Posted tagged ‘Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and modernization’

Report: Saudi Arabia Seeks Reform Towards ‘Moderate Islam

January 12, 2018

Report: Saudi Arabia Seeks Reform Towards ‘Moderate Islam, BreitbartJohn Hayward, January 11, 2018

AFP STRINGER

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted on Thursday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is pushing a return to “the tolerant, moderate Islam that is open to the world, to all the religions and traditions of its people” as part of Saudi Arabia’s major economic reform plan.

At the heart of Saudi Arabia’s recent cultural and political upheaval is an understanding that the country must become more compatible with the Western world and more hospitable to foreign investment, in order to manage the transition away from an oil-based economy with limitless deep pockets. Possibly the trickiest aspect of this transformation will be an Islamic reformation in the notoriously strict kingdom.

As the Journal goes on to note, MBS is looking quite a way back into history for that memory of moderate Saudi Islam, since its harsh blend of strict Wahhabi Islam was brewed up in the 18th Century by the eponymous cleric Mohammed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Tribal influences, and of course the presence of Islam’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina, have pushed the kingdom in an Islamist direction ever since.

The key event in recent Saudi Islamic history is often underappreciated by outside observers: the siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, in which militants occupied the holiest shrine of Islam for 15 days in 1979. The WSJ mentions it only briefly, but the siege dovetailed with the revolution in Iran to change both the Sunni and Shiite wings of the Islamic world.

It is best understood as a theocratic coup, and not an unsuccessful one because it permanently altered the relationship between Saudi Arabia’s royal family, secular bureaucracy, and hardline Islamist clergy. The government did much to curry favor with the Wahhabi extremists to prevent anything like the Grand Mosque attack from happening again. The most pessimistic interpretation of the aftermath is that fundamentalists effectively blackmailed the wealthy Saudi government into bankrolling extremism and terrorism. The siege made the government look weak, dishonest, and decadent to many Saudis.

The Grand Mosque terrorist incident was also a landmark moment in deteriorating relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and by extension Sunni and Shiite Islam, since Iran was widely believed to be involved in the attack. A dismal contest between Saudi Arabia and Iran began to demonstrate which was more pious and faithful to Islamic law. Fundamentalism spread rapidly across formerly liberal and cosmopolitan cities across the Middle East, which until the Islamist upheaval of the late Seventies resembled American and European cities of the same era. It didn’t help matters that Islamic fundamentalism mixed easily with Marxist quackery.

Some find the speed of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reforms astonishing, or worry that he is moving too quickly, but Margherita Stancati at the Wall Street Journalrecalls that fundamentalism descended upon Saudi Arabia very quickly forty years ago:

The mixing of unrelated men and women, let alone singing and dancing, was no longer acceptable. Cinemas closed and music stopped.

In public, women were forced to wear face-covering veils, which in parts of the country such as Asir had been virtually nonexistent. The religious police, formally known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, was given the job of enforcing the new order.

Radical Islamists infused the school curriculum with the teachings of Wahhabi scholars. Textbooks instructed students to hate Christians and Jews and denigrated Shiite Muslims. Some of the more extreme views often came from teachers, who sometimes recruited students to extremist causes.

Saudi charities linked to the government helped spread that interpretation of Islam beyond the kingdom’s borders, inspiring generations of jihadists.

As Stancati notes, even young women eager for reform in Saudi Arabia today grew up being taught that drawing pictures of animals was an insult to Allah’s sacred and unique ability to create life, or that listening to music for pleasure would get them tortured for all eternity in the afterlife by having hot metal poured in their ears. Top Saudi clerics criticized the government for giving women the right to drive by saying it would give them easy access to worldly temptation, and “as we know, women are weak and easily tempted.”

However, the Saudi public overwhelmingly supports ending the ban on women drivers. Younger Saudis in particular grasp that they need to become more socially compatible with the rest of the world if they are to compete on the global stage, in an era when oil is no longer the bottomless spring of easy money it once was.

Crucially, there does not seem to be any massive fundamentalist pushback lurking, comparable to how Saudi modernization at the beginning of the oil boom fed the resentments that erupted in 1979. The government is making a serious effort to nourish more moderate interpretations of Islam and improve education.

Granted, some of the social liberalization described by Stancati is incremental, such as upscale Riyadh women getting to decide what color fabric they wish to be wrapped in from head to toe, instead of having to settle for all black. Also, liberalization in the big Saudi cities is much more noticeable than in small towns and distant areas.

Retired Pacific Fleet commander Admiral James Lyons noted in the Washington Times in December that Saudi demographics are now remarkably skewed toward the younger generation, as 70 percent of the population is under 30 years old, and they have little patience for “onerous Islamic restrictions.” He also noted that the post-oil Saudi economy will have to welcome women into the workforce, which necessarily involves lifting restrictions upon them, such as allowing them to drive.

Lyons is willing to cut the crown prince a lot of slack for playing rough as he consolidates power, because it’s necessary to implement rapid reforms against bureaucratic and social inertia in Saudi Arabia. There is also some comfort in knowing that MBS has practical dollars-and-cents reasons to make his reforms stick; if his sense of idealism flags, the sound of a doomsday clock ticking on a trillion-dollar economic collapse should strengthen his resolve.

The Axis of Moderation vs. the Axis of Resistance in the Middle East

December 1, 2017

The Axis of Moderation vs. the Axis of Resistance in the Middle East, Gatestone InstituteNajat AlSaied, December 1, 2017

(Please see also, Saudis Fed Up: “Palestinians Milking Us for Decades.” — DM)

“We are just returning to the Islam we are used to… The moderate Islam”. — Saudi Crown Prince, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh on October 26, 2017.

Saudi Arabia’s complaints against Iran’s interference and spreading extremism cannot sound credible if extremism is being practiced inside Saudi Arabia.

There urgently needs to be a unified American position to confront the Axis of Resistance. Iran continues to be the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, empowering these armed militias and extremist groups — the basis of terrorism both in the region and across the world. It makes death threats, cooperates with a nuclearized North Korea, and all the while races toward nuclear weapons capability itself.

The dispute between the Arab states, often known as the Axis of Moderation, and the officially designated terrorist regime in Iran often known as the Axis of Resistance, is no longer just a political disagreement but a threat to the national security of Arab countries.

While the Arab states seem pro-statehood and work with other states, Iran and the Axis of resistance seems not to. Even though Iran calls itself Republic, it has a militia mentality and rarely deals with states. In general, rather than dealing with governments, it instead establishes militias, as it has in Lebanon and Yemen. Even in Iraq, where the government is considered its ally, Iran has established more than 15 militias. Qatar, by supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Syria under the Assad regime, seem to have the same mentality as Iran. If you trace the Axis of Resistance, all of them appear to have adopted the concept of supporting militias and extremist groups under the slogan of “resistance.”

The Iranian regime’s long history has now culminated in Saudi Arabia being targeted by Iranian missiles located in Yemen. They are coordinated in Lebanon by the Hezbollah militia, who train the Houthis in Yemen. It is important to understand that these violations and proxy wars carried out by the Iranian regime not only threaten the Arab Gulf states but also pose a threat to a regional and international security.

The Axis of Resistance is led by Iran, and includes Syria, Qatar, Hezbollah, Hamas, Arab Shiites loyal to Wilayat al-Faqih (“The Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist”) in Iran and Arab nationalists. Its slogans consist of fighting imperialism, empowering the (supposedly) vulnerable — mainly Muslim Shiites — and furthering “Arab nationalism,” which usually manifests itself in support for Palestinians against Israelis.

The expansionist objectives of the Axis of Resistance — in its drive to build a “Shiite Crescent” from Iran to the Mediterranean, are clear, compared to the objectives of the Axis of Moderation, which have not announced any specific aims, except to denounce Iran’s interference in the Arab countries’ affairs.

The Axis of Moderation comprises Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Arab Gulf countries, except for Qatar. The great mistake that the Axis of Moderation has made in confronting the Iranian regime — to try to curb its export of the its “Revolution” — has been to fall into the trap of propagating sectarianism. While Iran portrayed itself as the defender of all the Shiites in the world, Saudi Arabia, as a result, acted as the defender of all the Sunnis in the Muslim world — accordingly, sectarianism was propagated. This polarization, however, has only furthered the interests of the Iranian regime, whose chief objective seems to be to continue igniting this division in an apparent policy of divide and conquer. Instead of the members of the Axis of Moderation confronting Iran politically or militarily, they challenged it on religious and sectarian grounds, such as publishing countless books against Shiites that describe them as the enemies of Islam and labelling all Shiites as subordinate to Iran, as if all Shiites were Iran’s puppets, which not all of them are.

U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump join King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, and the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in the inaugural opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, May 21, 2017. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

This divisiveness has brought extremism and terrorism to the region, and has only harmed everyone.

Now the Axis of Moderation has become shrewder in its confrontation with the Iran and has employed a greater number of experts in Iranian affairs. The Axis of Moderation, especially Saudi Arabia, has realized that it cannot face down the threat of Iran without radical internal reforms. Saudi Arabia’s complaints against Iran’s interference and spreading extremism cannot sound credible if extremism is being practiced inside Saudi Arabia. These internal reforms, and liberalizing the society, are important internally: they will boost the economy by creating an attractive investment environment, especially for foreign investors. As importantly, reforms will stop any adversary from saying that Saudi Arabia is a state supporter of terrorism or a land that exports terrorists.

The most obvious changes are Saudi Arabia’s internal reforms that cover “social openness” in the form of concerts and festivals, coordinated by an entertainment body, and the country’s attempts to undermine clerical control, both by arresting extremists and establishing a committee at the Islamic University in Medina to codify the interpretation of Quranic verses that call for extremism, especially against other religions.

Saudi Arabia has also clamped down on corruption by arresting suspected businessmen, princes and former ministers. The kingdom has also raised the status of women by giving them more of their human rights, such as the recent lifting of the ban on women driving. In another important change, Saudi Arabia will also allow women to be clerics to confront all the patriarchal interpretations of verses in Quran related to women. Eventually, that could mean that lifting the ban requiring male guardians for women might also coming soon. The Saudi crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has also said that he will allow women to take sports classes in school, attend sporting event for women and to permit music. His wish, he has said, is to “restore Islam.”

The most important matter of all was pointed out by the Saudi Crown Prince, at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh on October 26, 2017: “We are just returning to the Islam we are used to… The moderate Islam.” He also said, “We will not continue to be in the post-1979 era.”

This is essentially a confession that the approach that Saudi Arabia followed after 1979 to try to oppose the Khomeini Revolution was not helpful, and that now it is time for real reform to face both internal and external challenges.

What Saudi Arabia is doing will eventually contribute towards clarifying the aims of the Axis of Moderation, which will be to support countries whose primary objectives are development, modernity and stability. The most important goal is to stamp out terrorism by supporting a “moderate” Islam or, more specifically, supporting the approach that Saudi Arabia took before 1979. This approach was echoed by the UAE ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, who said that the moderate countries boycotting Qatar are heading towards secularism — in contrast to Qatar’s support for Islamist militias such as Hezbollah, and radical groups in the Axis of Resistance, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

What has complicated the situation has been an exploitation of the conflict in the United States between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party over how to fight terrorism by countries in the Axis of Resistance such as Qatar.

The double face of Qatar is revealed in many ways. Al Jazeera in English, for instance — as mentioned the article, “Al Jazeera: Non-Arabs Should Not Be Fooled” — is totally different from Al Jazeera in Arabic.

Ahmed Mansour, for example, one of Al Jazeera’s anchors, tweeted about Hurricane “Irma” in Florida by citing a Koranic verse to say that what is happening in America is God’s curse: “Twenty million Americans fled out of fear from Hurricane Irma,” he wrote; then he cited a verse from Quran saying,

“And He shows you His signs. So which of the signs of Allah do you deny?” (40:81, Sahih International)

After his tweet in Arabic was read by American journalists, he apologized in a very sweet tweet in English.

Qatar also pretends to the US that it is supportive of its values, but in fact has close ties with all the enemies of the US. Sultan Saad Al-Muraikhi, Qatar’s permanent envoy to the Arab League, for example, has called Iran, which the US has officially designated as a terrorist state, an “honorable state”. Qatar also disagrees with designating Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations and calls them, instead, “resistance movements” against Israel.

Qatar has, moreover, used that dispute for its own ends by way of an alliance with the Democratic Party’s allies and supporters.

Many Qatari writers and Qatar’s supporters, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, have written articles against the Trump administration, as opposed to the previous administration which clearly had a soft spot for the Muslim Brotherhood. From the beginning, the administration of US President Barack Obama overruled Egypt’s President, Hosni Mubarak, by insisting that the Muslim Brotherhood attend Obamas speech in Cairo, thereby setting the stage for the fall of Mubarak; and also strongly supported the subsequent regime then Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood). Obama also openly counted the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, among his “best friends.”

These opinion-makers in the US, evidently nostalgic for the previous administration, and known, especially during the Iran Deal, as not exactly alignedwith the Axis of Moderation, seem to have been exploiting the rift between the Democrats and Republicans, apparently hoping for the impeachment of Donald Trump. As a Saudi academic and researcher, Ahmad Al-faraj, wrote in his article, “Qatar: The dream of isolating Trump!,” they possibly think that a Democrat President, like Obama, would again support them.

While Qatar makes itself out to be tolerant and a supporter of democratic Americans and Westerners, anyone who watches Al Jazeera in Arabic will find nothing other than pure hatred of Western values and enormous support for armed militias such as Hezbollah and terrorist groups such as Hamas.

There urgently needs, therefore, to be a unified American position to confront the Axis of Resistance. Iran continues to be the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, empowering these armed militias and extremist groups — the basis of terrorism both in the region and across the world. It makes death threatscooperates with a nuclearized North Korea, and all the while races toward nuclear weapons capability itself. The United States would also do well to advocate a unified European position, and draw support from across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, European governments, for their own economic interests, have turned a blind eye to all the terrorism, extremism and sectarianism that Iran is fomenting. European countries should be warned that if they continue to put these economic interests ahead of global security, not only will the decision undermine the already-fragile national security of their own countries but also those of the region.

It is in the interest of the United States and world peace to support the pillars of an Axis of Moderation that would:

  • Eliminate political Islam because it exploits religion for radical political goals in both the Sunni and Shiite sects. The Shiite version of political Islam failed in Iraq and the Sunni version of the Muslim Brotherhood failed in Egypt and Tunisia. In both versions of political Islam, violence and terrorism are exacerbated.
  • Undermine Iran’s influence among armed militias in the region such as the militia Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi in Yemen and the sectarian militias in Iraq. These should be classified as terrorist organizations. Hamas in the Gaza Strip has already been classified as such by the United States on October 31, 2001. Any country that supports Hamas or defends it, even in its media, should be classified as terrorist too.
  • Prevent the existence of armed militias operating as a state within a state; they are the beginning of the collapse of states and therefore a serious threat to peace and stability.
  • Consolidate the principles of secularism in internal and external dealings. Incitement to sectarian and racial hatred must be prevented as well as the use of Quranic verses to spread violence and extremism. To keep Iraq out of Iran’s control, non-sectarian neighborly relations need to be maintained.
  • Instill the principles of tolerance and respect for all religions and sects and guarantee the free practice of religions and the protection of minorities.

Moderate countries will not promote the rhetoric of a fight with Israel, as does the Axis of Resistance, led by Iran; instead, the Axis of Moderation is now committed to the principles of peace, which are based on the common interests of states to ensure the security and prosperity of all citizens.

The region and the world as a whole have suffered from the actions of the Iranian regime and its allies. There should be no justification for the existence of militias and extremist groups under the banner of resistance or similar pretexts. The international community needs to be firm in challenging states that allow or support such groups and should stress that states can only protect themselves with armies and armed forces, not with militias. A unified American and European position needs to help the Axis of Moderation to prevent countries in turmoil from becoming cantons of militias and extremist groups. That seems a more constructive way to fight terrorism and build global stability.

Najat AlSaied is a Saudi American academic and the author of “Screens of Influence: Arab Satellite Television & Social Development”. She is an Assistant Professor at Zayed University in the College of Communication and Media Sciences in Dubai-UAE.

This article was first published in Arabic at Al Hurra.

Saudi Purges and Duty to Act

November 8, 2017

Saudi Purges and Duty to Act, FrontPage MagazineCaroline Glick, November 8, 2017

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

While many of the officials arrested over the weekend threaten Mohammed’s power, they aren’t the only ones that he has purged. In September Mohammed arrested some 30 senior Wahhabist clerics and intellectuals. And Saturday’s arrest of the princes, cabinet ministers and business leaders was followed up by further arrests of senior Wahhabist clerics.

At the same time, Mohammed has been promoting clerics who espouse tolerance for other religions, including Judaism and Christianity. He has removed the Saudi religious police’s power to conduct arrests and he has taken seemingly credible steps to finally lift the kingdom-wide prohibition on women driving.

Given Saudi Arabia’s record, and the kingdom’s 70-year alliance with Wahhabist clerics, it is hard to know whether Mohammed’s move signals an irrevocable breach between the House of Saud and the Wahhabists.

But the direction is clear. With Hariri’s removal from Lebanon, the lines between the forces of jihad and terrorism led by Iran, and the forces that oppose them are clearer than ever before. And the necessity of acting against the former and helping the latter has similarly never been more obvious.

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For 70 years, Saudi Arabia served as the largest and most significant incubator of Sunni jihad. Its Wahhabist Islamic establishment funded radical mosques throughout the world. Saudi princes have supported radical Islamic clerics who have indoctrinated their followers to pursue jihad against the non-Islamic world. Saudi money stands behind most of the radical Islamic groups in the non-Islamic world that have in turn financed terrorist groups like Hamas and al-Qaida and have insulated radical Islam from scrutiny by Western governments and academics. Indeed, Saudi money stands behind the silence of critics of jihadist Islam in universities throughout the Western world.

As Mitchell Bard documented in his 2011 book, The Arab Lobby, any power pro-Israel forces in Washington, DC, have developed pales in comparison to the power of Arab forces, led by the Saudi government. Saudi government spending on lobbyists in Washington far outstrips that of any other nation. According to Justice Department disclosures from earlier this year, since 2015, Saudi Arabia vastly increased its spending on influence peddling. According to a report by The Intercept, “Since 2015, the Kingdom has expanded the number of foreign agents on retainer to 145, up from 25 registered agents during the previous two-year period.”

Saudi lobbyists shielded the kingdom from serious criticism after 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were shown to be Saudi nationals. They blocked a reconsideration of the US’s strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia after the attacks and in subsequent years, even as it was revealed that Princess Haifa, wife of Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to Washington at the time the September 11 attacks occurred, had financially supported two of the hijackers in the months that preceded the attacks.

The US position on Saudi Arabia cooled demonstrably during the Obama administration. This cooling was not due to a newfound concern over Saudi financial support for radical Islam in the US. To the contrary, the Obama administration was friendlier to Islamists than any previous administration. Consider the Obama administration’s placement of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in key positions in the federal government. For instance, in 2010, then secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano appointed Mohamed Elibiary to the department’s Homeland Security Advisory Board. Elibiary had a long, open record of support both for the Muslim Brotherhood and for the Iranian regime. In his position he was instrumental in purging discussion of Islam and Jihad from instruction materials used by the US military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The Obama administration’s cold relations with the Saudi regime owed to its pronounced desire to ditch the US’s traditional alliance with the Saudis, the Egyptians and the US’s other traditional Sunni allies in favor of an alliance with the Iranian regime.

During the same period, the Muslim Brotherhood’s close ties to the Iranian regime became increasingly obvious. Among other indicators, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president Mohamed Morsi hosted Iranian leaders in Cairo and was poised to renew Egypt’s diplomatic ties with Iran before he was overthrown by the military in July 2013. Morsi permitted Iranian warships to traverse the Suez Canal for the first time in decades.

Saudi Arabia joined Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group in 2014.

It was also during this period that the Saudis began warming their attitude toward Israel. Through Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leading role in opposing Iran’s nuclear program and its rising power in the Middle East, the Saudis began changing their positions on Israel.

Netanyahu’s long-time foreign policy adviser, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president Dr. Dore Gold, who authored the 2003 bestseller Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism which exposed Saudi Arabia’s role in promoting jihadist Islam, spearheaded a process of developing Israel’s security and diplomatic ties with Riyadh. Those ties, which are based on shared opposition to Iran’s regional empowerment, led to the surprising emergence of a working alliance between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE with Israel during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas – the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is in the context of Saudi Arabia’s reassessment of its interests and realignment of strategic posture in recent years that the dramatic events of the past few days in the kingdom must be seen.

Saturday’s sudden announcement that a new anti-corruption panel headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the near simultaneous announcement of the arrest of more than two dozen royal family members, cabinet ministers and prominent businessmen is predominantly being presented as a power seizure by the crown prince. Amid widespread rumors that King Salman will soon abdicate the throne to his son, it is reasonable for the 32-year-old crown prince to work to neutralize all power centers that could threaten his ascension to the throne.

But there is clearly also something strategically more significant going on. While many of the officials arrested over the weekend threaten Mohammed’s power, they aren’t the only ones that he has purged. In September Mohammed arrested some 30 senior Wahhabist clerics and intellectuals. And Saturday’s arrest of the princes, cabinet ministers and business leaders was followed up by further arrests of senior Wahhabist clerics.

At the same time, Mohammed has been promoting clerics who espouse tolerance for other religions, including Judaism and Christianity. He has removed the Saudi religious police’s power to conduct arrests and he has taken seemingly credible steps to finally lift the kingdom-wide prohibition on women driving.

At the same time, Mohammed has escalated the kingdom’s operations against Iran’s proxies in Yemen.

And of course, on Saturday, he staged the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri amid Hariri’s allegations that Hezbollah and Iran were plotting his murder, much as they stood behind the 2005 assassination of his father, prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

There can be little doubt that there was coordination between the Saudi regime and the Trump administration regarding Saturday’s actions. The timing of the administration’s release last week of most of the files US special forces seized during their 2011 raid of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was likely not a coincidence.

The files, which the Obama administration refused to release, make clear that Obama’s two chief pretensions – that al-Qaida was a spent force by the time US forces killed bin Laden, and that Iran was interested in moderating its behavior were both untrue. The documents showed that al-Qaida’s operations remained a significant worldwide threat to US interests.

And perhaps more significantly, they showed that Iran was al-Qaida’s chief state sponsor. Much of al-Qaida’s leadership, including bin Laden’s sons, operated from Iran. The notion – touted by Obama and his administration – that Shi’ite Iranians and Sunni terrorists from al-Qaida and other groups were incapable of cooperating was demonstrated to be an utter fiction by the documents.

Their publication now, as Saudi Arabia takes more determined steps to slash its support for radical Islamists, and separate itself from Wahhabist Islam, draws a clear distinction between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Given Saudi Arabia’s record, and the kingdom’s 70-year alliance with Wahhabist clerics, it is hard to know whether Mohammed’s move signals an irrevocable breach between the House of Saud and the Wahhabists.

But the direction is clear. With Hariri’s removal from Lebanon, the lines between the forces of jihad and terrorism led by Iran, and the forces that oppose them are clearer than ever before. And the necessity of acting against the former and helping the latter has similarly never been more obvious.

The U.S. Is Saudi Arabia Now

November 7, 2017

The U.S. Is Saudi Arabia Now, PJ MediaRoger L Simon, November 6, 2017

But back to Saudi Arabia. They’re the bad ones here, not us.  They behave in a manner that civilized people must condemn.  We know this because Donald Trump approves of what King Salman is doing, cleaning house of characters like Bin Talal,  and Trump, as we know, is not an honorable man.

How do we know?  Because he has disgraced our country in Japan.  He is uncouth and does not even know how to feed koi. How bad is that! He could have killed the poor….Oh, wait…. 

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Saudi Arabia is evidently undergoing some pretty extreme housecleaning, approaching its own “Night of the Long Knives.”  It’s hard to know what to make of it (though those of us who remember Alwaleed Bin Talal’s  fatuous offer of ten million dollars just after 9/11, properly refused by Rudy Giuliani, have our own opinions of the now-arrested prince.)

Things over there seem pretty primitive and chaotic, almost tribal, replete with the image of billionaire princes forced to sleep on bare mattresses in the ballroom of the local Ritz Carlton. The Saudis have their own way of doing things.

Or do they?

These days things in Washington resemble Riyadh more than we care to admit. And unlike the Saudis, we don’t have Iran’s clients flying missiles into our airports. What’s our excuse?

Not much really — just hatred and the lust for power.  We’re tribal too — and then some.  Indeed, we may be worse.  How else to explain what’s going on inside our major political institutions — from Congress to our political parties to the Department of Justice to, needless to say, the FBI?  The skullduggery has been endless.

The latest is the reaction to Donna Brazile’s disclosure that the Democratic Party primary process was, essentially, fixed in favor of Mrs. Clinton.  The former DNC head is most likely correct because the mortified (and defensive) responses to her revelations are packed with lies.  That Ms. Brazile was concerned for her own safety because of the unsolved Seth Rich murder is also worth noting, speaking of long knives. Meanwhile, the mainstream media barely mentions that anything has occurred.  (The Saudis are more transparent.)

And then there are the matters that can be lumped together as G-Men in Non-Action, i. e. the FBI.  The latest revelation here is that James Comey, chief law enforcement officer in the land at the time, at first wrote a document accusing Hillary Clinton of  having been “grossly negligent” in her email scandal and then crossed it out… or somebody crossed it out for him…  to replace it with, for some reason or other, “extremely careless.” Could it be that “grossly negligent” in the handling of national security material is a crime and she was running for president?  Nah.  James Comey is a man to be trusted.

And so are Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein.  That we have just learned they were in charge during the approval of the Uranium One deal, that there was money laundering, bribes and all sorts of double-dealing by the Russian company involved (that they knew about) before twenty percent of U.S. uranium was put under Russian control, should not disturb us. Because of this knowledge, they are all the more qualified to conduct the Russia investigation. After all, Brutus, as Marc Antony assured us, is an honorable man. And so is Bill Clinton.  He had to speak a full two hours for that $500,000 after the deal was made.  So are they all honorable men.

That there are renewed questions about the Fusion GPS Trump dossier, that it may have been used to instigate the entire Russia investigation although filled with unsubstantiated, actually ludicrous, allegations, also should not give us pause.  After all, Bret Stephens believes it and he is an honorable man. He writes for The New York Times.

But back to Saudi Arabia. They’re the bad ones here, not us.  They behave in a manner that civilized people must condemn.  We know this because Donald Trump approves of what King Salman is doing, cleaning house of characters like Bin Talal,  and Trump, as we know, is not an honorable man.

How do we know?  Because he has disgraced our country in Japan.  He is uncouth and does not even know how to feed koi. How bad is that! He could have killed the poor….Oh, wait…. 

What You Need To Know About Saudi Arabia’s Mass Arrests

November 7, 2017

What You Need To Know About Saudi Arabia’s Mass Arrests, The Federalist, November 7, 2017

There are two ways to interpret the purge over the weekend and the series of moves against Saudi Arabia’s conservative religious establishment. The first is that Mohammad is a true reformer, who wants to prepare his country to survive well into the twenty-first century. To be able to pursue the reforms necessary for that survival, he’s removing anyone he thinks would or could oppose his rule and all its attendant reforms.

The other possibility is that he fears being overthrown and sees the religious leadership in his country as the most serious threat to his power and planned reforms, which he believes will keep young Saudis happy.

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Let’s talk about some real palace intrigue. On Saturday, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia arrested more than ten princes, four ministers, and dozens of former ministers, including several clerics. That list included the noted billionaire and investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the richest men in the world. The move shocked the globe and sent speculations flying.

So what’s going on in the House of Saud? This is the latest step in the consolidation of power of the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The young crown prince is powerful and highly influential mostly because he has the ear of his father, King Salman. No doubt, the crown prince was instrumental in the king’s announcement, just hours before the arrests, of a new anti-corruption committee, which, according to The New York Times, “has the right to investigate, arrest, ban from travel, or freeze the assets of anyone it deems corrupt.”

Not surprisingly, Mohammad was appointed as the chair of this new committee. Because of how intertwined the enormous Saudi royal family is with the government in Riyadh, the lines between private and public money are fuzzy, making corruption charges easy to conjure.

In addition to the high-profile arrests, the Saudi government closed the airport in Riyadh that is used for private planes — preventing any rich family members or allegedly threatening figures from leaving the country — and Salman announced he is taking the place of the minister in charge of the Saudi national guard, putting all three of the Saudi armed forces under the de facto control of the crown prince, who is also the minister of defense.

Latest in a Series of Saudi Leadership Upheavals

Although the Saturday night arrests were the largest and most surprising moves to consolidate power, they aren’t the first, nor are they out of character for the young king-to-be. Mohammad is a relative newcomer to the line of succession. He only became the crown prince in June, taking the place of the former crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, Salman’s nephew, who has since been under house arrest.

This change represented a major upheaval of the Saudi system of succession and upset many in the Saudi royal family. Since the founding of the kingdom in 1932 by King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman, also known as Ibn Saud, the throne has gone from brother to brother among Ibn Saud’s children (he had 45 sons). When Mohammed bin Nayef was named crown prince in 2015, he was the first prince to become next in line to the throne who was not one of Ibn Saud’s sons. However, it kept with the spirit of the tradition in that he is the son of the current king’s brother. By redirecting the line of succession to his own son, Salman upended more than 60 years of royal tradition.

It’s unclear, at this point, how the royals will react to this soft coup, or if there’s really anything they can do about it. The crown prince is trying to consolidate power and eliminate any potential threats to his succession to the throne, and it’s working. It’s almost like a silent coup.

Mohammad’s Vision for Saudi Arabia

All of this intrigue raises questions about the new crown prince and what, exactly, he wants. Mohammad made his name as a reformer in the short two years since he rose to the national scene, most notably as the author of a 2016 plan to transform Saudi Arabia and reduce the country’s dependency on oil. The plan, called “Vision 2030,” focuses on modernizing the economy, promoting tourism and education, and supporting non-oil industry trade in the wake of plummeting oil prices.

His vision for Saudi Arabia also appears to be one in which religious fundamentalism takes a back seat. Mohammad was behind the September decision to change Saudi Arabia’s long-standing, ridiculous ban on women driving, a central component to restricting and monitoring the movement of women and keeping them out of the work force. Women will also be allowed to enter sports stadiums beginning next year. In addition, the crown prince approved public concerts this year, which had been banned, and there are rumors of the return of movie theaters to Saudi Arabia (they’ve been gone since the 1980s).

Lifting the driving ban, along with the other cultural reforms, are changes that Saudi clerics, who adhere to an ultra-strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism, strongly oppose. But Mohammad has said in no uncertain terms that he will move forward with his plan to bring moderation to Saudi Arabia, with or without the clerics.

In October, at a conference in Riyadh, he described his vision for the future of Saudi Arabia, one where religious extremism has no place. He promised to rid the country of “extremist ideologies” and return to “a more moderate Islam.” He went on to say, “Seventy percent of the Saudi population is under the age of 30. In all honesty, we will not spend 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideologies. We will destroy them today and immediately.”

At that same conference, the crown prince referenced 1979, the year of the Iranian Revolution and when Sunni fundamentalists took control of the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s Mecca. 1979 was, in the crown’s view, when Saudi Arabia took a sharp turn toward religious fundamentalism. He told the conference attendees, “All we’re doing is going back to what we were: a moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world and to all traditions and people.”

It was smart for him to allude to Iran, his country’s nemesis in the region, to link modernization with anti-Iran sentiments — something it would be difficult for Saudi clerics to counter given the ongoing tensions between the two countries, including the proxy war in Yemen. On Monday, tensions with Iran ratcheted up further when Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon of declaring war against it in the wake of the resignation Saturday of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, a Saudi-allied Lebanese politician. Saudi officials blamed the resignation on Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite group that the United States considers a terrorist organization but is nonetheless represented in the Lebanese parliament.

A Bid for Young People’s Support

But for all the regional geopolitical problems facing Saudi Arabia, domestic troubles are just as pressing. Mohammed’s confrontation with the religious establishment first revved up in 2016, when he spurred the reforms of the country’s religious police, including banning them from making arrests. Some saw this as merely a symbolic move (the religious police have, in the past, been chastened only to make a comeback). But even if that’s true, symbolically pushing back against the powerful clerical class is a bold step and an indication that the young prince means to radically change the country, and perhaps more importantly for him, ensure that he ascends to the royal throne and stays there.

Saudi clerics seem to be getting the message that they’re going to have to go along to get along. After Saturday’s purge, which included the arrests of dozens of clerics, the Council of Senior Scholars, Saudi Arabia’s main religious body, expressed approval for the arrests and support for fighting corruption.

The audience for all these reforms, as evidenced by the crown prince’s October speech, are Saudi Arabia’s youth. Mohammed is trying to woo the young people who make up the majority of the country. Perhaps he’s doing this because he knows that if Saudi Arabia stays culturally entrenched in fundamentalist Islamic ideology, it’s destined to fall prey to the instability endemic to the region. There will, eventually, be a revolt, especially if the oil economy falters and the government is no longer able to keep the population well-fed and well-paid.

There are two ways to interpret the purge over the weekend and the series of moves against Saudi Arabia’s conservative religious establishment. The first is that Mohammad is a true reformer, who wants to prepare his country to survive well into the twenty-first century. To be able to pursue the reforms necessary for that survival, he’s removing anyone he thinks would or could oppose his rule and all its attendant reforms.

The other possibility is that he fears being overthrown and sees the religious leadership in his country as the most serious threat to his power and planned reforms, which he believes will keep young Saudis happy.

Modernizers launch a coup within the House of Saud

November 6, 2017

Modernizers launch a coup within the House of Saud, American ThinkerThomas Lifson, November 6, 2017

When President Trump visited Riyadh in May, the discussions must have included a mutual understanding of the changes the Regime has in mind. The US delegation included veteran Saudi-hand Secretary of State Tillerson and economic visionary Wilbur Ross of the Department of Commerce. These are precisely the people a monarch would want to talk to about restructuring his regime to cope with a reality that has changed. A big part of the modernization is entering closer relations with Israel, a natural mutual ally in resisting Iranian Shiites. Purportedly clandestine cooperation is widely in to be underway already.

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A coup is taking place within the House of Saud, in which a modernizing monarch is grabbing power and taking out rivals.  Forces now under command of the ruler just arrested 11 princes among dozens of others and is launching financial investigations that could lead to serious punishment. In Saudi Arabia, they behead people (at least 157 times in 2015) and amputate a limb off of thieves.  It is widely believed that baksheesh is not unknown in Saudi Arabian business circles, and an “anti-corruption committee” was recently formed.  In other words, the tools are in place to take out any opposition among the powerful, within or outside the royal family.

Bloomberg reports:

Prince Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah, was removed from his post as head of the powerful National Guards.

That’s the first thing you do in coup: grab control of the forces on the ground.

Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was picked up at his desert camp, the senior official said. Authorities did not disclose the evidence that prompted the arrests.

 Prince Alwaleed bin Talal presides over a vast financial empire (estimated $35 billion in 2015):

 Alwaleed is the largest individual shareholder of Citigroup, the second-largest voting shareholder in 21st Century Fox and owns a number of hotels. TIME even called him “Arabian Warren Buffet”.

The second thing you do is take out any potential bankroller of rivals.

It all began a month after the historic visit of President Trump, when 81-year-old King Salman displaced the previous crown prince, who was his nephew, as tradition of succession required,[i] and installed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as effectively the monarch.

MBS, as the Crown Prince is known, is the leader who is launching what modernizers hope will be a Saudi Version of the Meiji Restoration[ii] in Japan, transforming the political economy and culture out of necessity – in order to survive in the modern world system.  The Saudis have practiced religious and cultural isolationism, while their oil allowed the country to avoid the necessity of building an economy that could supply anything else that the rest of the world would be willing to pay for.

The power grab was necessary, because Saudi Arabia has to modernize, and it won’t be pleasant for lots of people, in and out of the royal family. Thanks to fracking and associated technologies, prices are never going to return to $100 a barrel.  The regime itself is at stake because the population is growing and the young have few prospects of employment. The House of Saud almost fell in 1979, when the Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized by Shiite insurgents (The Saudi Shiite minority is concentrated in the oil producing region near Iran) declaring their prophet to be the Mahdi. The entire religious legitimacy of the family is that they are custodians of the holy places of Islam, and yet they had to bring in Pakistanis to retake the holy of holies, the Kaaba.

Source: Wikimedia

They understand that in order to stay in power, they have to deliver change.

When President Trump visited Riyadh in May, the discussions must have included a mutual understanding of the changes the Regime has in mind. The US delegation included veteran Saudi-hand Secretary of State Tillerson and economic visionary Wilbur Ross of the Department of Commerce. These are precisely the people a monarch would want to talk to about restructuring his regime to cope with a reality that has changed. A big part of the modernization is entering closer relations with Israel, a natural mutual ally in resisting Iranian Shiites. Purportedly clandestine cooperation is widely in to be underway already.

Of the people arrested, Alwaleed bin Tala is the most intriguing for Americans thanks to his Twitter sparring with candidate Trump during the election, and for a startling connection unearthed by Jack Cashill more than five years ago in World New Daily.

In late March 2008, on a local New York City show called “Inside City Hall,” the venerable African-American entrepreneur and politico, Percy Sutton, told host Dominic Carter how he was asked to help smooth Barack Obama’s admission into Harvard Law School 20 years earlier.

The octogenarian Sutton calmly and lucidly explained that he had been “introduced to [Obama] by a friend.” The friend’s name was Dr. Khalid al-Mansour, and the introduction had taken place about 20 years prior.

Sutton described al-Mansour as “the principal adviser to one of the world’s richest men.” The billionaire in question was Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.

 

Deep currents are being stirred.

Hat tip: Clarice Feldman


[i] This spread power around in the family, allowing for the growth of factionalism within the clan. Now that there is a direct and clear lineage, power can be grabbed at the very top and the rest of the clan brought into line.

[ii] I studied, wrote and taught the Meiji Restoration and realize the many differences in the specifics of the two countries’ situations. No exact parallel is implied.

Sweeping Saudi purge exposes broad opposition to Crown Prince’s policies

November 5, 2017

Sweeping Saudi purge exposes broad opposition to Crown Prince’s policies, DEBKAfile, November 5, 2017

(Please see also, 11 Saudi princes, 4 ministers arrested as crown prince unleashes crackdown on corruption. — DM)

Riding over them all is the dynamic, fast-moving, youthful at 32 figure of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad, whose father King Salman has given him free rein to haul the hidebound oil kingdom into modern times.

On Oct. 25, the Crown Prince said: “We are in the G20 and one of the biggest economies in the world. Making Saudi Arabia a good place will contribute to change in the region and the world – and that is what we are doing now.” Speaking at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, he also vowed to immediately destroy “extremist ideologies” and return to “a more moderate Islam. We want to lead normal lives, lives where our religion and our traditions translate into tolerance, so that we coexist with the world and become part of the development of the world,” he said.

Prince Muhammad is confident that 70 percent of young Saudis under 30 are behind him. He promised them not to waste another 30 years fighting extremist ideologies.

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By purging the most powerful princes in the realm, Crown Prince Muhammad lays bets on his survival and that of his ambitious reform program and policies.

All in one day, Saturday, Nov. 4, the Middle East underwent a rapid series of game-changing events. Sunni politician Saad Hariri resigned as Lebanese Prime Minister and fled to Riyadh, in the wake of an Iranian-Hizballah assassination plot.  And before the vibes from that event died down across the region,  Saudi strongman, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Sultan, conducted a wholesale purge, sweeping hundreds of princes, former ministers and generals out of jobs and into jail, up to the highest-ranking military, financial and political opponents of his policies.  The former king’s son Prince Mitab bin Abdullah, was removed from the National Guard, which is responsible for safeguarding the throne and the oil fields, and the multibillion Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, investor in such global giants as Citigroup, 21st Century Fox, Apple and Twitter, was thrown into jail.

That night, the sky over Riyadh suddenly lit up when US Patriot missiles intercepted an Iranian-supplied Burkan- 2H ballistic missile, with a range of 1000km, that was fired by Yemeni Houthi rebels at the King Khaled International Airport of Riyadh from northern Yemen.

It was a timely reminder of the war in which Prince Muhammad has embroiled Saudi Arabia against Iran-backed Yemeni insurgents, of the wider, albeit covert, conflict waged against Iran and the quarrel with Qatar.

Riding over them all is the dynamic, fast-moving, youthful at 32 figure of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad, whose father King Salman has given him free rein to haul the hidebound oil kingdom into modern times.

On Oct. 25, the Crown Prince said: “We are in the G20 and one of the biggest economies in the world. Making Saudi Arabia a good place will contribute to change in the region and the world – and that is what we are doing now.” Speaking at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, he also vowed to immediately destroy “extremist ideologies” and return to “a more moderate Islam. We want to lead normal lives, lives where our religion and our traditions translate into tolerance, so that we coexist with the world and become part of the development of the world,” he said.

Prince Muhammad is confident that 70 percent of young Saudis under 30 are behind him. He promised them not to waste another 30 years fighting extremist ideologies.

At the same time, DEBKAfile’s Saudi experts warn that the scale of his lightening purge points to spreading resistance within the royal house and ruling cirlces to his methods and ideas. Interestingly, the forward looking prince has chosen one of the oldest and most effective ways of suppressing dissent: sack and throw the dissenters into jail, that is, until they come around to his vision or rebuilding the economy on contemporary technological and financial lines, creating the NEOM Red Sea megacity and free trade zone and social reforms.

The purge of many hundreds of officials was official designated an anti-corruption drive. Prince Miteb was replaced as National Guard minister by Prince Khaled bin Ayyaf;  Economy and Planning Minister Adel Fakeih was ousted and replaced by Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri; and the Commander of the Navy, Adm. Abdullah Al-Sultan, was relieved of his position and replaced by Fahad Al-Ghofaili, who was promoted to the rank of Admiral.

King Salman also ordered the formation of a new anti-corruption committee headed by… Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

It may sound strange to Western ears, but the argument over the succession is possibly the foremost subject of dissent within the royal house.

When King Salman abdicates – which could be in a matter of months – he will pass the scepter to Crown Prince Mohammed. However, before ascending the throne, Muhammad insists on appointing his successor to safeguard the Saudi kingdom’s stable continuity. This is a major bone of contention between him and the hundreds of royal princes who hold positions of power. They judge it to be a measure for assuring young Prince Muhammad of unlimited power.

One of the leading dissenters is Prince Miteb and another Prince Al Waleed, both of whom are currently behind bars. It is most likely, therefore, that the opposition to the Crown Prince and his policies will intensify rather than abate. His reform and economic policies are still mostly on paper and the Yemen war has reached a standoff against Iran and Qatar, with no solution in sight. In this fragile and volatile situation, Prince Muhammad’s life and plans have never been in greater danger.