Archive | April, 2011

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Saudi Authorities Arrest the Political Activist Kamil al-Ahmad

Posted on 28 April 2011 by hashimilion

Kamil al-Ahmad

 

The Saudi Authorities arrested the political activist Kamil Abbas al-Ahmad and his nephew Abdullah al-Ahmad in the city of Safwa. This is the second time that both were detained since protests erupted two months ago in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. Based on family sources, their exact locations are unknown.

Kamil al-Ahmad was arrested at the start of April and sent to Dammam where he was interrogated before being released the next day.

It is worth noting that Kamil al-Ahamd has spent more than 11 years in Saudi jails since 1996.

Saudi Authorities have recently cracked down on shiite protestors and arrested 25 people in the Qatif area for organising demonstrations.

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Saudi Stability In A Time Of Change

Posted on 28 April 2011 by hashimilion

Centre For Strategic and International Studies

SAUDI STABILITY IN A TIME OF CHANGE
Anthony H. Cordesman Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy acordesman@gmail.com
April 21, 2011

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Saudi Arabia’s New Role In The Emerging Middle East

Posted on 28 April 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi Arabia is once more seeking to shape events in the Arab world, encouraged by a regional upheaval that is threatening to bring down regimes in neighbouring territories and to harm national security in the process.

When King Abdullah acceded as monarch in 2005, hopes were high in the kingdom, as well as in the US administration, that the vacuum in the Arab world could be filled with a more activist Saudi leader, able to improve the regional situation to the benefit of the US-allied Arab “moderates” and to the disadvantage of Iran.

But those hopes were soon dashed.

The inadequacies of the Saudi foreign policy-making machine, a lack of Saudi political will partly due to the king’s age and inclinations, and regional and US obstruction, saw efforts to promote intra-Palestinian peace run into the sand.

Mediation on other fronts – Lebanon, Sudan and Somalia – came to naught.

Backbone of Bahrain

This year, the Saudi leadership has watched with horror as the US has in effect rerun 1979 by abandoning a strategic ally – in this case President Mubarak of Egypt instead of the Shah of Iran.

Washington even appeared to sympathise with what Riyadh considers to be Iran’s de facto allies – the Shia opposition in Bahrain.

The Saudi response to events in Bahrain – located a short drive from the Eastern Province where Saudi Shia are relatively populous – has been to stiffen the al-Khalifa regime’s backbone by once again sending its troops into the Bahraini fray. The Saudi Arabian National Guard last intervened in 1995.

Saudi Arabia has come to the aid of the Bahraini ruling family

The Saudi mission is dressed up in a flimsy flag of convenience, that of the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), whose assent has seen nominal UAE and Kuwaiti military contributions too.

However, it is Saudi troops that are underpinning al-Khalifa control in the Gulf island, just as Saudi money lubricates the al-Khalifa patronage power.

Yemen has for several years been Saudi Arabia’s pre-eminent security concern. This is due to al-Qaeda’s presence there, as well as perceived Iranian penetration and the threat of internal Yemeni secessionism.

Yemen face-off

The Saudi alliance of convenience with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has however recently collapsed. Saudi Arabia has once again given heft to an apparent GCC initiative – a “peace plan” that requires the Yemeni leader to hand over power to his vice-president.

As both Yemeni government and opposition party representatives are expected to gather shortly in Riyadh to explore the deal, the determining issue will be whether there is a Yemeni will to agree to its terms.

Without such domestic agreement, there will be no Saudi-led breakthrough, even allowing for Riyadh’s political influence, resources and ability to talk to an array of challengers to Mr Saleh’s rule, including Islamist, tribal and secessionist elements.

Yemeni opposition leaders and the GCC have called for President Saleh to step down
Riyadh’s view of the Arab uprisings is shaped by the kingdom’s long-standing concern of maintaining stability in the face of internal and external threats.

Saudi military options have been exercised in Bahrain just as they were 18 months ago in Yemen, in facing down a Yemeni Shia group that had crossed its borders.

As Arab uprisings threaten to increase Iranian and al-Qaeda opportunities in neighbouring territories, Saudi Arabia will attempt to counter them with force, or diplomacy and largesse, as appropriate.

Syrian alternatives

Baathist Syria is not, however, a neighbouring concern. It has long been distrusted as an Iranian ally that has proven unwilling to work with perceptible “Arab” interests.

The Saudi government cannot hope to try to directly influence the regime or events on the ground. In common with the US and Israel, it is not sure that the alternative would be to its advantage, even if it disadvantaged Iran.

Saudi Arabia’s internal authority appears firm because of a mixture of patronage, security and a concern among many nationals – Sunni and Shia – that they stand to lose if the regime is directly challenged.

However the “virus” of popular demands is an uncomfortable spectacle for the al-Saud, seeing, as it does, regional events through the prism of national security and strategic competition.

Saudi Arabia shares with the US a desire to ensure that Iran is also affected by regional popular protests.

But Riyadh does not see Washington as a decisive upholder of this shared interest.

As a result, Saudi Arabia will act unilaterally where it can in order to further its interests. But it is liable to be stymied by a mixture of its own political inadequacies and the force of local events that have a life of their own.

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Saudi Arabia Detains Bloggers Over Protests

Posted on 28 April 2011 by hashimilion

Hussein al-Hashem and Mustafa al-Mubarak

 

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have detained two Shi’ite bloggers this week for taking part in demonstrations in the country’s oil-producing Eastern Province, a Shi’ite website and activists said on Wednesday.

The Sunni Muslim monarchy of Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and major U.S. ally, does not tolerate any form of dissent. It has not seen the kind of mass uprisings other countries in the region have over the past few months.

But minority Shi’ite Muslims in the Eastern Province, who have long complained of discrimination — a charge the government denies — have staged small demonstrations, which have led to some protesters being detained.

Shi’ite website, www.rasid.com, said on Wednesday police had stormed the houses of Mustafa al-Mubarak, 26, and Hussein al-Hashem, 25, arrested them and confiscated their computers,

The website also said a 58-year-old man named Samir Aldahim was also detained for taking part in the demonstrations.

A spokesperson for the Eastern Province police could not be reached for comment.

“The series of arrests are still continuing today,” said one activist who declined to be named for fear of being detained.

“Even ordinary people have been detained for taking part in demonstrations. They are summoned while at work or taken from their homes,” he said.

A Human Rights Watch report issued this month said Saudi Arabia had arrested over 160 activists since February.

“In this last week there were no less then 10 detentions, and they were all transferred to jail. Their families believe it is because they have participated in demonstrations,” the activist said.

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God save the Arab kings?

Posted on 27 April 2011 by hashimilion

One of the less-discussed facts about the wave of uprisings in the Middle East is that the Arab monarchies are still relatively unscathed. The regimes most seriously challenged by popular protests – in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria – have all been republics. This may seem odd to Europeans whose revolutions over the centuries have been mainly about overthrowing kings.

To some extent, the apparent resilience of Arab monarchies may be a matter of luck. Most of them are in the Gulf and they have oil, which means they can (and do) use their money to buy off discontent. That does not apply to the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco, however, and oil wealth has not saved the Gaddafi regime from trouble in the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

Another possible explanation is that Arab monarchs, in the eyes of many of their citizens, have a stronger claim to legitimacy than republican leaders who came to power – or clung on to it – in dubious circumstances.

The monarchies base their legitimacy on religious or tribal roots. The rulers of Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and the Emirates all came from old and prominent tribes and the “right” to rule was derived from their families’ status.

The Sabah family, for instance, was a clan of the Anizah tribe which migrated from Nejd – the central plateau of Saudi Arabia – to Kuwait in the 18th century and has ruled locally ever since. The Khalifa family was another clan from the same tribe that had arrived in Bahrain about the same time. The Thani family that rules Qatar is a branch of the Bani Tameem tribe and also arrived from Nejd in the 18th century.

The Saudi royal family has tribal roots too, though its main claim to legitimacy today is religious – so much so that the king’s religious title, Guardian of the Two Holy Shrines (Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites in Islam) takes precedence over his royal title.

Similarly, the king of Jordan is official guardian of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, regarded as Islam’s third holiest site. Jordan’s current monarch, Abdullah II, also boasts of being a “43rd generation direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad”. Meanwhile the king of Morocco embodies both “spiritual and temporal authority” and is known as Amir al-Mu’mineen – the prince (or commander) of the believers.

Although rule by birthright might seem an inherently objectionable form of government, the tribal and religious background makes it difficult to challenge in what are often highly traditional and patriarchal societies. In the monarchies where there have been significant protests, such as Morocco, Oman and Jordan, demonstrators have been demanding reform but without questioning the ruler’s right to govern – which is still very much a taboo. (Bahrain is a special case, where a Sunni Muslim minority rules over a Shia majority, making the legitimacy question much more obvious.)

While the legitimacy claims of Arab monarchs might not seem particularly convincing, especially to outsiders, those of the republics are even less so.

A number of revolutionary Arab regimes emerged in the 20th century whose credentials were based primarily on nationalism: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, the separate states of North and South Yemen – plus the Palestinian liberation movement, which fitted a similar mould.

Typically, these revolutionary regimes pursued populist or socialist strategies – nationalisation, land reform and so on – which held out the promise of a better future for the masses. At the same time, they presented themselves as defenders of the nation’s independence, resisting the corrupting, exploitative effects of western imperialism and in particular generating unfulfillable popular expectations regarding the conflict with Israel.

In the wake of successive defeats by Israel, and amid high unemployment, poverty and rampant corruption, it became all too obvious that they were failing to deliver.

Some of the republican regimes further undermined their credibility by starting to resemble monarchies. It began in 2000, when Bashar al-Assad inherited the Syrian presidency from his father. The dictators of Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Tunisia and Yemen also showed signs of intending to hand over power, eventually, to sons or other relatives.

Arabs mockingly combined the words for “republic” and “monarchy” to coin a new term for this type of state: jumlukiyya.

The republics – and especially the jumlukiyyas – thus found themselves scrabbling around for reasons to justify their existence. The problem was apparent even in 2004 when the UN’s Arab Human Development report spoke of a “crisis of legitimacy”:

“Most regimes, nowadays, bolster their legitimacy by adopting a simplified and efficient formula to justify their continuation in power. They style themselves as the lesser of two evils, or the last line of defence against fundamentalist tyranny or, even more dramatically, against chaos and the collapse of the state … ”
“Sometimes,” the report said, “the mere preservation of the state entity in the face of external threats was considered an achievement sufficient to confer legitimacy.”

Strangely, it does not seem to have occurred to them that there was one way they might have re-established their legitimacy: by governing the country justly and well.

So it’s not very surprising that the regimes already toppled or currently under threat are republics of the family-run jumlukiyya variety. This does not mean the others are immune – and it’s worth recalling monarchs were overthrown in Egypt, Yemen and Libya during the 1950s and 1960s.

For now, though, the remaining monarchs are sitting on their thrones fairly comfortably. After a rocky moment, even the king of Bahrain seems to have won more time in power, thanks to support from the royals in neighbouring countries.

This gives them a breathing space in which to reform – if they choose to do so. Whether they will seize the opportunity is another matter. At present, Morocco and Kuwait are the only two that look as if they might, possibly, turn into constitutional monarchies with accountable government. But if they don’t change, their turn will surely come.

By Brian Whitaker

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Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy

Posted on 26 April 2011 by hashimilion

Summary

Protests that erupted in Bahrain following the uprising that overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, demonstrate that Shiite grievances over the distribution of power and economic opportunities were not satisfied by previous efforts to include the Shiite majority in governance. Possibly because of concerns that a rise to power of the Shiite opposition could jeopardize the extensive U.S. military cooperation with Bahrain, the Obama Administration criticized the early use of violence by the government but subsequently praised the Al Khalifa regime for its offer of a dialogue with the demonstrators. It did not call for the King to step down, and Administration contacts with his government are widely credited for the decision of the regime to cease using force against the protesters as of February 19, 2011. However, as protests escalated in March 2011, Bahrain’s government, contrary to the advice of the Obama Administration, invited security assistance from other neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council countries and subsequently moved to end the large gatherings. Some believe the crackdown has largely ended prospects for a negotiated political solution in Bahrain, and could widen the conflict to the broader Gulf region.

The 2011 unrest, in which some opposition factions have escalated their demands in response to the initial use of force by the government, comes four months after the October 23, 2010, parliamentary election. That election, no matter the outcome, would not have unseated the ruling Al Khalifa family from power, but the Shiite population was hoping that winning a majority in the elected lower house could give it greater authority. In advance of the elections, the government launched a wave of arrests intended to try to discredit some of the hard-line Shiite leadership as tools of Iran. On the other hand, Bahrain’s Shiite oppositionists, and many outside experts, accuse the government of inflating the intensity of contacts between Iran and the opposition in order to justify the use of force against Bahraini Shiites.

Unrest in Bahrain directly affects U.S. national security interests. Bahrain, in exchange for a tacit U.S. security guarantee, has provided key support for U.S. interests by hosting U.S. naval headquarters for the Gulf for over 60 years and by providing facilities and small numbers of personnel for U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bahraini facilities have been pivotal to U.S. strategy to deter any Iranian aggression as well as to interdict the movement of terrorists and weapons-related technology on Gulf waterways. The United States has designated Bahrain as a “major non-NATO ally,” and it provides small amounts of security assistance to Bahrain. On other regional issues such as the Arab-Israeli dispute, Bahrain has tended to defer to Saudi Arabia or other powers to take the lead in formulating proposals or representing the position of the Persian Gulf states, collectively.

Fuelling Shiite unrest is the fact that Bahrain is generally poorer than most of the other Persian Gulf monarchies, in large part because Bahrain has largely run out of crude oil reserves. It has tried to compensate through diversification, particularly in the banking sector and some manufacturing. In September 2004, the United States and Bahrain signed a free trade agreement (FTA); legislation implementing it was signed January 11, 2006 (P.L. 109-169).

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Qatar and Saudi’s Catholic Marriage

Posted on 26 April 2011 by hashimilion

The political landscape in the Gulf has quickly changed since the outbreak of the Arab revolutions. These developments have lead to the collapse of old alliances and  changes in the geopolitical map. Friendships are no longer the same. Yesterday’s friend is now a bitter enemy, and yesterday’s enemy is now a friend.

The conditions today will lead to dramatic changes in the future, and will result in a new political alignment. There is an obvious psychological rift growing between the people and their governments.

In the past few weeks, there were signs of a political alliance between Qatar and Saudi Arabia with regards to the revolutions in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and protests in Syria. The Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, was given power to influence the Libyan revolution on behalf of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on the other hand was given power to influence the Yemeni revolution, for some unknown reason.

The Gulf dictators are playing a central role in countering revolutions with the help and support of both the United States and Europe. The Abu Dhabi conference had participants from the UN Security Council and the Gulf Cooperation Council in order to discuss a post-Saleh Yemen. There were also extensive discussions regarding techniques that could be used to counter any possible revolution in the Gulf States.

Fear of change has lead to an alliance between Doha, Riyadh, and all the other GCC countries. The hostility between Doha and Damascus is a feature of this new geopolitical landscape.

The high level co-ordination between Riyadh and Doha aims to kill the Arab revolutions. This alliance should be countered by setting up a “democracy club”, which would isolate these Gulf dictatorships.

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Warmth is Back in Pakistani-Saudi Relations?

Posted on 26 April 2011 by hashimilion

In normal circumstances, a visit by a Pakistani minister to Riyadh would make no news at all. But these are interesting, although not abnormal, times in Pakistan-Saudi relationship.

There is a consensus among political observers that after the inception of the PPP-led government in 2008, Islamabad’s ties with Riyadh had lost the warmth that had defined their partnership for the past six decades.

But the chill has apparently given way to a thaw, the observers think, and Islamabad now seems to be back on the regional radar — for more than one reasons.

The visit is taking place in the backdrop of the so called ‘Arab spring’ which has almost stalled and appears to be going nowhere. Old regional alignments are being revived and new alignments have been emerging on the wider Middle East chessboard as a new cold war between regional heavyweights gets stickier.

The ongoing popular uprising in a number of countries have all lent a new meaning to the Arab-Iran gulf. And Pakistan’s role in the scenario has come under a renewed focus.

Events over the past few years have only helped reinforce and entrench misgivings within the Arab world about the growing Iranian influence. The departure of Saddam Hussain from Baghdad and the fostering of Maliki government in Iraq, has led many to look at the development from a different perspective- the growing Shia influence in the Arab world.

King Abdullah of Jordan once referred to it as “the expanding Shia crescent” in the region. Arab governments feel apprehensive on that account. And recent events seem to have only reinforced their fears.

In Lebanon the influence of the pro-Iran Hezbollah is ascending — at the expense of the Saudi-backed Hariri. This was regarded by many here as a strategic loss.

Riyadh has also been complaining, for long, of the growing Iranian influence in Hamas-ruled Gaza. And to counter Tehran’s growing clout, Riyadh had little option than supporting the pro-West Abbas set-up in the West Bank. Then the upheaval in Egypt turned out to be the last straw on the back of the proverbial camel. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia supported Hosni Mubarak till the end.

The US failure to support Mubarak, not only soured the political relations between Riyadh and Washington, but also forced the Kingdom to play its cards rather aggressively. There was no room for further complacency — many felt here.

When the uprising began in Bahrain, everyone here in Riyadh realised the stakes were too high. The option of watching things take its own course was definitely not on the table. Riyadh acted and acted swiftly.

WAR OF WORDS

An explosive war of words erupted between Riyadh and Tehran. Events in Bahrain exacerbated tensions between Saudi Arabia, its Arab allies and Iran, dragging relations between them to its ebb in at least a decade and setting the stage for confrontations elsewhere in the region.

The Gulf Cooperation Council, comprising six Arab states around the Gulf, was also dragged into action. The GCC explicitly warned Iran of dire consequences, if it continued endeavouring to make inroads into the Arab world.

Back-channel diplomacy was also used to send the message in rather clear terms to Tehran. Gulf governments were no more ready to give in and vowed doing everything at their disposal to protect their ‘legitimate interests’.

Hands off the Arab world — was the clear message to Iran. And in the meantime, the Arab world also went into full gear to galvanise support and muscle to block Tehran’s inroads, into what is being termed here the ‘Arab territory’ – through the Shia soft belly of the Arab states.

And it is here that Pakistan and Turkey got into the loop too. For after all these are the two strongest countries — as far as muscle is concerned — within the Sunni world.

A stream of events took place in a short span of time. Saudi National Security Council chief Prince Bandar bin Abdul Aziz came over to Islamabad, immediately after the meeting in Kuwait of President Zardari and Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz, the second deputy premier and the long-time interior minister.

And Prince Bandar’s visit was preceded by a visit of the Saudi chief of staff to Pakistan. In the meantime, the Bahraini foreign minister also dashed to Pakistan, despite the ongoing strife in his country.

Something was indeed brewing. Islamabad was again on the radar in Riyadh. Interestingly, the visit of Hina Rabbani Khar to Riyadh was announced after Prince Bandar sent a letter to Prime Minister Gilani — following up on his meetings in Islamabad late last month. In the letter, Prince Bandar reiterated Saudis’ desire to further strengthen relations with Pakistan in all areas of mutual interest.

In the aftermath of Prince Bandar’s regional visit, Riyadh has already signed a security agreement with Malaysia, vowing to enhance the level of security cooperation between the two countries. And after his Beijing trip, Saudi Arabia and China too announced signing an agreement on nuclear cooperation for peaceful purpose.

And Prince Bandar is no ordinary diplomat. He is often regarded as a trouble-shooter for Riyadh. John Hannah, writing in the Foreign Policy magazine, says: ‘Saudi Arabia’s legendary former ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is once again a major presence on the world stage.’

And his previous visit to Pakistan did not escape world attention and generated considerable interest. In the same story Hannah says: “More interestingly – and undoubtedly more worrisome – at the end of March, in the wake of the Saudi intervention in Bahrain, Bandar was dispatched to Pakistan, China and India to rally support for the kingdom’s hard line approach to the region’s unrest.

“Bandar’s formidable skills in the service of a Saudi Arabia that feels itself increasingly cornered and unable to rely on US protection is a formula for trouble — made even worse when the likes of Pakistan and China are thrown into the mix.

“No one should forget that, in the late 1980s, it was Bandar who secretly brokered the delivery of Chinese medium-range missiles to the kingdom, totally surprising Washington and nearly triggering a major crisis with Israel. The danger today, of course, is that the Saudis feel sufficiently threatened and alone to engage in similar acts of self-help.

“Would they seek to modernise their ballistic missile force? Even worse, would the kingdom go shopping for nuclear weapons or, at a minimum, invite Pakistan to deploy part of its nuclear arsenal in the country?”

As the Middle East convulses and Iran relentlessly inches closer to achieving a nuclear weapons capability, has that time finally arrived? Even short of these extreme scenarios, other troubling possibilities exist. During his trip to Pakistan, Bandar reportedly discussed contingencies under which thousands of additional Pakistani security forces might be dispatched to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to crush the uprising.

So it appears Pakistan is getting sucked into a regional cold war — and Washington may not mind it this time too. When Hina Rabbani Khar lands in Riyadh today, she can expect the red carpet to roll — once again. The talk of chill seems a distant story.

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