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Saudi c.bank: China yuan good diversifier, but far from reserve currency | Reuters

Saudi c.bank: China yuan good diversifier, but far from reserve currency | Reuters.

BY MARWA RASHAD

RIYADH, March 16 Sun Mar 16, 2014 7:58am EDT

(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia thinks that the Chinese yuan is a good option for diversifying foreign currency reserves but it is still far from being a reserve currency, its central bank governor Fahad al-Mubarak said on Sunday.

Asked whether it made sense to consider diversifying the central bank’s reserves to include the yuan, also known as the renminbi, or explore a currency swap agreement, Mubarak said: “We think it is a stronger currency, but it is far from being a reserve currency at this stage.”

“But indeed it represents a good option and a good diversifier and we have seen that some of the central banks have some reserves in the renminbi,” he said at an annual news conference in the Saudi capital.

Mubarak, who does not comment on policy outside of annual press briefings, did not say, however, whether the central bank had considered adding the yuan to its portfolio of net foreign assets. Its reserves, the vast majority of which are believed to be in U.S. dollars, grew to a record $718 billion in January.

A gradual easing of restrictions on the yuan and increasing trade with China have led some of Beijing’s partner countries include the renminbi in their official reserves and open currency swap agreements.

Last year, Taiwan’s central bank said it was holding the yuan in its foreign exchange reserves portfolio in recognition of the yuan’s growing globalisation and importance of trade, while Australia’s central bank unveiled a plan to invest some of its reserves in Chinese government bonds for the first time.

Among the Gulf Arab oil exporters, who mostly peg their currencies to the U.S. dollar, the United Arab Emirates signed a three-year currency swap agreement worth $5.5 billion with China in 2012 to boost two-way trade and investment.

Oil giant Saudi Arabia is the top crude supplier for China, the world’s second biggest economy. Last year, the Gulf monarchy supplied Beijing with around 1.17 million barrels per day of oil and is expected to deliver the same amount this year, according to traders.

Beijing has laid out plans to make the yuan convertible on the capital account, but its market interventions to hold back the pace of appreciation have shown a wariness of currency liberalisation.

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Saudi Arabia: Besieged and Fearful

Saudi Arabia: Beseiged and Fearful

Commentary No. 372, Mar. 1, 2014

“Saudi Arabia: Besieged and Fearful”

The Saudi regime has long been considered a pillar of political stability in the Middle East, a country that commanded respect and prudence from all its neighbors. This is no longer true, and the first ones to recognize this are those who are important internal players in the regime. Today, they feel besieged on all sides and quite fearful of the consequences of turmoil in the Middle East for the survival of the regime.

This turn-around derives from the history of Saudi Arabia. The kingdom itself is not very old. It was created in 1932 through the unification of two smaller kingdoms on the Arabian peninsula, Hejaz and Nejd. It was a poor, isolated part of the world that had liberated itself from Ottoman rule during the First World War, and came then under the paracolonial aegis of Great Britain.

The kingdom was organized in religious terms by a version of Sunni Islam called Wahabism (or Salafism). Wahabism is a very strict puritanical doctrine that was notably intolerant not only of religions other than Islam but of other versions of Islam itself.

The discovery of oil would transform the geopolitical role of Saudi Arabia. It was an American firm, later called Aramco – not a British firm – that succeeded in getting the rights for prospection in 1938. Aramco sought assistance from the U.S. government to exploit the fields.

One consequence of Aramco’s interest combined with President Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of the geopolitical future of the United States was a now famous, then little noticed, meeting of Roosevelt and the ruler of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, on Feb. 14, 1945 aboard a U.S. destroyer in the Red Sea. Despite Roosevelt’s grave illness (he was to die two months later) and Ibn Saud’s lack of any previous experience with Western culture and technology, the two leaders managed to forge a genuine mutual respect. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s attempt to undo this in a meeting he immediately arranged soon after that turned out to be quite counter-productive, as he was seen as “arrogant” by Ibn Saud.

While much of the five-hour private discussion between Roosevelt and Ibn Saud was devoted to the question of Zionism and Palestine – about which they had quite different views – the longer-run real consequence was a de facto arrangement in which Saudi Arabia coordinated and controlled world oil production policies to the benefit of the United States, in return for which the United States offered long-term guarantees of military security for Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia became a de facto paracolonial dependency of the United States, which however permitted the very extensive royal family to grow wealthy and “modernize” – not only in their ability to use technology but even in a cultural sense, bending in their own lives many of the restrictions of Wahabite Islam. It was an arrangement both sides appreciated and nourished. It worked well until the latter half of the first decade of 2000. Two major events upset the arrangement. One was the geopolitical decline of the United States. The second was the so-called Arab spring and what the Saudis regarded as its negative consequences throughout the Arab world.

From Saudi Arabia’s point of view, the relationship with the United States soured for a number of reasons. First, the Saudis felt that the announced “Asia/Pacific” reorientation of the United States, replacing the long-dominant “Europe/Atlantic” orientation, implied a withdrawal from active involvement in the politics of the Middle East.

The Saudis saw further evidence of this reorientation in the willingness of the United States to enter into negotiations with both the Syrian and the Iranian governments. Similarly, they were dismayed by the announced troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the clear reluctance to engage in another “war” in the Middle East. They felt they could no longer count on U.S. military protection, should it be needed. They therefore decided to play their cards independently of the United States and indeed against U.S. preferences.

Meanwhile, their relations with other Islamic groups became more and more difficult. They were extremely wary of any groups linked to al-Qaeda. And for good reason, since al-Qaeda had long made it clear that it sought the overthrow of the existing Saudi regime. One thing that worried them especially was the Saudi citizens who went to Syria to engage in jihad. They feared, remembering past history, that these individuals would return to Saudi Arabia, ready to subvert it from within. Indeed, on February 3, by royal decree of the monarch himself (a rare occurrence), the Saudis ordered all their citizens to return. They sought to control how they returned, and intended to disperse them along the frontlines, to minimize their ability to create internal organizations. It seems doubtful that these jihadis will obey. They consider this edict an abandonment by the Saudi regime.

In addition to the potential adherents of al-Qaeda, the Saudi regime has long had a difficult relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. While the latter’s version of Islam is also Salafist, and in many ways similar to Wahabism, there have been two crucial differences. The Muslim Brotherhood’s principal base has been in Egypt whereas the Wahabite base has been in Saudi Arabia. So this has always been in part a contest as to the locale of the dominant geopolitical force in the Middle East.

There is a second difference. Because of its history, the Muslim Brotherhood has always regarded monarchs with a jaundiced eye whereas Wahabism has been tied closely to the Saudi monarchy. The Saudi regime does not welcome therefore the spread of a movement that wouldn’t care if the Saudi monarchy were overturned.

Whereas once they had good relations with the Baathist regime in Syria, this is now impossible because of the intensified Sunni-Shi’ite polarization in the Middle East.

The Saudi lack of appreciation for secularists, sympathizers of al-Qaeda, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Shi’ite Baathist regime does not leave any obvious group to support in Syria today. But supporting no one does not project an image of leadership. So the Saudi regime sends some arms to a few groups and pretends to do much more.

Is the great enemy really Iran? Yes and no. But to limit the damage, the Saudi regime is secretly engaged in talks with the Iranians, talks whose outcome is very uncertain, since the Saudis believe that the Iranians want to encourage the Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia to erupt. While the total number of Shi’ites inside Saudi Arabia is uncertain (probably circa 20 percent), they are concentrated in the southeastern corner, precisely the area of largest oil production.

About the only regime with whom the Saudis are on good terms today is the Israelis. They share the sense of being besieged and fearful. And they both engage in the same short-run political tactics.

The fact is that the Saudi regime has internal feet of clay. The inner elite is now shifting from the so-called second generation, the sons of Ibn Saud (the few surviving sons being quite aged), to the grandsons. They are a large and untested group who might help to bring the house down in their competition to get their hands on the spoils, which are still considerable.

The Saudis have good reason to feel besieged and fearful.

 

by Immanuel Wallerstein

 

Saudi Arabia: Besieged and Fearful

Saudi Arabia: Beseiged and Fearful

Commentary No. 372, Mar. 1, 2014

“Saudi Arabia: Besieged and Fearful”

The Saudi regime has long been considered a pillar of political stability in the Middle East, a country that commanded respect and prudence from all its neighbors. This is no longer true, and the first ones to recognize this are those who are important internal players in the regime. Today, they feel besieged on all sides and quite fearful of the consequences of turmoil in the Middle East for the survival of the regime.

This turn-around derives from the history of Saudi Arabia. The kingdom itself is not very old. It was created in 1932 through the unification of two smaller kingdoms on the Arabian peninsula, Hejaz and Nejd. It was a poor, isolated part of the world that had liberated itself from Ottoman rule during the First World War, and came then under the paracolonial aegis of Great Britain.

The kingdom was organized in religious terms by a version of Sunni Islam called Wahabism (or Salafism). Wahabism is a very strict puritanical doctrine that was notably intolerant not only of religions other than Islam but of other versions of Islam itself.

The discovery of oil would transform the geopolitical role of Saudi Arabia. It was an American firm, later called Aramco – not a British firm – that succeeded in getting the rights for prospection in 1938. Aramco sought assistance from the U.S. government to exploit the fields.

One consequence of Aramco’s interest combined with President Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of the geopolitical future of the United States was a now famous, then little noticed, meeting of Roosevelt and the ruler of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, on Feb. 14, 1945 aboard a U.S. destroyer in the Red Sea. Despite Roosevelt’s grave illness (he was to die two months later) and Ibn Saud’s lack of any previous experience with Western culture and technology, the two leaders managed to forge a genuine mutual respect. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s attempt to undo this in a meeting he immediately arranged soon after that turned out to be quite counter-productive, as he was seen as “arrogant” by Ibn Saud.

While much of the five-hour private discussion between Roosevelt and Ibn Saud was devoted to the question of Zionism and Palestine – about which they had quite different views – the longer-run real consequence was a de facto arrangement in which Saudi Arabia coordinated and controlled world oil production policies to the benefit of the United States, in return for which the United States offered long-term guarantees of military security for Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia became a de facto paracolonial dependency of the United States, which however permitted the very extensive royal family to grow wealthy and “modernize” – not only in their ability to use technology but even in a cultural sense, bending in their own lives many of the restrictions of Wahabite Islam. It was an arrangement both sides appreciated and nourished. It worked well until the latter half of the first decade of 2000. Two major events upset the arrangement. One was the geopolitical decline of the United States. The second was the so-called Arab spring and what the Saudis regarded as its negative consequences throughout the Arab world.

From Saudi Arabia’s point of view, the relationship with the United States soured for a number of reasons. First, the Saudis felt that the announced “Asia/Pacific” reorientation of the United States, replacing the long-dominant “Europe/Atlantic” orientation, implied a withdrawal from active involvement in the politics of the Middle East.

The Saudis saw further evidence of this reorientation in the willingness of the United States to enter into negotiations with both the Syrian and the Iranian governments. Similarly, they were dismayed by the announced troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the clear reluctance to engage in another “war” in the Middle East. They felt they could no longer count on U.S. military protection, should it be needed. They therefore decided to play their cards independently of the United States and indeed against U.S. preferences.

Meanwhile, their relations with other Islamic groups became more and more difficult. They were extremely wary of any groups linked to al-Qaeda. And for good reason, since al-Qaeda had long made it clear that it sought the overthrow of the existing Saudi regime. One thing that worried them especially was the Saudi citizens who went to Syria to engage in jihad. They feared, remembering past history, that these individuals would return to Saudi Arabia, ready to subvert it from within. Indeed, on February 3, by royal decree of the monarch himself (a rare occurrence), the Saudis ordered all their citizens to return. They sought to control how they returned, and intended to disperse them along the frontlines, to minimize their ability to create internal organizations. It seems doubtful that these jihadis will obey. They consider this edict an abandonment by the Saudi regime.

In addition to the potential adherents of al-Qaeda, the Saudi regime has long had a difficult relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. While the latter’s version of Islam is also Salafist, and in many ways similar to Wahabism, there have been two crucial differences. The Muslim Brotherhood’s principal base has been in Egypt whereas the Wahabite base has been in Saudi Arabia. So this has always been in part a contest as to the locale of the dominant geopolitical force in the Middle East.

There is a second difference. Because of its history, the Muslim Brotherhood has always regarded monarchs with a jaundiced eye whereas Wahabism has been tied closely to the Saudi monarchy. The Saudi regime does not welcome therefore the spread of a movement that wouldn’t care if the Saudi monarchy were overturned.

Whereas once they had good relations with the Baathist regime in Syria, this is now impossible because of the intensified Sunni-Shi’ite polarization in the Middle East.

The Saudi lack of appreciation for secularists, sympathizers of al-Qaeda, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Shi’ite Baathist regime does not leave any obvious group to support in Syria today. But supporting no one does not project an image of leadership. So the Saudi regime sends some arms to a few groups and pretends to do much more.

Is the great enemy really Iran? Yes and no. But to limit the damage, the Saudi regime is secretly engaged in talks with the Iranians, talks whose outcome is very uncertain, since the Saudis believe that the Iranians want to encourage the Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia to erupt. While the total number of Shi’ites inside Saudi Arabia is uncertain (probably circa 20 percent), they are concentrated in the southeastern corner, precisely the area of largest oil production.

About the only regime with whom the Saudis are on good terms today is the Israelis. They share the sense of being besieged and fearful. And they both engage in the same short-run political tactics.

The fact is that the Saudi regime has internal feet of clay. The inner elite is now shifting from the so-called second generation, the sons of Ibn Saud (the few surviving sons being quite aged), to the grandsons. They are a large and untested group who might help to bring the house down in their competition to get their hands on the spoils, which are still considerable.

The Saudis have good reason to feel besieged and fearful.

 

by Immanuel Wallerstein

 

Saudi Arabia: Besieged and Fearful

Saudi Arabia: Beseiged and Fearful

Commentary No. 372, Mar. 1, 2014

“Saudi Arabia: Besieged and Fearful”

The Saudi regime has long been considered a pillar of political stability in the Middle East, a country that commanded respect and prudence from all its neighbors. This is no longer true, and the first ones to recognize this are those who are important internal players in the regime. Today, they feel besieged on all sides and quite fearful of the consequences of turmoil in the Middle East for the survival of the regime.

This turn-around derives from the history of Saudi Arabia. The kingdom itself is not very old. It was created in 1932 through the unification of two smaller kingdoms on the Arabian peninsula, Hejaz and Nejd. It was a poor, isolated part of the world that had liberated itself from Ottoman rule during the First World War, and came then under the paracolonial aegis of Great Britain.

The kingdom was organized in religious terms by a version of Sunni Islam called Wahabism (or Salafism). Wahabism is a very strict puritanical doctrine that was notably intolerant not only of religions other than Islam but of other versions of Islam itself.

The discovery of oil would transform the geopolitical role of Saudi Arabia. It was an American firm, later called Aramco – not a British firm – that succeeded in getting the rights for prospection in 1938. Aramco sought assistance from the U.S. government to exploit the fields.

One consequence of Aramco’s interest combined with President Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of the geopolitical future of the United States was a now famous, then little noticed, meeting of Roosevelt and the ruler of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, on Feb. 14, 1945 aboard a U.S. destroyer in the Red Sea. Despite Roosevelt’s grave illness (he was to die two months later) and Ibn Saud’s lack of any previous experience with Western culture and technology, the two leaders managed to forge a genuine mutual respect. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s attempt to undo this in a meeting he immediately arranged soon after that turned out to be quite counter-productive, as he was seen as “arrogant” by Ibn Saud.

While much of the five-hour private discussion between Roosevelt and Ibn Saud was devoted to the question of Zionism and Palestine – about which they had quite different views – the longer-run real consequence was a de facto arrangement in which Saudi Arabia coordinated and controlled world oil production policies to the benefit of the United States, in return for which the United States offered long-term guarantees of military security for Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia became a de facto paracolonial dependency of the United States, which however permitted the very extensive royal family to grow wealthy and “modernize” – not only in their ability to use technology but even in a cultural sense, bending in their own lives many of the restrictions of Wahabite Islam. It was an arrangement both sides appreciated and nourished. It worked well until the latter half of the first decade of 2000. Two major events upset the arrangement. One was the geopolitical decline of the United States. The second was the so-called Arab spring and what the Saudis regarded as its negative consequences throughout the Arab world.

From Saudi Arabia’s point of view, the relationship with the United States soured for a number of reasons. First, the Saudis felt that the announced “Asia/Pacific” reorientation of the United States, replacing the long-dominant “Europe/Atlantic” orientation, implied a withdrawal from active involvement in the politics of the Middle East.

The Saudis saw further evidence of this reorientation in the willingness of the United States to enter into negotiations with both the Syrian and the Iranian governments. Similarly, they were dismayed by the announced troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the clear reluctance to engage in another “war” in the Middle East. They felt they could no longer count on U.S. military protection, should it be needed. They therefore decided to play their cards independently of the United States and indeed against U.S. preferences.

Meanwhile, their relations with other Islamic groups became more and more difficult. They were extremely wary of any groups linked to al-Qaeda. And for good reason, since al-Qaeda had long made it clear that it sought the overthrow of the existing Saudi regime. One thing that worried them especially was the Saudi citizens who went to Syria to engage in jihad. They feared, remembering past history, that these individuals would return to Saudi Arabia, ready to subvert it from within. Indeed, on February 3, by royal decree of the monarch himself (a rare occurrence), the Saudis ordered all their citizens to return. They sought to control how they returned, and intended to disperse them along the frontlines, to minimize their ability to create internal organizations. It seems doubtful that these jihadis will obey. They consider this edict an abandonment by the Saudi regime.

In addition to the potential adherents of al-Qaeda, the Saudi regime has long had a difficult relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. While the latter’s version of Islam is also Salafist, and in many ways similar to Wahabism, there have been two crucial differences. The Muslim Brotherhood’s principal base has been in Egypt whereas the Wahabite base has been in Saudi Arabia. So this has always been in part a contest as to the locale of the dominant geopolitical force in the Middle East.

There is a second difference. Because of its history, the Muslim Brotherhood has always regarded monarchs with a jaundiced eye whereas Wahabism has been tied closely to the Saudi monarchy. The Saudi regime does not welcome therefore the spread of a movement that wouldn’t care if the Saudi monarchy were overturned.

Whereas once they had good relations with the Baathist regime in Syria, this is now impossible because of the intensified Sunni-Shi’ite polarization in the Middle East.

The Saudi lack of appreciation for secularists, sympathizers of al-Qaeda, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Shi’ite Baathist regime does not leave any obvious group to support in Syria today. But supporting no one does not project an image of leadership. So the Saudi regime sends some arms to a few groups and pretends to do much more.

Is the great enemy really Iran? Yes and no. But to limit the damage, the Saudi regime is secretly engaged in talks with the Iranians, talks whose outcome is very uncertain, since the Saudis believe that the Iranians want to encourage the Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia to erupt. While the total number of Shi’ites inside Saudi Arabia is uncertain (probably circa 20 percent), they are concentrated in the southeastern corner, precisely the area of largest oil production.

About the only regime with whom the Saudis are on good terms today is the Israelis. They share the sense of being besieged and fearful. And they both engage in the same short-run political tactics.

The fact is that the Saudi regime has internal feet of clay. The inner elite is now shifting from the so-called second generation, the sons of Ibn Saud (the few surviving sons being quite aged), to the grandsons. They are a large and untested group who might help to bring the house down in their competition to get their hands on the spoils, which are still considerable.

The Saudis have good reason to feel besieged and fearful.

 

by Immanuel Wallerstein

 

Saudi Arabia: Besieged and Fearful

Saudi Arabia: Beseiged and Fearful

Commentary No. 372, Mar. 1, 2014

“Saudi Arabia: Besieged and Fearful”

The Saudi regime has long been considered a pillar of political stability in the Middle East, a country that commanded respect and prudence from all its neighbors. This is no longer true, and the first ones to recognize this are those who are important internal players in the regime. Today, they feel besieged on all sides and quite fearful of the consequences of turmoil in the Middle East for the survival of the regime.

This turn-around derives from the history of Saudi Arabia. The kingdom itself is not very old. It was created in 1932 through the unification of two smaller kingdoms on the Arabian peninsula, Hejaz and Nejd. It was a poor, isolated part of the world that had liberated itself from Ottoman rule during the First World War, and came then under the paracolonial aegis of Great Britain.

The kingdom was organized in religious terms by a version of Sunni Islam called Wahabism (or Salafism). Wahabism is a very strict puritanical doctrine that was notably intolerant not only of religions other than Islam but of other versions of Islam itself.

The discovery of oil would transform the geopolitical role of Saudi Arabia. It was an American firm, later called Aramco – not a British firm – that succeeded in getting the rights for prospection in 1938. Aramco sought assistance from the U.S. government to exploit the fields.

One consequence of Aramco’s interest combined with President Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of the geopolitical future of the United States was a now famous, then little noticed, meeting of Roosevelt and the ruler of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, on Feb. 14, 1945 aboard a U.S. destroyer in the Red Sea. Despite Roosevelt’s grave illness (he was to die two months later) and Ibn Saud’s lack of any previous experience with Western culture and technology, the two leaders managed to forge a genuine mutual respect. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s attempt to undo this in a meeting he immediately arranged soon after that turned out to be quite counter-productive, as he was seen as “arrogant” by Ibn Saud.

While much of the five-hour private discussion between Roosevelt and Ibn Saud was devoted to the question of Zionism and Palestine – about which they had quite different views – the longer-run real consequence was a de facto arrangement in which Saudi Arabia coordinated and controlled world oil production policies to the benefit of the United States, in return for which the United States offered long-term guarantees of military security for Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia became a de facto paracolonial dependency of the United States, which however permitted the very extensive royal family to grow wealthy and “modernize” – not only in their ability to use technology but even in a cultural sense, bending in their own lives many of the restrictions of Wahabite Islam. It was an arrangement both sides appreciated and nourished. It worked well until the latter half of the first decade of 2000. Two major events upset the arrangement. One was the geopolitical decline of the United States. The second was the so-called Arab spring and what the Saudis regarded as its negative consequences throughout the Arab world.

From Saudi Arabia’s point of view, the relationship with the United States soured for a number of reasons. First, the Saudis felt that the announced “Asia/Pacific” reorientation of the United States, replacing the long-dominant “Europe/Atlantic” orientation, implied a withdrawal from active involvement in the politics of the Middle East.

The Saudis saw further evidence of this reorientation in the willingness of the United States to enter into negotiations with both the Syrian and the Iranian governments. Similarly, they were dismayed by the announced troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the clear reluctance to engage in another “war” in the Middle East. They felt they could no longer count on U.S. military protection, should it be needed. They therefore decided to play their cards independently of the United States and indeed against U.S. preferences.

Meanwhile, their relations with other Islamic groups became more and more difficult. They were extremely wary of any groups linked to al-Qaeda. And for good reason, since al-Qaeda had long made it clear that it sought the overthrow of the existing Saudi regime. One thing that worried them especially was the Saudi citizens who went to Syria to engage in jihad. They feared, remembering past history, that these individuals would return to Saudi Arabia, ready to subvert it from within. Indeed, on February 3, by royal decree of the monarch himself (a rare occurrence), the Saudis ordered all their citizens to return. They sought to control how they returned, and intended to disperse them along the frontlines, to minimize their ability to create internal organizations. It seems doubtful that these jihadis will obey. They consider this edict an abandonment by the Saudi regime.

In addition to the potential adherents of al-Qaeda, the Saudi regime has long had a difficult relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. While the latter’s version of Islam is also Salafist, and in many ways similar to Wahabism, there have been two crucial differences. The Muslim Brotherhood’s principal base has been in Egypt whereas the Wahabite base has been in Saudi Arabia. So this has always been in part a contest as to the locale of the dominant geopolitical force in the Middle East.

There is a second difference. Because of its history, the Muslim Brotherhood has always regarded monarchs with a jaundiced eye whereas Wahabism has been tied closely to the Saudi monarchy. The Saudi regime does not welcome therefore the spread of a movement that wouldn’t care if the Saudi monarchy were overturned.

Whereas once they had good relations with the Baathist regime in Syria, this is now impossible because of the intensified Sunni-Shi’ite polarization in the Middle East.

The Saudi lack of appreciation for secularists, sympathizers of al-Qaeda, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Shi’ite Baathist regime does not leave any obvious group to support in Syria today. But supporting no one does not project an image of leadership. So the Saudi regime sends some arms to a few groups and pretends to do much more.

Is the great enemy really Iran? Yes and no. But to limit the damage, the Saudi regime is secretly engaged in talks with the Iranians, talks whose outcome is very uncertain, since the Saudis believe that the Iranians want to encourage the Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia to erupt. While the total number of Shi’ites inside Saudi Arabia is uncertain (probably circa 20 percent), they are concentrated in the southeastern corner, precisely the area of largest oil production.

About the only regime with whom the Saudis are on good terms today is the Israelis. They share the sense of being besieged and fearful. And they both engage in the same short-run political tactics.

The fact is that the Saudi regime has internal feet of clay. The inner elite is now shifting from the so-called second generation, the sons of Ibn Saud (the few surviving sons being quite aged), to the grandsons. They are a large and untested group who might help to bring the house down in their competition to get their hands on the spoils, which are still considerable.

The Saudis have good reason to feel besieged and fearful.

 

by Immanuel Wallerstein

 

Saudi Arabia threatens to blockade Qatar over terrorism – The Irish Times – Tue, Mar 11, 2014

Saudi Arabia threatens to blockade Qatar over terrorism – The Irish Times – Tue, Mar 11, 2014.

Riyadh wants to contain radical groups and media at odds with foreign jihad policy

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal attends  an Arab foreign ministers emergency meeting to discuss the Syrian crisis  at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo yesterday. Photograph: Reuters Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal attends an Arab foreign ministers emergency meeting to discuss the Syrian crisis at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

Tue, Mar 11, 2014, 01:00

First published:Tue, Mar 11, 2014, 01:00

Saudi Arabia has threatened to blockade neighbouring Qatar by air, land and sea unless Doha cuts ties with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, closes global channel al-Jazeera, and expels local branches of the US Brookings Institution and RandCorporation think tanks.

The threat was issued by Riyadh before it withdrew its ambassador to Doha and branded as “terrorist organisations” the brotherhood, Lebanon’s Hizbullah and al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Although the kingdom has long been the font of Sunni ultra-orthodox Salafism and jihadism, it now seeks to contain radical movements and media and other organisations giving them publicity.

King Abdullah has decreed that any Saudi who fights abroad could be jailed for 20-30 years, and those who join, endorse or provide moral or material support to groups classified as “terrorist” or “extremist” will risk prison sentences of five to 30 years.

The decree followed the gazetting of a sweeping new anti- terrorism law prohibiting acts that disturb public order, promote insecurity, undermine national unity or harm the reputation of the kingdom.
Contradiction
While the law and decree are meant to curb jihadi operations on Saudi soil as well as counter non-jihadi dissidence, these legal instruments appear to contradict government policy on foreign jihad.

While 400 Saudis have returned home from Syrian battlefields, another 1,000-2,000 are believed to be fighting with jihadi groups funded by the government as well as wealthy Saudis, Kuwaitis and Qataris.

An informed source speculated the decree sends a message to Saudis: “Don’t come home. Fight unto death or victory.”

For half a century Saudi Arabia used its oil wealth to promote Muslim fundamentalists, notably the brotherhood and its offshoots, to counter the secular pan-Arab nationalism preached by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Syrian and Iraqi Baath parties.

The kingdom provided refuge for brotherhood officials and activists from Egypt and other countries where governments were battling the movement. However, in recent years, Riyadh fell out with the brotherhood because it did not follow Saudi dictation.

After Shia clerics overthrew the shah of Iran in 1979 and tried to export their “Islamic revolution” to the wider Muslim world, which is 85 per cent Sunni, Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the guardian of Sunni orthodoxy, turned to evangelism.

The object has been to convert Muslims to “Wahhabism,” the Saudi puritanical interpretation of Islam. The Saudi campaign in Syria is against Damascus’s ally Shia Iran as well as godless, secular Baathism.

The rise in the price of oil since the 1970s has enabled the Saudis to train clerics and build schools, Islamic centres, universities and mosques around the world.

Traditionally gentle, tolerant, mystic Sufis, who had served as Islam’s missionaries, have been replaced by narrow, harsh Wahhabi preachers and imams. Over the past 30 years the kingdom has spent more than $100 billion (€72 billion) on promoting Wahhabism.

Even before the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia – partnered by the US Central Intelligence Agency – trained and armed mujahideen (holy warriors) from Afghanistan and across the Muslim world to fight the Soviet Afghan republic. After the war ended with the Soviet withdrawal from that country in 1989, veterans of this conflict fanned out to fight in Bosnia, AlgeriaLibya, the Caucasus and elsewhere.
Blowback
Fearing blowback from Saudi jihadis engaged in the Syrian war, Riyadh has recently given the Syrian file to the interior minister Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, who has been in charge of an anti-terrorism campaign in the kingdom and Yemen, replacing intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

The Wall Street Journal has quoted a key Saudi source who said the shift suggests that Riyadh could rely more on diplomatic than military means by exerting pressure onRussia, Iran and Hizbullah, Damascus’s chief supporters, to resolve the conflict by removing President Bashar al-Assad.

Nevertheless, Riyadh also favours providing shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to “vetted” rebels, well aware these weapons could fall into al-Qaeda hands.

Arab States “Unprecedentedly” Withdraw Ambassadors From Qatar After “Stormy” Meeting | Zero Hedge

Arab States “Unprecedentedly” Withdraw Ambassadors From Qatar After “Stormy” Meeting | Zero Hedge.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain said on Wednesday they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar after it had not implemented an agreement among Gulf Arab countries not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs. The move, unprecedented in the 30-year history of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), follows the Bahrain state minister for information Samira Rajab saying she has evidence of Qatari media provocation against her country. As Gulf News reports, Qatar has been a maverick in the region, backing Islamist groups in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East that are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility by some fellow GCC members. Not a good sign for the oil-generating center of the world.

Via Gulf News,

The move by the three countries, conveyed in a joint statement, is unprecedented in the three-decade history of the Gulf Cooperation Council, an alliance of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Oman.

The statement said GCC members had signed an agreement on November 23 not to back “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals – via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media”.

GCC foreign ministers had met in Riyadh on Tuesday to try to persuade Qatar to implement the agreement, it said. Media reports described the meeting as “stormy”.

“But unfortunately, these efforts did not result in Qatar’s agreement to abide by these measures, which prompted the three countries to start what they saw as necessary, to protect their security and stability, by withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar starting from today, March 5 2013,” the statement said.

The nations have also asked Qatar “not to support any party aiming to threaten security and stability of any GCC member,” it added, citing media campaigns against them in particular.

Media reports have said that Shaikh Tamim was given an ultimatum by Saudi Arabia in the November meeting in Riyadh that was facilitated by the Kuwaiti emir, Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmed. The new emir was told to change Qatar’s ways and bring the country in line with the rest of the GCC with regards to regional issues. The GCC has in particular been concerned about Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, its close relations with Turkey, its opposition to the new regime in Egypt and its perceived support for Al Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Relations between Qatar and the UAE have been rocky lately. A top UAE court on Monday sentenced Qatari national Mahmoud Al Jidah to seven years in prison followed by deportation after he was convicted with two Emiratis of raising funds for a banned local Muslim Brotherhood-linked group, Al Islah. The move was criticised by Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, which is close to the government.

Early in February, in a rare move for Gulf countries, the UAE announced that it had summoned Qatar’s ambassador in Abu Dhabi for remarks made by controversial Egyptian-Qatari cleric Yousef Al Qaradawi. Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, expressed the UAE Government’s “extreme resentment” over Al Qaradawi’s statement. Speaking live on Qatari state TV from a Doha mosque, Al Qaradawi criticised the UAE for supporting the current Egyptian government. He claimed that the UAE “has always been opposed to Islamic rule”.

We have held back so that our neighbour can clearly reject such insult, extend sufficient clarifications and guarantee that such provocation and defamation will not recur,” Gargash said then.

Qatar, which used to enjoy close relations with Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Turkey and Bashar Al Assad’s Syria, has in recent years found itself isolated after relations with Hezbollah, Iran and Al Assad deteriorated. The GCC’s decision is expected to further isolate the new emir.

Arab States "Unprecedentedly" Withdraw Ambassadors From Qatar After "Stormy" Meeting | Zero Hedge

Arab States “Unprecedentedly” Withdraw Ambassadors From Qatar After “Stormy” Meeting | Zero Hedge.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain said on Wednesday they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar after it had not implemented an agreement among Gulf Arab countries not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs. The move, unprecedented in the 30-year history of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), follows the Bahrain state minister for information Samira Rajab saying she has evidence of Qatari media provocation against her country. As Gulf News reports, Qatar has been a maverick in the region, backing Islamist groups in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East that are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility by some fellow GCC members. Not a good sign for the oil-generating center of the world.

Via Gulf News,

The move by the three countries, conveyed in a joint statement, is unprecedented in the three-decade history of the Gulf Cooperation Council, an alliance of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Oman.

The statement said GCC members had signed an agreement on November 23 not to back “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals – via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media”.

GCC foreign ministers had met in Riyadh on Tuesday to try to persuade Qatar to implement the agreement, it said. Media reports described the meeting as “stormy”.

“But unfortunately, these efforts did not result in Qatar’s agreement to abide by these measures, which prompted the three countries to start what they saw as necessary, to protect their security and stability, by withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar starting from today, March 5 2013,” the statement said.

The nations have also asked Qatar “not to support any party aiming to threaten security and stability of any GCC member,” it added, citing media campaigns against them in particular.

Media reports have said that Shaikh Tamim was given an ultimatum by Saudi Arabia in the November meeting in Riyadh that was facilitated by the Kuwaiti emir, Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmed. The new emir was told to change Qatar’s ways and bring the country in line with the rest of the GCC with regards to regional issues. The GCC has in particular been concerned about Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, its close relations with Turkey, its opposition to the new regime in Egypt and its perceived support for Al Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Relations between Qatar and the UAE have been rocky lately. A top UAE court on Monday sentenced Qatari national Mahmoud Al Jidah to seven years in prison followed by deportation after he was convicted with two Emiratis of raising funds for a banned local Muslim Brotherhood-linked group, Al Islah. The move was criticised by Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, which is close to the government.

Early in February, in a rare move for Gulf countries, the UAE announced that it had summoned Qatar’s ambassador in Abu Dhabi for remarks made by controversial Egyptian-Qatari cleric Yousef Al Qaradawi. Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, expressed the UAE Government’s “extreme resentment” over Al Qaradawi’s statement. Speaking live on Qatari state TV from a Doha mosque, Al Qaradawi criticised the UAE for supporting the current Egyptian government. He claimed that the UAE “has always been opposed to Islamic rule”.

We have held back so that our neighbour can clearly reject such insult, extend sufficient clarifications and guarantee that such provocation and defamation will not recur,” Gargash said then.

Qatar, which used to enjoy close relations with Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Turkey and Bashar Al Assad’s Syria, has in recent years found itself isolated after relations with Hezbollah, Iran and Al Assad deteriorated. The GCC’s decision is expected to further isolate the new emir.

Canada Should Keep Training Military in Afghanistan | Lauryn Oates

Canada Should Keep Training Military in Afghanistan | Lauryn Oates.

Lauryn Oates

Human Rights Activist and Development Worker

Canada Should Keep Training Military in Afghanistan

Posted: 02/28/2014 9:10 am

Foreign policy towards Afghanistan has never been known for its farsightedness. From the Soviet Union’s decision to invade the country in 1979 or America’s response in covertly arming the Islamist mujahedin, to Pakistan’s assistance incubating the Taliban, the policies of stakeholder countries towards Afghanistan have often been characterized by negligence, and the consequences have been dire for Afghanistan and these same countries.

The past decade of the international community’s efforts to bring security and development to Afghanistan has also had its share of shortsightedness. But where there has been dogged, long-term investment that accounts for lessons learned and that aims to build systems from the ground up, recognizing that this takes time, there have been successes. These successes are such that the country has propelled forward despite an ongoing insurgency, a government mired in corruption, and much uncertainty over future security arrangements beyond this year.

The change can be seen in skyrocketing human development indicators, the visibility of women in public life, the thriving media sector, and Afghans’ ambitious pursuit of education, from the spike in primary enrolment to the rapid spread of post-secondary institutions throughout the country. And despite a highly centralized government still liable to patronage under an increasingly unstable leader, there are still understated processes of democratization underway. One such process is the professionalization and strengthening of Afghan-led security.

Professionalizing the security sector is not only about security, but is also critical to democratic development. The Afghan police and army, together known as the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), represent government at the ground level, where the state interfaces with citizens.

These institutions serve as a kind of barometer for public confidence in government. That’s why it’s a hopeful sign that 88% of Afghans report having confidence in the Afghan National Army (ANA) while 91% say that the ANA is helping to improve security in the country, according to the 2013 Survey of the Afghan People. These confidence levels have remained consistent since 2007, and are assessed to be because the presence of the ANSF “has brought at least some sense of law and order to the country.”

That has been no small feat. These institutions have been largely built from scratch, with little to draw from the pre-2002 Taliban Government’s style of security, which consisted of ragtag bands of illiterate religious police, menacingly dangling off the backs of pick-up trucks, on the prowl for those committing “moral crimes.” With no uniforms aside from their black turbans and kohl-smudged eyes, yielding whips and Kalashnikovs, they gave the local population every reason to fear them, and little sense of being served or protected by professionals enforcing the law.

Besides attempting to change the very purpose and spirit of the police force and army in the aftermath of the Taliban, the current effort has required a heavy infusion of equipping, supplying, and training a force now numbering some 350,000 Afghans, including a growing number of women police and soldiers.

Canada has been part of the team of 37 nations undertaking NATO’s training mission of the ANSF, providing 950 Canadian trainers and support personnel who have delivered training in core skills for the forces, as well as leadership and other areas, in Kabul and at satellite sites in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif.

In 2011, literacy became part of the required training for Afghan forces, and the successes in this area have been among the most remarkable. Consider that prior to the start of the training mission only 13,000 ANSF had even the most rudimentary literacy, while nearly all ANSF have now either completed literacy training or are currently enrolled (according to ISAF, as at January 2014, 233,643 have completed Level 1, 98,648 completed Level 2, and 76,834 completed Level 3, the level for functional literacy).

In 2012, the Darulaman Literacy Centre opened at the Regional Military Training Centre in Kabul. The literacy component of training is crucial because literate police and soldiers take themselves seriously: they think of themselves as educated professionals, serving their people, as opposed to preying on them. Further, literacy is the steppingstone to learning trades like signals or artillery, allowing the further professionalizing of the ANSF.

All of this is akin to a transformation of some consequence in terms of state building. Yet to be durable, this work must continue, for at least another two years, according to NATO. But at the end of March, Canadian military personnel will leave Afghanistan. That is too soon. As the second largest contributing nation to the training mission after the US, Canada’s contributions to this capacity development are too valuable to withdraw this close to the finish line. Canada should renew its training mission for another term, and continue contributing to the Afghan mission in an area in which it clearly excels.

NATO civilian leader Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called the “zero option”, of having no international forces left in Afghanistan simply “not an option”, stressing the need for continued capacity and training support in particular, to get the ANSF to a point where it can reliably and independently provide security for the citizens of Afghanistan.

I recently asked Canadian Major-General Dean Milner, Commander of the NATO training mission, how far the Afghan security forces have come in their development, and how far they have left to go. “They are well past the half-way point” Milner told me, “with just a few more years of financial and practical assistance from the international community they should be capable of sustaining themselves. They defeat the Taliban in every tactical engagement, but now they need assistance with more complex skills such as building their Air Force and their logistical and maintenance systems.”

With President Karzai delaying the signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) there is fevered speculation that NATO troops will leave the country by 2015 and Afghanistan will once again return to chaos. When asked for his view, Major-General Milner was optimistic the BSA would be signed. “The Loya Jirga overwhelmingly supported the immediate signing and every serious contender in the presidential election has committed to signing the BSA if elected,” said Milner. “It would be unfortunate if the support of the international community were to come to an end after the Afghans have progressed so far.” Milner likened it to a swimmer making it 60% of the way across the channel when he gets tired and turns back.

It’s often said that Canada has expended blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Some say this to argue that we’ve given enough to a troubled country on the other side of the world that we had little to do with prior to 2003. But many who know Afghanistan well, and who, like me, have seen how close we are to reaching some enduring stability there, would say this is exactly why we have to see this through. Cutting short the goal of building a professional armed forces after years of investment, when valuable gains need to be protected, when the state’s institutions are within sight of being fully functional, and when the Taliban arerunning out of money to continue their insurgency would continue the pattern of shortsightedness that has too long afflicted the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan. Canada should stay, and continue to add value to the effort of training and educating Afghan soldiers and police. We have given too much and come too far to walk out this close to the finish line, and with so much progress at stake.

Commentary: Iran and Saudi Arabia: A Power Struggle and A Way Forward | The National Interest

Commentary: Iran and Saudi Arabia: A Power Struggle and A Way Forward | The National Interest.

|

February 27, 2014

Al Arabiya, the news agency owned by Saudi Arabia, recently reported that Frederic Hof, a State Department official, has saidthat he was told by Iranian diplomats that their country considers Saudi Arabia, not Israel or the United States, as the main threat to its national security. This is important, but not new to Iranians. Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, the relations between the two nations have been strained. Saudi Arabia has always helped in propagating the Salafi-Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam and considers itself the guardian of Islam’s holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina, but the Shiite-led revolution in Iran challenged its authority and created a competitor and alternative for what it preaches.

The first challenge to Saudi Arabia after the Iranian revolution was about Palestine. The Islamic Republic considered itself the most important supporter of the Palestinians, constantly espousing the view that the Arab governments are puppets of the United States and, hence, do not react strongly to occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel. This could not be considered as mere Shiite propaganda, as Iran was giving funds and weapons to Sunni Palestinian groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. To protect itself against Israel and to expand its influence in the region, Iran also helped in the founding of Lebanese Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia’s Support for Iraq during its War with Iran

Less than two years after the Islamic Revolution, Saddam Hussein’s regime invaded Iran. The Arab nations of the Persian Gulf provided Iraq with tens of billions of dollars in aid. During the first 20 months of the war Saudi Arabia was giving $1 billion a month. A report by the CIA stated that Western powers gave Iraq $35 billion, while Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates provided another $30-40 billion. Another report indicated that the trio gave Iraq $30.9, $8.2, and $8 billion, respectively.

Breakdown of the Diplomatic Relations

But, two events during the war led to termination of diplomatic relations between the two countries, both tied to Iranian pilgrims to Mecca. In his daily memoirs of the war, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wrote on 11 August 1986, “[Interior Minister} Mr. [Ali Mohammad] Besharati informed me that Saudi Arabia has announced that the explosive T.N.T. has been found in the luggage of several Iranian pilgrims.” On 28 August 1986 he wrote that Saudi Arabia had released 110 of the 113 of the Iranians that it had detained, and Mehdi Karroubi, a representative of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was to thank King Fahd of Saudi Arabia for their release.

In his resignation letter to then President Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 5 September 1988, former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Mousavi wrote, “I became aware of the explosives in Saudi Arabia only after they had been discovered. Unfortunately, and despite all the damage that such moves have inflicted on our nation, they can still happen at any moment and in the name of the government.” In a letter to Khomeini dated 10 October 1986, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri who was Khomeini’s deputy at that time, wrote , “During Haj [Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca] the Sepaah [IRGC] commits inappropriate acts, abusing the luggage of old men and women without informing them, and making a bad name for Iran and the Revolution, so much so that Mr. Karroubi must ask [King] Fahd for a favor [to release the arrested people].” In response, Khomeini’s son Ahmad wrote, “Is there any other way to carry out revolutionary acts in Mecca? Sometimes such acts go smoothly, sometime they create problems. I do not necessarily support them, but this is typically how they are done.”

Then, in a demonstration on 31 July 1987 in Saudi Arabia, Iranian pilgrims chanted “death to America” and “death to Israel.” The Saudi security forces opened fire on the demonstrators, killing 402, of whom 275 were Iranians, and injuring 649. Saudi Arabia closed its embassy in Tehran and cut off its diplomatic relations.

Resumption of Diplomatic Relations

The Iran-Iraq war ended in July 1988, but on 2 August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait and annexed it to its territory. The Arab nations of the Persian Gulf asked Iran for help. On 23 August 1990 Kuwait’s foreign minister visited Iran, followed by Saudi’s foreign minister’s visit on October 28. Then Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati spoke by phone with Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, on 13 February 1991, and a few days later the two met in Geneva. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were resumed on 20 March 1991.

Terrorists attacked the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia on 25 June 1996, where U.S. military personnel were living, killing 19 and injuring 400. President Bill Clinton ordered the Pentagonto update its plans for bombing Iran, but did not order any attacks. The next year the reformist Mohammad Khatami was elected Iran’s president and Clinton wanted to pursue diplomacy with Iran. Saudi officials believed that the bombing had been done by domestic dissidents, who might have received some help from Iran. A report in 2003 indicated that the attacks had been carried out by Al Qaeda. In his memoirs, Clinton wrote that during summer of 1996 there was no definitive evidence as to who had carried out the attacks.

Saudi Arabia Demand Bombing of Iran

Saudi Arabia views Iran as its most dangerous enemy. A document released by WikiLeaks indicates that in a meeting in April 2008 between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, then U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, the King urged the United States to bomb Iran. King Abdullah had reportedly said that the U.S. “must cut off the head of the snake,” namely, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Another secret cable released by WikiLeaks indicated that in December 2005 King Abdullah lashed out at George W. Bush’s administration for ignoring his warnings against invading Iraq in 2003, noting that the new Iraqi government was dominated by Shiites with close ties to Iran. “Whereas in the past the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Saddam Hussein had agreed on the need to contain Iran, U.S. policy had now given Iraq to Iran as a ‘gift on a golden platter,’” the U.S. Embassy cable quoted the king as complaining. And, in his memoirs Bush wrote that both Israel and Saudi Arabia pressured him to attack Iran, and that when he met with King Abdullah in January 2008, he told him that he was angry with the National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007 that stated that Iran did not have an active nuclear-weapons program. Saudi Arabia has also always supported imposition of crippling economic sanctions on Iran, which are now in effect.

Saudi Arabia Confronting the Arab Spring

Saudi Arabia has been opposed to the Arab Spring, because it was meant to replace dictatorships with democratic systems that respect human rights. Former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Prince Turki al-Faisal declared that Arab Spring is a cause of “ruin and destruction.” The Arab Spring is “evil,” declared a member of the Grand Oulemas, Sheikh Saleh al-Fawzan, and Saudi officials have referred to the Arab Spring as fitnasedition. On the other hand, Saud al-Faisal declared arming the opposition in Syria “a duty.” Thus, Saudi Arabia began countering the democratic aspirations of the Arab people by carrying out major plans for financial and military backing to those that it saw fit. Some of what the Saudis have done is as follows:

One is transforming the struggle for democracy to a sectarian war between the Shiites and Sunnis. The sectoring war has been consolidated, leading to more religious killings. But, the Islamic Republic fiercely opposes such a war because Shiites are a minority in the Islamic world, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has called Arab Spring an “Islamic awakening” against Israel and the United States. Muslims killing other Muslims also benefits only their enemies, a point emphasized by Khamenei time and again, who has warned against what he calls “Islamic takfiri terrorists.” A takfiri is a Muslim that accuses other Muslims of apostasy, which is what some Sunnis do routinely against the Shiites. In addition, Iran lacks the resources to fight the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia, even if it were inclined to—during 2012-2013, for example, Saudi Arabia increased its military budget by 111 percent, totaling $59.6 billion in 2013. Iran cannot match this.

Second, the secular regime of President Bashar al-Assad tried to violently put down its opponents. Russia, China and Iran are allies of Assad’s regime, but the U.S., its European allies, a majority of Arab nations and Saudi Arabia want to overthrow the regime. Thus, the war in Syria, in addition to being sectarian, has also become one of vicegerency, one in which each side fights on behalf of its supporters. In the process, Syria has been destroyed and tens of thousands of people have been killed. It has become a great magnet to, and a center of terrorism in the world, and the Salafi fundamentalists that are supported by Saudi Arabia and are the enemies of democracy and human rights have become stronger. Saudi Arabia is still pursuing the fall of the Assad regime and its replacement by the groups that it supports. It is also opposed to Iran’s participation in the Geneva peace conference. Iran, while having no particular attachment to Bashar al-Assad, views his leaving the scene as the complete collapse of his regime and the dominance of Al Qaeda-linked groups, which it opposes.

Third, Saudi Arabia also opposed the Arab Spring in Bahrain, dispatching its troops there and helping the ruling Sunni minority to violently crackdown on the protestors, hence playing the most important role in the defeat of Arab Spring in Bahrain.

Fourth, Saudi Arabia has been an ardent supporter of Egypt’s military regime that staged the July 2013 coup and overthrew the regime of President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. It has given the Egyptian regime billions of dollars in aid. The Brotherhood did have close relations with Iran either. In fact, it is in Iran’s interest to see the Middle East run by secular governments, as religious ones do not tolerate one another.

Finally, the Shiite power in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen provoked Saudi Arabia and, thus, it has transformed the three nations to its battlegrounds with Iran. In 2013 alone, 8868 Iraqis were killed in the fight with Al Qaeda and Salafi groups, and another 1013 in January of this year. Iraq has repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia of supporting the terrorists. 45 percent of Yemen’s population is Shiite, and that has turned Yemen to another stage for the war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Many believe that the Yemeni government is under the control of the Saudis.

Saudi Arabia Support for Terrorism in Iran

There have been many reports on Saudi Arabia’s support for the rise of new Salafi groups in Iran’s provinces that are on its borders with Iraq and Pakistan. For example, Jundallah, a Baluchi separatist group, is one that employs the language and methods of Salafi groups. And there are reports indicating Salafi jihad In Iran’s province of Kurdistan.

Saudi Arabia’s Opposition to the Geneva Nuclear Accord

Saudi Arabia has been concerned about a rapprochement between Iran and the U.S., and the Geneva Accord between Iran and P5+1 further frustrated it. Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt,acknowledged recently the sectarian nature of the war in Syria, and said that Iran and Saudi Arabia have never liked each other, but their current enmity toward one another is at its most intense level ever. The U.S., she says, must explain to the Saudis its policy toward Iran on a daily basis. The President will also go to Saudi Arabia in March to further explain this policy. Jordan and Saudi Arabia’s kings have told President Obama that he should try to end Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy—but if that does not succeed, that he should try to achieve the goal through crippling economic sanctions and, if necessary, military strikes.

The Way Forward

Given Saudi Arabia’s enmity toward Iran, what can Iran do to lower the tension?

One is to improve its relations with the United States and other Western powers. Friendly relations between Iran and the U.S. are in the national interests of both countries. Confronting the terrorist groups, and addressing the crises in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the region put the two nations in the same front.

Second, Iran must improve its relations with the countries of the region. This entails recognizing the legitimate interests of these countries in having national security, political independence and sovereignty. Proposing practical ways of ridding the region of weapons of mass destruction, guaranteeing collective security for all, and agreeing not to resort to force for solving problems between the nations of the region will greatly help the cause. Turki al-Faisal has described the Saudis views about the principles of a collective agreement on the security of the region. Iran must also do the same and begin negotiating with Saudi Arabia and the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf.

The fault lines of the regions are between democracy and dictatorship. Every regime in the region is trapped by corruption, repression and violent crackdowns on their own people. No problem will be solved without democratization of the region. The Islamic Republic too faces similar problems, and cannot escape them without recognizing the legitimate rights of its people—respecting their votes and their rights as citizens and as humans. Iran’s present rulers can also be a part of this process, to the extent that their social base of support indicates. Either all the political forces and groups in Iran, including the current ruling group, accept pluralism in Iran or the repressed aspirations and demands of the Iranian people will, at some point, lead to social explosion and possibly another revolution.

If the West, led by the United States, supports peace, stability and elimination of terrorism in the Middle East, it must set aside its double standards. Protesting the gross violations of human rights and repression of the dictatorial regime must be uniformly done, without differentiating between allies and foes. The West must support the transition process to democracy and respect for human rights, but the experience with Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya—which has been practically partitioned into two parts—and Syria taught everyone a great lesson: military intervention cannot democratize any country. Such interventions have destroyed the invaded nations, and helped terrorism grow.

In a recent interview with the BBC, former CIA director and secretary of defense RobertGates questioned whether “artificial” states in the Middle East “like Libya, Iraq and Syria can be held together absent of repression,” because in his opinion they were made up of “historically adversarial groups.” Thus, Gates seems to have recognized that regime change based on military intervention may lead to the disintegration of the invaded countries. Is it not sad and depressing that after twelve years of intervention in that region, invading Iraq and Afghanistan for “democratizing the Middle East” and imposing a terrible fate on the people of the region, a statesman like Gates talks about the region in this fashion?

Akbar Ganji is an Iranian investigative journalist and dissident. He was imprisoned in Tehran from 2000 to 2006, and his writings are currently banned in Iran.

 
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