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The recent death sentences in Saudi Arabia

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On January 3, 2016 Saudi Arabia sentenced to death, among others, Nimr al Nimr, aged 56, the Shi’ite Imam on its territory, and the Head of Al Qaeda, Faris Al Zahrani.

The condemnation of Nimr al Nimr had been confirmed by the Supreme Court last October for seeking “foreign meddling” in Saudi Arabia, “disobeying” its rulers and “taking up arms against the security forces”.

In 2011 Nimr, the spiritual leader of the two million Shi’ites living in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province – very rich in oil – had asked for the secession of its province from the Wahhabi Kingdom of the Al Saud family and its merger with Bahrain when, at that time, the Emirate was witnessing the insurgency of the Shi’ite majority against the Al Khalifa’ Sunni family, who rules it with a small minority of officials linked to Saudi Arabia.

Most of the 47 convicts executed were members of the core group of Al Qaeda operating in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and were held accountable for acts of terrorism in Saudi Arabia from 2003 to 2006.

Among others, an Egyptian citizen and a citizen from Chad were executed.

Nimr Al Nimr’s brother launched an appeal for calm to the Shi’ites of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in the Eastern provinces and in the other Shi’ite countries of the region.

Before being executed, Nimr had studied in Qom and was the leader of the many Shi’ite militants living in the city of Qatif, but he never condemned the Saudi royal family.

The Imam of the “Party of Ali” had been arrested in 2012 and his trial had been condemned as irregular by many NGOs and most international organizations for human rights.

Everyone expected that King Salman, who rose to power after the death of his half-brother Abdullah in January 2015, wanted to show clemency, but this did not happen. Upon Nimr’s death, Saudi Arabia decreed the end of the “ceasefire” in force since December 15, 2015 in Yemen.

This was obviously a strategic goal: to deprive of morale the Houthi Shi’ite guerrillas in the clash with the pro-Saudi Yemen, which is now the “Vietnam of Saudi Arabia” and, in the event of Shi’ites’ victory, will allow to control the primary strategic and economic area of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Everything becomes clear if we examine the strategic equation of the Wahhabi Kingdom.

Firstly, with this death sentence of the Shi’ite Imam, Saudi Arabia forces the United States to choose between a continuation of the P5 + 1 Agreement with Iran and the strategic and financial connection with the Saudi Kingdom.

The strategic factor is well-known, considering that the US-Saudi alliance is the axis of the American presence in the Middle East, along with the agreement between the United States and Israel.

The financial connection has been operating since the agreement reached after the Yom Kippur War between the US banks and Saudi Arabia for the confidential recycling of petrodollars.

When their amount decreases, as now happens with the fall in the oil barrel price, the Saudi-US agreement loses importance, while, in fact, the United States seem to create a system of balance between the Shi’ite Iran and the Sunni world linked to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is weakening OPEC, for the excellent reason that now the Viennese agency is holding together the oil interests of two mortal enemies, namely the Shi’ites and the Sunnis. It is not unlikely for Saudi Arabia to soon revive the Sunni alliance, within OPEC, called OAPEC, the organization based in Kuwait, which was founded in 1968 by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and, coincidentally, Libya, to avoid political embargos after the “Six-Day War”.

That is a good hypothesis to clarify the future evolution of the still de facto “double” government currently operating in Libya.

Another strategic equation is related to the different configuration of the Shi’ite-Sunni conflict in the Greater Middle East: the significant minorities of the “Party of Ali” are everywhere, but they are in power only in Iran, while in Turkey they account for 20% (and we will soon witness the anti-Shi’ite fight operating in Turkey). In Iran the Shi’ites are 87% of the population; in the Lebanon the Party of Ali accounts for 47% (and the Sunnis account for 24%) and in Syria the true Shiites are 15%, apart from the Alawites who came to power with the Assads that the Imam Mussa Sadr, the founder of the “Amal” Party in the Lebanon, declared to be “true Shi’ites”, before disappearing in Tripoli, Libya, on August 31, 1978.

In Egypt the Shi’ites account for 3%, in Yemen 44%, in Bahrain 73%, in Kuwait 21%, in Qatar 18% and in Oman, the Emirate less prone to follow Saudi orders, the Shi’ites account for 5%.

Aside from the rule of taqiyya, the official denial of one’s own faith in the Imam Ali, which is permitted by the Shi’ite religious rules, the Shi’ites total 121 million people, while Sunnis are 191 million people.

In all likelihood, however, Iran will operate for the autonomy of the Amazigh movement, the Berbers in Libya who operate, in the region of Benghazi, against the Islamists and the Lebanese Hezbollah, who already operate in favor of Assad’s forces in Syria.

After the lifting of sanctions, the “sale and spinning” to the naïve West of its ambiguous policies to reduce nuclear weapons, Iran has the opportunity and the political lucidity to mobilize – if not now, in the near future – the significant Shi’ite minorities in all Sunni-ruled nations.

For Iran, too, it is a goal of hegemony over crude oil which works well precisely when the oil barrel price goes down and the geopolitical choices become – for some countries – a matter of life and death.

A struggle for possible hegemony which regards the second strategic factor, namely the “taking” of oil wells of either party, in a war which, for the time being, is a war of attrition (the Houthis in Yemen) and later, if pacification in Syria is in favor of Assad and Russia, it will turn into an overt and “traditional” war.

Russia has a dual interest, which is to maintain its presence in the Mediterranean region and to conquer a global interdiction power in the area that the United States are abandoning, completely bitten by their shale oil bug. Restricting NATO southward, towards its “jugular vein” in the Middle East, and excluding the Atlantic Alliance from the land corridor stretching from Ukraine to Georgia up to Poland. Russia aims at the land and sea lines which seal the Mediterranean region and subject it to the Russian Federation’s command and rule.

The Russian Federation wants the whole Mediterranean region and, in fact, with some sort of dullness and hard-headedness, NATO supports Turkey also after the shooting down of the Russian Sukhoi 24 aircraft which, indeed, was a way to call all the Atlantic Alliance to the war against Russia.

A goal only partially reached, considering that SHAPE – despite all possible naivety – did not follow Turkey in all its options against Russia in favor of its “Turkmen” guerrillas, which are a project of hegemony over the region when the Sunnis, who are a majority in Syria, are free from the Assad family and, hence, when Turkey’s hegemony may encompass all the populations of Turkish origin up to the Xing Kiang.

Nevertheless it shall face China there, which will not allow the presence of a NATO country along its borders – that is precisely the reason why the United States support Turkey.

Israel is still the strategic big winner in the region: it has witnessed a considerable reduction of Syrian pressure on the Golan Heights and it also sees the crisis of the Islamic world. Currently almost all Lebanese Hezbollah are in Syria, some top secret contacts with Saudi Arabia are already operating against Iran, which will launch its first nuclear bomb against what Tehran calls “the Zionist entity”.

All local players are weakening, but I imagine that Israel is arming against whoever of the two will win, even though today it looks as if it is going to be a long and complex war.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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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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