Saudi Arabia’s ‘Strategic Plan’ To Take Turkey Down

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has drawn up a plan to target Erdogan’s government following Khashoggi’s murder

By David Hearst, Ragip Soylu – Middle East Eye

Saudi Arabia has begun implementing a “strategic plan” to confront the Turkish government, after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman decided he was being “too patient” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

The plan is detailed in a confidential report based on open- and closed-source intelligence prepared by the kingdom’s ally, the United Arab Emirates.

The intelligence report is one of a monthly series written by the Emirates Policy Centre, a think tank with close links to the Emirati government and security services.

Entitled “Monthly Report on Saudi Arabia, Issue 24, May 2019”, the report is of limited circulation and intended for the top Emirati leadership. It does not appear on the think tank’s website. A copy has been obtained by Middle East Eye.

It reveals that in Riyadh in May, orders were given to implement the strategic plan to confront the Turkish government.

The aim of the plan was to use

“all possible tools to pressure Erdogan’s government, weaken him, and keep him busy with domestic issues in the hope that he will be brought down by the opposition, or occupy him with confronting crisis after crisis, and push him to slip up and make mistakes which the media would surely pick up on”.

Middle East Eye contacted the Emirates Policy Centre for comment, with no reply by the time of publication.

Restricting influence

Riyadh’s aim is to restrict Erdogan and Turkey’s regional influence.

“The kingdom would start to target the Turkish economy and press towards the gradual termination of Saudi investment in Turkey, the gradual decrease of Saudi tourists visiting Turkey while creating alternative destinations for them, decreasing Saudi import of Turkish goods, and most importantly minimizing Turkish regional role in Islamic matters,” the report says.

According to the report, Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, took the decision to confront Turkey following the assassination of Khashoggi by a team of Saudi agents in their country’s Istanbul consulate.

The murder of the Saudi journalist, a Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist, created international outrage, in large part due to Turkey’s insistence on Riyadh providing accountability and transparency over the affair.

“President Erdogan … went too far in his campaign smearing the kingdom, especially the person of the crown prince, using in the most reprehensible manner the case of Khashoggi,” the reports says.

In the document, the Emirates Policy Centre claims Turkey did not provide “specific and honest” information to assist the Saudi investigation into the killing, but instead leaked “disinformation” to the media “all aimed at distorting the image of the kingdom and attempting to destroy the reputation of the crown prince”.

Riyadh had concluded that Erdogan failed in his attempt to politicize and internationalize the case and now was the time to mount the fightback, the report says.

Both the CIA and leading members of the US Congress have accepted the Turkish intelligence assessment of Khashoggi’s murder.

The CIA also concluded that Mohammed bin Salman almost certainly signed off on the operation, an assessment based on its own intelligence as well.

“The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved,” said a US official familiar with the CIA’s conclusions, the Washington Post reported.

Since then, a report by United Nations human rights investigator Agnes Callamard detailed the difficulties the Turkish authorities had in investigating the murder and gaining access to the consulate building and the home of the consul-general.

Callamard concluded independently that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder.

The pressure begins

Last week came the first public sign of the campaign detailed in the Emirati document coming to life.

Saudi authorities blocked 80 Turkish trucks transporting textile products and chemicals from entering the kingdom through its Duba port.

Three hundred containers carrying fruit and vegetables from Turkey had also been held in Jeddah’s port, according to a Turkish official who spoke to MEE on condition of anonymity.

The number of Saudi tourists visiting Turkey decreased 15 percent [from 276,000 to 234,000] in the first six months of 2019, according to official data released by the Turkish tourism ministry.

Saudi Arabia has approximately $2bn worth of direct investment in Turkey, according to the Turkish foreign ministry data from 2018.

That year, Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia were valued at around $2.64bn, while imports from the kingdom stood at $2.32bn.

Behind the scenes, other signals have been sent to Ankara.

The Emirati report says “in a sign that the Saudi leadership has severed its relationship with … Erdogan and started treating him as an enemy”, King Salman approved “without hesitation” a recommendation from an advisory committee not to send an official invitation to attend a high-profile Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Mecca.

The Turkish president’s name was added to the list of those excluded from the summit, alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Eventually, King Salman decided to allow the Qatari emir to attend the event in Mecca, though Erdogan’s invitation was not forthcoming.

The Turkish government is aware of the Saudi crown prince’s attempts to sever relations and is trying to combat them through keeping direct communications with his father, King Salman.

A senior Turkish official, speaking anonymously, said the existence of a Saudi strategy to punish Turkey over its stance on the Khashoggi case wasn’t surprising.

“We are aware of what they are doing. It is almost public, to the extent that you could see their activities on Saudi-backed social media and Saudi state media,” the official told MEE, noting that they had openly called for a boycott.

“Tourist arrivals are decreasing, while we are having problems related to Turkish exports. We are closely following the situation.”

The Turkish official said, however, that Ankara does not believe that Saudi citizens are altering their stance on Turkey, despite the government in Riyadh’s efforts.

“Istanbul, for example, is still full of Saudi tourists. Saudi officials should check the BBC’s poll on Erdogan’s popularity in the Middle East. Then they will realize that they are failing,” the official said.

Erdogan phoned the king on Thursday, raising the problem of Turkish exports being held at Saudi ports.

Another Turkish official, also speaking anonymously, said Erdogan’s phone call with the Saudi king was cordial and focused on regional developments, such as Syria and the Palestine question.

The official, who was informed about the call, said the king was lucid and supportive of Turkish concerns with regard to Syria.

In the same call, Erdogan invited King Salman and his family, including the crown prince, to Turkey.

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Mohammed Bin Salman Is Making Muslims Boycott Mecca

By Ahmed Twaij, Foreign Policy

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has attempted to cast Saudi Arabia in a more positive light and mask the country’s more aggressive internal and foreign policies by undertaking so-called liberal reforms. But it has not been enough to silence those who continue to draw attention to his government’s human rights abuses.

The rising death toll of civilians killed by Saudi bombs in Yemen, the horrific slaughter of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, and Riyadh’s aggressive approach to Iran have led some of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni allies to reconsider their unwavering support for the kingdom.

In late April, Libya’s most prominent Muslim Sunni cleric, Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani, called for all Muslims to boycott the hajj – the obligatory pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca.

He went so far as to claim that anyone who embarked on a second pilgrimage was conducting “an act of sin rather than a good deed.” The reasoning behind the boycott is the suggestion that boosting Saudi Arabia’s economy through pilgrimage continues to fuel arms purchases and direct attacks on Yemen – and indirectly Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Sudan, and Algeria. Ghariani added that investment in the hajj would “help Saudi rulers to carry out crimes against our fellow Muslims.”

Ghariani is not the first prominent Muslim scholar to support a ban on the hajj. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, also a Sunni cleric and vocal critic of Saudi Arabia, announced a fatwa in August last year banning the pilgrimage, instead stating, “Seeing Muslims feeding the hungry, treating the sick, and sheltering the homeless are better viewed by Allah than spending money on the hajj.”

Saudi Arabia’s influence is not merely linked to its political and military capacity but also to its historical ties to Islam. As the home of both Mecca and Medina, Islam’s two holiest sites and the location of the Kaaba and burial place of Prophet Muhammad respectively, Saudi Arabia’s influence extends far beyond its Arab neighbors but to the Muslim world in general. More than 2.3 million Muslims from all sects flock to Mecca during the annual hajj pilgrimage and many more throughout the year, making visiting Saudi Arabia an aspiration for many Muslims around the world.

This relationship with Islam has instinctively led many from the Sunni Arab world to look to the kingdom for daily guidance on religious issues. In response to Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and fear of it cascading throughout the region, Saudi Arabia has spent millions of dollars exporting its brand of Islam through the funding of mosques around the world, many of which have been linked to … extremism in the West, as it claims to be leader of the Muslim world.

For years, Saudi Arabia has been working toward becoming a regional hegemon in the Middle East, whose claim to power, in recent years, is threatened only by Iran. As one of the world’s largest oil exporters with close ties to the United States, Saudi Arabia found itself basking in the steadfast support of many of its neighboring states for decades.

Despite mounting evidence of the royal family’s role in the “premeditated execution” of Khashoggi, the Trump administration hastily discredited any indication of Saudi involvement in the killing, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently neglecting to mention the topic when meeting with Saudi King Salman. The White House and US State Department might be willing to turn a blind eye, but fellow Muslims have not been as forgiving.

Throughout the Middle East and in other Muslim-majority nations, there has been growing concern over the slaying of Khashoggi, as well as the rising death toll in Yemen, which is expected to reach 230,000 by 2020 through the often indiscriminate airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition –which has bombed hospitals, funerals, children’s school buses, and weddings – in what has been described as the “worst man-made humanitarian crisis of our time” by UN officials. Saudi Arabia’s truculent approach to the Yemen war has isolated itself within its own coalition; even the Emirati government has shown some discomfort toward the Saudi approach.

Saudi Arabia’s atrocities have provoked persistent global condemnation, with calls for banning weapons trade with the country. Both the US House of Representatives and Senate have recently pushed back on President Donald Trump’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia, and Germany has banned such trade with the country since last October. Adding to the list, Switzerland and Italy have also moved toward banning arms trade with Saudi Arabia, and a British court recently ruled that arms deals with Saudi Arabia may have been unlawful. Ghariani has gone one step further in calling for a boycott of the country from its largest annual contingent of tourists during the hajj.

Unlike past attempts to boycott Saudi Arabia, the current effort has crossed the sectarian divide.

In 2011, Riyadh violently repressed Bahrain’s popular uprising at the request of the Bahraini government. The protests were led by Shiite Muslims, who are a majority in the Sunni-ruled country, and Iraqi activists reacted by calling for a boycott of all Saudi products. Protests across Iraq were organized and attended by Shiite clerics, academics, and politicians alike. At the time, then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that if the Saudi-led violence were to continue, “the region may be drawn into a sectarian war.”

Today, calls for boycotting the kingdom have spiraled and they aren’t just coming from Shiites. The hashtag #boycotthajj has been trending on Twitter, amassing nearly 16,000 tweets. Sunni clerics around the world have also called for a boycott. The Tunisian Union of Imams said in June that

“the money [from the hajj] that goes to Saudi authorities is not used to help poor Muslims around the world. Instead it is used to kill and displace people as is the case currently in Yemen.”

Given that the hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, prescribed as obligatory for all Muslims, the call for a boycott indicates the genuine, acerbic concern toward Saudi behavior. Should this trend continue, Saudi Arabia’s claim to being the spiritual home of Islam would be at risk – and it could take an economic hit, too.

Pilgrimage is vital to the Saudi economy and worth $12 billion annually, amounting to 20 percent of non-oil GDP, and is expected to rise to $150 billion by 2022, given the investment in luxury hotels by the Saudi government. Such investment has caused profits to skyrocket, pricing many poorer Muslims out of trips to the kingdom.

The calls for boycotting the hajj are not the first time the religious pilgrimage has been politicized. Saudi Arabia itself has in recent years banned both Qatari and Iranian nationals from partaking due to growing political differences between the states. Saudi officials have also abused the sanctity of the city of Mecca to promote their political ideology.

During one prayer sermon in October last year, Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Sudais, the imam of the Great Mosque in Mecca, stated:

“The path of reform and modernization in this blessed land … through the care and attention from its young, ambitious, divinely inspired reformer crown prince, continues to blaze forward guided by his vision of innovation and insightful modernism, despite all the failed pressures and threats,”

implying that no Muslim should be questioning the Saudi political elite.

In an effort to flex its political might, and inevitably draw attention away from the Khashoggi killing and the country’s continued leading role in the war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia organized an emergency summit in late May in Mecca to put the focus back on Iran. During the summit, which brought together in separate meetings Arab leaders, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Islamic world, Saudis called for support from Arab countries to deal with the Iran crisis by “using all means to stop the Iranian regime from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, harboring global and regional terrorist entities, and threatening international waterways.”

In defiance, and highlighting Saudi Arabia’s waning status as the regional power, Iraq fully opposed the closing statement, which was to denounce Iran, and instead pledged a message of support toward Iran and called on other countries to help stabilize the country. At the summit in Mecca, Iraqi President Barham Salih stated: “Honestly, the security and stability of a neighboring Islamic country is in the interest of Muslim and Arab states,” referring to Iran. Similarly, during the summit, Saudi Arabia failed in getting the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – an international organization with headquarters in Jeddah – to isolate and condemn Iran.

As the death toll in Yemen rises, countries around the world are now calling for an economic, religious, and political boycott of Saudi Arabia – not just the banning of arms trade. Riyadh is running out of friends in the West, and, now, its relationships with regional allies are starting to show cracks. Should the Trump administration fail to secure a second term, Saudi Arabia may be left with few international friends and its claim to leadership of the Muslim and Arab world will be severely damaged.

تبرئة إبن سلمان تساوي ثروات جزيرة العرب

يوليو 1, 2019

د. وفيق إبراهيم

مشهد ولي العهد السعودي محمد بن سلمان في قمة العشرين في أوساكا اليابانية بدا مفبركاً، ومنفوخاً بآليات أميركية غربية ويابانية… دفعت بالإعلام الى التعامل «المتعمّد» معه، على شكل «زعيم محوري» يتناثر الذهب من عباءته. ولا يهتمّ إلا بأوضاع المرأة السعودية ونشر القيم والازدهار في العالم.

هكذا هي الدول الاستعمارية والصناعية على مدار التاريخ لا تتغيّر قيد أنملة.. وما يثير شبقها هو تراكم المال والثروات التي تنسف العلاقات الإنسانية والحق والخير والجمال، لمصلحة الاحتكار الاقتصادي الحصري…

لعل قضية إبن سلمان هي واحدة من عشرات آلاف الأدلة التي لا تحتاج الى تنقيب بحثي عميق يثبت إهمال الغرب أي علاقة حقيقية باستثناء بعض انحاء العالم الشمالي الذي يمارس ديموقراطية داخل بلدانه واستعماراً بغيضاً في ثلاثة أرباع الأرض.. وهذا بحد ذاته، مثيرٌ للدهشة والتعجب..

لقد بدت قمة اوساكا وكأنها منعقدة لسببين: تأمين قرارات بين قواها الكبرى تؤمن الفوز للرئيس الأميركي ترامب في الانتخابات الرئاسية المقبلة في العام المقبل… وإعادة الاعتبار لإبن سلمان.

لجهة ترامب، يكفي أنه اتفق مع الرئيس الصيني على إعادة السماح للشركات الأميركية والعالمية بالشراء والتعامل مع شركة هواوي الصينية الضخمة مقابل شراء الصين منتجات زراعية أميركية حصرية، لا يجد أصحابها اسواق تصريف لها حتى أن ترامب بدا مزهواً وهو يقول إن هذا الاتفاق ينقذ الآلاف من صغار المزارعين الأميركيين الذين يشكون من كساد منتجاتهم… بما يندرج في إطار البحث الهادف عن أصوات الناخبين الأميركيين، وذوي الأصول الصينية في الولايات المتحدة الأميركية.

الطريف في هذا الاتفاق أنه قابل للنقض بآلاف الحجج والذرائع بعد انتهاء الانتخابات مباشرة، هذا بالإضافة الى أن مجمل المباحثات الأميركية مع روسيا واليابان واوروبا وبلدان أخرى التي انتهت كالعادة الى «استكمالها في أوقات أخرى»، إنما رمت إلى إثارة مناخ تهدئة على خلافات عميقة بهدف استثمار ترامب لها في الانتخابات المقبلة.

لكن السياسة الأميركية ـ الترامبية تجلّت على حقيقتها في قمة العشرين في اليابان بطريقة التعامل مع ولي العهد السعودي، فكان هناك تعمدٌ مقصودٌ بمنحه حيزاً كبيراً من الاهتمام الأميركي ـ الأوروبي الياباني الذي استتبع عناية روسية صينية مصرية به جذبت كامل البلدان الحاضرة.

حتى ظهر إبن سلمان نجماً ويسعى الحاضرون لكسب رضاه أم ذهبه، فالأمر سيان.

للتوضيح فقط، فإن ولي العهد متهم بقتل الصحافي جمال الخاشقجي في قنصلية بلاده السعودية في مدينة اسطنبول التركية وذلك بتقطيعه بالمناشير من قبل جهاز أمني سعودي تابع لولي العهد مباشرة.

أما السبب فهو معارضة الخاشقجي لسياسات إبن سلمان، فاستفاد من هذا الاغتيال فريقان: المعارضات الأميركية لترامب التي تبنّت اتهام ابن سلمان وطالبت بمحاكمته، إلى جانب بعض السياسات الأوروبية المتناقضة مع ترامب أيضاً، التي أرادت النيل من الرئيس الأميركي من خلال إدانة صديقه ابن سلمان بقتل الخاشقجي.

الأتراك بدورهم اعتبروا الاغتيال على أراضيهم فرصة للنيل من مكانة السعودية في العالمين العربي والأسلامي.. فبدأوا يحلمون بتدهور الموقع السعودي لمصلحة صعود دور تركي على متن الاخوان المسلمين… وهم مستمرون على هذه الخطة التي تتراجع مع أحلام الرئيس التركي اردوغان الذي خسر الانتخابات البلدية في أربع مدن تركية كبرى بينها اسطنبول.

هذه التداعيات جعلت محمد بن سلمان يحضر قمة العشرين السابقة في 2018 بشكل هزيل جداً، ظهر المشاركون فيها وكأنهم ينفرون منه متجنّبين التخاطب معه، حتى أنه وجد مكاناً منعزلاً في آخر القاعة ليأخذ مع بقية أعضاء القمة الصورة الختامية التذكارية، وكان ولي العهد معزولاً في المدة الأخيرة ومتهماً من الجميع تقريباً بالقتل باستثناء ترامب وإدارته، ما استتبع تراجعاً كبيراً في الدور السعودي عموماً.

وفجأة عاود بن سلمان احتلال موقع قوي في قمة العشرين الحالية، عاقداً عشرات اللقاءات الجانبية مع رؤساء الدول الكبرى في أميركا والصين وروسيا واليابان ودول أوروبا وغيرها وسط اهتمام إعلامي مسبوق. وبدت تركيا وحيدة شبه منعزلة في الاستمرار باتهامه.

ماذا يجري؟

إن إعادة نفخ إبن سلمان تواكبت مع اتهامات جديدة ودقيقة قدّمتها المحققة الأممية كالامارد، اتهمت فيه ابن سلمان بمقتل الخاشقجي، ما أعاد القضية إلى دائرة الضوء الشديد فرجعت الاتهامات كما كانت قبل عام… وهنا تكمن الحنكة، فبدلاً من أن يعود إبن سلمان الى التواري والانسحاب التمويهي من دائرة السياسة الدولية، كما فعل سابقاً فإذا به يسفر عن كامل وجهه متألقاً أكثر من حجم بلاده في قمة العشرين.

وهذا يؤكد أن هناك مشروعاً أميركياً أوروبياً لتبرئته بوسائل فنية ترتدي اللبوس القانوني، وذلك لا يكون إلا بالتغاضي الروسي ـ الصيني عن الفبركات القانونية الجديدة، مع مزيد من الانفتاح السياسي المملوء برائحة الصفقات الاقتصادية والتسويات النفطية.

لقد تحوّل ترامب في قمة العشرين ومعه رئيسة وزراء بريطانيا تريزا ماي الى فقيهين في الشؤون القانونية وعلم الجريمة…

فبعد إلحاح الإعلاميين قال الرئيس الأميركي إنه لا يمكن للقضاء أن يبني على اشاعات الرأي العام لأنه لا يستند إلا إلى ادلة دامغة، وهذه، حسب رأيه، لا تؤدي إلى اتهام ابن سلمان الذي يحاكم 13 متهماً قاموا بالجريمة من دون معرفته.

وأيّدته تريزا ماي التي أكدت أن بلادها مهتمة، بالكشف عن جريمة الخاشقجي، وأضافت «من دون أن تقهقه» أن إبن سلمان قال لها إنه حريص على محاكمة المتهمين الـ13 رجل أمن للكشف عن الجريمة.

وبذلك يتبين أن هناك صفقة، أميركية ـ غربية بلامبالاة صينية ـ روسية، تذهب نحو تبرئة القاتل ومعاقبة 13 رجل أمن تابعين لمكتب محمد بن سلمان وبتهمة قتل الخاشقجي. وبما أن عدد القتلة كبير، فالأحكام قابلة للتوزيع على شاكلة عشر سنوات لكل منهم، أما مكان السجن، فعلمه عند أصحاب العلم والإخفاء.

فهل هذه صفقة مجانية؟ اسألوا ترامب الذي يواصل الإشادة بالسعودية التي أمنت اعمالاً لملايين الأميركيين وتشغل مصانع الاسلحة والبضائع.. وتواصل الدفع للتغطية بمفهوم «الكاوبوي» واخيراً عرجوا على البريطانيين لاستصراحهم عن حصتهم.

فيتبين أن الغرب ينتهز جريمة ولي العهد لاستنزاف كامل ثروات جزيرة العرب وليس قسماً منها، مضيفاً إليها مبدأ «الترهيب من إيران» الأمر الذي يضع حاضر سكان الجزيرة ومستقبلهم تحت رحمة السياسات الاقتصادية الغريبة التي تسطو على العالم منذ قرون عدة.

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The Chilling Message of the Saudi Executions: Colorado Writer

Saudi flag

Terence Ward

May 9, 2019

Terence Ward is a Colorado-born writer, documentarist, and cross-cultural consultant. He grew up in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt, and received his BA in political science at the University of California at Berkeley. For 10 years, he advised clients across the Gulf — Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia conducting management consulting projects and seminars. Ward is also the author of the books “Searching for Hassan” and “The Wahhabi Code: How the Saudis Spread Extremism Globally.”

A couple of weeks have passed since the dramatic beheadings of 37 Saudi citizens that shocked the world. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 33 of those who were executed were from the minority Shia community — which has suffered a long history of persecution in Saudi Arabia.

With the Kingdom facing mounting criticism over bombing deaths and starvation in the Yemen war, imprisoned and reportedly tortured women activists, and the grisly murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, many wonder why Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud offered critics another human rights issue? But these executions served a clear purpose to strike fear in the Saudi Shia population while rallying the royal family’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi – the official creed of the Kingdom fundamentalist base. In the end, to be Shia in Saudi Arabia has always been a complicated affair.

Few Americans know that Wahhabism, a branch of Sunni Islam, looks down on Shia Muslims as apostates. Violence against Shia communities is deeply rooted in the Saudi Kingdom’s DNA. Like African Americans in the Deep South, the Shia have suffered discrimination and suspicion from the Wahhabi ruling elite since the founding of the country in 1932.

Those who were executed in April included protestors who were arrested and convicted of terror-related crimes during the Arab Spring demonstrations in 2011 and 2012. However, the human rights group Amnesty International said the legal proceedings “violated international fair trial standards which relied on confessions extracted through torture.”

According to trial documents obtained by CNN, some of the men repeatedly told the court that their confessions were false and obtained through torture.

When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rose to power in 2017, there was some hope that the Salman dynasty would usher in reforms. However, anti-Shia rhetoric persisted. For example, the hardline cleric Saleh al-Fawzan, a member of the state-sponsored Council of Senior Scholars, claimed in 2017, that the Shia are infidels and that anyone who disagrees is also an infidel.

And al-Fawzan has also said that political dissidents who disagree with the Kingdom rulers should be put to death.

The disappearance and murder of Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, fell in line with the intentions of al-Fawzan’s rhetoric.

The CIA later concluded that King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered his killing.

The Saudi government has repeatedly denied the allegations, although the US Senate voted to condemn the young prince for Khashoggi’s grisly fate.

While Khashoggi’s death sparked international outrage, the Trump administration steered clear of assigning blame, and many businesses have quietly continued their plans for expansion there.

Amid inflammatory rhetoric against Iran a country dominated by Shia — coming from the White House, King Salman seemed encouraged to send a clear message of terror to his restive Shia citizens.

In doing so, the Saudi government seems to be ignoring the increased pressures it has recently faced on numerous fronts. Congress defied President Donald Trump in voting to suspend military aid for the kingdom’s war in Yemen. The state-owned oil company Aramco’s called off its initial public offering, while investors have reportedly pulled funding for MBS’ ambitious economic plan called Vision 2030.

To counter these setbacks, King Salman has drawn inspiration from the earliest days of the Saud dynasty to secure his most loyal followers the archconservative Wahhabi faithful. Historical persecution of the Shias has been the life-blood of the Wahhabi sect that was borne in central Arabia more than 250 years ago. For centuries, the Shia who lived along the Persian Gulf suffered violence from Wahhabi believers, who labeled them infidels.

During my childhood in Dhahran, when my father worked at Saudi Aramco from 1952-1960, I witnessed persecution of Shia who call the oil-rich eastern province, known as Al-Ahsa, their home. Our friends lived in oasis towns where Shia communities have dwelled for centuries. The sad fact is that the staggering oil wealth that poured into Riyadh was siphoned away from the Eastern Province.

Little was spent in the Shia communities, yet they have represented the majority of Saudi manpower in Aramco — now likely the world’s most profitable company.

Instead of benefiting from the profits of vast oil fields that lay under historically Shia lands, they have been treated as second-class citizens since Ibn Saud, who would eventually go on to found Saudi Arabia, and his family conquered their homeland in 1913. Even today, some Shia friends of mine call it “religious apartheid.”

When I returned as a management consultant to Saudi Arabia in the 1980’s, clerics had condemned mixing between Sunnis and Shia as well as intermarriage.

In numerous religious rulings, the late grand mufti, Abdulaziz Bin Baz, condemned the Shia community. Bin Baz’s religious rulings are still available in the kingdom’s official database and are often cited in Saudi court rulings, which are based on Islamic law.

More recently, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars said that Shia Muslims were “not our brothers … rather they are the brothers of Satan…”, according to Human Rights Watch.

Because of the historic conflict with the Shia community, the execution orders handed down by Saudi magistrates in April were expected.

But larger questions remain. Will MBS truly bring change and a more moderate Islam? Or do these April beheadings signal continued anti-Shia sentiment?

Is the Crown Prince trying to spark a conflict with Iran mother country of the Shia? And will this plunge America and the region into yet another unconstitutional war? Given the Saudi history of aiding and abetting extremists while claiming to be their enemy, should America be wary of being lured into another conflict? We should be very wary.

Recently, US National Security Adviser John Bolton announced that an aircraft carrier strike group with a bomber task force had been deployed to the Persian Gulf to deter Iran.

The royal Saud family may be gambling that America will come to its rescue and plunge the US into, yet again, another war, in what would be another trillion-dollar debacle. The truth is that America is extremely efficient at starting wars but dramatically incompetent at ending them.

Any aggression against Iran risks rupturing ties with Europe and in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, while provoking conflict with both Russia and China. If shooting erupts, the narrow Strait of Hormuz — the gateway in and out of the Persian Gulf — will surely be closed to oil tankers until the guns are silent. Lights of the industrial world will dim. It will be a time for lighting candles, unless cooler heads prevail. Perhaps this is a moment to stand up to the Saudi royals, (after the unpleasant experiences with al-Qaeda and ISIS — both Wahhabi inspired) and not be lured in yet again to another conflagration without end.

 

Source: CNN

US Commission: Saudi Arabia Is Top Violator of Religious Freedom

By Staff, MEE

The US State Department designated Saudi Arabia as one of the world’s “worst violators” of religious freedoms, even as Riyadh remains one of Washington’s top allies in the region.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom [USCIRF] released its 2019 report on Monday listing Saudi Arabia in the tier one category of countries that implement severe violations of religious freedom.

The annual report, released by the bipartisan organization created two decades ago, highlights the discrimination that Shia Muslims and Christians face in the country.

“Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia continue to face discrimination in education, employment, and the judiciary, and lack access to senior positions in the government and military,” the 234-page report said.

“As a matter of law, the Saudi government bans the public practice of non-Muslim faiths by citizens and expatriates alike. While the Saudi government has stated repeatedly that non-Muslims who are not converts from Islam may practice their religion in private, this policy has not been codified,” the reported added.

Last week, Saudi Arabia executed 37 people on ‘terrorism’ charges.

Thirty-two of those executed were from Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority and a number of them were juveniles when they were arrested, including a teenager who had planned to study in the US.

The US placed Saudi Arabia as one of the world’s top “countries of particular concern” or CPCs in November 2018.

However, Johnnie Moore, USCIRF’s commissioner who wrote the profile on Saudi Arabia, said promoting “punitive measures” against the kingdom would be counterproductive.

“Such punitive measures could likely have the effect of forcing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to engage directly and more seriously with countries where religious freedom is not a consideration at all in their foreign policy priorities,” he said.

The State Department recommends granting Saudi Arabia a special waiver because the country is an “important interest to the United States”, the report said.

Saudi Arabia and the US share a deep alliance. The US purchases Saudi oil while the kingdom has ordered billions of dollars of arms from the United States.

Saudi Arabia was the first overseas country visited by US President Donald Trump after he became president in 2017, and his visit to Riyadh came just weeks before Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies initiated a blockade of Qatar.

Trump has continued to stress the importance of the US alliance with Saudi Arabia even after the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which prompted near global condemnation.

Profile of MBS: Suspense, Games of Thrones and Fear of Democratic Win in the US Elections!

By Staff

In a paper entitled “Profile of a Prince: Promise and Peril in Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030” submitted to the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Karen Elliott House wrote:

Relaxing with “Game of Thrones”

When the prince relaxes, he usually plays video games or watch television series like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. More recently, he has also taken to cardio workouts in his palace gym to control his weight and enhance his endurance.

Much of MBS’ energy continues to be devoted to marketing his vision of Saudi Arabia as a ‘strong world actor.’

He also evinces enormous confidence in his political instincts though they have been far from unerring. The risk inherent in change, he tells associates, is less than the risk of doing nothing. If he errs, he can correct it. If he dawdles, the country suffers.

Intrigue plays a large part in Saudi politics. So, too, does brutality. Western sensibilities are offended by the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the Crown Prince’s insistence he played no role. Yet frightening opponents and cunningly avoiding entrapment are admired traditions in much of the Arab world.

Secretiveness and Surprise

Secretiveness is another political instinct of MBS. He is said to confide in no one and to make every effort to keep his aides guessing. In meetings with staff to discuss options, one aide says it does no good to focus on which proposal the prince seems to support. Often he selects one option simply to force his aides to provide even better arguments for one he will choose later. Certainly, his lightening-speed dawn arrests of his royal cousins and their incarceration in the Ritz Carlton in November 2017 was a well-kept secret.

Whether one man can single-handedly wrench a nation into modernity and transform his people into self-reliant citizens is a very open question. Daring decisiveness has been the hallmark of MBS’ brief tenure in power. First came subduing the religious police, then locking up his royal cousins for corruption. Soon followed the decision to let Saudi women drive. And most recently the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

King Salman does seem to be trying to at least put some guardrails around his son’s impulsive tendencies. Some close to MBS say that when he reaches a decision now he sometimes tells his team, “Let’s think on it.” Whether that is a genuine desire to check his thinking or a tactic to leave the appearance of doing so isn’t clear.

Political Crackdown

MBS has two broad responses to the dimming prospects of strong progress on economic reforms. The first is to distract Saudi citizens with a plethora of new entertainment from concerts, cinemas and sporting events described previously in this report. The second is to suppress any dissent.

Saudi Arabia, never an open society, is now the most repressive in at least the past 40 years.

With Vision 2030, MBS essentially proclaimed weaning the Kingdom off oil a national emergency with a strict deadline for success. As a result, he seems to view debate on any issue as potentially disruptive of the essential and urgent measures he is taking. If the Saudi house is on fire, citizens need to shut up and follow him to the prescribed exit seems to be his rationale. Given this mandate against any discussion, most Saudis no longer engage in even tepid tweets on social media, much less criticism.

US-Saudi Partnership under Duress

MBS’ penchant for political repression coupled with the Kingdom’s fumbled explanations for the death of Jamal Khashoggi have strained the US-Saudi alliance more than at any point since the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. Only a year ago the Crown Prince was welcomed by the president in Washington, D.C., by New York’s business elite, by Hollywood’s biggest moguls and by Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs as a young reformer eager to cooperate with America to transform his backward kingdom into a modern nation. A year later he dares not come to America. Hollywood moguls like Ariel Emmanuel have pulled out of plans to invest there. Emmanuel ended his company’s planned $400 million investment in the Kingdom in early March, though other Americans quietly continue to pursue the opportunity to make money in Saudi Arabia.

While Trump is sticking by MBS, accepting his denials of any involvement in the Khashoggi murder, the CIA concluded otherwise and many in Congress are determined to punish him for Khashoggi’s death. And Saudis during January visit there expressed deep concern about the future of the Kingdom’s relationship with the US if a Democrat wins the White House in 2020. “We are going to be singled out for retribution,” frets one Saudi who closely watches his country’s relations with Washington, D.C.

Undeniably, many of MBS’ foreign policy ventures have proved costly. The Saudi boycott of Qatar, which Riyadh accuses of spreading terrorism, has driven that small sheikdom closer to Iran and Turkey without precipitating any change in Qatar’s policies. More importantly to the US, it has undermined American efforts to build greater security cooperation among Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations to reduce the security burden on Washington as the ultimate guarantor of stability in the Persian Gulf. Because the largest US Mideast airbase is in Qatar, the enmity between Qatar and Saudi Arabia has been especially trying for the Pentagon. MBS, who also is Saudi Defense Minister, seems completely unconcerned at his US ally’s discomfort. He continues to resist compromise with Qatar.

The stalemated war in Yemen is costing Saudi Arabia both financially and geopolitically. While Riyadh doesn’t disclose the cost of the war, those in a position to know estimate it consumes at least $25 billion annually. But beyond the financial costs, the growing international opprobrium over the rising number of civilian casualties there is robbing Saudi Arabia of valuable political support. Germany has ended arms sales to the Kingdom until September and made resumption conditional on progress to end the Yemen war. Pressure is growing in Britain and Canada to do likewise. Moreover, the US Congress is vowing to punish MBS for Khashoggi’s murder by blocking weapons sales to Riyadh for the war in Yemen. Trump has vetoed that congressional resolution but the damage to US-Saudi relations likely won’t end there.

Congress and the Trump Administration are also at odds over Saudi Arabia’s effort to purchase nuclear power plants to provide its domestic energy needs leaving its oil available for export. The Kingdom, considering buying nuclear technology from the US, South Korea, China or Russia, hasn’t yet agreed to safeguards that ensure it can’t enrich uranium to weapons grade. A bipartisan congressional resolution seeks to block any US nuclear technology sale without such safeguards leaving the Kingdom free to buy from Russia or China who don’t insist on such safeguards.

Beyond all the threats of tit for tat, what is going on in both Saudi Arabia and the US is a reassessment of the relationship. Since at least the presidency of George W. Bush, Saudi Arabia has been contemplating how to hedge its interests in a post-US Middle East.

Venezuela Facing Western Hypocrisy

By Hussein Samawarchi

A few months after the brutal torture and execution of Imam Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr, Saddam Hussein gave the order to attack Iran. Imam Al-Sadr represented a peaceful opposition wave against dictatorship. The popular cleric used literature as a way of mending what was wrong. For that, he was made to watch his own sister being tortured and killed while, according to witnesses, the political prisoner was beaten with metal cables until his body was covered with cuts everywhere. Then, the torturers dragged him through acid before hammering an iron nail into his head.

When Saddam invaded Iran, the western world rallied behind him. The butcher of opposition leaders received support from diplomats who published books about ethical politics as their countries shipped to him one load after another of weapons. No one who lived through that era could forget Iraq’s Exocet missiles.

If Saddam is old news now, if something more contemporary exposing western hypocrisy is favored, the event that took place in Turkey last October might do.

A team of sloppy assassins was dispatched to Istanbul. They waited for a public figure in his country’s consulate to which he was sent by none other than the brother of the current crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Jamal Khashoggi might have been a controversial personality due to his historical affiliations with fanatic movements, links with Taliban, and statements that don’t abide by journalistic objectivity norms. But he spoke through western media and therefore deserved western protection. The man was cut to pieces after being subdued and drugged. It is still not clear if the drug used rendered him unconscious during the horrific act or just paralyzed him so he could witness and feel his arms and legs being sawn-off.

The world heard a lot of condemnations and denouncements. Still, at the end of the day, not one ambassador took part in a public display of support to a journalist who was merely hinting to the need for reform in his country.

Juan Guaidó returned to Venezuela after 10 days of prancing around with his people’s enemies. He violated the constitution by declaring himself president, broke the law by traveling, instigated popular violence, cooperated with hostile foreign powers, and initiated a contraband operation on a large scale from Colombia. The renegade politician was neither dragged in acid nor dismembered. He was allowed to enter Venezuela with strict orders from President Maduro that no one would obstruct his way.

The sight of the all those foreign ambassadors welcoming the man that Mike Pence views as an American investment gives a sufficient idea of who are the stakeholders in the future distribution of Venezuelan petroleum shares should the coup being staged by Trump’s gang succeed. It’s an indication for the minority of Venezuelan people who think riches will pour in if the country is handed over to American puppets. Do they not realize that every entity which recognized Guaidó as interim president will become their partner in their national wealth?

This is the level of degradation that the western political scene has reached. Ambassadors did not react when public figures were mutilated to death but ran to the airport to welcome a man who says “A la orden jefe” to John Bolton.

There is nothing wrong in forming an opposition; actually, it’s a basic requirement for a sound democratic political system. The opposing politicians’ main duty is to act as performance auditors and highlight the ruling party’s shortcomings which, inevitably, leads to the improvement of the country and the standard of living. What they don’t do is collude with foreign powers to surrender the country’s wealth. What they don’t do is act as internal agents in a hunger campaign against their own people. And what they definitely don’t do is sell their integrity knowing that they are public servants and that integrity represents their constituency.

The topic of Venezuela is not a discussion of a mere Latin American country. Rather, a modern-day political epidemic suffered by many states. It has to do with the injection of malicious agents into a national body while this body is battered with sanctions preventing it from acquiring the necessary antibiotics and nutrition. Syria recovered, Yemen is recovering, and Venezuela is following suit. Patriotism is the remedy and it is abundant in this proud Bolivarian state.

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