Sunday, April 24, 2011

Keep an eye on Saudi hand

NOT having been invited to next Friday's Royal nuptials, and spared the worry of purchasing a present (though I've had a tax increase to help cover the drinks bill), I had not been paying due attention to the guest list. So I'm grateful to a friend who notes that among those personally invited by HM the Queen are:

"The Crown Prince of Bahrain, The Sultan of Brunei and Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha, Sheikh Ahmad Hmoud Al-Sabah of Kuwait, Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said of Oman, The Emir of The State of Qatar and Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, Prince Mohamed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia and Princess Fadwa bint Khalid bin Abdullah bin Abdulrahman, The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi."

Good to see that our rulers are looking after Britain's arms customers, besides which the wedding will serve as a reunion for the Sandhurst old boys.

I was wondering back in March whether the Windsors would feel they had to invite Saif al Islam Gaddafi, who is said to have got along fine with Prince Andrew when they met a couple of years ago,
Saif and Andrew are, you might say, both interns, in the prince's case gaining work experience with the Department of Trade, so perhaps unfairly criticised for making friendship serve sales.

But the Gaddafi regime is a brutal dictatorship suppressing its own people, whereas the Crown Prince of Bahrain ...has let the Saudis in to help do that job. The use of helicopter gunships to shoot down unarmed demonstrators in Bahrain has not brought any 'no fly zone' to protect its people, nor resulted in the coverage given Libya, but it has been reported that the Crown Prince diplomatically declined his invitation to the wedding, to spare Prince William the embarrassment of demonstrations outside Buck House. Or worse ...? Still, the Saudis are coming.

By sending its tanks over the causeway into Bahrain, the Saudi regime has shown its hand, dispelling any notion its rulers are only interested in enjoying their oil wealth, or their armed forces merely a source of bribery-acquired contracts and backhanders for British Aerospace etc. The Bahraini monarch Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was reported to have declined the offer of Saudi tanks at first, but now he has reportedly allowed the Saudis to virtually take over Bahrain's defence.The Saudi king's Sandhurst-trained son Prince Mutaib has been confirmed as commander of Saudi and Gulf Co-ordination Council forces sent into Bahrain.

The Israeli DEBKA-net website, a well-informed, presumably Mossad-run, source of disinformation claims the secret pact between Riyadh and Manama makes Bahrain the fourteenth province of Saudi Arabia, though its al-Khalifa family will remain nominally in charge, with the same privileges as a Saudi royal. It says the Saudis would acquire a naval base on the Bahraini coast, confronting Iran, though this would be duplicating the existing American base. We can guess that the Israelis want to stir up trouble between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but this antagonism is already there and needs little encouragement.

Iranian leaders have spoken out for the people being suppressed in Bahrain, where a Sh'ite majority has long been discriminated against by the Sunni rulers, though the recent demonstrations were not exclusively Sh'ite. The Saudi rulers are worried that the movement in Bahrain will encourage Saudi Arabia's two million strong Shi'ite minority to fight for their rights, undermining the Saudi throne.

The Saudi regime is not only Sunni, but Wahabbi, resting its authority on a form of Islam which is strictly conservative and militantly sectarian, treating other Muslims, let alone other faiths, as heretics and infidels. This has not prevented it providing bases and being an ally, if sometimes an awkward one, for the United States. When US forces were sent in during the first war with Iraq, the service personnel were advised to hide any crucifixes, stars of David or prayer books so as not to offend the guardians of the Holy Places. Western businessmen have managed alright with this strict regime, but Filipino migrant workers have been punished when caught celebrating Christmas.

So long as there is good money to be made from Saudi oil, and from supplying the Saudis with weapons, it is a fair guess the US and Britain will not have any plans yet for regime change in Saudi Arabia.

Whatever we may suspect about the piety or private lives of the Saudi rulers, they have large amounts of money for exporting the faith, patronising mosques and schools in other countries, and they don't stick to prayer and persuasion. That is a sword beneath the shahada, or declaration of faith, on the Saudi flag, even if it is meant to be the sword of "justice". It was Saudi money that backed the Taliban to take over Afghanistan, and while imperialist mouthpieces like Tony Blair were sternly accusing the Iranians of causing trouble in Iraq it was reported that most armed infiltrators were coming over the Saudi border. There followed a sectarian war the like of which Iraqis had not experienced, and there has been continued harassment and terror against Iraqi Christians.

The elusive Osama Bin Laden and al Qaida, with which so many terror attacks are linked by governments and media, started off from Saudi Arabia. Saudi money and backing, official or not (and it is hard to imagine the Saudi government liberally allowing independent political or religious groups to operate freely) has been behind jihadi groups making a nuisance of themselves in Bosnia, and indirectly (through Pakistani intelligence) in turning the Kashmiri freedom struggle into a murderous religious war. There has also been Saudi interference destabilising the country and stirring conflict in Yemen.

Against such background it does not take too much of an intuitive leap to wonder about a possible link between Saudi Wahhabis and the ideologically-linked Salafis who have turned up in Gaza, where they accuse Hamas of being too lax in imposing Islamic law, and have been held responsible for the murder of internationalist volunteer Vittorio Arrigoni.

Real though the mass insurgencies taking place through the Arab world are, there is also a scarcely hidden war going on beneath the surface between Saudi and Iranian influence. There is also a pact of sorts, however much they may hate and despise each other, between the Saudis and Israeli Zionists. Talking with an Iraqi friend some while back about who was to blame for some terror bombings in his country, he differed with some of his fellow-country people who blamed the occupiers. As he said, "the Americans don't have suicide bombers". He was probably right. "But the Saudis might do." I said. Similarly we can suspect that if Mossad, however devious, finds it hard to recruit deluded Muslim fanatics to fulfil its purposes, someone in Saudi intelligence may know just the men for the job.

On March 31 the Iranian majlis security and foreign affairs committee warned "Saudi Arabia knows better than any other country that playing with fire in the sensitive Persian Gulf region is not in their interests,"
On Saturday, April 2, Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki criticised US Middle East policy as discriminating among the popular movements in motion against different Arab regimes (obviously not counting his own): "Whatever decision is made on Libya should be applied to any government that suppresses its people with iron and fire," he said.

The following day the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council held a special foreign ministers' meeting. It passed a resolution which "severely condemned Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain in violation of international pacts."

Those who were counting on either the United States or Israel to go to war with Iran are now wondering whether Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah might be given the honour of at least kicking off. Saudi is nearer, and unlike an Israeli attack its action would be less likely to bring the Muslim world to the Iranian side. If the Saudis get into difficulty the Obama administration could always try Anthony Eden's ploy at Suez and claim it was going in to separate the "warring sides". '

King Abdullah is reported to have privately told visiting US officials that he felt the US had thrown Mubarak to the wolves, and was backing unrest in the Arab world. In public, of course, he and the GCC supported the so-called no-fly zone over Libya, to protect the rebels, and there is likely to be Saudi support for some of those opposing the regime in Syria, which has angered the Israeli government by welcoming two Iranian warships that had been allowed through Suez when Israel wanted them stopped.

On Monday, April 18, the GCC foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, asked the UN Security Council to take action for stopping Iran's "provocative interference in their countries' domestic affairs," saying this "flagrant interference" posed a "grave security to, and risked flaring up sectarian strife, in the GCC countries." The resolution went on to state: "The GCC will not hesitate to adopt whatever measures and policies they deem necessary vis-à-vis the foreign interferences in their internal affairs."

That sounds like war.

Iran, meanwhile, which has the advantage of manpower, has used the Basijj volunteer corps to stage student demonstrations with stones and the odd firebomb at the Saudi embassy in Teheran. Iran's Foreign Ministry also summoned the Pakistani charge d'affaires on April 16 to warn against the recruitment of Pakistanis attracted more by good money than faith to serve in military operation in support of the Bahraini king.

On Monday, April 18, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa announced that Saudi and allied GCC troops would stay in the kingdom until Iran no longer poses a menace. "Gulf force is needed to counter a sustained campaign by Iran in Bahrain," he said.

While the Saudis and their allies are beset by fears of Shi'ite unrest and banned incoming flights to Bahrain from Lebanon and elsewhere, the Iranian regime is once again coping with national minorities in the only way it knows. It has had trouble with Baluchis and Kurds, and now it is the Arabs in Khuzestan, south-west Iran whom it has to fear. On April 11-12 there was trouble at Ahwaz and government forces killed at least 15 demonstrators before cutting off Ahwaz's links with the outside world. The Iranian regime accuses Saudi and United Arab Emirates agents of causing the trouble. It may be remembered that it was supposedly on behalf of the Khuzestan Arabs that Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, and the regime must fear the possibility of unrest and repression there undermining its good relations with the current regime in Iraq.

It was reported yesterday that the Iranian government is sealing its borders to counter "terrorist" infiltration in three regions.

Meanwhile on another front the Saudis and their allies in the Gulf have reportedly warned the US that the Iranian nuclear plant at Busheyr could be the site of an even bigger calamity than the Fukushima disaster in Japan, polluting several countries around it. That seems to step away from the argument over whether the plant has a military capability. But the Saudis are also reported to be shopping for missiles with a nuclear capacity.

Dr.Qaradawi says...

THESE are difficult times for anyone who tries to understand the Middle East in simple terms and wants to know which are the goodies and baddies, and whether all insurrections are the same. Watching some of the heated polemics between friends in a small corner of the British Left you'd fear the Libyan civil war was about to spread to our streets. Fortunately, my inside information is that it won't go beyond abusive words exchanged in the University of London Union bar and on Facebook.

Unfortunately though I've heard occasional reference to "the Libyan working class" as a theoretical concept, nobody either side of the argument has come up with a word from a Libyan worker.

Meanwhile, we may turn for possible guidance to a man of the cloth. A Dr.Qaradawi from Egypt says that the people who demonstrated in Bahrain, where the authorities are now cracking down on trade unions and sacking union members, deserve no backing because their movement is "sectarian" (he presumably means Shi'ite, though in fact the evidence is the struggle has support across the religious, if not the social divide).

But Dr.Qaradawi supports the rebels in Libya, and what's more, issued a fatwa calling for the assassination of Colonel Gaddafi. I don't know whether SAS or Green Beret forces sent in to Libya as "advisers" will be able to claim the prize. In any case, other Muslims, even those opposed to Gaddafi question what right Dr.Qaradawi has to go issuing fatwas.

I might have to ask Ken Livingstone, who once upon a time received a little Libyan help (via my old firm), but in his job as Mayor of London entertained Dr.Qaradawi to tea for his advice on matters theological. These are difficult times for testing our loyalties.

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At 8:18 AM, Anonymous Gerry Downing said...

That was very informative, Charlie. What is your take on Syria? My view is that there is ambivilance all around on that issue but critical support for the opposition whilst demanding the expulsion of Saudi, US and Israeli agents who are seeking to subvert the movement to the side of 'democrtatic imperialims' and a neo-liberal right of ginance capital to penetrate the country at will via a compliant puppet.


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