Tag Archives: UAE

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

Arabian Wars, American Folly: Summer 1990, Summer 2017……

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This Saudi, UAE, and now Trump frenzy and ratcheting up attacks on Qatar reminds me of Saddam Hussein and Kuwait in the summer of 1990. How he escalated his threats against his little neighbor, miscalculated the American reaction, and started an invasion and another foolish war.

Donald Trump is now openly giving the Saudi/UAE potentates the green light in the Persian Gulf. But suppose Trump’s new Arab allies (the ones he hated and despised before last January) screw up as I expect? As they have done in Yemen? I mean they could not even subdue a few tribes in Yemen. Suppose they get stuck in another classic quagmire?

Trump has been tweeting today in support of the Saudi-Emirati position. All based on what two princes in Saudi Aabia and the UAE had told him last month (according to him)!
No doubt Qatar has supported some Syrian Jihadis with money, but so have the Saudis and others in the Persian Gulf states. So has Turkey. So why focus on Qatar now? Is it pressure from Saudi-UAE funded lobbyists and Think Tanks in Washington? It can well be.
Will Donald Trump then send American fighting boys and girls to pull their royal nuts out of the fire?

In the end the United States is thousands of miles away, it is an interloper. The countries on the Gulf belong there, it is their native region. The USA can defend its allies and whatever interests it has in the region, but it cannot establish its own hegemony on the Persian Gulf. That would be a pipe dream. The era of old gunboat imperialism is (probably) over.

(Interestingly Kuwait, the old victim of Saddam Hussein’s media attack and brutal invasion, is trying to mediate this new crisis between Qatar and her larger neighbors).

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

UAE-Saudi Game of Bases: from South Arabia to Horn of Africa with Temporary Love and Money….

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“Somali President Mohammed Mohammed Abdullahi Farmajo request for mediation Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to persuade not to complete the establishment of a military base in “Somaliland”……..”

“Somaliland signs agreement allowing the United Arab Emirates to set up a military base in Berbera with a 25-year lease…”

An interesting and unexpected development in the Middle East in recent months. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is getting deeply into the business of foreign military bases. In one sense it has been in it for many years now. From early on, the UAE has had military bases on its territory for various counties: the United States, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, as well as Canada (canceled after a commercial dispute). All the while vigorously criticizing foreign (non-Western) bases in Iraq and Syria. Not bad for a country of a little more than 1 million citizens (plus about 6 million foreign residents).

Now the UAE, ostensibly a part-time and wary ally of Saudi Arabia, is getting into the dubious business of establishing foreign bases of its own. Basically the UAE are (for now) the strongest foreign power in the Aden area of South Yemen, having easily outsmarted and elbowed out the Saudi Wahhabis. The Saudis are closer allies to the deposed president Hadi and his corrupt old partners in misruling Yemen (the Islah, the local Muslim Brotherhood). The UAE rulers hate nothing more than the Muslim Brotherhood.

The main Saudi problem in Yemen is that they share a long border with that country. They occasionally get tempted to test these borders. Hence their fear of any perceived foreign (non-Western) influence over Yemen, be it real or imagined. The war they have been waging on Yemen for more than two years often comes back to haunt them in the form of Yemeni retaliatory attacks on their border towns and cities. As well as Yemeni rockets, reportedly local versions of Iranian and maybe Russian missiles.The rockets are a new introduction into the war, and the Yemenis in the capital Sanaa have promised more and more potent ones to come if the Saudis do not desist.

So the Saudis are stuck in a destructive but futile genocidal bombing campaign (with strong and indispensable American and British help), as well as a worrying border war. They are cornered, while the Emiratis expand their influence in South Yemen and now in the Horn of Africa. The Emiratis can better afford it than the Saudis who need to support and subsidize about 16 million citizens (there are also about 10 million foreign residents, a few million of them reportedly illegal).

To the Horn of Africa. That area seems like a favorite place for many powers to establish military bases in recent years. The Russians (Soviets) had a large base at Berbera for years under the Marxist Siad Barre military regime of Somalia. Eritrea and Djibouti have both had bases or presences of the French, Israelis, Iranians and others (including the famous pirates). Natural for an impoverished region. Now the UAE is establishing bases in Somaliland, formerly part of Somalia, which apparently still considers it part of its sphere. To the extent that Somalia can have a sphere. There have been earlier reports of a UAE base in Eritrea as well. There have been reports of a potential UAE presence in Libya as well, but that would be a foolish undertaking.

It is not clear what is the purpose of all these foreign bases and presences by a small country like the UAE. Only Oman among GCC states has had an extensive foreign presence until the 19th century, mainly in East Africa (including Zanzibar).

Oddly the Saudis don’t seem interested in foreign bases, except in Bahrain. But that is a historic cultural thing: Saudis, especially the elite Najdis of Central Arabia, were historically a landlubber people never known as sea-going people, unlike others like the Emirates (or Oman and Kuwait).

There is more. The UAE often splits from the Saudis on Yemen. The two alleged allies support different outlooks for Yemen, but the UAE can afford it financially although they have limited human resources and need local groups as allies. Hence the Hirak Movement which wants South Yemen (capital Aden) to regain the independence it lost in 1990.

My educated guess is that the UAE has the upper hand over the Saudis in that southern part of Yemen. But they need to reckon with three groups that have been strengthened by the destructive Saudi-led air war on Northern Yemen: the Southern Secessionists, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and Islamic State (ISIS). These three groups have gained strength as the Saudis bombed their main enemies in Yemen, the Houthis.

In any case, in the end neither of these Arab allies can last in Yemen. It is already bleeding them, and will kill off many of their soldiers before they realize they have to leave. And they will leave: it has been the story of Yemen since the days of the ancient Persian and Roman empires. The rugged tribal country wears them down, and the aspiring conquerors are forced to give up and leave. A hostile foreign power cannot control Yemen, it has been the case since the days of the rule of Balqis, the Queen of Sheba.

More on this later, stay tuned.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Islamic Mercenaries of the Persian Gulf: Have Quran, Will Travel………

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This is not a new phenomenon on the Persian Gulf: religious sheikhs (clerics) for hire.

Often they come from Egypt, Jordan, North Africa and other Arab countries/regions. They usually attach themselves to one or another among the ruling absolute oligarchies, of the Gulf, especially in the UAE or Qatar. Attracted by money and opportunity, they start issuing statements or Fatwas in favor of their benefactors and against others who displease these benefactors. They are absolutely mercenaries: clerics for hire. No different from the armed foreign mercenaries that some Gulf regimes hire to do their repression or wage their regional wars.

Here is a man with the impressive-sounding title of Deputy President of the International Union of Muslim Clerics, basically a clerical bureaucracy for hire. He is here accusing another cleric-for-hire, the Religious Adviser, whatever that be, of the top man in the UAE, Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ), of being among “devil worshipers”. He also called him a religious traveling salesman. MBZ and the UAE are among the strongest anti-Muslim Brotherhood in the whole Middle East. This is a sore point of contention with their Saudi “allies” in the stalling war on Yemen.
Of course all this name-calling is a case of one soot-covered pot calling another pot ‘black’.


The Persian Gulf GCC states are full of these hired expatriate clerics, like Al Qaradawi (in Qatar) and others, basically mercenaries, religious guns for hire. Often they are either Muslim Brothers who have found the joys of oil money (in Qatar) or others hired by the UAE potentates to blast the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamic gunslingers and mud-slingers.

All these people do their own interpretation of the Quran or Hadith to serve their masters. They are almost as bad as the Salafis, almost.
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

UAE: Ministry of Tolerance, Ministry of Happiness, Ganja, Ganja, Ganja……

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“New post of Minister of State for Tolerance created to establish tolerance as a fundamental value of the UAE society. A board of Emirati scientists, researchers and academics set up to provide scientific advice and knowledge to the government. The Ministry of Cabinet Affairs has been tasked with devising future strategies and will become the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future. New post of Minister of State for Happiness created to channel policies and plans to create a happier society…………”

Good and in fact cute idea to start with. But will this happiness idea include the overwhelming majority of the people in UAE (about 90%) who are citizens of South Asia, Philippines, Nepal, among other places?
All I can say about the “happiness” bit is that Timothy Leary is dead, but still: Ganja, Ganja, Ganja……

P.S.: now the Saudis feel under pressure to try and match this. They can probably appoint their first female minister: Ministeress of Beheading and Flogging and Crucifixion. As for a ministry of Tolerance, it might work in diverse UAE, but as for Saudi Arabia: forget about it. Tolerance is a truly dirty, and often dangerous, word in Riyadh: it can get one beheaded. The clerics say so.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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View from the UAE: Obama the Shi’a and the Jewish Nuclear Deal………

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Our Middle East region has truly gone crazy, sectarian crazy. That is especially true of the Persian Gulf region, which has gone apeshit (forgive mon français) sectarian. I mean people of all sects have gone sectarian, be they Sunni, Shi’a, Wahhabi, Sufi, or Haredim.

A comment on Twitter by Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan, the chief of the Dubai Police and a high United Arab Emirates -UAE- official with many followers attracted my attention. He is often clownish, in his deeply sectarian and primitive tribal way. As sectarian and divisive as any full-blooded Wahhabi across the Buraimi Oasis. As sectarian as someone from, say, ISIS or DAESH, can be. He is a serious man: all the nonsense he tweets he does quite seriously and he believes it all. That could be dangerous, but he has potentates above who make the real decisions. He claimed in his tweet, quite seriously, that:
“Obama, whose origins are Shi’a, was elected to move America and Iran closer, especially on the nuclear issue, and he has succeeded”.

He also tweeted that
Jan 18 Dubai, United Arab Emirates

في علم طبائع البشر يدرس الإنسان كيفية درء الخطر وهذا ما فعله بني صهيون في دراسة طبع الإيرانيين. أتوا لهم بشخص جذره شيعي كيني برافو .
“Bani Sahion (Children of Zion), meaning Jews, elevated a Kenyan Shi’a (Obama) to serve their purposes…”

Khalfan did not mention if Obama was born in Kenya or Hawaii to Shi’a parents, so he is not a birther. Just a quasi-Wahhabi nut job that only our Gulf region can produce. Nor did he mention if Mr. Amano, chief of IAEA is also an East Asian Shi’a.

The odd thing, or maybe not so odd, is that many people, including some quite educated people in the Gulf region (and Arabian Peninsula) believe such nonsense. They are beginning to see Shi’as under every bed, so to speak.

On the other hand, who knows: maybe he has a point, maybe it is all true………

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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Yemen: a Genocidal War of Clashing Foreign Mercenaries…….

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Some Gulf states have hit on a new ingenious technique to compete with more powerful neighbors like Iran, Turkey, and Israel. They have sought to expand their sphere of influence through a combination of financial inducements and the hiring of foreign mercenaries to act like national armies. All of it allegedly hush-hush, but not enough hush-hush on the Gulf. State secrets on the Persian Gulf last about as long as they would in a cathouse (a k a a brothel for the, er, uninitiated). But that is okay: everybody is involved in Arab civil wars these days, from Russians to Americans and Iranians and Turks and Lebanese and Chechens and Euros. Among others.

The United Arab Emirates, UAE, with a small native population of nearly a million have been actively hiring foreign mercenaries. They have been especially hiring Colombian fighters, so many officers at high pay, creating a shortage in the Colombian military. Some reports have also come out of Mexicans. As early as the Arab Uprisings of 2011, Abu Dhabi formed a mercenary brigade organized by former Blackwater executives, and composed of Latin Americans, Australians and white South Africans, among others.

The Saudi population is about one third temporary foreign laborers (housemaids, drivers, etc). The native population is not interested in fighting a foreign war or any war, except for the many who volunteer with terrorist Wahhabi groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS.  So the princes have sought a different kind of mercenary force. They have bought off the dictator of Sudan, the convicted war criminal General Omar Al Bashir. He has rented off thousands of his forces to the Saudis in their war on Yemen. There is the possibility of Mauritanian and other African mercenaries, including Djibouti (both members of the Arab League). Jordanian mercenaries are almost certainly involved as well, as they almost always are in these cases (in Bahrain, as one example). Pakistan, which has about 35+ million Shi’as, has declined for its army to be hired off, and Egypt has been stonewalling.

The deposed Yemeni regime of General Hadi (Al Zombie) has been allied with the corrupt Islah (mainly Muslim Brotherhood) group. Now the Saudis are moving closer to the MB with whom they had good relations in past decades that had soured, while the UAE rulers see the MB as Enemy Number One. Hence a divergence of opinion and policy among allies in the quagmire that is Yemen.

Both countries have been bombing Yemeni cities for months, essentially committing genocide, with logistical and targeting help from the United States government and possibly other Western powers. Reports indicate that the UAE is moving away from the Saudis, especially in Yemen which lies almost between the two countries. The Abu Dhabi potentates are reportedly sending their own mercenaries to southern Yemen. They are also inviting former South Yemen (PDRY) Marxist leaders to the UAE for consultation. Since the Emirati sheikhs are unlikely to have gone Marxist, I assume they are making some other deal.

So, the real war is not between just two Yemeni sides. It is between the Saudis and Emiratis and Qataris and Colombians and Americans and Mexicans and Sudanese and Jordanians and Al Qaeda (AQAP) and ISIS and Hirak secessionists and aging Aden Marxists. Meanwhile the genocidal air war by the bought and hired Arab and African alliance is pushing Yemen back about sixty or so years.

Stay tuned………

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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Laughingstock of MENA? Oligarchs Hijack the Anger of Arab Youth, LOL…….

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A lot of conferences and symposiums and fora are held in the Gulf region. All allegedly representing the whole Arab world, from the Gulf to the Atlas Mountains. Another one was held recently in Dubai which seemed to trend toward pinning the blame for Arab problems on anybody but those responsible: the Arab establishment.

Just why are the Arabs angry? And how angry are the “young Arabs” at being “a laughingstock” according to Roger Cohen and Amr Moussa? And do the masses of Arab youths from Iraq to Morocco really give a hoot about the preferences and prejudices of unelected Gulf oligarchs? 

And who best expresses the anger of Arab “youth” according to most Western media types and pundits?
Why, it is first of all Amr Moussa, former Egyptian foreign minister then secretary general of the Arab League under Hosni Mubarak. Who else can express revolutionary anger but an octogenarian man of the establishment? Then after that who else but the absolute Saudi princes, then the absolute oligarchs of the UAE and Bahrain and Qatar.

And why are the Arab youth allegedly supposedly perhaps so angry that Persian Iran has influence in the Persian Gulf, but they are not angry that Britain, France, Monaco, and Colombian mercenaries are building bases in the same Persian Gulf faster than petro-money can finance them? And why are these “youths of the whole Arab world” allegedly represented by a handful of foreign absolute kings, princes, potentates, and their paid media minions?

And why are Arab youths, according to Amr Moussa and others, not angry at their rulers instead of being angry at foreigners who take advantage of meddling opportunities created by the rulers? Shouldn’t they be angry, as they used to be in past decades, at their rulers for enabling foreigners (Iranians, Turks, Israelis, Westerners) to wield influence?

All this puzzling “stuff” I gleaned from the recent article by Roger Cohen in the New York Times.  Written in the warm afterglow of a well-fed six-star conference in the United Arab Emirates. While the Yemenis next door got bombed and starved by the same brotherly and sisterly Arab oligarchs.          

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter
m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

From UAE to NYPD with Love and WTF………

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“The New York City Police Foundation received a $1 million donation from the government of the United Arab Emirates, according to 2012 tax records, the same amount the foundation transferred to the NYPD Intelligence Division’s International Liaison Program that year, according to documents obtained by The Intercept. A 2012 Schedule A document filed by the New York City Police Foundation showed a list of its largest donors, which included several major financial institutions such as JPMorgan Chase and Barclays Capital — but also a line item for the “Embassy of the United Arab Emirates.”………. Conspicuously, while the financial institutions are listed as donors on the Police Foundation website, the UAE is absent…………..’

Interesting: clearly now the UAE diplomats “can breathe” at will in the Big Apple. This deserves a resounding WTF………..

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter
m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com