domingo, 21 de maio de 2017

As Trump visits

As Trump visits
The Independent

Saudi Arabia’s dream of becoming the dominant Arab and Muslim power in the world has gone down in flames
Saudi Arabia’s military pressure on Assad served only to make him seek more help from Russia, precipitating intervention which the US was not prepared to oppose

Patrick Cockburn @indyworld Friday 6 January 2017 16:27 GMT

Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the most powerful figure in Saudi decision making Getty
As recently as two years ago, Saudi Arabia’s half century-long effort to establish itself as the main power among Arab and Islamic states looked as if it was succeeding. A US State Department paper sent by former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in 2014 and published by Wikileaks spoke of the Saudis and Qataris as rivals competing “to dominate the Sunni world”.

A year later in December 2015, the German foreign intelligence service BND was so worried about the growing influence of Saudi Arabia that it took the extraordinary step of producing a memo, saying that “the previous cautious diplomatic stance of older leading members of the royal family is being replaced by an impulsive policy of intervention”.

An embarrassed German government forced the BND to recant, but over the last year its fears about the destabilising impact of more aggressive Saudi policies were more than fulfilled. What it did not foresee was the speed with which Saudi Arabia would see its high ambitions defeated or frustrated on almost every front. But in the last year Saudi Arabia has seen its allies in Syrian civil war lose their last big urban centre in east Aleppo. Here, at least, Saudi intervention was indirect but in Yemen direct engagement of the vastly expensive Saudi military machine has failed to produce a victory. Instead of Iranian influence being curtailed by a more energetic Saudi policy, the exact opposite has happened. In the last OPEC meeting, the Saudis agreed to cut crude production while Iran raised output, something Riyadh had said it would always reject.

Turkey releases video of air strikes on more than 100 Isis targets in Syria after Istanbul nightclub attack
In the US, the final guarantor of the continued rule of the House of Saud, President Obama allowed himself to be quoted as complaining about the convention in Washington of treating Saudi Arabia as a friend and ally. At a popular level, there is growing hostility to Saudi Arabia reflected in the near unanimous vote in Congress to allow families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government as bearing responsibility for the attack.

Under the mercurial guidance of Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the most powerful figure in Saudi decision making, Saudi foreign policy became more militaristic and nationalistic after his 80 year old father Salman became king on 23 January 2015. Saudi military intervention in Yemen followed, as did increased Saudi assistance to a rebel alliance in Syria in which the most powerful fighting force was Jabhat al-Nusra, formerly the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda.

Nothing has gone well for the Saudis in Yemen and Syria. The Saudis apparently expected the Houthis to be defeated swiftly by pro-Saudi forces, but after fifteen months of bombing they and their ally, former President Saleh, still hold the capital Sanaa and northern Yemen. The prolonged bombardment of the Arab world’s poorest country by the richest has produced a humanitarian catastrophe in which at least 60 per cent of the 25 million Yemeni population do not get enough to eat or drink.

The enhanced Saudi involvement in Syria in 2015 on the side of the insurgents had similarly damaging and unexpected consequences. The Saudis had succeeded Qatar as the main Arab supporter of the Syrian insurgency in 2013 in the belief that their Syrian allies could defeat President Bashar al-Assad or lure the US into doing so for them. In the event, greater military pressure on Assad served only to make him seek more help from Russia and Iran and precipitated Russian military intervention in September 2015 which the US was not prepared to oppose. 

Prince Mohammed bin Salman is being blamed inside and outside the Kingdom for impulsive misjudgments that have brought failure or stalemate. On the economic front, his Vision 2030 project whereby Saudi Arabia is to become less wholly dependent on oil revenues and more like a normal non-oil state attracted scepticism mixed with derision from the beginning. It is doubtful if there will be much change in the patronage system whereby a high proportion of oil revenues are spent on employing Saudis regardless of their qualifications or willingness to work. 

Protests by Saudi Arabia’s ten million-strong foreign work force, a third of the 30 million population, because they have not been paid can be ignored or crushed by floggings and imprisonment. The security of the Saudi state is not threatened.

The danger for the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf states is rather that hubris and wishful thinking have tempted them to try to do things well beyond their strength. None of this is new and the Gulf oil states have been increasing their power in the Arab and Muslim worlds since the nationalist regimes in Egypt, Syria and Jordan were defeated by Israel in 1967. They found – and Saudi Arabia is now finding the same thing – that militaristic nationalism works well to foster support for rulers under pressure so long as they can promise victory, but delegitimises them when they suffered defeat.

Previously Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states had worked through allies and proxies but this restraint ended with the popular uprisings of 2011. Qatar and later Saudi Arabia shifted towards supporting regime change. Revolutions transmuted into counter-revolutions with a strong sectarian cutting edge in countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain where there were Sunni and non-Sunni populations.

Critics of Saudi and Qatari policies often demonise them as cunning and effective, but their most striking characteristic is their extreme messiness and ignorance of real conditions on the ground. In 2011, Qatar believed that Assad could be quickly driven from power just like Muamar Gaddafi in Libya. When this did not happen they pumped in money and weapons willy-nilly while hoping that the US could be persuaded to intervene militarily to overthrow Assad as Nato had done in Libya.  

Experts on in Syria argue about the extent to which the Saudis and the Qataris knowingly funded Islamic State and various al-Qaeda clones. The answer seems to be that they did not know, and often did not care, exactly who they were funding and that, in any case, it often came from wealthy individuals and not from the Saudi government or intelligence services.

The mechanism whereby Saudi money finances extreme jihadi groups was explained in an article by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times in December on how the Saudis had bankrolled the Taliban after their defeat in 2001. The article cites the former Taliban Finance Minister, Agha Jan Motasim, as explaining in an interview how he would travel to Saudi Arabia to raise large sums of money from private individuals which was then covertly transferred to Afghanistan. Afghan officials are quoted as saying that a recent offensive by 40,000 Taliban cost foreign donors $1 billion.

The attempt by Saudi Arabia and Gulf oil states to achieve hegemony in the Arab and Sunni Muslim worlds has proved disastrous for almost everybody. The capture of east Aleppo by the Syrian Army and the likely fall of Mosul to the Iraqi Army means defeat for that the Sunni Arabs in a great swathe of territory stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean. Largely thanks to their Gulf benefactors, they are facing permanent subjection to hostile governments.

As Trump visits
The Independent
The evil empire of Saudi Arabia is the West’s real enemy
Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain: planners to financiers, cadres to foot soldiers, ideologists to cheerleaders

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown Sunday 27 September 2015 19:36 BST

Iran is seriously mistrusted by Israel and America. North Korea protects its nuclear secrets and is ruled by an erratic, vicious man. Vladimir Putin’s territorial ambitions alarm democratic nations. The newest peril, Isis, the wild child of Islamists, has shocked the whole world. But top of this list should be Saudi Arabia – degenerate, malignant, pitiless, powerful and as dangerous as any of those listed above.

The state systematically transmits its sick form of Islam across the globe, instigates and funds hatreds, while crushing human freedoms and aspiration. But the West genuflects to its rulers. Last week Saudi Arabia was appointed chair of the UN Human Rights Council, a choice welcomed by Washington. Mark Toner, a spokesperson for the State Department, said: “We talk about human rights concerns with them. As to this leadership role, we hope that it is an occasion for them to look into human rights around the world and also within their own borders.”

The jaw simply drops. Saudi Arabia executes one person every two days. Ali Mohammed al-Nimr is soon to be beheaded then crucified for taking part in pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring. He was a teenager then. Raif Badawi, a blogger who dared to call for democracy, was sentenced to 10 years and 1,000 lashes. Last week, 769 faithful Muslim believers were killed in Mecca where they had gone on the Hajj. Initially, the rulers said it was “God’s will” and then they blamed the dead. Mecca was once a place of simplicity and spirituality. Today the avaricious Saudis have bulldozed historical sites and turned it into the Las Vegas of Islam – with hotels, skyscrapers and malls to spend, spend, spend. The poor can no longer afford to go there. Numbers should be controlled to ensure safety – but that would be ruinous for profits. Ziauddin Sardar’s poignant book Mecca: The Sacred City, describes the desecration of Islam’s holiest site.

Even more seriously, the pernicious Saudi influence is spreading fast and freely. King Salman has offered to build 200 mosques in Germany for recently arrived refugees, many of whom are Muslims. He offered no money for resettlement or basic needs, but Wahhabi mosques, the Trojan horses of the secret Saudi crusade. Several Islamic schools are also sites of Wahhabism, now a global brand. It makes hearts and minds small and suspicious, turns Muslim against Muslim, and undermines modernists.

The late Laurent Murawiec, a French neocon, wrote this in 2002: “The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadres to foot soldiers, from ideologists to cheerleaders.” Murawiec’s politics were odious, but his observations were spot on. Remember that most of the 9/11 killers were Saudi; so was the al-Qaeda hierarchy.

In the 14 years that have followed 9/11, the Saudis have become more aggressive, more determined to win the culture wars. They pour money into Islamist organisations and operations, promote punishing doctrines that subjugate women and children, and damn liberal values and democracy. They are pursuing a cruel bombing campaign in Yemen that has left thousands of civilians dead and many more in dire straits.

So, what does our ruling establishment do to stop the invisible hand of this Satan? Zilch. The Royal Family, successive governments, parliamentarians, a good number of institutions and people with clout collectively suck up to the Saudi ruling clan. I have not seen any incisive TV investigation of this regime. We know it is up to no good, but evidence is suppressed. Some writers have tried to break this conspiracy of obsequiousness. Craig Unger’s book, House of Bush, House of Saud was published in 2004. It established beyond reasonable doubt that Saudi Arabia was the nerve-centre of international terrorism. And that the Bush family was unduly close to the regime. Many of us believed the revelations were even more explosive than those by the journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who exposed the lies told by Richard Nixon.

This deadly enemy will not be cowed or stopped by Trident. Our leaders know what is going on. So what do they do? They pick on the small people. The Government’s Prevent programme now imposes a duty on educators to watch out for young “radicals” and nip them in the bud. Older dissenters, too. To date, 4,000 young Muslims have been referred for reprogramming. One was three years old. In May, a young Muslim schoolboy talked about “eco-terrorists” and was taken away to be interrogated about whether he supported Isis. Academics, lawyers, doctors and nurses are also expected to become the nation’s spies. Mohammed Umar Farooq, a student at Staffordshire University, was accused last week of being a terrorist because he was reading a book entitled Terrorism Studies in the library.

In the US, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested because he took a home-made clock to school. (Richard Dawkins, these days a manic tweet preacher, questioned whether the clock was part of a “hoax” designed to get Mohamed arrested, before backtracking.) The West, it seems, is free only for some. And to be a Muslim is a crime.

Extremism is a serious problem. Westernised, liberal Muslims do try to influence feverish, hostile young Muslim minds, but we are largely powerless. Our leaders will not confront Saudi Arabia, the source of Islamist brainwashing and infection. They won’t because of oil and the profits made by arms sales. Political cowards and immoral profiteers are the traitors, the real threat to national security, patriotism and cohesion. How do they answer the charge?

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