“Yet recently enacted anti-terrorism legislation has so far been more enthusiastically directed at a different target: Saudi human-rights activists. On July 6th Waleed Abul Khair, a lawyer and founder of a local rights centre, was sentenced to 15 years in jail and a 15-year travel ban upon his release. According to his wife, who was at his hearing, the judge cited vaguely defined offences such as “distorting the kingdom’s reputation” and “inflaming public opinion”. Mr Abul Khair had defended Raif Badawi, who was sentenced in May to ten years in jail and 1,000 lashes for starting a Facebook page to talk about religion. The two men are the most recent of a string of activists convicted for doing little more than talking and sending messages …………..”
There used to be a famous poster in Europe during World War Two, warning of enemy spies, saying: “loose talk costs lives”. Now all Arab capitals should have posters saying: “Plain talk costs more than freedom”.
Abul Khair was sentenced to 15 years prison, then 15 years banned from leaving the kingdom. Which means he was sentenced to 30 years in prison (the last half of it in a larger prison). That means remaining in the country is considered by the ruling princes a form of punishment. This raises an odd comparison between the Arab past, under foreign colonial rule and the present under local despotic rule.
Under European colonialism, prominent Arab dissidents were usually sentenced to foreign exile. They were forced to leave their countries: Urabi and Zaghloul of Egypt, King of Morocco, others. Now under Arab regimes, things have been switched: the Arab dissidents are punished by being banned from travel. They are being forced to remain in the country, in a sort of internal exile (plus the medieval or biblical flogging with 1,000 lashes).
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
Much has been written and said in the past ten years about the potential for splitting Iraq. The argument is mainly that the sects and ethnic groups cannot reach a deal to remain together peacefully within the British-created borders of Iraq. The Kurds want to split away, they are just waiting for when the moment is right (to quote the famous TV ad). The Sunni southwest region is in many ways more like northern Saudi Arabia than Iraq, at least in a tribal sense. There has also been talk of a split of Syria into Alawi, Sunni, and Wahhabi parts (perhaps a Kurdish one as well). We can extend that to some other Arab states; why only Syria and Iraq and Sudan (as happened a couple of years ago) or Somalia (which is bound to happen)? Let us explore a few other cases:
- Saudi Arabia: King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud invaded and annexed several regions to his own Nejdi kingdom in the 20th century. His kingdom can now be divided into three states. The Nejd area will form a Wahhabistan which will keep the current name of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (if they don’t like Wahhabistan). The Hijaz will form another state where they all speak the same dialect of Arabic and say things like ‘ya shaikh’ and ‘ikhtishi’ and ‘koweyiss’ (meaning ‘good’). The smallest state will be along the coast of the Persian-American Gulf, where most of the Shi’as live. The southern part will join the next state on my list in northern Yemen.
- Yemen: the northern most part of Yemen will annex the southern regions that had been usurped by Saudi King Abdulaziz in 1930s. It will be renamed Huthistan. The central part, the rest of the old Yemen will become “Yemen”. Southern Yemen which lost its independence in 1990 to become part of Yemen will regain its freedom and will be renamed the People’s Democratic Republic of
Yemen Southern Arabia.
- Bahrain: Shi’as and some others have been in protest mode for more than three years, seeking equality in politics and economics. The Al Khalifa rulers and their tribal and Salafi allies are determined to deny them that right. So why not divide Bahrain into two mini parts: Manama and Muharraq to become one country (perhaps forming one new Saudi province), and the rest, including the neglected villages and townships could become another state of its own. This Shi’a part could be called the Rafidhi State and join the GCC as such. Or maybe it can join the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as the eighth emirate. Okay, maybe I will send a text message to the shaikh, sorry king, suggesting it (with a copy forwarded to the Saudi king since it will be his decision to make).
- Libya: is already divided into at least two parts: let us keep it that way.
- Morocco: no change, except that the king will have to give up the Sahrawi region.
- Egypt: Egypt has had nearly the same borders for thousands of years, the only Arab country to have this distinction. There are no major tribes or tribal divisions, although there are now deep religious divisions. So Egypt will probably remain the same: bored to death under a boring military ruler presiding over the same old bureaucracy, but united. The Sinai will remain a wild violent outpost and the south a place of violent clashes among the clans over women and cattle and religion.
- UAE: the Abu Dhabi shaikhs have got the rest of them by the balls. Only Dubai is rich enough to draw the line.
- Qatar: maybe it will join Turkey as a new Ottoman outpost.
(The Arab League will them change from a league or 20 some despots to a League of Forty Thieves. And I am almost serious about this, almost).
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
“Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has tapped the former deputy defense minister to lead the kingdom’s intelligence services and revitalized the political career of a former spy chief and longtime ambassador to the United States by naming him to a new senior advisory post. The moves come as the world’s largest oil exporter watches the rapid military gains made by al-Qaida-inspired militants in neighboring Iraq with growing concern. The king named Prince Khalid bin Bandar to the post of chief of general intelligence in a decree Monday, the official Saudi Press Agency reported. Khalid was relieved of his post as deputy defense minister on Saturday, barely six weeks after he was appointed. Khalid was previously the governor of the Riyadh region, an important post he assumed in February 2013 that involves overseeing the capital and provides opportunities for direct contact with top officials and visiting dignitaries. He is the son of Prince Bandar, one of the eldest surviving sons of King Abdulaziz……………”
The Saudi government used to be considered one of the most stable in the Arab world. Not anymore: it has become quite unstable in the past two years. The instability among the top royal officials is partly related to the continuous death of the elderly princes (and kings). The kingdom has had three crown princes in about as many years. This also partly reflects a jockeying for position among the rival branches of the Al Saud family (eventually at some point in the future they will be called thighs and bellies and whatever).
The current King Abdullah, possibly on his last leg, has been moving his relatives, nephews, even brothers about like so many pawns on a chess board, (but perhaps more dispensable). The Chief of Intelligence position especially has been moved around a lot, and within short periods. The troublesome Prince Bandar has also been moved around a lot, a reflection of their belief that he might be useful somewhere, in spite of his past failures in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. Prince Turki is now also used as a kind of unofficial roving ambassador to send out ‘harder’ messages from the Al Saud family to the outside world. Messages about their positions regarding Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Israel. The quick return of Egypt to the Saudi sphere has been the one singular success in the past year.
Many believe that King Abdullah is positioning things and personalities in order to enhance the chances of his son Met’eb of becoming a future king. Met’eb is reported to be in intense rivalry for the prize with Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, who inherited the Interior Ministry which was the private fiefdom of his late father. No doubt crown prince Salman is also pushing for his own side of the family, but his is perceived as the weaker side.
These internal Al Saud moves are making an interesting game to watch. An interesting subplot of the unfolding Arab history of this decade.
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum