Saturday, April 28, 2007

al-Qaeda, Big King Abdullah and Little King Abdul

April 28, 2007
Saudi Arabia has uncovered a major plot and arrested 173 al-Qaeda members, almost al of them Saudis, and taken a huge cache of weapons and cash. The men were apparently arrested over a period of time. Last month Saudi authorities claimed to have arrested 16-17 terrorists, but later it turned out that most of them were merely reformists who had petitioned the ruling family for political freedoms. Most of those earlier charges were trumped up, according to Western media (e.g. The Economist).
This time, it looks like most of those arrested are genuine al-Qaeda terrorists although, if past experience is any indicator, it is possible the authorities may have taken the opportunity to throw in a few of their political critics as well.

There is an Arab saying :”If you have no shame, then do what ever you wish.”
Which brings us to a statement by the Saudi Interior Minister (Police and Security), Prince Nayef, regarding the thwarted plot. The prince expressed ‘regret’ about the failure of some neighboring countries, especially ‘Iraq’ which he singled out, to fully cooperate in security measures. Apparently some of those arrested Saudis had returned from Iraq, where many of them are being trained now in Sunni bastions like Al-Anbar province.

Now the question is: why couldn’t the Prince do his job and keep those from going to Iraq in the first place? And does that not indicate a Saudi failure to fully cooperate in Iraq’s security? And why was it easy for them to return, by crossing the border, again, to a country that is under tight security control, one that is effectively a tribal theocratic police state? And where did all that money, undoubtedly the tip of an iceberg, come from?

Media report that King Abdullah (Big Abdullah of Saudia Arabia, not Little Abdul of Jordan) has banned Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from entering his country. Arab media report that Abdullah is upset because Maliki’s policies are anti-Sunni. No report yet whether al-Maliki is upset because Saudi policy has been discriminatory and anti-Shi’a for decades.

Speaking of terrorists crossing borders and cross-dressing, a suicide bomber today killed and wounded well over 200 in the Shi’a shrine city of Karbala. It is almost certain that all those killed and maimed were Shi’as. Perhaps Maliki should bar Saudi princes from visiting his country as well??
Now the question is: where the hell will Maliki go for a good time on his next vacation??

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Gulf War Preparations: A Piss-Up in a Brewery?

The GCC Gulf states are preparing for war these days. No, not a war of their own- the whole GCC brass could not organize a military piss-up in a brewery, as one U.S commander in the Gulf once succinctly noted, in spite of the tens of billions on arms expenditure and the attendant fat commissions paid to the local potentates. Which point leads us on its own logical path: if all the high-tech military purchases cannot prepare us for self defense, then, logically, could it be that the reason for these amazing purchases is to generate high commissions for some potentates?
They prepare for what many regard as an imminent American-Iranian war, some consider it a done-deal, a few even wish for it, not that they are queueing up to volunteer. Recent political discourse in the United States makes war seem like a far-fetched eventuality.

At a special conference on Maritime Security in the Gulf, the Director of Maritime Ports in Bahrain, a Shaikh Du'aij Bin Salman Al-Khalifa (of course), called for cooperation to protect navigation in the Gulf and prevent 'illegal activity'.

In Bahrain also, Minister of Interior (police & security) Shailh Rashid Abdullah Al-Khalifa (of course) called for more cooperation among states in the region in protecting navigation.

Bahrain's king Hamad Bin Issa Al-Khalifa (of course) warned those of his citizens who are 'swayed by trouble-makers' not to 'mess up their own security and interests'. The King called on them to join 'the march of modernization and construction' and urged them to 'join national work toward a brighter future' (I must say the last one sounds like something out of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book or perhaps Colonel Qaddafi's (Qaddafi) Little Green Book- who writes these guys' speeches? Some retired Chinese apparatchik? Of course, it could be a forcibly retired Iraqi Ba'athist).

Meanwhile, the U.S naval base in Bahrain is starting a joint maneuver for meeting 'emergency' situations.

Iraq- Time to 'Cut and Run' and Let Them Settle it:
Nine U.S soldiers died in Diyala province yesterday, killed by a suicide bomber that also wounded twenty others. At least 51 Iraqis died in various bombings. The sad fact is that not many Iraqi Arabs feel grateful that these young Americans died to pacify their country. The Kurds are the only Iraqis who are deeply grateful for their liberation from dictatorship and ethnic oppression, and they have made the most of it. In the wider Arab World outside Iraq, including the moderate states, well....the less said the better....

The 'Baghdad Wall' is opposed by almost everyone in Iraq, and it is not clear who in the U.S military command supports it. Around the Arab World, there is strong opposition to it, the exception being a few newspapers in the Gulf.

Iran- Interesting Questions:
Is Iran really on the verge of going nuclear? Are the mullahs and Ahmadinejad doing a Saddam-style campaign of disinformation? Are they being mislead by their own scientists? There is no doubt that they want it, but are they really that close to it?

Monday, April 23, 2007

An NBC defense correspondent this morning on MSNBC: "Sectarian killings (in Baghdad) have been reduced. But (the surge) has not reduced terrorist bombings". And I thought these terror bombings were what started the whole 'sectarian' conflict, because they have always targeted Shi'a districts. For example, I have never heard of a terrorist bombing against a non-Shi'a mosque.
Well, eventually the Salafi jihadist fuzzywuzzies will get to the Christian churches, once they have some time off from slaughtering Shi'as and evading American forces. It would be a shame, because these ancient communities have their roots in the early Nestorian chuches that migrated eastward to Mesopotamia and Persia escape persecution.
The predecessors of the Salafis, the pan-Arab nationalists, drove out the Jews of Iraq, who had roots in the country even deeper than many Arab Ba'athists, including Saddam Hussein. It was a great loss to the country, and a gain for Israel.
If the Christians are forced by the jihadist fuzzywuzzies to leave as well.....then Iraq will become a greener, poorer version of her big neighbor to the southwest.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Pakistani Nuclear Humor, Nuclear Deproliferation a la John McCain

Pakistan's military ruler General Musharraf offered to act as a mediator between Israel and the Arabs. He offered to act as a non-partisan neutral mediator. An admirable offer.....but his country is hardly neutral: the Jihadists still burn the Israeli flag almost daily around Pakistan. Wouldn't the powerful Governor of Waziristan, one Osama Bin Laden, object? Shouldn't he secure his own main cities- Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar, etc -before embarking on shuttle diplomacy?

Genral Musharraf also stated that Iranian enrichment of Uraniuam represents a danger to the Gulf region. He said that Iran has the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but that it would be wrong to be used for nuclear weapons. Ok, he is right on the last one, there should be no new nuclear weapons in the Middle East or anywhere else.....but what about Pakistan, which just recently announced testing a longer-range nuclear warhead?
This from the leader of a country that for years was the main seller and spreader of nuclear technology to the third and fourth worlds (remember A Q Khan whom the Pakistan government commended?).
At least he did not sing it to a Beach Boys tune a la McCain, but maybe that is because he is not running in a primary in South Carolina.
Gulf Financial Markets, Promising Kurdistan, Iraqis Mourn as the Surge….Surges:

The Saudi market continued to decline Saturday, with the Index reaching the 7307 level. Most local analysts seemed baffled that the market has been declining for some time, even though they perceive the Saudi economy as being strong (at least in terms of the oil sector and its revenues). Some have called for encouraging entry of investors from other ‘Persian’ Gulf countries as a way to shore up demand. This is not likely to be the hoped for panacea for the Saudi market. Big Gulf investors usually seek to diversify their risks by going to international markets, since regional markets are similar and exposed to the same risks associated with the oil markets and public revenues, especially now that the exchange rates are more closely coordinated.

A Saudi financial columnist wrote in the daily Al-Riyadh that the trading day is too long (4 ½ hours compared with the NYSE’s 6 ½ hours of regular trading and the extra-curricular electronic trading) and may be one cause of the recent market decline. He argues that the long trading session keeps shares from closing at the high levels they reach during the day. I guess he means that it gives investors a chance to have second thoughts and perhaps experience what is called “buyers’ remorse” in the United States. What would they do if they ever have after-hours and pre-hours electronic trading?

Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti market has been performing quite differently, and the Index reached its highest level in a year (10,634.9) on Saturday. The value of trading reached a historic level at the end of last week, and market authorities were incredulous enough to start an investigation.

Iraqi Kurdistan has been advertising aggressively for investments in Arab media, including electronic media. They call it “Kurdistan, You Gateway to Iraq”. So, leaving politics aside, the Kurds may have at least one good reason to remain within Iraq. The dismal way things are in most Arab countries and Iran, Kurdistan may be able to provide the only reliable safe haven for investments and tourism. Neither the Jihadist fuzzywuzzies nor the Ba’athists have been able to infiltrate the Kurdish region. The one potential sources of future trouble is the ultra-nationalistic Turkish military....and the Kurdish guerrillas tormenting them.

Arab governments sent condolences to the regimes in Algeria and Morocco for the deaths caused by Islamic terror bombings (the total death toll was less than thirty, nothing to write home about by Jihadist standards). Alfayhaa Television noted bitterly that none of these governments expressed sorrow or sent condolences to the Iraqis for the terror bombings that killed over 500 in only one week. Alfayhaa wondered if that was because almost all the Iraqi victims were Shi’as.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Zeitgeist and Groveling on the Gulf, Saudis Help With Iraq's Debt

Groveling Media Comments:
The following a summary of a front page editorial yesterday by the owner and chief editor of alseyassah , an extreme right-wing Kuwaiti daily.

(Warning to the unwary reader: get a sick (barf) bag, or a large bucket before reading)

“It is worthy to stop and think in view of the speech by the Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines King Abdullah last Saturday. The political and moral implications of the speech evolved about the clear values of ruling and the task of the ruler. He addressed Saudi citizens at first and admitted that they have a right that he strike with justice, on their behalf, at injustice, and stressed the importance of fighting terrorism in all its forms, and of destroying all destructive and deviate ideas….
“The Arab World is facing a serious Saudi Marja’iyya (i.e higher religious authority, a la the ayatollahs) that is capable of resolving all unfinished bilateral or regional issues. The Arab World now has a leadership with this level of responsibility, full of the values of rule, and connected to the history of the prominent men of this nation and their deeds.....
“All eyes have been raised to the Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines, ever since he was the number two man in the Kingdom, and his ideas were made clear, and they are now the policy being applied.
“Now we have started to see, in this leadership, how its Arabic and Islamic Marja’iyya is being activated in pushing forward solutions for unsolved issues (solved issues do not need solutions).
“Now all can see the value of the recent moves of the Saudi Kingdom in Palestine, in Lebanon, in Iraq, and in Darfur…etc. Nobody and nothing could achieve such progress but the anchor, the rule of King Abdullah, whose delicate fingers move only toward playing the symphony of peace.
“We in the Gulf shall see and hear a different tune now that the man has taken upon himself to do what he does superbly. He is seeking to create a Saudi society that fears neither the bright lights of the age (zeitgeist?) nor democracies (not even in Iraq or at home?)….etc, etc, etc ad nauseatingum........”

Another columnist, Ahmad Al-Rube’i, wrote in the Saudi daily asharqalawsat :
“The Crisis of Credibility:
“One of the attributes of King Abdullah, one that distinguishes him from many other leaders, is that he says with his tongue what he believes in his heart. Many observers were surprised that his speech on Saturday was frank and clear, and called things as they are, when he talked of sectarian (Sunni vs. Shi’a) tensions. He said clearly that fanning the flames of sectarianism among Sunnis and Shi’as in the Saudi Kingdom is against the teachings of Islam. (This is news: there is no open sectarian conflict in Saudi Arabia, mainly because any open political dissent will be crushed ruthlessly, like in most Middle Eastern countries)….Our main problem is that ‘some’ of our leaders say something the do not mean, while doing the opposite…...
“What deserves our attention in King Abdullah’e comments is the ceredibility. All leaders who have dealt with him know that what he says with his tongue (no less) is what he believes in his heart. Oh, if only such behavior was the rule and schizophrenia the exception….if that were so, we would not be where we tragically are. (Schizophrenia is the favorite term used nowadays by Saudi press to refer to Libya’s admittedly odd dictator Colonel Qadddafi. True, I wouldn’t share a room with him at college, but what Arab leader is not schizophrenic).

There have been many other examples of such drivel in the Gulf and Saudi media lately. I doubt that wise old King Abdullah himself is behind them- yet, I can almost see a set of strings being pulled by someone.

On the other hand there is some good news, also created by Saudi Arabia. In a positive move that could set a precedent among Iraq’s rich Arab neighbors, Saudi Arabia has agreed to forgive 80% of Iraq’s debt to its government. Total foreign debt and reparations owed by Iraq from the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War and the Iran-Iraq War(1980-1988) could amount to nearly $400 billion, an amount Iraq could never completely pay- nobody has found a way to squeeze blood out of dry rock yet. At the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, Iraq owed foreigners nearly $100 billion. If the report is true, it will be one small step in putting the Iraqi ‘state’, such as it is, on the road to long term economic survival.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech and Arab Universities
Arab media gave the killings at Virginia Tech top coverage. It was the next top item of newspaper front pages, after the usual daily dosage of the noble and magnanimous activities of Presidents-for-Life, Monarchs, and their potentates. Even television stations gave it some extended coverage, after the usual daily film clips of Presidents-for-Life, and Monarchs shaking hands, making the correct noises, promising utopia, and kissing each others’ cheeks (no, not THOSE!).

Interesting how some in the United States, mostly media types in need of substance to fill the long minutes on the air, have been talking about college lock-downs. You might as well lock down a whole town like Intercourse (PA), or Hooker (Arkansas). And yes, they do exist. I won’t even mention LLANFAIRWLLGWYNGLLGOGERYYCHWYRNDROBWILLLLANTYSILIOGOGOGOCH (Wales), or Had El-Hmara (The Donkey’s........) somewhere in the (Persian) Gulf region. By the way, the famous Sharm El-Sheikh (Egypt) means the Sheikh’s ‘sharm’. I’ll let you know someday what ‘sharm’ means, and you probably don’t have to be over 18 either.

Universities and Colleges in the Middle East, the ones I’ve seen, are perfectly equipped for lock-downs. They are usually fenced within high walls, with a few iron gates for access. These gates can, and often are, shut and locked. After hours, the campus, such as it is, is locked down. Fraternization with society at large is not only frowned upon, it is actively discouraged. I recall the time when I taught some courses at a university in the Gulf area, how the guard outside the gate peered at me as I approached, before swinging the gate open slowly, grudgingly. At another campus, which used to be my old high school before being upgraded to a college, the guard would always ask me what my business was before letting me in. So, no fraternization.

These walls and gates are not there to prevent criminals from the outside from entering and committing crimes on campus. They are there to prevent potential (political) criminals, the students, from spilling out and expressing themselves loudly. Any massacre a la Virginia Tech will happen if and when the students spill out in large groups (there are laws in most Arab states regulating mass public gatherings of more than 10 or so people, and some states even regulate private gatherings but I understand that it doesn't apply to polygamy).
I suspect the story is the same all across the Arab parts of the Middle East and Iran: keep them fenced in and keep everybody else fenced out.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Muqtada and Democrats, Al Qaeda Waxing, Bahrain Waning
Arab media report that Sadrists ministers will withdraw, for now, from the Iraqi cabinet, in protest over the refusal of the Prime Minister al-Maliki to support a timetable for withdrawal of U. S forces from Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr himself publicly condemned al-Maliki’s refusal. It is not clear if Muqtada prefers the Murtha plan (isn’t that also the Pelosi plan?), the Hillary plan (whatever it is), or the Kucinich plan (I assume there is one). Still, he can’t hate the Republican plan (isn’t that the one about creative chaos?) all that much: it has brought him so close to being the king-maker.

Rivalry is intensifying among various factions for the hearts and minds of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority. One thing is certain: the Americans and the ruling Shi’a-Kurdish coalition are not in contention- they will never win the Sunnis’ hearts and minds. The battle is among Ba’athists, moderate Islamists, more extremist Islamists, and al-Qaeda. Underlying all this are strong tribal forces among the Sunni tribes of Western Iraq. It is not clear who will emerge on top, perhaps no one; most likely some kind of a coalition of all of the above.
Meanwhile, the car bombings are becoming more selective, aiming for more strategic and more sensitive targets. Like the Parliament building (and how did they get deep inside? Who let them in??). And an important bridge that kept parts of Baghdad joined.

Looks like North Africa is the newest battleground for al-Qaeda and her Salafi allies. Bombings in Algeria and Morocco have intensified in recent weeks. Algerians are known as a drab and harsh people, but easy-going Moroccans are getting into the act now. Algeria went through some years of a violent and particularly gruesome civil war after the ruling military-FLN regime annulled the results of elections the Islamists won, and canceled planned elections, in the early 1990s.

Some Arab media report that the former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran several weeks ago is being held by Iranian authorities. The reports claim that this is part of a series of planned reprisals for Iranian operatives being snatched in Iraq and Europe. Perhaps it is a good idea to heed State Department travel advisories and warnings, just these days.

Saudi media report that a high Saudi security official, with the rank of General, no less, was found killed in a ‘gruesome way’. The media compared the method of his killing to that of American hostage Paul Johnson, who was butchered by al-Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia in 2004. This would be the first time that the Saudi al Qaeda has resorted to these methods against a Saudi citizen.....but then he is a 'General'.

Saudi King Abdullah announced that henceforth he will not tolerate injustice and oppression. He also railed against sectarian divisions in his country and across the Arab World. All admirable thoughts, but there was no mention of corruption. Dommage.

In Bahrain, thousands demonstrated last week against what they claimed is a government policy to change the country’s demographics, by illegally naturalizing outsiders, presumably Sunnis, from Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Bahrain’s population is estimated to be about 75% Shi’as. This has become a point of contention in recent months, although the government has denied the story, which probably means that there is some truth in it. Already, Bahrain has a strong Salafi movement (soul mates of al Qaeda), something unheard of in the past. So far, the Salafis have concentrated on their Shi’a rivals, whom they consider the ‘main enemy’ and target………for now.
Bahrain, once the 'Havana' of the Persian Gulf, has recently imposed restrictions on public entertainment, pushing more hotels and businesses to move to Dubai. It is moving now much closer to Kuwait in terms of restrictions on public entertainment and 'fun', and fast closing in on world record-holder Riyadh, where there really is 'no there'....there.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Saudi Arabian Interior Minister Prince Nayef (psssst: all interior ministers in the Gulf are princes, because only they can keep law and order) announced that his country has asked Iran to return several Saudis accused or ‘terrorism’ who are in Iran. It is not clear if these Saudis are being held in detention in Iran, but this is most likely. Reports have noted in the past that one of Bin Laden’s sons may be under house arrest in Iran. There have been sporadic reports of Iran holding or hosting Al- Qaeda operatives who had escaped from Afghanistan. Can this be used as another casus belli?
In late 2001 Iran, under a saner president, cooperated with the American invasion of Afghanistan to topple their Taliban enemies- the cooperation stopped a couple of months later, after President Bush gave a speech joining Iran with Ba'athist Iraq and the Dear Leader's North Korea in the Axis os Evil. That was before Ahmadinejad was elected.

In a strange incident, media report that Iranian officials refused yesterday to allow the airplane carrying Iraqi P.M. Nouri al-Maliki from flying over their airspace on the way to Tokyo, because the pilot did not have prior permission to overfly. Unless this was a case of low-level blunder, it may indicate a cooling of relations between Tehran and Baghdad.

Extremist media in the Gulf quote 'Iranian Opposition' groups that Iran has 'inundated' the Persian Gulf states with spies and agents. Great....just what the Shi'a minorities in these paranoid states needed at this time.

A Tunisian study indicates that more than 40% of all men who are under forty years of age in that North African Arab country suffer from sexual impotence. The percentage of impotence reaches 60% for those 50 years or older. The study attributes a quarter of divorce cases to that (probably more). The causes listed are a mix of physical and psychological. Tunisia does not allow the sale of ‘potency-enhancing' drugs, or what are called ED drugs. Does this mean the population of Tunisia is declining?


Friday, April 06, 2007

Qadhafi Declares Shi’a Empire, Demotes Saudi King, Draws Fire

Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi (Gaddafi) has done it again. He gave his usual rambling long speech at a North African/Saharan meeting last week. He presented certain ideas and made proposals that were sure to rile up the Arab establishment, especially its new leadership, the Saudis. And they did:

He called for the establishment of a Second Fatimid Empire. The Fatimids were the Shi’a dynasty that ruled from Cairo and controlled much of North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean for over 200 years. They also established the city of Cairo.

He reminded everyone that the Al-Azhar Mosque and its University, now a center of Sunni theology, were established under the Fatimid Shi’as in the 10th century.

He criticized those who have done their best to raze the tombs of the Prophet Mohammed and his Sahaba early followers (in Madina, Saudi Arabia). He also referred to the efforts to obliterate historic Islamic sites in Arabia, a favorite pastime of Wahhabi extremists who consider all such monuments as heretical relics.

He said that the Two Holy Shrines are not all in Saudi Arabia: one of them is in Mecca, but the other is in Jerusalem. (In this case, someone’s title will have to be changed to "Custodian of the Single Shrine", with a demoted job description.......guess whose?).

His Proposals go against the sectarian campaign being waged in some Arab states to emphasize differences between Shi’as (Shiites) and Sunnis, and to paint the former as a suspect source of subversion and danger.

The reaction has been swift. The awesome Saudi media conglomerates, with their network of television stations and newspapers across the Arab World and in Europe (Alhayat, Asharq Alawsat, etc) have been on the offensive ever since. As have some of their allies in the Gulf states. The Colonel is daily demonized (for the wrong reason), and some religios shaikhs have been recruited to issue opinions calling his ideas ‘heretical’. Professors and academicians have also been recruited to expound on the Colonel's doubtful sanity- one academician/journalist asserted he was suffering from Schizophrenia...and he even managed to spell it right.

One thing is certain about Qadhafi: whatever you think of his often unorthodox ideas, his weird brand of dictatorship, and his deadly past, he is never boring. He would have livened up the last Arab summit in Riyadh, and made it more interesting than what it was: a meeting of mostly nondescript despots.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Controversy in Kuwait: The Dichotomy of the Salafi Hair Obsession.

In Kuwait, Islamists tried yesterday to force a new female cabinet minister to wear the hijab, the headcover that is a mark of piety for some. The minister refused to wear the hijab during the swearing-in ceremony at the Assembly. Normally they would have called for her to wear a burqa'a or niqab, the Zorro-style mask that women wear in Saudi Arabia and is favored by the Arab Salafis and their Afghan Taliban drinking buddies. As it turned out, they could not manage forcing even a paltry hijab on the tough lady.

It is strange how the Fundies of the Arab World are publicly obsessed with a woman's public hair, and how secretly they are even more obsessed with a woman's not-so-public hair, but in a different way. This is a dichotomy that I could never understand- perhaps it has to do with a certain kind of repression which leads to a certain kind of frustration? Or perhaps they need to work out more- don't they still have Fundie boot camps somewhere (no, not necessarily the Afghan or Pakistani variety)? Maybe they should even walk to work instead of driving- I have noticed that many of them are sort of obese. Eating too much sweets and thinking of women's hair, all of it, the whole time is bound to make you fat.

In any case, the Fundies are obsessed with women, and they spend much of their time trying very hard not to think of a woman's hair, all of it. They try to enact laws that deal exclusively with women and their appearance, especially the hair. Now it would be interesting if a law is passed forcing them to cover their shaggy beards, or in some cases their unfriendly visages. Often they call a woman's face and hair as ‘'aura’, an Arab term meaning something that is taboo and should be hidden and not seen in public- sort of like a person's private parts. I think many of their silly faces should be declared ‘'aura’.

There are many serious problems that can benefit from releasing some of the energy of these Fundies’ frustrations: for example, the quality of health care in a country that spends a fortune on health, but all high public officials and important private dignitaries, rich ones, are sent overseas for medical treatment at government expense.
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