than we think, but possibly less.
While at it, they might add most of the Assembly members to the list of “negative phenomena”. The way most of them are always elected is absolutely negative: tribal first and sectarian second. Besides the nonsensical stuff many of them propose………..