Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

Ignorant Abroad: is Trump Encouraging a Foolish Prince to Start a Sectarian War in the Persian Gulf?……..

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“Iran is Salman’s top issue. This month, Saudi Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave an interview condemning Iran in extremely harsh sectarian terms. The prince, the king’s favorite son, characterized the Iranian Islamic Republic as being driven by messianic prophecies and determined to dominate the entire Islamic community. He claimed that Iran sought to take control of Mecca from the kingdom. There was no room for dialogue with Tehran, according to his statement. Indeed, the prince promised that the kingdom will fight its war against Iran inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia. He was vague about what that means, but it suggests he supports regime change in Tehran. It was one of the most virulent public attacks on Iran ever by the House of Saud. The royal family is eager for American support against Iran in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. The Saudi leaders face a more skeptical domestic audience. The new Trump administration is widely seen by the public in the Arab world as an enemy of Islam. A poll of Saudis in November showed overwhelming support for Hillary Clinton and only 6% for Trump. There will be no demonstrations against the president in a police state……….” Al Monitor

This past week the Middle East, especially the Persian Gulf region, was pushed closer to a direct sectarian war by a spoiled young Saudi prince. He may have aroused and provoked religious passions that are hard to subdue.

He is the favorite son of Saudi Arabia’s king Salman, also his Defense Minister, Crown Prince to the Crown Prince, and Heir Apparent, among many other royal positions. Not exactly an Arab Kim Jong Un, but: he shocked the Middle East this past week by threatening to wage war on Iran. In effect the Wahhabi prince has threatened to attack Iran, start an unprovoked war. Mainly because the wily Iranians have outsmarted him in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. He is inviting them to outsmart him again, which they might do if history is any guide.

What is worse, the under-educated prince also threw in a scathing sectarian attack on the Shi’a faith itself, mocking it and its followers in general. That includes millions of Arabs and other Muslims. Something Iranian leaders never do to other Muslims or people of any other “major” faith, not even to Wahhabis, at least not in public. He is almost setting the stage for a region-wide sectarian war that he seems to believe Donald Trump will support. A foolish notion: the United States should stay out of it.

This happened soon after his visit with Donald Trump at the White House, which smells fishy to many people in the region. Some independent Arab media claim it is part of a plan hatched in Washington. Iran has only threatened to wage war if attacked or threatened first. Which makes the prince’s threats odd, given that Saudi Arabia can’t even defeat poor under-armed Yemen, even with heavy American and British logistical and intelligence support.

The Iranian strategy has been defensive for almost two centuries. They don’t have access to the sophisticated Western warplanes and the Western support personnel that the Saudis have. But then they did not have access to the fancy weapons Saddam Hussein had when he attacked them in 1980 (with Saudi help), and they won that war. They have been under an American siege of several decades; they still are, regardless of the Nuclear Deal. Their deterrence depends heavily on air defense systems and, very important, on a huge arsenal of home-made advanced missiles that can retaliate by taking the war to the enemy.
That explains their attachment to missiles, not the desire to attack Europe or North America as Netanyahu and some of the Arab potentates and their lobbyists claim to the West.


The Iranian foreign minister (Zarif) answered the Saudi prince’s threat of an aggressive war by talking calmly of a peaceful resolution. But the Iranian defense minister answered with a strong warning that no Saudi city will be safe if they attack Iran. He excluded the holy cities of Mecca and Medinah.

So if the Saudis start an air attack with their expensive American toys, expect all their royal princes and princesses to be huddled in the only safe places in the kingdom: Mecca and Medinah. An enforced terrifying version of the Umrah pilgrimage.


Question is: does anyone around Donald Trump know the kind of sectarian passions this prince has stirred? Does Trump really want to get involved in this new Wahhabi religious war? Does he know what it is all about? Are those around him foolish enough?

Ich weiss nicht…..

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

A Farce is Not a Joke: Saudi Arabia ‘Elected’ to UN Commission on Women…….

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“Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” Hillel Neuer said.


Saudi Arabia was elected to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The addition of the Gulf nation was first flagged by UN Watch, a nongovernmental body that monitors the United Nations. The Commission on the Status of Women’s main mission is to assess the challenges to reaching gender inequality, according to the U.N. website. The organization’s executive director slammed the election, which occurred in a secret vote during the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council. Neuer called the election “absurd,”……..

This is a serious news item, it is not a joke. It is a farce, like everything involving Saudi Arabia and the United Nations and its Human Rights Council. But it is not a joke: done in the dark of the night, in a secret vote, no doubt a Fatwa engineered by a shameless Nikki Haley and the humorous British ambassador to the UN.
It is getting even better: the Misogynous Humorless Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a top U.S. ally, is also on the U.N. Human Rights Council.


Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

America and the Saudis: Current ‘Operations’ in Yemen and Syria to Become the Next Endless War………

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“Yemen is a war inside a war inside another war, right next to & overlapping several other wars”  Me

“The Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda (AQ) is stronger than it has ever been. As the country’s civil war has escalated and become regionalised, its local franchise, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is thriving in an environment of state collapse, growing sectarianism, shifting alliances, security vacuums and a burgeoning war economy. Reversing this trend requires ending the conflict that set it in motion. This means securing an overarching political settlement that has buy-in from the country’s diverse constituencies, including Sunni Islamists. As this will take time, steps must be taken now to contain AQAP’s growth……..” Crisis Group

“The attack (in Aden) struck troops loyal to the airport’s chief of security, who had refused to accept a government order that he be replaced. The incident was yet another sign of the inability of Yemen’s internationally recognized government to enforce order. But it was the first time its allies, the coalition of mostly Gulf Arab states, had intervened militarily in power struggles within the Yemeni armed forces. The Saudi-led coalition has launched thousands of air strikes against the government’s foes, the Iran-allied Houthis, in a campaign to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power. It helped wrest Aden from the Houthis, who control the capital, Sanaa, in the summer of 2015……….” Reuters

During his first week on the job White House spokesman Sean Spicer claimed that Iranian forces had fired missile at the US Navy from Yemen on the Red Sea. An un-truth, since there are no Iranian forces in Yemen: the only foreign forces in Yemen are with the Saudi coalition. Actually the Yemeni Houthis who control the capital and North Yemen had fired a missile (or was it a Yemeni drone that fired) at a Saudi warship that had been shelling their coastal towns. The Saudis claimed it was a suicide attack against one of their ‘peaceful warships’ (you don’t need to read Orwell to speak Orwellian).

This week, on Monday, President Trump had a lunch meeting with the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. He is the king’s son and widely expected future king, if his dad can swing it before he dies. He is also the minister of defense and architecture of the War on Yemen, a quagmire which just entered its third year. The Yemen war has enabled AQAP to expand in spite of American drone attacks. The war also introduced Islamic State (Daesh/ISIS) into Southern Arabia.

It is likely the Prince may have talked Trump into a more vigorous America role in the Saudi war on Yemen. Perhaps a more direct US role, this time not against the Jihadis, but against the coalition ruling most of Yemen. Which would be an act of desperation, since the Saudis have some of the best and most lethal American and British weapons and could not defeat the lightly armed Houthis and their allies ruling Sanaa. It would be just another never-ending Muslim war. Another twilight war.

The announcement indicated the Saudis will invest $ 200 billion in the United States (presumably new money). The prince also is quoted as having said that he supports the Muslim Travel Ban and that “Trump is a true friend of Muslims“. Such shameless groveling may indicate they got something from Trump: perhaps a promise to inch closer to the Mother of All Muslim Wars, a war of choice against Iran. That should be a doozy: it will certainly last through Trump’s tenure and will define his so-far unpromising legacy. The Prince may have gotten promises related to Syria, particularly Eastern Syria, or Iraq or Lebanon: risky promises the inexperienced Trump could have made in the absence of his secretaries of State and Defense.

As for Yemen, it is not “a” war, it  is a complex set of parallel and intersecting wars. I once called it “a war inside a war inside another war, right next to & overlapping several other wars”. Now even the Saudi proxies (mostly Islah Muslim Brotherhood and allies) and the UAE proxies are fighting each other. You get into Yemen, you get involved in all these wars and sub-wars. You can’t pick and choose in such a battlefield.

And you get stuck, losing soldiers and money, a lot of money, just like the Saudis have for more than two years, so far. Like Afghanistan all over again, only a fiercer war.

Back to the promise of $200 billion Saudi investments. I am not sure they can afford this when they are cutting back on their domestic spending. Maybe by moving funds from their sovereign fund that SAMA manages. And can you imagine Donald Trump touting it in, say Tennessee or Alabama, bragging to his Muslim-challenged ‘base’ they he’s gotten Muslims (and Wahhabis at that) to pay out hundreds of billions?

Interesting times coming soon to a war theater far away from you.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

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

 

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

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

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

Arab Royalty: King of Humorless Jordan hits Pay Dirt………

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Saudi Crown Prince to the Crown Prince has been busy. (I would call him Deputy Crown Prince except that he is more powerful than the Crown Prince since his father is the king). It is nice getting a title for just being born, no?
Anyway, this Prince Mohammed Bin Salman visited the King of humorless Jordan last week. Within a couple of days the humorless King Abdullah announced that Jordan was recalling its ambassador from Tehran. There has been no incident between the Iranians and Jordan in recent years, not since King Hussein sided with Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran in 1980 and his invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Which is odd, given that no explanation has been forthcoming. This Jordanian king is normally level-headed.
Which means only one thing: how much did King Abdullah of the humorless Jordanians get from the Saudi family for this unexpected diplomatic move? Did the money go to the country of Jordan or did much of it enter some private bank account of the King of Jordan?
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Saudi Arabia Concedes Defeat in Lebanon, Cuts All Aid……

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Developments in Lebanon are taking an interesting turn. A turn that was perhaps predictable in the past year or two. Saudi Arabia has announced a cessation of all its aid to Lebanon, effectively conceding defeat in its attempt to pry that country towards it. For the time being.

That includes all sorts of aid: especially military and security. This doesn’t mean aid to Saad Hariri or Fouad Saniora or to its other proxies in Lebanon will stop. But  aid to official Lebanese institutions has been stopped. The Saudis said that cut was because of Lebanese behavior which does not help the brotherly (or sisterly) between the two countries. Silly naive me, I had thought all that money for Lebanon was for its just being a brotherly (or maybe sisterly) Arab country.
This has been brewing for weeks, since it became clear that a candidate with the approval of Hezbollah (an ally of Iran and Syria) will become president of Lebanon. This should have been clear for a long time, given that Hezbollah, an Iranian ally, is the largest political party in Lebanon (as well as the most powerful and most effective military force in the country).

Apparently the intervention of Hezbollah (along with Iranian personnel) in the Syrian civil war has not affected its popularity inside Lebanon. That has been a disappointment to the Saudis and their Arab and Western allies, although I could have told them that, but they never asked me.

This may also mean the billions of dollars in agreed Saudi purchases of exclusively French weapons for the Lebanese army are canceled. Someone in Paris should be pissed about this, but perhaps the new export deals with Iran will ease that French pain.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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