Showing posts with label Saudi Arabia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saudi Arabia. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Russia, China And Saudi Arabia: Democracy's Headwinds

The US has already made it explicit it seeks no regime change in Russia, it does not want to shake the applecart in China, and only wants more oil from Saudi Arabia. That is the restated official policy. And it is disappointing but understandable.

The hope lies not with this or that government but with the masses.

Democracy's headwinds need to blow. They need to blow all the way to organizing elections to a new constituent aseembly right inside the United States of America. America needs a new constitution. America needs a Philadelphia all over again.

If Putin needs to go, fine. If China needs to shake, fine. If Saudi Arabia is to become a republic, so be it. And if a new America is 100 states, then I am glad. This country needs to assert one person one vote democracy at home before it can lecture the world.

Cyber warriors not in communication with any government are already on the march. Half a million are ready to attack Russia. What Putin has already done in Ukraine is sufficient reason. Peace talks can happen, must happen, but Putin must go.

When you talk of political reform, you mean to suggest you want the best for that country. China needs political reform because there is no other way for it to go back to a 10% growth rate. The patriotic thing for the CCP to do is to break itself up voluntarily like AT&T.

Yemen is its own Ukraine. It has been the prevailing racism in international affairs that Ukraine is front and center but Yemen is nowhere to be seen. That has to change. Just like the fight for democracy in Russia is taking place in Ukraine, the fight for democracy in Saudi Arabia seems to be taking place in Yemen.

Assad belongs at The Hague. His war crimes can be proven with simple searches on Google Images.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

March 9: Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Brooklyn

Harris heads to Poland amid turbulence over jets for Ukraine Harris is slated to meet on Thursday with Polish President Andrzej Sebastian Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki as well as with Ukrainians who have fled to Poland. She’ll also meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while in Warsaw. Trudeau has been in Europe this week meeting with Ukraine allies. ...... Harris will travel on Friday to Bucharest, where she’s to meet Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. ........ Some 2 million people have fled Ukraine, and more than half of the refugees have arrived in Poland. ..... more lethal drones could be another option to help provide air power to the Ukrainians .

Fact and Mythmaking Blend in Ukraine’s Information War Experts say stories like the Ghost of Kyiv and Snake Island, both of questionable veracity, are propaganda or morale boosters, or perhaps both. ........ TikTok videos with the hashtag #ghostofkyiv reached 200 million views. ...... “Why can’t we just let people believe some things?” one Twitter user replied. “If the Russians believe it, it brings fear. If the Ukrainians believe it, it gives them hope.” ......... “If Ukraine had no messages of the righteousness of its cause, the popularity of its cause, the valor of its heroes, the suffering of its populace, then it would lose,” said Peter W. Singer, a strategist and senior fellow at New America, a think tank in Washington. “Not just the information war, but it would lose the overall war.” .......... Since Russian state media is still calling the conflict a “special military operation” and not a war — in line with the description used by President Vladimir V. Putin — state broadcasters are left “trying to talk about a war that is apparently not happening,” Dr. Garner said. .

Congress finalizes a $13.6 billion aid package to Ukraine, doubling the White House’s initial request. reflected the furious backlash in Congress to Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine ........ sending money and weapons. ...... The bill would send $6.5 billion to the Pentagon, to cover the costs of deploying American troops to Eastern-flank allies and providing Ukrainian forces with intelligence support, as well as to backfill weapons the United States has already sent to the government in Kyiv. ....... a shipment that represented the largest single authorized transfer of arms from U.S. military warehouses to another country. ........ $1.4 billion to humanitarian support for the two million refugees who have left Ukraine. Another $2.65 billion would go to the United States Agency for International Development to provide emergency food assistance and health care to Ukrainians and other affected people in the region. .

The Kremlin accuses the U.S. of ‘economic war,’ but looks ahead to talks with Ukraine. A meeting scheduled for Thursday in Turkey between Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, will be the first face-to-face encounter between the countries’ top diplomats in the nearly two weeks since Russian forces invaded Ukraine. .

Russia calls for return to 'peaceful co-existence' with U.S. like during Cold War . .

An omicron 'subvariant' is doubling in NY, just as mandates lift Known as BA.2, this virus is an offshoot, or sublineage, of the omicron variant that just swept through New York State. It’s like a kid sister, and some experts even call it “Omicron 2.” But it spreads about 30% faster than its sibling — BA.1 — and is just as severe, according to the World Health Organization. .......

BA.2 is doubling in proportion statewide every two weeks and represents about one in 10 sequenced cases.

...... Since omicron’s discovery in late November, the state has recorded 2.2 million COVID-19 cases — its biggest surge of the pandemic. Despite the immunity from those infections and 75% of New York residents being fully vaccinated, BA.2 is finding space to thrive. Wastewater surveillance in New York City is now showing an increase in coronavirus readings over recent weeks. ....... When BA.2 hit Denmark this winter, for example, it caused a second surge and lifted daily deaths to a new summit — mere weeks after the country had peaked with its sibling. But BA.2 is also spreading through the U.K. and South Africa without reversing progress against the disease. ...... every case of the coronavirus offers an opportunity for developing chronic symptoms — or long COVID.

Saudi crown prince snubbed Biden's request to discuss the oil crisis brought about by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, report says . "There was some expectation of a phone call, but it didn't happen," a US official told The Journal. "It was part of turning on the spigot [of Saudi oil]." ......... in February, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, the Saudis declined a request from the US to increase production, as it could upset Russia, CNN reported. Saudi Arabia and Russia are members of the OPEC+ oil-producing alliance. ....... After Biden took office, the White House effectively demoted MBS to the rank of defense minister, and the two leaders have not spoken. ........ When asked whether Biden misunderstood him, MBS said, "Simply, I do not care." .......... Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the leader of the United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia's closest regional ally and a notable oil-producing nation — also declined the US's request to discuss the oil crisis. ........ the US had asked Saudi Arabia whether MBS could mediate in the conflict. MBS said on Thursday that he was ready to help end the violence with a political solution ......... Evidence suggests Putin and MBS are close personally; they were seen on camera at the 2018 G20 summit high-fiving and laughing. .

ABSOLUTE POWER Asked about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Mohammed bin Salman said, “If that’s the way we did things, Khashoggi would not even be among the top 1,000 people on the list.” ........ Once, he was ubiquitous, on a never-ending publicity tour to promote his plan to modernize his father’s kingdom. But soon after the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, MBS curtailed his travel. His last interview with non-Saudi press was more than two years ago. The CIA concluded that he had ordered Khashoggi’s murder, and Saudi Arabia’s own prosecutors found that it had been conducted by some of the crown prince’s closest aides. They are thought to have dismembered Khashoggi and disintegrated his corpse. .......... In 2017, he rounded up hundreds of members of his own family and other wealthy Saudis and imprisoned them in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel on informal charges of corruption. The Khashoggi murder fixed a view of the crown prince as brutish, thin-skinned, and psychopathic. Among those who share a dark appraisal of MBS is President Joe Biden, who has so far refused to speak with him. Many in Washington and other Western capitals hope his rise to the throne might still be averted. ......... But within the kingdom, MBS’s succession is understood as inevitable. ........ His father’s eventual death will leave him as the absolute monarch of the birthplace of Islam and the owner of the world’s largest accessible oil reserves. He will also be the leader of one of America’s closest allies and the source of many of its headaches. ......... Even MBS’s critics concede that he has roused the country from an economic and social slumber. In 2016, he unveiled a plan, known as Vision 2030, to convert Saudi Arabia from—allow me to be blunt—one of the world’s weirdest countries into a place that could plausibly be called normal. It is now open to visitors and investment, and lets its citizens partake in ordinary acts of recreation and even certain vices. The crown prince has legalized cinemas and concerts, and invited notably raw hip-hop artists to perform. He has allowed women to drive and to dress as freely as they can in dens of sin like Dubai and Bahrain. He has curtailed the role of reactionary clergy and all but abolished the religious police. He has explored relations with Israel. ........... He has also created a climate of fear unprecedented in Saudi history. ......... “When he’s King Mohammed, Crown Prince MBS is going to be remembered as an angel.” ........ For about two years, MBS hid from public view, as if hoping the Khashoggi murder would be forgotten. It hasn’t been. But the crown prince still wants to convince the world that he is saving his country, not holding it hostage—which is why he met twice in recent months with me and the editor in chief of this magazine, Jeffrey Goldberg. .......... The halls were astir. The crown prince had just returned after nearly two years of remote work, and aides and ministers padded red carpets seeking meetings, their first in months, with the boss. Neglected packages and documents had piled up on the desks and tables in his office, which was large but hardly opulent. The most obvious concession to high taste was an old-fashioned telescope on a tripod, its altitude set shallow enough that it appeared to be pointed not at the heavens but at Riyadh .......... He tries to limit his Twitter use. He eats breakfast every day with his kids. For fun, he watches TV, avoiding shows, like House of Cards, that remind him of work. Instead, he said without apparent irony, he prefers to watch series that help him escape the reality of his job, such as Game of Thrones. ........ Difficult questions caused the crown prince to move about jumpily, his voice vibrating at a higher frequency. Every minute or two he performed a complex motor tic: a quick backward tilt of the head, followed by a gulp, like a pelican downing a fish. He complained that he had endured injustice, and he evinced a level of victimhood and grandiosity unusual even by the standards of Middle Eastern rulers. .......... The crown prince has told two people close to him that “the Khashoggi incident was the worst thing ever to happen to me, because it could have ruined all of my plans” to reform the country. ........ In our Riyadh interview, the crown prince said that his own rights had been violated in the Khashoggi affair. “I feel that human-rights law wasn’t applied to me,” he said. “Article XI of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that any person is innocent until proven guilty.” Saudi Arabia had punished those responsible for the murder, he said—yet comparable atrocities, such as bombings of wedding parties in Afghanistan and the torture of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, have gone unpunished. ........... “I never read a Khashoggi article in my life,” he said. To our astonishment, he added that if he were to send a kill squad, he’d choose a more valuable target, and more competent assassins. “If that’s the way we did things”—murdering authors of critical op-eds ............

If his best is not good enough for Joe Biden, MBS said, then the consequences of running a moralistic foreign policy would be the president’s to discover.

“We have a long, historical relationship with America,” he said. “Our aim is to keep it and strengthen it.” Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have called for “accountability” for Khashoggi’s murder, as well as the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, due to war between Saudi Arabia and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. The Americans also refuse to treat him as Biden’s counterpart—Biden’s peer is the king, they insist—even though the crown prince rules the country with his father’s blessing. This stings. MBS has lines open to the Chinese. “Where is the potential in the world today?” he said. “It’s in Saudi Arabia. And if you want to miss it, I believe other people in the East are going to be super happy.” ............ Qatar, MBS said, was comparable to Nazi Germany. ........ As for the actual Ritz-Carlton prisoners: They had it coming, the crown prince said. Overnight he’d rounded up hundreds of the most prominent Saudis, delivered them to Riyadh’s most lavish hotel, and refused to let them go until they confessed and paid up. I said that sounded like he was eliminating rivals. MBS looked incredulous. “How can you eliminate people who don’t have any power to begin with?” If they had power, he would not have been able to force them into the Ritz. ........... The Ritz operation, MBS said, was a blitzkrieg against corruption, and wildly successful and popular because it started at the top and did not stop there. “Some people thought Saudi Arabia was, you know, just trying to get the big whales,” MBS said. They assumed that after the government extracted settlements from the likes of Alwaleed bin Talal, the kingdom’s richest man, corruption at lower levels would resume. MBS noted, proudly, that even the minnows had been hooked. By 2019, everyone “understood that even if you steal $100, you’re going to pay for it.” In just a few months, he claims to have recovered $100 billion directly, and says that he will recover much more indirectly, as dividends of deterrence. .......... Salman, the current king and at 86 one of the youngest of Abdulaziz’s brood, saw the perils of unchecked gerontocracy and anointed a successor from the next generation. His choice of Mohammed was not obvious. King Salman’s sons include Faisal, 51, who has a doctorate in international relations from Oxford; and Sultan, 65, a former Royal Saudi Air Force pilot who in 1985 spent a week on the space shuttle Discovery as a payload specialist. Either of these competent and educated men, citizens of the world, might have been a natural successor. But Salman had an inkling that the next king would need a certain grit and fluency with power that cannot be acquired in a seminar or a flight simulator. The new generation, born into luxury, tended to be soft, and the next king would need to be a modern version of a desert warlord like his grandfather. ........... having consolidated power, MBS focused on Vision 2030. He is exasperated by the rest of the world’s failure to acknowledge how well it has gone. “Saudi Arabia is a G20 country,” he said. “You can see our position five years ago: It was almost 20. Today, we are almost 17.” He noted strong non-oil GDP growth, and reeled off statistics about foreign direct investment, Saudi overseas investment, and the share of world trade that passes through Saudi waters. The economic success, the concerts, the social reform—these are all done deals, he said. “If we were having this interview in 2016, you would say I’m making assumptions,” he said. “But we did it. You can see it now with your eyes.” ............. When I first visited, I ate at restaurants that had cinder-block walls dividing single men on one side from women and families on the other. These were sledgehammered down—a little Berlin 1989 in every restaurant—and now men and women can eat together without eliciting so much as a sideways glance from fellow diners. ......... Many of the crown prince’s most persistent critics approve of these changes, and wish only that they had come sooner. (Khashoggi was such a critic. When I met him in London for brunch, shortly before his death, I asked him to list MBS’s failings. He said “90 percent” of the reforms were prudent and overdue.) The most famous Saudi women’s-rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, campaigned for women’s right to drive, and against the Saudi “guardianship law,” which prevented women from traveling or going out in public without a male relative. Al‑Hathloul was thrown in prison on terrorism charges in 2018—after MBS and his father had announced the imminent end of both policies. In prison, her family says, she was electrocuted, beaten, and—this was just a few months before Khashoggi’s murder—threatened with being chopped up and thrown in a sewer, never to be found. (The Saudi government has previously denied allegations of torturing prisoners.) ............. Al-Hathloul and other activists had demanded rights, and the ruler had granted them. Their error was in thinking those rights were theirs to take, rather than coming from the monarch, who deserved credit for having bestowed them. Al-Hathloul was released in February 2021, but her family says she is forbidden from traveling abroad or speaking publicly. ............ Another dissident, Salman al-Awda, is a preacher with a massive following. His original crime, too, was to utter publicly a thought that would later be shared by the crown prince himself. When MBS began squabbling with his counterpart in Qatar, al‑Awda tweeted, “May God harmonize between their hearts, for the good of their people.” He was imprisoned, and actual harmony between the two leaders has not freed him. His son Abdullah, now in the United States, claims that his father, who is 65, is being held in solitary confinement and has been tortured. ................. (The Muslim Brotherhood plays a bogeyman role in the Saudi imagination similar to the role of Communists in America during the Red Scare. Also like Communists, the Muslim Brotherhood really has worked covertly to undermine state rule, just not to the extent imagined.) ............. Would MBS consider pardoning those who’d spoken out in favor of women driving and normalization with Qatar—both now the policy of the country? “That’s not my power. That’s His Majesty’s power,” MBS said. But, he added, “no king has ever used” the pardon power, and his father does not intend to be the first. .......... On one side are liberals, tugging on the sympathies of Westerners; on the other, Islamists who are also opposed to the monarchy. Letting this latter group out would not just mean the end of rock concerts and coed dining. They would not stop until they brought down the House of Saud, seized the country’s estimated 268 billion barrels of oil and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and established a terrorist state.

In private conversations with others, MBS has likened Saudi Arabia before the Saud family’s conquest in the 18th century to the anarchic wasteland of the Mad Max films. His family unified the peninsula and slowly developed a system of law and order. Without them, it would be Mad Max all over again—or Afghanistan.

................ Many secular Arab leaders before him have made the same dark implication: Support everything I do, or I will let slip the dogs of jihad. This was not an argument. It was a threat. ........... the changes in Saudi Arabia could be compared to those in revolutionary France. An old order had been overturned, a priestly class crushed; a new order was struggling to be born. .......... The brand of conservative Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia—called Wahhabism, after the sect’s 18th-century founder, Muhammad ibn Abd al‑Wahhab—once wielded great power and enjoys at least some popular support. I asked Shihabi if MBS really had diminished the Wahhabis’ role. “Diminished their role?” Shihabi asked me. “He put the Wahhabis in a cage, then he reached in with gardening shears”—here he made the universal snip snip gesture with his fingers—“and he cut their balls off.” ............. he House of Saud wanted the anticlerical revolution while conveniently omitting the antiroyalist one. I wanted to see how that alliance between monarch and sansculottes was working. .......... Vision 2030 made modernization easier to observe now than it would have been just a few years ago. Until October 2019, tourist visas to Saudi Arabia did not exist. Then the Saudis realized that to attract crowds to the concerts they had legalized, they’d need to let in visitors. Overnight, a visa to Saudi Arabia went from one of the hardest in the world to get to one of the easiest. In minutes I had one valid for a whole year. ............ The new system arrived so fast that the first visitors were like an invasive species, an unnatural fit in the rigid social order of the kingdom. For years, almost every non-Saudi in the country had needed a document called an iqama. It was a sort of license to exist: Your iqama identified your Saudi patron, the local national whom you were visiting or working for, and who controlled your fate. Every Saudi patron had his own patron, too—sometimes a tribal leader, sometimes a regional one. Even those bigwigs paid obeisance to someone and, eventually, by the transitive property of Saudi deference, to the king himself. Saudi Arabia, MBS explained, “is not one monarchy. You have beneath it more than 1,000 monarchies—town monarchies, tribal monarchies, semitribal monarchies.” ............. “No,” he said. “Saudi Arabia is based on pure monarchy,” and he, as crown prince, would preserve the system. To remove himself from it would amount to a betrayal of all the monarchies and Saudis beneath him. “I can’t stage a coup d’état against 14 million citizens.” .......... In Riyadh I found, effortlessly, young people thrilled by the reforms. Like the other major Saudi cities, Dammam and Jeddah, Riyadh has specialty coffee shops in abundance—little outposts of air-conditioning and caffeine, in an environment otherwise characterized by heat and boredom. Many of the Saudis I met professed a deep love for America. “I spent seven years at Cal State Northridge,” one told me, before rattling off a list of cities he had visited. He was one of several hundred thousand Saudi students who’d attended U.S. universities on government scholarships in the 2000s. “I studied finance,” he said. “But I never graduated. I had a wonderful time.” He listed his American friends, who had names like Mike and Emilio. “I drank and did too much meth, and my grades weren’t good.” ...........

he said his fondest wish was to listen to music in the open air and smoke a joint—just one

............ He asked if I thought that would happen. I said I did not think that was explicitly part of Vision 2030 ........ I asked the crown prince whether alcohol would soon be sold in the kingdom. It was the only policy question that he refused to answer. ........ a woman’s hair; a celebration of song; a celebration of a song about singing; and, on top of all this, the music playing in the café as we spoke. Before the rise of MBS, every component of this scene would have violated long-standing canons of Saudi morality enforcement. ......... I told one of MBS’s advisers that the religious police had been an international PR problem. “May I be impolite?” he asked me. “I don’t give a fuck about the foreigners. They terrorized us.” He likened the religious police to J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, operating with unchecked authority. ........... Anyone who wished to drag down a professional or political rival could scrutinize him for sins, then call the religious police to set up a sting. ......... “The religious police were the losers in school,” Ali Shihabi told me. “Then they got these jobs and were empowered to go and stop the cute girls, break into the parties no one wanted them at, and shut them down. It attracted a very nasty group of people.” The Saudi diplomat told me that he did not miss them, and that Saudi Arabia had needed someone with the crown prince’s mettle to get rid of them. “When someone hits you because he does not like what you are wearing,” he said, “that is not just a form of harassment. It is abuse.” ........ The rulers of Saudi Arabia put almost no limits on the speech or behavior of conservative clerics, and in return those clerics exempted the rulers from criticism. “That was the drug deal that the Saudi state was based upon for many years,” Theroux told me. “Until Mohammed bin Salman.” .......... MBS has a law degree from King Saud University and flaunts his knowledge and dominance over the clerics. “He’s probably the only leader in the Arab world who knows anything about Islamic epistemology and jurisprudence” ........... “In Islamic law, the head of the Islamic establishment is wali al-amr, the ruler,” MBS explained. He was right: As the ruler, he is in charge of implementing Islam. Typically, Saudi rulers have sought opinions from clerics, occasionally leaning on them to justify a policy the king has selected in advance. MBS does not subcontract his religion out at all. .......... Certain rules—not many—come from the unambiguous legislative content of the Quran ........ and he cannot do anything about them even if he wants to. But those sayings of the Prophet (called Hadith), he explained, do not all have equal value as sources of law, and he said he is bound by only a very small number whose reliability, 1,400 years later, is unimpeachable. Every other source of Islamic law, he said, is open to interpretation—and he is therefore entitled to interpret them as he sees fit. ........... The effect of this maneuver is to chuck about 95 percent of Islamic law into the sandpit of Saudi history and leave MBS free to do whatever he wants. .......... “We are going back to the core, back to pure Islam” as practiced by Muhammad and his four successors. “These teachings of the Prophet and the four caliphs—they were amazing. They were perfect.” ........... and encourages sinners to keep their transgressions between themselves and God ........ He also stressed that none of these laws applies to non-Muslims in the kingdom. “If you are a foreign person who’s living or traveling in Saudi Arabia, you have all the right to do whatever you want, based on your beliefs,” he said. “That’s what happened in the Prophet’s time.” ........... It is hard to exaggerate how drastically this sidelining of Islamic law will change Saudi Arabia. Before MBS, influential clerics issued fatwas exhibiting what might charitably be called a pre-industrial view of the world. They declared that the sun orbited the Earth. They forbade women from riding bikes (“the devil’s horses”) and from watching TV without veiling, just in case the presenters could see them through the screen. Salih al-Fawzan, the most senior cleric in the kingdom today, once issued a chillingly anti-American fatwa forbidding all-you-can-eat buffets, because paying for a meal without knowing what you’ll be eating is akin to gambling. ............... In the past, Saudi clerics inveighed against infidels of all types. Now al-Issa spends his time meeting Buddhists, Christians, and Jews, and trying to stay ahead of the occasional surfacing of comments he made in less conciliatory times. ............ these lingering manifestations of intolerance illustrate what MBS’s critics say is his ultimate error: Even a crown prince can’t change a culture by fiat. ......... MBS said Neom is “not a copy of anything elsewhere,” not a xerox of Dubai. ........... Neom would lure its investors, I gathered, by creating the ideal regulatory environment, stitched together from best practices elsewhere. The city would profit from central planning. When New York or Delhi want to grow, they choke on their own traffic and decrepit infrastructure. Neom has no inherited infrastructure at all. The centerpiece of the project will be “The Line”—a 106-mile-long, very skinny urban strip connected by a single bullet train that will travel from end to end in 20 minutes. .......... The Line is intended to be walkable—the train will run underground—and a short hike perpendicular to its main axis will take you into pristine desert. Water will be desalinated; energy, renewable. .......... In the old Saudi Arabia, and even to an extent today, corruption and bureaucracy layered on each other to make an entrepreneur’s nightmare. Riyadh has almost no public transportation. No matter where you are, you cannot walk anywhere, except perhaps to your local mosque. .......... Neom is MBS’s declaration of intellectual and cultural bankruptcy on behalf of his country. Few nations have as many carried costs as Saudi Arabia, and Neom zeroes them out and starts afresh with a plan unburdened by the past. To any parts of the kingdom that cling to their old ways, it promises that the future is everything they are not. And the future will wait only so long. ........... I worried about what would happen next. Newsworthy events inside the walls of terrorist prisons tend not to be good. ........ but the Saudis decided he needed more time in prison and locked him up for eight years in a facility in Dammam, and for another seven in Ha’ir. ...... Al-Qaeda and ISIS forbid most music and revile the monarchy. Like so many other Saudis, these men seemed to have swapped their religious fanaticism for nationalist fanaticism. One wondered what they really believed. .......... He looked me steadily in the eye, like he was trying to convince me and not himself. “Vision 2030 is real.” .......... Twenty years ago, if you had told me that in 2022 the future king of Saudi Arabia would be pursuing a relationship with Israel; treating women as full members of society; punishing corruption, even in his own family; stanching the flow of jihadists; diversifying and liberalizing his economy and society; and encouraging the world to see his country and his country to see the world—Wahhabism be damned—I would have told you that your time machine was malfunctioning and you had visited 2052 at the earliest. ............. Enghien’s schemes wouldn’t have stopped Napoleon, and Khashoggi’s columns wouldn’t have stopped MBS. But his murder was a warning about the personality of the man who will be running Saudi Arabia for the next half century, and it is reasonable to worry about that man even when most of what he does is good and long overdue. .......... (“You Americans think there is something strange about a ruler who sends his unqualified son-in-law to conduct international relations,” one Saudi analyst told me. “For us this is completely normal.”) ....... he is presenting a binary choice: support me, or prepare for the jihadist deluge. ......... And no persuasion will be possible at all without acknowledging that the game of thrones has concluded and he has won. ........... As MBS told me, to justify the Ritz operation, “It’s sometimes a decision between bad and worse.” .......... In effect, both the Saudis and the Americans are now in the Ritz-Carlton, forced to bargain with a jailer who promises us prosperity if we submit to his demands, and Mad Max if we do not. The predicament is familiar, because it is the same barrel over which every secular Arab autocrat has positioned America since the 1950s. Egypt, Iraq, and Syria all traded semitribal societies for modern ones, and they all became squalid dictatorships that justified themselves as bulwarks against chaos. ........... Twenty years ago, Syria watchers praised Bashar al-Assad for his modernizing tendencies—his openness to Western influence as well as his Western tastes. He liked Phil Collins; how evil could he be? By now most everyone outside Damascus, Tehran, and Moscow recognizes him as Saddam Hussein’s only rival in the dubious competition for most evil Arab leader. ............. MBS has completed about three-quarters of the transition from tribal king with theocratic characteristics to plain old secular-nationalist autocrat. The rest of that transition need not be as ruthless as the beginning, but MBS shows no sign of letting up. ......... Sometimes this is how absolute power relaxes its grip: slowly, without anyone noticing. In England, the transition from absolute monarchy to a fully constitutional one took 200 years, not all of them superintended by the most stable kings. MBS is still young and hoarding power, and everyone who has predicted that he would ease up on dissent has so far been proved optimistic. But 50 years is a long reign. The madness of King Mohammed could give way to something else: a slow and graceful renunciation of power—or, as with Assad, an ever more violent exercise of it.

New York’s First Supertall Tower Outside of Manhattan Rises in Brooklyn The 1,066-foot Brooklyn Tower is launching sales as the luxury market once again booms, but concerns about supertall tower construction are still fresh in buyers’ minds. ........ will have 150 condos ranging from about $875,000 for studios to $8 million for four-bedroom apartments ....... Reports last year of flooding, stuck elevators and safety hazards at 432 Park may have shaken buyer confidence ...... “When you pioneer, sometimes there are growing pains,” he said in defense of the developers of 432 Park Avenue, where residents are suing for at least $125 million after reports of intolerable noise, electrical explosions and burst pipes related to the construction of the building.

Biden takes big step toward government-backed digital currency The Biden administration is throwing its support behind further study and development of what would be known as a U.S. Central Bank Digital Currency. ....... instructing the federal government to explore possible uses of and regulations for digital assets like cryptocurrencies. ........ it could transform central and commercial banking, as well as government sanctions, banking accessibility and taxes. ........ a CBDC could make payments cheaper and easier for consumers but might also pose a risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system. ......... China has introduced its own CBDC, with more than 140 million people having opened digital “wallets,” and many other countries have either rolled out or are developing digital currencies. The Bahamas’ Sand Dollar is considered among the world's most successful digital currencies. ......... “Once the central banks start co-opting the technology, it’s pretty much game over." ....... the functionality could be reasonably simple, with transactions flowing directly to and from the Fed, sidestepping banks and payment systems and creating near-seamless flows of cash. ......... a broadly embraced digital currency would pose existential questions for banks and many other financial services focused on facilitating payments. ........ “Bill Gates famously said there will always be banking but there will not always be banks” ........

A digital currency could make the kind of stimulus payments of the coronavirus pandemic nearly instantaneous and far more efficient

............. commercial banks have a vested interest in opposing the technology. ...... “​​Two years ago everyone was ridiculing this,” Yermack said. “Now it’s the hot thing to do.”

WHO recommends COVID-19 boosters in reversal

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Gulf Cup 2019

When politicians can't make it happen, soccer comes to the rescue. The World Cup Soccer brings together people like nothing else.

Yesterday I got to read up a little bit on the Qatar situation. I have become a little more informed.

This rupture is unnecessary. And I think the Gulf countries ought to mend fences.

When the Arab Spring happened, that was a big event. It would be natural for a news channel like Al Jazeera to give it wide coverage. That is what TV stations do. They cover street protests, and earthquakes, and big events.

The Gulf countries on the two sides of the rupture have remarkably similar political systems. But just like no two countries in Europe have the exact same political system, it is not surprising the Gulf countries have some variations. But I can't imagine the Emir of Qatar wanting to topple the regimes in other Gulf countries.

I also came to learn for the first time that there was a chance Qatar and Bahrain could have been part of the UAE. That is interesting. I think the Gulf countries should mend the rupture and normalize relations and then work towards a Gulf economic union of sorts. That would also require engineering peace in Yemen. I am for peace. Peace is a precondition to prosperity.

I keep learning new things about the political system in the UAE. For example, I thought I guess the monarch of the UAE prefers the title of president. But no, that is a duly elected position.

Just from watching I have become a huge fan of the Arabian headgear. I think I would like to see that on my head.

Talking about political systems, I was recently stunned by the cutting edge nature of the anti-sexual harassment law the UAE has passed. The #metoo movement has been rocking the USA for years, and the US Congress has yet to come up with something like that. That made me ponder. How did this come to be? What was the process that brought the law into existence? Before that when the de facto ruler of the UAE decided just like that that half the parliament in the UAE is going to be female. I did not see the UAE population suffering from hiccups in the aftermath.

I am imagining the president of the UAE has a great listening mechanism. There are great advisory councils. How else do you explain the cutting edge stuff on gender? Also, compare the monarchies in the Gulf to the monarchy in Britain. Queen Elizabeth is not ready to hand over the throne, and she is past 90. Whereas two major countries in the Gulf are run by their crown princes. Saudi Arabia is the big power. And the UAE is the agile power.

I probably know at least 20 times more about the USA than I do about China, and China is right next door to Nepal. I would not be surprised if by now I know a little more about the USA than India. And so when I have tried to learn more about the Gulf, I have found it an exotic experience. But then you keep digging and digging and you come to realize Bollywood is big in Dubai. Ends up Dubai is not some foreign land. It is a homecoming.

I just hope soccer mends fences and the Gulf countries all find a way to come together again. Countries that can tackle the Qatar rupture can hope to bring peace in Yemen. And can tackle Syria and Iran. I would like to see peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And if Saudi Arabia and Iran can see peace, they can solve the Palestine problem with ease.

I think peace is possible. It is definitely worth striving for.

Thoughts On The Middle East
Formula For Peace Between Israel And Palestine
The Stupidity Of The Ayodhya Dispute
Saudi-Iran: Imran Is The Only One Who Can

NEOM: Governance

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

What's Up With Qatar!

This tweet showed up in my Twitter stream. It is from Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, a real estate entrepreneur out of Dubai who is also very political and very outspoken. He is active on social media. That is how he first came to my attention a few weeks ago.

Just from skimming the headlines I did become aware of a minor political scuffle between Qatar and its bigger neighbors a few years back. I never got a chance to read deeply into it. But I am glad they are sorting it out. Peace is important. No prosperity without peace. Peacemaking is a skill of the highest order and an endeavor of the highest order. It is grand to make peace.
Qataris, Saudis Make New Bid to Mend a Long-Festering Feud A top Qatari official traveled to Saudi Arabia, but U.S. tempers hopes for ending standoff that hinders efforts to counter Iran ...... a diplomatic breakthrough that signals the most serious effort yet to end a 2½-year rift between U.S. allies in the energy-rich Gulf 

Qatari foreign minister's Saudi visit seen easing Gulf rift signs that a 2-1/2-year rift among U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states could soon subside. ....... the highest-level visit since May when Qatar’s prime minister attended an Arab summit in Mecca....... the Saudis seem sincere in trying to figure out the path forward ..... Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of backing terrorism. Qatar denies the charge and accuses its neighbors of seeking to curtail its sovereignty...... Kuwait and the United States have tried to mediate the rift, which has undermined Washington’s efforts to confront Iran....... The boycotting nations set 13 demands for lifting the boycott, including closing Al Jazeera television, shuttering a Turkish military base, reducing ties with Iran and cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood. ....... Riyadh was still waiting for Doha to answer the demands. ...... early efforts at internal reconciliation on Qatar seem to be underway....... A soccer tournament in Qatar kicked off on Tuesday with teams from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, in an apparent sign of improving ties...... A Gulf Arab diplomat said a regional summit expected early next month in Riyadh could lay the groundwork for improving ties which is more likely now than at any recent time....... “We see the Gulf kiss (with noses) coming,” the diplomat said.

Losing Its Grip on Gulf, Saudi Arabia Is Desperate for Political Win Trump's indecision and a wary Congress impel Riyadh to appeasement with neighboring Qatar, which has been under a Saudi-led blockade since 2017 ....... the Saudi envoy to Kuwait, Sultan bin Sa’ad al-Saud, declared that “sports might repair what politics has ruined.” ........ Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain joined the boycott and closed their airspace to flights from and to Qatar, with Riyadh sealing shut Qatar’s only land crossing, cutting off a key route for food and construction imports as hostilities mounted. The Saudi team’s plane that landed this week in Qatar was the first to break the siege......... Two years ago Saudi Arabia presented Doha with a number of demands, the most important of which were that it severs ties with Iran and halt its meddling in the affairs of other countries, especially through infuriating activity of the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera network and its broadcast criticism of the Gulf states and Egypt. Not only that Qatar refused to comply with these demands, it also impressively managed to overcome the economic blockade imposed on it with the help of Turkey and Iran and established a number of factories to produce goods that until then had been imported from abroad...........

its citizens, who have the world’s highest per capita incomes.

....... Much to the Saudis’ resentment, despite the tension between the two countries and Qatar’s close cooperation with Iran, Washington continued to maintain excellent relations with the small emirate in which the largest American airbase in the Persian Gulf is located.......... Donald Trump’s efforts over the past two years to bring about reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar failed. However, it seems that it was precisely Trump's strategic decision to withdraw America from the Middle East that impelled Saudi Arabia toward appeasement with Qatar. ....... The Gulf arena, in which Saudi Arabia had ruled high-handedly, is beginning to look like Swiss cheese. From the Saudi perspective, not only has Qatar become a hostile country, but Oman and Kuwait didn’t join the boycott on Qatar while the United Arab Emirates, Saudis’ ally and strategic partner, decided to abandon the Yemeni front and massage its relations with Iran. A defense accord and economic agreements signed in recent weeks between the UAE and Iran have not ignited hostilities between Saudi Arabia and its neighbor, at least not publicly, but these have been added to the list of bin Salman’s diplomatic flubs.......... The Yemeni front could be the next site of a Saudi diplomatic effort, which if successful would enable bin Salman to claim at least one diplomatic achievement. On November 5 an agreement was signed in Riyadh between the recognized Yemeni government headed by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and what is known as the Southern Transitional Council, a military political body that has taken control of the city of Aden with aid from the UAE and is demanding the establishment of an independent state in southern Yemen.............. The agreement that was presided over by Khaled bin Salman, the crown prince's brother, stipulates that within a month’s time a new government will be established in Yemen. Said government will consist of 24 ministers equally divided among representatives of the recognized government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council, and the armies of the two sides will be united into a single army............ The direct responsibility is now incumbent on Salman’s brother Khaled, who has also been given permission to start negotiations with the Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen. Therein lies the more important development that could lead to an end to the war that has been raging for nearly five years and in which approximately 100,000 people have been killed, hundreds of thousands left homeless and millions more are in need of food and medicine..........

Oman has already succeeded in setting up direct talks between the Saudi leadership and the Houthi leadership.

....... the direct contact between Khaled bin Salman and the Houthi Supreme Council began in September. Shortly after the attack on the Saudi oil complexes, bin Salman suggested to Houthi leader Mahdi al-Mashat the establishment of two committees – a political committee and a military committee – for direct discussions of a long-term truce and an outline for a diplomatic solution. The Houthis accepted the proposal and dispatched their Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein al-Azzi to Oman on a United Nations ship. From there he flew to Amman, the capital of Jordan, where the meeting was held......... the direct contact between Khaled bin Salman and the Houthi Supreme Council began in September. Shortly after the attack on the Saudi oil complexes, bin Salman suggested to Houthi leader Mahdi al-Mashat the establishment of two committees – a political committee and a military committee – for direct discussions of a long-term truce and an outline for a diplomatic solution. The Houthis accepted the proposal and dispatched their Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein al-Azzi to Oman on a United Nations ship. From there he flew to Amman, the capital of Jordan, where the meeting was held.

Saudi breaks its own blockade on Qatar as team lands in Doha for Gulf Cup Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup is suspected of sparking bitter envy among Gulf rivals, with some analysts believing that the Saudi-blockade was in part designed to disrupt preparations for the prestigious global tournament......... Shortly after the blockade was imposed, Saudi Arabia gave Kuwait a list of 13 demands to pass on to Doha, which included shuttering media outlers such as Al Jazeera and The New Arab........ Qatar rejected these, saying that they violated its sovereignty and aimed to impose hegemony on it. The blockade has been largely ineffective. 

Is a resolution of the GCC crisis imminent? The September 14 attack on Aramco has forced Saudi Arabia to revise its policies towards the region and the GCC. ....... "This football decision is a very political decision," commented Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a political science professor known to be close to decision-making circles in Abu Dhabi. "It is preparation for bigger things," he added. ...... it seems the September 14 drone attacks on the Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities have had a significant effect on Riyadh. They mark a turning point in Saudi foreign policy on many levels, including the GCC crisis........ Regardless of where the drones came from - Yemen, Iraq or Iran - the fact that they were able to reach Aramco's facilities represents the biggest American failure in the Gulf since Donald Trump came to power. As a result, it has upset what many assumed to be strong relations between Riyadh and the Trump administration on at least two levels.......... since the advanced American anti-missile defence system, the Patriot, was unable to protect a vital national asset like Aramco from drones, then the question arises: why should the Saudi leadership seek to purchase more weapons and military technology from the US? ....... revealed the security vulnerability of Saudi Arabia and raised serious concerns over any possible escalation with Iran or the Houthis in the future. ........ the September 14 incident also demonstrated the disloyalty of the Trump administration to its allies. Washington refused to attack Iran in response and instead started bargaining with Saudi Arabia over who should cover the costs of a US military deployment. Almost one month after the attack, the US sent 3,000 solders to the Gulf with the US president declaring triumphantly: "Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we're doing." ........ These two realisations - that no amount of US military weaponry can protect the country and that the US is no longer a reliable partner - seem to have necessitated a revision of Saudi foreign policy and national security strategy. Its results are already clear. ......... In late October, Saudi Arabia oversaw negotiations between Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the secessionist Southern Transitional Council, which had been fighting for control of southern Yemen. In November, a peace deal was announced which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) described as an important step towards "a political solution in Yemen"..........

Saudi Arabia has also sought to de-escalate its conflict with Iran.

The New York Times recently reported that "Saudi Arabia and Iran have taken steps toward indirect talks to try to reduce the tensions" between them. Its main regional ally, the UAE, has also been involved in de-escalation efforts. Earlier this month, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said further escalation with Iran "serves no one" and that there is room for "collective diplomacy"............ since Trump has failed to deliver on regional security, Saudi Arabia definitely needs a strong and united GCC to deal with the enormous regional challenges. Kuwait's persistent mediation efforts over the past two and a half years have ensured that the door for direct negotiations has remained wide open. 

Signs Mount That Qatar Embargo May End as Mediation Gears Up signs are emerging that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could be trying to resolve conflicts that have cast a shadow over the kingdom’s political stability. ....... To that end, Prince Mohammed is also intensifying efforts to conclude the four-year war in Yemen ...... The U.A.E., Saudi Arabia’s main ally, has already pulled out most of its troops from Yemen as it seeks to ease tensions with Iran after a string of attacks on oil targets in the region raised fears of an all-out war. ....... The war in Yemen and the crisis with Qatar were widely seen as signs of a more aggressive foreign policy by Prince Mohammed and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.

Emir says Qatar has overcome obstacles of Gulf blockade Sheikh Tamim lays out economic achievements, says Doha ready to resolve disputes based on principle of mutual respect....... "We've overcome the obstacles of the blockade and we're also closer to achieving Qatar's national vision for the year 2030," the emir said. ...... Sheikh Tamim said Qatar has always been ready to resolve differences based on the principles of mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs. 

Qatar and Saudi Arabia: Is a thaw in the Gulf cold war in sight? The realisation that Donald Trump's US does not have their back has caused a rethink in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi over how to deal with Doha ........ the three blockading countries have been engaging in a war over narratives with Qatar since – a clash in the information space, which now appears to be ebbing away. ......... Leaders in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have realised that the weaponisation of narratives has failed to render any desired outcomes .......

Qatar appears economically to be the most resilient state in the Gulf in 2019, its links to the West and Washington in particular remain strong, and its reputation widely untarnished.

.......... Qatar coming out of its shell post-blockade, for the first time proactively explaining its strategies and policies, telling its side of the story of the Arab Spring while openly answering warrantable critical questions from journalists, partners and allies. ........ the apparent fading of Gulf tensions must be understood within the context of a widespread disappointment in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in US President Donald Trump, whose administration has been the main audience for this war over narratives against Qatar. .......... Despite Tehran pushing the boundaries in a range of escalatory attacks throughout the summer, Washington has remained silent – then the hastily, disorganised US withdrawal from Syria re-emphasised that America has no appetite to defend its interests in the region with hard power. ......... The UAE’s switch from direct to indirect engagement in Yemen via surrogates is as much a product of this re-think as the Saudi decision to open up to the idea of a power-sharing agreement with the Houthis to end the war in Yemen. ....... both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have reengaged with Tehran, understanding that Washington would not allow the Gulf states to fight Iran to the last American, but that they would be the ones bearing the burden of war. ...........

For Qatar, the blockade has been a blessing in disguise, allowing for more independent decision-making domestically and in terms of foreign policy. Reforms could be pushed through without having to de-conflict with its neighbours and new trade relations forged based on cost-efficiency and not neighbourly goodwill.

........ However, the idea that Emir Tamim bin Hamad and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would shake hands to seal a reconciliatory deal in the near future appears utopian at this point.

Why the UAE needs to scupper a Saudi deal with Qatar Two years ago, bloodcurdling threats were made by Saudi and Emirati state-controlled goons about what they would do to Qatar if it did not roll over like Bahrain and become a satellite of their bigger, stronger and wiser neighbours........... They were going to dig a canal along Qatar's land border and dump nuclear waste in it. They were going to do to the emir of Qatar what they did to Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted in a military coup. They were going to turn Doha into another Rabaa Square, where 817 Egyptians were massacred......... Physical threats were accompanied by diplomatic ones. In Washington, former administration officials were conscripted to threaten the Gulf peninsula with the withdrawal of the US airforce base at Al Udeid. ......... Qatar did not blink. The overt threats to its national sovereignty turned the emir into an unlikely local hero. ............ Two years into the blockade, Qatar's economy is stronger; it produces more of its own foodstuffs; it has more friends in Washington - as a result of spending a lot of money there - and Al Udeid is even bigger than it was. Al Jazeera continues to broadcast, recently centring a month of programming around the anniversary of the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. ............... The policy of attempting to isolate Qatar has obviously gone wrong. What incentive does Mohammed bin Salman have to end it? To answer that question, we have to look at all the other things that have not worked out for the crown prince. ........ The most recent disaster is Saudi Aramco. Plans to raise $100bn on a five percent share sale, opening the Saudi market to foreign investors, have been around for over three years........They came crashing down on Sunday morning. Having failed repeatedly to get $2 trillion valuation he was depending on (the latest consensus was that Aramco was worth between $1.1tn and $1.5tn), the Saudi crown prince ditched the sale of shares on international money markets and announced the sale of 1.5 per cent on a valuation of $1.6-1.7 trillion which would only raise $25.6bn........... Attempting to solve the dispute with Qatar is part of a strategy to rethink where and how all MBS' foreign policy initiatives have gone wrong ...... The attack shook the crown prince, one informed source told me. "He could not have imagined that the Iranians would dare to do this to him. But even worse, he could not have imagined that the Americans would look the other way and do nothing. America has waged wars for less, so how could it have ignored the attacks in this way? Bin Salman now feels vulnerable," the source said. ............ Since the attack, the Saudi crown prince has been speaking to regional leaders, including Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. They all told him that his problems are his own fault. The Saudi crown prince does not need to speak to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to know how much damage the October 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi - which is still not resolved - has done to the future king's image in the world. .......... .....He also needs the money. Qatar is rich and in surplus. All Gulf disputes end one way or another by a ransom of some sort. ......... A Camp David-style stunt in which the leading Gulf states declare they are normalising relations with Israel has been rumoured for some time. ......... Thus did the self-styled Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who visited Riyadh before launching his attack on Tripoli. So, too, did the then Egyptian defence minister, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, wait for the green light from Saudi Arabia before proceeding with his coup against late president Mohamed Morsi - even though it had been planned in Abu Dhabi.

EXCLUSIVE: UAE’s secret mission to Iran Tahnoun bin Zayed, UAE national security adviser and crown prince’s brother, has been in Tehran aiming to defuse Gulf crisis ........... Tahnoun bin Zayed, the national security adviser of the United Arab Emirates and the crown prince’s younger brother, has been in Tehran for the last 48 hours on a secret mission aiming to defuse the Gulf crisis ...... It comes amid multiple signs of the UAE following its own, softer line with Tehran, after four tankers were attacked off the Emirati port of Fujairah earlier this year. ......... The Saudis have called on Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to pass messages to Tehran. ........ Abdul Mahdi was mediating between the leaderships in Riyadh and Tehran and had communicated each side's conditions for talks to the other. ........... The UAE has recently shown more than one sign of pursuing its own path with Iran. It recently announced it was pulling its troops out of Yemen, and has publicly backed southern separatists in the port city of Aden splitting the country in two. .......... Recently, the Iranian backed Houthis and the Emirati-backed southern separatists took part in a prisoner exchange, which has not happened with forces loyal to Hadi.

EXCLUSIVE: Saudi Arabia gives 'green light' for talks with Iran Official in Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's office confirms Baghdad has channels with both sides and is seeking to arrange meeting ....... Saudi Arabia has given a green light to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to arrange a meeting with Iran as a first step towards de-escalating tensions in the region ...... "The Saudis have conditions before the negotiations process starts and the same with Iranians. We have liaised these conditions to each side. It is not an easy task to get together two opposite sides in terms of their ideology, sect and their alliances in the region." .............

Hasnawi said Abdul Mahdi had called for a meeting between Saudi Arabia and Iran which the Iraqi government would supervise and mediate, with Baghdad as its preferred venue.

....... "If there will be a potential deal in the region that includes Yemen, Syria and Iraq, the Americans have no problem with that" ....... "Saudi Arabia’s conditions are that Iran minimise its role in Yemen and Syria and stop supporting armed groups such as the Houthis. It also asks the Syrian regime to solve its problems with the Syrian opposition groups, and to write a constitution for Syria with all parties agreeing on it," he said............. a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran would mean the “total collapse of the global economy”. ....... On Tuesday, Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani told Al Jazeera that Iran welcomed the crown prince’s apparent willingness to talk .......... “He told both the Iranians and the Americans Iraq is exhausted after decades of wars, conflicts and civil war.

Mohammed bin Zayed: Abu Dhabi's crown prince plays a long game Unlike the rash Saudi crown prince, MbZ knows when to retreat from hard power strategies that aren't working ......... his efforts to propel a small Gulf state onto the world stage as a significant and powerful Middle East player. ......... he is prepared to play the long game and to weigh up consequences and likely outcomes........ to the great chagrin of the Saudis, it is they who are bearing the brunt of international opprobrium. It is the Saudis who are the target of US politicians in both houses and on both sides, while the Emiratis, skilfully piloted by their Washington ambassador Yusuf al-Otaiba, have faced little scrutiny. ......... Now, to the consternation of the Saudis, the Emiratis are drawing down their troops and seem poised for a near complete pullout from the Yemen war. ......... With Iran, events in the chaotic White House of Donald Trump look increasingly to have gone MbZ’s way. The architect of the hardline strategy, National Security Advisor John Bolton, has been abruptly sacked by Trump. Now, this most unpredictable of presidents is ruminating on a meeting with the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. .............. The ultra-hawk Bolton who had called for regime change is gone, leaving both Mohammed bin Salman and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, currently fighting for his political life, out on a limb. It’s a situation that MbZ cleverly avoided by playing down maritime incidents in the Strait of Hormuz, including the apparent mining of oil tankers off the coast of the UAE. ......... He also called for calm and stability at a time when Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Washington were enthusiastically beating the war drums. Now with Bolton gone and President Trump talking of a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, that looks a very shrewd call. ....... in the wake of last weekend's drone attacks on the Saudi Aramco oil facilities, which the US immediately blamed on Iran, a senior UAE officials said the attack was a dangerous escalation, but did not assign blame. ...... This is not to say that MbZ has had an entirely successful run. The UAE’s clumsy fake news attack on fellow Gulf Co-operation Council member Qatar in 2017 and the subsequent rupture of the GCC has proved an own goal..........The Qataris have ridden out the economic blockade imposed by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, leaving them in the drivers seat, seemingly the only adults in the room. ......... The pivot to soft power is not a retreat, it is a retrenchment by a leader who has proven himself more than able to learn from his mistakes, something his counterpart in Riyadh continues to show himself incapable of doing.

When the Saudis and Emiratis fall out Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have endured decades of rivalry, and tension between the Zayeds and the Sauds is now exploding in Yemen .......... Just over a fortnight after he issued a decree stripping Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will arrive in Abu Dhabi on Friday to collect a prize - the Order of Zayed, the statelet’s highest civilian award......... This makes perfect business sense for the little Sparta of the Gulf, hell-bent on establishing its own seaborne empire, from the ports of Yemen to the Horn of Africa, the Indian Ocean and beyond. ........... India is the third-largest energy consumer in the world and the Emiratis’ second-largest trading partner. So why should the Emiratis care for seven million Kashmiris in Indian-administered Kashmir, whose internationally recognised dispute is now to be treated as an “internal matter” for India............

The Emirati path to the unlimited markets of India is strewn with elephant traps for their neighbour Saudi Arabia.

....... “When the UAE came into existence in December 1971, Riyadh achieved its objective of excluding Qatar and Bahrain from the new federal state. Tremendous Saudi pressure forced the UAE to sign the 1974 Treaty of Jeddah that ceded claims to the Khor al-Udaid inland sea that linked it to Qatar,” Khashan wrote. ........ “Riyadh refused to recognize the UAE’s independence until its president, Zayed bin Sultan, signed the treaty under duress although the UAE has not yet ratified the treaty. When UAE head Khalifa bin Zayed took office in 2004, he visited Riyadh and demanded the treaty’s abrogation, ushering in an explosive crisis between the two states that took six years to subside.” ............ When a young, power-hungry Saudi prince in Mohammad bin Salman happened along, the elder and wiser Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed was not slow to seize his opportunity........It was he and his ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba, not the Saudi establishment, who beat a path to the door of the Oval Office for Mohammad bin Salman............. A limited circulation monthly report on Saudi Arabia, prepared by the Emirati Policy Centre, a think tank with close links to the UAE’s government and intelligence, notes how cravenly beholden the Saudis are to a vacillating US policy on Iran.

Saudi-Qatar Crisis Nearing End, Suggests a Hopeful U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Washington sees an ongoing political rift that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-Gulf state Egypt have with Qatar as a threat to efforts to contain Iran and has pushed for a united front ........ Washington has unsuccessfully tried to mediate the dispute, in which the four nations have severed political, trade and transport ties with Qatar since mid-2017 over accusations it supports terrorism.....Doha denies the charge and says the embargo aims to impinge on its sovereignty..........The United States is allied to all six Gulf Arab states. Qatar hosts Al-Udeid air base, the largest U.S. military facility in the region, while Bahrain is home to the Navy's Fifth Fleet........ Emphasising the principle of collective security, Goldfein said the best chance to defend the UAE could be from Qatar or neighbouring Oman........ "Neighbours to the right and to the left who by geometry-alone have a better shot," he said. 

Iran's Middle East Empire of Anarchy Can't Survive The grievances animating protests in Lebanon and Iraq are beyond anything Tehran or local leaders can cope with: This isn't an Arab Spring, this is a Persian Autumn ........ For a long time it looked like the spread of Iranian influence across the Middle East was unstoppable. Lebanon has long been in Iran s pocket via Hezbollah. Then the chaos created by the U.S. invasion of Iraq 
Qatar Fights Airspace Blockade in Top UN Court
Qatari emir receives invitation from Saudi king to attend Gulf summit
Egypt says Qatar supported Muslim Brotherhood “All the region’s countries were affected by the Qatari interference in their internal affairs,” the Egyptian official noted, explaining that, in 2013, Qatar’s Al-Jazeera TV channel was promoting what he described as “hatred and violence across Egyptians.” ...... Doha denies the allegations saying the boycotting countries are actually working to force a change in government in Qatar.

Another $7 billion of Qatari investments to flow into Turkey "Qatar will continue to invest in Turkey not only in the banking sector but also in the real estate sector. Some 35% of the $10 billion that Qatar has committed has been invested, and there is another $7 billion to flow into Turkey. Investments follow healthy political relations, and our relations with Turkey date back centuries" ..........

Qatar was Turkey's largest foreign investor last year

, according to Al-Jaida, who added that the two countries have healthy political relations and that the heads of states share a common strategic perspective on global developments. ....... The two allies' close economic ties strengthened significantly after a Saudi-led embargo on Qatar. Ankara emerged as one of Qatar's top partners since the Saudi Arabia-led bloc launched a trade and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state in 2017, sending additional troops and food to meet Qatar's needs just after the embargo began. ........ Turkish investments in Qatar are projected to be worth some $17 billion ........ Malaysia serves as a door for Asia, Qatar for Africa and the Middle East and Turkey for Europe 

Princes at war in the Gulf In the past few years, a new generation of princes have come to power in the world’s richest oil-producing monarchies: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. While their predecessors maintained a cordial relationship between the three states, the princes have become bitter rivals, competing with each other over everything from sports and culture to armaments. Their ramped-up rivalry threatens a region already destabilised by years of conflict. ........ Between 2013 and 2015, three princes started governing the Gulf monarchies: Tamim Al Thani in Qatar, Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and Mohammed Bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi. The sovereigns, who are among the richest and most powerful in the world, quickly imposed new, more violent, styles of rule. ......... Tamim Al Thani, the 39-year-old emir of Qatar, was the first of the three to ascend his throne. Al Thani is a sports fanatic and sparked the envy of his competitive neighbours when Qatar won the honour of hosting 2022 FIFA World Cup. His rivals also accuse him of financing Islamist groups and for keeping too close a company with Iran. ......... With a penchant for video games, MBS is responsible for his country’s costly and deadly involvement in the war in Yemen. With the ambition of becoming the Middle East’s new strongman, MBS has found his ally and mentor in Mohammed Bin Zayed, or “MBZ”. MBZ is the 58-year-old crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the ruler of the United Arab Emirates. MBZ’s tiny nation is now one of the main military powerhouses in the Arabian Peninsula. ......... Although their fathers and grandfathers would discretely meet up in Bedouin tents to settle their differences, the princes have instead made it a habit of confronting each other head-on, frequently subjecting each other to cyber attacks, economic blockades and out-right threats of invasion.

UAE OFFICIALLY BACKS SYRIA'S ASSAD TO WIN WAR The UAE's position has in some ways been more moderate than neighboring Saudi Arabia, with Abu Dhabi openly seeking to rebuild ties with Syria and avoid outright tensions with Iran, whose revolutionary Shiite Islamic Republic backed Assad and was engaged in a bout for regional influence with Sunni Muslim monarchies on the Arabian Peninsula. The UAE's recent moves, however, came amid changing power dynamics across the Middle East....... The UAE was among the many nations to shutter its embassy in Syria in 2011, as mass anti-government protests devolved into all-out war and it later joined the likes of the U.S., Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and, even to some extent, Israel in backing various insurgent groups looking to overthrow Assad. This backing declined amid ideological infighting among such fighters, along with the rise of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and Russia's entry into the battle on the government's behalf in 2015. ........... Moscow's success in gathering rival parties for talks in Syria has helped cement its burgeoning status as a top diplomatic power in the region and has galvanized Gulf Cooperation Council nations to engage Russia, which has largely worked with non-Arab powers Iran and Turkey. As Russian troops assumed U.S. military positions left behind to avoid a fight between NATO ally Turkey and Pentagon-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin made back-to-back visits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

An Islamic perspective of Qatar diplomatic crisis Trade cooperation between Qatar and those four countries make up 86 percent of the total trade Doha undertakes with Arab countries. ...... Qatari nationals and residents have been denied the right to perform Hajj and Umra because of the blockade .......

If we look at the Islamic traditions, there is a strong prohibition on mutual hostility and division among the people. Prophet Muhammad, for instance, states that: “Do not cut ties with each other and do not hate each other. It is not lawful for a Muslim to not greet his brothers or sisters for over three days...... “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers.”

........ The main lesson is that

Islam forbids disputes, animosity and divisions that occur between fellow human beings, and it actually calls upon the people to unite with each other. That is the true teaching of Islam.

....... cutting ties with Qatar is something that is strongly prohibited, more so restricting them to worship. ........ “A believer with another believer is like a sturdy building that reinforces one another.” This message calls the people to help one another, instead of making each other difficult. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries should understand that the blockade has imposed various difficulties on Qatar. ......... Saudi Arabia should understand that Islam does not justify hostility between fellow Muslims as stated in several Qur’anic verses and Hadith. 

Analysis: Behind the punishing blockade against Qatar Qatar has embraced a domestic and foreign policy independent of Saudi's regional hegemony, making it a target........ Two years after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed a land, air and sea blockade, the Gulf crisis shows little sign of ending any time soon. ....... On the domestic front, aided by its vast hydrocarbon reserves, Qatar has modernised its infrastructure and raised the standard of living of its citizens to the highest in the world - a level other Gulf states have been unable to achieve. .........

Regarding foreign policy, Qatar's independent regional course led to it supporting popular demands for democratic change in the Arab world, especially during the Arab Spring revolts throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

....... "The Saudi and Emirati leaders have led a coalition of Arab regimes that supported the reversal of gains made by Arab societies during the Arab Spring upheavals and the restoration of authoritarian rule in the region," said Majed al-Ansari, a professor of political sociology at Qatar University.......... Al-Ansari added smaller Gulf states have historically been cautious of Saudi Arabia because of its attempts to dominate the Gulf region............ Because Qatar has used its "soft power" in the form of diplomacy and international media networks to highlight demands for reform in the region, it has become marked by the Saudi-Emirati axis ......... Doha has proved remarkably resilient to the pressure applied by the blockading countries, which initially expected to bring it back into the fold within weeks of launching the punitive measures........ the Gulf Cooperation Council will end up becoming a shell of its former self as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar branch out seeking regional and international partners who share their political and security objectives.

Two Years Later, Qatar Has Shrugged Off Saudi Embargo Two years ago today, the tottering edifice known as the Gulf Cooperation Council collapsed in a heap when three of its members—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain—announced an embargo on a fourth, Qatar. The troika, joined by Egypt, claimed to be punishing the rulers in Doha for an array of sins, including their relationships with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood........ Their calculation: An embargo would shake Qatar’s economy and weaken its ruling Al Thani family, forcing them, among other things, to fall in line with the Saudi-led Arab phalanx against Iran. 

Is the Blockade of Qatar a Blessing in Disguise? Not so long ago, the quickest means to resolve a dispute between two sovereign states was going to war. This form of intervention has lost favor in the 21st century, but that does not mean that we live in a world of perfect harmony. ........ The conventional armed confrontation is now replaced by a popular strategy called blockade. ....... The hapless countries that have found themselves at the receiving end are the perpetual problem state North Korea, the ever-defiant Iran, and the enormously wealthy microstate of Qatar. ............. The blockading states claim Qatar’s regime is responsible for promoting “terrorism” and “destabilizing the region.” ........ And then there is the issue of Qatar’s sponsorship of the powerful media outlet Al Jazeera. Needless to say, this institution has been singularly responsible for bringing about a seismic transformation in the nature of governance in the region by exposing all sorts of irregularities and political taboos in the murky world of Middle Eastern politics. ........ microstate Qatar, with 2.7 million inhabitants, punches well above its weight in regional and international politics. ......... more states in the region have stood by Qatar than those who have called quits against this small country with a big personality. ....... The blockade allowed Qatar’s regime to engage in massive economic charm offensives in the region and managed to win over new regional powers such as Turkey. Doha also weathered criticism or any possible fallout at the international level by pursuing a vigorous diplomatic campaign, which highlighted that the country has been simply maligned by devious powers and regimes in the region.......

Two years down the line, people on the streets of Qatar argue that the blockade was a blessing in disguise. The isolation brought the Qataris together and infused in them a spirit of national fervor never seen before..... The country is gradually moving away from an immediate dependency on neighbors to a market economy where there is greater reliance on self-sufficiency. Qatar is also energetically opening up new economic linkages with far away powers and economies.

Turkey’s Support for Qatar Goes Beyond Damaged Ties with Saudi Arabia and UAE When Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates shocked the world by declaring an economic blockade on their tiny neighbor Qatar in the summer of 2017, they probably didn’t expect Turkey to come to Doha’s aid so quickly and forcefully........ After all, Turkey’s trade and investment links with Saudi Arabia and the UAE were much larger than its ties with Qatar....... he went all-in with full economic and military aid, enabling Qatar to resist the blockade...... Qatar’s small population of just 2.7 million of which only 12 percent are citizens. ........ Turkey’s support for Qatar has not only damaged its ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE but also motivated these countries to frustrate Turkey’s efforts to increase diplomatic and economic links with other countries throughout the Arab world. 

Six European Countries Join Barter System for Iran Trade France, Germany, and the United Kingdom on Saturday welcomed six new European countries to the INSTEX barter mechanism, which is designed to circumvent U.S. sanctions against trade with Iran by avoiding use of the dollar.

Bankers Are Sick of Choosing Sides Between Qatar and Saudi Arabia For top dealmakers, the Gulf diplomatic standoff isn’t good for business. ........ Executives from HSBC Holdings Plc, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and other global banks are intensifying efforts to repair ties with Qatar’s finance ministry and sovereign wealth fund, according to interviews with people close to the lenders and Qatar’s government. While the kingdom remains key for business, some bankers regret diverting their attention from Doha after being blindsided when the Saudis delayed the sale of a stake in oil giant Aramco in July, they said. .......... “MBS has changed the rules of the game in terms of Saudi domestic and economic policy, without much sense of what the new rules are,” said Gregory Gause, a professor of international affairs and a Saudi specialist at Texas A&M University. “That is going to discourage investment. His risk-taking on the international scene is similarly going to cause doubts for international investors.” ......... The tide moved in Doha’s favor when Saudi Arabia did an about-face on the Aramco IPO that many banks were counting for big fee payouts ........ Many regional representatives who attended

pulled their neck ties over their badges to conceal their identity, something they didn’t do at Euromoney or the Doha Forum in December

. ......... Qatar is spending $25 billion on infrastructure upgrades this year to prepare for the 2022 World Cup. It’s also building liquefied natural gas capacity to add $40 billion to revenue by 2024, furnishing the $320 billion Qatar Investment Authority with more cash.

The fund is currently eyeing U.S. tech acquisitions

to balance holdings in European bank stocks and London property.

Inching away from Saudi-UAE axis, Jordan restores ties with Qatar Qatar hosts tens of thousands of skilled Jordanian workers whose remittances help the faltering economy back home. ....... Jordan and Qatar announced the restoration of full diplomatic ties by naming their respective ambassadors, two years after Amman downgraded its relations with Doha due to pressure from a Saudi-led block........ Following an economic crisis and popular unrest in June 2018, Qatar rushed an economic aid package to Jordan worth $500m and offered 10,000 jobs for Jordanian citizens to work in Qatar......Qatar already hosts tens of thousands of skilled Jordanian workers whose remittances help the faltering economy back home.......... The move was seen as part of Qatar's "soft power diplomacy" in the region and to court Jordan away from Doha's regional foes. ....... Jordan is under intense pressure from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who attach political conditions to their assistance, such as accepting American plans for ending the "two-state solution" to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. ....... The occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem were part of Jordan when Israel seized them during the 1967 war. Millions of Palestinians remain Jordanian citizens today. 

Qatar To Saudi Arabia: We'd Rather Quit OPEC Than Cut Ties With Iran Or Close Al Jazeera the tiny Persian Gulf monarchy, with just 300,000 citizens. ....... Gas exports have helped Qatar create a big international profile by hosting sporting events including the upcoming 2022 World Cup, mediating regional conflicts, and especially by bankrolling the provocative Al Jazeera TV network. ........ Natural gas exports have allowed Qataris to become the world’s richest people. They’ve used that income to extract themselves from historic dominance by neighboring Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader. ....... Over the years, the Saudis have tried to bring wayward Qatar to heel. In 1996, Riyadh backed a failed coup attempt. Since June 2017, Riyadh joined the UAE in imposing a trade and travel blockade on the maverick monarchy. ........ The embargo has failed to achieve a single one of its strategic goals, which include cutting links with Iran, the country with which Qatar shares its primary natural gas field, and shutting down Al Jazeera. ........

At one time or another, Al Jazeera has lampooned every Arab leader, including the Saudi royal family, making the network a nuisance to ruling elites used to uncritical coverage – with one exception: Al Jazeera reporters are subject to prosecution for treating Qatari elites with the same withering eye. Not surprisingly, the neighbors are unamused.

........ the shale revolution that turned the United States into the world No. 1 oil producer has diluted OPEC’s market power. ........ leaving OPEC is a contrarian move for a small country, and one that signals a high level of self-confidence. ......

Qatar’s departure shows that the tiny monarchy no longer needs OPEC to make itself heard. For that, it’s got Al Jazeera.