Monday, June 25, 2007

The Saudi offshore satellite television station Alarbiya, controlled by a royal prince, has been leading a crusade (no pun here) against what it sees as Shi'a (Shi'ite) expansionism. This started ever since a Shi'a- Kurdish led coalition was elected to run Iraq. But it has escalated since the Israeli-Hezballah war last summer and the increased rivalry between the Shi'a block in Lebanon (Hizballah and Amal) and the Saudi-allied Hariri block and its partners (Mr Saad Hariri is also a Saudi citizen). This trend is evident all across the Saudi press, especially the offshore media like Asharq Alawsat (Middle East), Alhayat, and Alarabiya.

These media outlets often, almost daily, exchange their editorials and opinion columns. Alarabiya periodically reports on 'uncovering' Shi'a 'converts' around the Arab world. It has reported on Algerian security uncovering teachers who had 'converted' to Shi'ism, and has extensively reported on allegations of Egyptian, Sudanese, and especially Palestinian conversions. It never mentions whether these converts hide in dark catacombs, but it does imply that there is something sinister about the whole is soooo un-Wahhabi.

Today it headlined with a report of a dangerous new trend: Shi'as in Egypt seeking to establish a house of worship!!! Oy vey, what will they try next? A synagogue in Riyadh?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Queen of England bestowing a knighthood on Salman Rushdie has stirred a lot of controversy in the Middle East. Arabs, Pakistanis and Iranians are pissed about it, to put it mildly. No word from the mellow Turks yet, the Afghans don't count in this case, and the wily Nigerians are trying to figure out a way to use the issue in their national specialty: the world renouned oil and banking charity scams. Soon there will be emails and letters flying from Lagos, Abuja and London offering a part of the Rushdie fortune, a knighthood by the Queen, or perhaps a new lofty title by some Pakistani shaikh.

But the furor is not as would have been expected in the past, say a few years ago. Normally this would be a good sign, except for the factors behind it. Too many issues, or regional disasters, compete with the Old Queen and the irreverent author for the headlines these days: Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Nuclear weapons, sectarian issues, etc. Perhaps if the Queen had waited until Christmas Eve......

A Pakistani organizaton of 'ulema, Islamic religious leaders, has countered the queen's action with one of its own. The Council of Pakistani 'Ulema, with 2,000 clerical members, has awarded Usama (Osama) Bin Laden a new title: Sword of Allah. Now, old Usama can't go around being called Sir Usama, not yet, but he can be called Saif al-Islam, or just plain 'Saif'. Come to think of it, this is the very same title bestowed on Saddam Hussein in the 1980s by some of the elite 'thinkers' (that is what they were called), and elite poets (and very elite poetesses) among his future Arab victims on the Gulf. Except they called him Sword of the Arabs, instead of Sword of Allah. They weren't as ambitious for him as the Pakistanis are for Usama.

As for old Usama (Osama), you infidel kaffirs in the West can call him plain 'Sword' if you wish.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Saudi media, mostly owned or controlled by royal princes, has a large supply of mercenary journalists in reserve. These are often non-Saudi Arabs who have seen the light, discovered the joys of an absolute tribal monarchy, and shifted their ideology toward extolling the virtues of said tribal absolute monarchy. They are supposed to lend outside credibility to whatever the newspaper has to say.

I have selected an article from the Saudi newspaper Asharq Alawsat, one of several candidates for what I have in mind, written by someone named Ghassan al-Imam. Here is an abridged example of such groveling huat journalisme: (the italics in parentheses are my own comments):

“I have always said that the Moslem Brotherhood (such as Hamas) are not qualified to build a democratic and cooperative relationship (such as exists in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states?) with other political forces, once they have taken political control (surprise, surprise). I want to continue talking of the Arabhood of Saudi Arabia (another surprise, give the word ‘Arabia’ in the name), and the necessity of facing up to the fierce foreign and alien (referring to both the USA and Iran) assault on the Arab nation, whether in the call for jihad or in the name of American calls for democratic reform….

“I am not presenting here some propaganda for the Saudi policy, but I am presenting an explanatory vision of the history of the Saudi state through three centuries (try seventy five years). My vision differs from the traditional visions, with the goal of correcting deliberate distortions that are done to a historic Arab state. These are also done from outside by groups that take sanctuary overseas (could they do that in Riyadh, par exemple, without getting their heads chopped off?)

“Several years ago, I explained the history of the Saudi State in a series of articles, on these very same pages. I was shocked to discover that Arabs, and many Saudis, do not know this epic, struggling history (he uses the term ni’dhali, which implies fighting for freedom and justice, or perhaps the right to strike). However, an individual effort is not adequate. We need for historians, academicians, and thinkers (but no booty kissers?) to present a modern vision of the ‘Saudi Project’ to future generations (and how do you present a modern vision of a tribal absolute monarchy-theocracy?).

“The Saudi state had the aim of unification from the outset…...the Saudi family used its alliance with the faith deliberately to promote unity among the tribes….as a precursor to modernizing them (what a sneaky thing to do)…..

“The nineteenth century was a fierce fiery Saudi struggle for liberation, and some Saudi rulers paid a high price for it (so, we do have a Nelson Mandela al-Saud somewhere).

“King Abdulaziz was a visionary, who bided his time wisely for thirty years, before declaring his unified state (of course first he had to defeat and take over such autonomous regions as the birthplace of Islam Hijaz and oil-rich al-A’hsaa, but these are mere details) , and when he did declare his project o Arab unity, he gave the country the name of Arabia (very decent of him, and I thought that has been its name since before Islam, as in Arabia Deserta. He also gave the country his own family name).

“King Abdulaziz’ vision was even socialist, as when he established a cooperative farm (was this on the model of a Soviet Kolkhuz, or an early Zionist Kibbutz? Was the King inspired by Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Jabotinsky, or Ben Gurion? Alas, the writer does not say.) ……”
Such groveling nonsense has been a hallmark of a lot of the media in the Gulf, particularly the Saudi media.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Panmunjom of Palestine, Arab Political ED and the Blue Pill
Interesting, Mr. Bush mentioned a possible Korean style situation for Iraq- he meant a South Korean style US presence. Now we might have a different Korean style situation for the Palestinians: a North Korea-South Korea style of division, something like a Gaza- West Bank division. Ironically, that would make Israel the Panmunjom, the truce village, of the divided Palestinian areas.

Speaking of hypocrisy: The US government and other allies are resuming aid to the Palestinian government, now that President Abbas has dissolved the popularly elected Hamas government and installed a pro-PLO unelected cabinet- for the West Bank only, of course.

An Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo stressed the importance of supporting ‘legality’ in both Lebanon and Palestine. Typically, they did not specify who was legal and who was not in these two cases, although it is understood by all what they meant. Normally whoever is in power is considered legal, no matter how they got there.

Who is right and who is not? The constitutionally elected president of Lebanon along with its constitutionally elected Speaker of Parliament (one side of the current Lebanese divide), or the constitutionally elected Prime Minister and his remaining ministers (the other side of the divide)? About one third of the Arab countries boycotted that Cairo meeting: what is the point if the whole system suffers from a severe case of ED? ED here could mean Electoral Dysfunction, but then again, it could also mean something more personal and therefore more serious, as in maybe 'they won't be ready when the moment is right'- quel embarassment!

I suppose in Arab terms an unelected regime in the West Bank is more legal than an elected and nutty one in, say, Gaza. And if there is a way to make it a hereditary regime, as in a hand-me-down, father-to-son regime, then it would be even more legitimate.

An embarrassment: the Lebanese army has been fighting for many weeks to root out the Fath al-Islam terrorist group in the Nahr–el-Barid refugee camp, and it has the support of all major political factions in Lebanon. If there are only about 200 or so armed men, then how come it is taking so long?

I read a comment on the Aalarbiya website about the differences between Lebanon to Syria, in terms of culture and democratic values. A Saudi commentator said that when he crossed from Syria to Lebanon, it was like moving from the 15th century to the 21st century. He did not say how it felt when he got to Lebanon from his own country.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Saudi Arabia does not have a good record of successful mediation among warring Arab or Moslem factions. Not even the holy city of Mecca could make warring and feuding factions abide by the accords they sign within her. It is almost worse than during the Jahiliyya (that is the ancient days of paganism to you kaffirs) when accords among Arab tribes were respected, up to a point of course.

Accords signed in Mecca, Riyadh, or Taif to stop bloodshed in areas as diverse as Kuwait (July 1990) Afghanistan (1990s), Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine have been broken as soon as the parties returned home. In fairness to the Saudis, hardly any accord signed to settle an Arab or Moslem dispute has been respected, no matter where it was signed.

Famously, a few months ago the Palestinian Hamas and Fatah were brought to Mecca, and they agreed to sign a peace accord and agreed to share power. It was an untenable accord between the utterly corrupt (PLO-Fatah) and the hopelessly fundamentalist (Hamas). It also became untenable because some Arab media, especially in the Persian Gulf monarchies, gloatingly pronounced Hamas, until recently the favored recipient of their aid and support, as good as dead. The kleptocracy of Fatah and the PLO were pronounced preferable to the extremist and absurdly anti-peace Hamas- never mind that it was the kleptocratic nature of Fatah leaders, as well as Gulf money, that lead to the growth of Hamas.
Now all the wisdom of King Abdullah, Big Abdullah of Saudi Arabia not Little Abdullah de Jourdanie, and perhaps the huge sums of money disbursed, have been wasted.

Money is made to waste in the Arab World- easy come, easy go: just ask BAE and the now-muzzled British SFO investigators. But wisdom? Now that is a scarce resource in the region (psssst to the Salafis of Arabia, I have heard from several reliable and unimpeachable sources that Solomon was Jewish, but don’t swallow you ghutra in despair. That was a long time ago- he would probably convert to Salafism if he were around these days).

Unfortunately it begins to increasingly look like wisdom is also in short supply in Washington as well. The popularly elected Hamas should have been engaged rather than cornered and starved. Also, the Fatah-PLO boys should learn to play their cards closer to their chests- premature gloating is NOT a good strategy in a poker game where the winner takes all.

Increasingly, the choices facing other Arabs as well are being restricted to traditional despotic kleptocracy or despotic fundamentalism. It pays for Arab regimes to restrict their opposition to the fundies and jihadists (unless they are allied with them): nothing would insure Washington’s support more than waving the fundamentalist threat. Almost like the good old days of the Cold War.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Shift in Iraq Policy? Who Invented Corruption?

The United States has been pressing the Iraqis to disarm the troublesome (Shi'a) militias. The Arab regimes and their owned and paid-for media have been quite noisy about disarming the militias, as well as installing a quasi-military dictatorship. Now the US military is arming new (Sunni) militias, who just happen to be the ones that were busy killing American soldiers and Iraqis over the past four years. They probably also just happen to be the Ba'athist officers who gassed Kurds, massacred Shi'as and pillaged Kuwait.
So what is the policy now: disarm and disband the militias, or arm them??

Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, reported this past week by the British press (The Guardian, etc.)to have received paybacks (a.k.a bribes) worth 1 billion pounds (about $ 2 billion) for an arms sales by BAE deal to Saudi Arabia while he was in Washington, was quoted in the media as having said in an interview that "Saudi Arabia did not invent corruption". Ok, true, but then neither did Hitler invent aggressive wars and genocide- he just perfected them.

Some media in the Gulf are debating whether to blame the last hurricane Guno that devastated the southern Gulf on Iranian mullahs, Syrian Ba'athists, or sneaky Zionists. The fundie Salafis tend to take it as a sign of God's wrath for even thinking of allowing women to drive.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Attorney-general knew of BAE and the £1bn. Then concealed it

Goldsmith hid secret money transfers from international anti-corruption organisation

David Leigh and Rob Evans
Friday June 8, 2007
The Guardian

British investigators were ordered by the attorney-general Lord Goldsmith to conceal from international anti-bribery watchdogs the existence of payments totalling more than £1bn to a Saudi prince, the Guardian can disclose.
The money was paid into bank accounts controlled by Prince Bandar for his role in setting up BAE Systems with Britain's biggest ever arms deal. Details of the transfers to accounts in the US were discovered by officers from the Serious Fraud Office during its long-running investigation into BAE. But its inquiry was halted suddenly last December.

Article continues



The Guardian has established that the attorney-general warned colleagues last year that "government complicity" in the payment of the sums was in danger of being revealed if the SFO probe was allowed to continue.
The abandonment of the inquiry caused an outcry which provoked the world's anti-corruption watchdog, the OECD, to launch its own investigation into the circumstances behind the decision.

But when OECD representatives sought to learn more about the background to the move at private meetings in January and March they were not given full disclosure by British officials, according to sources.

One insider with knowledge of the discussions said :"When the British officials gave their briefing they gave some details of the allegations, but it now transpires, not all of them."

A source close to the OECD added: "We suspected that the British were holding some secret back."

Sources close to the US justice department, whose members help to police the international anti-corruption treaty to which Britain is a signatory, confirmed that UK officials had not disclosed to the group that huge payments had gone to the prince in connection with the al-Yamamah arms deal.

In those confidential briefings at the OECD headquarters in Paris earlier this year, the UK said "national security" reasons were behind the decision to halt the SFO investigation into the case.

They claimed the SFO probe focused largely on old allegations of a slush fund operated by the BAE to provide treats for junior Saudi officials. Last night, a spokesman for Lord Goldsmith said full evidence had not been given to international panel members of the OECD anti-bribery working party at their meetings in order to protect "national security". He said: "The risk of causing such damage to national security had a bearing on the information voluntarily provided to the OECD".

He added: "We have not revealed information which could itself jeopardise our national security. For these purposes the OECD was effectively a public forum, as is illustrated by the fact that you claim to know what [the government] told them."

The Guardian's disclosure of British government complicity in the alleged payment of £1bn to Prince Bandar caused international concern yesterday, with Tony Blair taking a bullish position when questioned at the G8.

Standing beside George Bush, a close family friend of former US ambassador Prince Bandar, Mr Blair said it would have "wrecked" the relationship with Saudi Arabia if he had allowed investigations to go on. "This investigation, if it had gone ahead, would have involved the most serious allegations and investigation being made of the Saudi royal family," he said.

"My job is to give advice as to whether that is a sensible thing in circumstances where I don't believe the investigation would have led to anywhere except to the complete wreckage of a vital interest to our country."

Neither Mr Blair nor the Ministry of Defence made any attempt to deny the allegations revealed by the Guardian.

Prince Bandar last night issued a statement through his lawyers categorically denying that payments made to Riggs Bank in Washington "represented improper secret commissions or 'backhanders'".

He said the payments were made to Saudi ministry of defence and aviation (MODA) accounts of which he was a signatory. "Any monies paid out of those accounts were exclusively for purposes approved by MODA."

He said the accounts were regularly audited by the Saudi ministry of finance and BAE payments were "pursuant to the al-Yamamah contracts". He added: "At no stage have MODA or the Saudi Arabian ministry of finance identified any irregularities in the conduct of the accounts."

BAE last night issued a statement claiming there was full government complicity in any payments it had made with regard to the al-Yamamah deal, which was signed in 1985. The company said transactions were made with the "express approval" of the British government.

"All such payments made under those agreements were made with the express approval of both the Saudi and UK governments".

The fallout from yesterday's allegations may affect BAE's planned expansion in the US.

According to a source in Washington, BAE's $4.1bn (£2bn) proposed takeover of a major US defence company could be in jeopardy because of the disclosures.

The source, assessing the damage yesterday, predicted it will also be harder for BAE to pursue other plans for moves into the US defence market.

BAE could come under scrutiny from a number of US investigatory bodies, including the treasury, the justice department and congressional committees.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ghosts of Defeats Past:
This day brings out a lot of "soul-searching" in the Arab World- mostly in the media, and perhaps among some "baby boomer" Arabs. Baby boomer here means the generation that was born between 1940 and late 1950s, almost the same American definition, but it has nothing to do with World War II soldiers coming home eager to procreate and do a lot of begetting. Every Arab generation is a baby boomer because there is always a lot of procreating and begetting: what we lack in quality, we try to make up in quantity.As for Arab governments: there is no soul-searching there, because there are no souls there.

A lot of the soul-searching this year is done through official, semi-official, and quasi-official media- is there any other kind in the Arab World? Even the now ubiquitous satellite television stations and offfshore newspapers are official-friendly, at least- often they are owned by the same princes and potentates who rule. So, they are being used to fight old battles and settle old scores. It is interesting how the petro-media that dominates these days uses evasive tactics to kick the dead secular, leftist, pan-Arabist horse. In the case of Egypt under Nasser, the big loser of June 5th 1967, for example, the petro-media takes this opportunity each year to attack everyone who was close to Nasser...except Nasser himself. This is a blatant and repeated case of moral cowardice. It is partly psychological, of course.

To this day, Nasser, with all his shortcomings and defeats, oddly represents a period of hope and healthy anger. Nasser was oppressive, but then which Arab ruler today is less oppressive and less intrusive than he ever was? He still has some hold on the Arab baby-boomers born anywhere between 1940 and the mid-1950s. This is more a judgment on the current trough of Arab political life than anything else.

Perhaps one reason is that the current Arab regimes have led their nations to an even more ignominious defeat than the Israelis ever inflicted on Nasser. They seem to have lost the will and the ability to shape events in their own region. Nasser died of a heart attack when he discovered that he could no longer dominate and shape events- a sort of an involuntary version of the defeated Roman falling on his own sword. While nowadays the kings, emirs, and presidents-for-life strut around their summits for the benefit of their media, the fate of the region is shaped by decidedly non-Arab forces. This is the case wherever one looks, from the Persian-American Gulf (this is a good realistic compromise name) all the way to North Africa. Unfortunately, unlike Nasser, current Arab leaders are too thick-skinned and shameless to even suffer heart attacks. As for falling on their own swords, forget about it: they have no swords and hardly any "intestines".

Al Qaeda in Iraq:
I watched a tape on the internet of the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq. One thing is certain to me: the man is not an Iraqi. Although he used classical Arabic, which is the same all over, one can always tell by the way certain words are pronounced. The man is definitly not Iraqi or Syrian. His pronounciation of classical Arabic indicates that he is someone from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, or Yemen.
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