Jamal Khashoggi

This story seems to be creating quite a stir:

Jamal Khashoggi, a well-known journalist and critic of the Saudi government, walked into the country’s consulate in Istanbul last week to obtain some documents and has not been seen since.

His fiancée fears that he has been kidnapped or killed. The authorities in Istanbul believe he was murdered by Saudi agents. Saudi Arabia insists that he left the consulate shortly after he arrived.

So a Saudi walks into a Saudi embassy in Istanbul and doesn’t come out again. The Turkish government, led by the oh-so neutral and trustworthy Recep Erdoğan, says he’s been murdered. Sorry, why do I care?

Mr Khashoggi is a prominent journalist who has covered major stories, including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of Osama Bin Laden, for various Saudi news organisations.

Okay, it’s not good that journalists are being killed but Saudi Arabia has been oppressing or jailing journalists for decades. And the Turkish government complaining about the treatment of dissident journalists is a bit like the mayor of Las Vegas complaining about light pollution in upstate New York. So why the sudden fuss in the west?

He went into self-imposed exile in the US last year, and has written a monthly column in the Washington Post in which he has criticised the policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Ah. So he’s a darling of the US media establishment, and anti-Saudi. Now there is much to criticise Saudi Arabia for, but let’s also remember that their fiercest critics are Iran and, more recently, Turkey who are both locked in an ideological religious power struggle in the Middle East. Perhaps a little skepticism is in order here? How much of this media coverage is being paid for by state-funded lobby groups?

There’s also this:

In truth, Khashoggi never had much time for western-style pluralistic democracy. In the 1970s he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, which exists to rid the Islamic world of western influence. He was a political Islamist until the end, recently praising the Muslim Brotherhood in the Washington Post. He championed the ‘moderate’ Islamist opposition in Syria, whose crimes against humanity are a matter of record. Khashoggi frequently sugarcoated his Islamist beliefs with constant references to freedom and democracy. But he never hid that he was in favour of a Muslim Brotherhood arc throughout the Middle East. His recurring plea to bin Salman in his columns was to embrace not western-style democracy, but the rise of political Islam which the Arab Spring had inadvertently given rise to. For Khashoggi, secularism was the enemy.

Between the uncertainty over the claims, the fact that it’s a squabble between competing Muslim factions in the Middle East, the untrustworthyness of everyone involved, and the journalist in question being a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, I’ve concluded I don’t really care. There are other, more worthy things to get outraged about (this, for example, especially when considered alongside this), and I don’t think either the US or UK should entangle themselves in this mess, let alone burn political capital posturing over it.

Share

The Twin Gambles of Saudi Arabia and Iran

Based on recent posts, some readers may get the impression that I am somewhat skeptical that Barack Obama deserves his Nobel Peace Prize, and I’d like to correct that. I think it was thoroughly deserved, for reasons implied in the following tweets:

Now to be fair this was a complete accident on Obama’s part, but by showing America’s enemies he was not to be feared while undermining its allies he somehow managed to get Saudi Arabia and Israel cooperating with one another on security and regional politics. Since then, Bahrain and the UAE have joined in. However you cut it, this is an impressive achievement even if it was wholly unintentional; for that alone he deserves his Nobel.

I suspect what’s happened is the civil war in Iraq that followed the disastrous toppling of Saddam Hussein, the rise of ISIS and the Syrian civil war, and the nastier elements of the Arab Spring (including the rise of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood) have shaken a lot of sensible Arabs into accepting some uncomfortable truths. Chief among them is the fact that it’s not Israel that is their greatest threat but the opposite side of the Sunni-Shia divide. For any Sunni, that makes Iran-sponsored Shia their gravest enemy.

For years it was Saudi Arabia, via its sponsorship of Wahhabist madrassas throughout the Muslim and non-Muslim world which was the main driver of radical Islamic terrorism, and many people quite reasonably asked why the US didn’t bomb Riyadh in the aftermath of 9/11 instead of Baghdad. The simple and honest answer was that the production from the Saudi oilfields was so essential to the functioning of the entire world (not just the US) that under no circumstances could it be interrupted. The second answer was that, backward and autocratic the ruling family was, the alternative was likely to be very much worse. Authoritarian strongmen always use the excuse of keeping the headcases from taking over to justify spending decades in power, but in the case of the Saudi ruling family it was probably true. A lot of Saudis supported the Taliban, thinking their way of governing was how things should be, and considered the house of Al Saud too liberal. Osama bin Laden’s biggest gripe with the US was that it stationed troops on Saudi Arabia’s holy sands before and after the Gulf War. He fell out with the Saudi government when they turned down his generous offer of defending Saudi with an army of lunatic jihadists he’d recruited in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, preferring instead to use the American army.

It is said that for a long time the Saudi rulers would whisper to western diplomats pushing for reforms words to the effect of: “We want to, but we can’t right now or we’ll have a revolution. We need to move slowly, and only when ready.” These words might have been self-serving much of the time, but they were surely based on truth. Any attempt to really crack down on the financiers of radical elements in Saudi would have likely instigated a coup, although this doesn’t excuse the government spending billions exporting Wahhabism around the world. I’m tempted to believe there was some sincerity in their words because the new guy in charge, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is pushing through rapid and sweeping reforms aimed at weening the country off oil dependency, liberalising the society, and sidelining conservatives who preferred things as they were. Mohammed bin Salman has judged – rightly or wrongly, we’ll find out soon enough – that the majority population is ready to move away from tightly controlled, theocratic, Wahhabist rule and towards something resembling Kuwait or Abu Dhabi: hardly a liberal paradise, but a giant step in the right direction nonetheless.

This contrasts greatly with Iran which was in some ways the polar opposite. Rather than having a government that wants to reform but cannot because the people are hotheaded lunatics, the Iranians have a sensible population ruled by an ultra-conservative theocratic government which keeps a boot on their necks. If the Saudi government would have fled the country at any point over the past 15 years, the country would probably have fallen to extremists. Had the Mullahs done the same thing in Iran, it would likely have shifted very much towards liberalism. Despite both being sponsors of terrorism around the world for decades, it is this difference between the two countries now that is crucial, and explains why Saudi is being feted and Iran a pariah.

Mohammed bin Salman has gambled that the Saudi population is ready for reforms; the Ayatollahs are gambling they can keep ignoring Iranians’ demands for them. I suspect this will determine the shape of the Middle East over the next generation, rather than the outcomes on proxy battlefields in Yemen, Syria, or elsewhere. Obama backed one horse, Trump has backed another. History will show who was right.

Share

Zakat’s role in funding terrorism

From the BBC:

Saudi Arabia is the chief foreign promoter of Islamist extremism in the UK, a new report has claimed.

The Henry Jackson Society said there was a “clear and growing link” between Islamist organisations in receipt of overseas funds, hate preachers and Jihadist groups promoting violence.

Wednesday’s report says a number of Gulf nations, as well as Iran, are providing financial support to mosques and Islamic educational institutions which have played host to extremist preachers and been linked to the spread of extremist material.

At the top of the list, the report claims, is Saudi Arabia. It alleges individuals and foundations have been heavily involved in exporting what it calls “an illiberal, bigoted Wahhabi ideology”, quoting a number of examples.

When most people read a report like this, they assume that thousands of Saudis are intentionally handing over money to extremist and jihadist groups in the hope they will use it to promote or practice violence. Undoubtedly this will be true for some individuals and no doubt some organisations too, but these reports overlook a crucial point that I have only seen mentioned once.

That point was made in Steve Coll’s excellent and highly recommended Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (emphasis mine):

The money flowing from the kingdom arrived at the Afghan frontier in all shapes and sizes: gold jewelry dropped on offering plates my merchants’ wives in Jeddah mosques; bags of cash delivered by businessmen to Riyadh charities as zakat, an annual Islamic tithe;

Operating in self-imposed isolation, major Saudi Arabian charities and such organizations as the Saudi Red Crescent, the World Muslim League, the Kuwaiti Red Crescent, and the International Islamic Relief Organisation set up their own offices in Peshwar. Funded in ever-rising amounts by Saudi Intelligence and zakat contributions from mosques and wealthy individuals, they, too, built hospitals, schools, clinics, feeding stations, and battlefield medical services.

Wikipedia describes zakat as follows:

As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, zakat is a religious obligation for all Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth.

Zakat is based on income and the value of all of one’s possessions. It is customarily 2.5% (or 1/40th) of a Muslim’s total savings and wealth above a minimum amount known as nisab. The collected amount is paid first to zakat collectors, and then to poor Muslims, to new converts to Islam, to Islamic clergy, and others.

Basically, in any wealthy Muslim country there is an awful lot of zakat money floating about, handed over by individuals as a matter of duty rather than choice. Inevitably, a portion of this cash will be purloined by people who will use it to further their own nefarious agendas. We see the same thing happening in governments: individuals are forced to hand over taxes ostensibly to pay for police, schools, and the army but the money gets hijacked and ends up going on diversity coordinators, lame arts projects, and the housing of child refugees with full beards and impressive combat records.

If you flood a place with money from a source which doesn’t get to say how it’s spent, you’ll lose control of it. If you lose control, some of it will get spent in ways you don’t like. I suspect a lot of this Saudi funding of terrorism is simply zakat money handed over to a charity in all innocence, and then dispersed by people who have made quite an art of diverting funds to extremist groups under the cover of legitimate, peaceful activities. That’s not to say there is no blatant funding of extremists going on in Saudi, but if you really want to tackle the issue you’ll have to either remove the obligation to pay zakat or ensure it is only distributed to groups which have been subject to thorough due diligence such that every Riyal can be accounted for.

Good luck with that.

Share

More dick-waving in the Middle East

What sort of empty-headed statement is this?

Qatar Rift May Boost Extremism, Germany Warns.
‘A dispute among partners and neighbors will…make the wrong ones stronger,’ says German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel

Who is this statement even intended for? Who is being warned here? Qataris? Saudis? Are they going to listen to the German foreign minister? Or maybe it’s aimed at Germans. Okay, so what are Germany’s interests in the Middle East (other than flogging luxury cars) and what leverage do they have? Or is Germany appealing to others to help out? Who, then? The US? The UK? Heh.

I think the German foreign minister spoke these words hoping it would make Germany look “concerned” and clued-up, and imply they should be involved in any plan to make things better. To me they smack of desperation to appear relevant in a potentially serious situation which is going to pan out one way or another wholly unaffected by what the German government says, does, or thinks. Of course, the rise of extremists in the Middle East would not be so much of a problem were Germany not so keen on inviting tens of thousands of them into Europe.

Anyway, irrelevant German warblings aside, things appear to be getting interesting over in the Gulf. Turkey is offering to send troops to prop up the beleaguered Qatari government, and Iran has thrown in its support as well. This means the two sides in the argument are:

1. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt

2. Qatar, Turkey and Iran

Kuwait is staying well out of it, sensible chaps.

The surprising element is Iran coming in on the side of Qatar, or more accurately, the Qataris appearing to accept their help. Iran is quite happy to prop up the governments of other countries, e.g. Syria but it comes at the price of ceding a degree of control to Tehran and allowing Hezbollah and other Shia militias to set up shop on their turf. Perhaps the Qatari rulers think they’ll be toppled without Iranian help and so don’t have much to lose. For a country which is 90% Sunni, this might not end well.

Turkey’s offer of troops is also more for show than anything else. Are Turkish soldiers really going to be fighting in the streets of Doha if it comes down to it? If they’re fighting Saudis they’re going to find themselves running out of ammunition and supplies pretty quickly, and will have to rely on Iran for logistics and air cover (assuming there is any), whereas the Saudis can amass all their stockpiles right next door. If Turkey wants to project power abroad, fighting Saudis in Qatar is probably not a smart way to go about it (but who knows how much of his own bullshit Erdogan believes at this stage?)

Perhaps Turkish troops will be deployed to stop a rival Qatari faction usurping the ruling families, but that’s unlikely to end well either. Are Qataris and other Arabs really going to just let a bunch of isolated Turks who don’t even speak the language swan around in Doha unmolested? I doubt it. The bloodshed will start on day one and won’t let up until the day they leave.

Russia is probably wondering what to do right now. They have usually sided with Iran in that part of the world, but there’s no love lost between them. For all the kissing and cuddling that went on between Russia and Turkey as they buried the hatchet over the shooting down of the plane in 2015 I am far from convinced the two leaders see eye to eye on much – other than to keep Iran’s influence in Syria to a minimum. But most importantly, Qatar with its enormous LNG cargoes has been the biggest threat to Russia’s dominance of the European gas market. Russia will be shedding no tears if Qatar’s LNG shipments get blockaded and the plants shut down. If the Russians have any sense they’ll stay right out of it, except of course to flood the region with as many weapons as it can sell.

The US should also stay right out of it, but it’s going to be hard to see how they can with two of their most important allies squaring off against one another. Iran is already blaming Saudi Arabia for the ISIS attack on its parliament yesterday, and people on Twitter are saying the Americans gave them the green light to do so. This is bollocks, but the Saudi move on Qatar is surely a result of their having been buoyed by Trump’s recent visit and his reconfirmation of the Saudi-US relationship. The US is going to have to work pretty hard to stay out of this one especially if things get nasty, but that’s what they need to do.

Today we have a General Election in the UK which Theresa May’s Conservatives are looking likely to win by a handsome margin. I am hoping that the first thing the new government does is draft up a law saying that anyone who advocates Britain getting involved in any capacity whatsoever amid calls for “something to be done” – even if staged photos of weeping children are plastered all over our media for the umpteenth time – shall be taken into Parliament Square, placed in the stocks, and kicked square up the arse by a serving member of the Parachute Regiment wearing a pair of steel-toed boots.

My guess is that this whole thing is mostly posturing and will be over within a few weeks.

Share

Dick-waving across the sands

Well, the Qataris seem to have upset some people, haven’t they?

It looks to me as though this is less about terrorism as two regional powers wrangling for influence. Thanks to its enormous oil wealth, Saudi Arabia has for years been able to buy influence all over the world. e.g. funding madrasses housing extremist preachers, but also paying off governments to turn a blind eye to its rather questionable domestic, regional, and international policies. Iran has always squared off against Saudi for regional supremacy, but insofar as majority Sunni nations go, none of the others could come close to matching Saudi’s wealth and influence.

Then a couple of decades ago Qatar tripped over a giant unassociated gas field at the time LNG was becoming a big thing, and before too long we had Qataris popping up everywhere spending money and buying influence just as the Saudis did: Al-Jazeera media, Qatar Airways, the 2022 FIFA world cup, sponsorship of Barcelona football club, and the London Shard are among the most prominent of the little-known desert nation’s attempts to gain international recognition.

It has been obvious for a long time that Qatar had hoped to match Saudi Arabia in terms of buying influence and raising prestige abroad, and they were able to do so thanks to a much smaller population (2.2m versus Saudi’s 32m), which makes them much easier to buy off and/or control and leaves more surplus cash. Qatar also hoped to compete with Dubai as a regional hub where westerners can do business without feeling they are in a backward, oppressive shithole – as Abu Dhabi was also trying to do.

But like Saudi Arabia, Qatar has never quite been able to shake off accusations that it funds extremist groups and shelters terrorists. The Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev was living in Doha when the Russians assassinated him, and rumours are always circulating that known terrorists are permitted to hide out in, or even operate out of, Qatar in return for ensuring the country isn’t attacked. I have no idea whether this is the case or not, and obviously I have no proof that Qatar sponsors terrorism, but I would not be in the least bit surprised if both were true, and I am quite certain that whatever Qatar is doing, Saudi Arabia has been doing the same thing for much longer.

Again like the Saudis,Qatar has managed to deflect most of the accusations by making sure they stand four-square alongside the Americans. ExxonMobil are heavily involved in the gigantic QatarGas II development, and have been the major international partner of Qatar Petroleum (the state oil and gas company) throughout the rise of the country’s LNG industry and subsequent enrichment. Whatever happens during this spat, we can be sure Rex Tillerson will know everyone involved on the Qatari side very well indeed.

Perhaps more importantly, Qatar is host to the biggest American military base in the Middle East. Something that rarely got mentioned in the discussions surrounding Al-Qa’eda and 9/11 is that Osama bin Laden’s primary motivation was his outrage at Saudi Arabia hosting American troops on its sacred soil during the first Gulf War, and subsequently keeping them there afterwards. The Saudis downplayed it, but the American army’s presence in their country was causing serious domestic resentment towards the ruling classes, but were more afraid of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s forces. As soon as Saddam Hussein was kicked out of power in the Iraq War, the American forces departed for Qatar. This was an enormously significant shift – and one that serves as proof that Saddam Hussein’s neighbours genuinely thought him a threat, even if liberal journalists in New York didn’t. But it also shifted the balance of power in the Gulf towards Qatar and away from Saudi Arabia. With Qatar being America’s base in the region, it had some leverage with which to deflect criticism of its conduct.

I suspect that, following Trump’s successful visit to Riyadh and his warnings about Islamic terrorism, the Saudis have taken the opportunity to take their uppity minnow neighbour down a peg or two, bringing along Bahrain and the UAE for diplomatic support (who will also be quite happy to see Qatar’s progress hobbled). The Saudis will know they can’t force America to abandon Qatar, but they can point a few fingers, pretend to Trump that they are doing something about terrorism, and reassert themselves as the more responsible of the Sunni petro-states that poison global politics with their money.

When all of this blows over, as I’m sure it will, the Saudis hope they will have gained some prestige and Brownie points at the expense of Qatar, and deflected some criticism in the process. Despite this rift, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be firmly united in opposing whatever designs Iran has on the region (although apparently Qatari forces, whatever they were, are pulling out of Yemen).

All in all, it’s just your typical story of treacherous bastards in the Middle East trying to squeeze an inch in on one other.

Share

A Bitch-Slap for Barack

President Obama has said Congress made a “mistake” by overriding his veto and pushing through a bill that allows legal action against Saudi Arabia over the 9/11 attacks.

the BBC reports.  Not until the 16th paragraph does the article say:

The Senate voted 97-1 and the House of Representatives 348-77, meaning the bill becomes law.

Do you think the BBC would have buried this in the last quarter of the article if Bush was on the receiving end of a slap-down like this?  If it were anyone other than Obama, he or she would be taking a step back and reflecting on whether his wielding of the veto was wise in the face of such overwhelming, cross-party opposition in both houses.

And this is what I’ve always disliked about Obama: he thinks he’s assumed an African-style presidency whereby he can do what he likes because he’s President, and everyone else should fall into line and not question the brilliance of his leadership.  On assuming office Obama didn’t seem to know how the US government is structured and what the President’s role is within it, and at no point during his two terms has he shown he is even interested in finding out.  He has set a precedent of the POTUS wielding far greater influence and authority than the Founding Fathers ever intended based on his supposedly inherent wisdom and indisputable good intentions.  Ask yourself whether this is a good thing now that we’re going to have either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the White House for the next four years.

And this:

Mr Obama told CNN on Wednesday: “It’s a dangerous precedent and it’s an example of why sometimes you have to do what’s hard.

“And, frankly, I wish Congress here had done what’s hard.

He really said that?   A president who has ducked countless tough decisions in order to maintain his popularity among his admirers, including foreigners who have anything but America’s best interests in mind.  Was the rejection of Phase 4 of the Keystone XL pipeline in order to appease the environmentalists a case of Obama doing “what’s hard?”  Or sticking to his principles over Syria once he’d made his “red line” remark?  Self-awareness is not his strong suit, is it?

Mr Obama suggested that his colleagues’ voting patterns were influenced by political concerns.

Politicians voting on political matters are influenced by political concerns.  I guess this is why people think he is the cleverest President ever.

Share

A Short Analysis of a Saudi’s Blog

Via the Religious Policeman, I came across this posting by a Saudi lady complaining of her treatment by her male oppressors:

Due to the dickless dicks who have been granted power to control MY GOD DAMN LIFE, I will not be able to blog or even check my fucking email! Fuck this country and every GOD DAMN SAUDI who has allowed for this BS to go on!

She is understandably upset, and the Religious Policeman likens her to the suffragettes:

If every Saudi woman were like her, the streets would be buzzing with women driving to each others’ houses, shops, schools and of course the places where they work, wearing bright clothing and sporting bare faces with makeup.

Me, I’m not so sure.  Let’s have a look through the blog of the lady in question.

First we have her singing the praises of George Galloway and his performance on Capitol Hill:

No doubt about it.. This was definitly a victory 4 the british parliamentary system!!!

If she means that the British parliamentary system allows MPs the freedom of speech to say whatever they please, then she has a point.  But somehow I doubt this is the point she is making.  I rather feel that she is simply gloating over what she sees as brave underdog Galloway taking on the might of the US and coming off best.  I wonder if the lady in question actually realises that Galloway has a lengthy track record of supporting Arabic dictators who restrict the rights of women and imprison or execute those who dare to speak their minds, and that free speech in the USA is vastly superior to that of almost every other country on the planet, and these rights are rigorously upheld by the very people who Galloway was lambasting.

Her contempt for the USA is further revealed in this post, along with a telling sentence or two on the religion of peace:

Yes, America might be the only super power at the moment, but HELLO two billion Muslims will not hesitate to open a can of whoop arse for our America “liberators”! And let me just say this, I will DEFINITLY be one of them. The current conversion rate among the 3 leading religions is 3:1 for ISLAM. So PUHHH-LEASE you think you can take us on?!?

Oh really?? Well Washington can kiss my bedouin arse! I cannot believe the nerve of this guy and his freakin gov! They go off invading other peoples homes, lying about it and stealing their livelihoods (OIL!), and when it’s obvious they’ve made such a muck of it all, who do they blame?! SAUDI! SHOCK, HORROR?! I THINK NOT!

America needs to take its head out of its filthy arse and stop this chaos! You can’t go around invading peoples homes, supporting despots and appartheid in “Israel” and expect the world to be all hunky-dory!

Am so freakin PI$$ED with this B*****D!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WALLAH AL3A6’EEEM if there’s even an incling of somethin like that happening, there will definitly be some cleansing done, Sep 11 style!!!

Yes, I can see the similarities with Emily Pankhurst already.

We also learn from our Saudi lady, who is complaining of having her rights infringed, that:

The Reprinting of the Danish cartoons shows that the West are just as idiotic as those so-called Muslims targeting Christians in Beirut.

Erm, no.  They are demonstrating that freedom of expression is a fundamental and universal right which cannot be curtailed by religious zealots, something which I thought she was demanding for herself.  I also note that she twice stated her opposition to the toppling of the Taliban on her blog, although I would hazard a guess that much of the female population of Afghanistan would not share this view.

Finally, on her sidebar we have a link to the Electronic Intifada (link omitted) which is currently supporting normalisation of relations with those well-known defenders of womens’ rights Hamas, plus the usual plethora of links to sites denouncing Israel, whose women enjoy equal rights with men in stark contrast to their counterparts in the Arab world.

I find the situation rather ironic.  Here we have a lady who is justificably angry at her appalling treatment as a second class citizen under Islamic law, yet at the same time is supporting George Galloway, continually denouncing the USA and issuing it with dark warnings of violent Islamic uprisings, equating Western freedom of speech with sectarian murder, and indirectly supporting Hamas in its violent struggle against Israel.

I have to disagree with the Religious Policeman, and conclude that the reason things are as they are in Saudi is because too many people are like her: demanding rights and freedoms for herself whilst denying others the same, and embarking down a path of blaming the West for ills whose roots lie squarely at home.

Share