Of Tribes and Terrorism: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, June, 2017— Last week, several Arab states, including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, put Qatar on notice.
Qatar, Trump and Double Games: Caroline B. Glick, Jerusalem Post, June 8, 2017 — US President Donald Trump has been attacked by his ubiquitous critics for his apparent about-face on the crisis surrounding Qatar.
How Can Canada Pretend that Saudi Arabia is an Honourable, Peaceful Country?: Robert Fulford, National Post, May 12, 2017 — If you believe the official word from Ottawa it appears Saudi Arabia and Canada are on good terms.
Saudi Arabia's 'Lavish' Gift to Indonesia: Radical Islam: Mohshin Habib, Gatestone Institute, Apr. 29, 2017 — Accompanied by a 1,500-strong entourage, Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz arrived in Indonesia on March 1 for a nine-day gala tour.
Gregg Roman on the Rift Between Qatar and the Arab Gulf States (Video): I24News, June 6, 2017
The “Game of Camps” Revisited: Why Qatar? Why Now?: Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, BESA, June 12, 2017
Qatar's Increasing Isolation in the Arab World: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, June 10, 2017
Saudi Arabia is Destabilizing the World: Stephen Kinzer, Boston Globe, June 11, 2017
Weekly Standard, June, 2017
Last week, several Arab states, including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, put Qatar on notice. They removed their diplomats from Doha, closed airspace and ports to Qatari vessels, expelled Qatari nationals, and prohibited their own nationals from visiting the country. Among other key demands, Qatar's Arab opponents want the emirate to stop backing Islamic extremists, Sunni and Shia, and shut down hostile press outlets, including Doha's jewel, Al Jazeera.
Reports suggest the breaking point was Doha's decision to send nearly $1 billion to rescue a hunting party held captive in Iraq—a ransom paid to Iran and to Sunni extremists, both of whom the Arab states consider threats to their national security. The ransom may be the proximate cause of the crisis, but tension has been brewing for some time.
The key players are the Emiratis and Saudis, the two major powers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Qatar is also a member. Bahrain is effectively a Saudi province and Egypt, while contemptuous of Qatar, is incapable of projecting much power without the financial support of its Emirati patrons. In 2014, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE removed their diplomats to protest Qatar's interference in their internal affairs. That crisis was partly precipitated when Qatar backed Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood government while the others supported General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's coup.
Regional experts explain that the conflict goes back further still: "2014 was just a culmination of problems that were brewing for 20 years," says Mohammed al-Yahya, a Saudi analyst close to the government in Riyadh and a fellow at the Atlantic Council. "Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani [who ruled Qatar until 2013; his son rules now] overthrew his father in a coup in 1995. The Saudis disapproved. It's not part of the culture of the GCC states to overthrow monarchs in coups like this. And Sheikh Hamad had a lot of animosity toward Saudi Arabia, Qatari posture shifted 180 degrees after the coup."
Indeed, that was the central purpose of Al Jazeera—to serve as an instrument with which Hamad attacked his larger and richer Gulf neighbor. Internationally, the satellite network is known for its anti-American posture. After 9/11, it was virtually Osama bin Laden's bulletin board, posting videos the al Qaeda leader sent to the network through couriers. During the U.S.-led coalition's invasion of Iraq, Al Jazeera openly sided with the remnants of Saddam Hussein's forces as they targeted American troops and allies.
From Doha's vantage point, though, beating up on the Americans was just another way to target Washington's local client, Saudi Arabia. The Qataris have no real problem with the United States—they host Al Udeid, the biggest American military base in the Middle East and CENTCOM's headquarters in the region. But that's the Qatar way, play both sides—making nice with the Americans and the people who want to kill Americans, Sunnis as well as Shiites, is just another day at the office in Doha. Similarly, Qatar shares with Iran the world's largest natural gas field, South Pars, the source of nearly all its revenue, so it's cozy with Tehran even as its GCC allies see Iran as threat.
The hope, says al-Yahya, "was that things would be different under the new emir, Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, whom Hamad appointed after he abdicated in 2013. But to Riyadh, these hopes turned out to be misplaced." Indeed, many assume that the father is still running the show. "Tamim is so weak," said another Saudi analyst who requested anonymity. The same source explained that Qatar's former prime minister, Hamad Bin Jassim al-Thani, spent last week on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress after President Donald Trump identified Qatar as a source of terrorism in yet another ill-advised tweet. The Qataris have a powerful ally in the Pentagon—Al Udeid Air Base is a key installation from which the United States runs operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other regional hotspots. No one wants the Americans to leave Al Udeid—except the Emiratis…
It's perhaps useful to see the current crisis in a wider aperture, since it goes back way beyond the last 20 years. Many of the Gulf's ruling families are from the same region on the Arabian Peninsula and have been bickering with or actively fighting each other for a very long time. Rival clans that became energy-rich monarchies are playing out their feuds on a very large stage now for several reasons. First, with the region embroiled in conflict from Libya to Syria to Yemen, the stakes are high. Second, both Qatar and the UAE exercise a considerable amount of influence in Washington, largely but not exclusively through the money they donate to think tanks. But most crucially, the president of the United States inserted himself in the middle of it.
Trump's visit to Riyadh was a success, it was the aftermath that was a problem. While there, he enlisted the support of Arab and Muslim leaders in the fight against terrorism. From the perspective of the Saudis and others, Trump's promise to forswear interference in their societies marked a welcome change from the last two administrations—and was likely read by them as a green light to sort out local affairs, starting with Qatar. His tweet two weeks after his visit confirmed that. "During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar—look!"
"Obama protected Doha," the Saudi analyst explained. "He used them to keep the Saudis off balance, but now that he's gone the Qataris lost their defender." The point is not that Trump should likewise shield an adventurist Doha but that it's probably not prudent to widen the natural rift in the GCC, an institution designed to project American power in the Persian Gulf. Further, when you have problems with an ally, scream at them in private, rather than chide them in front of the world.
If the Emiratis had a specific goal in mind, hosting a major U.S. base, the Saudis aimed to show the Americans that they can be helpful. "The Saudis wanted to get the GCC in line to take on Iran," says Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "They wanted to show the Trump administration that they are part of the solution, an American partner against all the destabilizing stuff in the region, whether that's Iran or Sunni extremism." What the Saudis don't need is an argument over who funds terror, says Lebanese political analyst Elie Fawaz. "Once they open that can of worms, they'll get dragged into it. The pro-Iranian camp attacked them for backing terrorism to win support from the Obama administration, and now the Qataris will get into it."
The reality is that there are plenty of problematic actors in the GCC, including the Emiratis, who do business with Iran and have sheltered figures from the Syrian regime that the Saudis and Qataris oppose. "The Arabs are divided," says Fawaz, "but there isn't much wisdom in opening up another front in a destabilized region." Mohamed al-Yahya, the analyst close to the Saudi government, agrees. "The Saudis want a unified GCC. The point is not to bring Qatar to its knees, but to get it back on track to join in pushing a unified GCC agenda. No one wants this to continue." Trump later walked back his tweet and in a phone call with the Qatari emir offered to mediate the crisis, even if it takes a White House meeting. What's most important, however, is that the administration doesn't let local players, whether that's Qatar or the UAE or Saudi Arabia, set American priorities. Intra-Arab conflict should not distract the administration from keeping regional partners focused on the two key issues on the U.S. agenda— stopping Iran and crushing ISIS.
Caroline B. Glick
Jerusalem Post, June 8, 2017
US President Donald Trump has been attacked by his ubiquitous critics for his apparent about-face on the crisis surrounding Qatar. In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Trump sided firmly with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and the other Sunni states that cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and instituted an air and land blockade of the sheikhdom on Monday. On Wednesday, Trump said that he hopes to mediate the dispute, more or less parroting the lines adopted by the State Department and the Pentagon which his Twitter posts disputed the day before.
To understand the apparent turnaround and why it is both understandable and probably not an about-face, it is important to understand the forces at play and the stakes involved in the Sunni Arab world’s showdown with Doha. Arguably, Qatar’s role in undermining the stability of the Islamic world has been second only to Iran’s. Beginning in the 1995, after the Pars gas field was discovered and quickly rendered Qatar the wealthiest state in the world, the Qatari regime set about undermining the Sunni regimes of the Arab world by among other things, waging a propaganda war against them and against their US ally and by massively funding terrorism.
The Qatari regime established Al Jazeera in 1996. Despite its frequent denials, the regime has kept tight control on Al Jazeera’s messaging. That messaging has been unchanging since the network’s founding. The pan-Arab satellite station which reaches hundreds of millions of households in the region and worldwide, opposes the US’s allies in the Sunni Arab world. It supports the Muslim Brotherhood and every terrorist group spawned by it. It supports Iran and Hezbollah. Al Jazeera is viciously anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. It serves as a propaganda arm not only of al-Qaida and Hezbollah but of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and any other group that attacks the US, Israel, Europe and other Western targets.
Al Jazeera’s reporters have accompanied Hamas and Taliban forces in their wars against Israel and the US. After Israel released Hezbollah arch-terrorist Samir Kuntar from prison in exchange for the bodies of two IDF reservists, Al Jazeera’s Beirut bureau hosted an on-air party in his honor. Al Jazeera was at the forefront of the propaganda campaign inciting against then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2012. Its operations were widely credited with inciting their overthrow and installing in their places regimes controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadist groups.
As for the Qatari regime itself, it has massively financed jihadist groups for more than 20 years. Qatar is a major bankroller not only of al-Qaida and Hamas but of militias associated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In a State Department cable from 2009 published by WikiLeaks, US diplomats referred to Qatar as the largest funder of terrorism in the world. According to the Financial Times, the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Saudis and their allies was their discovery that in April, Qatar paid Iran, its Iraqi militias and al-Qaida forces in Syria up to a billion dollars to free members of the royal family held captive in southern Iraq and 50 terrorists held captive in Syria.
Given Qatar’s destabilizing and pernicious role in the region and worldwide in everything related to terrorism funding and incitement, Trump’s statement on Tuesday in support of the Sunnis against Qatar was entirely reasonable. What can the US do other than stand by its allies as they seek to coerce Qatar to end its destabilizing and dangerous practices? The case for supporting the Saudis, Egyptians, the UAE and the others against Qatar becomes all the more overwhelming given their demands. The Sunnis are demanding that Qatar ditch its strategic alliance with Iran. They demand that Qatar end its financial support for terrorist groups and they demand that Qatar expel terrorists from its territory. If Qatar is forced to abide by these demands, its abandonment of Iran in particular will constitute the single largest blow the regime in Tehran has absorbed in recent memory. Among other things, Qatar serves as Iran’s banker and diplomatic proxy.
If the story began and ended here, then Trump’s anti-Qatari stance would have been the obvious and only move. Unfortunately, the situation is not at all simple. First there is the problem of Doha’s relations with key Americans and American institutions. Ahead of the 2016 US elections, WikiLeaks published documents which disclosed that the emir of Qatar presented Bill Clinton with a $1 million check for the Clinton Foundation as a gift for his 65th birthday. During Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, Qatar reportedly contributed some $6m. to the Clinton Foundation. Clinton, for her part, was deeply supportive of the regime and of Al Jazeera. For instance, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2011, Clinton praised Al Jazeera for its leading role in fomenting and expanding the protests in Egypt that brought down Mubarak. Clinton wasn’t the only one that Qatar singled out for generosity. Since the 1990s, Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in US universities. Six major US universities have campuses in Doha…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
National Post, May 12, 2017
If you believe the official word from Ottawa it appears Saudi Arabia and Canada are on good terms. A Canadian government website, dealing with trade, takes care to assert that we share with the Saudis “many peace and security issues, including energy security, humanitarian affairs (including refugees), and counter-terrorism.” It also says admiringly that “The Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability.”
No wonder Canada seems willing to sell military vehicles and other products to Saudi Arabia. It sounds like a friendly government we should enjoy dealing with. Not democratic, of course, but sort of on the right side, at least sometimes. On the other hand, UN Watch, an independent monitoring service, this week sent out a bulletin headed “UN holds lavish NGO forum in Saudi Arabia while rights activists languish in prison.” It seems that the Saudis, with support from a Saudi foundation headed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi minister of defence, generously hosted a large global gathering of non-government organizations on the subject of Youth and their Social Impact. It was staged in the luxury of the Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh (which advertises Distinguished Fine Dining and All-Men’s Spa) — even as, UN Watch went on, “young bloggers and human rights activists like Raif Badawi languish in prison for the crime of advocating freedom in Saudi Arabia.”
The name “Raif Badawi” was placed near the top of the bulletin because UN Watch knows it’s the name most likely to upset Saudi officialdom. In fact, to many people the treatment of Badawi damns Saudi Arabia as irredeemably evil. Saudi law gives the state the right to ban any organization the government opposes, on grounds that it violates “Islamic Sharia” or public manners or national unity. Individuals committing such crimes, even if they are otherwise peaceful, get long prison sentences. Many activists are currently in jail for advocating human rights reforms. And Raif Badawi? The more you know about Saudi Arabia, the worse it appears. Once you digest the stifling and humiliating rules governing women, and perhaps even consider them routine, you may begin to wonder how the Saudis treat men. And then you come across Raif Badawi and everything grows darker still.
He’s a young Saudi Arabian writer, the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals. He was arrested in 2012 for insulting Islam through electronic channels and charged as well with apostasy, the abandonment or breach of faith (though he says he’s still a Muslim). He’s not respectful of the grand institutions of the country. He’s referred, for instance, to Al-Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University as “a den for terrorists.” Even worse, he believes in secular government — “Secularism is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the Third World and into the First World,” he says. “Look at what happened after the European peoples succeeded in removing the clergy from public life and restricting them to their churches. They promoted enlightenment, creativity and rebellion. States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.”
Badawi apparently lives his life by words he quotes from Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” He was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, then re-sentenced in 2014 to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison plus a fine. The lashes were to be carried out over 20 weeks. The first 50 were administered on January 9, 2015 — in front of a mosque while hundreds of spectators shouted “Allahu Akbar.” The succeeding lashes are indefinitely postponed, apparently because of his health. He’s known to have hypertension and his condition has worsened since the flogging began. His wife, who lives with their three children in exile in Canada, predicts that he won’t be able to survive more lashes. Still, that part of his sentence hangs over him, capable of being invoked at the pleasure of his jailers…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Gatestone Institute, Apr. 29, 2017
Accompanied by a 1,500-strong entourage, Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz arrived in Indonesia on March 1 for a nine-day gala tour. He was welcomed warmly not only as the monarch of one of the world's richest countries, but as the custodian of Islam's two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.
While appearing to be taking a holiday rather than embarking on an official state visit — the 81-year-old sovereign spent six days at a resort in Bali — the king had some serious business to attend to. In what was advertised as an effort to promote "social interaction" between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia — with His Majesty announcing a billion-dollar aid package, unlimited flights between the two countries and the allotment of 50,000 extra spots per year for Indonesian pilgrims to make the hajj to Mecca and Medina – it seems as if the real purpose of the trip was to promote and enhance Salafism, an extremist Sunni strain, in the world's largest Muslim country, frequently hailed in the West as an example of a moderate Islamic society.
Jakarta-based journalist Krithika Varagur, writing in The Atlantic on the second day of the king's visit, describes Saudi efforts in Indonesia: "Since 1980, Saudi Arabia has devoted millions of dollars to exporting its strict brand of Islam, Salafism, to historically tolerant and diverse Indonesia. It has built more than 150 mosques (albeit in a country that has about 800,000), a huge free university in Jakarta, and several Arabic language institutes; supplied more than 100 boarding schools with books and teachers (albeit in a country estimated to have between 13,000 and 30,000 boarding schools); brought in preachers and teachers; and disbursed thousands of scholarships for graduate study in Saudi Arabia."
This Saudi influence has taken a serious toll on Indonesia, 90% of whose 250 million people are Sunnis. Despite its pluralistic constitution, which says, "The state guarantees each and every citizen the freedom of religion and of worship in accordance with his religion and belief," Indonesia — which declared independence in 1945 — has grown increasingly intolerant towards Christians, Hindus and Shiite Muslims. Prior to Saudi Arabia's attempts to spread Salafism across the Muslim world, Indonesia did not have terrorist organizations such as Hamas Indonesia, Laskar Jihad, Hizbut Tahrir, Islamic Defenders Front and Jemmah Islamiyah, to name just a few.
Today, it is rife with these groups, which adhere strictly to Islamic sharia law, Saudi Arabia's binding legal system, and which promote it in educational institutions. Like al-Qaeda and ISIS, they deny women equal rights, believe in death by stoning for adulterers and hand amputation for thieves, and in executing homosexuals and "apostate" Muslims. The most recent example of the way in which this extremism has swept Indonesia took place a mere three weeks after the Saudi king wrapped up his trip. On March 31, at least 15,000 hard-line Islamist protesters took to the streets of Jakarta after Friday prayers, calling for the imprisonment of the capital city's Christian governor, who is on trial for "blaspheming the Quran."
This paled in comparison to the crowds — numbering about 200,000 at each violent rally — which flooded the city last November, December and February. The crowds were demanding that Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known familiarly as Ashok) be jailed for telling a group of fishermen that, as they are fed lies about how the Quran forbids Muslims from being governed by a kafir, an infidel, he could understand why some of them might not have voted for him. If convicted, Ashok stands to serve up to five years in prison. Sadly, such a jail term is nothing, when one considers the Islamist prison that the country as a whole has become — courtesy of King Salman and his lavish "gifts."
Gregg Roman on the Rift Between Qatar and the Arab Gulf States (Video): I24News, June 6, 2017—Middle East Forum Director Gregg Roman appeared on i24NEWS English to discuss the recent decision by Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states to cut ties with neighboring Qatar.
The “Game of Camps” Revisited: Why Qatar? Why Now?: Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, BESA, June 12, 2017—Sheikh Tamim’s recent tweet urging a soft line towards Iran might be authentic (as the Saudis say) or a deliberate hoax (as the Qataris were quick to claim), but the subsequent onslaught against Qatar has little to do with Iran. Qatar is no Iranian proxy: in practice, the Qataris finance anti-Iranian forces in Syria and joined the anti-Houthi war in Yemen.
Qatar's Increasing Isolation in the Arab World: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, June 10, 2017—The decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen to cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar is the latest step in the reemergence of a clearly defined US-led Sunni Arab bloc of states. The task of this alliance is to roll back Iranian influence and advancement in the region, and to battle against the forces of Sunni political Islam.
Saudi Arabia is Destabilizing the World: Stephen Kinzer, Boston Globe, June 11, 2017—Just a few months ago, the governor of Indonesia’s largest city, Jakarta, seemed headed for easy re-election despite the fact that he is a Christian in a mostly Muslim country. Suddenly everything went violently wrong.