Riyadh detains officials in new anti-corruption clean-out

July 31 2022

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

The investigation suggests MbS plans to rid himself of political rivals to the throne, as Nazaha authorities carry out over 3000 inspections on corrupt officials from several ministries

Saudi authorities detained dozens of officials on 31 July in a new anti-corruption sweep reportedly to flush out contenders to the future throne of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS).

Citing Nazaha, the Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority of Saudi Arabia, the daily newspaper Saudi Gazette reported that 78 individuals were arrested on charges of money laundering, forgery, and bribery.

The report added that the arrests made by Nazaha authorities included over 3000 inspections, and that another 116 officials were found to need investigation for other crimes.

Nazaha recently called on several sectors to cooperate in the search for violations of financial or administrative corruption.

Those under investigation were reportedly employed by the ministries of interior, health, justice, defense, municipal, housing and rural affairs.

Since MbS became the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh has witnessed the arrests of dozens of intellectuals, activists, and alleged political opponents.

The Saudi government has also illustrated zero tolerance for freedom of speech, even while facing international condemnations.

At a meeting in September 2021 between MbS and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, MbS lost his temper when Sullivan pressed MbS about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a 19 April report from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) revealed.

The meeting began with MbS showing up in a pair of shorts at his seaside palace, as the tone of the talks were described as relaxed.

However, the moment Sullivan brought up the issue of Khashoggi, the mood changed, with the Saudi Crown Prince shouting at the US official, insisting the matter was not to be discussed again.

MbS then reportedly added that the US could “forget about” its request to Saudi Arabia to boost oil output, in reference to the US request to raise oil output to alleviate rising gas prices.

Saudi Arabia continued to hold its line on oil production even as gas prices increased following the litany of sanctions placed on Russia in response to its special military operation in Ukraine.

Despite condemnation of Saudi Arabia by its regional and international allies, MbS continues to deny accusations of involvement in any violations.

MBS: Despot in The Desert

July 31, 2022 

Nicolas Pelham- The Economist

No one wanted to play football with Muhammad bin Salman. Sure, the boy was a member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, but so were 15,000 other people. His classmates preferred the company of his cousins, who were higher up the assumed order of succession, a childhood acquaintance recalls. As for the isolated child who would one day become crown prince, a family friend recounts hearing him called “little Saddam”.

Home life was tricky for bin Salman, too (he is now more commonly known by his initials, [MBS]. His father, Salman, already had five sons with his first wife, an educated woman from an elite urban family. MBS’s mother, Salman’s third wife, was a tribeswoman. When MBS visited the palace where his father lived with his first wife, his older half-brothers mocked him as the “son of a Bedouin”. Later, his elder brothers and cousins were sent to universities in America and Britain. The Bedouin offspring of Prince Salman stayed in Riyadh to attend King Saud University.

As young adults, the royals sometimes cruised on superyachts together; MBS was reportedly treated like an errand boy, sent onshore to buy cigarettes. A photo from one of these holidays shows a group of 16 royals posing on a yacht-deck in shorts and sunglasses, the hills of the French Riviera behind them. In the middle is MBS’s cousin, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire investor dubbed “the Arabian Warren Buffett”. MBS, tall and broad-shouldered in a white t-shirt, is pushed to the farthest edge.

Fast forward to today, and MB has moved to the center of the frame, the most important decision-maker in Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy but MBS’s 86-year-old father, though nominally head of state, is rarely seen in public anymore. It has been clear for several years that MBS is in charge. “In effect,” a former Saudi intelligence agent told me, “King Salman is no longer king.”

At first glance the 36-year-old prince looks like the ruler many young Saudis had been waiting for, closer in age to his people than any previous king – 70% of the Saudi population is under 30. The millennial autocrat is said to be fanatical about the video game “Call of Duty”: he blasts through the inertia and privileges of the mosque and royal court as though he were fighting virtual opponents on screen.

His restless impatience and disdain for convention have helped him push through reforms that many thoughts wouldn’t happen for generations. The most visible transformation of Saudi Arabia is the presence of women in public where once they were either absent or closely guarded by their husband or father. There are other changes, too. Previously, the kingdom offered few diversions besides praying at the mosque; today you can watch Justin Bieber in concert, sing karaoke or go to a Formula 1 race. A few months ago, I even went to a rave in a hotel….

But embracing Western consumer culture doesn’t mean embracing Western democratic values: it can as easily support a distinctively modern, surveillance state. On my recent trips to Saudi Arabia, people from all levels of society seemed terrified about being overheard voicing disrespect or criticism, something I’d never seen there before. “I’ve survived four kings,” said a veteran analyst who refused to speculate about why much of Jeddah, the country’s second-largest city, is being bulldozed: “Let me survive a fifth.”

The West, beguiled by promises of change and dependent on Saudi oil, at first seemed prepared to ignore MBS’s excesses. Then, in late 2018, Saudi officials in Istanbul murdered a Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, and dismembered his body with a bone saw. Even the most pro-Saudi leaders turned away.

…. After Putin invaded Ukraine in February, the price of crude shot up. Boris Johnson was on a plane within weeks. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, previously a sworn enemy of the crown prince, embraced MBS in Riyadh in April. War even forced America’s president into a humiliating climbdown. On the campaign trail in 2020 Joe Biden had vowed to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah”. But on July 15th he went to make his peace with MBS– trying to avoid shaking MBS’s hand, he instead opted for a fist bump that left the two looking all the chummier. Even critics at home acknowledged MBs’s victory. “He made Biden look weak,” said a Saudi columnist in Jeddah. “He stood up to a superpower and won before the world.”

For MBS, this is a moment of triumph. His journey from the fringe of a photograph to the heart of power is almost complete. He will probably be king for decades. During that time, his country’s oil will be needed to sate the world’s enduring demand for energy.

A kingdom where the word of one man counts for so much depends utterly on his character. The hope is that, with his position secure, MBS will forswear the vengefulness and intolerance that produced Khashoggi’s murder. But some, among them his childhood classmates, fear something darker. They are reminded of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, a one-time modernizer who became so addicted to accumulating power that he turned reckless and dangerous. “At first power bestows grandeur,” a former Western intelligence officer told me, of MBS. “But then comes the loneliness, suspicion and fear that others will try to grab what you grabbed.”

During the early years of MBS’s ascent, I was vaguely aware of him as one prince among many. I probably wouldn’t have paid him much attention if an old contact of mine hadn’t joined his staff. His new boss, my contact said, was serious about shaking things up. He arranged the meeting at a faux-ancient mud-brick village on the outskirts of Riyadh in 2016. As my Economist colleagues and I approached, the gates of MBS’s compound suddenly slid open, like a Bond-villain’s lair. In the inner chamber sat MBS.

Reform has often been promised in Saudi Arabia – usually in response to American hectoring – but successive kings lacked the mettle to push change through. When the Al-Saud conquered Arabia in the 1920s, they made an alliance with an ultra-conservative religious group called the Wahhabis. In 1979, after a group of religious extremists staged a brief armed takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Al-Saud decided to make the kingdom more devout to fend off a possible Islamic revolution, as had just happened in Iran. Wahhabi clerics were empowered to run society as they saw fit.

The Wahhabis exercised control through the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, otherwise known as the religious police. They whacked the ankles of women whose hair poked through their veil and lashed the legs of men who wore shorts. The arrangement suited the House of Saud. Wahhabism provided social control and gave legitimacy to the Saudi state, leaving the royals free to enjoy their oil wealth in the more permissive environments of London and Paris, or behind the gates of their palaces.

I’m loth to admit it now, but as the prince talked in Riyadh about his plans to modernize society and the economy, I was impressed by his enthusiasm, vision and command of the details. He gave what turned out to be accurate answers about how and when his reforms would happen. Though he was not yet crown prince, he frequently referred to Saudi Arabia as “my” country. We arrived at around 9pm. At 2am, MBS was still in full flow.

MBS was affable, self-assured, smiling. His advisers were more subdued. If they spoke at all, it was to robotically repeat their master’s lines. Yet when MBS left the room to take a call, they started chatting animatedly. As the prince re-entered, silence fell.

Like many in those early years, I was excited about what MBS might do for the kingdom. When I returned to the capital a few months later I saw a number of men wearing shorts. I kept looking over my shoulder for the religious police, but none came – they had been stripped of their powers of arrest.

As crown prince, MBS introduced a code of law so that judicial sentencing accords with state guidelines, not a judge’s own interpretation of the Koran. He criminalized stoning to death and forced marriage. The most overt change involved the role of women. MBS attacked guardianship laws that prevented women from working, travelling, owning a passport, opening a business, having hospital treatment or divorcing without approval from a male relative. In practice, many Saudi women have found these new rights hard to claim in a patriarchal society, and men can still file claims of disobedience against female relatives. But MBS’s reforms were more than cosmetic. Some clerics were jailed; the rest soon fell into line.

For foreigners, Riyadh is less forbidding these days. “I’m afraid I’ll be caught for not drinking,” a teetotal businessman told me. “There’s cocaine, alcohol and hookers like I haven’t seen in southern California,” says another party-goer. “It’s really heavy-duty stuff”.

When MBS first entered public life, he had a reputation for being as strait-laced as his father, rare among royals. That quickly changed. Many of the people interviewed for this article said that they believe MBS frequently uses drugs, which he denies. A court insider says that in 2015 his friends decided that he needed some r&r on an island in the Maldives. According to investigative journalists Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck in their book “Blood and Oil”, 150 models were recruited to join the gathering and were then shuttled “by golf cart to a medical center to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases”. Several international music stars were flown in, including Afrojack, a Dutch dj. Then the press blew MBS cover.

Thereafter, the prince preferred to unwind off the Red Sea coast. At weekends his entourage formed a flotilla by mooring their yachts around his, Serene, which has a driving range and a cinema. According to a former official, “dj MBS”, as his friends called him, would spin the discs wearing his trademark cowboy hat. The yacht is only one of the luxuries MBS has splurged on. He also bought a £230m ersatz French chateau near Versailles, built in 2008 (the meditation room doubles as an aquarium). He is said to have boasted that he wanted to be the first trillionaire.

We put these and other allegations in this article to MBS’s representatives. Through the Saudi embassy in London, they issued a broad denial, saying “the allegations are denied and are without foundation.”

MBS’s loosening of social mores reflects the values of many of his youthful peers, in Saudi and beyond – as does his taste for the flashier side of life. Yet despite the social revolution, the prince is no keener than Wahhabi clerics on letting people think for themselves. Shortly before lifting a ban on women driving in 2018, MBS’s officials imprisoned Loujain al-Hathloul, one of the leaders of the campaign for women’s rights. Her family say jailers waterboarded and electrocuted her, and that Saud al-Qahtani, one of MBS’s closest advisers, was present during her torment and threatened to rape her. [A un investigation found reasonable grounds to believe that Qahtani was involved in the torture of female activists. Qahtani allegedly told one of these women: “I’ll do whatever I like to you, and then I’ll dissolve you and flush you down the toilet.”] Hathloul was charged with inciting change to the ruling system. The message was clear: only one person was allowed to do that.

MBS is ruthlessly ambitious – he reportedly loved reading about Alexander the Great as a teenager – but he also owes his rise to some extraordinary twists of fortune. Succession can be an unpredictable affair in Saudi Arabia. The monarchy is only two generations old, founded in 1932, and the crown has so far moved from brother to brother among the founding ruler’s sons. That has become harder as the prospective heirs age. MBS’s father wasn’t tipped to be king, but after his two older brothers died unexpectedly in 2011 and 2012, he was catapulted up the line of succession.

When Salman became the heir-designate aged 76, he needed a chief of staff. Most courtiers expected him to choose one of the suave, English-speaking children of his first wife. Instead he appointed a son who spoke Arabic with a guttural Bedouin accent. [MBS has learned English fast since then: when we met in 2016 he sometimes corrected his translator.]

The choice to elevate MBS was less surprising to those who knew his father well. Salman had dedicated himself to his job as governor of Riyadh rather than chasing more lucrative commissions, and was a stickler for 8am starts, even in his 70s. He was known as the family disciplinarian, not averse to giving wayward royals a thwack with his walking stick or even a spell in his private prison. He clearly saw something of himself in his sixth son. MBS might love video games, but he was also a hard worker and keen to advance.

MBS put few limits on what he was prepared to do to achieve control. He earned the nickname Abu Rasasa – father of the bullet – after widespread rumors that he sent a bullet in the post to an official who ruled against him in a land dispute [Saudi officials have previously denied this rumor]. He was fearsome in private, too. “There are these terrible tempers, smashing up offices, trashing the palace,” says a source with palace connections. “He’s extremely violent.” Several associates describe him as having wild mood swings. Two former palace insiders say that, during an argument with his mother, he once sprayed her ceiling with bullets. According to multiple sources and news reports, he has locked his mother away.

It’s hard to say how many wives he has; officially, there’s just one, a glamorous princess called Sara bint Mashour, but courtiers say he has at least one more. MBS presents his family life as normal and happy: earlier this year he told the Atlantic magazine that he eats breakfast with his children each morning [he has three boys and two girls, according to Gulf News – the eldest is said to be 11]. One diplomat spoke of MBS’s kindness to his wife. But other sources inside the royal circle say that, on at least one occasion, Princess Sara was so badly beaten by her husband that she had to seek medical treatment.

We put this and other allegations in this piece to MBS’s representatives, who described them as “plain fabrication”, adding that “the kingdom is unfortunately used to false allegations made against its leadership, usually based on politically [or other] motivated malicious sources, particularly discredited individuals who have a long record of fabrications and baseless claims.”

MBS finally got a taste of political power in 2015 when Salman became king. Salman appointed his son deputy crown prince and minister of defense. One of MBS’s first moves was to launch a war in neighboring Yemen. Even America, the kingdom’s closest military ally, was told only at the last minute.

There was an obvious obstacle in MBS’s path to the throne: his cousin, the 57-year-old heir-designate, Muhammad bin Nayef. Bin Nayef was the intelligence chief and the kingdom’s main interlocutor with the CIA. He was widely credited with stamping out al-Qaeda in Saudi after 9/11. In June 2017 bin Nayef was summoned to meet the elderly king at his palace in Mecca.

The story of what happened next has emerged from press reports and my interviews. It seems that bin Nayef arrived by helicopter and took the lift to the fourth floor. Instead of the monarch, MBS’sagents were waiting. Bin Nayef was stripped of his weapons and phone, and told that a royal council had dismissed him. He was left alone to consider his options. Seven hours later, a court videographer filmed the charade of MBS kissing his cousin, then accepting his abdication as crown prince. King Salman kept a back seat throughout. Bin Nayef is now in detention [his uncle, who also had a claim to the throne, apparently intervened to try and protect bin Nayef, but was himself later detained]. The staged resignation – an old trick of Saddam Hussein’s – would become MBS’s signature move.

That was just the warm-up act. In October 2017 MBS hosted an international investment conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. At “Davos in the desert”, the likes of Christine Lagarde, Son Masayoshi and other business glitterati listened to MBS’s pitch for Saudi Arabia’s post-oil future, including the construction of Neom, a new $500bn “smart city”. The event was a hit. Diplomatic grumblings about the war in Yemen or the fate of America’s security partner, Muhammad bin Nayef, faded.

The gathering was also an opportunity to invite back royals who were often abroad. Once the foreigners had left, MBS pounced. Hundreds of princes and businessmen were swept up. According to a biography of MBS by Ben Hubbard, a New York Times journalist, one of them realized something was amiss only when they got to their hotel room: there were no pens, razors or glasses – nothing that could be used as a weapon.

MBS held the detainees in the Ritz-Carlton for several weeks [the Marriott and other hotels were also commandeered to house the overflow]. Prisoners’ phones were confiscated. Some were said to have been hooded, deprived of sleep and beaten until they agreed to transfer money and hand over an inventory of their assets. All told, MBS’s guests at the Ritz-Carlton coughed up about $100bn.

Even royals previously thought untouchable, such as the powerful prince who ran the national guard, got similar treatment. Princess Basma, the youngest child of the second king of Saudi Arabia, was jailed for three years without charge or access to a lawyer; after being released she still had to wear an electronic ankle bracelet, according to a close associate of hers.

The crushing of the royals and business elite was billed as a crackdown on corruption – and undoubtedly it netted many corruptly acquired assets, which MBS said would be returned to the Saudi treasury. The methods, however, looked more like something from a gangster film than a judicial procedure.

Interrogations were overseen by Saud al-Qahtani, who reported directly to MBS whenever a detainee broke and gave out their bank details. [All the allegations in this piece concerning Qahtani were put to him via his lawyer. No response was given.] Qahtani had installed himself as one of MBS’s favored henchmen, though earlier in his career, he’d plotted against Salman and his son, trying to sideline them with rumors that Salman had dementia. Qahtani was so loyal to the former faction that he’d named his son after his then boss. According to a former courtier, on the day of the old king’s funeral the two men had it out: MBS slapped Qahtani in the face. Later, MBS let Qahtani prove his worth and brought him on to his staff. Qahtani duly named his younger son Muhammad.

On paper, Qahtani was a communications adviser, a former journalist who understood Twitter and used an army of bots and loyal followers to intimidate critics on social media [his office included giant screens and holograms that staff used for target-practice with laser guns]. In practice he was entrusted with MBS’s most important and violent missions – the ones that established his grip on power.

His remit extended far beyond Saudi’s borders. In 2016 he kidnapped Prince Sultan, a minor royal who had been bad-mouthing MBS. MBS offered his jet to fly Sultan from Paris to Cairo – instead, the plane was diverted to Saudi Arabia. According to Hope’s and Scheck’s book, Qahtani posed as Captain Saud, an airline pilot, though surprisingly one who had an expensive Hublot watch.

Even people who have nothing to do with politics have become afraid to speak near a functioning mobile phone

With rendition strategies like this, and the cash tap shut off, even royals who weren’t inside the Ritz-Carlton felt the pressure to divest themselves of ostentatious assets. The father of the Saudi ambassador to Britain put Glympton Park, his beloved 2,000-acre estate in the Cotswolds, up for sale. Riyadh’s jewellers did a roaring trade pawning the diamonds of lesser royals. “It’s like the Romanovs selling their Fabergé eggs,” said an adviser to an auction house.

Many commoners rejoiced at the downfall of their entitled elite. Princes and princesses who once lived off huge handouts began looking for jobs. Their titles became irrelevant. Unable to afford the cost of irrigation, their green ranches became desert again. Banks turned them away. One financial adviser recalled his response to princes trying to get credit on the strength of their royal status: “You call yourselves princes, but they say there’s only one prince now.”

The Ritz-Carlton episode was just one element of an extraordinary project of centralization. MBS yanked control of various security services back from the princes. He took charge of Aramco, the semi-autonomous state oil company. He installed himself as boss of the sovereign-wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund. “He destroyed all the powerful families,” says a retired diplomat. By late 2017, law, money and security in Saudi all flowed directly from him.

Among those who lost out were the fellow princes who had pushed a young MBS to the edge of the family photo on the yacht all those years ago. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, in the center of that shot, surrendered part of his $17bn wealth. As the shakedown widened, MBS’s elder half-siblings put up their yacht for sale. Many of his cousins were locked up. “Payback time,” one victim said.

While MBS was squeezing the elite at home, he was forging some important friendships abroad.

MBS and Donald Trump, who was elected president in 2016, had a lot in common. Both had the hunger of the underdog and loathed the snooty policymaking establishments in their countries; they reveled in provocation. The historic compact, by which Saudi Arabia provided oil to American consumers and America guaranteed the country’s security, had frayed in recent years. Barack Obama’s hurried exit from Iraq in 2011 and his nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 had left Saudi Arabia worried that it could no longer rely on American protection. America’s development of its own shale-oil reserves had also reduced its dependence on Saudi oil. Then Trump and MBS got cozy.

With the Trump administration’s tacit [and sometimes explicit] support, MBS set about treating the entire Middle East much as he did Saudi Arabia, trying to push aside rulers whom he found to be inconvenient. He announced a blockade of Qatar, a tiny gas-rich state to the east of Saudi Arabia. In 2017, angered by Lebanon’s dealings with Iran, MBS invited the prime minister, Saad Hariri, a long-time beneficiary of Saudi patronage, on a starlit camping trip. Hariri turned up, had his phone confiscated and soon found himself reading out a resignation speech on tv.

Both moves ultimately backfired. But Trump’s Middle East adviser, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, did little to discourage such antics. Together, he and MBS dreamt up a new regional order over WhatsApp, calling each other “Jared” and “Muhammad”. Their rapport was so great that, at Kushner’s prompting, MBS started the process of recognizing “Israel”. His father, still officially king, put a stop to that.

MBS visited America in March 2018, hanging out in Silicon Valley with Peter Thiel and Tim Cook, and meeting celebrities, including Rupert Murdoch, James Cameron and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. Many people were keen to meet the man who controlled a $230bn sovereign-wealth fund. To his frustration, they were less willing to reciprocate by investing in the kingdom.

That October the intercontinental bonhomie came to an abrupt halt. I was due to go to a conference in Turkey that month. A Saudi journalist I knew, Jamal Khashoggi, got in touch to suggest meeting up: he was also going to be in Istanbul, for an appointment at the consulate. Khashoggi was a court insider whose criticisms of MBS in the Washington Post and elsewhere had attracted much attention. He seemed to be making more effort than usual to stay in touch. While I was at the conference a friend of his phoned me: Jamal still hadn’t emerged from the consulate, he said. By the time I got there, Turkish police were cordoning off the building.

The full story soon came out in leaked intelligence reports and, later, a un inquiry. A Saudi hit squad, which reportedly coordinated with Saud al-Qahtani, had flown to Istanbul. As they waited for Khashoggi to enter the consulate, they discussed plans for dismembering his body. According to tapes recorded inside the consulate by Turkish intelligence, Khashoggi was told, “We’re coming to get you.” There was a struggle, followed by the sound of plastic sheets being wrapped. A CIA report said that MBS approved the operation.

MBS has said he takes responsibility for the murder, but denies ordering it. He sacked Qahtani and another official implicated in the intelligence reports. The fallout was immediate. Companies and speakers pulled out of that year’s Davos in the desert; the Gates Foundation ended its partnership with Misk, an artistic and educational charity set up by the prince. Ari Emanuel, a Hollywood agent, cancelled a $400m deal with the kingdom.

The crown prince seems to have been genuinely surprised at the animus – “disappointed”, says an associate. Hadn’t he committed to all the reforms the West had been asking for? Perhaps he had underestimated the outcry provoked by going after a well-connected international figure, as opposed to a royal unknown outside Saudi Arabia. Or perhaps he understood Western governments’ priorities better than they did themselves. They had done little when Muhammad bin Nayef, their partner in battling terrorism, had disappeared; they had shrugged at reports of torture in the Ritz-Carlton, and at MBS’s reckless bombardment of Yemen. Why did they have so much to say about the killing of a single journalist?

Three years after the Khashoggi killing, Davos in the desert opened with the singer Gloria Gaynor. As images of smiling children flashed up on a giant screen behind her, she broke into her disco anthem, “I Will Survive”, asking the audience: “Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die?”

The chief executives of private-equity giants BlackRock and Blackstone were back, as were the heads of Goldman Sachs, SocGen and Standard Chartered. Even Amazon sent a representative despite the fact that its boss, Jeff Bezos, owns the Washington Post, the paper that employed Khashoggi. Meanwhile, Qahtani was creeping back into favor at the royal court – although he had been implicated by the un for Khashoggi’s murder, a Saudi court took the decision not to charge him.

MBS revitalized the near-dormant sovereign-wealth fund, pumping tens of billions of dollars into tech, entertainment and sports, to create a softer, more appealing image of Saudi and co-opt new partners. In April 2020, the fund led a consortium to buy Newcastle United, a premier-league football team [the deal took 18 months]. The following year it launched an audacious bid to create Saudi’s own golf tour, the LIV series, hoping to lure players with a prize pot of $255m, far larger than that of American tournaments. At the first LIV tour this year, some top players boycotted the event, others went for the cash.

Joe Biden has proved tougher to woo. Soon after becoming president, Biden withdrew American military support for the war in Yemen. He wouldn’t talk to MBS, insisting that communications go through King Salman instead. He didn’t even nominate an ambassador to Riyadh for 15 months. The chat everywhere was that Saudi-American relations were in a deep freeze. Then, in February 2022, MBS had a stroke of luck: Russia invaded Ukraine.

In the days after war broke out, Biden himself tried to call MBS. The crown prince declined to speak to the president. He did take Putin’s call, however. The two men were already close. MBS had personally brought Russia into an expanded version of the OPEC cartel in order for Saudi Arabia to keep control of global oil production. Putin cemented the friendship in 2018 at the g20 summit in Buenos Aires, which took place weeks after the Khashoggi killing. While Western leaders shunned MBS, Putin gave the Saudi ruler a high-five before sitting down next to him.

MBS’s defiance of America seems to have paid off. After months of evasion, Biden reluctantly agreed to meet MBS in Jeddah in July, on the prince’s own turf and his own terms. The visit gave MBS recognition but did little to rebuild relations. There wasn’t even a concrete assurance of increasing oil production.

Some in the American foreign-policy establishment remain hopeful that MBS could become a helpful partner in the region, pointing to his recent retreat from confrontation with Qatar and his eagerness to find a diplomatic exit from Yemen. Perhaps, they say, he is maturing as a leader.

This seems optimistic. MBS’s disastrous campaign in Yemen was ostensibly in support of the country’s president but in April, hours after being summoned to a meeting and offered Arabic coffee and dates, Yemen’s president was reading out a resignation speech on tv. MBS took it upon himself to get rid of him personally – suggesting that his mode of international diplomacy remains as high-handed as ever. “What they’ve learned”, says one foreign analyst, “is don’t murder journalists who dine regularly with congressmen in the United States.”

The West has taught MBS something else, too – something that autocrats the world over may draw comfort from. No matter the sin, they would argue, if you sit tight through the odium and fury, eventually the financiers, the celebrities, even the Western leaders, will come running back. At 36, MBS has time on his side. Some observers fear that he may become only more dangerous as oil reserves start to decline and the treasure trove shrinks. “What happens when he’s a middle-aged man ruling a middle-income country and starts to get bored?” asks a diplomat who knows MBS personally. “Will he go on more adventures?”

Earlier this year, I visited an old friend in his office in Saudi Arabia. Before we started talking, he put his phone in a pouch that blocks the signal, to prevent government spies from listening in. Dissidents do that kind of thing in police states like China, but I’d never seen it before in Saudi Arabia. It isn’t just people involved with politics who are taking such precautions: most Saudis have become afraid to speak near a functioning mobile phone. People used to talk fairly openly in their offices, homes and cafés. Now, they are picked up for almost nothing.

As we chatted over the whir of his office air conditioning, my friend reeled off a list of people he knew who had been detained in the past month: a retired air-force chief who died in prison, a hospital administrator hauled away from his desk, a mother taken in front of her seven children, a lawyer who died seven days after his release from prison. “These people aren’t rabble rousers,” my friend said. “No one understands why.”

Officially, the government says it has no political prisoners. Rights groups reckon that thousands have been swept up in MBS’s dragnet. I’ve covered the Middle East since the 1990s and can’t think of anywhere where so many of my own contacts are behind bars.

Few ordinary Saudis predicted that when MBS was done trampling on the elites and the clerics, he would come for them next. Bringing Saudis into the modern, networked, online world has made it easier for the state to monitor what they are saying. A Red Crescent employee called Abdulrahman al-Sadhan used to run a satirical Twitter account under a pseudonym. In 2018 MBS’s agents arrested him and held him incommunicado for two years. American prosecutors later charged two former Twitter employees with allegedly handing over the real names behind various accounts to a Saudi official – al-Sadhan’s family believes that his name was among them. [The trial of one employee is ongoing; he denies passing on information to Saudi officials.]

On the face of it, MBS has nothing to worry about. Public opinion polls – if they can be trusted – suggest he is popular, particularly with younger Saudis. But there is a growing sense that discontent is brewing beneath the surface. MBS has broken crucial social contracts with the Saudi populace, by reducing handouts while, at the same time, dispensing with the tradition of hearing the feedback of ordinary people after Friday prayers.

It isn’t hard to imagine some of the issues they’d raise if they had the chance. Many people are struggling as the cost of living rises. When other governments were cushioning their citizens during the pandemic, MBS slashed fuel subsidies and tripled vat. Unable to afford the cost of pumping water, some farmers left crops to wither in the field. Fees for permits and fines have spiraled, too. Though MBS speaks eloquently about the country’s youth, he is struggling to find them jobs. Unemployment remains stubbornly stuck in double digits. Half of the jobless have a university degree, but most white-collar workers I met on MBS’s mega-projects were foreign.

Saudi Arabia’s attempts to diversify its economy – and so compensate for the long-term decline of oil reserves – isn’t going well either. The pandemic delayed plans for a rapid increase in international tourism. Extorting billions of dollars from your relatives may not be the best way to convince investors that the kingdom is a liberal haven.

The young prince has reversed even the baby steps towards democracy taken by previous kings. Municipal elections have been suspended – as a cost-cutting exercise, explains the supine press. The Shura Council, a consultative body of 150 people, has only met online since the pandemic [other institutions have gathered in person for months]. “I wish I had more of a voice,” said one member. Whenever I mentioned the prince, his leg twitched.

A frequent visitor to the royal court says MBS now gives the impression of someone who’s always thinking that people are plotting against him. He seems to be preoccupied with loyalty. He fills key posts either with young royals, foreigners with no local base to threaten him or people he has already broken. A government minister, Ibrahim Assaf, was one of those locked up in the Ritz-Carlton – two months later MBS sent him to the World Economic Forum as his representative. A senior executive on one of his construction projects is someone who says he was tortured in one of his prisons. “He went from being strung naked from his ankles, beaten and stripped of all his assets to a high-level project manager,” says a close acquaintance of the man.

All remain vulnerable to MBS’s tantrums. Saudi sources say he once locked a minister in a toilet for ten hours. [The minister later appeared on tv blabbering platitudes about the prince’s wisdom.] A senior official I’ve spoken to says he wants out. “Everyone in his circle is terrified of him,” says an insider. And that could make it hard for him to govern a country of 35m people effectively. Former courtiers say no one close to MBS is prepared to offer a truthful assessment of whether his increasingly grandiose schemes are viable. “Saying no”, says one, “is not something they will ever do.”

If MBS has a mission beyond extending his power, you might expect to find it in Neom, the city he promised to build in the desert. Neom would be nothing less than “a civilizational leap for humanity”, he said in 2017. Head-spinning details followed. The city’s food would be grown on hydroponic walls on a floating structure. It would be powered by the world’s largest green-hydrogen plant. Thousands of snow-blowers would create a ski resort on a nearby mountain. One day it would have driverless cars and passenger drones.

According to the official timetable, the main city would be completed by 2020. Further districts would be added by 2025. The prince’s tourism minister, Ahmed al-Khateeb, dismissed rumors that the timetable was proving over-ambitious. “Come see with your eyes and not with your ears,” he urged. So, I went.

Finding Neom was the first problem. There were no road signs to it. After three hours’ drive we came to the spot indicated by the map. It was bare, but for the odd fig tree. Camels strolled across the empty highway. Piles of rubble lined the road, remnants of the town bulldozed to make way for the mighty metropolis.

The designated area is nearly the size of Belgium. As far as I could tell, only two projects had been completed, MBS’s palace, and something Google Earth calls “The Neom Experience Centre” [when I drove to see it, it was obscured by a prefabricated hut]. The only other solid building I could see was a hotel constructed before Neom was conceived: The Royal Tulip. A poster in the lobby urged me to “Discover Neom”. But when I asked for a guide the hotel manager cursed my sister with Arabic vulgarities and tried to shoo me away. There was no sign of the media hub with “frictionless facilitation”, “advanced infrastructure” and “collaborative ecosystems” promised by the Neom website. Neom’s head of communications and media, Wayne Borg, said he was “out of Kingdom at present”.

The hotel restaurant was teeming with consultants – all the ones I met were foreign. I later found a Saudi project manager. “We think we’re about to start working, but every two months the consultants coin a new plan,” he told me. “They’re still doing plans of plans.” There was a kind of manic short-termism among these foreigners. Many were paid $40,000 a month, plus handsome bonuses. “It’s like riding a bull,” one of the Neom consultants told me. “You know you’re gonna fall, that no one can last on a bull longer than a minute and a half, two minutes, so you make the most of it.”

Despite the high salaries, there are reports that foreigners are leaving the Neom project because they find the gap between expectations and reality so stressful. The head of Neom is said by his friends to be “terrified” at the lack of progress.

Eventually, I found a retired Saudi air-force technician who offered to drive me around the city for $600. He took me to a sculpture standing in the desert with the words, “I love Neom”. A short way farther on we found a new stretch of tarmac, said to mark the edge of the dream city. Beyond it, the lone and level sands stretched far away.

Saudi Arabia Mass Executions: How MBS is Thumbing his Nose at The West

March 19, 2022 

Madawi Al-Rasheed, MEE

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Riyadh in the middle of a state massacre. On Saturday, Saudi Arabia broke its record for mass executions when official media announced that 81 people had been put to death. Three others were executed the day before the prime minister arrived.

With the whole world occupied by the Ukraine crisis and rising energy prices, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman apparently felt it was the right moment for such large-scale executions. He knows that the future of many western leaders, notably Johnson and US President Joe Biden, along with global economic recovery after two years of Covid-19 inflation, depend on securing cheap oil and gas.

For now, bin Salman is reaping profits from a western crisis that refuses to be resolved: namely, dependence on dictators’ cheap oil

This was the crown prince’s historical moment to flex his muscles and demand that the West treat him with respect, after three years of being considered a pariah. He is impatiently waiting for rehabilitation in Washington, which Biden could seal with a handshake.

Did Johnson deliver Biden’s message – that all this is dependent on the crown prince increasing oil production in order to lower prices and save the world from further economic turmoil?

In a recent interview with the Atlantic, asked whether the US misunderstood something about him, bin Salman replied: “Simply, I do not care.” He maintained that no other country has the right to interfere in how he handles his own subjects. Apparently, executions, detentions, unlawful treatment of prisoners, and various other human rights violations are all matters of national sovereignty.

In short, if the West wants cheap oil, they must tolerate his excesses and executions, rather than bringing such matters to the negotiating table. Other powers, namely Russia and China, do exactly that. 

Flexing muscles

Beyond his rhetoric, the crown prince is desperate to be recognized in Washington as the future king and to have Biden deal with him directly, rather than addressing his aging father, King Salman (who recently came out of hospital after “successful medical tests”). 

Indeed, bin Salman knows very well that his future depends on Washington engaging with him directly. He can flex his muscles at home and carry out as many executions as he wishes, but to secure the throne, he ultimately needs Washington, with Britain serving as a facilitator and provider of military technology. While the US continues to be number one in arming Saudi Arabia, Britain comes second on the list.

Protesters hold up placards as they demonstrate against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia during the visit of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, outside Downing Street, in central London on March 7, 2018

The crown prince also wants both the US and Britain, in addition to other western countries, to stop lecturing him on climate change and clean energy. Oil wells that bring in billions of dollars, sovereign wealth, global political status, and the acquiescence of subjects cannot be replaced by solar panels.

Another factor is the ill-fated, Saudi-led war in Yemen, made possible because both the US and Britain have provided arms and shielded the country from international criticism at the United Nations and other forums. While this help has not secured the victory that bin Salman hoped for, it has exposed western hypocrisy when it comes to authoritarian rulers they need. Yemenis, who have neither blonde hair nor blue eyes, are not high on the list of concerns in the West at the moment.

Cherishing defiance

Like other dictators, bin Salman does not care about his reputation. But in so-called democracies, a certain level of consistency and decency should be expected, especially when western countries frequently lecture the world about human rights and moral foreign policy.

Bin Salman surely has a long list of executions to carry out in the future, and he will continue to do so. His suppressed subjects might even cherish the momentary defiance that the crown prince has exhibited in recent weeks by not fully backing the US and Europe in condemning Russia, and in carrying out executions that are considered matters of national sovereignty.

In addition, he didn’t meet Johnson’s visit with too much pomp; the British leader was met at the airport by the deputy governor of Riyadh rather than a higher-ranking official, despite the UK’s role in continuing to prop up Saudi Arabia’s archaic political configuration.

For now, bin Salman is reaping profits from a western crisis that refuses to be resolved: namely, dependence on dictators’ cheap oil.

In the short term, other oil producers may be rehabilitated, such as Iran and Venezuela. In the long term, alternative sources of clean energy may become an affordable reality. Only then can we expect a different scenario, in which bin Salman may think twice before boasting about mass murder in an effort to defy the West and please his most loyal subjects. 

Hiding behind one’s Mecca: Israeli-Saudi covert normalization

February 18, 2022

Source: Al Mayadeen Net

By Karim Sharara 

Saudi Arabia has constantly claimed that it is on the side of the Palestinian people against “Israel”. However, an examination of history reveals a darker side to the kingdom, as it shows that it has had secret dealings with the Zionist regime since 1962, extending up to the beginning of low-level public relations in 2015.

Saudi Arabia’s relations with the Israeli regime go back decades before the 2015 meeting between ex-intelligence heads

For the longest time, it’s been touted that Saudi Arabia was and is not a proponent of normalization, with people citing its past stances in support of Palestine and condemnation of Israeli violations against the Palestinian people. This is all well and good, but Saudi Arabia’s real-world practices reveal another dimension of its relationship with “Israel”, one of an increasing intersection of interests that is leading up to public normalization.

It would not be without benefit to detail the history of Saudi Arabia’s dealings with the Israeli apartheid regime, if for nothing else but to show the Kingdom’s dual standards in dealing secretly with the enemy of the Palestinian people, while at the same time using Palestine as a front in its rhetoric, in order to show its commitment to Arabhood and to advance its regional interests without arousing the anger of the Arab world.

The Kingdom’s history with “Israel” extends far before 2015, when Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the former head of the Saudi General Intelligence Directory, took part in a high-profile panel with the former Israeli Commander of the IOF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, hosted by the General Marshall Fund think tank. Some, like Alexander Bligh, the Chief Scientist at the Israeli Ministry of Science, found that the relationship between the two dates back to 1962.

The history

“In the early 1960s, following the 1962 revolution in the Yemen, ‘Israel’ and Saudi Arabia maintained continuous contacts aimed at depriving their common enemy – Egypt – of victory.” During the time of King Saud and then-prince Faysal, this cooperation proved feasible. [1] The reason was largely caused by Saudi Arabia’s concerns of Egypt becoming a powerful actor among Arab peoples, as Gamal Abd al-Nasser held high the mantle of pan-Arabism, and managed to rally Arab countries against Israeli presence in the region, and against Western imperialist influence. 

This is where Saudi and Israeli interests began to intersect. Although the Israeli lobby had up to then repeatedly attempted to block US weapons sales to the Saudi Kingdom, they were largely unsuccessful in doing so in the first few decades after 1948. In Egypt’s influence and Yemen, and its support of the Yemeni revolution in 1962, “Israel” and Saudi Arabia found each other to be unlikely bedfellows in order to prevent their then-common enemy, Egypt, from declaring victory in Yemen. 

It was then that contact between the two regimes was initiated outside of the region. This cooperation, which proved feasible at one time on account of the Saudis’ perception that Egypt was becoming a threat to its regional dominance, could prove feasible again whenever actors in the Kingdom perceive an external threat to its interests. Not only that, but Abdel Nasser’s popularity in the Arab world ran counter to both Israeli and Saudi interests if Egypt was to become the leader of the Arab world and rival Saudi Arabia for dominance.

Moreover, Israeli declassified documents also show that “Israel” was also secretly involved during the war, and supplied the royalists with military weapons and equipment against the republicans.

Yemen’s Ali Abdallah Saleh also revealed documents in 2017, showing a letter sent by then-Saudi King Faisal bin Abdel Aziz, asking US President Lyndon Johnson to support an Israeli war on Egypt in order to weaken Egypt’s influence with Yemen’s republicans (The Jerusalem Post also covered the leak with an article in English, which you can find here).

New Middle East

There is largely no information on any meeting between the Saudis and the Israelis after that date, though there is a lot of reason to think that a number of clandestine meetings security meetings took place before 2006, as after “Israel’s” 33-day war on Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert secretly met with a high-ranking Saudi official in September, but Olmert said at the time that he did not meet the Saudi king, and sources later clarified that he met someone close to the king instead in a third country.

“I did not meet with the Saudi king and I did not meet with anyone who should cause a sensation in the media,” Olmert was quoted as saying at the time by Ynet news, and also said that Saudi Arabia showed “responsibility and judgment” during the war with Lebanon.

“Israel’s” history of relations with Saudi Arabia was again brought up in a May 2021 interview that Russia Today conducted with Olmert, wherein he said that “Israel” has held steady relations with Saudi Arabia since 2006, and that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is very interested in changing the status of relations between “Israel” and Saudi Arabia.

“I can tell you that there has been communication between the Saudis and ‘Israel’ that dates back 15 years, and all throughout this period. They are not enemies.”

Intersecting interests

Putting aside public meetings between ranking Saudi and Israeli officials, there have been numerous reports over the years of intersecting interests between the colonial regime and Saudi Arabia (as evidenced by their interests against Egypt), particularly with regards to the resistance’s growing influence in the region, with both regimes showing similar concern of what they perceive to be a threat posed by Iran and its allies.

The horrible torture and murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi by the order of Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, had global implications on Saudi Arabia’s standing; Moreover, it severely harmed business in the Kingdom, with international companies being hesitant to invest in it, lest their doing so is seen as support for the Kingdom that horribly murdered and dismembered a journalist.

Nevertheless, amidst all this, Netanyahu voiced support for Saudi Arabia, citing the primacy of the ‘Iran threat’, which necessitates that there be stability in the Kingdom so that it can use its regional power to counter the resistance.

“What happened at the Istanbul consulate was horrendous and it should be duly dealt with. But at the same time, it is very important for the stability of the region and the world that Saudi Arabia remain stable,” Netanyahu said during a visit to Bulgaria. The ex-PM, now on trial, added “I think that a way must be found to achieve both goals. Because the larger problem I believe is Iran.” Not only that but Netanyahu also lobbied for MbS and pushed the White House to maintain its support for him.

Even before Khashoggi’s murder, Israeli commentator Barak Ravid leaked a cable on Israeli Channel 10 in November 2017, in which the Israeli Foreign Ministry instructs its diplomats to lobby in favor of Saudi Arabia against Iran and Hezbollah.

Moreso, in June 2017, renowned journalist David Hearst published an article for the Middle East Eye, wherein he said that “Israel” and Saudi Arabia have forged an alliance against the resistance in Gaza, and that the Kingdom is financing “Israel’s” weapons build-up against Iran

The Saudi Ambassador to the UK released a statement denying that an alliance has been forged between his country and the Israeli regime, but did not deny that the meetings took place, and in fact stated that “any dealings by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with ‘Israel’ have been limited to attempts to bring about a plan for peace.”

Beginning of public relations

Public meetings between ranking Saudi Arabian and Israeli figures, however, have also been occurring over the past few years, just as clandestine relations between the two countries are increasing (like secret trade talks that took place in 2017, in a first). 

The first such meeting, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, took place in 2015, between Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the former head of the Saudi General Intelligence Directory, and Amos Yadlin the former Israeli Commander of the IOF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, who were brought together in a high-profile and public panel hosted by the General Marshall Fund.

Although the prince was invited for a visit to Al-Quds by the retired Major General, he turned it down, as no official could perform such a visit before a “comprehensive peace deal”. This entailed an indication of the Saudi rhetoric at the time that the Kingdom would not normalize with “Israel”, unless a comprehensive agreement was reached with the Palestinian factions. 

However, Turki Al-Faisal managed to keep the atmosphere chummy, replying to the former Mossad spy chief “Yeah, absolutely not,” as the attendance laughed, “and the general knows that.” To perform such a visit before a “peace deal” was “putting the chicken before the egg.” 

This visit by such a high-ranking Saudi official, who was the head of the Saudi General Intelligence Directory for 24 years, effectively broke the taboo on meetings with Israeli officials, allowing a delegation of Saudi academics and businessmen – led by retired Saudi General Anwar Eshki, who was a former advisor to the Saudi government – to visit the occupied territories in July 2016. 

Knesset Member Issawi Frej, one of the other MK members who took part in the meeting, said “The Saudis want to open up to ‘Israel’…It’s a strategic move for them. They want to continue what former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat started (with the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty). They want to get closer with ‘Israel’, and we could feel it clearly.”

If that wasn’t enough, the Editor of Haaretz’s English Edition Avi Scharf revealed in November 2020, meaning when Trump and Netanyahu were both still in power, that a visit had occurred for the first time between former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, during the time Mike Pompeo was visiting Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu’s associates later leaked that a meeting indeed took place between the two, for which the Israeli PM received some flak from Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who called the leak “irresponsible”.

The history of relations between the two regimes showed that intersecting regional interests, allieviated by both of them being allies with the Western camp, was the basis on which they were able to build their covert relations. From, Israeli support for the war on Yemen, to Saudi Arabia’s inching towards increasingly overt security cooperation, and up to its outright criticism of the Palestinian leaderships and their stance against the normalization process adopted by the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, as evidenced by ex-spy chief Bandar bin Sultan’s interview on Saudi Arabia’s official Al-Arabiya TV, all show that both regimes are drawing increasingly closer to normalizing ties.

It is one thing to be with normalization, or to have secret dealings with “Israel”, but it’s something else when Saudi Arabia claims to be on the side of the Palestinian people against “Israel” while holding and advancing relations with the apartheid regime, only to later stab Palestine in the back. 

Additional reference:

[1] Bligh, Alexander. 1985. “Towards Israel-Saudi co-existence?” Jerusalem Quarterly, no. 35, 24 – 35.

Assisted ‘genocide’: How allied weapons embolden Saudi crimes in Yemen

January 25, 2022

By Farah Hajj Hassan

How the Saudi coalition’s crimes began with weapons from allied nations and why they are determined to remain silent.

Assisted Assassinations: How allied weapons enable Saudi crimes in Yemen

As it turns out, the real-life monsters behind the Saudi-led coalition war on Yemen and the massacre of its people are the same champions and cheerleaders of human rights around the world oozing with hypocrisy and double standards. UNICEF has called the situation in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the UK, France, Canada, and the US are among the countries responsible for making that nightmare a reality.

The US Department of State reports that human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia include, but are not limited to, “unlawful killings, executions for nonviolent offenses, torture, and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners, serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, severe restrictions of religious freedom,” and many many more. As of 2020, Saudi Arabia remains the world’s largest arms importer. Arms sales from the US alone amounted to $3 billion from 2015-2020, agreeing to sell $64.1 billion worth of weapons to Riyadh. 

In what universe does that sound like a government worth funding with weapons? Why then do we not hear the same cries of human rights resounding in the West? Because the west and its previous administrations have long ago sold their soul to the Saudi regime before any of their current administrations can even remember. 

A permanent [bloody] record

US President Joe Biden made foreign policy commitments to end the selling of “offensive” weapons to the kingdom and “end all support” for a war that created a humanitarian catastrophe. 

How did Biden deliver? A major arms sale two months ago, including 280 air-to-air missiles valued at $650 million.

At the time, the Pentagon’s statement said the sale would help to “improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political and economic progress in the Middle East.”

Does the US consider economic progress to be the complete destruction and demolishment of a country along with 3,825 murdered children? 

The former administration under Donald Trump shamelessly embraced arms sales to Saudi Arabia that in no doubt helped prolong the war that has killed thousands in what is considered the Arab region’s poorest nation, further destabilizing the already volatile region. 

Unlike Biden, Trump was very public about the economic and diplomatic benefits that would follow the sale, with no regard to the thousands being killed and maimed as a result of the US-designed and manufactured weapons. 

Entesaf Organization for Women and Child Rights in Yemen reported the data, adding that more than 400,000 Yemeni children are suffering from severe malnutrition, 80,000 of whom are at risk of facing death. The number of displaced families as of November has reached 670, 343 in 15 governorates.  Where exactly does Saudi Arabia intend to implement its economic progress in Yemen to allow those families to prosper? 

Britain has been under increased scrutiny over its arms deals to Saudi Arabia and remains silent on the crimes it repeatedly commits. 

The mind-boggling hypocrisy of the west almost has no end. The frenzy that surrounds the defense of Saudi Arabia by its allies can be mirrored with the hysteric defense of “Israel” while it commits its crimes against the Palestinians on a regular basis.

In numerous TV interviews, British and American officials can be shown echoing the same formula we have heard countless times in the last twenty years. Begin with a dictator or lack thereof, blame the people for overthrowing said dictator or supporting him, blame Iran for “emboldening” and training militias, and bam! Claim your get-out-of-jail-free card in international law.

Clean smiles, dirty hands

Other Saudi allies have had their fair share of arms deals that enabled Saudi aggression.

Canada for instance has long been an arms exporter to Saudi Arabia. In 2020, Canada sent close to $2.9 billion of arms hardware to Saudi Arabia. The exports included light-armored vehicles, 31 large-caliber artillery systems, and 152 heavy machine guns

Justin Trudeau, a man who has repeatedly come out and condemned and apologized about residential schools, remains silent regarding the Yemeni children whose schools have been rendered to piles of dust.

In August, Amnesty International Canada and Project Ploughshares urged Canada to end their sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia as a report surfaced accusing the Prime Minister of violating the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia. The report detailed evidence that weapons from Canada to the Kingdom were used in the war, including LAVs (light-armored vehicles) and sniper rifles. Under the previous Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada inked a $12 billion deal to ship Canadian-made LAVs to Saudi Arabia.

France and the UAE: A match made in hell

In December 2021, France signed a deal with the UAE worth $19.20 billion to supply 80 Rafale fighter planes by Dassault Aviation, the largest single purchase of the Dassault-made Rafale outside of the French Army. Human Rights Watch criticized the sale, saying the UAE has played “a prominent role” in the atrocity-ridden war on Yemen. The statement also said that Riyadh was in 2020 the largest buyer of French weapons.

In a report titled “Arms sales: France and the United Arab Emirates, partners in the crimes committed in Yemen,” numerous organizations list how France failed to respect its human rights commitments according to the UN Arms Trade Treaty which “regulates the international trade in conventional arms.” The report details that the UAE is a strategic ally of France and describes the former as a “repressive dictatorship”, where all dissenting voices risk imprisonment or torture, recalling the unjust sentences issued against 69 human rights activists in 2013 after an unfair trial. 

The investigative French website Disclose revealed that France delivered tens of thousands of arms to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar during President Francois Hollande’s reign in 2016, despite knowing that they would be used in the war on Yemen.

The website quoted “secret defense documents” that “since 2016, France has allowed the delivery of about 150,000 shells” to its two Gulf allies.

The French President met with Mohammed Bin Salman as one of the first western leaders to visit the kingdom since the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

The hypocrisy with France, in particular, is that it prides itself in its secular mantra, and its policies have mostly targeted Muslims and adopted highly anti-Islamic rhetoric. Macron’s cozying up to MBS tells a different story, with the Secretary-General of Amnesty International commenting on the move by suggesting that it is part of a “rehabilitation” policy of the Saudi Prince. She expressed, “It grieves me that it is France, a country of human rights, which is used as the tool of this policy.” 

Typhoons of misery for Yemen

Over half of Saudi’s combat aircraft deployed in bombing operations in Yemen are provided by none other than the UK.

The United Kingdom signed off on arms exports worth nearly $1.9 billion to Saudi Arabia between July and September 2020 following the lifting of a ban on weapons sales to the Gulf country. “UK-made weapons have played a devastating role in the Saudi-led attacks on Yemen, and the humanitarian crisis they have created, yet the UK government has done everything it can to keep the arms sales flowing,” said Sarah Waldron, a spokesperson for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). 

The published value of UK arms export to the Saudi-led coalition since the beginning of the war is £6.9 billion, and CAAT estimates that the real value is over £20 billion.

Between January 2015 and December 2019, the British government approved 385 licenses for the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. The UK Government has confirmed that the Saudi-led coalition attacked Yemen with weaponry that was manufactured in the UK, including Typhoon and Tornado fighter planes, Paveway bombs, and Brimstone and Stormshadow missiles. 

The British government has also admitted that precision-guided weapons have also been used in the war on Yemen. 

The Mwatana’s 2019 report “Day of Judgement: the role of the US and Europe in civilian death, destruction, and trauma in Yemen,” dissects the details of UK weapons and attacks on civilians in Yemen including an attack on a community college, warehouse, and multiple factories. 

Raining missiles 

Days ago, the Yemeni Armed Forces announced “carrying out a qualitative military operation, Yemen Hurricane, in response to the escalation of aggression against the country.” The operation targeted Abu Dhabi’s airport, the oil refinery in Mussafah in Abu Dhabi, and several other sites in the UAE.

Ali Al-Qahoum, a member of Ansar Allah Political Bureau, blessed the Yemeni operation in the UAE depth, saying that “this operation and others will continue as long as the aggression and siege continue with strategic goals further ahead.”

Yemeni victims of the Saudi-led war filed a complaint against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for financing terrorism.

The complaint was submitted on behalf of the Yemeni NGO, the Legal Center for Rights and Development, which is based in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.

The war on Yemen in numbers

Nowhere to run

The megaphones of human rights campaigns and global petitions against the war on Yemen must be amplified, keeping in mind that the enemy is not Ansar Allah, neither is it the Palestinians, nor is it the Lebanese, or the Chinese, or the Russians. The true enemy of the West is the Axis of Resistance. Time has proven that a refusal to kneel to the demands of the West is all it takes to become an enemy. 

If the cries of the virtuous remain unheard and the coalition and governments complicit in the massacres refuse to listen, then the Yemeni people surely will be left with the only other alternative. It was, is, and will always be the only key that unlocks the shackles of oppression and brutality; Resistance. 

And one thing will certainly never change. The Saudi royals, no matter how enshrined in gold, can never cleanse themselves of the crimes they have committed against humanity, for conscience is the one thing they cannot buy. 

Erdogan and Macron, between Competition and Hostility, there’s One Understanding! إردوغان وماكرون.. بين المنافسة والعداء تفاهم واحد!

ARABI SOURI 

Erdogan and Macron, between Competition and Hostility, there’s One Understanding!

France Macron and Turkey Erdogan

Macron’s visit to the region comes to obstruct what Erdogan is striving for regionally and internationally.

The following is the English translation from Arabic of the latest article by Turkish career journalist Husni Mahali he published in the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen news site Al-Mayadeen Net:

A week after the visit of the “biggest enemy” Mohammed bin Zayed to Ankara and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s talk of his desire to achieve similar reconciliations with Egypt, “Israel”, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, French President Emmanuel Macron came to the region to obstruct what Erdogan is striving for, regionally and internationally.

Abu Dhabi was Macron’s main station, where he persuaded bin Zayed to buy 80 Rafale planes and 12 helicopters, and he agreed with him to coordinate and joint cooperation on all the issues discussed. This is what Macron reached during his talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after winning his affection, because he is the first Western president to visit Saudi Arabia after the crime that targeted Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, which everyone blamed bin Salman for it. The duo’s contact with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati was the first fruit of this coordination and cooperation, and it was translated into practice through Saudi-French projects and plans backed by the United States, which will target Hezb Allah and through it Syria and then Iran.

As for Qatar (Erdogan will visit it on Sunday), which is Macron’s third station, Prince Tamim welcomed him warmly, perhaps as a response to the hospitality with which his ally Erdogan received his enemy Mohammed bin Zayed in Ankara, especially since Macron’s visit came two days after the agreement signed by Cyprus with Qatar National Petroleum Company and the American ExxonMobil Company for gas exploration in the vicinity of the island, this was strongly denounced by Ankara and pushed Erdogan to visit Doha (Sunday), especially since this signing came on the day the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee ratified an agreement with Doha under which Ankara would allow 36 Qatari warplanes to come and stay in Turkish bases and fly in the Turkish air, in conjunction with the visit of Pope Francis to Cyprus and Greece.

This is in the narrow context of the competition between Erdogan and Macron, and it seems clear that it has acquired the character of direct hostility over the past few years. This explains the violent attack which was launched and is being launched by President Erdogan from time to time on Macron personally, and the latter responds to him with two strikes, without preventing them from reconciliation and warm hugs on various occasions, the most recent of which was the G20 summit in Rome at the end of last October, at a time when Paris was confronting President Erdogan’s plans and projects in many arenas, the most important of which are Libya, Somalia, and Karabakh, and after Ankara mobilized all its capabilities to compete, if not confront, the traditional French role in its former African colonies that Erdogan visits from time to time, and hosts their leaders In Turkey constantly, and without Erdogan neglecting the interest in the Turkish community in France, which numbers about 600,000, in an attempt to incite it and incite the Arab Islamists (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) and those residing in France and Europe in general against Macron.

The latter had previously accused the Turkish intelligence of adopting sabotage acts in his country and Europe in general, at a time when many see the position of Paris, which recognized the Ottoman genocide against the Armenians in 1915 and President Macron (in February 2019) announced the 24th of April of each year a day of national mourning in remembrance of this genocide, as one of the main causes of hostility between the two sides. While recalling the other reason, which has historical roots, as France and Britain occupied the land of Anatolia after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. France and Britain were a major party to the Sèvres Agreement (August 1920) and its goal was to establish a Kurdish state in the region.

With Ataturk’s rejection of this agreement and its failure after the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, and Paris’s efforts to win Ankara’s friendship again, and through cooperation with it in the issue of the Alexandretta Strip (Liwa Iskandaron 1938 – 1939), the French interest in the Kurds remained one of the most important causes of apathy and tension between the two parties and still is. Paris has supported and continues to support the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, directly or indirectly, which is what it is doing with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria. Macron (last July) and Hollande (February 2015) received some of its military and political leaders at the Elysee.

As for the traditional support of France (along with the UAE, Egypt, “Israel” and sometimes Saudi Arabia) for Greece and the Greek Cypriots, it was also and still is one of the most important causes of apathy and tension between Ankara and Paris which is in solidarity with Nicosia and Athens in their differences with Ankara on many issues, The most important of these are the problems of territorial waters in the Aegean Sea, and the search and exploration for gas in the vicinity of Cyprus, which Ankara, on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots, objects to, and refuses to talk about the Armenian genocide.

While awaiting the results of the eighth round of the Iranian nuclear talks (and the visit of Faisal Miqdad and Tahnoon bin Zayed to Tehran on Sunday and Monday) and most importantly, the meeting of Presidents Biden and Putin (December 7), President Macron will continue his regional moves that he wants to achieve for Paris political, military, and economic gains on the eve of the upcoming presidential elections, and after he lost the submarine deal with Australia, with Britain and America plotting against him. The timing of these elections acquires another meaning for Turkey because its second round will be on April 24, the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Macron seeks to get out of these elections victorious, after achieving his goals in Lebanon in coordination with Riyadh which Mohammed bin Salman wants to return to a major party in the region’s equations in the face of other parties who took advantage of Saudi Arabia’s isolation after the Khashoggi’s crime and wanted to convince Washington that they are the most important. This explains the alliance of the Emirates and Qatar separately with Egypt and Turkey, the two regionally important and historically competing countries and ideological enemies who indirectly agree to confront the Iranian role in the region in general.

It also explains the alliance of everyone against Damascus at the beginning of the crisis in 2012 when Paris, London, Berlin, and Washington were in constant contact with Ankara to get rid of President Assad, and Erdogan predicted his downfall within months, saying in September 2012 that he would pray soon in the Umayyad Mosque. The calculations of everyone, led by Turkey and France, met in Syria and through it in Lebanon as if they were and are still saying all, including Macron and Erdogan, “My brother and I are against my cousin, and my cousin and I are against the stranger,” but without it being clear who the brother is and who the cousin is, and why ‘Lebanon the Resistance’ is the strange thing in the play of the West, in which everyone has his role according to the place and time determined by the author of the saying “I” who does not want anyone else to say “Me too”!

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إردوغان وماكرون.. بين المنافسة والعداء تفاهم واحد!

كانون الأول 5 2021

في انتظار مكالمة بايدن.. كيف يستعدّ إردوغان؟ | الصحيفة السياسية

المصدر: الميادين نت

حسني محلي

زيارة ماكرون إلى المنطقة تأتي لعرقلة ما يسعى من أجله إردوغان إقليمياً ودولياً. 

سبق لماكرون أن اتهم الاستخبارات التركية بتبنّي أعمال تخريبية في بلاده.

بعد أسبوع من زيارة “العدو الأكبر” محمد بن زايد لأنقرة وحديث الرئيس التركي رجب طيب إردوغان عن رغبته في تحقيق مصالحات مماثلة مع مصر و”إسرائيل” والسعودية والبحرين، جاء الرئيس الفرنسي إيمانويل ماكرون إلى المنطقة ليعرقل ما يسعى من أجله إردوغان إقليمياً ودولياً. 

كانت أبو ظبي محطة ماكرون الرئيسية، حيث أقنع ابن زايد بشراء 80 طائرة رافال و12 مروحية، واتفق وإياه على التنسيق والتعاون المشترك حول مجمل القضايا التي تمت مناقشتها. وهو ما توصّل إليه ماكرون خلال مباحثاته مع ولي العهد السعودي محمد بن سلمان، بعد أن كسب ودّه، لأنه أول رئيس غربي يزور السعودية بعد الجريمة التي استهدفت جمال خاشقجي في القنصلية السعودية في اسطنبول في تشرين الأول/أكتوبر 2018 وحمّل الجميع ابن سلمان مسؤوليتها. وكان اتصال الثنائي برئيس الوزراء اللبناني نجيب ميقاتي أولى ثمار هذا التنسيق والتعاون، وتمّت ترجمته عملياً عبر المشاريع والمخططات السعودية-الفرنسية المدعومة أميركياً، والتي ستستهدف حزب الله وعبرها سوريا ثم إيران.

وأما في قطر (يزورها إردوغان غداً الاثنين) وهي محطة ماكرون الثالثة، فقد رحّب الأمير تميم به ترحيباً حاراً، وربما كردّ على الحفاوة التي استقبل بها حليفه إردوغان عدوّه محمد بن زايد في أنقرة، وخاصة أن زيارة ماكرون جاءت بعد يومين من الاتفاقية التي وقّعتها قبرص مع الشركة الوطنية للبترول القطرية وشركة أكسون موبيل الأميركية للبحث والتنقيب عن الغاز في جوار الجزيرة، وهو ما استنكرته أنقرة بشدة ودفعت إردوغان إلى زيارة الدوحة (الأحد)، وخاصة أن هذا التوقيع جاء في اليوم الذي صادقت فيه لجنة العلاقات الخارجية في البرلمان التركي على اتفاقية مع الدوحة تسمح بموجبها أنقرة لـ 36 طائرة حربية قطرية بالمجيء والبقاء في القواعد التركية والتحليق في الأجواء التركية، بالتزامن مع زيارة بابا الفاتيكان فرنسيس لقبرص واليونان.

هذا في الإطار الضيّق من المنافسة بين إردوغان وماكرون، ويبدو واضحاً أنها قد اكتسبت طابع العداء المباشر خلال السنوات القليلة الماضية. ويفسّر ذلك الهجوم العنيف الذي شنّه ويشنّه الرئيس إردوغان بين الحين والحين على ماكرون شخصياً، فيردّ عليه الثاني الصاع صاعين، ومن دون أن يمنعهما ذلك من المصالحة والعناق الحار في المناسبات المختلفة، وآخرها قمة العشرين في روما نهاية تشرين الأول/أكتوبر الماضي، في الوقت الذي كانت فيه باريس تتصدى لمخططات الرئيس إردوغان ومشاريعه في العديد من الساحات، وأهمها ليبيا والصومال وكاراباخ، وبعد أن استنفرت أنقرة كل إمكانياتها لمنافسة، إن لم نقل مواجهة، الدور الفرنسي التقليدي في مستعمراتها الأفريقية السابقة التي يزورها إردوغان بين الحين والحين، ويستضيف زعماءها في تركيا باستمرار، ومن دون أن يهمل إردوغان الاهتمام بالجالية التركية في فرنسا وقوامها نحو 600 ألف، في محاولة منه لتحريضها وتحريض الإسلاميين العرب (المغرب والجزائر وتونس) والمقيمين في فرنسا وأوروبا عموماً ضد ماكرون.

 وسبق للأخير أن اتهم الاستخبارات التركية بتبنّي أعمال تخريبية في بلاده وأوروبا عموماً، في الوقت الذي يرى فيه الكثيرون في موقف باريس، التي اعترفت بالإبادة العثمانية ضد الأرمن عام  1915 وإعلان الرئيس ماكرون (في شباط/فبراير 2019) 24 نيسان/أبريل من كل عام، يوم حداد وطني إحياءً لذكرى هذه الإبادة، من أهم أسباب العداء بين الطرفين. مع التذكير بالسبب الآخر، وهو ذو جذور تاريخية، حيث كانت فرنسا ومعها بريطانيا تحتلان أرض الأناضول بعد سقوط الدولة العثمانية 1918. كما كانت فرنسا ومعها بريطانيا طرفاً أساسياً في اتفاقية سيفر (آب/أغسطس 1920) وهدفها إقامة دولة كردية في المنطقة. 

ومع تصدّي أتاتورك لهذه الاتفاقية وإفشالها بعد قيام الجمهورية التركية عام 1923 ومساعي باريس لكسب ودّ أنقرة من جديد، ومن خلال التعاون معها في قضية لواء اسكندرون (1938 – 1939) فقد بقي الاهتمام الفرنسي بالكرد من أهم أسباب الفتور والتوتر بين الطرفين وما زال. فقد دعمت باريس وما زالت تدعم حزب العمال الكردستاني بنحو مباشر أو غير مباشر، وهو ما تفعله مع وحدات حماية الشعب الكردية في سوريا، واستقبل ماكرون (تموز/يوليو الماضي) ومن قبله هولاند (شباط/فبراير 2015) البعض من قياداتها العسكرية والسياسية في الإليزيه. 

وأما دعم فرنسا (ومعها الإمارات ومصر و”إسرائيل” وأحيانا السعودية) التقليدي لليونان والقبارصة اليونانيين، فقد كان هو الآخر وما زال من أهم أسباب الفتور والتوتر بين أنقرة وباريس التي تتضامن مع نيقوسيا وأثينا في خلافاتهما مع أنقرة حول العديد من القضايا، وأهمها مشاكل المياه الإقليمية في بحر إيجة، والبحث والتنقيب عن الغاز في جوار قبرص، وهو ما تعترض عليه أنقرة، وباسم القبارصة الأتراك، كما ترفض الحديث عن إبادة الأرمن. 

ومع انتظار نتائج الجولة الثامنة من مباحثات النووي الإيراني (وزيارة فيصل المقداد وطحنون بن زايد لطهران الأحد والإثنين) والأهم من ذلك، لقاء الرئيسين بايدن وبوتين (7 كانون الأول/ديسمبر) سيستمر الرئيس ماكرون في تحركاته الإقليمية التي يريد لها أن تحقق لباريس مكاسب سياسية وعسكرية واقتصادية، عشيّة انتخابات الرئاسة المقبلة، وبعد أن خسر صفقة الغواصات مع أستراليا بتآمر من بريطانيا وأميركا ضده. ويكتسب التوقيت الزمني لهذه الانتخابات معنى آخر بالنسبة إلى تركيا، لأن جولتها الثانية ستكون في 24 نيسان/أبريل، ذكرى الإبادة الأرمنية.

ويسعى ماكرون للخروج من هذه الانتخابات منتصراً، بعد أن يحقق أهدافه في لبنان بالتنسيق مع الرياض، التي يريد لها محمد بن سلمان أن تعود طرفاً رئيسياً في معادلات المنطقة، في مواجهة الأطراف الآخرين الذين استغلوا عزلة السعودية بعد جريمة خاشقجي، وأرادوا أن يقنعوا واشنطن بأنهم الأهم. ويفسّر ذلك تحالف الإمارات وقطر على حدة مع مصر وتركيا الدولتين المهمتين إقليميا والمتنافستين تاريخياً والعدوتين عقائدياً والمتفقتين بنحو غير مباشر على مواجهة الدور الإيراني في المنطقة عموماً.

ويفسّر أيضاً تحالف الجميع ضد دمشق في بداية الأزمة عام 2012 عندما كانت باريس ولندن وبرلين وواشنطن على اتصال دائم مع أنقرة للتخلص من الرئيس الأسد، وتوقّع إردوغان سقوطه خلال أشهر، ليقول في أيلول/سبتمبر 2012 “إنه سيصلّي قريباً في الجامع الأموي”. فالتقت حسابات الجميع، وفي مقدمتهم تركيا وفرنسا، في سوريا وعبرها في لبنان، وكأنهم كانوا وما زالوا يقولون جميعاً، بمن فيهم ماكرون وإردوغان، “أنا وأخي على ابن عمي وأنا وابن عمي عالغريب”، ولكن من دون أن يكون واضحاً من هو الأخ ومن هو ابن العم، ولماذا لبنان المقاومة هو الغريب في مسرحية الغرب التي لكلٍ فيها دوره بحسب المكان والزمان اللذين يحدّدهما صاحب مقولة “أنا” ولا يريد لأحد غيره أن يقول “وأنا أيضاً”! 

هدية مجانية لماكرون وابن سلمان يبتسم

الإثنين 6 كانون الأول 2021

ابراهيم الأمين

سياسة

مشكلة لبنان في إدارة علاقاته الخارجية لم تكن يوماً منفصلة عن مشكلته في إدارة علاقاته الداخلية، خصوصاً أن القوى المحلية تربط، صراحة، علاقاتها ومواقفها بتحالفاتها الخارجية. وهذا ينسحب على السياسيين والاقتصاديين والناشطين والإعلاميين أيضاً. لنأخذ، مثلاً، صاحب إحدى المؤسسات الإعلامية البارزة في لبنان، الذي تربطه صداقة بوزير الإعلام المستقيل جورج قرداحي. إذ إن هذا، عندما طالبه الأخير – من باب الصداقة – ألا يكون شريكاً في سفك دمه، ردّ بأنه يتقاضى راتبه من السعودية وليس من قرداحي نفسه.

الرواية – حتى ولو نفاها الطرفان – تعبّر عن طريقة تعامل اللبنانيين مع أزمات من هذا النوع. هل يمكن، مثلاً، أن نجد إعلامياً أو سياسياً أو ناشطاً أو حزباً أو رجل أعمال يرتبط بعمل أو علاقة دخل مع دول الخليج العربية، يبادر بانتقاد أي خطأ يقع في أي من هذه الدول. هل عثر أحد على ملاحظات نقدية لبرامج التدريس أو التعبئة الدينية أو السياسات الاقتصادية أو الاستهلاكية في هذه الدول، قبل أن نسأل عما إذا كان كل أدعياء الحريات قد علقوا على جريمة قتل وتقطيع الصحافي جمال الخاشقجي؟

الوثائق المسرّبة من عواصم ممالك القهر والموت كافية – ما نشر منها وما لم ينشر – لتشرح لنا طبيعة علاقة طبقة من السياسيين والإعلاميين والاقتصاديين مع هذه الدول وممثليها. ما من دونية يمكن أن تنزل إلى قعر أعمق مما حيث هم اليوم. لا يجرؤ أحد – أي أحد – على انتقاد أو توجيه ملاحظة. هل تتخيّلون، مثلاً، أنه يوم وقعت انفجارات في ميناء دبي في تموز الماضي، لم يجرؤ لبنانيون كثر على التواصل في ما بينهم للسؤال عما يحصل. تماماً كما هي الحال مع عاملين ومقيمين في السعودية ممن يتحدثون، عندما يعودون إلى بلدانهم، عن الحرب على اليمن وآثارها الداخلية، ويهمسون عن تعرّض قصور ملكية في الرياض لإصابات مباشرة بالقصف. أما السؤال حول كيفية تعامل اللبنانيين المقيمين هناك مع الإعلام الوارد من لبنان، فلهذا فصل آخر. إذ إن جلهم عمد إلى كل الخطوات التقنية التي تحول دون العثور في حواسيبهم أو هواتف أولادهم أو حتى في باقة القنوات الخاصة بشاشاتهم الصغيرة، على أي أثر قد يعرّضهم لـ«خطر» الاستماع أو قراءة أو متابعة ما يصدر عن جهات قريبة من محور المقاومة. وبالمناسبة، فإن الضغط في هذا المجال لم يعد يقتصر على العاملين اللبنانيين في السعودية، بل حتى على العاملين مع السعوديين ممن يقيمون في بلدان أخرى. وبلغت الأمور حدّ تجنّب وسائل إعلام لبنانية وعربية، قدر المستطاع، استضافة من يحتمل أن يوجه انتقادات مباشرة أو انتقادات لسياسات السعودية ودول الخليج.

الانقسام اللبناني لا يقتصر على الهوية الوطنية والسياسات الاقتصادية والاجتماعية بل حول مفهوم الكرامة أيضاً


عملياً، نحن في مواجهة آلة من الشر تقودها السعودية بمشاركة الغرب. وعندما يتجاوز رئيس فرنسا كل أطروحاته حول الحريات وحقوق الإنسان، ولا يخشى أن يصافح قاتلاً كمحمد بن سلمان، فهو يفعل ذلك لأنه يعرف أنه لا يوجد في فرنسا نفسها من يحاسبه، ولأنه يريد تحصيل ما أمكن من عقود توفر أموالاً لشركات بلاده، مع إدراكه بأن الرياض بقيادة ابن سلمان تتجه إلى تولي الإدارة المباشرة لعشرات الشركات التي كانت تتخذ من دبي أو الدوحة أو الكويت أو حتى المنامة مقراً لإداراتها الإقليمية، وبدأت إبلاغ شركات عالمية كبرى بأن عليها نقل مكاتبها الإقليمية إلى جدة أو إلى نيوم (بعد اكتمالها) تحت طائلة عدم التعاون معها (وزيارة السعودية من بوابة جدة تبدو تعايشاً سعودياً مع الوجهة الجديدة لابن سلمان بنقل كل شيء إلى جدة وإلى الساحل القريب من البحر الأحمر، ونيته جعل جدة العاصمة السياسية والتجارية والدينية ومنطلق الأنشطة السياحية والإعلامية). ولا يأخذ ابن سلمان بالاعتبار، في ذلك، غضب شيوخ أبو ظبي ودبي الذين باتوا يستشعرون هذه الخطوات التي ستدفع بعشرات الشركات للانتقال إلى السعودية، وبينها ما يشغّل عشرات الآلاف في الإمارات، كما هي الحال بالنسبة لوسائل إعلامية كبيرة تخشى على نفسها إن جرى إلزامها الانتقال إلى السعودية، وفي مقدمها شبكة «mbc».

عملياً، يتصرّف ماكرون في السعودية كأنه نعمة طعمة! الأخير مقاول مستعد لمراضاة آخر مولود في عائلة آل سعود إذا كان في ذلك ما يحفظ له عقود عمله في السعودية. وهذا الأخير، شأنه شأن غيره من رجال الأعمال في لبنان ومصر وسوريا والأردن، مستعد لممارسة كل أنواع الضغط في بلده لتحسين صورة السعودية. هذا، بالضبط، ما فعله ويفعله ماكرون الذي يسعى إلى تحقيق جملة من المكاسب في هذه المرحلة، لكنه لا يريد صرفها إلا في الانتخابات الرئاسية الفرنسية المقبلة. في هذه النقطة بالتحديد، نجح ماكرون في جرّ طبقة سياسية لبنانية بأكملها نحو مربعه، لخدمته في تنظيم علاقة خاصة مع الرياض لا نتائج لبنانية لها سوى أن «مملكة الخير» قد تفكّر في «العفو» عن لبنان، إذا ما استكمل خطوة استقالة قرداحي بخطوات عملية أخرى.

لكن ما هي هذه الخطوات؟

ظاهرياً، يحق لنجيب ميقاتي الزهو بأنه حقّق انتصاراً إعلامياً كبيراً في نجاحه بدفع قرداحي إلى الاستقالة، وهو يعتبر أنه انتصر على جمع كبير من القوى في لبنان، من حزب الله وميشال عون إلى سليمان فرنجية وآخرين، كما نجح في التنمّر على حلفائه – خصومه من نادي رؤساء الحكومات بأنه أقدر على الوصول إلى ابن سلمان منهم، بالتالي لا يحتاجهم لتحقيق ذلك، ومن دون أن يقدم تنازلات من كيسه. وفوق ذلك، انتزع التغطية التي تتيح له الاستمرار في الحكومة وطي صفحة «البحث» في استقالته أو استقالتها. لكن ميقاتي يعرف أن ما حصل في الرياض لا يعدو كونه كلاماً بكلام، لأن تحقيق ما تطلبه السعودية يتطلّب حرباً أهلية في لبنان. فالدب الداشر يريد من اللبنانيين جميعاً، ومن الفرنسيين أيضاً، الدخول في معركة مع حزب الله كرمى لعيونه، وإلا سيظل غاضباً… والويل لكم من غضبه. كل ذلك في مقابل «تنازله» بقبوله الاتصال بميقاتي، في حضور ماكرون وبإصرار منه، أو الطلب إلى وزير خارجيته فيصل بن فرحان تسهيل «زيارة عمرة» لرئيس الحكومة وترتيب لقاء معه، من دون ضمانة مسبقة بأن يستقبله ابن سلمان نفسه.

لكن، ما الذي حصّله لبنان من هذا كله؟

أمر واحد، وهو تأكيد أن الانقسام ليس فقط حول السياسات الخارجية والاقتصادية والمالية والإدارية والانتخابية، بل هو انقسام حول مفهوم الكرامة الوطنية، خصوصاً عندما لا يرف جفن جيش كبير من التافهين، سياسيين واقتصاديين ورجال أعمال وإعلاميين، إزاء ما حصل، بل يواصلون إعطاء الدروس في كيفية بناء العلاقات مع الدول… وإذا كانوا بهذه الوضاعة أمام ابن سلمان، فكيف ستكون صورتهم أمام ماكرون، وهم الذين يعانون دونية مستمرة تجاه الرجل الأبيض…

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‘Don’t give murderers a free pass’: Outrage as Biden refuses to sanction MBS

Activists and lawmakers say Saudi crown prince must face consequences after US intelligence report confirmed he was responsible for Khashoggi murder

US intelligence assessment revealed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman authorised the assassination (AFP/File photo)

By Ali HarbUmar A Farooq in Washington

Published date: 27 February 2021 00:06 UTC |

The virtual ink on a US intelligence report blaming Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi had not dried when the Biden administration ruled out imposing sanctions on the crown prince – a move that rights groups say would be fundamental for ensuring justice for the slain journalist.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed on Friday that Washington will not take action against the crown prince himself. 

The US State and Treasury departments had announced sanctions against dozens of Saudi individuals over their involvement in the Khashoggi murder and other rights violations without identifying them.

“What we’ve done by the actions that we’ve taken is really not to rupture the relationship but to recalibrate it to be more in line with our interests and our values,” Blinken told reporters.

Earlier on Friday, the State Department unveiled new visa restrictions dubbed the “Khashoggi Ban” that would allow Washington to target “individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities”.

For its part, the Treasury said it imposed sanctions on several Saudi officials, including Ahmed al-Asiri, former deputy head of military intelligence at the time of Khashoggi’s assassination, and members of the hit team that carried out the murder, known as the “Tiger Squad” or Rapid Intervention Force.

However, without sanctions against MBS, who the US government now publicly acknowledges was responsible for the killing, some advocates and lawmakers are saying the mastermind of the assassination is getting away with murder.

‘Unconscionable’

Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch, called failure to impose sanctions on MBS over the killing “unconscionable”.

“The fact that the US has sanctioned so many of MBS’s associates but not him sends a terrible message that the higher up in a government you are, the more likely it is you can commit crimes with impunity,” Prasow told MEE. 

“It also undermines US credibility. It’s hard to see what incentive MBS has to alter his conduct, whether inside Saudi Arabia, in his conduct in the war in Yemen, or in other extraterritorial attacks on dissidents, when he knows he can literally get away with murder.”

Khashoggi, a former Saudi government insider and journalist who wrote for the Washington Post and Middle East Eye, resided in the United States before his death.Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved Khashoggi murder, US report says

Saudi government agents murdered him and dismembered his body at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, while he was trying to retrieve personal paperwork, in October 2018. 

After initially insisting that Khashoggi left the building alive, Saudi officials acknowledged that the journalist was killed more than two weeks after the murder. But Riyadh insists that the assassination was a rogue operation that happened without the approval of top officials.

The murder sent shockwaves throughout Washington, amplifying criticism against the kingdom in Congress, but former President Donald Trump moved to shield Riyadh and particularly the crown prince from the fallout.

The Trump administration had refused a legally binding congressional request to release a report on the US intelligence community’s findings about the involvement of Saudi officials in the murder.

The administration of President Biden, who had called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” as a presidential candidate in 2019, made the report public on Friday, documenting what experts had been saying for years – that the murder, which involved the crown prince’s aides, could not have happened without his blessing.

Saudi Arabia was quick to reject the findings, calling the US assessment “negative, false and unacceptable”.

‘Free pass’

While rights groups hailed the release of the report as a step towards ensuring accountability for the murder, the administration’s failure to impose sanctions on the lead perpetrator left many disappointed.

“The Biden administration is trying to thread the needle. They want to continue to work with a partner that has committed a heinous act against a US resident, while taking some steps toward accountability,” Seth Binder, advocacy officer at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), told MEE.

“But if human rights is really going to be at the center of US foreign policy, as the administration has repeatedly stated, then it can’t give murderers a free pass.”

Before taking office, Biden vowed to “reassess” US-Saudi relations. Since his inauguration, he has paused some arms sales to Riyadh and announced an end to Washington’s support for the kingdom’s “offensive operations” in Yemen.

Still, many rights advocates and lawmakers are demanding a more forceful approach to Riyadh and MBS from Washington.

‘We’re calling on the Biden administration to move ahead with accountability measures to sanction MBS personally’

– Raed Jarrar, DAWN

“We’re calling on the Biden administration to move ahead with accountability measures to sanction MBS personally, along with everyone else who is implicated in that killing,” said Raed Jarrar, advocacy director at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

Established last year in Washington, DAWN, a rights group, was envisioned by Khashoggi before his murder.

Speaking at a news conference after the release of the report, Jarrar urged ending US weapons sales to the kingdom. “Transparency is meaningless without accountability,” he said.

Philippe Nassif, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA, said many rights advocates are “disappointed” in Washington’s decision against sanctioning MBS. 

He added that Congress and the Biden administration should halt offensive arms sales to Saudi Arabia, not only over the murder of Khashoggi, but also for the mistreatment of dissidents at home and war crimes in Yemen.

“And this goes for France. And this

Congress members call for sanctions

Leading Congress members from Biden’s own Democratic Party said on Friday that the president should impose sanctions on MBS.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar announced on Friday that she will be introducing a bill to penalise the crown prince. She called the release of the report a “turning point” in US-Saudi relations.

“To this day, we continue to supply Saudi Arabia with US arms that are used to commit human rights abuses around the world,” the congresswoman said in a statement. 

“To this day, we still cooperate with the Saudi regime on defensive war efforts – including intelligence sharing. These must end. And there must be direct consequences for Mohamed bin Salman and his functionaries.”Will the CIA report cost Mohammed bin Salman his throne?

Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee who has been pushing for making the report public, hailed releasing the assessment but said the administration should do more to hold MBS accountable.

He decried going after those who carried out the assassination, but not the leader who ordered it.

“The report itself is pretty remarkable in saying in no uncertain terms that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia ordered the capture or killing of an American resident and journalist, that essentially the crown prince has blood on his hands,” Schiff told CNN. 

“I would like to see the administration go beyond what it is announced in terms of repercussions to make sure there are repercussions directly to the crown prince.”

Ron Wyden, a key Senate Democrat, also underscored the need to ensure that MBS is punished for the murder.

“By naming Mohammed bin Salman as the amoral murderer responsible for this heinous crime, the Biden-Harris administration is beginning to finally reassess America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and make clear that oil won’t wash away blood,” he said in a statement.

“There is still far more to do to ensure that the Saudi government follows international laws. There should be personal consequences for MBS – he should suffer sanctions, including financial, travel and legal – and the Saudi government should suffer grave consequences as long as he remains in the government.”

Related

Canada, U.S. have ‘selective’ approach toward human rights: lawyer

By Mohammad Mazhari

November 23, 2020 – 10:56

Sari Bashi, a consultant for Democracy in the Arab World Now (DAWN)

TEHRAN – A human rights lawyer says the U.S. and Canada follow double standards toward human rights, noting that they “support human rights selectively”.

In an interview with the Tehran Times, Sari Bashi, a consultant for Democracy in the Arab World Now (DAWN), says that U.S. policy in terms of human rights is not consistent. 

“Unfortunately, the United States and Canada support human rights selectively, and the United States, in particular, has not done nearly enough to call out its allies for human rights abuses,” Bashi points out.

Canada and the U.S. accuse other countries of human rights violations while they themselves sell weapons to tyrannical regimes in West Asia, which are used against defenseless people, especially in Yemen. 

Canada claims a global reputation as a human rights defender, while the Ottawa government has a bad record when it comes to the rights of the indigenous peoples. According to reports revealed by the Human Rights Watch, the Natives are deprived of the right to safe drinking water, and police mistreat and abuse indigenous women and girls.

Bashi also says the U.S. is misusing its influence to allow its allies, such as Israel, to commit crimes.

 The following is the text of the interview:

Q: Certain Western states have a bad record in view of human rights, so are these countries entitled to condemn other countries?

  A: I think the fact that all authorities abuse human rights do not disqualify any particular government from raising human rights issues with others. Certainly, the best way to encourage respect for human rights is to lead by example, and every government in the world that has invested more energy in improving in own human rights record could be more credible to criticize other government who may not be; but at the same time I think it is always legitimate to raise the issue of human rights abuses and we should make sure that we are holding our governments accountable to universal standards of human rights as articulated by international instruments.

“We should make sure that we are holding our governments accountable to universal standards of human rights as articulated by international instruments,” the consultant for Democracy in the Arab World Now (DAWN) says. Q: When it comes to Israeli crimes against Palestinians, why do countries like Canada and the U.S. give full support to Tel-Aviv? How is it possible that Israel wins such support?

A: I think lack of accountability for Israeli violations of human rights and international law against Palestinians reflects a weakness in accountability of the international system.

Unfortunately, the UN Security Council cannot act in the Israel-Palestine case because of the veto power of powerful members, especially the United States, while other mechanisms of accountability such as the International Criminal Court are struggling to have jurisdiction over war crimes committed in Palestine. So we have a lot of work to do in obtaining a stronger mechanism of accountability, and the fact that Israel enjoys such a strong military and financial support from the United States reflects a distorted political system in which the U.S. as a superpower is using its significant influence to allow its allies to commit abuses.

Q: Why is Canada not really concerned about human rights violations when it clinches arms deals with a value of 15 billion dollars with Saudi Arabia? Is it justifiable to say that Canada is not aware that these weapons are used against children and women in Yemen?

A: Canada, like all countries, has a responsibility to ensure that it does not violate human rights or international humanitarian law including in its military deals; so selling weapons to actors who are committing war crimes in Yemen will be a violation of Canada’s obligations and certainly, the Canadian government and the Canadian people have a responsibility to ensure that their foreign policy respects human rights and does not contribute to war crimes. 

Q: Washington has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran that are hampering Iran’s access to medicine. At such a hard time, countries like Canada have been cooperating with Washington in pushing ahead with its unilateral sanctions by refusing to sell humanitarian goods to Iran.  What is your comment?

 A: Unfortunately, the United States and Canada support human rights selectively, and the United States, in particular, has not done nearly enough to call out its allies for human rights abuses. At DAWN, we believe that U.S. policy should be consistent. So the same standard in terms of respecting human rights that are applied towards Iran should also be applied towards Israel and every other country because these are universal standards of how government should treat the people under their control.

Q: Why have Western countries, especially Canada and the U.S., preferred to turn a blind eye to Khashoggi’s murder while they knew that Mohammed bin Salman was directly responsible for that crime? How could Saudis distract attention away from their crimes and influence human rights bodies in the UN?

A: I think the lack of accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi reflects a weakness in the system of international politics and especially the United States, which is selling Saudi Arabia billions of dollars in the arms trade and providing diplomatic cover that allows the Saudi government to act with impunity. The lack of accountability for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder regarding the role of Mohammad Bin Salman indicates that real change is needed. What is encouraging is that in the United States, there is pressure not just from the American people but also in the American Congress seeking accountability, and I remind that the U.S. Congress has required the federal government to provide information about those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in the form of a DNI (Director of National Intelligence) report that was to be published last year. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has ignored that mandate and refused to release the report.  The refusal is the subject of litigation in U.S. courts, and we hope that the incoming administration will follow the law and do what Congress has required, which is to reveal what American intelligence services know about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. 

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لبنان في لقاء بومبيو وبن سلمان ونتنياهو

ناصر قنديل

مع تكرار نبأ وصول رئيس حكومة الاحتلال بنيامين نتنياهو يرافقه رئيس الموساد يوسي كوهين إلى مدينة نيوم الساحلية في السعودية التي تشكل عاصمة وليد العهد السعودي محمد بن سلمان للانضمام الى اجتماع وزير الخارجية الأميركية مايك بومبيو وبن سلمان، من أكثر من وسيلة إعلام في كيان الاحتلال، بدأتها صحيفة يديعوت أحرونوت وتلتها إذاعة الجيش في الكيان ثم الإذاعة الرسمية وتوّج بخبر في وكالة رويترز، ورغم صدور النفي السعودي للنبأ، يمكن اعتبار الاجتماع أول أمس مؤكداً، خصوصاً إذا أخذنا بالاعتبار أن الثلاثة، أي فريق الرئيس الأميركي دونالد ترامب ونتنياهو وبن سلمان يشكلون ثلاثياً تجمعه المصيبة والتحديات والمصير، في ضوء ما نجم عن الانتخابات الرئاسية الأميركية، حيث سيخسر بن سلمان ونتنياهو بمثل ما سيخسر ترامب وفريقه، عند التسليم بفوز جو بايدن بالرئاسة وتقدّمه نحو البيت الأبيض، ليس لأن بايدن يمثل مشروعاً مختلفاً عن ترامب في منطلقات العداء لإيران وقوى المقاومة وروسيا والصين، ولا لأنه يحمل تأييداً أقل ليكان الاحتلال وأنظمة الخليج، بل لأن بايدن يمثل القناعة الأميركية بفشل الرهان الذي خاضه الثلاثي ترامب ونتنياهو وبن سلمان بإسقاط التفاهم النووي مع إيران، وبالتوازي سلوك طريق التصعيد مع روسيا والصين، والاعتقاد بأن بمستطاع العقوبات القصوى التي هددت في طريقها أوروبا، يمكن أن تنتج مناخاً تفاوضياً أفضل لحساب أميركا واستطراداً تتمكن من تحسين وضعية السعودية والكيان، وهذا يعني ان انتقال السلطة الى بايدن سيعني العودة للسياسات التي انتهت اليها إدارة أوباما في نهاية اختباراتها لسياسة التصعيد والعقوبات والتلويح بالحرب ونتائج الحرب المحورية في المنطقة التي مثلتها الحرب على سورية.

بسلوك بايدن أعلى درجات الحرص لمنع التداعيات السلبية على كيان الاحتلال والسعودية مع بدء تطبيق سياسات المواءمة مع تراجع الامكانات وفقدان الفرصة لكسر إيران وتطويق روسيا والصين، رغم التمسك بمنطلقات العداء ذاتها، وما تتضمّنه من عودة لمفهوم الانخراط بتفاهمات الواقعية السياسية والانسحاب العسكري، لن يكون ممكناً الحؤول دون تعرّض الكيان والسعودية لهزات كبرى، فالالتزام الدفاعي الأميركي بالسعودية وكيان الاحتلال لن يتبدل، لكن جعل السعودية وكيان الاحتلال موجهاً للسياسة الأميركية، خصوصاً في ما يخصّ التفاهم النووي مع إيران، لن يكون ممكناً، كما لم يكن ممكناً مع الرئيس باراك أوباما، الذي قال يومها عن الاتفاق النووي إنه سيئ والأسوأ، لكنه تحدّى المعارضين في الرياض وتل أبيب بتقديم بديل واقعي، طالما أن الترجمة تقول بأن العقوبات لن تغير موقف إيران، مهما اشتدت، ولن تسقط نظامها، وستخلق تحديات أكثر خطورة في الملف النووي، وطالما أن الحرب لن تتمكن من محو المقدرات النووية الإيرانية من الضربة الأولى، ولن تتمكن من تدمير قدرة إيران على رد يهدّد المنشآت الحيوية لكيان الاحتلال وحكومات الخليج والوجود الأميركي الواقع في مرمى الصواريخ الإيرانيّة، ولذلك كان رهان أوباما ومعه بايدن، استبدال العقوبات على إيران، بتحقيق إجماع دولي جديد يحيط بالتزاماتها النووية، ويضمن إدماجها بحجم ما تمثل من قوة في معادلات جديدة في المنطقة، مع الإدراك المسبق باتساع نفوذها، وتراجع فرص جعل الثنائي السعودي الإسرائيلي صاحب اليد العليا في المنطقة، في ظل ثنائي إيراني تركي يتقدم، مع تفاوت واختلاف سقوف أطراف هذا الثنائي.

الواضح من موافقة السلطة الفلسطينية على العودة للتفاهمات مع كيان الاحتلال أن ولي العهد السعودي يبذل مالاً ونفوذاً ومعه نتنياهو وبومبيو لتوسيع قاعدة الحماية، وتعزيز القدرة، لكن العجز عن تقديم أي مكسب سياسي للسلطة الفلسطينية مع تمسك بايدن بحماية منجزات كيان الاحتلال في ظل إدارة ترامب، سيعني عجز هذه السلطة عن تقديم خدمات تذكر لإضعاف قوى المقاومة في بيئة سياسية وشعبية معاكسة، الا اذا تحوّلت الى ما يشبه جيش العميل انطوان لحد في جنوب لبنان قبيل تحرير الجنوب عام 2000، وبدء تصدع الهياكل الأمنية للسلطة وتمرد شرائح واسعة في فتح يصير هو الأقرب، لذلك يصير التفكير بساحة تكامل للثلاثي محكوماً بالنظر نحو لبنان، حيث الأميركي يضع لبنان في أولويات حركته كما تقول التصريحات والعقوبات ومفاوضات ترسيم الحدود، وحيث كيان الاحتلال يعيش مأزقه الوجودي والأمني الأهم مع قدرات المقاومة وتهديدها، وحيث ابن سلمان يملك الرصيد الأبرز للسعودية في المنطقة، من قدرة تأثير وضغوط على شرائح سياسية متعددة.

اجتمعوا ام لم يجتمعوا، فلبنان مساحة اهتمام ثلاثي تحت الضوء، والحكومة اللبنانية معلّقة على حبال الانتظار.

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ابن سلمان مذعور من بايدن لأربعة أسباب

د. وفيق إبراهيم

ولي العهد السعودي محمد بن سلمان مصاب بقلق عميق من التداعيات المرتقبة للسياسات الجديدة التي يريد الرئيس الأميركي الجديد جو بايدن تطبيقها في الشرق الاوسط.

هذه التدابير لا تشمل «اسرائيل» لأن هناك تطابقاً كاملاً في دعمها أميركياً وسعودياً.

أليست السعودية مَن أقنع الإمارات والبحرين والسودان بالتطبيع معها؟ وتتحضر لبناء علاقات مباشرة معها بعد استدراج دول عربية وإسلامية جديدة للتطبيع لتلتحق بها آنفاً في عملية تمويه تبدو وكأنها قبول سعودي مكره لأمر واقع بدأته دول اخرى.

فـ»إسرائيل» كيان محتل، لكنها من الثوابت الأساسية للاستراتيجية الأميركية في العالم وليس مسموحاً لأحد التعرّض لها.

ما هي إذاً أسباب هذا الذعر السعودي؟

تشكلت في السنوات الأربع الأخيرة تيارات في الحزب الديمقراطي الأميركي لاستهداف العلاقة الحميمة بين الرئيس الأميركي ترامب ومحمد بن سلمان. فجرى الاستثمار في اغتيال الخاشقجي وملاحقة الأمني الجبري في أميركا وكندا والاعتقالات التي سجن فيها ابن سلمان أولاد عمومته ومعارضيه بدعم من الرئيس ترامب.

هذا بالإضافة إلى فرض نفسه ولياً لعهد أبيه الملك سلمان، بما يناقض التوريث السياسي في المملكة القائم على انتقال الملك من شقيق الى أخيه وهكذا دواليك، إلى أن تصل الى اولاد الأشقاء وبالمداورة.

للإشارة فإن الدعم الذي تلقاه بن سلمان من ترامب هو الذي أوصله الى ولاية العهد مقابل تأييد سعوديّ كامل لسياسات ترامب وتوجّهاته الاقتصادية سعودياً.

هذا هو السبب الأول الذي يرعب بن سلمان باعتبار أن حلفه مع ترامب ناصب الرئيس المنتخب بايدن ومجمل الحزب الديمقراطي العداء، وقد يبلغ هذا العداء إذا غابت التسويات تماماً إلى حدود عرقلة الانتقال الهادئ لولي العهد الى العرش السعودي. وهذا ما يستطيع الأميركيون أن يفعلوه بسهولة مع مملكة يسيطرون على كل تضاريسها السياسيّة والاقتصاديّة.

أما السبب الثاني فمرتبط برفض الحزب الديمقراطي الموالي لبايدن للحرب السعودية – الإماراتية على اليمن المتواصلة منذ خمس سنوات ومطالبته الدائمة بوقف بيع السلاح الأميركيّ للسعودية والإمارات في هذه الحرب.

لذلك يخشى بن سلمان من ضغط أميركي يوقف هذه الحرب فترتدّ سلباً عليه لجهة إعادة تشكيل اليمن موحّداً بين الشمال والجنوب مع إمكانية تبلور دولة يمنية قوية تتموضع على رأس جزيرة العرب وتتحكم بحركة الانتقال والتنقل من بحر عدن الى قناة السويس مروراً بباب المندب وجزيرة سقطرى نحو الخليج الهندي.

هذا يسبب ذعراً لآل سعود من التراجع الإضافي المرتقب لدولتهم ما يجعلها أكثر هامشية مما عليه الآن.

لجهة السبب الثالث، الذي يرعبهم ايضاً فيتعلق باحتمال تقارب أميركي تركي يقوم على إزالة الكثير من التعارضات التي تشكلت بين البلدين منذ 2012 تقريباً.

إن من شأن أي تقارب بايدن مع الأتراك العودة الى استخدام الاخوان المسلمين الورقة القوية للأتراك وحزبهم الاخواني الحاكم العدالة والتنمية في الكثير من البلدان. وهؤلاء الاخوان موجودون في معظم العالم العربي والإسلامي ويشكلون تهديداً أيديولوجياً للوهابية والأنظمة الملكية. فالاخوان يختارون ولي الأمر بمفهوم الشورى الداخلية فيما بينهم ويرفضون مبدأ التوارث في السلطة السياسيّة. بما يعني رفضهم لنماذج الدول الخليجيّة في السعودية وعمان والبحرين والإمارات والكويت وغيرها، القائمة على مبدأ الوراثة العائلية للسلطة.

هذا من الأساليب التي تجعل السعودية لا تقبل باستعمال الاخوان آلية سياسية للتحرك الأميركي – السعودي في المنطقة بالإضافة الى أن أي نجاح للاخوان في الإقليم هو صعود لدور تركيا المنافس الفعلي للسعودية على زعامة العالم الإسلامي.

لذلك يخشى بن سلمان من تغيير في مرحلة بايدن للسياسات الأميركية في الشرق الأوسط تستند الى تقارب أميركي مع الأتراك.

فهذا يدفع الى مزيد فوري من تراجعات للأدوار السعودية الخارجية وحتى في شبه جزيرة العرب.

على مستوى السبب الرابع فهو إيران، وهنا لا بد من الإشارة الى أن بن سلمان يعرف بدقة أن إيران لا تشكل خطراً مباشراً على السعودية لأن الجيوبوليتيك الأميركي يعتبرها ومنذ 1945 جزءاً بنيويّاً منه تلي «إسرائيل» مباشرة في الأهمية.

لكن هذا لا يمنع من شعور محمد بن سلمان بالخطر الكبير من أي هدنة أميركية إيرانية جديدة تستند على عودة الأميركيين الى الاتفاق النووي وبالتالي الى رفع الحصار عن إيران.

هنا يرى السعوديون في هذه الخطوة استعادة إيران لقدراتها في الحركة الإقليمية واسترجاعاً لقوتها الاقتصادية ما يؤدي الى توسع نفوذها في آسيا الوسطى ومسلمي الهند وباكستان مروراً بتحالفاتها في اليمن والعراق وسورية ولبنان. هذا بالإضافة الى المقدرة الإيرانية على نسج علاقات مع الاخوان المسلمين في مختلف المواضع والأمكنة.

لذلك يبدو محمد بن سلمان محاصراً في طموحاته الشخصية، ومرعوباً من تغيير فعلي في الإقليم، وخائفاً من نمو رغبة أميركية بتغييره بأمير آخر من أولاد عمومته.

كما انه يعرف أن الدورين التركي والإيراني اكثر فاعلية من قدرة «إسرائيل» على حمايته. بما قد يدفعه لدفع أتاوة جديدة للأميركيين مع ولاءات سياسية واستراتيجية غير مسبوقة، فهل يمتنع بن سلمان عن دفع الف مليار دولار للأميركيين مقابل دعمه في الإمساك بالعرش السعودي؟ لقد دفع لترامب نحو 500 مليار من أجل ولاية العهد، أفلا يستحقّ العرش أكثر من ذلك؟

هذا هو المنطق السعودي والأميركي في آن معاً والضحية بالطبع هم أهل جزيرة العرب الذين يتشارك في قمعهم الأميركيون والسعوديون ويجهضون أي محاولة فعليّة لتحرّرهم من قيود القرون الوسطى.

’Blood and Oil’ Co-authors: MBS Only Cares Fir His Image, is ‘Allergic’ to Political Reform

’Blood and Oil’ Co-authors: MBS Only Cares Fir His Image, is ‘Allergic’ to Political Reform

By Staff, OCBS News

OCBS News’ Intelligence Matters host Michael Morell interviewed Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck, the co-authors of “Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman’s Ruthless Quest for Global Power,” about the leadership style and strategic decision-making of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MBS].

Hope and Scheck offered their assessment of MBS’ “dichotomy”, explaining how he has behaved as both a great reformer and ruthless dictator. They also discuss his likely awareness of the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi, his views on political reform, and attempts to diversify the Saudi economy.

On MBS’ reaction to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, Scheck said: “I think he was very surprised by the outrage and by the fact that people in these other countries that he considers as important were going to harp so much on the death of one Saudi citizen.”

“This is a Saudi citizen he viewed as a traitor. ‘Why is this such a big deal?’ He told someone, he blurted out, ‘Oh now the world sees me as a journalist killer.’ His image is very important to him and because he’s not the king yet, he is the Crown Prince, and creating this image of someone who is fit to be king is very important. He was extremely concerned and surprised that he is now defined in the eyes of many foreign leaders as the guy he who killed the journalist,” Scheck added.

Commenting on MBS’ “allergy” to political reform, Hope said: “Mohammed bin Salman, despite being seen as a reformer, in the Western media and also among Saudi youth, he’s completely allergic to anything close to political reform. I’ve never in any of my reporting heard of him having anything close to a discussion of political reforms . . . He is completely politically illiberal, but he’s socially liberal. And that is something that everyone needs to know when they’re trying to think about Mohammed bin Salman.”

Regarding the Saudi kingdom’s future of economic development, Scheck explained that if MBS focuses on economic development, there are huge risks.

“If Saudi Arabia does not end its near total reliance on oil revenue, there’s not really a great future for it. It’s hard to envision the future of a country that doesn’t have a great source of revenue, has not enough fresh water for its people, virtually no arable land.”

Scheck went on to say that MBS has talked a lot about how he’s going to do that, but so far, the things that we’ve seen him do to get to a real economy haven’t been effective.

“Investing close to 50 billion dollars in foreign tech companies hasn’t produced meaningful dividends for the kingdom. But beyond that, it hasn’t produced a clear roadmap for how those tech investments are somehow going to fuel that economy.”

US Election: Mohammed Bin Salman Braces for The Loss of a Key Ally

US Election: Mohammed Bin Salman Braces for The Loss of a Key Ally

By Madawi Al-Rasheed – MEE

No doubt Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman listened to US presidential candidate Joe Biden’s statement on the second anniversary of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi with apprehension.

Biden’s statement this month was a strong condemnation of the murder by Saudi operatives of Khashoggi, who had been a US resident since 2017. Biden promised to withdraw US support for the war in Yemen launched by Saudi Arabia in 2015, and noted: “Today, I join many brave Saudi women and men, activists, journalists, and the international community in mourning Khashoggi’s death and echoing his call for people everywhere to exercise their universal rights in freedom.”

Such a statement by someone who may become the master of the White House has surely sent shock waves through Riyadh.

Shifting public opinion

In contrast, two years ago, US President Donald Trump uncritically adopted the Saudi narrative about the slain journalist as an “enemy of the state”. Trump shamelessly boasted about shielding the murderers, above all bin Salman, and protecting him from further denunciation by Congress. Trump sensed a major shift in public opinion, and above all in Congress, in favor of vigorous scrutiny of US authoritarian allies in the Middle East – above all, the Saudi regime.

Many Republican and Democratic congressmen condemned Saudi Arabia and its authoritarian ruler for committing crimes against their own citizens on foreign soil, and continuing a policy of zero tolerance towards activists and dissidents. Shielding bin Salman from further scrutiny and possible sanctions allowed the crown prince to enjoy two years of security and tranquility, which may not be readily available after 3 November, should Biden win the presidential election.

Yet, one must be cautious when anticipating great US policy shifts if a Democrat is elected to the White House. The previous record of Democratic leadership has been more in line with a long US tradition of supporting authoritarian proteges in the Middle East, above all in Saudi Arabia, despite being more likely to invoke US values and their contradiction with the realist policy of propping up the region’s dictators.

Barack Obama went further than any previous US president by withdrawing support for former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, rather than openly and actively embracing the democratic forces that toppled him in 2011. By failing to unconditionally support a long-term US ally, Obama antagonized the Saudis, who interpreted his position on Egypt as abandoning a loyal partner.

The Saudis feared that the Arab uprisings would leave them exposed to serious political change, without the US superpower rushing to protect them against a dramatic fall. Saudi leaders knew they could not count on Obama to embrace them without demanding serious reforms. In a famous interview, Obama reminded Gulf leaders that their biggest problems were domestic and encouraged them to stop amplifying “external threats”, such as Iran’s regional influence, while silencing critical voices at home.

Sense of betrayal

The Saudi leadership was further annoyed by a historic deal between the US, several European countries and Iran, facilitated by Oman. The Saudis realized how far a US Democratic president could go towards marginalizing them, without openly denouncing their domestic and regional policies in the Middle East.   

That didn’t sit well with Saudi autocrats, who have always aimed to paint a picture of a kingdom besieged by hostile regional powers, while enjoying the bliss of harmony and the support of its domestic constituency. Obama publicly debunked this Saudi myth and negotiated with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s archenemy for decades.

The Saudis felt a sense of betrayal, which Trump quickly abated when he fully endorsed bin Salman – or, more accurately, the crown prince’s promises to invest in the US economy and to seriously consider normalizing relations with Israel, both high prices for US tolerance of bin Salman’s excesses at home and abroad.  

Should Biden win the US election, bin Salman will be on alert. Any word uttered by the White House that falls short of endorsing the young prince and reminding Congress of the centrality of the “historical partnership” between the US and Saudi Arabia will automatically be interpreted in Riyadh as a hostile stand.

Yet the rambling discourses of the Democrats about US values is no longer convincing, if not accompanied by real policy changes. Withdrawing support from autocrats is not enough. The region and its activists expect more than passive support from a country that boasts about its democracy and civil rights. They expect real and concrete measures that undermine the longevity of authoritarian rule, if the region and the rest of the world are to enjoy political change, economic prosperity and social harmony.

Loss of faith

The first step is to starve those autocrats of weapons used against their own people and their neighbors. Whether Democrats will reconsider the relentless US export of arms and training programs to Saudi Arabia and its neighbors remains to be seen. At the least, Biden could make the export of weapons to Saudi Arabia conditional on meeting international standards on human rights, and on serious political changes to allow Saudis to be represented in a national assembly. The Saudi people could do the rest.

Frankly, the Middle East, and for that matter the rest of the world, have lost faith in the US. Americans have yet to calculate the costs of having elected Trump and the ensuing reputational damage. Should they bring a Democrat to power next month, they will struggle to correct not only the short history of Trump’s failings, but also more than half a century of misguided US policy in the Middle East. 

From now until early November, bin Salman will no doubt have sleepless nights in anticipation of losing a good partner in Washington – one who allowed him to get away with murder.

Two Misfortunes Dissolve the Saudi Crown Prince within a Week

Two Misfortunes Dissolve the Saudi Crown Prince within a Week

By AlKhaleej Today

According to a high-level source to “Saudi WikiLeaks,” the recommendation of the European Parliament to reduce the level of representation at the G20 summit to be hosted by Riyadh, via video link on November 21-22, “was a strong shock to the Crown Prince.”

The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that bin Salman had “gone crazy” and proceeded to smash the contents of his office and shout at his aides.

The source stated that the Crown Prince made several contacts that evening with European personalities. To know the merits of the parliamentary decision, however, these personalities “did not give anything to the prince, who aspires to present his achievements at the next summit.”

The European Parliament called for a reduction in the level of representation at the G20 summit to be hosted by Riyadh, via video link on November 21-22. Because of human rights violations inside and outside the Kingdom.

Parliament issued its statement last Thursday with this recommendation to the European Union and its member states, and said that its goal is to avoid legitimizing impunity for human rights violations and illegal and arbitrary detentions in Saudi Arabia.

Parliament called in a letter to the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to place human rights at the center of all discussions of the G20.

The message urged that the summit event be used to demand the release of all prisoners of conscience and women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, and for real accountability for those involved in the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The other disaster, revealed by the “Tactical Report” website, concerned with intelligence affairs, after US President Donald Trump was infected with the Corona virus.

Reports from Riyadh quoted the Saudi crown prince as saying: The kingdom should be prepared for changes in Saudi-American relations if Democratic candidate “Joe Biden” wins over President Trump in the upcoming US presidential elections in November.

Bin Salman added: The election of Biden will turn the situation upside down in the United States, and will force the Kingdom to take new matters into consideration.

He revealed that these concerns increased regarding the results of the US elections after the announcement of President Trump’s infection with the Corona virus. In addition, there are many reports from the Saudi embassy in Washington indicating that Biden’s chances of winning are increasing.

The crown prince recently contacted a number of President Trump’s close aides, particularly his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

“Kushner” assured the Saudi crown prince that the poll results are not confirmed and that the percentage of voters who support “Trump” will increase during the remaining four weeks before the elections. However, Kushner’s assurances did not convince Bin Salman.

Anticipating any “surprises”, bin Salman asked the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Princess Rima Bint Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, to obtain details from within the Democratic Party regarding the current course of the situation.

Princess Reema was also tasked with inquiring about the opinions of senior Democratic officials about the future of Saudi-American relations in the event Biden becomes president.

The Saudi crown prince was also very concerned about Biden’s recent statements, which pledged to reassess US relations with Saudi Arabia if elected.

Until the past two weeks, bin Salman showed little interest in Biden’s statements, as he relied on President Trump’s confidence and on reports from Washington that claimed that Biden had no chances of winning.

However, recent events in the United States, including Trump’s admission to a military hospital, have changed the views of the Saudi crown prince in this regard.

And the famous American journalist Bob Woodward revealed in his latest book entitled “Anger” that Trump boasted that he had succeeded in “rescuing” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, on October 2, 2018, inside his country’s consulate in Istanbul.

The excerpts of the book revealed that Trump boasted, in one of their recorded interviews, that he had succeeded in “saving” bin Salman, whom Congress held responsible for the assassination of Khashoggi.

In his new book, “Anger,” which the Business Insider news site published excerpts from, Woodward recounts how Trump told him in an interview he had on January 22 that “I saved him,” in response to a question about bin Salman’s relationship with the murder.

According to the journalist, Trump made clear in the recorded interview that he had prevented Congress from pursuing bin Salman. Trump said, according to these excerpts: “I succeeded in getting Congress to leave it alone. I succeeded in stopping them.”

Mohammed bin Salman Faces His Biggest Threat to the Throne. US Law Suit against Saudi Crown Prince

Law Suit in US Federal Court

By Steven Sahiounie

Global Research, August 12, 2020

Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, has been able to dodge legal responsibility in the death of Jamal Khashoggi, while US President Trump has defended and supported him.  It appears Mohammed bin Salman is facing a serious legal threat, and it will take personal interference by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to save him from facing a judge in the federal court at Washington, DC.  Mohammed bin Salman may be praying for Trump to win in November 2020 to be sure he holds a ‘get out of jail’ card. 

Mohammed bin Salman faces US court summons

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been issued a summons by the US District Court in Washington, DC. on August 7, 2020, after Saad al Jabri filed a lawsuit accusing Prince Mohammed bin Salman of sending a Saudi death squad to Canada to kill him.

Saad al Jabri was a former senior Saudi intelligence official working under the former Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was then Minister of the Interior.  Al Jabri was well known as the key link between Saudi intelligence services and their counterparts in the US and Europe.

Jabri’s lawyers filed a recent lawsuit in a federal court in Washington, DC. against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, alleging he had sent a Saudi death squad to kill him in Canada on October 15, 2018, less than two weeks after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Jamal Khashoggi

Al Jabri owes his life to the Canadian border officials who were suspicious of the Saudi death squad after they were caught lying at the Ontario International Airport while carrying forensic equipment and traveling on tourist visas, which resulted in denied entry to all but one member who carried diplomatic credentials.

The lawsuit reads:

“Dr. Saad was privy to sensitive information about Defendant bin Salman’s covert political scheming within the Royal Court, corrupt business dealings, and creation of a team of personal mercenaries that Defendant bin Salman would later use to carry out the extrajudicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi, among others.”

The FBI became aware of the threats to al Jabri and his family in January 2018, when his son, Khalid al Jabri, was prevented from boarding a flight departing from Boston’s Logan International Airport by FBI agents, who informed the young man his life and that of his family were under threat.

Al Jabri’s legal team maintains that the threat to his life remains, and the Saudi death squad was planning to enter Canada by land, thus avoiding any airport security.

Mohammed bin Salman’s death squad on trial in IstanbulIs CIA Leak of Bin Salman’s Guilt in Khashoggi Murder Aimed at Kushner, or Trump Himself?

Last month the trial in Istanbul began against 20 Saudi Arabians accused of killing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate at Istanbul on October 2, 2018, even though none of the accused were present. His body was dismembered while his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, had waited outside the consulate, and his remains have never been found.

Saudi Arabia’s former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri is accused of planning the murder and assembling a team to carry out the murder of Khashoggi at the behest of their boss, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  Saud al-Qahtani, a close adviser to Mohammed bin Salman, is similarly charged with having “instigated premeditated murder with monstrous intent.”  Qahtani continues to work closely with the crown prince, and according to a Saudi Arabian activist, who had been in prison, Qahtani told her, “I’ll do whatever I like to you, and then I’ll dissolve you and flush you down the toilet.”

Agnès Callamard said the Turkish trial is an “important judicial process. Here we have a space where the victims are heard in a way they have never been heard before. We have a space where witnesses are asked to speak under oath.”

UN report names Mohammed bin Salman in Khashoggi’s death

In June 2019, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, published the results of her investigation into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

The report concluded that Khashoggi’s death “constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible”. The report also said there is “credible evidence” warranting further investigation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The full UN report can be read here.

 “The operation involved multiple flights, including two private jets, one under diplomatic clearance. It entailed training, with two Saudi attaches from Istanbul flying to Riyadh for ‘top secret’, ‘urgent’ training and preparation, and it required planning and execution in Istanbul,” wrote Agnes Callamard in the report for the UN.

Callamard concluded that the decision to murder Khashoggi was taken before two of the most important members of the Saudi death squad Maher Mutreb, and Salah Tubaigy, the forensic pathologist who cut the body up, flew from Riyadh to Istanbul.

CIA concluded Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi murder

In November 2018, the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi,

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and senior adviser have remained close to Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Trump and Kushner have defended and supported the strong relationship with Mohammed bin Salman, despite the various important reports placing the responsibility of the murder of Khashoggi on him.

US arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Democrat and Republican lawmakers in the US Congress had held up a Trump administration request to sell 22 batches of munitions worth $8.1 billion to Saudi Arabia, because the US-made weapons were being used to kill thousands of civilians in Yemen, including the targeting of school buses full of children.

Marik String was acting chief of the US State Department’s political-military affairs bureau in early 2019, and he helped Secretary of State Mike Pompeo bypass a congressional freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE by using a declared state of emergency in May 2019 to dodge the congressional hold.

The State Department’s inspector general, Steve A. Linick, had opened two investigations; one into the arms sale beginning in June 2019 and one into possible misuse of agency employees for the benefit of Mr. Pompeo and his wife. Pompeo asked Trump to fire Linick in May 2020, who was investigating whether the declared state of emergency was legal. Pompeo promoted String to acting legal advisor the very same day as he had declared the state of emergency.

Congressional officials have been told that the Trump administration plans to sell yet another package of weapons to Saudi Arabia worth $478 million.  With Linick gone, there will be no investigations.

*

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This article was originally published on Mideast Discourse.

Steven Sahiounie is an award-winning journalist. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.The original source of this article is Global ResearchCopyright © Steven Sahiounie, Global Research, 2020

The ominous Jihadis war; From Tripoli to Tripoli:

The ominous Jihadis war; From Tripoli to Tripoli:

May 23, 2020

By Ghassan Kadi for the Saker Blog

The ‘War on Syria’ is far from being over, and it will continue until all foreign forces illegally present on Syrian soil retreat; either willingly, or defeated.

And even though the American presence in Syria has no clear and realistic political purpose other than wreaking havoc. https://transnational.live/2020/05/19/america-exists-today-to-make-war-how-else-do-we-interpret/ and making it hard for Russia to help reach a decisive victory, in a twist of fate, the focus of the Russo-American conflict in the region may soon move away from Syria.

In reality, the outcome of the ‘War on Syria’ was never expected by the initial assembly of adversaries when they launched the attack. Furthermore, they had many deep differences and nothing in common other than a shared hatred for Syria, but the unexpected turn of events has intensified their internal conflict and seemingly catapulted the strife between those former allies much further afield to a new hub in Libya.

Whilst the world and its media are busy with COVID-19, a new huge struggle is brewing, and this time, it is drawing new lines and objectives that are in reality going to be fueled, financed and executed by the former once-united enemies of Syria; but this time, it will be against each other.

An array of regional and international issues lies behind the impending conflict; and to call it impending is an under-statement. It is already underway, but hasn’t reached its peak yet, let alone making any significant news coverage.

It is a real mess in Libya now, and the short version of a long story goes like this:

Soon after NATO hijacked the UNSC mandate to enforce a no-fly-zone decision over Libya and manipulated it in a manner that ‘legalised’ bombing Libya culminating in toppling and killing Gadhafi, the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), based in the formal capital Tripoli on the Western side of the coast, was created.

But the ‘revolution’ against Gadhafi was launched in the eastern coastal city of Benghazi. After Gadhafi’s demise, another interim government was formed in Libya’s east under the name of National Transitional Council (NTC).

The NTC, whose flag is the flag of the ‘revolution’, did not recognize the GNA and regarded it as a Western lackey.

After a few years of squabbling, NTC strongman General Haftar decided to militarily disable the GNA.

With little concrete protection on the ground from the West, and under the guise of upholding UNSC mandates, Erdogan jumped into the existing void and the opportunity to grab Libya’s oil, and decided to send troops to support the GNA.  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-51003034

In return, Haftar is getting support from other regional players. Recently, representatives from Egypt, the UAE, Greece, Cyprus and France had a meeting and denounced Turkey’s involvement in Libya. https://greekcitytimes.com/2020/05/12/greece-egypt-cyprus-france-uae-denounce-turkey-in-joint-statement/. Erdogan perhaps borrowed a term from his American part-ally-part-adversary and referred to the meeting and its decree as an ‘alliance of evil’. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/turkey-accuses-five-nations-of-forming-alliance-of-evil/2020/05/12/a3c5c63a-9438-11ea-87a3-22d324235636_story.html Fancy this, a NATO member accusing other NATO members of being in an alliance of evil.

It must be noted that even though Saudi Arabia did not attend the meeting, it was there in spirit, and represented by its proxy-partner the UAE.

The USA took a step further and accused Russia and Syria of working behind the scenes and planning to send fighters to Libya to support Haftar. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-security-usa-syria-idUSKBN22J301

But this article is not about the geopolitical hoo-ha. It is about shedding a light on what score-settling is expected to eventuate in Libya, and who is likely to end up doing the fighting against who.

Even though the Afghani Mujahedeen were purportedly the first Jihadi fighters to engage in battle in the 20th Century, their fight was against foreign USSR troops. In terms of an internal force that aimed for fundamentalist Muslim rule, there is little doubt that the first event of such insurgency in the Middle East was the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) revolt that took place in Syria in the early 1980’s and which was quashed by the then President, Hafez Assad. After their smashing defeat, the fundamentalists kept their heads low until they lit the flame again in the Palestinian refugee Naher Al-Bared Camp at the northern outskirts of Tripoli Lebanon in 2007.

There are, for those who are unaware, two cities bearing the name Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast; one is in Northern Lebanon, and it is Lebanon’s second largest city, and the other Tripoli is located on the Western side of the Libyan Coast. They are sometimes called Tripoli of the East and Tripoli of the West, respectively.

Shaker Al-Absi, leader of Fateh Al Islam, a Salafist terror organization, declared jihad and engaged in a bitter fight against the Lebanese Army. He was defeated, remained at large, but any look at Lebanon’s Tripoli after his demise displayed a clear evidence of a huge build-up of Salafist presence in the city.

When the ‘War on Syria’ started only four years later, Tripoli became a major hub for the transport of fighters and munitions from Lebanon into Syria. Nearly a decade later, and with a few Jihadi pockets left in the Idlib province now, their defeat in Syria is imminent.

But who exactly are those murderous head-chopping radical elements that we talking about; past and present?

When the coalition that started the attack on Syria took form, it was comprised virtually of all of Syria’s enemies. Most of them were religious fundamentalists. In an early article, I called them ‘The Anti-Syrian Cocktail’.  https://intibahwakeup.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-anti-syrian-cocktail-by-ghassan-kadi.html

Back then, ISIS, did not exist in the form that it became known as. Furthermore, I have always advocated that there was no difference at all between Al-Nusra and ISIS and/or any other Takfiri organizations. They are all terror-based and founded on violent readings of Islam.

In time however, and this didn’t take long, it became apparent that even though the ideologies were identical, there were two major financiers and facilitators to those many different terror organizations. One was primarily funded by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the other by Qatar and facilitated by Turkey.

The former group is affiliated with what is known as Saudi Wahhabi Islam. They are also known as the Salafists. The latter group are the MB’s.

As the war was shifting in favour of Syria, their agendas diverged, the schism grew deeper and strong rivalries emerged; especially as the Wahhabis and their sponsors were sent home defeated. Part of this fallout was the ongoing Saudi-Qatari conflict.

But the rivalry that is least spoken about is personal. It is the one between Erdogan and Al-Saud.

They are both fighting over the leadership of fundamentalist Sunni Islam. But Erdogan also has his nationalist anti-Kurdish agenda, and of course, he is desperate to put his hands on oil supplies that he can call his own. He cannot find oil on Turkish soil or in Turkish waters, but he is prepared to act as a regional pirate and a thug and steal another nation’s oil. If no one is to stop him, he feels that he can and will.

Upon realizing that Turkey could not get in Syria either victory or oil, Erdogan is now turning his face west towards Libya. He finds in Libya a few scores that he hopes to settle after his failure in Syria. He wants a face-saving military victory, he wants to assert his position as THE Sunni leader who can reclaim glory, and he wants free oil. Last but not least, In Libya, he will find himself close to Egypt’s Sisi; the political/religious enemy who toppled his MB friend and ally, President Mursi.

On the other side, defeated but not totally out, Saudi Arabia wants blood; Erdogan’s blood.

The Saudis blame Erdogan (and Qatar) for their loss in Syria because he was more focused on his own agenda and spoils rather than the combined ones of the former alliance they had with him. They blame him for abandoning them and making deals with Russia. They hold him responsible for the breakup of the unity of Muslim fundamentalism. They fear his aspirations for gaining the hearts and minds of Muslims who regard him as a de-facto Caliph. As a matter of fact, it was Saudi Crown Prince MBS who used the borrowed word ‘evil’ first when he stated more than two years ago that Erdogan was a part of a ‘Triangle of Evil’. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-turkey-idUSKCN1GJ1WW. And how can we forget the Khashoggi debacle and the ensuing standoff between Turkey and Saudi Arabia?

We must stop and remember once again that not long ago at all, Turkey and Saudi Arabia were allies, who together, plotted how to invade Syria and bring her down to her knees. These are the heads of the two major countries that facilitated the war machine with Saudi money injecting fighters and munitions into Syria from the south, and open Turkish borders and Qatari money injecting them from the north.

Back to Libyan General Haftar. In his westerly advance along Libya’s terrain, he cleaned up the ISIS elements who stood in his way and hindered his progress.  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/feb/02/libya-foreign-powers-khalifa-haftar-emirates-russia-us But ironically, he is now fighting their religious rival; the Turks, the protectors of the MB’s.

The USA may accuse Syria of sending troops into Libya, but where is the proof and why should Syria do this after all? And even though the Saudis and the Emiratis are warming up relationships with Syria, the Syrian Army is still engaged in battle and is not prepared to go and fight in Libya. There is nothing for it to gain. Once the war is over, Syria will be concerned with rebuilding a war-torn nation. Syria has no interests in Libya; none what-so-ever.

The role of Russia is not very clear on the ground even though there are clear indications that Russia supports Haftar ideologically. The support began when Haftar demonstrated to the Russians that he was adamant about fighting ISIS and exterminating its presence in Libya. He lived up to this promise thus far and gained Russian respect.

How will the situation in Libya eventually pan out is anyone’s guess. That said, apart from sending regular Turkish Army units, Erdogan is not short on rounding up fighters; and he has attained much experience in this infamous field of expertise from his vicious attack on Syria. With Qatari money in his pocket, he can recruit as many fighters as Qatar can afford.

Erdogan realizes that the West is not interested in backing him up militarily in Libya. The best deal he can get from America is a tacit support. And with France, a NATO member taking part in the above-mentioned five-nation conference, he will definitely have to stand alone so-to-speak.

He has Qatar behind him, but how powerful is Qatar? A ‘nation’ of 200,000 citizens? How can such a small state play such a big role and why?

Qatar is not really a nation or even a state in the true sense. Qatar is an entity, a ‘corporation’ owned by a ruling dynasty that serves the interests of the USA and Israel. https://thesaker.is/qatar-unplugged/. This family will outlay any sum of money to guarantee its own protection and continuity.

And Erdogan, the friend-and-foe of both of America and Israel, knows the vulnerabilities and strengths of Qatar, and he is using his deceptive talents to provide the Qatari ruling family with the securities that the shortfalls that America and Israel do not provide. For example, it was he who sent troops to Qatar after the Saudi threats. And even though Erdogan will never take any serious actions against his NATO masters except in rhetoric, the weak and fearful Qataris will dance to the tune of any protector and will sell their souls to the devil should they need to.

On the other hand in Libya, if Haftar finds himself facing a huge Turkish army, he will need assistance on the ground. Where will he seek it from?  His next-door neighbour Egypt? If so, will it be in the form of regular army units or hired guns?

Sisi is neither a religious nor a fundamentalist zealot, but this is not meant to be a complementary statement. He has not taken any serious black-and-white steps in regional politics. This does not mean he is a man of principles. He is probably waiting for dollar signs, and if he sees financial benefits in supporting Saudi Arabia in a proxy war against Turkey in Libya, he may opt to agree; if the price it right.

Whether or not Saudi Arabia can afford a new war, especially with current crude prices, is another story, but as the war on Yemen winds down, the gung-ho MBS is irrational enough to be persuaded. His regional enemy is no longer Assad. His current enemy is Erdogan.

To be fair to MBS, despite his vile, criminal and megalomaniac attributes, he never claims to be a religious leader, but Erdogan does, and many Sunni Muslims see in Erdogan THE leader they have been waiting for. This alone constitutes a huge challenge for MBS because neither he, nor anyone else in the whole of Saudi Arabia for that matter, is regarded anywhere in the Muslim World as a potential leader of the Sunni Muslims.

In reality, as far as Muslim leadership is concerned, the Saudis can only bank on the location of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Apart from this, they only have wealth that enables them to buy supporters, but their oil wealth is becoming increasingly vulnerable.

In the uphill fight against Erdogan within the Muslim World, both of the Saudis and the Turks realize that the fight between them in Syria is over. Actually, the Saudis have no loyal ‘troops’ on Syrian soil left to fight anyone with. This begs the question of whether or not the Turks and Saudis are moving the battle ground and the score settling from Syria to Libya.

This time around, such a potential battle between the two lines of Jihadis may have to morph from a fight between terror organizations to a war between regular armies; the Turkish Army against the Egyptian Army. Such a battle will rage over Libyan soil, with the Turks financed by Qatar and Egypt by Saudi Arabia.

Such a war will not necessarily bring in Iran into the fight. If it eventuates, it will be a fundamentalist Sunni-Sunni war, sponsored by fundamentalist Sunni states, each fighting for and against different versions of radical Muslim fundamentalism, under the watchful eyes of the USA and to the glee of Israel.

The jihadi war that was first ignited in Tripoli Lebanon between a rogue terror organization and the Lebanese Army did not end. It kept moving theatres and objectives and changing players. Is the final score going to be settled in Tripoli Libya?

Condemnations pour in as court exonerates Saudi officials in Khashoggi murder case

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

A protester wears a mask depicting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with red painted hands next to people holding posters of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during the demonstration outside the Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, October 25, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

SourceTuesday, 24 December 2019 8:01 AM  [ Last Update: Wednesday, 25 December 2019 6:53 AM ]

A Saudi court ruling over the state-sponsored killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi has drawn outrage across the political spectrum, including from a number of states, the United Nations, several rights groups and even some American lawmakers. They have unanimouslydenounced the ruling that dismissed charges against top Saudi officials, saying it failed to deliver justice.

In a televised press conference in Riyadh on Monday, Saudi Deputy Public Prosecutor Shaalan al-Shaalan announced the conclusion of the so-called trial in the Khashoggi case that had been closed to the public.

He said that out of the 31 suspects investigated in connection with the killing, 21 had been arrested and 11 put on trial.

Death sentences were eventually issued for five people and jail terms totaling 24 years were handed down to three others, he added, without naming any of those sentenced.

The remaining three, however, were found not guilty, including Saud al-Qahtani, a former top adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Ahmed al-Assiri, an ex-deputy intelligence chief, and Mohamed al-Otaibi, who was consul general in the kingdom’s consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul when the murder happened.

Both Qahtani and Assiri were relieved of their duties in the immediate aftermath of Khashoggi’s assassination last year. Qahtani and Otaibi were also sanctioned a year ago by the US Treasury for their involvement in the murder.

RSF: Justice trampled on with Saudi court verdict in Khashoggi case

RSF: Justice trampled on with Saudi court verdict in Khashoggi case

RSF says Riyadh wants to “permanently silence the suspects” behind the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi — an outspoken critic of the heir to the Saudi throne — went into self-imposed exile in the US in 2017. The Washington Post columnist entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, to obtain paperwork he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée.

Inside Riyadh’s mission, he was confronted by a Saudi hit team, who killed him and brutally dismembered his body.

The CIA has concluded that bin Salman had ordered the murder. The journalist’s remains have yet to be found.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Shaalan claimed that Khashoggi’s killers had decided to murder him after their arrival in Istanbul.

“Our investigations show that there was no premeditation to kill at the beginning of the mission,” he claimed.

Shaalan’s claims sparked a wave of condemnations from the world body, human rights organizations and US legislators.

HRW: Trial ‘all but satisfactory’

Ahmed Benchemsi, spokesman for Human Rights Watch, told the Doha-based Al Jazeera broadcaster that the trial was “all but satisfactory.”

The case was “shrouded in secrecy since the beginning, and it’s still … until now … We do not know the identities of those masked perpetrators, we don’t know the specific charge leveled against who exactly,” he said.

“Saudi prosecutors did not even attempt to investigate the upper levels of this crime, and whether they played a role in ordering the killing, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” he added.

Adam Coogle, who researches Saudi Arabia for the HRW, underlined the need for an independent probe.

“Saudi Arabia’s absolution of its senior leadership of any culpability in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi raises serious concerns over the fairness of the criminal proceedings,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia’s handling of the murder, from complete denial to hanging the murder on lower-level operatives in a trial that lacked transparency, demonstrates the need for an independent criminal inquiry.”

Amnesty: Verdict ‘a whitewash’

In turn, Amnesty International has blasted the verdict as “a whitewash” and said Saudi officials have failed the slain journalist and his family.

“This verdict … brings neither justice nor the truth for Jamal Khashoggi and his loved ones. The trial has been closed to the public and to independent monitors, with no information available as to how the investigation was carried out,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said in a statement.

“The verdict fails to address the Saudi authorities’ involvement in this devastating crime or clarify the location of Jamal Khashoggi’s remains,” she added.

UN rapporteur: Masterminds walking free

In a series of tweets, Agnes Callamard, the UN rapporteur investigating Khashoggi’s killing, condemned the ruling as a “travesty,” noting that the trial had failed to consider the involvement of the state.

Agnes Callamard  

@AgnesCallamard · Dec 23, 2019Replying to @AgnesCallamard

j) Bottom line: the hit-men are guilty, sentenced to death. The masterminds not only walk free. They have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial. That is the antithesis of Justice. It is a mockery.

Agnes Callamard  

@AgnesCallamard

k) Impunity for the killing of a journalist commonly reveals political repression, corruption, abuse of power, propaganda, and even international complicity. All are present in #SaudiArabia killing of #JamalKhashoggi. (PM me for more comments.)

4763:22 PM – Dec 23, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy   290 people are talking about this   “The execution of Jamal Khashoggi demanded an investigation into the chain of command to identify the masterminds, as well as those who incited, allowed or turned a blind eye to the murder, such as the Crown Prince,” she wrote.

“This was not investigated. Bottom line: the hit men are guilty, sentenced to death. The masterminds not only walk free, they have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial. That is the antithesis of justice. It is a mockery.”

In her 101-page report released in June, Callamard said that there is “sufficient credible evidence” indicating that the heir to the Saudi throne bears responsibility for the murder and thus should be investigated.

Erdogan spox: Those ordering murder given immunity

Fahrettin Altun, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that the Saudi officials who had ordered the operation were “granted immunity.”

“To claim that a handful of intelligence operatives committed this murder is to mock the world’s intelligence — to say the least,” he tweeted.

UK: Khashoggi’s family deserve to see justice

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described Khashoggi’s murder as “a terrible crime.”

“Mr. Khashoggi’s family deserve to see justice done for his brutal murder. Saudi Arabia must ensure all of those responsible are held to account and that such an atrocity can never happen again,” he said in a statement.

Washington Post: An ‘insult’ to Khashoggi’s family

The Washington Post editorial board called Monday’s sentences a “travesty of justice.”

“The result is an insult to Khashoggi’s family and to all those, including a bipartisan congressional majority, who have demanded genuine accountability in the case,” it wrote in an op-ed.

The editorial board also warned the international community against welcoming the result of the Saudi trial.

“International acceptance of the result would not only be morally wrong but dangerous, too: It would send the reckless Saudi ruler the message that his murderous adventurism will be tolerated,” it said.

‘Trial comedy’

The dissident Saudi Twitter account Prisoners of Conscience criticized the trial of Khashoggi’s killers as a “comedy,” saying that all those involved in the crime should be held accountable.

“Just a year ago, the US intelligence published a report revealing correspondences between Saud al-Qahtani and Bin Salman before, during and following Khashoggi’s assassination,” it pointed out.

“Today, the Saudi judiciary claims that the crime took place without prior planning and acquits Saud al-Qahtani! What kind of independent judiciary is this?!” it added.

American lawmakers fume at sentences

Several US legislators have censured not only Saudi Arabia for the verdict but also US President Donald Trump, who has shielded bin Salman from blame for Khashoggi’s assassination and emphasized Riyadh’s lucrative arms deals with Washington instead.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, highlighted the CIA’s conclusion and slammed the trial as “a cover-up” by the Saudi regime.

“This sham trial, carried out by a despotic and lawless regime, looks more like a cover-up,” he said. “Maybe Donald Trump might want to stop proclaiming his love and affection for the Saudi dictatorship.”

Bernie Sanders  

@SenSanders

The CIA concluded that the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. This sham trial, carried out by a despotic and lawless regime, looks more like a cover-up.

Maybe Donald Trump might want to stop proclaiming his love and affection for the Saudi dictatorship. https://twitter.com/KarenAttiah/status/1209144376338911233 …Karen Attiah  

@KarenAttiah

Saudi Arabia’s “trial” and “investigation” of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder has been a complete sham.

Executing five nameless, faceless men without transparency and an investigation into the regime’s responsibility is not justice. It’s just more bloodshed. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/saudi-arabia-says-five-sentenced-to-death-in-killing-of-jamal-khashoggi/2019/12/23/02fc0ea4-256a-11ea-9cc9-e19cfbc87e51_story.html …

11.7K1:30 AM – Dec 24, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy   3,409 people are talking about this   Similarly, Democrat Senator Tim Kaine cited the CIA’s assessment on the case, urging the US government to seek justice for Khashoggi.

“Senior Saudi officials continue to escape accountability for the state-sponsored murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” said Kaine, who represents Virginia, where Khashoggi lived.

“The Trump Administration should be demanding justice for the brutal killing of a journalist and VA resident instead of ignoring the CIA’s assessment of who killed him,” Kaine added.

Connecticut Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal blamed the US president for bin Salam’s evasion of responsibility.

“After a sham trial, the masterminds behind Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder walk away scot-free,” he said. “Trump is also culpable – having done next to nothing to hold the Crown Prince accountable for murdering a brave, truth-seeking journalist.”

Congressman Adam Schiff, who chairs the US House Intelligence Committee, rejected the Saudi prosecutor’s assertion that the Khashoggi’s killing had not been planned.

“This sentence is a continuation of the Kingdom’s effort to distance Saudi leadership, including the Crown Prince, from the brutal assassination of a journalist and US resident, Jamal Khashoggi,” he tweeted.

“This was a premeditated murder, not a ‘snap decision’ or rogue operation.”

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نشرة الأخبار | المسائية | 2019-12-23

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Saudi Arabia Recruits Twitter Employees Charged For Spying

Saudi Arabia Recruits Twitter Employees Charged For Spying

By Staff, Agencies

The Saudi government, frustrated by growing criticism of its leaders and policies on social media, recruited two Twitter employees to gather confidential personal information on thousands of accounts that included prominent opponents, prosecutors announced on Wednesday.

Twitter

The complaint unsealed in US District Court in San Francisco detailed a coordinated effort by Saudi government officials to recruit employees at the social media giant to look up the private data of Twitter accounts, including email addresses linked to the accounts and internet protocol addresses that can give up a user’s location.

The accounts included those of a popular critic of the government with more than one million followers and a news personality. Neither was named.

Two Saudi citizens and one US citizen worked together to unmask the ownership details behind dissident Twitter accounts on behalf of the government in Riyadh and the royal family, the US justice department said.

According to a court filing, they were guided by an unnamed Saudi official who worked for someone prosecutors designated “Royal Family Member-1,” which The Washington Post reported was Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or MBS as he is commonly known.

Those charged were Twitter employees Ali Alzabarah and Ahmad Abouammo, along with Ahmed Almutairi, a marketing official with ties to the royal family.

“The criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that Saudi agents mined Twitter’s internal systems for personal information about known Saudi critics and thousands of other Twitter users,” said US lawyer David Anderson.

“US law protects US companies from such an unlawful foreign intrusion. We will not allow US companies or US technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of US law,” he said in a statement.

The lawsuit comes as US-Saudi relations continue to suffer strains over the brutal, Riyadh-sanctioned murder one year ago of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote for, among others, The Washington Post newspaper

A critic of MBS, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

According to the Post, US intelligence has concluded that the prince himself was closely linked to the murder.

The criminal allegations reveal the extent the Saudi government went to control the flow of information on Twitter, said Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher with Human Rights Watch.

Two Former Twitter Employees Accused of Spying for Saudi Arabia

White House Restricted Access to Trump’s Calls with Putin, MBS

Trump telephone call

Al-Manar

September 28, 2019

White House efforts to limit access to President Donald Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders extended to phone calls with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, the CNN reported Friday, according to people familiar with the matter.

Those calls — both with leaders who maintain controversial relationships with Trump — were among the presidential conversations that aides took remarkable steps to keep from becoming public.

In the case of Trump’s call with the Saudi prince, officials who ordinarily would have been given access to a rough transcript of the conversation never saw one, according to one of the sources. Instead, a transcript was never circulated at all, which the source said was highly unusual, particularly after a high-profile conversation.

The call – which the person said contained no especially sensitive national security secrets — came as the White House was confronting the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which US intelligence assessments said came at the hand of the Saudi government.

With Putin, access to the transcript of at least one of Trump’s conversations was also tightly restricted, according to a former Trump administration official.

It’s not clear if aides took the additional step of placing the Saudi Arabia and Russia phone calls in the same highly secured electronic system that held a now-infamous phone call with Ukraine’s president and which helped spark a whistleblower complaint made public this week, though officials confirmed calls aside from the Ukraine conversation were placed there.

But the attempts to conceal information about Trump’s discussions with Prince Mohammed (known in Saudi Arabia as MBS) and Putin further illustrate the extraordinary efforts taken by Trump’s aides to strictly limit the number of people with access to his conversations with foreign leaders.

The White House did not comment about the limiting of access to calls with the Russian and Saudi leaders.

Officials said the practice began more than a year ago after embarrassing leaks revealed information about Trump’s phone conversations with the leaders of Australia and Mexico. While it includes the highly secure system for particularly sensitive matters, it has also extended to limiting the number of individuals who are provided a transcript or are able to listen to the call.

Those efforts have come under scrutiny after the intelligence whistleblower alleged that White House officials took unusual steps to conceal Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s new president.

Source: CNN

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.

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