Tag Archive | "Lebanon"

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Saudi Arabia’s Watchful Eye Looms Over Bahrain Unrest

Posted on 28 February 2011 by hashimilion

On Wednesday morning, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa boarded a plane to pay his respects to King Abdullah of neighboring Saudi Arabia, who had returned home after months abroad for medical treatments.

It was a trip that underscored the extent of Saudi Arabia’s sway over the teardrop-shaped island off its eastern shore, as well the prospect that the turbulence still whirling in tiny Bahrain could have outsize repercussions in its giant neighbor.

A day after tens of thousands of protesters turned out in Bahrain’s capital, the king is still under pressure from demonstrators who are demanding that he make democratic concessions or step aside. The Shiite-led protesters in Bahrain are demanding that the Sunni royal family grant them equal rights and an equal voice, and majority-Sunni Saudi Arabia is worried that their campaign might give ideas to its own large Shiite minority.

In a sign of its own concerns, the Saudi government announced Wednesday that it will pump $10.7 billion into a fund that gives interest-free loans to citizens and that government workers will receive a 15 percent wage increase, among other measures. Bahrain also gave cash to households just before protests erupted last week.

“Saudi Arabia fears a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, an assistant professor at American University who studies Islamic movements in the Persian Gulf. “It’s about empowerment of the Shia and what that might mean for Shia in the eastern province” of Saudi Arabia, she said, in addition to fears about Iran’s influence, which she deemed largely unjustified.

“In this current crisis, none of the solutions look good for Saudi Arabia,” Diwan said. “A crackdown in Bahrain would be destabilizing. A reform itself would be destabilizing, unless Saudi Arabia was willing to make some reforms.”

The two countries are taking a cautious stance. Saudi Arabia controls large sectors of Bahrain’s economy, both through outright gifts of oil and through investment in Bahraini banks, businesses and real estate. And its military is just a 16-mile drive away over the King Fahd Causeway, which was built at least in part for precisely that strategic reason, observers say. In a sign of Bahraini fears, rumors constantly swirl on Manama’s streets about Saudi troop movements and an imminent invasion.

“Although we are friends, the [Bahraini] leadership is afraid of the Saudis,” said one Bahraini observer with close ties to government security officials. “The Bahrainis don’t want to do like what happened between Syria and Lebanon. When Syria went into Lebanon, they did not leave.”

Hamad is likely to tell Abdullah that “we still don’t need” Saudi military assistance, said the Bahraini observer, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the government. “He will tell them we are coping.”

But Bahrain’s business-friendly, Western orientation - which, unlike in much of the gulf, allows women to walk with bare arms and alcohol to be readily available in restaurants - also serves as an escape valve for Saudis seeking a break from their country’s stricter rules, analysts said. The Bahraini government has also tried in recent years to clamp down on prostitution, another booming trade on the island.

In recent years, an expanded American military presence has provided a counterweight to Saudi influence. The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is docked just south of Manama, somewhat easing Bahraini fears of a Saudi invasion, Bahraini observers said.

“Bahrain’s survival really depends on two countries, the United States of America and Saudi Arabia,” said Mansoor al-Jamri, a leading Shiite opposition figure who is editor in chief of the independent Bahraini newspaper al-Wasat.

And in the current situation, Jamri said, the possibility of military intervention is unlikely, given the events of last week, when the army and police fired on protesters, killing seven people.

Anti-government demonstrators continued to camp in Manama’s Pearl Square on Wednesday, their ranks swelled by thousands of people welcoming prisoners whom Hamad had released in a bid to facilitate negotiations.

Among those released were 23 prisoners who had been held since August, accused of plotting to overthrow the king and engaging in terrorist activities. Many of the former detainees alleged that they had been tortured and beaten while in prison.

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Saud Al Faisal: The European Union Should Protect Hosni Mubarak’s Legitimacy

Posted on 11 February 2011 by hashimilion

A saudi source close to the Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal rejected reports regarding his February 09 visit to Germany. There were claims that Saudi Al Faisal was in Germany as an intermediate for the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in order to find a “secure exist” strategy, so that the President can get the necessary medical treatment in Germany.

Saud Al Faisal will meet Angela Mirkel and reaffirm Saudi Arabia’s position regarding the events taking place in Egypt. Al Faisal wants the European Union to play a greater role in stabilizing Egypt, in order to protect the legitimacy of President Mubarak, until new, free and fair elections take place in November.

Faisal will also talk about the situation in Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Tunis and Iran’s nuclear program.

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Saudi Ideology and the Inevitability of Violence

Posted on 01 February 2011 by hashimilion

The growth of Saudi religious ideology is an indicator of instability in a country. As the religious ideology increases, armed conflict between the various segments of society becomes a big possibility.

There are two main observations concerning Saudi Wahabi religious influence:

Firstly, the presence and growth of saudi ideology will ultimately result in instability and eventually result in armed civil conflict. Yemen and Pakistan are prime examples.

This is due to the fact that Wahabism is intolerant to differing views which exist inside and out side of Islam. Everyone is considered an infidel excluding their followers.

Historically, Wahabism was used as a tool by regimes in order to intimidate and crush their opponents.

In the past Saudi Arabia was able to control and manipulate Wahabism, but a Wahabi insurgency against the Royal family from 2002-2008  clearly shows that this movement is uncontrollable.

Wahabi group activity is mostly accompanied by social disorder and violence. There are so many examples, which illustrate this point. Take Algeria in the late 1970s, which saw an insurgency that killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians. The primary cause of, which was Saudi Arabia’s investment in and propagation of Wahabism.

Morocco, a country which enjoys  a friendly relationship with the Saudi kings has also witnessed an explosion of Salafi movements and new Al Qaeda cells pop up every now and again because of Saudi money. These movements have grown out of control and regularly make violent threats to the Government in Morroco..

In short, Wahabism causes social instability and violence in the Arab and Islamic world.

A close examination of history teaches us that Saudi political influence usually leads to civil wars. Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq obvious examples.

In those countries, Saudi Wahabi ideology was exported in order to strengthen saudi influence. When Saudi Arabia’s influence declines (as is the case right now) Wahabism is used in retribution and ultimately leading to chaos and destruction. Wahabism is used as a tool  of death and not as tool for political penetration.

Wahabism was used in Iraq in order to reinforce Saudi foreign policy, whose goal was to sabotage the political process and not to build political influence. This resulted in civil war breaking out in the country, coupled with sectarian cleansing of central Iraq.

Those that use Wahabism as a tool to fight their opponents ultimately became its victims.

Wahabism was also used in Lebanon, in Nahr Al Barid against Hizbollah in order to strengthen and reaffirm Saudi influence.

It was also used in Gaza, with the financial and military backing of both Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  In the end, the Wahabis set up an Islamic State in Rafah!!! They took up arms against  Hamas and this ultimately lead to their downfall.

The Saudi Government continues to summon the Wahabis in other parts of the world, including Iran where it funds Jundullah as part of its regional conflict with Iran. Lets not forget Bandar Bin Sultan’s open threat to use Al Qaeda on Britian in February 2008, as the Guardian newspaper reported.

Secondly, many regimes are deluded into thinking that they can easily use Wahabism against their opponents. Part of Wahabism is subservient to authotarian regimes, regards them as legitimate rules and prohibits their attack, unless they openly commit kufr.

Yes, Wahabism is scary and attractive to those who have aspirations in using it, especially since its leaders can be easily deceived and manipulated into waging war, by using sectarianism to provoke the Wahabis.

Ali Abdullah Saleh frequently used this tactic. He unleashed the Wahabis and Al Qaeda on his opponents in the South and then unleashed them against his Zaidi opponents in the North. In the end Al Qaeda turned on him then it turned its attention to America. The Americans have regularly demanded that Ali Abdullah Saleh confront Al Qaeda, but this policy does not serve his interests. It also did not serve the interests of the rulers of Pakistan, when they violently confronted the extremist Wahabis in Waziristan and Swat Valley.

The same thing happened to the Sunni Arabs in Iraq, who are mostly followers of the Sunni Hanafi sect. They embraced Wahabism and Al Qaeda once they entered their country in order to strengthen their position after losing power. What happened next was a familiar story. The Wahabis waged war on everyone, the Americans, Shia, Kurds, Christians and their Sunni patrons, under the guise of the “Islamic State of Iraq”. The killing continues till this day.

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Zaydis in Yemen Enjoy a Revival

Posted on 01 February 2011 by hashimilion

A sophisticated and increasingly aggressive al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has propelled the Republic of Yemen to the top of the Obama administration’s war on terror priority list. Yet amid this news-catching and billion-dollar geopolitical struggle against religious extremism, Yemen is experiencing another important religious phenomenon.

Zaydism is a branch of Shi’i Islam distinct from its counterparts in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran or elsewhere. The story of Yemen’s Zaydi community begins in the late 9th century, when the Zaydi scholar Al-Hadi was invited by tribes in Yemen’s northern highlands to resolve their intractable disputes. Accepting Al-Hadi’s governance, these tribesmen ultimately were absorbed into a Zaydi universe, embracing Zaydi political authority, theology and law, in addition to their local tribal customs. In this part of Yemen, temporal power and religious doctrine were united in a uniquely Zaydi form of theocratic rule known as the Imamate. Though never permanent and rarely stable, at its pinnacle the Imamate’s influence extended from present-day Saudi Arabia in the northwest, to the Gulf of Aden in the south, to western Oman in the east. Particularly in Yemen’s northern highlands, history was defined by the activities of Zaydi rulers, judges, scholars and tribesmen.

For over a millennium, the Zaydis of Yemen enjoyed an unparalleled history of political rule, intellectual production and pious devotion.

This all changed dramatically with the Sept. 26, 1962 Republican Revolution. This decisive moment in Yemen’s modern history unleashed an eight-year civil war in North Yemen—South Yemen remaining under British control until 1967—between “nationalists” supported by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt who sought a new direction for the country, and “royalists” who continued to back the ruling Imam, supported by Saudi Arabia. Ultimately, it led to the Zaydi Imamate being replaced with a distinctly Republican and nationalist government, complete with modern bureaucratic institutions and a pronounced antagonism toward the former ruling Zaydi tradition.

The Revolution inaugurated a volatile era for Zaydi adherents in Yemen, and today this community sits on the fringes of Yemen’s public arenas of culture, religion and politics. For a tradition that once dominated large parts of Yemen, its present-day irrelevance is remarkable.

This marginalization has coincided and been reinforced by the “Sunnification” of Yemen. Over the last 40 years, the country has seen the growth of a loose but powerful alliance of political parties and ideological groups that share a commitment to Republican nationalism and Sunni-based reform. With roots in the Imamate period, this movement has promoted anti-Shi’i attitudes and built a potent wave of opposition to Zaydi thought and adherence throughout Yemen. Unlike al-Qaeda, these groups operate within the mainstream of the country’s religious, social and political spheres.

The most dramatic consequence of this phenomenon is the turning of large numbers of individuals and communities in historically Zaydi regions toward Sunni Islam. These range from what might be called “Zaydis in name only”—nominal Zaydis with minimal commitment to Zaydi Islam’s tenets and history (President Ali Abdullah Saleh being one example)—to aggressive opponents of Zaydi thought and practice. Significantly, this retreat from Zaydism has been part and parcel of the official state-building effort in Yemen, as the new Republican government sought to weaken the former ruling group and foster a national religious identity that transcended traditional boundaries and identifications. In doing so, it has consistently promoted alternative religious and political visions, while pushing the Zaydi tradition to the periphery of Yemeni society.

Whether in schools, media or the political sphere, this process continues today.

In fact, the very future of Zaydi Islam in Yemen is in question. The urgency is not lost on the Zaydis themselves, and in response their leaders are advocating for their community and religious tradition in several important ways.

The “Huthi conflict” is the most prominent example (see “Is Yemen Breaking Apart?” by Patrick Seale, November 2009 Washington Report, p. 31). The Huthis are a group of Zaydi sayyids (descendants of the Prophet Muhammad), supported by a wide range of tribal allies, who have been embroiled in escalating violence with the Yemeni government since 2004. The sixth round is now in the midst of a highly tenuous cease-fire. Although this crisis was sparked in the province of Sa’dah, historical capital of the Zaydi Imamate, the Huthis and their supporters have now formed a quasi-government in several of Yemen’s northern provinces. The conflict has severely drained the country’s national economy and produced large numbers of internally displaced people, although it only captured mainstream media attention last winter, when violence spilled into neighboring Saudi Arabia.

A Complex Crisis

Often mischaracterized as a religious struggle between a pro-Sunni regime and Shi’i separatists, this complex crisis cannot be pigeonholed into one of pure sectarian interests. It was stoked—and is maintained—by several interrelated factors, including longstanding historical grievances, tribal loyalties, access to government services and the political legitimacy of the Saleh regime. Furthermore, the Huthis’ stated goals continue to evolve and have ranged from the right to express religious slogans, to application of the Yemeni constitution, to basic self-defense.

Viewing the relationship between Zaydis and the Yemeni state through the lens of the Huthi conflict would be a mistake, as the Huthis represent a political-religious movement that emerged in the specific context of Sa’dah and its vicinity. Still, the situation does allude to a much broader struggle since 1962: one over Zaydis’ communal identity and rights in the Republic of Yemen. In many ways, this crisis is characteristic of the challenges confronting the Zaydi community in Yemen today. On the one hand, it has led to intensified repression and further marginalization in both official and popular spheres. Yet it also reflects a broader pattern of renewed advocacy for Zaydi thought, history and identity.

Zaydi adherents point to a “Zaydi revival” since Yemen’s Unification in 1990, emerging in the context of a nationwide loosening of restrictions on diverse ideologies, whether Zaydi, socialist or otherwise.

The lion’s share of this advocacy reflects a political quietism. These efforts focus on educational outreach and publishing Zaydi texts, especially as dwindling knowledge of Zaydi Islam has coincided with the rapid spread of anti-Zaydi thought. For example, at the Imam Zayd bin Ali Cultural Foundation in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, thousands of Zaydi manuscripts have been digitized and catalogued in an effort to make these seminal texts accessible to the Yemeni public and beyond.

Key Zaydi scholars are also reinterpreting core Zaydi doctrines to reflect contemporary realities and sensibilities, and, ultimately, to make their tradition more relevant in Yemen today. One example is the classical Zaydi concept of khuruj, which refers to the imam’s “rising up” in rebellion against an unjust government—a doctrine frequently cited to demonstrate the Zaydi threat. A number of Zaydi scholars now speak of a “constitutional khuruj.” Stressing Zaydism’s unequivocal commitment to political justice, they have transformed the means for undertaking khuruj from physical seizure of power to nonviolent and democratic change.

Regardless, entering the realm of Yemeni politics is precarious, especially for Zaydis labeled as “strict,” or those with a more pronounced ideological commitment to their tradition. Politically active Zaydis are forced to walk a treacherous tightrope of criticizing the Saleh regime’s behavior on the one hand and expressing allegiance to the Yemeni state on the other. While that may hardly seem revolutionary (particularly considering the high levels of nationwide opposition), for the Zaydi community accusations of disloyalty or sectarian fanaticism are inevitable.

Many Zaydis blame the regime for exploiting an unfair choice: demonstrate your allegiance to the Republic and support this particular regime, including its controversial actions in Sa’dah; or, alternatively, criticize it, meaning your loyalty lies with your community alone or even outside the state. The Huthi conflict has only heightened the government’s paranoia of Zaydi activism.

Zaydi advocates are breaking down that choice. As loyal Yemenis and committed Zaydis, they assert their individual rights as Yemeni citizens and their collective rights as members of the Zaydi community. Not only do they seek to remind Yemenis of Zaydism’s decisive role in the country’s history, ancient and modern, they also insist that the contemporary Republic is more than simply an anti-Imamate or anti-Zaydi state. Instead, they are adamant that it must embody the Islamic (including Zaydi) and Republican principles of justice, democracy and development. While they may object to the 1962 Revolution’s ultimate course, epitomized in Zaydism’s present-day marginalization, they defend the transformations it wrought as a progression toward ideals they embrace but that remain unrealized.

In doing so, these activists represent the repression of Zaydism as a national issue—rather than a communal one—that reflects the ongoing struggle of all Yemenis to build a country defined by equality, freedom of belief, security and prosperity. Although the Zaydi community’s disenfranchisement has a distinct ideological tenor, this story of conflict, underdevelopment and political manipulation is indeed a national one in Yemen today. Essentially, these Zaydis have placed their community and their country on a parallel trajectory toward democracy and justice. Some even depict the divisive Huthi insurgency, which has cost the Zaydi community dearly in terms of public image and reputation, as an essential part of this larger Yemeni struggle.

These Zaydi leaders are advocating for what they believe are Zaydism’s singular solutions to Yemen’s political and social crises. (As one example, they contend that its spread will provide a significant elixir to Yemen’s religious extremism problem.) If successful, they will take the question “is Zaydism disappearing in Yemen today?” and redefine it as “are the ideals of the Revolution disappearing in Yemen today?” Whether through political and human rights advocacy or educational outreach, they are working to ensure that the answer to both questions is “No.”

By James R. King is an independent analyst, specializing in Zaydism, Yemen and the broader Middle East.

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Saudi Obsession with Iran

Posted on 07 January 2011 by hashimilion

During the past ten years, the political efforts of Saudi Arabia were focused on two issues:
Firstly, regaining Washington’s trust, friendship, alliance and protection of the Saudi regime, especially after the events of 11 September 2001, which badly affected their relationship. This objective was achieved, for after 4 years the relationship is back to normal. This was primarily due to Saudi money, which was spent generously, and the regime’s political concessions to the US at the expense of the Palestinian cause. This is in addition to America’s failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the need for a Saudi role in the region.

Secondly, confronting Iranian influence, it seems that Saudis are very much preoccupied with Iran’s scientific and nuclear development, Iran’s regional and global growth which has reached Africa and its ability to build strong alliances with the countries of Latin America.

Saudi Arabia’s policies towards many issues such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen, Algeria, Russia, Israel and Palestine, are all determined by the priorities of the Saudi- Iranian conflict. This conflict has also badly affected the production and the pricing of oil, whereby Saudi tries to decrease Iran’s oil revenue by failing to adhere to the OPEC quota, and hence manipulating the price of oil.

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