Western political culture concentrates on the issue of poverty, misery, economic distress, social despair and lack of education that lead to homicide bombings in particular and terrorism in general. This political-cultural perception finds out a direct link between oppression, poverty and humiliation to terrorism and homicide bombings.
This follows by the assumption that remedy is addressed from its root cause: removing poverty and hunger, and providing the population with high education will lead to economic prosperity, that in turn leads to political moderation, to a democracy and open society, and that will put an end to terrorism.
Fawaz Gerges, an Arab Christian from Lebanon residing in the US, is an example of Western apologists and appeasing approach: for him,
Muslims are politically oppressed and socially repressed in their countries of birth in the West. They face racial profiling, perceived as a plague of nihilism that must be kept in isolation. Welcome nowhere, they have become the pariahs of the twenty-first century. They do not understand why they are being punished for the crimes they have not committed.
And the utmost peak of his words
Muslims under the age of thirty make up about 60 percent of the world’s Islamic population, yet only a tiny fraction turns to violence and terrorism.
This is also the case with the prominent Norwegian journalist Sven Egil Omdal, who believes that economic factors and social exclusion of Muslim immigrants explain the radicalization of the Muslims. He condemns those “who focus on Islamic ideas or religion or culture.” Moreover, for him “Jihad is caused by European and Western xenophobia, oppression and racism, rather than the Islamic religion and culture xenophobia. Omdal compares Israel to Nazi Germany. Israel’s jihadist Muslim enemies, openly advocate its genocide, are not to be blamed.
State Department Spokesperson, Marie Harf, told MSNBC in February 2015 that the U.S. needs to focus on the root causes that leads people to join terrorist groups, such as “lack of opportunity for jobs: “We cannot win the War on Terror, nor can we win the war on ISIS by killing them. We need to find them jobs. We need to get to the root cause of terrorism and that is poverty and lack of opportunity in the terrorist community.”
There is so much delusion in Harf’s statement and in many other claims in Western governments that one could fill volumes analyzing this profound ignorance. The same misunderstanding that Harf espouses was held by Presidents Clinton and Bush and is still maintained President Obama, who said that Boko Haram terrorist group is a “byproduct of poverty and inadequate social services.”
For Secretary of State, John Kerry, Jihadists are poor and miserable. However, if Kerry were correct in his ‘poor Jihadist’ myth, and terrorism is simply a byproduct of poverty, why isn’t Haiti and Bolivia terrorist states? Why isn’t the world plagued with African suicide bombers? This gives us a look into the federal government’s inability or unwillingness to change conventional wisdom, even when confronted with facts and credible academic studies. CIA Director John Brennan said that the recruits to the Islamic State, at least 20,000 fighters from more than 90 countries join the organization because of economic reasons. That is why the U.S. has spent and will continue to spend billions of Dollars on the assumption that poverty causes Jihad terrorism, but again and again it is proven that Jihad followers are better educated and wealthier.
Unfortunately, this so nice formula, seems so simple and logical solution, so pervasively accepted in the West, is exactly the mirror image which reflects Western fallacies and misconceptions. This is totally mistaken and is perhaps the main cause why Western civilization stumbles and fail, and why Islam will occupy the world. The chronic cluelessness of the root-cause apologists of Jihad never ceases to amaze and to embarrass. Obviously, the purpose of having a job is to improve one’s family’s life, and joining a terrorist group is not exactly a promising career choice, but more death wish. However, this so deeply rooted approach must be clearly understood and totally eliminated, as it has become the highest barrier to overcome Islamic terrorism.
It is outrageous, but not surprising if one looks at the political pattern that even 9/11 and especially since the Islamic Caliphate State (ICS) burst onto the scene have not changed the conceptions. President Obama even went so far as to deny that the Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state; both of which it clearly is. This is what happens when you deny the existence of an ideology that people clearly see in front of their eyes.
The poverty lack of education syndrome stems mainly from the following sources:
First, culturally, Westerners cannot comprehend the ‘illogical extreme behavior’ of the Muslims, the fanatic barbarian inhumane activity, seems inconceivable to the Western mind.
Second, the media, which is the most important means of molding and shaping public opinion, uses again and again this view, and seemingly supports it without checking it.
Third, this view is highly connected ideologically with Marxist-Bolshevik academia members. Their ideological make up clearly fits their attitude in supporting “oppression,” “colonialism,” and other 19th century slogans.
Fourth, the mirror image, advanced by sociologists and criminologists, and is so prevalent in Western mind (‘we are all the same culturally’), brings us to believe in social deprivation as the cause of miseries, and the remedy of it will remove all troubles.
Fifth, this view fits so much Western values, attitudes and beliefs, as it seems to be the succeeding code of Western civilization, and therefore it fits everywhere.
This approach is more than ridiculous let alone cannot be substantiated and corroborated by scientific data. Moreover, data crystal clear proves the opposite. Indeed, it proves ignorance, lack of understanding and detachment from reality. It exactly exemplifies the mirror image which reflects Western twisted approach. To begin with, it is well known that persons armed with knowledge are ideologically-motivated and tend to extremism. On the contrary, persons who are poor and ignorant do not have the time, the knowledge, and the ability to organize and to fight for ideas.
It is a syndrome: a fanatic ideology, even a religious zealotry, increases directly with higher education. The causes and motivations for terrorism, violence and anarchism are an integral part of fanatic ideology and religious zealotry. It is proven time and again all along history: not only that poverty and education are not intertwined, but poverty leads to crime; never to terrorism.
Most of the Third World countries are hungry and their socio-economic reality is miserable and wretched. Nevertheless they did not create so profound an infrastructure of organized inhuman terrorism backed up by religious ideology. Africa is the poorest continent in the world and its peoples are really in deep situation of humiliation and wretchedness, but it did not nor does it establish fanatic terrorism, a state-like institutionalized terrorism as the Palestinians; not a state-sponsored terrorism like Saudi-Arabia or Iran; and not huge terrorist groups like the Muslim brotherhood organizations.
Japan must have been fanatic anti US as it was inflicted by two atomic Bombs on its cities; yet, Japan is pro-Western and an ally of the US. India, which was harshly repressed and exploited by the British colonialists, not only does it not support terrorism, it is even a thriving stable democracy. And if occupation is all about, then Egypt was under Western control for 67 years, Syria for 21 years, Iraq for only 15, and Saudi Arabia was never under Western control. Contrast this with Spain, which was under the Muslim yoke for 781 years, Greece for 381 years, and vast areas of the Middle East and Asia are still in Muslim hands. Yet, we are unaware of any Spanish or Greek or original Asian and North-Africa politics of victimhood and an ideology of terrorism against imperialist colonialist Islam. It must be bear in mind: European imperialism was here and gone; Soviet Imperialism was here and gone; American imperialism was here and gone. Only Islamic imperialism was here and still here, and it threatens to expand and to occupy the entire world.
Alexis De Tocqueville, in his research on French Revolution, discovered that violence and revolutions break out precisely with an improvement in socio-economic condition. Only when one has leisure time and education to understand and to evaluate the situation, he then has the ability and incentives to act. Indeed, when you are hungry and without education, you have no time nor knowledge, let alone ability to fight for values. You are totally preoccupied with bringing food and nourishing your family.
It was the Egyptian American, Fuad Zakariyah, who explained this so ably:
The radicalism virus of the Islamic fanaticism resembles the Nazi ideology, and it has nothing to do with poverty, wretchedness, social disorders and humiliation. Like in all ideologies, fanatic Islam flourishes among the educated and well-being economically and socially. Extreme ideology belongs to people with plenty of leisure time and higher education to execute their desires. The poor and miserable are not here.
Eli Kedourie has investigated most of the third world countries in search of independence. His book Nationalism in Asia and Africa, supports De Tocqueville’s approach: the national flag is brandished when there is food, leisure time and high education. Some arise up the post-colonial theories, pertained to the repression and exploitation experienced by the Muslims countries from the West. Yet, similar issues in Africa and Asia existed, without their harsh externalized aggressiveness.
Theories of criminology and social psychology prove that motives of security and group affiliation precede hunger and misery. Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer and a forensic psychiatrist, had conducted an analysis of 500 members of the Islamic terror organization al-Qaeda, “Understanding Terror Networks,” which revealed that the majority of them were well-educated, upwardly mobile men in their twenties from a middle-class background. “Two-thirds of them had a university education.” The recruits came from solid, middle-class backgrounds; their leadership hailed from the upper middle class, and they also tended to come from the wealthier Arab countries. The common stereotype of Islamic terrorism as a product of poor men is clearly wrong, he concluded his research.
Muslims make up a vastly disproportionate number of the inmates in many Western jails. The psychologist Nicolai Sennels, who worked with Muslims in Denmark that had been convicted of serious crimes, reports how these inmates rarely feel any personal responsibility for what they have done. For them, Islam is the utmost to expand, by immigration, by diplomacy of deceit, even by coercion. At the same time, out of cultural tendencies they usually see themselves as innocent victims of outside forces. They are oppressed and discriminated. In their own minds, they never do anything wrong, but many wrongs are imposed upon them by others. They are a malicious phenomenon of people lacking humanity and to whom human life has no value.
Ibn Warraq has repeatedly stated, the root cause of Islamic terrorism is Islam’s teachings and the example of Muhammad in the Sharī‘ah, and his companions as described in traditional sources. Therefore, those who claim that Islamic terrorism is caused by poverty and oppression are ignorant, stupid, and Bolsheviks that parrot Marxist dogma, as if violence is caused by ‘oppression’ or ‘racism’ or ‘colonialism.’ Islam is an exemplification of the centrality of religion and ideology as the basis of political operational behavior.
Islamic terrorism and fanaticism is part of the religion and culture. The reality is clear: there is no one nation in the world that does not suffer Arab-Islamic rage, violence and terrorism. The statistics is unfortunately very sad: every minute there is at least one victim around the world from the Muslims. Most of them Muslims, but still they are also victims of Islamic religion. More than 70 percent of world violence, and more than 90 percent of world terrorism are clearly Islamic. In 2015 there were 452 cases of homicide bombings. All of them are Islamic origin and operation (one case is doubtful). This data clearly brings to one conclusion.
Another angle to look at the situation is the following: most if not all world states have minorities. The US is the best example for a nation that is represented by so many minorities. However, most of them have been so deeply accommodated and integrated, literally blessing their new states and actively become loyal and contributing citizens. They do not want to impose their culture on their new countries; they do not want to change its constitution and to coerce their way of life. More important and relevant, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Jews, for example, neither do not intend nor do not want to impose their religion on their new states. However, unfortunately, this is not the situation with Islam. Only Muslims are outrageously rebelling aggressively and violently demand to change Western societies’ way of life, culture and religion. This is something never happened before in history: a small minority penetrates to an established progressive modernized society that generously accepted it, and act to totally change its construct.
This is exactly how Muslims act, and Western societies have lost their ability to defend themselves. Moreover, by using their thrice mutual offensive strategy of Jihad, Da’wah, and Hijrah, Western societies are in deep visual agnosia as to look at the situation and understand its logic and its consequences. In fact, Western societies even change their language as to describe the situation. Now Islam is a religion of peace and compassion, and the Muslim terrorist organization not only do not represent Islam but in fact are not Muslim at all. Indeed, the strategy of using religious deception by smiling at the infidels and promising mountains of living together promises while plotting to kill them, is a common feature of many would-be Jihadists in Western countries.
All surveys clearly prove: the leaders and activists of Islamic World Jihad groups are members of the middle and even the upper classes. Most have a high university education and many of them have doctoral, medical or engineering. They have never asserted in their declarations that the reasons for their activity were poverty, ignorance and hunger. They speak of Western crusaders, whom they are attempting to expel from Arab-Islamic lands and to overturn in the Dar al-Harb territories; of Israeli aggression, they wish to destroy as a national entity and as a sovereign state; of Arab regimes, which they struggle to overthrow; and of the future apocalypse when Islam fights all other religions and overcome to control the world. They have no plans for social advancement and economic well-being. They have no intention to provide employment, education or welfare to the masses. They consider themselves revolutionary elite, the vanguard. They are the Islamic elite who deserve to rule and to subdue.
It is well proven that poverty does not motivate people to extreme violence, but ideology and religion. Research investigated terrorist organizations in the world shows that members of Bader-Meinhoff in Germany; Red Brigades in Italy; even the Tupamaros, Montanerros and the Light Path in Latin-America; let alone Hezbollah, Hamas, Fath and Taliban organizations come from economically advantaged families with a proven high level of education.
Palestinian uprisings and violence, the 1936, 1987 and 2000 erupted precisely during periods of economic growth, when the economy was prosperous and the standard of living of the population was proportionately good. If one compares the Palestinian economic and social situation to that in some Arab states let alone African, Asian and south American states, it is much higher and better, and their rate of education is the highest in the Arab world proportionately. The year 2000 was the best in the Palestinian economic history with GNP of 2600 dollars, and yet the Palestinians are the leading front of regional and international terrorism.
Indeed, Palestinian terrorism of homicide bombings and vicious violence prove this reality. It is not stemmed from poverty and lack of education, but motivated by political and ideological reasons and religious total demands. Since Oslo agreements in September 1993, up till the end of September 2000, 63 homicide bombers were counted. From September 2000 until 2010, 267 homicide bombers were sent on suicide actions, among them 35 women. Of all the 155 successful suicide bombers, more than 50% had university education; and most of them 50% came from al-Najah University in Nablus. Indeed, the homicide bombers are not hungry or miserable. They are in total repulsion of Jews and Zionism, and motivated by Islamic fanaticism of dehumanization of Israeli-Zionist existence.
The terrorists of September 11 lived in the West, were economically prosperous with a higher education. They were not poor and wretched. 14 of them were from Saudi Arabia, a very wealthy oil country which has never been under European colonial rule but is itself the cradle of one of the world’s most brutal religiously fanatic imperial traditions. “Jihadi John,” the Muslim British executioner of ISIS snuff videos, Muhammad Emwazi was a highly educated young man from a middle class background. Many Islamist terrorists are physicians: Nidal Hasan (the Fort Hood shooter) and al Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. “Lady al-Qaeda” Aafia Siddiqui was a scientist. Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 crew, was an engineer and the son of a middle class family. Another engineer: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Underwear Bomber, who is the son of a wealthy Nigerian businessman. Most of the Palestinian terrorist organization excel in this, being engineers and physicians, and this is also the pattern with all Muslim terrorists.
Indeed, what motivated them is not poverty and social misery, rather a profound hatred to all that Western culture stands for: permissiveness, secularism, liberalism, and above all logic and reason and believing in human responsibility. What furious them is placing man at the center and focusing on sovereignty of the mind, rather than submissiveness and devotion to Allah. All terrorist groups, when their ideology analyzed, there is no attention to social and economic miseries and conditions.
Studies have documented time and again that Islamic jihadist terrorists have above average education and income. This was the conclusion of a survey of 400 Al-Qaeda members all the way back in 2004. In 2011, a secret MI5 file indicated that ‘two-thirds of the U.K’s jihad suspects came from middle or upper-middle-class backgrounds, showing no relationship between poverty and involvement in Islamist extremism,’ most of them are with high education. The report contradicts commonly held stereotypes of terrorists and suicide bombers being ‘mad,’ ‘loners,’ and ‘psychopaths,’ as 90% can be categorized as ‘sociable,’ ‘rational,’ and have high number of friends. ‘It also challenges the theory that individuals who turn to radical or extremist networks are those who are unable to make friends in normal life.’ The study says that the ‘mean age’ at which a Muslim becomes radicalized is 21.6 years, while anyone between the ages of 16 and 32 is regarded as vulnerable. Moreover, half of the suspects were married and had children. ‘This indicates that having commitments to a spouse and children did not necessarily restrain these individuals from becoming involved in terrorist activities.’
Reviews of empirical evidence proves, as the RAND Corporation has reported, that “terrorists are not particularly impoverished, uneducated or afflicted by mental disease. Terrorist leaders actually tend to come from relatively privileged backgrounds.”
Muhammad Mahfouz claims:
The only way to end violence and terrorism is to fight a cultural and ideological battle. Terrorism is one of the most dangerous problems encountered in recent times, for it undermines the stability and security of human societies. The relationship between the phenomenon of terrorism in Islamic society and culture is like the relationship between the cause and consequence. This may explain why youths belonging to rich families and from well position in society are implicated in terrorist crimes.
This means that financial and economic factors cannot be associated with this fanatic ideology and terrorism. It is cultural and religious factors that motivate to murder innocent people. The only way to put an end to the wave of violence and terrorism is to fight ideological cultural battle against terrorism carried out by a group of brain-washed youth, influenced by glamorous slogans. Any delay in fighting this ideological cultural battle will drag us to the abyss of instability. We need more than ever to dismantle the cultural and ideological incubators which feed this phenomenon and mold it socially and culturally.
Abdallah Rashid, an Arab liberal, asserts:
The greatest mistake is to attribute the causes of terrorism to the lack of social justice; the situation of poverty; and the harsh social conditions in most of the Arab and Islamic countries. The socio-economic situation of most of the terrorists is very good. They are from well-off families, with high education and good jobs. 61% of the volunteers to fight in Iraq are from Saudi-Arabia and the Gulf States. They come from families that are not poor and from a social environment that does not suffer from economic problems and wretchedness. They are brainwashed at the hands of ‘religious clerics,’ the media, the educational system. They are nourished with various kinds of racist views, destructive fanatic principles, and with hostility, hatred, and resentment towards the others.
Abd al-Hamid al-Ansari states that
There were those who said that it was out of ignorance. But can the Shuyukh teaching the creed of the faith in distinguished universities be ignorant? There were those who said that it was due to oppression and lack of freedom. But these people are not interested in human freedoms. There were those who said that it was due to few work opportunities and high unemployment. But how does this correspond with the fact that those who carried out the operations had money and weapons, besides living in rich societies? There were those who said it was due to America’s pro-Israel bias. But the Jihad organizations have only recently begun to wave the banner of Palestine. However, the explanation for terrorism and violence lies in an examination of the educational system, and in the religious, cultural, and media discourse.
Middle East Instability to Overshadow Future Global Nuclear Nonproliferation Efforts
The Middle East fragile situation in which contradicting aspirations of states and non-states’ actors that are involved in shaping the regional balance of power would most likely overshadow the global nuclear nonproliferation efforts in the near future. Factors such as the United States withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal last May, and the polarization of Middle Eastern rivals-allies’ relations in recent years, also encompass lack of trust, weakening on norms and increased uncertainty in the region that ultimately undermines existing multilateral arms control arrangements.
Most of the public debate on the Middle East instability, so far, has been focusing on issues such as the implications of intensified subsequent U.S sanctions, or the reaction of the global markets, as well as ongoing polarization in international relations. While this debate is important, attempts to figure out how to best deal with this situation often ignores the context of the overall global efforts to reduce proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and their implication on global security stability. A regional stabilization would be more practical by emphasizing the link between the regional WMD challenges to the Treaty on The Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) that already encompasses most of these challenges. Developments in Iran’s nuclear actions and the continuing stagnation in the Arab League’s demand to advance negotiation on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free-Zone (WMDFZ) are significant issues that have already taken a toll on the NPT and has already eroded the treaty member states obligations to it.
The above argument is also supported by a recent Russian official statement and by a draft resolution that the League of Arab States have submitted on the Middle East WMDFZ to the United Nations General Assembly. On September 28, 2018, the Russian News Agency published a statement by the Russian Director of the Foreign Ministry Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Vladimir Yermakov. According to Mr. Yermakov, the establishment of a WMDFZ in the region is not feasible today, but it is urgent to advance it since current stagnation would “undermine the foundations of the NPT.” The League of Arab States on their part, presented on October 11, 2018, a new draft resolution to the General Assembly, calling for the Secretary-General to take responsibility on convening a conference to establish a WMDFZ in the Middle East no later than June 2019. This draft resolution takes into consideration the limited time frame before the convening of the 2020 NPT review conference and the 2019 Preparatory committee to the conference.
So far, Five out of nine NPT review conferences that were held quinquennially since 1975 have failed to conclude with a final document, which symbolically shows a unified position and the commitment of the state parties to adhere to the treaty. Legally, the authority of review conferences is to clarify and interpret the treaty clauses, and not to amend them, to improve the treaty’s implementation. This conduct makes the review conference political in nature since adopted decisions are based on political consent and are not legally binding. This political nature has often brought different issues of major controversies, such as the nuclear weapons states’ obligations under the NPT to denuclearize or the Middle East WMDFZ, to overshadow other issues on the agenda, such as the emergence of new technologies, or suggestions to increase transparency that could affect the treaty’s implementation.
In order to strengthen the NPT review process and to promote a constructive dialog among the parties, the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference have decided to include a Preparatory Committee support mechanism to improve the function and the outcomes of their subsequent review conferences. Nevertheless, the attempts to utilize preparatory committees for this aim by ultimately formulate significant recommendations for discussion at the treaty review conferences have failed to meet expectations, so far. Manifested political gaps between the nuclear member states and the non-nuclear member states that frequently appeared in previous review conferences have reproduced to their preparatory committees. These political gaps have practically obstructed improvements and mutual understandings between state parties on nuclear issues, which prevented the formulation of a consensus- based final document in the review conference of 2005 and 2015. This in turn, significantly undermine the strength of the NPT and makes preparatory committees merely a preamble for their consecutive review conferences’ dynamics.
The first sign for the possibility to maintain and improve global cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation, in light of the Middle East tensions, would be given at the upcoming NPT review conference that is expected in April 2020. Positive outcomes of this conference would be achieved once a unified position (or at least the widest possible) of the state parties on their commitment to adhere to the NPT would be formulated and agreed upon in the final document of the conference. As the 2000 and 2010 review conferences showed, a unified position that is brought together with an adoption of some practical steps to promote the treaty goals (with an emphasis on the Middle East WMDFZ) could enhance the significance of the NPT to deal with future nuclear weapons challenges.
Despite the relative success in the 2000 and 2010 conferences, failing to fulfill commitments on the agreed practical steps to promote the Middle East WMDFZ have raised frustration in the League of Arab States. Led by Egypt, the League of Arab States have been calling to promote a WMDFZ since 1974 (together with Iran), and with great extent since the ‘Resolution on The Middle East’ was adopted in the 1995 NPT review and extension conference – a resolution that in practice included the issue within the NPT framework. This issue was ultimately one of the main reasons for the failure of the NPT 2015 review conference due to a disagreement between the US and Egypt. The US-Egypt wrangled over the WMDFZ and accused each other on inflexibility, lack of interest and the use of this topic for political purposes. These direct accusations can only reflect on the overall undermining of the NPT in recent years. The same goes with the Iran Deal, where current inability to reach equilibrium that would suitable the interests of Iran and Russia on one side and the US and other moderate Sunni states on the other side (Israel is not member in the NPT) would eventually pervade to the 2020 review conference negotiations and negatively impact the conference’s outcomes.
Nevertheless, achieving a positive outcome in the 2020 review conference depends not only on what would happen during the conduct of the conference, in terms of dynamics and the convened parties’ will to compromise, but also on the states parties’ ability to cooperate and reach at least principle agreements in the current time frame – prior to the conference’s due date. All the more so, any gains achieved regardless of the NPT context are also likely to negatively impact the 2020 NPT review conference. The treaty’s framework is the most relevant to comprehensively deal with the most crucial aspects of WMD nonproliferation in the Middle East while bringing most of the parties involved together to the same table.
The existing alternatives to gain a progress in the Middle East security situation relays on the ground that the NPT provides. Such alternatives are ranged from convening a regional arms control and regional security conference, as the League of Arab states asserts, through a direct cooperation and involvement of the NPT depositories – Britain, Russia, and the US that could provide guarantees to mitigate regional tensions. Failing to provide a pragmatic prospect for regional negotiations prior to the 2020 review conference would not only deepen the current deadlock and increase instability and frustration but would also undermine the relevancy of the NPT when it is most needed to regulate nonproliferation.
Mohammed bin Salman: For better or for worse?
Embattled Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could prove to be not only a cat with nine lives but also one that makes even stranger jumps.
King Salman’s announcement that Prince Mohammed was put in charge of reorganizing Saudi intelligence at the same time that the kingdom for the first time admitted that journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been killed in its Istanbul consulate signalled that the crown prince’s wings were not being clipped, at least not immediately and not publicly.
With little prospect for a palace coup and a frail King Salman unlikely to assume for any lengthy period full control of the levers of power, Prince Mohammed, viewed by many as reckless and impulsive, could emerge from the Khashoggi crisis, that has severely tarnished the kingdom’s image and strained relations with the United States and Western powers, even more defiant rather than chastened by international condemnation of the journalist’s killing.
A pinned tweet by Saud Al-Qahtani, the close associate of Prince Mohammed who this weekend was among several fired senior official reads: “Some brothers blame me for what they view as harshness. But everything has its time, and talk these days requires such language.” That apparently was and could remain Prince Mohammed’s motto.
Said former CIA official, Middle East expert and novelist Graham E. Fuller in a bid to identify the logic of the madness: “As the geopolitics of the world changes—particularly with the emergence of new power centres like China, the return of Russia, the growing independence of Turkey, the resistance of Iran to US domination in the Gulf, the waywardness of Israel, and the greater role of India and many other smaller players—the emergence of a more aggressive and adventuristic Saudi Arabia is not surprising.”
Prince Mohammed’s domestic status and mettle is likely to be put to the test as the crisis unfolds with Turkey leaking further evidence of what happened to Mr. Khashoggi or officially publishing whatever proof it has.
Turkish leaks or officially announced evidence would likely cast further doubt on Saudi Arabia’s assertion that Mr. Khashoggi died in a brawl in the consulate and fuel US Congressional and European parliamentary calls for sanctions, possibly including an arms embargo, against the kingdom.
In a sharp rebuke, US President Donald J. Trump responded to Saudi Arabia’s widely criticized official version of what happened to Mr. Khashoggi by saying that “obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies.”.
A prominent Saudi commentator and close associate of Prince Mohammed, Turki Aldakhil, warned in advance of the Saudi admission that the kingdom would respond to Western sanctions by cosying up to Russia and China. No doubt that could happen if Saudi Arabia is forced to seeks alternative to shield itself against possible sanctions.
That, however, does not mean that Prince Mohammed could not be brazen in his effort to engineer a situation in which the Trump administration would have no choice but to fully reengage with the kingdom.
Despite pundits’ suggestion that Mr. Trump’s Saudi Arabia-anchored Middle East strategy that appears focussed on isolating Iran, crippling it economically with harsh sanctions, and potentially forcing a change of regime is in jeopardy because of the damage Prince Mohammed’s international reputation has suffered, Iran could prove to be the crown prince’s window of opportunity.
“The problem is that under MBS, Saudi Arabia has become an unreliable strategic partner whose every move seems to help rather than hinder Iran. Yemen intervention is both a humanitarian disaster and a low cost/high gain opportunity for Iran,” tweeted former US Middle East negotiator Martin Indyk, referring to Prince Mohammed by his initials.
Mr. “Trump needed to make clear he wouldn’t validate or protect him from Congressional reaction unless he took responsibility. It’s too late for that now. Therefore I fear he will neither step up or grow up, the crisis will deepen and Iran will continue to reap the windfall,” Mr. Indyk said in another tweet.
If that was likely an unintended consequence of Prince Mohammed’s overly assertive policy and crude and ill-fated attempts to put his stamp on the Middle East prior to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, it may since in a twisted manner serve his purpose.
To the degree that Prince Mohammed has had a thought-out grand strategy since his ascendancy in 2015, it was to ensure US support and Washington’s reengagement in what he saw as a common interest: projection of Saudi power at the expense of Iran.
Speaking to The Economist in 2016, Prince Mohammed spelled out his vision of the global balance of power and where he believed Saudi interests lie. “The United States must realise that they are the number one in the world and they have to act like it,” the prince said.
In an indication that he was determined to ensure US re-engagement in the Middle East, Prince Mohammed added: “We did not put enough efforts in order to get our point across. We believe that this will change in the future.”
Beyond the shared US-Saudi goal of clipping Iran’s wings, Prince Mohammed catered to Mr. Trump’s priority of garnering economic advantage for the United States and creating jobs. Mr. Trump’s assertion that he wants to safeguard US$450 billion in deals with Saudi Arabia as he contemplates possible punishment for the killing of Mr. Khashoggi is based on the crown prince’s dangling of opportunity.
“When President Trump became president, we’ve changed our armament strategy again for the next 10 years to put more than 60 percent with the United States of America. That’s why we’ve created the $400 billion in opportunities, armaments and investment opportunities, and other trade opportunities. So this is a good achievement for President Trump, for Saudi Arabia,” Prince Mohammed said days after Mr. Khashoggi disappeared.
The crown prince drove the point home by transferring US$100 million to the US, making good on a long standing promise to support efforts to stabilize Syria, at the very moment that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week landed in Riyadh in a bid to defuse the Khashoggi crisis.
A potential effort by Prince Mohammed to engineer a situation in which stepped-up tensions with Iran supersede the fallout of the Khashoggi crisis, particularly in the US, could be fuelled by changing attitudes and tactics in Iran itself.
The shift is being driven by Iran’s need to evade blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog. Meeting the group’s demands for enhanced legislation and implementation is a pre-requisite for ensuring continued European support for circumventing crippling US sanctions.
In recognition of that, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dropped his objection to adoption of the FATF-conform legislation.
If that were not worrisome enough for Prince Mohammed, potential Iranian efforts to engage if not with the Trump administration with those segments of the US political elite that are opposed to the president could move the crown prince to significantly raise the stakes, try to thwart Iranian efforts, and put the Khashoggi crisis behind him.
Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, head of parliament’s influential national security and foreign policy commission, signalled the potential shift in Iranian policy by suggesting that “there is a new diplomatic atmosphere for de-escalation with America. There is room for adopting the diplomacy of talk and lobbying by Iran with the current which opposes Trump… The diplomatic channel with America should not be closed because America is not just about Trump.”
Should he opt, to escalate Middle Eastern tensions, Prince Mohammed could aggravate the war in Yemen, viewed by Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration as a proxy war with Iran, or seek to provoke Iran by attempting to stir unrest among its multiple ethnic minorities.
To succeed, Prince Mohammed would have to ensure that Iran takes the bait. So far, Iran has sat back, gloating as the crown prince and the kingdom are increasingly cornered by the Khashoggi crisis, not wanting to jeopardize its potential outreach to Mr. Trump’s opponents as well as Europe.
That could change if Prince Mohammed decides to act on his vow in 2017 that “we won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia Instead, we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”
A gruesome murder bares world powers’ flawed policies
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s gruesome murder raises fundamental questions that go far beyond Middle Eastern geopolitics.
They go to the risks of support for autocratic regimes by democratic and authoritarian world powers, the rise of illiberal democracy in the West, increasing authoritarianism in Russia, and absolute power in China in which checks and balances are weakened or non-existent.
Mr. Khashoggi’s killing is but the latest incident of hubris that stems from the abandonment of notions of civility, tolerance and plurality; and the ability of leaders to get away with murder, literally and figuratively. It also is the product of political systems with no provisions to ensure that the power of men like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is restrained and checked.
Mr. Khashoggi was an advocate of the necessary checks and balances.
In his last column published in The Washington Post posthumously, Mr. Khashoggi argued that “the Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events. More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices. We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.”
Mr. Khashoggi’s words were echoed by prominent journalist and political analyst Rami Khouri. “We are heading to the law of the jungle if big power and Mideast state autocracy is not held accountable,” Mr. Khouri said.
In a similar vein, a survey by the Arab Barometer survey concluded that public institutions in the Arab world, including the judiciary enjoyed little, if any, public trust.
“Part of the lack of trust comes from the disenfranchisement felt by many, especially youth and women… The lack of alternative political forces is adding to the fatigue and lack of trust in institutions. Citizens in the region struggle to find an alternative to the ruling elite that might help address the issues of ineffective governance and corruption,” said a report by the Carnegie for Endowment of Peace.
“Citizens are increasingly turning toward informal mechanisms such as protests and boycotts, and focusing more on specific issues of governance, such as service provision, particularly at the local level. Furthermore, with democracy under threat across the globe, calls for broad democratic reform have been replaced by more basic demands,” the report went on to say.
What puts the price Mr. Khashoggi paid for advocating controls of absolute power in a class of its own, is the brutality of his killing, the fact that he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul rather than, for example, by an unknown killer on a motorbike; and the increasingly difficult effort to resolve politically the crisis his death sparked.
Beyond the support by world powers of often brutal autocrats facilitated by a lack of checks and balances that in the past three decades has destroyed countries and costs the lives of millions, Mr. Khashoggi’s murder is also the product of the failure of Western leaders to seriously address the breakdown in confidence in leadership and political systems at home and abroad.
The breakdown peaked with the 2011 popular Arab revolts; simultaneous widespread protests in Latin America, the United States and Europe; and the increased popularity of anti-system, nationalist and populist politicians on both the right and the left.
Mr. Khashoggi joins the victims of extrajudicial poisoning in Britain by Russian operatives of people who like him may have been a thorn in the side of their leaders but did not pose an existential threat – not that that would justify murder or attempted murder.
He also joins the millions of casualties of failed policy and hubris caused by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s gassing of Kurds in the 1980s and reckless 1990 invasion of Kuwait, support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s determination to cling to power irrespective of the human cost, the Saudi-UAE-led war in Yemen that has produced the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two, and China’s attempt to brainwash and socially engineer what the country’s leaders see as the model Chinese citizen.
And those are just some of the most egregious instances.
No better are the multiple ways in which autocratic leaders try to ensure conformity not only through repression and suppression of a free press but also, for example, by deciding who deserves citizenship based upon whether they like their political, economic or social views rather than on birth right.
Take Bahrain whose minority Sunni Muslim regime has stripped hundreds of its nationals of their citizenship simply because it did not like their views or Turkey with its mass arrests of anyone critical of the government.
The irony is that if elections in democracies are producing illiberal leaders like US President Donald J. Trump, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungary’s Victor Orban, in Asia and Africa they are bring forth governments mandated to reverse Belt and Road-related, Chinese funding of projects that primarily benefit China rather than the recipient economically and pave the way for greater Chinese influencing of domestic politics as well as the export of systems that enhance unchecked state power.
In some cases, like Malaysia, they produce leaders willing to take on China’s creation of a 21st century Orwellian surveillance state in its north-western province of Xinjiang.
It matters little what label world powers put on their support for autocrats and illiberals. The United States has long justified its policy with the need for regional stability in the greater Middle East. Russia calls it international legality while China packages is it as non-interference in the domestic affairs of others.
Said Middle East expert and former US official Charles Kestenbaum building on Mr. Khashoggi’s words: “If they (Middle Eastern states) want to compete with the globe in IT (information technology) and tech more broadly, they must encourage risk, innovation and freedom to fail. Such social and political freedom does not exist adequately in the region. The opposite in fact, authoritarian regimes repress such initiative and openness. So what do they have to compete and globally engage in the 2020’s? Nothing.”
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