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Ed Webb

Will MBS Bankrupt Saudi Arabia? - Middle East News - Haaretz.com - 0 views

  • five years in and with little progress in sight, cracks are appearing in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s flagship project to diversify the oil-driven Saudi economy. Neom’s former employees raised concerns that bringing the giga-project out of the realm of science fiction might never happen. Architecture experts have called it “insane.” Sources inside the royal circle no longer shy away from lashing out at MBS’ ever-changing ideas, “mood swings,” “terrible tempers” and fear-based leadership.
  • “The general concern is this will turn out like for the Shah of Iran, developing schemes that become incredibly detached from reality and no one will tell him to refocus,” a source familiar with the dynamics of Saudi Arabia’s royal family told me, on condition of anonymity
  • the risk of the Crown Prince ending up in an echo chamber cemented by yes-men. Power consolidation under MBS is unprecedented in Saudi Arabia’s recent history, moving the kingdom’s system from “one of consensus within the family to one-man rule.”
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  • Leaks reveal insiders’ growing uneasiness, which points to the elephant-in-the-room question: Will MBS’ grandiose venture bankrupt the kingdom?
  • Saudi private investors will also be encouraged to pitch in during a potential public listing of Neom in 2024. That raises questions about how consensual this private investment will be. Indeed, Saudi Arabia reportedly “bullied” several of the kingdom’s wealthiest families to become cornerstone investors out of “patriotic duty” in the IPO of Saudi energy firm Aramco in 2019.
  • a large chunk of Saudi money carefully set aside for decades to fund the transition to a post-oil era will pay for Neom's astronomical price tag. A bet on an unproven vision
  • “Infrastructure spending is like doing lines of cocaine; you have to do bigger and bigger and bigger lines just to feel high,”
  • Neom’s initial burst of economic activity, if unsustainable at a similar pace, would simply be "stealing" future economic benefits to create an illusion of growth right now
  • perhaps the motive is not sustainable growth at all, but creating what Pettis calls a "pyramid effect." This would be an attempt to copy monarchs of ancient Egypt who redistributed wealth to the population through jobs – paid laborers built Egyptian pyramids, not slaves. Although Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth is already redistributed to ordinary Saudis through public-sector jobs and subsidies, a large tranche is retained and stored in its sovereign wealth funds and U.S. Treasuries. In theory, flushing Saudi citizens with cash would stimulate the local non-oil economy. But in practice, the pyramid effect is likely to first and foremost cause economic leakages, as the kingdom imports most of what it consumes locally, including labor, despite the “Saudification” of the labor market being one of Vision 2030’s key priorities. Migrant workers account for about 77 percent of private sector jobs. At Neom, highly paid Western consultants are toiling to match MBS’ demands, and Asian low-income workers are building it, remitting Saudi money home.
  • Riyadh sweetened the project’s launch party with a flurry of social reforms, such as lifting the ban on women driving. (Saudi Arabia was the last country in the world to lift this kind of ban, and it didn’t do so as a principled stand on behalf of women’s rights.) The idea was not only creating a buzz among investors and the global public, but whipping up aspirational momentum among Saudis.
  • 60 skyscrapers that were built in Riyadh’s financial center are still standing largely empty.
  • MBS, high on his visionary self-branding and his concentration of power, may have to pay the costs of bankruptcy – whether by admitting full responsibility or via a renewed deployment of decidedly imperious and despotic tactics to crush dissent. The latter path is, of course, what the late Shah of Iran chose, with notorious results.
Ed Webb

Agriculture in Europe to decline as Asian output grows: UN, OECD - 0 views

  • Agricultural production in Western Europe is set to decline over the coming decade, with output in Africa and Asia expected to increase, the OECD and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said
  • Middle East meanwhile faces a rising threat of food insecurity, the report said, as conflict, climate change and poor policy all have the effect of keeping the region overly reliant on imports
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, crop production is set to expand by 30 percent, with meat and dairy both set to grow by 25 percent
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  • the region's food security is set to remain dependent on global markets, because "domestic production capacity will remain insufficient to meet the region's growing consumption needs"
  • The Middle East, which is mired in conflict and political unrest, has a "high and growing dependence" on imports for key food products, the report said, leaving the region in a state of increasing food insecurity.Arable land and water are growing more scarce in the region, both because of climate change pushing temperatures up, and as a result of poor agricultural policy from governments."It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the water issue in the Middle East and North Africa region," the report said."Along with conflict, it is the most profound man-made threat to the region's future,"
Ed Webb

The Reverse Midas Touch of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Is Turning the Middle East to Dust - 0 views

  • Can you get more “impulsive” than rounding up 11 fellow princes, including one of the world’s richest men and the commander of the national guard, and holding them at the Ritz Carlton on charges of corruption? Especially since MBS, who ordered the arrests only a few hours after his father set up an anti-corruption committee and put him in charge of it, isn’t exactly a paragon of probity and transparency himself
  • That the crown prince of Saudi Arabia can, essentially, kidnap the elected leaders of not one but two Middle Eastern countries — and, incidentally, put the leading Saudi royal he replaced as crown prince under palace arrest — speaks volumes about not just his “impulsive intervention policy” but the shameless pass he gets from Western governments for such rogue behavior. Imagine the reaction from the international community if Iran had, say, detained the Iraqi prime minister on Iranian soil after forcing him to resign on Iranian television. Yet President Donald Trump has gone out of his way to tweet his support for the crown prince and his father: “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing.”
  • The crown prince and his cronies had assumed that tiny, defenseless Qatar would be brought to heel within a matter of weeks, if not days. Five months on, however, the Qataris, continue to reject the long list of Saudi/UAE demands — including the closure of the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera media network — and have retreated into the warm embrace of the MBS’s key regional rivals, Iran and Turkey
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  • Yemen has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis — which MBS, as defense minister, shamefully intensified with his order last week to blockade all entry points into the country
  • the much-lauded MBS has in fact proved to be the reverse Midas — everything he touches turns to dust. Maybe the authors of that scathing BND memo underestimated just how much of a disaster this favored son of Salman would be both for the kingdom and for the wider region. The inconvenient truth about the crown prince is that he isn’t only impulsive, he’s incompetent; he isn’t only ambitious, he’s reckless. He is also a nationalist and a hawk who is bent on turning the long-standing Saudi/Iran cold war into a very hot war — and is even willing to ally with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel in order to do so. If MBS is the new “leader of the Arab world”… then Allah help the Arab world.
Ed Webb

bellingcat - Lord Of The Flies: An Open-Source Investigation Into Saud Al-Qahtani - bel... - 0 views

  • Before tuning in via Skype to oversee the murder and dismemberment of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saud al-Qahtani, a high-level adviser to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was best known for running social media operations for the royal court and serving as MBS’s chief propagandist and enforcer. His portfolio also included hacking and monitoring critics of the Kingdom and MBS.
  • Al-Qahtani registered at least 22 domains since 2009, some of which have been used as command and control servers for malware
  • al-Qahtani’s posts on Hack Forums detail the hacking tools and services he purchased and used and the social media platforms and mobile apps he targeted. By June 2011, less than two years after joining the forum, he estimated that he had 90% of paid and free RATs on the market. Al-Qahtani also paid Hack Forum members to have social media accounts deleted and sought to manufacture engagement activity on major social media platforms, including YouTube and Facebook.
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  • He also posted at least three times while drunk, by his own admission, and opined on topics unrelated to hacking such as the role of religion in politics and policy toward Iran.
  • MBS’s repression machine is alive and well thanks in no small part to the Trump administration’s refusal to hold the Saudi strongman and his regime to account. 
  • Since Khashoggi was murdered last October, the CIA has observed its “duty to warn” on three separate occasions, sharing intelligence to alert dissidents based in the U.S., Canada and Norway to threats originating from Saudi Arabia. 
  • multiple media outlets have cited sources saying that he is still in MBS’s good graces and continuing to work in a similar capacity as before he was officially ousted from the royal court.
  • The best open-source indication to date that al-Qahtani is continuing his hacking work comes from the Guardian, which reported in June 2019, that it was targeted by a Saudi hacking team at the order of al-Qahtani. The newspaper was initially warned of the order by a source in Riyadh earlier this year, and the threat was subsequently corroborated by a confidential internal order signed by al-Qahtani, which the Guardian reviewed. The document, dated March 7, 2019, was written in Arabic and instructed “heads of technological and technical departments” run from the cybersecurity directorate within the private office of the MBS to “carry out the penetration of the servers of the Guardian newspaper and those who worked on the report that was published, and deal with the issue with complete secrecy, then send us all the data as soon as possible.”
  • On June 19, 2019, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings, published a report on Khashoggi’s death, calling it a “premeditated extrajudicial execution” at the hands of the Saudi state. “His killing was the result of elaborate planning involving extensive coordination and significant human and financial resources. It was overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level officials. It was premeditated.”
  • The report specifically names al-Qahtani and MBS as two high-level officials who have not been criminally charged but for whom there is “credible evidence meriting further investigation.” 
  • In addition to the 22 domains analyzed above, this investigation identified several other domains that are likely linked to al-Qahtani but require further research and analysis
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince MBS Is Right Where Trump Wants Him - Bloomberg - 0 views

  • There came a moment during Donald Trump’s April 2 phone call to Mohammed bin Salman when Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, apparently stunned by what the American president had just said, asked his aides to leave the room. No courtiers were present when their master, no slouch at intimidation himself, was apparently bullied into submission.
  • Trump had, in effect, threatened the complete withdrawal of American troops from the kingdom if the Saudis didn’t slash oil production.
  • broad, bipartisan support in Washington for punitive actions against Riyadh
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  • the prince is as close to a pariah as a senior member of the royal family has ever been in the 75 years of the Saudi-American alliance
  • the crown prince must now recognize the limitations of his ill-judged strategy to base relations with the U.S., the kingdom’s indispensable ally, exclusively on the cultivation of the first family. Previous Saudi rulers would have been able to rely on friends in Congress to plead with the White House for leniency. But MBS has few friends in Washington — and the army of lobbyists he maintains there is of limited use in a crisis.
  • MBS’s dependence on Trump — and the White House veto — to override this antagonism made him highly vulnerable to presidential strong-arm tactics.
  • The prince is now in a bind. He desperately needs to rebuild bridges with Congress, but that will be harder now that he has injured U.S. oil interests. Nor can he easily submit to pressure from American lawmakers on other issues without losing face at home and in the Arab world. 
  • The timing of his humiliation by Trump is especially unpropitious: The twin blows of the oil war and the coronavirus pandemic have greatly damaged the Saudi economy and undermined his ambitious reform agenda at home. His cherished plan to build a futuristic megacity on the Red Sea coast is facing unexpected opposition. Much effort and cost will be required to extricate Saudi Arabia from the Yemeni quagmire with a semblance of dignity.
Ed Webb

Trip Report: Meeting the Syrian Opposition in Antakya and Istanbul | Fikra Forum - 0 views

  • Having recently returned from a European Foundation for Democracy sponsored trip to Antakya and Istanbul, during which a European delegation and I met over 100 Syrian opposition figures, a number of important observations come to mind. First, one of my strongest impressions is that things are not what they seem. It is very difficult on the ground to be sure who it is that you are really talking to and what they represent. Second, Turkish officials maintain a striking degree of control over Syrian opposition forces inside Turkey. Third, the Muslim Brotherhood is pervasive not only within the Syrian National Council (SNC), but among many opposition groups – mostly outside Syria. Lastly, there is a striking cynicism and anger among fighters within Syria toward the outside world for not providing enough practical support.
  • Syrians of all backgrounds seem to be free to move between Syria and Turkey with only Turkish permission. The Syrian government now seems to have lost control of its borders in every direction.
  • there is a distinct Turkish preference for some parts of the opposition movement; they favor the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Syrian National Council.
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  • An unfortunate paradox has emerged in which well-meaning and well-connected Syrians are setting up new groups every day, saying, "I am going to unify the opposition."
  • most of these Syrians hold Israel responsible for preventing greater U.S. support. Aside from one exception, this view was nearly unanimous. In spite of, or perhaps because of, this very weird perception about Israel’s power, whenever we asked, “If Israel offered weapons or help, would you take it?” the answer was almost always, “definitely”!
  • they want communications equipment, medical supplies, and anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. They do not want more meetings, political support, training, and declarations
  • We heard over and over that "you are complicit in the slaughter of the Syrian people." It was not that "you are not giving enough support," but "you do not want Assad to fall" and "you want Syrian people to be slaughtered."
  • the Islamists tend to be relatively well organized, well disciplined, and unified, even if they do not represent the majority. This is the case in Syria among the outside opposition, but not on the inside, where the MB still has a limited presence. However, these other groups may not be a match for the discipline and unity of the MB in the political battle as the regime collapses
  • what we heard most was, "Give us anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. We don’t even need your air cover or corridors. Give us the weapons and we will do it ourselves.”
Ed Webb

The Limits of Mohammad bin Salman's Vision - LobeLog - 0 views

  • Americans are being told, by their leading pundits and their government, that the future Saudi king is a bold reformer with his country’s—and the world’s—best interests at heart
  • For every highly publicized reform he’s instituted, like allowing women to drive (a reform that doesn’t actually address the deeper mistreatment of Saudi women), Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) has taken the country in the opposite direction in other ways, like his severe crackdown on free speech and his brutal suppression of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority—to say nothing of the myriad atrocities he’s perpetrated in Yemen
  • economic vision likewise blends flashy elements, like robot citizens and entire new cities, with the introduction of neoliberal austerity measures that will hurt the Saudi people (who are already struggling with high unemployment)
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  • He doesn’t want any competition, any counter-opinions, any criticism. So he’s almost shut down everybody, and he’s moving ahead with his reform. When he arrested intellectuals last September, it was meant to silence everybody. The purge on corruption was planned to make everyone dependent on his mercy. If he succeeds, he will succeed alone. If not, maybe he will include the Saudi people in his reforms. I wish he could do that today, but right now he has all the power and the international community is not pressuring him on human rights.
  • selected reforms aimed at certain purposes, but not necessarily towards developing human capital or investing in people, or women, at large
  • These reforms are not targeting the root causes of restrictions on women, but are selected to portray certain types of reforms that can be promoted in international media
  • He’s raising expectations to riskily high levels. If in two, three, five years nothing significant has really changed for the prospects of individual people looking to get ahead, they may begin to question whether Mohammad bin Salman is really the revolutionary he claims to be. We’ve seen a lot of his supporters here in Washington buying into that revolutionary, Arab Spring-like figure-of-change image, embracing his top-down approach without pausing to think about the extent to which there is a bottom-up counterpart
  • meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday was punctuated by a particularly uncomfortable exchange in which Trump went into detail about the $12.5 billion in new U.S. weapons the prince agreed to buy and then said to the prince, “that’s peanuts for you.” Ulrichsen suggested that the scene would not play well in Saudi Arabia: I think if I were watching yesterday’s press conference with Donald Trump, I would have been quite dismayed to have seen a U.S. president treat his Saudi counterpart as if he were just a source of opportunities for the U.S. Some of the president’s tenor and demeanor was quite remarkable. Khashoggi agreed that Trump’s performance was not helpful for the crown prince: President Trump is wrong when he says that money is “peanuts” to us. Saudi Arabia has a serious poverty problem—money is not “peanuts” to us. To spend billions of dollars on military equipment is a serious thing. Today the Saudi Shura Council is talking about 35 or 40 percent unemployment—the official figure is 12 percent. So as much as Donald Trump is concerned about providing jobs for Americans, Mohammad bin Salman should be concerned about providing jobs for Saudis.
Ed Webb

EXCLUSIVE: Top Saudi intelligence official 'chased' to Canada by MBS | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • Saad al-Jabri, once a trusted top adviser to the crown prince's rival Mohammed bin Nayef, the former interior minister with deep ties to western intelligence agencies, is described by some observers as the most wanted Saudi outside the kingdom.  Jabri fled the kingdom in 2017 just before bin Nayef was put under house arrest and replaced as crown prince by his 31-year-old cousin. His refuge in Canada raises new questions about an unprecedented diplomatic row between Ottawa and Riyadh in the summer of 2018.
  • “Let’s assume that there might be a coup in Saudi,” said a source familiar with the situation who spoke, as did all those briefed on the events, on condition of anonymity. “He’s the biggest threat. He would have the money and power to do something.”
  • even in Canada, the former official continued to be pursued, receiving intimidating messages from Mohammed bin Salman. There was also concern that there was a rendition attempt on Canadian soil to bring Jabri back to the kingdom
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  • despite extensive relationships with the US intelligence community as bin Nayef’s aide, two sources informed on the matter said he did not feel safe in the US with Donald Trump in power. Instead, he went to Canada where officials secured his refuge in November 2017 and, a month later, several members of his family.
  • Jabri preferred Canada over the US not necessarily because of any specific security concerns, but because it may have been easier to bring his family to join him
  • Revelations of the Canadian government’s assistance to Jabri and his family will raise questions about the diplomatic row that broke out between Ottawa and Riyadh in August 2018. Until now, the spat appeared to the wider public to have started after Canada’s embassy in Riyadh tweeted in Arabic, calling for the release of rights activists, although experts say there were frustrations already brewing in Riyadh.
  • Within 48 hours of the tweets, Saudi Arabia withdrew its envoy, expelled the Canadian ambassador to the kingdom and froze all new business and investment transactions, leaving seasoned observers dumbfounded.
  • Sources informed about Jabri’s refuge in Canada say they believe the harbouring of the former official better explains why the row escalated so quickly.
  • Aside from his blog post, Jabri has been off the public radar since he left the kingdom although several Saudi and Gulf sources told MEE that they had heard that he was in Canada. “He’s kept out of the public eye,” said a Saudi dissident, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “A few people spotted him by chance, but not because he approached opposition people.”
  • Trump has come under fire for downplaying the role of Mohammed bin Salman in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in November 2018 even though the CIA concluded that the crown prince ordered the operation.
  • Saudi dissidents, both in the US and in other countries, have told MEE that Trump’s response to the killing, paired with the administration’s close ties to the kingdom, has left them anxious about their security in the US.
  • earlier this year, Abdulrahman al-Mutairi, a young Saudi living in California who has spoken out against the crown prince, told the Daily Beast and the LA Times that the FBI had thwarted an attempt by the Saudi government to kidnap him on US soil.
  • "That Saudis wouldn't feel safe abroad, 100 percent I agree. Where I would be very sceptical is that it's because of the Trump administration. I think it's because of MBS that Saudis shouldn’t feel safe abroad."  
Ed Webb

'Apocalypse soon': reluctant Middle East forced to open eyes to climate crisis | Climat... - 0 views

  • In Qatar, the country with the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world and the biggest producer of liquid gas, the outdoors is already being air conditioned.
  • In the United Arab Emirates it is estimated that the climate crisis costs £6bn a year in higher health costs. The salinity of the Gulf, caused by proliferating desalination plants, has increased by 20%, with all the likely impact on marine life and biodiversity.
  • The Middle East is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. By the end of the century, if the more dire predictions prove true, Mecca may not be habitable, making the summer Haj a pilgrimage of peril, even catastrophe
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  • The ruling elites are all dependent on oil rents for the survival of their regimes. They need the oil business to stay alive for them to stay in power. Their system is based on continued oil rent, but ultimately, the citizens’ long-term interests are with a liveable climate
  • The precise point oil demand will peak has been contested, and depends on a myriad of assumptions about regulation, technology and consumer behaviour. But many people say demand will peak in about 2040, and then decline.
  • the International Energy Association’s report Net Zero by 2050, by contrast, proposed oil demand fall from 88m barrels a day (mb/d) in 2020, to 72 mb/d in 2030 and to 24 mb/d in 2050, a fall of almost 75% between 2020 and 2050. It argued that the Gulf has all three elements needed to switch to renewables: capital, sun and large tracts of vacant land.
  • The Gulf’s self-proclaimed first mover, the UAE, was the first country in the region to ratify the Paris agreement and is now the least dependent on oil for government revenues. Last week it announced a “net zero initiative by 2050” to be begun with $163bn (£118bn) of investments and a new minister for climate change and the environment, Mariam Almheiri. The announcement came after the UAE ordered an 80-day brainstorming session in every government department from June. It was the first petro-state to embrace net zero in domestic consumption.
  • Opec’s own projections suggest oil demand will rise in absolute terms through to 2045, and oil’s share of world wide energy demand will fall only from 30% to 28%. Hardly a green revolution.
  • Aramco, the Saudi company with the largest carbon footprint in the world, is not trying to diversify at the rate of Shell or BP. Indeed, it has just announced an investment to increase crude capacity from 12m barrels a day to 13m barrels by 2027
  • If you see the lifestyle in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is based on endless consumption
  • The region is responsible for only 4.7 % of worldwide carbon emissions, dwarfed by the pollution from Europe, America and China. The oil that the Middle East exports is logged against the carbon emissions of the users, not the producers.
  • The Gulf States are still highly reliant on oil and gas exports, which remain more than 70% of total goods exports in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman, and on oil revenues, which exceed 70% of total government revenues in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain. In Vision 2030, published in 2016, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, promised to turn the country into a diversified industrial power house. The reality is very different. The World Bank shows Saudi Arabia is still 75% dependent on oil exports for its budget.
  • Gulf states are deeply competitive, so a flurry of news is emerging. Qatar has appointed a climate minister; Bahrain is targeting net zero by 2050; Kuwait has a new emissions plan.
  • Fossil fuels shipped abroad are not on the Saudi’s carbon ledger, owing to UN accounting rules, and the promised internal reduction in emissions is dependent on a heavy bet that unproven blue hydrogen and carbon capture technology will work.
Ed Webb

Egyptian Chronicles: #USembassy : And security forces are back to their normal place - 0 views

  • Now we moved from the flag conquest to the US embassy’s battle between protesters and security forces. True Egyptian Pro-Revolution supporters and forces fear that this is a game by the current regime to justify emergency laws using the old regime’s technique of creating security problems like that !!
  • Morsi will be roasted hours later in Brussels and Rome as he will face the Western media in its stronghold, he and his team know it. Already according to analysts the MB is in very critical position. They do not want to lose the States and West as well not to lose their allies form Islamists as well they know that in front of the public opinion that will raise questions about promises of foreign investments and about relations with Jihadists. Of course the Public Opinion is angry from that insulting film which nobody heard about except only yesterday , still the public opinion will ask questions.
  • I do not know how our embassy will sue the filmmakers when Freedom of speech is granted by American constitutio
Ed Webb

Qatar Crisis: A Cautionary Tale - 0 views

  • As ties with the Obama White House deteriorated, ruling circles in Gulf capitals became increasingly muscular in pursuing their own regional interests. This was, in part, a reaction by Saudi and Emirati officials to Qatar’s assertive approach to the uprisings in North Africa and Syria between 2011 and 2013
  • The second phase of the Gulf states’ regional assertiveness (after Qatar’s activist approach in 2011 and 2012) played out in Libya, Yemen, the Gulf and Egypt. Saudi Arabia and the UAE funneled tens of billions of dollars in financial aid and investment in infrastructure designed to kickstart the ailing Egyptian economy. The UAE coordinated closely with Egypt and Russia to triangulate support for the Libyan strongman, Khalifa Haftar, as he battled Islamist militias in eastern Libya, carving out a largely autonomous sphere of influence separate from the internationally backed political process in Tripoli. The Saudis and Emiratis, together with the Bahrainis, withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March 2014 and accused Doha of interfering in the domestic affairs of its regional neighbors.
  • On the international stage, King Salman of Saudi Arabia made clear his displeasure with the Obama administration by canceling his planned attendance of the US-GCC summit at Camp David in May 2015. Six weeks earlier, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had launched Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. The Yemen war was designed to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi, ousted in 2014 by the tactical alliance of Iran-allied Houthi rebels and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s armed loyalists. Launched just five days before the initial deadline (later extended to July 2015) in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the decision to take military action to counter and roll back perceived Iranian influence in Yemen represented a Saudi-led rebuke to the Obama administration’s belief that it was possible to separate the nuclear issue from Iran’s meddling in regional affairs.
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  • Another UAE-based visitor during the transition was Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos (President-elect Trump’s nominee as secretary of education). Prince had been hired by Abu Dhabi to develop a private security force after the demise of Blackwater in 2009. He “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis” and met with a Russian official in a UAE-brokered meeting in the Seychelles shortly before the inauguration, reportedly as part of an effort to establish a backchannel of communication over Syria and Iran.
  • In the early weeks of the administration, Kushner also reached out to Saudi policymakers, including Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud — like Kushner an ambitious millennial who had entered policymaking from a business background. They shared uncannily similar nicknames: “Mr. Everything” (MBS) and the “Secretary of Everything” (Kushner). The two men grew close and reportedly stayed up until nearly 4am “swapping stories and planning strategy” during an unannounced visit Kushner made to Saudi Arabia in October 2017.
  • A president and his senior staff determined to do things their way and bypass the traditional playbook of US foreign policy and international diplomacy offered a potentially rich opening for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as did the political inexperience of many of the new appointees in the White House
  • The expectation in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that the Trump presidency would adopt hawkish positions on regional issues such as Iran and Islamism that aligned closely with their own was reaffirmed by the appointments of James Mattis as secretary of defense and Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA
  • President Trump discussed Qatar’s “purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States. And for us that means jobs, and it also means frankly great security back here, which we want.” The president’s comments made his subsequent swing against Qatar, after the Saudi and Emirati-led diplomatic and economic blockade began on June 5, 2017, even more surprising to observers of the presidency’s transactional approach to diplomacy.
  • the McClatchy news agency reported that SCL Social Limited, a part of the same SCL Group as Cambridge Analytica (the data mining firm where Bannon served as vice president before joining the White House) had disclosed a $330,000 contract with the UAE National Media Council. The contract included “a wide range of services specific to a global media campaign,” including $75,000 for a social media campaign targeting Qatar during the UN General Assembly. McClatchy observed, too, that Bannon had visited Abu Dhabi to meet with MBZ in September 2017, and that Breitbart (the media platform associated with Bannon both before and after his brief White House stint) had published more than 80 mostly negative stories about Qatar since the GCC crisis erupted
  • a striking element about the Saudi-Emirati outreach is the limited success it achieved. Officials may have seized the opportunity to shape the administration’s thinking and succeeded temporarily, in June 2017, in getting the president to support the initial action against Qatar, but that proved a high watermark in cooperation that did not lead to any substantive follow-through
  • The transactional approach to policymaking taken by the Trump presidency is not necessarily underpinned by any deeper or underlying commitment to a relationship of values or even interests. An example of this came in July 2017 when President Trump told Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network that he had made his presence at the Riyadh summit conditional on $110 billion in arms sales and other agreements signed with Saudi Arabia. “I said, you have to do that, otherwise I’m not going,” bragged the president.
  • Although the crisis in the Gulf may have passed its most dangerous moment — when for a few days in June 2017 the possibility of Saudi and Emirati military action against Qatar was deemed so serious by US officials that Secretary of State Tillerson reportedly had to warn MBS and MBZ against any precipitous action — it has had significant negative consequences for both the region and Washington. In the Gulf, four decades of diplomatic and technocratic cooperation among the six GCC states has been put at risk, threatening the survival of one of the hitherto most durable regional organizations in the Arab world.
  • It is hard to see how the GCC can recover after the sub-regional institution has failed to prevent three of its members from turning on a fourth twice in three years, and when it has been absent at every stage of the crisis, from the initial list of grievances to the subsequent attempts at mediation.
  • Washington’s policy approaches toward Qatar appear now to have settled on the view that the standoff is detrimental to American strategic interests both in the Gulf and across the broader Middle East and should be resolved by Kuwaiti-led mediation. However, the confused signals that came out of the Trump administration during its first six months in office do constitute a cautionary tale. They illustrate the vulnerability of a new and inexperienced political class to influence, which came close to jeopardizing a key US partnership in the Middle East. Unlike, say, the US and Iran, there are no clearly defined good and bad sides the US should support or oppose in its dealings with the GCC members, all of whom have been pivotal, in different ways, to the projection of US power and influence in the region.
Ed Webb

IRGC warns Saudi Arabia it must 'control' media 'provoking our youth' | Amwaj.media - 0 views

  • The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has warned the Saudi royal family that it will “pay the price” unless it reins in the media outlets it allegedly funds. The warning comes as Tehran accuses foreign-based Persian-language networks—and especially the TV channel Iran International—of spreading fake news and inciting unrest.
  • the IRGC-linked Tasnim News Agency reported hours after his speech that the main target was Iran International. Tasnim maintained that there is "no doubt" that London-based Iran International "is linked to the crown prince," referring to Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (MbS). Tasnim also named Dubai-based Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath as other news networks funded by the Kingdom and targeted by Salami in his speech.
  • MP Mohammad Ali Naqdali—the secretary of the parliament’s legal and judicial commission—urged Iranian authorities on Oct. 8 to file a complaint against Iran International with the UK media regulator, Ofcom. The lawmaker called on the foreign ministry and judiciary to complain about Iran International over its alleged role in "encouraging further protests” in Iran. Naqdali also criticized other Persian-language outlets based in the UK, describing them as "lie-producing factories."
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  • Tehran has previously lodged a complaint against Iran International over its programming, but Ofcom ruled that the London-based television network had not broken any rules.
  • British newspaper The Guardian reported in Oct. 2018 that Iran International had financial ties to MbS. The Guardian charged that the TV network was "being funded through a secretive offshore entity and a company whose director is a Saudi Arabian businessman with close links to the Saudi crown prince." A month later, Iran International issued a statement denying any links to any governments, including Saudi Arabia, and insisted that it "does not advocate any movement or party or government." Some of Iran International's high-profile staff have stirred controversy for often expressing opinions on social media that may be in contravention of the outlet's editorial guidelines.
  • Iranian authorities have long taken issued with foreign-based Persian-language news networks, accusing them of being tasked with attacking the Islamic Republic. Salami's warning to the Saudi royal family comes as Tehran and Riyadh are working toward mending relations and re-establishing diplomatic ties. The IRGC commander's apparent criticism of Saudi media indicates that it will be brought up in the anticipated next round of talks between the two sides in Iraq.
Ed Webb

Opinion | Noah Feldman: To be a Jew today, after Oct. 7 - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Progressive Judaism gives expression to what it considers the biblical values of justice, equality, freedom and the like. When the Holocaust and Israel became part of this social justice theology, both had to accord with it. The Holocaust became a moral lesson of Never Again on par with the Hebrews’ slavery in Egypt. Israel became a model of aspirational redemption, a role it could play only because it was possible to imagine the Jewish state as liberal and democratic.AdvertisementStory continues below advertisementIf Israel does not embody the values of liberal democracy, however, it cannot serve as a moral ideal for progressive Jews whose beliefs mandate universal human dignity and equality. In the starkest possible terms, a God of love and justice cannot bless or desire a state that does not seek to provide equality, dignity, or civil and political rights to many of the people living under its authority.
  • Today’s Israeli Zionists sometimes think and act as though American Jewish progressives owe Israel a duty of loyalty. For Jewish progressives, however, the higher duty of loyalty is owed to divine principles of love and justice.
  • Their great-grandparents, if they were Reform Jews, had the option of de-emphasizing Israel, almost to the point of ignoring Zionism. Before the state of Israel existed, they did not need to reconcile their beliefs about Judaism as a private, diasporic religion with the aspirations of Zionist Jews. Even after the state arose, it was possible for a time to treat it as separate from Jewish thought, practice and identity.The young progressives do not have this luxury. They inherited a form of Judaism that already incorporated Israel into its theology. They do not know how to be Jews without engaging Israel. Yet the content of their broader theology — their beliefs about Jewish morality and tikkun ‘olam — make support of Israel difficult or even repugnant.
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  • young progressive Jewish critics of Israel feel an unstated connection to Israel even as they resist and reject it. They feel no commitment to the existing state. But they do feel a particular need to criticize Israel because it matters to their worldview as Jews. They cannot easily ignore Israel, as early Reform Jews ignored Zionism. So they engage Israel — through the vehicle of progressive critique. The phrase “not in our name” captures the sense of personal implication in Israel’s conduct that both marks and challenges their sense of connection.
  • progressive Judaism will have to work out its long-term attitude toward Israel. One possibility is for progressive Jews to tack away from the focus on Israel, to engage their Jewishness in other ways — familial, spiritual and personal. This would entail real theological change.But so would embracing simultaneously a God of loving social justice and a state that rejects liberal democracy.
Ed Webb

Opinion | In the Iran-U.S. shadow war, Biden scored an unheralded victory - The Washing... - 0 views

  • On Feb. 2, U.S. forces dropped more than 125 precision munitions on 85 targets in Iraq and Syria belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and its affiliated militia groups. The U.S. Air Force even deployed giant B-1 bombers that flew all the way from the continental United States. According to U.S. Central Command: “The facilities that were struck included command and control operations centers, intelligence centers, rockets, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicle storage, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces.”Five days later, on Feb. 7, a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad killed a senior commander of Kataib Hezbollah, one of the most dangerous Iranian-backed terrorist groups. This demonstrated not only how precise U.S. weapons systems are but also how successful U.S. intelligence was in tracking the movements of senior Iranian operatives.AdvertisementStory continues below advertisementThe clear message was that other Iranian commanders would be next if they didn’t knock off their attacks against U.S. troops. And guess what? Iran did stop. Things could change at any moment, but a senior U.S. defense official told me last week that there hasn’t been an Iranian-directed attack against a U.S. military base in either Syria or Iraq since Feb. 4. By contrast, there were at least 170 such attacks between Oct. 7 and Feb. 4.
  • “We’re not under any illusions,” the defense official told me. “Iran continues to pose a serious threat to the United States and our interests in the region. Under certain circumstances, attacks could restart, but we demonstrated that we’re willing and able to defend our forces.”
  • there is no way for Washington to overthrow the Iranian regime without risking becoming embroiled in another Iraq- or Afghanistan-style quagmire
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  • while the United States has convinced Iran to back off, at least a bit, in Syria and Iraq, it hasn’t had any such success with the Houthis
Ed Webb

Egyptian Leader Mohamed Morsi Spells Out Terms for U.S.-Arab Ties - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • He said it was up to Washington to repair relations with the Arab world and to revitalize the alliance with Egypt, long a cornerstone of regional stability.
  • If Washington is asking Egypt to honor its treaty with Israel, he said, Washington should also live up to its own Camp David commitment to Palestinian self-rule. He said the United States must respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values.
  • the United States should not expect Egypt to live by its rules
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  • “Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region,” he said, by backing dictatorial governments over popular opposition and supporting Israel over the Palestinians.
  • When he grew animated, he slipped from Arabic into crisp English
  • “The president of the Arab Republic of Egypt is the commander of the armed forces, full stop. Egypt now is a real civil state. It is not theocratic, it is not military. It is democratic, free, constitutional, lawful and modern.”
  • But he also argued that Americans “have a special responsibility” for the Palestinians because the United States had signed the 1978 Camp David accord. The agreement called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza to make way for full Palestinian self-rule. “As long as peace and justice are not fulfilled for the Palestinians, then the treaty remains unfulfilled,” he said.
  • But he also displayed some ambivalence. He effused about his admiration for American work habits, punctuality and time management. But when an interpreter said that Mr. Morsi had “learned a lot” in the United States, he quickly interjected a qualifier in English: “Scientifically!” He was troubled by the gangs and street of violence of Los Angeles, he said, and dismayed by the West’s looser sexual mores, mentioning couples living together out of wedlock and what he called “naked restaurants,” like Hooters. “I don’t admire that,” he said. “But that is the society. They are living their way.”
Ed Webb

Welcome to the Syrian Jihad - By Marc Lynch | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • in today's Arab world, there is nothing particularly distinctive about his comments at all. For many months, Arab and Muslim figures of all stripes have been loudly calling for support to the predominantly Sunni Syrian rebels, as have many Arab governments (and the United States and its allies, of course). The Muslim Brotherhood's branches have strongly supported the Syrian opposition -- acquiring too much power along the way, in the minds of some. Egyptian Salafis have described providing arms and funds to the Syrian rebels as "a form of worship" and killing Assad as a religious obligation. As the killing and destruction has escalated, such support for Syria's rebels has rapidly morphed into extreme anti-Shiite and anti-Alawi rhetoric
  • In January 2007, for example, he tried to use his influence to rein in spiraling sectarian rage following the execution of Saddam Hussein. At that time, Qaradawi was only weeks past a controversial appearance at a Doha conference on Sunni-Shiite relations, in which he had made a number of controversial remarks viewed by many as overly provocative toward the Shiite. But at that crucial moment, Qaradawi invited former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani on al-Jazeera to push back against the rabid sectarianism then roiling the Middle East.
  • Qaradawi has long been described as among the most influential clerics in the Sunni world. A savvy political opportunist, he has long been one of the best barometers for the mood of a major swathe of the Arab mainstream, uncannily attuned to shifts in the political mood. He cleverly triangulated Arab politics, adopting populist positions on foreign policy while pushing for democratic reforms across the region and advancing a "centrist" Islamist ideology. In recent years, the Egyptian-born cleric has strongly supported most of the Arab uprisings, including a controversial late February 2011 appeal to Libya's army to kill Muammar al-Qaddafi.  In Egypt, he was welcomed the Friday following Mubarak's fall to lead prayer and deliver a pro-revolutionary speech in Tahrir. But he disappointed many observers by describing Bahrain's uprising as "sectarian," in line with the Arab Gulf country's collective stance intended to delegitimize it.
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  • Team Saudi is now celebrating Qaradawi's capitulation to their own anti-Hezbollah, anti-Shiite prejudices. No words could have been sweeter to Qaradawi's Saudi critics than his recent reversal on Hezbollah: "I defended the so-called Nasrallah and his party, the party of tyranny... in front of clerics in Saudi Arabia. It seems that the clerics of Saudi Arabia were more mature than me."
  • Qaradawi's alignment with the Saudi position has less to do with his theology or his personal views on the Shiites than with his calculation of regional political trends
  • His core doctrine of wasatiyya was always better understood as "centrism" than as "moderation" (whatever that might mean)
  • like it or not, his broad themes -- such as support for "resistance" from Palestine to Iraq, criticism of al Qaeda, calls for democracy, denunciations of most Arab regimes, and conservative social values -- generally seemed to reflect mainstream Arab political views.
  • Like al-Jazeera, Qaradawi's stances now seem to more closely follow Qatari foreign policy, and his influence has waned along with his host station and Qatar itself, which has experienced a regional backlash
  • Qaradawi now finds himself speaking to a narrower, more partisan audience. What does it say about his influence that his preferred candidate in Egypt's presidential election, the former Muslim Brotherhood leader and Islamist reformist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, won less than 20 percent of the vote?
  • Qaradawi can no longer claim to speak to a broadly unified Arab public because such a creature no longer exists
  • The proliferation of media outlets and assertive new voices that define the new Arab public sphere tend to undermine any efforts to claim the center ground
  • Qaradawi has opted to join the bandwagon rather than try to pull Sunni-Shiite relations back toward coexistence. He clearly calculates that anti-Shiite sectarianism in support of the Syrian insurgency is both strategically useful and a political winner.  And those in the Gulf and in the West eager for any opportunity to hurt Iran seem happy to go along
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