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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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Yemeni Shia Persecution and the Regional Sunni-Shia Divide

Posted on 01 April 2011 by hashimilion

Currently we have many political and religious convulsions throughout North Africa and the Middle East. However, for the Shia of Yemen it is apparent that the nation state of Yemen is at odds with many Shia Muslims who suffer systematic persecution.

Saudi Arabia is worried about the power base change in Iraq because after the demise of Saddam Hussein the Arab Sunni stranglehold was broken and now the main power brokers are the Shia and Kurds in the north. Therefore, recent political tensions in Bahrain and Yemen are causing alarm in Saudi Arabia because the leaders of this nation desire to preserve a dominant Sunni political power structure throughout the region.

If we focus on Afghanistan then the Sunni Islamic fanatics of the Taliban and Al Qaeda shared the same Sunni Islamic theme of power and control. This policy of victimizing and persecuting the Shia was factual and you had many massacres of the Shia by the forces of the Taliban and Al Qaeda before the invasion of Afghanistan.

Sunni Islamic extremists deem the Shia to be heretics and non-Muslim and the same hatred towards the Shia can be found in Pakistan. Even in so-called moderate Malaysia the government is anti-Shia. However, unlike the massacres of the Shia which have taken place in other nations it is state sanctioned discrimination in Malaysia which holds the Shia at bay and forbids their religious buildings.

The Sunni-Shia issue is very potent and the Shia are second class citizens in Saudi Arabia because they face centralized policies which discriminate against them. Therefore, Saudi Arabia is meddling in many nations and the people who suffer from this policy are the Shia and in Yemen many massacres have taken place in the past but most of these went unreported.

Also, while truces have been agreed upon in Yemen these truces rarely last and often it appears that the centralized state is just making the most of the breathing space in order to unleash more violence against the Shia minority.

James Haider, Middle East correspondent for The Times (UK), stated on November 5, 2009, that the Shia “…accuse Saudi Arabia, a conservative Sunni Muslim country, of backing the Yemeni army, fearing the emergence of a strong Shia militia similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

“In turn, the Yemeni Government in Sanaa has accused Iran, a Shia theocracy, of supporting the Houthi rebels as part of a campaign to spread Tehran’s influence across the region. The Government said last week that Yemeni troops had seized five Iranians on a boat loaded with arms in the Red Sea”.

James Haider also comments about the fleeing Shia during a major military assault in late 2009. This military assault led to 150,000 Shia Muslims fleeing their homes in order to escape the military clampdown against their community.

The military bombardments led to the killing of many innocent Shia Muslims who were caught up in the fighting. Therefore, many civilians were killed and the blood flowed.

If we concentrate on the bigger picture it would appear that Sunni Islamic elites do not desire to build bridges with the followers of the Shia faith. Instead the Sunni Islamic elites desire either the status quo or to maintain power by further marginalizing the Shia throughout the region.

Rannie Amiri’s, whose article was published in the weekend edition of Counterpunch, (Feb 19-21, 2010) called The Shia Crescent Revisited, commented that “Should the Arab Shia be prohibited from freely airing their grievances and demanding accountability for past injustices? Stopped from speaking out against the crimes perpetrated against them under Saddam (in which many in the Arab world were complicit)? Prevented from attempting to lift the heavy hand of institutionalized discrimination levied against them in Saudi Arabia? Barred from seeking an end to their disenfranchisement in Bahrain — where they make up at least 70 percent of the population yet constitute no part of the government or security services? Forbidden from asking why the language of sectarianism was used to justify and amplify the carnage in north Yemen?”

It is a fair question and despite the “Iranian card” which is being manipulated and used in Saudi Arabia it is apparent that the global jihadist network is based on the followers of radical Sunni Islam. After all, the terrorist attacks behind September 11, Madrid, Kenya, Bali, Uganda, and other global jihadist attacks, were all done by Sunni Islamic extremists.

Despite the Mahdi Army under Moqtada al-Sadr who attacked American forces in Iraq; it is clear that the Shia in Afghanistan and Iraq have gained from outside military forces taking action against Sunni Islamic zealots in Afghanistan and against the regime of Saddam Hussein which also played the anti-Shia card.

Therefore, will Yemen become the next brutal war which will drag in outside forces and lead to the growth of radical Sunni Islam? After all, it is clear that the al-Shabaab in Somalia desire to turn Somalia into a fundamentalist nation and this extremist Sunni Islamic organization often beheads the followers of Christianity and women also face being stoned to death for adultery.

The Somalia syndrome may happen in Yemen because it is obvious that outside Sunni Islamists have used Somalia in order to spread their version of Islam. However, for the Shia of Yemen then they may face a “dual policy” whereby Sunni Islamic fanatics are allowed to enter the fray from many nations but at the same time the centralized state in Saudi Arabia will boost the nation state of Yemen.

Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, February 11, 2010, stated that “Even as it fights a U.S.-supported war against al-Qaeda militants here, the Yemeni government is engaging Islamist extremists who share an ideology similar to Osama bin Laden’s in its own civil war, adding new complications to efforts to fight terrorism.”

The writer continues by stating that “Yemen’s army is allying with radical Sunnis and former jihadists in the fight against Shiite rebels in the country’s north. The harsh tactics of those forces, such as destroying Shiite mosques and building Sunni ones, are breeding resentment among many residents, analysts said, and given the tangle of evolving allegiances could build support for al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, which plotted the Christmas Day attempt to bomb a U.S. airliner.”

Abdel-Karim al-Iriyani, a former prime minister is clearly alarmed by current events in Yemen. He states that “Using these extremist people, if they are with you today, they are prone to be against you tomorrow.”

Therefore, the Shia in Yemen will continue to suffer and Western nations will do little to challenge Saudi Arabia and the same applies to Bahrain because Saudi Arabia will do everything it can in order to prop-up the Sunni elites.

Saudi Arabia will use any means possible in order to preserve Sunni Muslim power and this also applies to state sanctioned policies which will encourage the forces of radical Sunni Islam in Yemen and boosting the military of Yemen. Therefore, the Shia in Yemen will be attacked by Sunni Islamic militant organizations and by the military of Yemen and this dual policy will be used in order to crush the Shia but in the past the Shia have been tenacious and events are unpredictable.

By Lee Jay Walker

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