Monday, July 30, 2007

A huge new arms deal is near, providing very advanced U.S weapons to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchies. The deal is reported (New York Times, The Guardian) to total $ 20. In the receiving countries, there will be much more outlays for infrastructure, facilities, training, etc, contracts worth many more billions of dollars. Another side of the deal is increased military aid to Israe. Most Arab media in the Gulf concentrated on a "25% increase" in aid to Israel and ignored the Gulf weapons purchases.

This does not mean that the peoples of these countries can feel secure and rest easy now- but it might make a very few of them richer. It is not clear what is the purpose of these huge deals: the Gulf states, although they live in a notoriously dangerous neighborhood, have proven consistently that they are incapable of defending themselves without direct United States help. Several of these countries rely on foreign military personnel, especially Pakistani pilots to fly their warplanes. Yet these countries spend a higher percentage of their GDP (and GNP) on military expenditure than most other nations. There is always, of course, the lucrative by-product of these deals: some prince or shaikh always ends up with hundreds of millions of dollars in commissions ( or bribes depending on the relevant laws). Or perhaps it is not exactly a by-product, perhaps the commissions (and the bribes) are the goal.

The most famous case of arms commissions was investigated for being illegal (a bribe) by the British SFO, before being killed last spring by the Tony Blair government. That one involved Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Head of Saudi National Security and part-time national security adviser to the Bush administration. He was reported by British media to have received only GBP 1 billion (a cool $2 billions). Now the prince can retire comfortably- no need to earn his living by advising the Bush administration on world affairs.

The sale may face some difficulties in the Senate for two reasons: possible Israeli reservations and recent U.S. disclosures that the Saudis not only send jihadist terrorists to Iraq, but also finance and arm them. Recent reports are gradually drawing a picture of what many have suspected for several years: that someone with deep pockets is financing some of the terrorists in Iraq, as was reported on this site some time ago.

Neverheless, the deal will eventually go through.

Iraq beat Saudi Arabia yesterday to win the Asian Cup in soccer (football). It was a victory in spite of being understaffed, in exile, and under-funded. This is ominous for the Saudi's Brazilian coach (trainer). The Saudi princelings who always run the soccer federation and the national team have the habit of quickly firing a coach when the team underperforms. The average tenure for a coach during the past eleven years has been less than a year, which gives a good idea how much soccer bang do they get for their bucks. But there may be some hope for the coach: with the next world cup only two and a half years away, and qualifiers around the corner, changing the coach now would be stupid, perhaps it is better to sack the management, i.e their highnesses.
Most likely, they will keep the coach until they either fail to qualify for the World Cup, or get knocked out in the first round...then it is hasta la vista baby.

Iraqi WTF?
Gulf media report that 45 people, claiming to be tribal shaikhs in southern Iraq, have declared an "autonomous government" for that region. There is to be a legislature and regional security forces. The shaikhs asserted their committment to one Iraqi state, but not "one supported by the occupation". None of the names mentioned by the group are involved in Iraqi politics currently, and it is not clear how this new "idea" relates to the original proposal of SCIRI (now SICI) chief Abdulaziz al-Hakeem for regional autonomy. The shaikhs did not refer to the Biden-Gelb ideas on confederation either- it is possible they never heard of either Biden or Gelb- perhaps they do not read the NY Times or Washington Post on a daily basis.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Saudi Alarabiya TV reports (July 26) exciting news! A study by a “famous American institution”, no less, indicates how popular Saudia Arabia and her regime are around the world, especially the Arab world. Saudi King Abdullah is listed as extremely popular across the Middle East. The King is listed as the most admired Arab leader around the world (perhaps not much of a contest, but highly suspect nevertheless in my humble view). The study purportedly covers 47 countries, including 11 Arab and Islamic countries.

According to the study by Pew Research, 91% of Egyptians are happy with Saudi policy! That must include many who voted, or tried to vote, for the opposition. In Jordan, 90% expressed admiration for Saudi Arabia and her policies. In Kuwait 79%. The real shock, and the clincher, the smoking gun if you will, is that 82% of all Lebanese admire Saudi Arabia, her government and her king!
Imagine, in Lebanon, a country with 35-40% Shi’a (Shi’ite) at least! The study claims that 94% of Lebanse Sunnis admire Saudi policy and government and that the percentage declines to 64% among Shi’as. Imagine, a majority of Hezbollah and Amal-supporting Shi’as love and admire the Saudi system! Why, the king can run and win in Lebanon! No need for Saudi surrogates like Mr. Hariri or Iranian surrogates like Hezbollah.

It gets better: Egypt is the second most admired country- I can see the country being loved and admired, but its somnolent government? not so sure about that.

Now, the question is: did Pew Research really do this survey as Alarabiya claims? If they did, how did they manipulate the data to get the results desired by the Saudi regime? Were they supplied with the samples they used? And how much did they get paid for it, and by whom? I could not find an answer on Pew's web site, and no mention of this particular study. Perhaps it was a privately commissioned study?
Pew does list a recent study that indicates support for suicide bombing in Moslem countries has dropped dramatically in recent years, but it includes no squeals of admiration for Saudi or other Arab and Moslem potentates. Now if only the well of avalable and willing suicide bombers would dry up.

NY Times (July 27) reports that U.S officials are publicly exasperated, finally, with Saudi support for Sunni militias in Iraq. Saudi Arabia is also urging other Persian Gulf states to do likewise and funnel money to Sunni armed groups in Iraq, with the goal of destabilizing the Iraqi government. Saudi Arabia has some experience in financing groups, mainly tribals and jihadists, that would destabilize governments: examples are Yemen in the 1960s, Afghanistan in the 1980s, Lebanon, and Iraq.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Saudi Human Rights ‘Authority’ is a government organization, as its name implies. It is run by state-paid bureaucrats, headed by an Arabian uber-shaikh or a red-checkered commissar. It is not concerned with human rights within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, no there is no such thing: its main concern is to look after Saudi detainees outside the country. Like those incarcerated at Club Guantanamo, and those many being held in Iraq for terrorism, and those being held in Syria for trying to sneak into Iraq, and those being held in Lebanon for leading the Fath al-Islam Salafi jihadist group in the ongoing battle against the Lebanese army.

Saudi media, owned or controlled by the ruling family and its retainers, are claiming that Saudis are being tricked into going to fight in Iraq and Lebanon. Reports indicate that perhaps almost 50% of the bombers in Iraq are Saudi Jihadists, and recent reports claim the the leader of Fath al-Islam is a Saudi.
Mosque imams and shaikhs regularly call for jihad to overthrow the Shi’a-dominated government in Iraq, and apparently there are some who listen and others who are willing to finance them. The kingdom is a tight police state, and it is highly unlikely that so many jihadists can cross its borders without being detected by security agents: they certainly have no difficulty catching in-filtrators, so why not catch the ex-filtrators as well?

Saudi Arabia has a clear interest in a chaotic Iraq right now, because that may be the only way to change the regime and perhaps even push the United States toward a confrontation with Iran, and give the amenable Sunni tribal shaikhs of the western regions a chance to ‘look good’ by opposing their former, and perhaps future, al-Qaeda allies.

Speaking of democracy: Prince Nayef, the powerful Saudi Minister of Interior (the man in charge of police, security, and controlling the borders) provided an interesting, and typical, insight the other day. He said that when he looks at the faces in the Shaura Council (the appointed and powerless consultative council) he sees good and wise faces. He said that is what matters, the presence of good and wise men on the council, regardless of how they got there. That is the message for his people who are not dim-witted and can take a hint: it does not matter if these men were appointed by the king rather than elected, as long as they are the right men. Oh, the oratory, the logic; eat your heart out, Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Meanwhile, al-Jazeera TV reports (7/21) that Saudi police arrested several ‘reform’ activists and that there were two women among them: the women were arrested because they publicly protested the arrest of their husbands. Police have claimed that the women had arms hidden in one of their homes, but al-Jazeera quotes Amnesty International that the weapons were put in place by the police.

Speaking of Amnesty International: it is mounting a campaign to save an Iranian woman from execution by stoning for adultery. Amnesty reports that her co-defendant/lover was stoned to death earlier this month. The couple were arrested eleven years ago, but now the woman’s execution has been postponed due to international pressure. Looks like the Iranian mullahs are picking up the slack after the Taliban left the scene, perhaps temporarily, in 2001.

Al-Jazeera also quotes U.S ambassador in Baghdad Ryan Crocker that Iran continues to arm militias in Iraq. Meanwhile, part of the new U.S policy is to arm Sunni militants who have been shooting at and blowing up American soldiers and Iraqis. Now we have a continued vicious circle in Iraq: oil money from the Gulf for years helped arm Sunni jihadists and terrorists many of whom came from the Gulf- Iran helped arm Shi’a (Shii’ite) groups- now the United States is arming Sunni militias while it complains about Iran arming Shi’as- then Iran will continue arming Shi’as- Iraqi officials are blaming Saudi sources for funding the terrorists- Saudis and their allies are blaming Iran for the situation in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon- and perhaps Darfur, the Congo and global warming as well for good measure- with the enthusiastic agreement of the Bush administration………ad nauseaum.

One odd question: when U.S troops kill an odd Lebanese Shi’a, or arrest four or five Iranians in Iraq, both rare events that occurred only once, the incidents are touted in the media as evidence of Iranian interference, and perhaps they are. However, when Saudis and others are arrested and killed in the hundreds in Iraq, clearly al-Qaeda jihadists, there is no official comment. Now, if one Lebanese killed in Iraq indicates Hezbollah interference, then tell me s’il vous plait: the many hundreds of Saudis killed and arrested in Iraq indicates…….what???

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Saudi Arabia has an "Authority" on Human Rights. It is a government-sanctioned and funded organizaion. That is why it does not advocate human rights within Saudi Arabia. It busiees itself with the human rights of Saudi outside the country: like those in Guantanamo, and those in prison in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and other countries for involvement or suspicion of terrorism.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Axe kissing journalism:
S. Atallah, a Lebanese pen for hire penned today in the Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat. Saudi media carries a lot of essays and articles about the slef-denial and wisdom of the royals, all 5,000+ of them:

“Before entering the office of Prince Nayef Bin Abdulaziz, one recalls what a British military expert said that 'Saudi Arabia is fighting the battle against terrorism in the name of the whole world'(which would be fair if true, since the kingdom for decades provided the money, ideology and teachers for the schools that produced the terrorists).. And one remembers what Prince Nayef said two weeks ago about the numbers of suspects and detainees....
"While I listened to Prince Nayef I envisioned an Arab world that King Abdullah has said faces dis-integration......I did not know where to start my questioning (apparently he resolved this thorny issue)….Prince Nayef seems, with the background of domestic security challenges and regional security complexities, of steely nerves and determination.”

Monday, July 09, 2007

A Saga of Arab Corruption and Politics:
"If the master of the house plays the tambourine, it is no wonder that the members of the household will take up belly dancing."

"Itha kana rub al-beite biddafi dhariban, fa ina sheemati ahlul beite heeya al raqsu."

That is one famous and beautiful Arabic saying that is not used often enough these days. It succinctly explains how the culture of corruption has seeped from the top, from the ruling classes, down to the lowest bureaucrats. These days, the Arab region is as awash as ever in scandals- perhaps more than ever because oil prices and revenues are up and hence the stakes are higher. For those non-oil states, foreign aid is also at higher levels than ever, so there is more temptation: note the experience of PLO-Fatah over the past decade.

Corruption, always ubiquitous in the Middle East even when not headlined in public, has been making headlines again in the Arab World-at least in the offfshore media and in the few places where the press are allowed some freedom, and in private conversations.

Some Arab and foreign media are reporting, or alleging, that the new Fatah-appointed Palestinian prime minister Fayyad, himself a former World Bank bureaucrat, has confiscated millions from bank accounts of Fatah security chief Mohammad Dahlan, who is currently in Cairo for knee surgery (how many ordinary Palestinians from Gaza are flown to Cairo for medical treatment?). Dahlan was head of the superior Fatah security forces when they were easily defeated in Gaza by the smaller fundamentalist forces of Hamas.

The Independent reports Sunday that some British Labor Party politicians want further investigations into the famous BAE-Saudi bribery scandal- the GBP 1 billion (about US$ 2 billion) that was allegedly paid to Prince Bandar Bin Sultan since the 1980s. This comes as finalization of a deal seems to be near for the sale of more warplanes to Saudi Arabia. Saudi media, and most Gulf and Arab media have studiously ignored these reports.

The prize for the most complex, most convoluted web of corruption easily goes to Kuwait, which is the ountry with the most press freedom on either side of the Persian Gulf. The saga there reads like a multi-layered plot worthy of Alexandre Dumas (complete with dishdasha-clad Rocheforts, some elusive Miladys, but alas, no D'Artagnan). It is not clear as yet how much of the saga is the truth and how much fiction, but what is certain is that there is a lot of truth in it. It can only happen in Kuwait with its robust free media, weakened government, and feuding tribal politicians allied with Islamist fundamentalists, and its potentates grasping for power slipping out of their hands. So, fasten your seat belts, and here goes:

In Kuwait, the Minister of Oil Shaikh Ali al-Jarrah al-Sabah was forced to resign last week. There have been allegations that he has tried to cover up corruption by current and past high officials in the Ministry of Oil and its satellite corporations, all arms of the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC). As an example, the best he could say when he took over about one KPC CEO, a Mr. H. Hussein, who apparently resigned under pressure, was that "there are no suspicions about him". That was a good one as far as endorsements go- I think it will become a classic some day.
Still, there are no suspicions against the minister himself personally- it is a culture of corruption that he inherited and tried to serve.

The minister who preceded him, Shaikh Ahmad Fahad al-Sabah was also forced to resign from the previous cabinet for the same reasons. But he was kicked up- to Head of National Security, sort of like Condi Rice used to be, or Henry Kissinger (wow! n'est-ce pas?).

But this saga gets mor complex and hence more interesting: Shaikh Ali al-Khalifa al Sabah, Minister of Oil (and for a while of Finance) during the 1980s until 1991, has been ordered apprehended this week because he refused to attend a court-ordered hearing. He claims he is waiting for surgery in the united States scheduled for mid-September- a cute idea but not original. Shaikh Ali owns the conservative daily newspaper al-Watan. He has been accused for years of involvement in scandals in the Ministries of Oil and Finance, in the Kuwait Oil Tankers Company and in Kuwait's foreign investments (KIO) during the period. Some of his alleged co-conspirators, a F. M. al-Sabah, a K. al-Sabah, a F. Jaafar, and an A. F. al-Bader are wanted but refuse to return to the country, reportedly spending their hard-earned money between the Caribbean, Canada, and other desolate places.
Two other royal finance ministers during the 1990s were dumped quickly after clear cases of suspicious financial dealings and gross incompetence.
So what is this obsession with holding the Oil Ministry under 'reliable' people? Is it to cover up past misdeeds? Or do these guys like going to Vienna.....

Now Shaikh Talal M. al-Sabah, the chairman of the state-owned and continually loss-incurring Kuwait Airways is coming under suspicion and questioning for gross financial improprieties in the company. In fairness to the man, corruption in heavily state-subsidized KAC, like in state-owned oil corporations, has been part of the corporate culture long before his arrival. The company has long been a playground and cash cow for unemployed, and otherwise unemployable, sons of influential potentates. I would have thought the KAC scandals would have been investigated long ago, perhaps since the late 1970s when US reports (The Wall Street Journal) published documents about bribery payments by American aircraft producers to the CEO and high KAC officials (all potentates, but not royals at that time). So, corruption has been 'the corporate culture' of the KAC for decades. The current chairman claims that 'all supervisory authorities' agree that the company 'never had any improprieties'- he should be fired for this silly statement alone.

Waiting in the wings, belatedly trying hard to play a statesman, is the Speaker of the legislature Jassim al-Kharafi, a former Minister of Finance during 1985-1990. There are no suspicions of personal corruption about him. But he had the habit of appointing incompetents to high positions in the government and in state-owned corporations, provided they were his cronies or residents of his own district. Apparently he firmly believed in a kind of system of, not necessarily a confederation of dunces.

On the other hand, there are some who claim that tribal legislators, clamoring for advantages for their own various tribes, are using scandal-mongering to pressure ministers into hiring thousands of their otherwise unemployable tribesmen. This is only partly true, because where there is smoke, there might be fire. Vive la tribu.

At least the media in Kuwait, unlike the rest of the Persian Gulf states, are allowed to cover these scandals, for now, and some of them do.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Also Sprach Feltman?
Arab media gave extensive coverage to a recent interview on a pro-Hariri television station by the U.S ambassador to Lebanon, Mr. Jeffrey Feltman. Probably nobody is disliked more by supporters of the opposition in Lebanon than Mr. Feltman. The interview heartened some media in the Persian Gulf states, who would like the United States to be more assertive in Lebanon and in the region as a whole.

Apparently Mr. Feltman stressed certain developments about Lebanon’s internal politics- he went so far as to stress that the leadership of the army will stand by the Saniora government against the opposition (according to the highly unreliable Kuwaiti daily rag al-seyassah). It is not clear if he actually said that about the army, and alseyassah is notorious for distorting news and statements. However, if he did say it, it was a foolish thing. Lebanon's army must stay out of domestic political rivalries, otherwise it will break up into sectarian factions, which would make it a useless tool for either side.

Predictably, Hezbollah TV was quick to headline that: “There was no need for a TV interview to show that Feltman is the true leader of the March 15 forces (the Saniora-Hariri axis), since everybody already knows that he is their leader”.
The interview was probably aimed at reassuring the Hariri-Saniora followers and perhaps sending signals to the opposition, but its overall effect is highly doubtful.

Meanwhile, in a new twist, Lebanese security are reported to have fingered the Fath al-Islam (Sunni Salafi) terrorist group as being behind the killing of former Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel last year. This is the same group that the Lebanese army has failed to defeat in a Palestinian refugee camp. Reports indicate that many among its members are neither Palestinians, Syrians, or Lebanese: but rather many of those killed and captured have been Saudi sympathizers of al-Qaeda.
Iraqi Politics: a Flashback
Apparently the Sunni insurgents in Iraq are splitting up. Right now, it looks like some are ending their alliance with al-Qaeda. Soon there will be other break-ups along tribal and clan lines as well- there are already signs of splits even within the parliamentary Tawafuq Sunni group. The Shi'as have their own two major divisions, between the Sadrists and the former SCIRI, the al-Hakeem group. The Da'awa Party of PM al-Maliki was the main target of the Ba'ath regime and the scourge of its royal allies in the Persian Gulf tribal monarchies during the 1980s. But the Da'awa does not have a large popular base now: the Sadrist movement has taken over much of that.

Some news reports now claim that part of a major Sunni insurgent group in Iraq, dubbed the "the 1920 Revolution" has been shifting away from al-Qaeda and may be receiving U.S arms to fight its 'former' allies.

Ironically, the 1920 Revolution, later called al-thawra al-Iraqiyya al-Kubra , was a rebellion against the British occupation after World War I and its plan of creating a mandate in Iraq. It led to some cooperation between the majority Shi'as and the Sunni ulema religious elders against the British. Grand Ayatollah Shirazi issued a fatwa at the time, pointing out that it was against Islamic law for Muslims to countenance being ruled by non-Muslims.

The Sunni elites had in the past supported the Tukish-Ottoman rule, and they saw an opening with the Brits, which they exploited. They quickly became the favorites of the likes of Gertrude Bell and Percy Cox. The Shi'as and the Kurds were vehemently opposed to British rule. Those two groups bore the brunt of British anger and armor, as their villages and towns were bombed and shelled.

In the end the British were forced to form an 'Iraqi' government for the new country, but this government was not totally 'Iraqi': it was mainly a Sunni regime, formed largely of imported former Ottoman lackeys from Syria and Hijaz and local Ottoman lackeys from places like Baghdad and Samarra. In the end the British had their revenge on the rebellious Shi'as: they gave the power in the new Iraqi state to the Sunni minority, who held it with force until 2003. The Kurds, as usual, got the worst deal: they were effectively relegated to third-class citizenship, just behind the Shi'as.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Failed States:
Foreign Policy magazine has issued its list of "Failed States" for 2007, for all its worth:

The Arabs win the gold, the silver, and the bronze this time: the top three states, i.e the three most failed states on the list, are members of the Arab League. The Africans are close behind, nipping at their heels.

There are eight Arab states among the top 60. Which means that almost half the League members are defined here as failed states of one degree or another. Many other grossly mismanaged Arab states are probably not defined as such only because of three important letters O-I-L. A steep drop in petroleum prices, although unlikely right now, could easily double the number of failed Arab states: remember, when crude prices were at around than $ 10-15 a barrel, Saudi Arabia was largely considered a near-failed state.

The top eight Arab states include, by improving order (from worst to less bad?): Sudan (1), Iraq (2), Somalia (3), Yemen (24), Lebanon (28), Egypt (36), Syria (40).
There are 20 Moslem states among the top 60, and 7 among the top 20.

The top 20 (the worst 20) are all African, Arab, or Moslem states, with the exception of North Korea and Burma (this dubious company should make Kim Jung Il in his Dear Leader tight khakis really pissed).

Palestinian Divisions:
Arab media report that the Fatah-PLO in the West Bank is threatened with a split of its own. Icons (or relics, depending on your politics) of the Old old guard such as Farouq Kaddoumi and Hani Al-Hassan have raised objections to President Abbas' policies regarding the peace process and disarming some militias.

Meanwhile, the prospect of holding U.N supervised elections in both Gaza and the West Bank is being raised, but it looks like neither side wants the elections on his own territory (where are you Jimmy Carter when they need you?)

Then again, what happens if Hamas wins again, in BOTH territories? This possibility cannot be dismissed if the elections are fair and open- the Fatah has dug a deep hole of corruption for itself since the Oslo agreement. And Palestinian voters are crazy and desperate enough to do it. Perhaps all those Fatah ministers and ex-ministers can be persuaded to give back the money, liquidate assets across Europe and points beyond. Perhaps with a little help from their friends....perhaps a few millions of those famous BAE billions that were received by a certain influential Saudi prince-diplomat-ambassador in Washington, and eluded the British SFO, with the help of Tony Blair?

Which brings me to Mr. Blair, mostly a nice guy, really, in spite of his Alfred E. Newman looks- come to think of it, isn't there another very famous Western leader who also resembles Alfred E. Newman?
But don't hold your breath for yo Blair to achieve a breakthrough in his new job as 'mediator' in the Middle East.

Iranians are getting restive over the government's inept economic policies and its renewed crackdown on reformers and women who show some hair. Last week, gasoline had to be rationed, and this hit people where it really hurts, especially in a country that sits on an ocean of petroleum.
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