Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

G20 meets in Turkey today – but will Saudi and Turkish (and EU) support for ISIS be confronted?

November 15, 2015

The agenda of the G20 meeting starting in Turkey today will be dominated by Paris – and so it should.

The G20 is made up of 19 countries and the EU: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the European Union.

129 people died in Paris on Friday night and another 90 are still in critical condition. At least two of the terrorists had posed as refugees passing through Turkey and Greece just about a month ago. One more has now been identified as a known, 29 year old, “radicalised” French citizen.

The G20 is intended primarily as an economic forum, but Paris and Syria and ISIS can be expected to dominate. But I am not sure that any discussions about ISIS will be open enough or sufficiently meaningful in addressing root causes. To do that the agenda would have to include,

  1. the tacit support for ISIS from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and
  2. the funding and growth of ISIS caused by the EU and US support of anti-Assad  rebels, and
  3. the misguided “multiculturalism” in the EU which – among other things – allows Saudi funded, radicalising mosques and madrassas all across Europe, and
  4. the EU “soft” policies which have now probably allowed at least hundreds of terrorists to be sneaked into Europe as “refugees”.

Both Saudi Arabia and Turkey are members of the G20, but their support for ISIS, not officially perhaps, but indirectly and by inaction and by default, will not, I think, be confronted directly. Turkey is a Nato member and is “protected” from criticism of its excesses. Criticism of Saudi Arabia is always muted from those countries dependent on oil imports or defence exports.

A great deal of ISIS financing is from private Saudi sources but surely not without the knowledge of the Saudi authorities. The official Saudi support is ostensibly for groups of Sunni rebels who are opposed to Assad and who are also said to be opposed – sometimes very mildly – to ISIS. Moreover some of these groups are no more than conduits to ISIS and al Qaida. Saudi Arabia’s primary aim seems to be to support anti-Shia groups and opposition to ISIS is only secondary. If ISIS was the only Sunni group available to oppose the Shia forces then Saudi Arabia would make sure they were supported.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Sunni Gulf States, all want the Shia to be wiped off the face of the Earth and if that means supporting the murderous psychopaths of ISIS – well, the end justifies the means.

In the case of Turkey, it is also an overwhelming desire to prevent any Kurdish state which rules their actions. Turkish hatred of a Kurdistan is on a par with the Saudi hatred of the Shia. They are also against terrorism, provided that the Kurds are first defined as terrorists. And ISIS, as an enemy of their Kurdish enemies, is often their friend. Turkey sees Kurdish successes in Northern Iraq and parts of Syria as ominous and are quite happy to bomb Kurds in or close to Turkey, even if it helps ISIS to gain territory.

Greater Kurdistan dreams map from Jon Davis via Quora

Greater Kurdistan dreams map from Jon Davis via Quora

Turkey will not take actions against ISIS if there is any chance that Kurds may gain an advantage.

I don’t expect the G20 meeting to get more than empty statements from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Obama will order a few more air strikes. The EU is now a dithering and fractured entity. In fact the EU is now part of the problem and European countries (France, UK, Germany …) will need to act independently to oppose and attack the growth of ISIS. The G20 meeting in Antalya will get no commitments

  1. from Turkey to attack ISIS even if it helps the Kurds, or
  2. from Saudi Arabia to shut off all private funding for ISIS, or
  3. even to withdraw official Saudi support from Sunni groups who “leak” funds to ISIS, or
  4. from the EU to stop the funding from the Middle East of radicalising mosques and madrassas in Europe, or
  5. from the EU to winnow out the terrorists and criminals from among the influx of “refugees”

Sunni Muslims across the world need to pay more than lip-service to opposing the barbarism of ISIS. The Shia are already opposed to all things Sunni. But far too many Sunnis – by inaction – allow their own fanatics to prosper. They allow their fanatic imams to continue preaching their brand of hatred. They turn a blind eye to their radicalised sons and daughters. They too harbour dreams of the establishment of a new Islamic (Sunni, of course) Caliphate and have secret sympathies for the objectives of those “fighting” or murdering for this dream.

I am afraid that Sunnis anywhere (and for me that means all over Europe and the Middle East, Africa and even India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia) who do not declare themselves – by word and action – to be against the Islamic Caliphate must be taken to be supporters of, and sympathisers with, ISIS.

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Mayhem in Paris – and I wonder which Muslims are celebrating?

November 14, 2015

The mayhem in Paris is not over yet. So far 40 dead are reported and 100 have been taken hostage.

So tell me again that the religion of Islam and its high priests bear no responsibility.

Or that any peaceful side of Islam has not been obliterated by its barbaric manifestations.

Or that this is probably the barbarism of just a few Sunni fanatics and should not tarnish all Muslims.

Or that there are not Madrassa-brainwashed Muslim youths across Europe who are not secretly celebrating.

Or that no money from Saudi Arabia was involved either in the brainwashing or in the barbarism.

Or that it is not misguided multiculturalism which has provided the space for their isolation and their radicalisation.

And I wonder how many hundreds if not thousands of killers have been sneaked into Europe among the – no doubt – real refugees and asylum seekers?

Someday humans societies will grow up and all organised religions and their brainwashing of children will be obsolete. But not for a very, very long time.

“A bloody nose” as Swedish foreign policy degenerates to be just domestic policy

March 10, 2015

UPDATE! The 22 foreign ministers of the member countries of the Arab League released a statement today condemning the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, for her anti-Saudi comments. Her comments were considered “irresponsible and unacceptable”. The undertone is that she does not understand very much about the Arab world or about Sharia law. No matter what one may think of Sharia and Saudi Arabia, Margot Wallströms statements reveal a Swedish foreign affairs behaviour which either does not analyse the consequences of its statements – or is incompetent. The obsessions of the greens and the far-left are bringing the country’s foreign policy into disrepute.


The new left-green Swedish government seems to have become a slave of their minority green partners (and are also going out of their way to placate the far left party which supports them from outside the government). So much so that foreign policy has now become a string of sanctimonious positions. It is now more about being politically correct in a domestic context rather than actually promoting Sweden’s interests (geopolitical and commercial) in foreign lands.

The Foreign Minister – Margot Wallström – started of her term by recognising Palestine as a State. It pandered to all her domestic constituents and allies, upset Israel and the US,  and has not helped the Palestinians one jot. But it allowed those on the left to expound their beliefs and provided support for the growing anti-semitism in Sweden.

Some 10 years ago the socialist government of the time entered into a cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia regarding defence and defence production. The agreement was nurtured all through the 8 years of the subsequent moderate-led government and provided a good deal of business and many jobs in Sweden. The current socialist government of Stefan Löfven is hard pressed by its own left wing to cancel the deal. The greens absolutely hate this agreement but that is because their goal is to dismantle the Swedish defence industry. The politically correct feminist view is that all things Saudi Arabian must be condemned. For the last few weeks the Swedish media (which are predominantly left of centre and hopelessly politically correct) have been running a campaign to support the greens and the far left in condemning the Saudi agreement.

And their efforts have now resulted in Margot Wallström “receiving a bloody nose” from Saudi Arabia. She was scheduled to make a speech to the Arab League (about Human Rights) but this was cancelled at short notice by a very irritated Saudi Arabia.

TheLocal.seSweden’s national debate about a controversial arms deal has sparked anger in Saudi Arabia and formed the backdrop to its move to block the Swedish foreign minister’s planned speech at the Arab League, according to an expert on Saudi politics.

Thord Janson, a Saudi Arabia expert at Gothenburg University, said: “This isn’t a slap on the hand; it’s a punch in the nose,” he told news agency TT. The decision by Saudi Arabia, a regional powerhouse, to prevent Wallström from speaking in Cairo on Monday appeared designed to cause embarrassment, he said. “From a diplomatic perspective it’s incredibly harsh. One couldn’t be more clear.” Janson predicted that Saudi Arabia would now make life trickier for Swedish firms operating in the wealthy Middle Eastern oil state. “The authorities might make it more difficult for them to import goods, deliveries might get slowed down in customs, and it could become hard to get certain permits.” 

The very public discussion in Sweden on whether to extend a military cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia had sparked strong reactions in Riyadh, said Janson. Sweden’s Green Party, the junior partner in the Social Democrat-led government, wants to scrap the deal, as do several members of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s own party.  

Swedish criticism of the flogging of the blogger and human rights activists Raif Badawi may also have played a part in the Saudi decision.

“They thinks it’s an internal matter,” said Janson. “They don’t understand why a morally decadent country like Sweden is getting involved in the Saudi legal system.

My perception is of Swedish foreign policy now becoming quite shallow and with little substance. It is more concerned with being – and being seen to be – politically correct in the eyes of the greens, the far left and the feminist party. Foreign policy has degenerated to become a series of sanctimonious and self-righteous statements where the purpose is to look good for the domestic audience. And Margot Wallström – who is not inexperienced – has not the strength to resist the domestic lobbying.

Swedish foreign policy no longer shows any evidence of any deep thought about Swedish interests or how to promote change abroad. The end of the agreement with Saudi Arabia is now inevitable. There is little chance of Saudi Arabia (or Israel) now paying any attention to the “Swedish opinion”. Swedish business of any kind – and not just the defence business – can expect to meet more unfriendly customers. Other European countries will not be slow to step in to replace Swedish suppliers. But the far left and the greens can wallow in self-righteousness. Any chance of a place on the Security Council has disappeared.

 

Is Saudi Arabia prepared to let oil price drop to $20?

December 20, 2014

Saudi Arabia seems to fighting two battles; one against oil shale and one against the Iran-Russia combination. In the long term both are doomed to failure. At best all that Saudi Arabia can hope for is that

  1. the smaller shale oil producers find it uneconomic to continue production, and
  2. Iran and Russia’s oil production is severely curtailed.

But any such result is bound to be temporary. It may force the reduction of investment in shale oil but Russia and Iran will need to produce more to keep their revenues up. It is unlikely to lead to the permanent impairment of oil production from shale or in Iran and Russia. It may allow Saudi Arabia to take control of pricing for a while but the OPEC monopoly has already gone. And the limited monopoly they can win, can only continue as long as oil price stays too low to make it economic for the shale and tar sands alternatives. The reestablished monopoly will only apply as long as oil stays cheap.

It becomes intriguing now as to whether Saudi Arabia has the nerve to allow prices to drop to as low as $20 per barrel and for how long? The long term benefits to Saudi Arabia are not quite so clear for me. Having a monopoly which does not allow prices to rise seems somewhat useless. Certainly their cost of extraction is so low (less than $5 per barrel) that they could continue making profits, but they would need to keep the price low for many years to see off the competition – and the competition would come back if prices rose again.

Anatole Kaletsky considers this question at his Reuters blog:

…… Low oil prices will last long enough for one of two events to happen. The first possibility, the one most traders and analysts seem to expect, is that Saudi Arabia will re-establish OPEC’s monopoly power once it achieves the true geopolitical or economic objectives that spurred it to trigger the slump. The second possibility, one I wrote about two weeks ago, is that the global oil market will move toward normal competitive conditions in which prices are set by the marginal production costs, rather than Saudi or OPEC monopoly power. This may seem like a far-fetched scenario, but it is more or less how the oil market worked for two decades from 1986 to 2004. ….

….. The key question is whether the present price of around $55 will prove closer to the floor or the ceiling of this new range. The history of inflation-adjusted oil prices, deflated by the U.S. Consumer Price Index, offers some intriguing hints. The 40 years since OPEC first flexed its muscles in 1974 can be divided into three distinct periods. From 1974 to 1985, West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, fluctuated between $48 and $120 in today’s money. From 1986 to 2004, the price ranged from $21 to $48 (apart from two brief aberrations during the 1998 Russian crisis and the 1991 war in Iraq). And from 2005 until this year, oil has again traded in its 1974 to 1985 range of roughly $50 to $120, apart from two very brief spikes in the 2008-09 financial crisis.

What makes these three periods significant is that the trading range of the past 10 years was very similar to the 1974-85 first decade of OPEC domination, but the 19 years from 1986 to 2004 represented a totally different regime. It seems plausible that the difference between these two regimes can be explained by the breakdown of OPEC power in 1985 and the shift from monopolistic to competitive pricing for the next 20 years, followed by the restoration of monopoly pricing in 2005 as OPEC took advantage of surging Chinese demand. ….

……. There are several reasons to expect a new trading range as low as $20 to $50, as in the period from 1986 to 2004. Technological and environmental pressures are reducing long-term oil demand and threatening to turn much of the high-cost oil outside the Middle East into a “stranded asset” similar to the earth’s vast unwanted coal reserves. Additional pressures for low oil prices in the long term include the possible lifting of sanctions on Iran and Russia and the ending of civil wars in Iraq and Libya, which between them would release additional oil reserves bigger than Saudi Arabia’s on to the world markets.

The U.S. shale revolution is perhaps the strongest argument for a return to competitive pricing instead of the OPEC-dominated monopoly regimes of 1974-85 and 2005-14. Although shale oil is relatively costly, production can be turned on and off much more easily – and cheaply – than from conventional oilfields. This means that shale prospectors should now be the “swing producers” in global oil markets instead of the Saudis. In a truly competitive market, the Saudis and other low-cost producers would always be pumping at maximum output, while shale shuts off when demand is weak and ramps up when demand is strong. This competitive logic suggests that marginal costs of U.S. shale oil, generally estimated at $40 to $50, should in the future be a ceiling for global oil prices, not a floor. …

…… So which of these arguments will prove right: The bearish case for a $20 to $50 trading-range based on competitive market pricing? Or the bullish one for $50 to $120 based on resumed OPEC dominance?

Whether market pressures dominate or whether the cartel reestablishes control, we seem to be in for a long period of prices around $40 – 50 per barrel. At this price bio-diesel would need hefty subsidies to survive. Assuming that gas prices continue their link to oil prices, gas becomes the dominating choice as fuel for power generation. Renewable energy will need even greater subsidies which are already being cut back. Not all of this price reduction will be passed on to the transport industry. The pass through of the price cut will be greater in the US than in Europe or Asia. But any pass through is itself a stimulus for consumer spending.

For the stagnating world economy low oil prices can only be a good thing.

Saudi attack on shale oil could backfire

November 12, 2014

If the recent drop in oil price has been engineered (even in part) by Saudi Arabia as an attempt to put some of the burgeoning shale oil production sites out of business they will need to go much further. A break-even for shale oil production is probably at less than $50 per barrel. In any event the drop so far (25%+ in 6 months) is just the fillip the world economy needs. Saudi Arabia is probably not as vulnerable as other oil producing countries but increasing production to drive down the oil price is a dangerous game which could be self-defeating. Whether the current glut is just due to reduced world (read Chinese) demand and increased shale oil (US) production or has also been exacerbated by increased Saudi production, the oil consumer wins. Consumption will increase – and that will automatically reduce the glut and further increase the production of oil from shale.

If the global economy is to come out of the doldrums it needs the Asian economies – the tigers, the dragon and the elephant – to start prowling in earnest. Increasing consumption in the developing world seems to be one of the most effective ways of stimulating the world economy. It inevitably leads to increased production of consumer goods in the developed countries. And this current step-reduction of oil price could be just the trigger that is needed.

Yesterday the price of crude (WTI) was at about $77 per barrel and that price is sufficient to keep even the small shale oil wells in operation.

crude oil price Nov 2014

crude oil price Nov 2014

 

Assad’s gambit but is it Putin’s end-game being played out in Syria?

November 10, 2013

The Hindu carries an interesting editorial on Assad’s Gambit:

In extending his cooperation to the OPCW – which has until June 2014 to oversee the elimination of Syria’s chemical stockpile – President Bashar al-Assad has signalled his indispensability to a diplomatic settlement. Mr. Assad has underlined that not only is he in control but he is also willing to make tactical concessions. The odds are now stacked heavily against the Syrian rebels. After the United States shelved its plan to intervene militarily, opposition groups have had to reconcile themselves to the option of sharing power with Damascus. That al-Qaeda and other terror outfits have infiltrated the rebels’ ranks has also substantially diminished the support they initially received from the West. Not surprisingly, many of the rebel factions have expressed their reluctance to participate in the “Geneva 2” diplomatic conference scheduled for later this year. Mr. Assad, on the other hand, has made the Syrian government’s participation contingent on his being allowed to complete a full term in office.

Paradoxically it is the destruction of his chemical weapons which has made Assad an indispensable part of the solution. If it was one of the rebel groups (Al Qaida or a group supported by Turkey or by Iran or by Saudi Arabia or by the Kurds or by the Muslim Brotherhood) which actually did use the chemical weapons (Sarin gas) in September, then their ploy has misfired spectacularly. If it was Assad’s forces which released the gas (whether with or without his knowledge), it has certainly brought matters to a head and – also spectacularly –  shifted the course of this civil war. Syrian Opposition became “armed rebels” and are now equated with “terrorists”. From being about Assad’s repression and justified opposition the conflict is being transformed to Assad versus the terrorists.

Keeping score in the Great Syria Chess Game is not easy and when the chemical inspectors were called in I wrote

Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov are winning. The diplomatic path is now their creation. Suddenly Russia is the peace-maker in the face of US war-mongering! Not only was the US strike on their ally delayed indefinitely, it is now Assad’s Syria – and not the various opposition groups – which is required to engage with the international community. Any opposition forces who seem to be coming in the way of inspecting or securing control of the chemical weapons can now be attacked by Assad with the full support of the international community. Russia can continue supplying Syria with conventional weapons. ….

Bashar al-Assad is winning. He does not really need chemical weapons which cannot effectively be used anyway. Any US strike on his forces is postponed indefinitely. With no prospect of any no-fly zone being declared his air-force could be decisive in the civil war. The supply of conventional weapons from Russia is assured. His claim that rebels and terrorists were responsible for the use of Sarin is backed up by Russia and the UN weapons inspectors have no option but to investigate this (and they are on their way back to Syria).

But I think the Hindu is wrong to think that it is merely the infiltration of rebel groups by Al Qaida which has damaged their support from the West. The point is that the rebel groups supported and supplied by so many surrounding countries are not a home-grown opposition but are essentially a collection of mercenary groups fighting proxy wars for many players. Saudi Arabia and Turkey in particular were and are heavily involved – and may even have been instrumental in starting the armed conflict. Now of course Iran and the Kurds and the Muslim Brotherhood are providing succour and support for their pet groups. Al Qaida has its fighters from all over the region (and from radicalised youth in the West) trying to attain eternal salvation through martyrdom. The EU and the US supply arms through third parties to a variety of the rebel groups – and it often seems they have no idea who the arms are going to. Russia supplies Assad. Israel no doubt stirs the pot whenever it can and using whichever faction is available to maintain the turmoil.

As Aron Lund writes in his report,Divided they Stand” An Overview of Syria’s Political Opposition Factions

The opposition landscape is so fragmented and disconnected, that there is little clarity even among activists themselves about what groups and coalitions are truly effective or enjoy popular support. ….

While it is unlikely that any of today’s political opposition groups will control the future Syria, they are likely to play a significant role in a future transition phase or reconciliation process. Regardless of who rules Syria in the future – the current regime, breakaway elite factions, a government installed with foreign backing, or armed rebels – they will need to connect with the political opposition to legitimize their own position.

Assad’s Gambit may be paying off but it is just a few moves within the Putin initiated defence. Whether the Putin defence also has an end-game in mind is as yet difficult to discern. It may just lead to a stalemate and a long drawn-out conflict. It may lead – in the best scenario – to a gradual political transition where Assad has an “honourable” discharge and exile waiting for him sometime late next year.

There are no longer any outright victories in sight in this multi-dimensional chess game where the rules keep changing. But if there is any overall direction to this end-game it is probably coming from Putin and Lavrov. Whether Obama and Kerry are playing the game, or are just bystanders providing infrastructure for the playing of the game remains to be seen. The EU is almost as divided as the Syrian opposition and are very good at mouthing platitudes. The dilemma that the US and the EU face is that support for secular forces in Syria is inevitably support for Assad. Support for any armed rebel group is also support for Islamist jihadists.

No Woman, No Drive

October 28, 2013

No comment needed.

 

How the map of the Middle East could develop

October 5, 2013

Once upon a time maps were dawn primarily as symbolic and pictorial descriptions of physical geography. Then came the nation states and “Nations of the Mind” became nations on the ground. With their dark under-belly of nationalism and jingoism, maps have become – nearly always – political, religious or ideological maps superimposed on and tied to physical geography. Some day humans will outgrow the limitations of nation-states and nationalism. “Nations” tied to a geography will eventually become obsolete but it will not be in my lifetime.

The dynamics in the Middle East are particularly volatile and give rise to much speculation about how new nations could form and how the map of the region could develop. But much of the new formations – which are already ongoing – are not by design but by the realities on the ground. Many forces are engaged and much blood is being shed as the various parties try to impose their own designs.

A few years ago Ralph Peters imagined a “better Middle East” in  “Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would Look” and was heavily criticised for his provocative work.

The map was prepared by Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters. It was published in the Armed Forces Journal in June 2006, Peters is a retired colonel of the U.S. National War Academy. (Map Copyright Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters 2006). The map is included in Peters’ book Never Quit the Fight.

Ralph-Peters-Remapped-Middle-East

Ralph-Peters-Remapped-Middle-East

As Geo Currents remarked in 2010:

For all of Peters’s miscues, many of his core ideas are sound. His initial assertion – that misplaced boundaries often generate injustice and strife – is spot on. And he is right to point out that the foreign policy establishment refuses to acknowledge the violence engendered by geopolitical misalignment for fear of opening a Pandora’s Box of separatist demands. Because of that fear, any suggestions for alternative arrangements tend to be dismissed out of hand. Such a stance, Peters argues, is intellectually dishonest. New countries sometimes do appear on the map without ruffling the international order. Think of Montenegro, 2006. Such neophyte states must, however, come into being through the channels of global diplomacy if they want international recognition. Should they emerge on their own, their existence will be denied by the powers that be. In this way the system of international diplomacy that Peters mocks can indeed become a masquerade. Grant diplomatic recognition to Somaliland, the only effectively administered territory in the bedlam called Somalia? Impossibly destabilizing: surely anarchy would be loosed across the Horn of Africa!

The New York Times has just carried an article by Robin Wright returning to the same subject

Imagining a Remapped Middle East

Robin-Wrights-Remapped-Middle-East

Robin-Wrights-Remapped-Middle-East – NYT

THE map of the modern Middle East, a political and economic pivot in the international order, is in tatters. Syria’s ruinous war is the turning point. But the centrifugal forces of rival beliefs, tribes and ethnicities — empowered by unintended consequences of the Arab Spring — are also pulling apart a region defined by European colonial powers a century ago and defended by Arab autocrats ever since.

A different map would be a strategic game changer for just about everybody, potentially reconfiguring alliances, security challenges, trade and energy flows for much of the world, too.

Syria’s prime location and muscle make it the strategic center of the Middle East. But it is a complex country, rich in religious and ethnic variety, and therefore fragile. After independence, Syria reeled from more than a half-dozen coups between 1949 and 1970, when the Assad dynasty seized full control. Now, after 30 months of bloodletting, diversity has turned deadly, killing both people and country. Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads’ minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland.

…………

Saudi-Arabia-Remapped-by-Robin-Wright

Saudi-Arabia-Remapped-by-Robin-Wright

GeoCurrents reviews the NYT article:

Wright’s article, however, shows that her purpose is different from that of Peters. Whereas Peters sought to depict a more rationally constituted political map, Wright rather speculates about a map that might be developing on its own, regardless of her personal preferences, much less her country’s geo-strategic designs. In this regard, the map has much to recommend it. Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq could well be in the process of disintegration, splitting into de facto states or state-like entities that might bear some resemblance to the territories depicted by Wright’s map. The likelihood of Iraq and Syria regaining stability as effective states within their internationally recognized boundaries seems remote, given the viciousness of the conflicts currently being waged. As things already stand, the non-country of Iraqi Kurdistan is almost as much of a state as Iraq itself, and arguable more of a nation. Whether Libya and Yemen can politically reintegrate is also an open matter. Mapping how the Middle East appears today, rather than how the international political community thinks it should be configured, is thus an essential task. Thinking about where such processes might lead is equally important. Wright’s thoughts on the subject are generally insightful, and her map has many pertinent and intriguing features. I commend the New York Times for publishing such a provocative piece. ……

…….. My serious misgivings concern Wright’s  treatment of Saudi Arabia. She realizes that she goes out on a limb here, noting that “The most fantastical ideas involve the Balkanization of Saudi Arabia…” Unlike the other countries that she remaps, Saudi Arabia is a relatively stable state, with no serious challenges to its territorial integrity. Imagining the division of this country thus does not involve speculating about the possible end-points of processes already in motion, as is the case in the other countries considered. It is not at all clear, moreover, why Wright has divided Saudi Arabia as she has, as her article is largely silent here. Presumably, her division is based on the idea that the non-Wahhabi peripheries of the country could detach themselves from the Wahhabi core, potentially resulting in the emergence of the new states of North Arabia, Eastern Arabia, South Arabia, and Western Arabia.

Fascinating stuff.

Arab spring withering into autumn

June 23, 2011

The prospects and hopes and expectations of the Arab spring spreading throughout the Arab world are now becoming uncertain. In Tunisia and Egypt the military is firmly in control and whether a real shift of power to the people will now take place remains in doubt. There is still hope and the change itself is irreversible but how far the change will go remains to be seen. It will only be by attacking the high unemployment and endemic corruption that a measure of success can be achieved.

But the fires lit by the events in Tunisia and Libya are struggling to stay alight in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. In Saudi Arabia the government has so far managed to douse even the smallest sparks that were flickering.

In Bahrain the King with the help of the Saudis is suppressing all opposition from the Shia majority:

The sentencing of 21 men to prison terms ranging from two years to life has sent waves of anger through the majority Shia community in Bahrain. Family members say they have already experienced weeks and months of anxiety about loved ones, to whom they have been given little access.

They say the men have been tortured, denied appropriate legal representation, and are now being sentenced harshly for crimes they did not commit in a bid to silence opposition calls for reform.

In Yemen:

Opposition figures blamed pro-government military officials for allowing more than 60 suspected members of al-Qaida to escape Wednesday from a Yemeni prison. The mass escape from the prison occurred Wednesday in the southern city of Mukalla.

Opposition leaders blamed senior military officials loyal to embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh for the prison break. They said it was an effort to get financial support from Washington and prop up the regime of the Yemeni president, the Yemen Post reports.

As the Hindu puts it:

Yemen, in many ways, is the most complicated situation. It is infested with the maximum external interference — Saudi Arabia, U.S., Iran, GCC and assorted countries. At one time, its long-serving President had accepted the principle of resigning and leaving, but since seems to have changed his mind. The injuries he suffered in an attack on his compound and consequent flight to Saudi Arabia have paradoxically given him time to consolidate his position and strengthen his support base in Yemen. The south wants to secede and parts of north want to merge with the big northern neighbour, but the latter is not interested, it seems. The Shia-Sunni act is also being played out there. Al-Qaeda was reported to have captured a town, Zinjibar, in the south, but it was suspected to be a diabolical move of the President who, thereby, calculated to win the sympathy of the Americans. The latter are exploiting the situation and relentlessly bombing suspected concentrations of the al-Qaeda, hoping to eliminate its leadership.

In Libya things are getting very messy and the NATO efforts sans the US is less than impressive:

Libya has turned out to be the cry of despair for those who have committed their armed personnel, scarce financial resources and, more importantly, prestige in the outcome of the situation there. The conflict has gone on for longer than anyone expected and is costing the western nations more than they would really care to spend. Having pushed through Resolution 1973 with the help of the Arab League, they had calculated a quick and low-cost operation. Like in Afghanistan, Nato cannot afford to pull out without being able to claim victory. Two or three factors have frustrated their plans — Muammar Qadhafi’s stubborn refusal to disappear from the scene, the absence of an identifiable and credible alternative leadership, and the continued loyalty of many African states to Mr. Qadhafi. Mr. Qadhafi is no doubt counting on the fatigue — financial and military — factor weakening public support for the Nato operation. Nato strikes killing civilians will further erode support and provide more propaganda ammunition to Mr. Qadhafi.

And in Syria an embattled Assad is balancing between cosmetic reforms and a ruthless and bloody repression of his opponents:

Tens of thousands of Syrians are demonstrating in support of the president a day after pro-democracy protesters rejected his speech. President Bashar Assad vowed reform in a speech Monday that was only his third public appearance since the revolt against his family’s 40-year-rule erupted in March.

But his vague overtures to a pro-democracy uprising fell flat with the opposition, and anti-government protesters took to the streets shouting “Liar!” and demanding his ouster. Thousands of people carrying Assad’s pictures took to the streets of Damascus on Tuesday, pledging allegiance to the president.

….  The opposition estimates more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as Assad unleashed his military and security forces to crush the protest movement that erupted in March, inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and that spread to region after region.

There is now a real possibility that the  fresh green  Arab Spring which promised so much just a few months ago may wither into an Arab Autumn and millions may have to withstand a dormant and repressive period before a new Spring finally arrives.

But this new season will surely come.

Saudi troops invade Bahrain

March 14, 2011

While the world’s attention is focused on Japan, Saudi Arabia has taken the opportunity to invade Bahrain to support their vassal rulers there.

Reuters reports:

Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain on Monday to help put down weeks of protests by the Shi’ite Muslim majority, a move opponents of the Sunni ruling family on the island called a declaration of war.

Analysts saw the troop movement into Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, as a mark of concern in Saudi Arabia that concessions by the country’s monarchy could inspire the conservative Sunni kingdom’s own Shi’ite minority.

About 1,000 Saudi soldiers entered Bahrain to protect government facilities, a Saudi official source said, a day after mainly Shi’ite protesters overran police and blocked roads.

“They are part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) force that would guard the government installations,” the source said, referring to the six-member bloc that coordinates military and economic policy in the world’s top oil-exporting region.

….

Bahraini opposition groups including the largest Shi’ite party Wefaq said the move was an attack on defenseless citizens.

“We consider the entry of any soldier or military machinery into the Kingdom of Bahrain’s air, sea or land territories a blatant occupation,” they said in a statement.

“This real threat about the entry of Saudi and other Gulf forces into Bahrain to confront the defenseless Bahraini people puts the Bahraini people in real danger and threatens them with an undeclared war by armed troops.”

The move came after Bahraini police clashed on Sunday with mostly Shi’ite demonstrators in one of the most violent confrontations since troops killed seven protesters last month.



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