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Report claims German police train Saudis in repression

Posted on 02 June 2011 by hashimilion

Dozens of officers in the German federal police have been involved in training Saudi Arabian security forces in how to search and occupy houses and deal with protests and uprisings, according to an investigative report by the television news magazine Fakt.

The report, aired Monday on public broadcaster ARD, quotes classified documents, unnamed German police officers and people involved in the training as saying their mission goes beyond the official description by the government to train in border security.

In March, Saudi forces entered neighboring Bahrain to support the Sunni-led regime, which was facing massive protests by majority Shiites. The troops violently suppressed the protests and dozens were killed.

“It was clear in March at the demonstrations that protesters were shot,” an unnamed German police trainer said in the report. “You don’t want to imagine what happens when these units trained by German police go ahead in their own country.”

In a statement e-mailed to Deutsche Welle, the Interior Ministry said it could not explicitly confirm the report and that training by German federal police in Saudi Arabia was for border observation and “leadership and decision-making processes.” It said the training courses do not serve to prepare police for protests, and that “human rights and the fundamentals of the rule of law” are included.

EADS defense contract

Fakt had previously reported in April that the German mission in Saudi Arabia was an essential part of a contract between the Saudis and the European defense firm EADS to improve border security.

EADS was hired to provide infrared cameras, laser sensors and ground radar along Saudi borders. The report said the Saudis had specifically requested German police trainers, and that EADS paid honorariums to the trainers, while their base salary came from the Interior Ministry.

The federal police union has confirmed that German police officers were cooperating with EADS at a training camp in Saudi Arabia. Missions of at least 25 German police officers have reportedly traveled to Saudi Arabia for three months at a time to take part in the training.

The Interior Ministry said in its statement that the federal police mission in Saudi Arabia was not on behalf of EADS, and that employees were paid through the German development organization GIZ.

Criticism from opposition

The involvement of German police in Saudi Arabia has from the beginning drawn heavy criticism from the political opposition and within the ranks of the German police force.

Green party politician Wolfgang Wieland said the German mission in Saudi Arabia should be abolished.

“Here, police are being trained in a dictatorship, in a backward regime,” he said. “That cannot be. A democracy like Germany is not allowed to do that.”

Jörg Radek, deputy chairman of the Trade Union of the Police, agreed. He said whether German police were training in border security or in dealing with protesters, they had no place in a country like Saudi Arabia.

“When this mission supports the unjust system in Saudi Arabia, that’s the point at which you have to say German police must withdraw,” he said.

Parliamentary review

The mission in Saudi Arabia has been reviewed by parliament, and is currently under another review requested by The Left party.

Reports last month said Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, who took over the position in March after his predecessor Thomas de Maiziere became defense minister, was surprised by the mission and was looking into it.

Armin Schuster, a parliamentarian in the ruling center-right Christian Democratic Union, defended the project in Saudi Arabia. He said while he understood objections to working there, Germany could not limit its cooperation exclusively to countries with identical values of law and justice.

“If you want to cooperate with a country on fighting terrorism, then you have to invest there,” he said. “For me it’s a principle of ‘You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.'”

By Andrew Bowen

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Saudi Protesters Step Back—for Now

Posted on 27 May 2011 by hashimilion

The young people here stopped protesting last week, effectively ending the first chapter of the so-called Arab spring in the oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The protesters of Qatif abandoned demonstrations after weeks of unrelenting pressure not only from the government—which arrested at least 150 of them without charges—but also from their own community elders.

Few activists, who seek more say in their government and an end to sectarian discrimination, have given up on their demands. They say they’ll be back, confident that time and global trends are on their side.

Protesters in Qatif last month carried a mock coffin and pictures of men said to be held without trial.

“Historical changes are going on. We are a part of this,” said a 25-year-old protester. “We’ve decided it’s our time.”

Qatif isn’t representative of Saudi Arabia, where there have been no other Arab spring street protests. But its corner of the country, in the Eastern province, where nearly all of the kingdom’s vast oil fields are located, is critical to the Saudi economy and world oil markets.

The city’s roughly 400,000 residents are almost all Shiite Muslims, a group that makes up perhaps 10% of the kingdom’s mostly Sunni Muslim population.

Qatif, as well as surrounding areas home to substantial populations of Shiites, has long had a prickly relationship with the government. Periods of protest and crackdown have punctuated the past three decades, and deep suspicions cloud the community’s interactions with the government and the majority Sunni population.

Shiites in the area complain of discrimination in jobs and education and restrictions on their freedom to practice their religion, which differs in significant ways from the purist strain of the Sunni faith officially endorsed by the government.

Meanwhile, the government worries that Shiites could link up with co-religionists in Iran to cause problems in the kingdom—fears community leaders in the area insist are exaggerated.

But plans announced in February by King Abdullah, the octogenarian ruler, to spend more than $100 billion for state security, the conservative clerical establishment, salaries of public-sector employees and handouts to other groups could be a sign of concern that Shiites in Qatif weren’t the only ones asking more from their government.

The spirit of the Arab spring has also led to a renewed effort by women organizing to win the right to drive. Though those behind the effort have been careful to protest only online or by driving alone, not in groups, one Saudi woman was arrested this week for getting behind the wheel and posting a video of it on Facebook.

In Qatif, small protests started in late February, about a week after Egypt’s president resigned. In nearby Bahrain, street demonstrations were already drawing tens of thousands into the streets, most of them Shiites seeking better representation and treatment from their Sunni-dominated ruling family.

In early March, one protest in Qatif drew several thousand people, and a concerned Saudi government began to take action.

Local police arrested 28 protesters. Prince Muhammed bin Fahd, the governor of the Eastern province, initiated a flurry of meetings with secular and religious elders, pressing them to stop young people from protesting, community leaders who attended the meetings said.

The deputy governor met with about a dozen youths, who presented him with a list of demands for equal treatment of Shiites and more participation on governmental decisions. Officials from the provincial government declined requests to comment.

But those who attended the meetings said the government priority was on stopping the protests immediately, as some social-networking sites were calling for a kingdomwide protest the following week.

In a gesture apparently calculated to build some goodwill in the community while also removing yet another reason to protest, the provincial government released the 28 protesters who had been detained. “They’ve tried to relieve some of the pressure,” said Jafar al Shayeb, an activist who heads Qatif’s municipal council.

Protests occurred anyway, with several hundred mostly young people taking to the streets on the designated protest day,March 11.

There were more meetings, which put more pressure on local elders. Some of them had been confrontational activists themselves, but nearly all had long ago decided to work with the Saudi government rather than confront it directly.

On April 22, about three dozen local clerics reluctantly signed a statement asking the young people in the community to stop protesting.

Young protesters were angry. Hundreds ignored the request and demonstrated the next week anyway. Police beat and arrested some at the scene, people who attended the protest said.

The activists debated among themselves for another three weeks, protesting sporadically and in small numbers, before a group of informal representatives issued a final set of complaints and agreed to stop demonstrating. But they describe their halt to protests as a pause, rather than the conclusion of anything. More than 120 protesters remain in government custody.

“The government says we are not ready for change,” said a 26-year-old writer. “We are ready. We are more than ready.”

By BILL SPINDLE

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Mission Impossible: How to Back Arab Reform but Ignore Saudi Arabia

Posted on 21 May 2011 by hashimilion

In all the Arab states Barack Obama name checked in his tour-de-force speech on Thursday night about the Arab spring, one nation was conspicuously missing – Saudi Arabia.

If State Department officials go queasy at the thought of Syria imploding, into the hands of Iran, they rush to the toilet at the thought of a Saudi uprising.

Saudi Arabia is, quite simply, too big to be allowed to fail. It is the world’s biggest oil producer. A generation ago it flexed its muscles, pushed up the oil price, and threw the world into recession.

Even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict pales besides the thought of what would happen to the US economy if Saudi Arabia found itself in the hands of Islamists. The House of Saud maintains the strictest control of its subjects – it was named the seventh most authoritarian state on Earth by The Economist in 2010.

Protest, elections and political parties are all banned, along with a free press – one reason why we hear little of any Arab spring-style dissent there.

But there are protests aplenty. In January Shiites in Jeddah protested against local government corruption after several people were swept away in floods.

In February 40 women protested outside the interior ministry in Riyadh, demanding the release of men held without trial. That same month ten prominent intellectuals formed the Umma Islamic Party to campaign for freedom. Days later, all ten were jailed. More protests came in March with three Days of Rage in Shia areas in the east.

Yet despite harsh tactics by the police and grim reports from human rights groups, Mr Obama judged he simply could not affort the mildest criticism of the House of Saud, or even its use of police who crossed into Bahrain to help it crush its own Arab spring.

State Department officials privately say they are facing an impossible contradiction. The American public may support human rights, yet what if such support saw Islamic parties elected in Saudi Arabia and an oil boycott?

But as the Arab spring gains force, Mr Obama will find it harder to keep his current contradictory line – supporting pro-democracy protests in some parts of the Arab world and ignoring them in others.

By Chris Stephen

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The GCC: A Club Fit For Kings

Posted on 20 May 2011 by hashimilion

Buffeted by the wind of democratic change but determined not be blown over by it, the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has surprised the rest of the Arab world by declaring that it would accept a request by Jordan to join the club and would encourage Morocco to do the same.

The reaction, especially in Morocco, which had never asked to join, was one of bemused incomprehension. The government in Rabat was respectful but cool, noting Morocco’s commitment to the Maghreb Arab Union. Jokes were traded on Twitter, with a #funnygcc hashtag, wondering how the different cultures of the Arab world’s easternmost and westernmost people would get on. Moroccan women worried half in jest whether, as in Saudi Arabia, they would no longer be allowed to drive. The republic of Yemen, by contrast, has been asking in vain for membership since 1999.

Abdullatif al-Zayani, the GCC’s secretary-general, a Bahraini who has been trying to mediate an end to the turmoil in Yemen, disclosed few details of the club’s planned enlargement. But the aims were evident. For one thing, the GCC sees itself as a bulwark against Iran, which all the club’s members, led by its most powerful, Saudi Arabia, view as a rising threat. Jordan’s King Abdullah II was the first Arab leader to speak darkly, in 2004, of a “Shia crescent”; Morocco’s King Muhammad VI cut off diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2009, accusing the Islamic Republic of trying to spread its sect of Islam in his stoutly Sunni kingdom. Aside from Oman, whose sultan follows Islam’s Ibadi school, all GCC members are Sunni-ruled. Jordan and Morocco have also given security support to GCC countries. A Jordanian contingent joined the recent Saudi-led intervention to suppress Shia protesters in Bahrain, and Moroccans have long provided brains and brawn to the UAE’s emirs.

There is an economic angle, too. Morocco and Jordan are relatively poor—and lack oil. The rich Gulf states have backed both with billions in aid. For Moroccans and Jordanians, many of whom work in the Gulf, the open borders and labour markets enjoyed by the GCC’s current sextet, which plans a customs union by 2015, is another lure, though today’s GCC members will not give the newcomers all the same privileges from the start.

Monarchical solidarity is, of course, the ultimate bond, at a time when the republican dynasties of Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia have come unstuck or look shaky. A common joke these days is that the GCC should be renamed the “Gulf Counter-Revolutionary Club”.

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Distrusting America, Saudi Arabia Embarks on More Assertive Role

Posted on 19 May 2011 by hashimilion

As U.S. President Barack Obama seeks to reinvigorate his administration’s policy in the Middle East, he will have to contend with several issues where U.S. influence is less than overwhelming.

Chief among them, according to Middle East analysts, is the growing assertiveness of Saudi Arabia as it confronts Iranian influence in the region and tilts away from its historic bargain with the U.S.: oil for security.

In recent months, the Saudis have essentially taken the gloves off — sending troops into Bahrain to prop up the island’s Sunni monarchy against a rebellious Shiite majority; consolidating their relationship with Pakistan as a regional counterweight to Iran; and expanding the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to reinforce the club of Sunni monarchies.

Through the GCC Saudi Arabia has also moved to resolve the crisis in Yemen, its neighbor to the south, where al Qaeda is establishing a foothold and where the Saudis suspect Iranian meddling.

Their core mission, says Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, “is to ensure stability in their neighborhood.” Bremmer believes “the single most important long-term implication of the Arab Spring may be a consolidated GCC that is tacking away from the West.”

At the same time, the Saudi kingdom’s relations with the United States have deteriorated — in part over the Obama administration’s support for pro-democracy movements in the Arab world. On two occasions in recent months, according to well-placed sources in the Gulf, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia even refused to meet senior U.S. officials.

Earlier this week, Saudi grievances were laid out in a Washington Post op-ed by Nawaf Obaid, a consummate insider and a senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. Describing a “tectonic shift” in the Saudi-U.S. relationship, he complained of an “ill-conceived response to the Arab protest movements and an unconscionable refusal to hold Israel accountable” for its settlement-building in Palestinian territories. On the latter issue, he said the U.S. “had lost all credibility.”

Obaid also echoed some of the criticisms made last year by Prince Turki al Faisal, a former ambassador to the United States who said that “negligence, ignorance and arrogance” had cost America the “moral high ground” it held after 9/11.

Saudi alienation from Washington predates the Obama administration. Riyadh saw the invasion of Iraq as a disaster because it unleashed Shiite influence in a country traditionally dominated by its Sunni minority. Several Saudi officials have described Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki — who leads a Shia-dominated government — as an “Iranian agent.”

The Saudis also complained that the Bush administration had “dropped the ball” on the Israel-Palestinian peace process by not endorsing King Abdullah’s plan for a two-state solution, with east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. That, they argued, had only strengthened more radical forces in the region, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Above all, the Saudi establishment has long been anxious that the threat it perceives from Iran is not adequately acknowledged in Washington.

U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and published last year showed growing Saudi impatience with U.S. caution toward Iran’s nuclear program, with King Abdullah quoted as urging Gen. David Petraeus to “cut off the head of the snake” during a meeting in April 2008. A year later, the King is quoted as telling President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, that he hoped the U.S. would review its Iran policy and “come to the right conclusion.”

So now, Obaid writes, “Riyadh intends to pursue a much more assertive foreign policy, at times conflicting with American interests.”

One long-time observer of Saudi policy says the kingdom is preparing to use its wealth and economic growth (forecast at nearly 6% this year, thanks to the rising price of crude oil) to lead an expanded bloc as old certainties wither away.

The Saudis plan to spend $100 billion to modernize their armed forces, buy a new generation of combat aircraft and add 60,000 Interior Ministry troops. Like other Gulf states, Saudi Arabia also plans to expand its special forces.

Beyond its borders the kingdom wants to expand the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, until now a club of wealthy monarchies, by inviting Jordan and Morocco to join. They might not have much money, but they, too, are ruled by Sunni monarchs and have — by regional standards — cohesive and well-trained armies.

In return, Gulf largesse would help support their weak economies. Amid recriminations and confusion in the Arab League — whose planned Baghdad summit has just been postponed for a whole year — the Saudis see the GCC as the institutional antidote to the upheavals of the Arab Spring.

Saudi Arabia has already created a $20 billion fund to assist Bahrain and Oman. And the dispatch of some 1,000 troops to Bahrain in March served notice to Tehran that Saudi Arabia would not tolerate a Shiite-dominated state a few miles off its coast.

“Sending a force to Bahrain was a necessary evil for the GCC in order to protect the monarchy in Bahrain,” says Theodore Karasik of the Institute of Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “If a monarchy falls in the region, this might create a domino effect.”

It was also a slap in the face to U.S. policy in the region, which was focused on coaxing dialogue in Bahrain. Just days before the Saudi intervention, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Bahrain urging King Hamad to take more than “baby steps” towards reform.

That followed alarm in Riyadh over the Obama administration’s desertion of long-time ally Hosni Mubarak, who had cultivated close ties with the Gulf states and who was regarded by the Saudis as another Arab bulwark against “Iranian expansionism.” The U.S. eventually told Mubarak it was time to go, but the Saudi royal family supported him to the end, even offering to make up for any cut in U.S. aid.

Bremmer of the Eurasia Group says the United States does hold important cards — through multi-billion-dollar arms contracts and long-established relationships in the oil industry. And regional analysts say that ultimately Saudi Arabia would likely appeal for and get U.S. help in any showdown with Iran.

Bremmer says that much in the Gulf revolves around personal relationships and loyalties, and he says the Obama administration needs to invest more in that, starting at the top. By contrast, senior executives in U.S. oil companies — by and large no fans of the president’s energy policy — do talk with the Saudis.

In the longer-term, a Saudi tilt to the East may simply reflect new economic realities. Some 55% of Saudi oil now flows to Asia, compared with about 10% that flows to the United States. The Saudi state oil firm has built refineries in China, and trade between the two countries was worth $40 billion in 2010.

As relations with the West fray, Bremmer concludes that “a far-reaching Saudi-China strategic partnership could well result alongside expanded Chinese contracts to buy long-term access to Saudi oil and Chinese investment in developing Saudi infrastructure.”

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Iran vs. Saudi Arabia in Bahrain?

Posted on 16 May 2011 by hashimilion

The Iranian meddling in Bahrain was temporarily to be put to a hold. However, the prey, albeit small in acreage, is too lucrative to be let go, and Iranian clandestine intervention continues. Bahrain, a small island kingdom in the Gulf, is coveted by Iran, its neighbor across the bay, as it has a lot to covet. Strategically located near the Hormuz straits, through which 20% of the world’s oil passes, with its own production of 40,000 oil barrels a day, and with huge gas reserves, Bahrain is definitely in the sights of the Iranian regime. What makes the Iranian move to indirectly swallow Bahrain a real risk is the fact that 70% of the Bahraini population is Shiite, such as 80% of Iran’s population, and the Bahraini Shiites look up to Iran for guidance, or even instructions.

The Saudi King and other Gulf States rulers read the map correctly and sent troops to protect Bahrain. The demise of the 200-year Bahrain rule of the Sunni dynasty currently headed by King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa’s and its replacement by a Shiite puppet of Iran could be ominous to their own regimes. Saudi Arabia is particularly vulnerable because its rich oilfields border with Bahrain and the local population in this region is mostly Shiite. A successful Shiite takeover of Bahrain could whet the appetite of the Saudi Shiites and their Iranian comrades to follow suit. Therefore, with the invitation of the Bahraini king, 3,500 Saudi soldiers crossed the bridge linking Saudi Arabia with Bahrain to help preserve the Bahraini regime.

The Iranians are far from liking this development, which all of a sudden shuffled their cards. Now, it is no longer tiny Bahrain defending itself from Iranian sponsored subversion — it is Iran versus Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The bar has risen. Saudi Arabia, with a cash chest that would make King Midas envious and with the backing of the U.S, is a formidable rival to Iran.

The Iranian response to the Saudi move was quick. Local media in the northeastern city of Mashhad reported that 700 people gathered outside the Saudi consulate and stoned it to protest the killing of Shiites in Bahrain. If the Saudi government fails to take the hint, additional protests are likely to follow in other Iranian cities, including Tehran.

Saudi Arabia has increased its pressure on the U.S to intervene and prevent the operation of the Iranian nuclear plant in Bushehr. They quoted Dmitry Rogozin the Russian ambassador to NATO who repeated a previous warning sent by Russia that “The virus attack on a Russian-built nuclear reactor in Iran could have triggered a nuclear disaster on the scale of Chernobyl.” Now the concern is increased following the disaster in the Japanese reactors in Fukoshima. Although Fereydoun Abbasi the head of the Atomic Energy Organization, acknowledged that “Even before the earthquake and nuclear contamination crisis in Japan, Iran had accepted Russian experts’ proposal to revise its plans to load fuel into the core of the Bushehr power plant’s reactor,” Saudi Arabia continues with its pressure against Iran, as part of its effort to limit Iranian clandestine involvement in Bahrain.

The rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia is not new. The fervent Shiite Iran and the Sunni Saudi Arabia have long been struggling over the reign of world Muslims. Thus far, with its control of the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia has the upper hand.

The saber rattling continues. Bahrain ousted the Iranian Consul in Manama, and the Iranians retorted in kind. Iran recruited once more Hezbollah, its subcontractor for dirty jobs. During a rally in Beirut, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah criticized Bahrain’s monarchy for bringing in troops from neighboring Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States to quash Shiite protests. Nasrallah said the blood of the people will eventually force their regimes to grant them greater rights.

The Bahraini Foreign Ministry condemned Hezbollah’s criticism of its government, describing it as an intervention in Bahrain’s internal affairs. A statement released by the Bahrain foreign ministry said Nasrallah’s verbal “assault against Bahrain and its people” was aimed at serving foreign interests, a reference to Iran, Hezbollah’s boss. The foreign ministry described Nasrallah as the “representative of a terrorist organization with a known history in destabilizing security in the region.” Apparently, Iran and its allies do not like others to play in what Iran considers its own playground.

Thus far the Iranians are wary not to directly confront the Saudis, and for a reason: For Iran, Saudi Arabia is the last major local power they need to win over; however, it is not a simple task. The Saudis’ big brother is watching — the U.S. The U.S has failed to intervene in Egypt because Egypt is dependent on U.S aid and therefore, it anticipated that the Egyptian response to the U.S lack of active support would be limited to verbal condemnation, if any. However, the terms of reference between the U.S and Saudi Arabia are diametrically different. It is Saudi Arabia that supports the U.S with money, oil and military bases. Therefore, Saudi interests and voices are more likely to be listened to attentively in Washington, D.C.

Nonetheless, the Sunnis in Bahrain have a lot to worry about. The Shiites in Bahrain demand a democratic republic instead of monarchy, and that simple message is certain to find many attentive ears in the U.S and elsewhere. However, democracy in Bahrain with a 70% Shiite majority, means Sunnis out, Shiites in, the U.S and its 5th Fleet harbor out, Iran in, including a control of the oil reserves and a direct threat to Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer of oil in fields located next door populated by Shiites.

As absurd as it may sound, it is likely that supporters of full Western style democracy in Bahrain may at the end of the day be supporting theocratic Iran.

A dilemma, Greek for “two premises,” has been likened to the horns at the front end of an angry and charging bull. Both premises are bad options.

If there were ever a decision tantamount to sitting on the horns of the dilemma, the choices the West needs to make are fitting. What would the West choose? Support democracy for approximately 350,000 Shiites in Bahrain, or risk an increased Iranian control of the spigots of the huge oil reserves, with the resulting immediate effect on the world’s economy?

By Haggai Carmon

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Arab Spring Splits Saudi U.S Alliance

Posted on 16 May 2011 by hashimilion

A tectonic shift has occurred in the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Despite significant pressure from the Obama administration to remain on the sidelines, Saudi leaders sent troops into Manama in March to defend Bahrain’s monarchy and quell the unrest that has shaken that country since February. For more than 60 years, Saudi Arabia has been bound by an unwritten bargain: oil for security. Riyadh has often protested but ultimately acquiesced to what it saw as misguided U.S. policies. But American missteps in the region since Sept. 11, an ill-conceived response to the Arab protest movements and an unconscionable refusal to hold Israel accountable for its illegal settlement building have brought this arrangement to an end. As the Saudis recalibrate the partnership, Riyadh intends to pursue a much more assertive foreign policy, at times conflicting with American interests.

The backdrop for this change are the rise of Iranian meddling in the region and the counterproductive policies that the United States has pursued here since Sept. 11. The most significant blunder may have been the invasion of Iraq, which resulted in enormous loss of life and provided Iran an opening to expand its sphere of influence. For years, Iran’s leadership has aimed to foment discord while furthering its geopolitical ambitions. Tehran has long funded Hamas and Hezbollah; recently, its scope of attempted interference has broadened to include the affairs of Arab states from Yemen to Morocco. This month the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Gen. Hasan Firouzabadi, harshly criticized Riyadh over its intervention in Bahrain, claiming this act would spark massive domestic uprisings.

Such remarks are based more on wishful thinking than fact, but Iran’s efforts to destabilize its neighbors are tireless. As Riyadh fights a cold war with Tehran, Washington has shown itself in recent months to be an unwilling and unreliable partner against this threat. The emerging political reality is a Saudi-led Arab world facing off against the aggression of Iran and its non-state proxies.

Saudi Arabia will not allow the political unrest in the region to destabilize the Arab monarchies — the Gulf states, Jordan and Morocco. In Yemen, the Saudis are insisting on an orderly transition of power and a dignified exit for President Ali Abdullah Saleh (a courtesy that was not extended to Hosni Mubarak, despite the former Egyptian president’s many years as a strong U.S. ally). To facilitate this handover, Riyadh is leading a diplomatic effort under the auspices of the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council. In Iraq, the Saudi government will continue to pursue a hard-line stance against the Maliki government, which it regards as little more than an Iranian puppet. In Lebanon, Saudi Arabia will act to check the growth of Hezbollah and to ensure that this Iranian proxy does not dominate the country’s political life. Regarding the widespread upheaval in Syria, the Saudis will work to ensure that any potential transition to a post-Assad era is as peaceful and as free of Iranian meddling as possible.

Regarding Israel, Riyadh is adamant that a just settlement, based on King Abdullah’s proposed peace plan, be implemented. This includes a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. The United States has lost all credibility on this issue; after casting the sole vote in the U.N. Security Council against censuring Israel for its illegal settlement building, it can no longer act as an objective mediator. This act was a watershed in U.S.-Saudi relations, guaranteeing that Saudi leaders will not push for further compromise from the Palestinians, despite American pressure.

Saudi Arabia remains strong and stable, lending muscle to its invigorated foreign policy. Spiritually, the kingdom plays a unique role for the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims — more than 1 billion of whom are Sunni — as the birthplace of Islam and home of the two holiest cities. Politically, its leaders enjoy broad domestic support, and a growing nationalism has knitted the historically tribal country more closely together. This is largely why widespread protests, much anticipated by Western media in March, never materialized. As the world’s sole energy superpower and the de facto central banker of the global energy markets, Riyadh is the economic powerhouse of the Middle East, representing 25 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the Arab world. The kingdom has amassed more than $550 billion in foreign reserves and is spending more than $150 billion to improve infrastructure, public education, social services and health care.

To counter the threats posed by Iran and transnational terrorist networks, the Saudi leadership is authorizing more than $100 billion of additional military spending to modernize ground forces, upgrade naval capabilities and more. The kingdom is doubling its number of high-quality combat aircraft and adding 60,000 security personnel to the Interior Ministry forces. Plans are underway to create a “Special Forces Command,” based on the U.S. model, to unify the kingdom’s various special forces if needed for rapid deployment abroad.

Saudi Arabia has the will and the means to meet its expanded global responsibilities. In some issues, such as counterterrorism and efforts to fight money laundering, the Saudis will continue to be a strong U.S. partner. In areas in which Saudi national security or strategic interests are at stake, the kingdom will pursue its own agenda. With Iran working tirelessly to dominate the region, the Muslim Brotherhood rising in Egypt and unrest on nearly every border, there is simply too much at stake for the kingdom to rely on a security policy written in Washington, which has backfired more often than not and spread instability. The special relationship may never be the same, but from this transformation a more stable and secure Middle East can be born.

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Bin Laden’s Ghost

Posted on 09 May 2011 by hashimilion

Osama bin Laden’s death in his Pakistani hiding place is like the removal of a tumor from the Muslim world. But aggressive follow-up therapy will be required to prevent the remaining Al Qaeda cells from metastasizing by acquiring more adherents who believe in violence to achieve the ‘purification’ and empowerment of Islam.

Fortunately, Bin Laden’s death comes at the very moment when much of the Islamic world is being convulsed by the treatment that Bin Laden’s brand of fanaticism requires: the Arab Spring, with its demands for democratic empowerment (and the absence of demands, at least so far, for the type of Islamic rule that Al Qaeda sought to impose).

But can the nascent democracies being built in Egypt and Tunisia, and sought in Bahrain, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere, see off the threats posed by Islamic extremists? In particular, can it defeat the Salafi/Wahhabi thought that has long nurtured Osama bin Laden and his ilk, and which remains the professed and protected ideology of Saudi Arabia?

The fact is that before the US operation to kill Bin Laden, Al Qaeda’s symbolic head, the emerging democratic Arab revolutions had already, in just a few short months, done as much to marginalize and weaken his terrorist movement in the Islamic world as the war on terror had achieved in a decade. Those revolutions, whatever their ultimate outcome, have exposed the philosophy and behavior of Bin Laden and his followers as not only illegitimate and inhumane, but actually inept at achieving better conditions for ordinary Muslims.

What millions of Arabs were saying as they stood united in peaceful protest was that their way of achieving Arab and Islamic dignity is far less costly in human terms. More importantly, their way will ultimately achieve the type of dignity that people really want, as opposed to the unending wars of terror to rebuild the caliphate that Bin Laden promised.

After all, the protesters of the Arab Spring did not need to use – and abuse – Islam to achieve their ends. They did not wait for God to change their condition, but took the initiative by peacefully confronting their oppressors. The Arab revolutions mark the emergence of a pluralist, post-Islamist banner for the faithful. Indeed, the only people to introduce religion into the protests have been rulers, such as those in Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, who have tried to use fear of the Shia or Sunni “other” to continue to divide and misrule their societies.

Now that the US has eradicated Bin Laden’s physical presence, it needs to stop delaying the rest of the therapeutic process. For the US has been selectively – and short-sightedly – irradiating only parts of the cancer that Al Qaeda represents, while leaving the malignant growth of Saudi Wahabism and Salafism untouched. Indeed, despite the decade of the West’s war on terror, and Saudi Arabia’s longer-term alliance with the US, the Kingdom’s Wahhabi religious establishment has continued to bankroll Islamic extremist ideologies around the world.

Bin Laden, born, raised, and educated in Saudi Arabia, is a product of this pervasive ideology. He was no religious innovator; he was a product of Wahhabism, and later was exported by the Wahhabi regime as a jihadist.

During the 1980’s, Saudi Arabia spent $75 billion for the propagation of Wahhabism, funding schools, mosques, and charities throughout the Islamic world, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Yemen, Algeria, and beyond. The Saudis continued such programs after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and even after they discovered that “the Call” is uncontrollable, owing to the technologies of globalization. Not surprisingly, the creation of a transnational Islamic political movement, boosted by thousands of underground jihadi Web sites, has blown back into the Kingdom.

Like the hijackers of 9/11, who were also Saudi/Wahhabi ideological exports (15 of the 19 men who carried out those terror attacks were chosen by Bin Laden because they shared the same Saudi descent and education as he), Saudi Arabia’s reserve army of potential terrorists remains, because the Wahhabi factory of fanatical ideas remains intact.

So the real battle has not been with Bin Laden, but with that Saudi state-supported ideology factory. Bin Laden merely reflected the entrenched violence of the Kingdom’s official ideology.

Bin Laden’s eradication may strip some dictators, from Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi to Yemen’s Ali Abdallah Saleh, of the main justification they have used for their decades of repression. But the US knows perfectly well that Al Qaeda is an enemy of convenience for Saleh and other American allies in the region, and that in many cases, terrorism has been used as a pretext to repress reform. Indeed, now the US is encouraging repression of the Arab Spring in Yemen and Bahrain, where official security forces routinely kill peaceful protesters calling for democracy and human rights.

Al Qaeda and democracy cannot coexist. Indeed, Bin Laden’s death should open the international community’s eyes to the source of his movement: repressive Arab regimes and their extremist ideologies. Otherwise, his example will continue to haunt the world.

Leaked Picture of Bin Laden

By Mai Yamani

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