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Islam’s civil war moves to Egypt

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The vicious crosswind ripping through Egyptian politics comes from the great Sunni-Shi’ite civil war now enveloping the Muslim world from the Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean.

It took just two days for the interim government installed last week by Egypt’s military to announce that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States would provide emergency financing for the bankrupt Egyptian state. Egypt may not yet have a prime minister, but it does not really need a prime minister. It has a finance minister, though, and it badly needs a finance minister, especially one with a Rolodex in Riyadh.

As the World Bulletin website reported July 6:

“The Finance Ministry has intensified its contacts [with Gulf states] to stand on the volume of financial aid announced,” caretaker Finance Minister Fayyad Abdel Moneim told the Anadolu Agency in a phone interview Saturday. Abdel Moneim spoke of contacts with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Kuwait for urgent aid … Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi phoned Saudi Kind Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz and UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nuhayyan yesterday on the latest developments in Egypt. King Abdullah was the first Arab and foreign leader to congratulate interim president Adly Mansour after his swearing-in ceremony. [1]

Meanwhile, Egypt’s central bank governor, Hisham Ramez, was on a plane to Abu Dhabi July 7 “to drum up badly need financial support”, the Financial Times reported. [2] The Saudis and the UAE had pledged, but not provided, US$8 billion in loans to Egypt, because the Saudi monarchy hates and fears the Muslim Brotherhood as its would-be grave-digger. With the brothers out of power, things might be different. The Saudi Gazette wrote July 6:

Egypt may be able to count on more aid from two other rich Gulf States. Egypt “is in a much better position now to receive aid from Saudi Arabia and the UAE”, said Citigroup regional economist Farouk Soussa. “Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have promised significant financial aid to Egypt. It is more likely that Egypt will receive it now.” [3]

Media accounts ignored the big picture, and focused instead on the irrelevant figure of Mohamed al-Baradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner whose appointment as prime minister in the interim government was first announced and then withdrawn on Saturday. It doesn’t matter who sits in the Presidential Palace if the country runs out of bread. Tiny Qatar had already expended a third of its foreign exchange reserves during the past year in loans to Egypt, which may explain why the eccentric emir was replaced in late June by his son. Only Saudi Arabia with its $630 billion of cash reserves has the wherewithal to bridge Egypt’s $20 billion a year cash gap. With the country’s energy supplies nearly exhausted and just two months’ supply of imported wheat on hand, the victor in Cairo will be the Saudi party.

I predicted this development in a July 4 post at PJ Media, noting,

The Saudis have another reason to get involved in Egypt, and that is the situation in Syria. Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war, now guided by Prince Bandar, the new chief of Saudi Intelligence, has a double problem. The KSA wants to prevent Iran from turning Syria into a satrapy and fire base, but fears that the Sunni jihadists to whom it is sending anti-aircraft missiles eventually might turn against the monarchy. The same sort of blowback afflicted the kingdom after the 1980s Afghan war, in the person of Osama bin Laden.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been fighting for influence among Syria’s Sunni rebels (as David Ottaway reported earlier this week at National Interest). Cutting off the Muslim Brotherhood at the knees in Egypt will help the KSA limit potential blowback in Syria.” [4]

There wasn’t before, there is not now, and there will not be in the future such a thing as democracy in Egypt. The now-humiliated Muslim Brotherhood is a Nazi-inspired totalitarian party carrying a crescent in place of a swastika. If Mohamed Morsi had remained in power, he would have turned Egypt into a North Korea on the Nile, a starvation state in which the ruling party rewards the quiescent with a few more calories.

The head of Egypt’s armed forces, Field Marshal Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, is not a democrat, but a dedicated Islamist whose wife is said to wear the full niqab body covering, according to Naval Postgraduate School professor Robert Springborg. “Islamic ideology penetrates Sisi’s thinking about political and security matters,” Springborg observes. [5]

The question is not whether Islamism, but whose. Some Saudi commentators claim al-Sisi as their Islamist, for example Asharq al-Awsat columnist Hussein Shobokshi, who wrote July 7, “God has endowed al-Sisi with the Egyptians’ love. In fact, al-Sisi brought a true legitimacy to Egypt, which will open the door to hope after a period of pointlessness, immaturity and distress. Al-Sisi will go down in history and has gained the love of people.” [6] The Saudi-funded Salafist (ultra-Islamist) Nour Party in Egypt backed the military coup, probably because it is Saudi-funded, while other Salafists took to the streets with the Muslim Brotherhood to oppose it. Again, none of this matters. The will of a people that cannot feed itself has little weight. Egypt is a banana republic without the bananas.

Whether Egypt slides into chaos or regains temporary stability under the military depends on what happens in the royal palace at Riyadh, not in Tahrir Square. It appears that the Saudis have embraced the military-backed government, whoever it turns out to include. It is conceivable that the Saudis vetoed the ascension of al-Baradei, hilariously described as a “liberal” in the major media. Al-Baradei is a slippery and unprincipled operator who did great damage to Western interests.

As head of the International Atomic Energy Agency until 2009, the Egyptian diplomat repeatedly intervened to distort his own inspectors’ reports about the progress of Iran’s nuclear program. In effect, he acted as an Iranian agent of influence.

The Saudis have more to fear from Iran than anyone else. Iran (as Michael Ledeen observes) is trying to subvert the Saudi regime through the Shi’ite minority in Eastern Province. If Riyadh did not blackball his nomination as prime minister, it should have.

There isn’t going to be a war with Israel, as some commentators have offered. Israel is at worst a bystander and at best a de facto ally of the Saudis. The Saudi Wahabists hate Israel, to be sure, and would be happy if the Jewish State and all its inhabitants vanished tomorrow. But Israel presents no threat at all to Riyadh, while Iran represents an existential threat.

The Saudis, we know from WikiLeaks, begged the United States to attack Iran, or to let Israel do so. The Egyptian military has no interest in losing another war with the Jewish state. It may not have enough diesel fuel to drive a division of tanks to the border.

The Saudi regime, to be sure, sponsors any number of extremist malefactors through its network of Wahabist mosques and madrassas. But the present Saudi intervention in Egypt – if I read the signals right – is far more consistent with American strategic interests than the sentimental meanderings of the Barack Obama administration, or the fetishism of parliamentary form that afflicts the Republican establishment.

The Saudi regime is an abomination by American standards, but the monarchy is a rational actor. As Michael Ledeen observed a year ago, “The big oil region in Saudi Arabia is in Shiite country, and the Saudi Shi’ites have little love for the royal family. If the rulers saw us moving against Tehran and Damascus, it would be easier for us to convince them to cut back their support for jihad outside the kingdom.” [7]

The United States has less influence in the region than at any time since World War II, due to gross incompetence of the Obama administration as well as the Republican establishment. The Obama administration as well as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham courted the Muslim Brotherhood as a prospective vehicle for Muslim democracy, ignoring the catastrophic failure of the Egyptian economy as well as the totalitarian character of the Brotherhood.

Americans instinctively ask about any problem overseas, “Who are the good guys?” When told that there are no good guys, they go to see a different movie. There are no good guys in Egypt, except perhaps for the hapless democracy activists who draw on no social constituency and wield no power, and the endangered Coptic Christian minority. There are only forces that coincide with American interests for reasons of their own. It is a gauge of American foreign policy incompetence that the medieval Saudi monarchy is a better guardian of American interests in Egypt for the time being than the United States itself.

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Middle East

Will Oman Succeed In What The UN And US Envoys Failed In Yemen?

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Since taking office on January 20, US President Joe Biden has made a priority for Yemen and appointed Tim Linderking as the US special envoy to Yemen to seek an end of the war that has been going on for more than six years, which made Yemen live “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, as described by the United Nations.

Nearly four months after his appointment as a special envoy to Yemen, and after several visits to the region, and several meetings through Omani coordination with representatives of the Houthi movement in Muscat, Linderking returned to the United States empty-handed, announcing that the Houthis are responsible for the failure of the ceasefire to take hold in Yemen. The US State Department said “While there are numerous problematic actors inside of Yemen, the Houthis bear major responsibility for refusing to engage meaningfully on a ceasefire and to take steps to resolve a nearly seven-year conflict that has brought unimaginable suffering to the Yemeni people”.

Two days only after the US State Department statement, which blamed the Houthis for the failure of the peace process in Yemen, an Omani delegation from the Royal Office arrives in Sana’a. What are the goals behind their visit to Sana’a, and will the Omani efforts be crowned with success?

Houthi spokesman Muhammad Abdul Salam said that “the visit of a delegation from the Omani Royal Office to Sanaa is to discuss the situation in Yemen, arrange the humanitarian situation, and advancing the peace process”. However, observers considered that the delegation carried an American message to the Houthi leader as a last attempt to pressure the Houthis to accept a ceasefire, and to continue the peace efforts being made to end the war and achieve peace, especially after the failure of all intensive efforts in the past days by the United Nations and the United States of America to reach a ceasefire as a minimum requirement for peace.

Oman was the only country in the Gulf Cooperation Council that decided not to participate in what was called “Operation Decisive Storm”, led by Saudi Arabia following its consistent policy of non-interference. Due to its positive role since the beginning of the crisis and its standing at the same distance from all the conflicting local and regional parties in Yemen, it has become the only qualified and trusted party by all the conflicting parties, who view it as a neutral side that has no interest in further fighting and fragmentation.

On the local level, Oman enjoys the respect and trust of the Houthis, who have embraced them and their negotiators for years and provided them with a political platform and a point of contact with the international parties concerned with solving the Yemeni problem, as well as embracing other political parties loyal to the legitimate government, especially those who had a different position to the Saudi-Emirati agenda during the last period.

At the regional level, Oman maintains strong historical relations with the Iran, and it is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and this feature enables it to bring the views between the two sides closer to reach a ceasefire and ending the Yemeni crisis that has raved the region for several years as a proxy war between the regional rivalries Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Oman now possesses the trust and respect of all local, regional and international parties, who resorted to it recently and they are all pushing to reach a ceasefire and ending the crisis, after they have reached a conviction that it is useless. So the Omani delegation’s public visit to Sana’a has great connotations and an important indication of the determination of all parties to reach breakthrough in the Yemeni crisis.

The international community, led by the United States, is now looking forward to stop the war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia also is looking for an end to the war that cost the kingdom a lot and it is already presented an initiative to end the Yemeni crisis, as well as Iran’s preoccupation with its nuclear program and lifting of sanctions.

Likewise, the conflicting local parties reached a firm conviction that military resolution is futile, especially after the Houthis’ failed attempt for several months to control Marib Governorate the rich of oil and gas and the last strongholds of the government in the north, which would have changed the balance of power in the region as a whole.

Despite the ambiguity that is still surrounding the results of the Omani delegation’s visit to Sana’a so far, there is great optimism to reach a cease-fire and alleviate the humanitarian crisis and other measures that pave the way for entering into the political track to solve the Yemeni crisis.

The situation in Yemen is very complicated and the final solution is still far away, but reaching a ceasefire and the start of negotiations may be a sign of hope and a point of light in the dark tunnel of Yemenis who have suffered for years from the curse of this war and its devastating effects.

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Saudi Arabia steps up effort to replace UAE and Qatar as go-to regional hub

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Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to outflank the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as the Gulf’s commercial, cultural, and/or geostrategic hub.

The kingdom has recently expanded its challenge to the smaller Gulf states by seeking to position Saudi Arabia as the region’s foremost sport destination once Qatar has had its moment in the sun with the 2022 World Cup as well as secure a stake in the management of regional ports and terminals dominated so far by the UAE and to a lesser extent Qatar.

Saudi Arabia kicked off its effort to cement its position as the region’s behemoth with an announcement in February that it would cease doing business by 2024 with international companies whose regional headquarters were not based in the kingdom. 

With the UAE ranking 16 on the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index as opposed to Saudi Arabia at number 62, freewheeling Dubai has long been international business’s preferred regional headquarters.

The Saudi move “clearly targets the UAE” and “challenges the status of Dubai,” said a UAE-based banker.

A latecomer to the port control game which is dominated by Dubai’s DP World that operates 82 marine and inland terminals in more than 40 countries, including Djibouti, Somaliland, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Cyprus, the kingdom’s expansion into port and terminal management appears to be less driven by geostrategic considerations.

Instead, Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Gateway Terminal (RSGT), backed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, said it was targeting ports that would service vital Saudi imports such as those related to food security.

PIF and China’s Cosco Shipping Ports each bought a 20 per cent stake in RSGT in January.

The Chinese investment fits into China’s larger Belt and Road-strategy that involves the acquisition regionally of stakes in ports and terminals in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Oman, and Djibouti, where China has a military base.

RSGT Chief Executive Officer Jens Floe said the company planned to invest in at least three international ports in the next five years. He said each investment would be up to US$500 million.

“We have a focus on ports in Sudan and Egypt. They weren’t picked for that reason, but they happen to be significant countries for Saudi Arabia’s food security strategy,” Mr. Floe said.

Saudi Arabia’s increased focus on sports, including a potential bid for the hosting of the 2030 World Cup serves multiple goals: It offers Saudi youth who account for more than half of the kingdom’s population a leisure and entertainment opportunity, it boosts Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s burgeoning development of a leisure and entertainment industry, potentially allows Saudi Arabia to polish its image tarnished by human rights abuse, including the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and challenges Qatar’s position as the face of Middle Eastern sports.

A recent report by Grant Liberty, a London-based human rights group that focuses on Saudi Arabia and China, estimated that the kingdom has so far invested in US$1.5 billion in the hosting of multiple sporting events, including the final matches of Italy and Spain’s top soccer leagues; Formula One; boxing, wrestling and snooker matches; and golf tournaments. Qatar is so far the Middle East’s leader in the hosting of sporting events followed by the UAE.

Grant Liberty said that further bids for sporting events worth US$800 million had failed. This did not include an unsuccessful US$600 million offer to replace Qatar’s beIN tv sports network as the Middle Eastern broadcaster of European soccer body UEFA’s Champions League.

Saudi Arabia reportedly continues to ban beIN from broadcasting in the kingdom despite the lifting in January of 3.5 year-long Saudi-UAE-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.

Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify and streamline the Saudi economy and ween it off dependency on oil exports “has set the creation of professional sports and a sports industry as one of its goals… The kingdom is proud to host and support various athletic and sporting events which not only introduce Saudis to new sports and renowned international athletes but also showcase the kingdom’s landmarks and the welcoming nature of its people to the world,” said Fahad Nazer, spokesperson for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington.

The increased focus on sports comes as the kingdom appears to be backing away from its intention to reduce the centrality of energy exports for its economy.

Energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Prince Mohammed’s brother, recently ridiculed an International Energy Agency (IEA) report that “there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply” as “the sequel of the La La Land movie.” The minister went on to ask, “Why should I take (the report) seriously?”

Putting its money where its mouth is, Saudi Arabia intends to increase its oil production capacity from 12 million to more than 13 million barrels a day on the assumption that global efforts to replace fossil fuel with cleaner energy sources will spark sharp reductions in US and Russian production.

The kingdom’s operating assumption is that demand in Asia for fossil fuels will continue to rise even if it drops in the West. Other Gulf producers, including the UAE and Qatar, are following a similar strategy.

“Saudi Arabia is no longer an oil country, it’s an energy-producing country … a very competitive energy country. We are low cost in producing oil, low cost in producing gas, and low cost in producing renewables and will definitely be the least-cost producer of hydrogen,” Prince Abdulaziz said.

He appeared to be suggesting that the kingdom’s doubling down on oil was part of strategy that aims to ensure that Saudi Arabia is a player in all conventional and non-conventional aspects of energy. By implication, Prince Abdulaziz was saying that diversification was likely to broaden the kingdom’s energy offering rather than significantly reduce its dependence on energy exports.

“Sports, entertainment, tourism and mining alongside other industries envisioned in Vision 2030 are valuable expansions of the Saudi economy that serve multiple economic and non-economic purposes,” “ said a Saudi analyst. “It’s becoming evident, however, that energy is likely to remain the real name of the game.”

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Iranians Will Boycott Iran Election Farce

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Iran and elections have not been two synonymous terms. A regime whose constitution is based on absolute rule of someone who is considered to be God’s representative on earth, highest religious authority, morality guide, absolute ruler, and in one word Big Brother (or Vali Faqih), would hardly qualify for a democracy or a place where free or fair elections are held. But when you are God’s rep on earth you are free to invent your own meanings for words such as democracy, elections, justice, and human rights. It comes with the title. And everyone knows the fallacy of “presidential elections” in Iran. Most of all, the Iranian public know it as they have come to call for an almost unanimous boycott of the sham elections.

The boycott movement in Iran is widespread, encompassing almost all social and political strata of Iranian society, even some factions of the regime who have now decided it is time to jump ship. Most notably, remnants of what was euphemistically called the Reformist camp in Iran, have now decided to stay away from the phony polls. Even “hardline” former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad realizes the extent of the regime’s woes and has promised that he will not be voting after being duly disqualified again from participating by supreme leader’s Guardian Council.

So after 42 years of launching a reformist-hardliner charade to play on the West’s naivety, Khamenei’s regime is now forced to present its one and true face to the world: Ebrahim Raisi, son of the Khomeinist ideology, prosecutor, interrogator, torturer, death commission judge, perpetrator of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, chief inquisitionist, and favorite of Ali Khamenei.

What is historic and different about this presidential “election” in Iran is precisely what is not different about it. It took the world 42 years to cajole Iran’s medieval regime to step into modernity, change its behavior, embrace universal human rights and democratic governance, and treat its people and its neighbors with respect. What is shocking is that this whole process is now back at square one with Ebrahim Raisi, a proven mass murderer who boasts of his murder spree in 1988, potentially being appointed as president.

With Iran’s regime pushing the envelope in launching proxy wars on the United States in Iraq, on Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and on Israel in Gaza and Lebanon, and with a horrendous human rights record that is increasingly getting worse domestically, what is the international community, especially the West, going to do? What is Norway’s role in dealing with this crisis and simmering crises to come out of this situation?

Europe has for decades based its foreign policy on international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the promotion of human rights and democratic principles. The International community must take the lead in bringing Ebrahim Raisi to an international court to account for the massacre he so boastfully participated in 1988 and all his other crimes he has committed to this day.

There are many Iranian refugees who have escaped the hell that the mullahs have created in their beautiful homeland and who yearn to one day remake Iran in the image of a democratic country that honors human rights. These members of the millions-strong Iranian Diaspora overwhelmingly support the boycott of the sham election in Iran, and support ordinary Iranians who today post on social media platforms videos of the Mothers of Aban (mothers of protesters killed by regime security forces during the November 2019 uprising) saying, “Our vote is for this regime’s overthrow.” Finally, after 42 years, the forbidden word of overthrow is ubiquitous on Iranian streets with slogans adorning walls calling for a new era and the fall of this regime.

Europe should stand with the Iranian Resistance and people to call for democracy and human rights in Iran and it should lead calls for accountability for all regime leaders, including Ebrahim Raisi, and an end to a culture of impunity for Iran’s criminal rulers.

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