The main question is whether the West is capable of halting its internal decay and to revive itself, or whether it will be accelerated, leading to surrender to the Islamic civilization. At this point, we seek to make an important analogy. An analysis of the economic, religious and geopolitical parameters indicate that the era in which we live is astonishingly and frighteningly similar to the reality extant at the beginning of the seventh century: The Byzantine and Sassanid Empires were in the process of decay, while aggressive Islam, driven by religious ideology, rode by the expansionist wave, with wide-ranging processes of Arabization and Islamization of the conquered areas.
Indeed, the Apocalyptic Islamic Global Jihad Groups pose an existential threat to the free world in four conspicuous trends: a) Utilization of indiscriminate terrorism, the Jihad of homicide bombers, lynching and slaughter; b) Operating an onslaught religious preaching to bring the believers back to the true Islam, and to convert infidels (Da’wah); c) Gaining control of the West by means of a combination of pleasantries and sweet-talking, while accusing it of colonialism and racism, and at the same time: using a thorough diplomacy of deceit; d) The uncontrolled immigration to the West and the demographic victory, by the Muslims’ women womb.
In contrast to these severe trends, the free world stands consumed by doubts and ignorance regarding the vital need to fight for its life and its freedoms. Why? a) Post-colonialist and post-modernist perceptions which are unfortunately so pervasive within the so-called the liberal intelligentsia, the media, and public opinion in the West. b) Strengthening the devastating influences of the “political correct” and the “mirror image” approaches in Western public opinion and policy-makers. c) A deep appeasement accompanied with hedonism, which is so characteristic to Western democracies. d) Conspicuous policy of attaining quiet and order at all costs, which sometimes becomes a sort of “protection money” to the violent and the aggressor. e) Weariness of violence, a deep wish of war-avoidance at all costs, a phenomenon concerning especially Europe.
Oriana Falacci, in her The Pride and the rage, addresses these trends:
Wake up people, wake up. Paralyzed by the fear of appearing racist, you do not understand or do not wish to understand that the reverse crusade has commenced. Drugged by the stupidity or shortsightedness of the adherents of political correctness, you do not internalize or do not want to internalize that a religious war is transpiring here. A war, whose objective is to conquer our souls and rob us of our freedoms. A war conducted with the goal of destroying our civilization and our way of life. Stunned by the preponderance of false propaganda, you do not or do not want to get it into your heads that if we do not defend ourselves, if we do not battle, jihad will win. It will win and destroy the world which we were able to build. It will make our culture and identity disappear.
Debating them is pointless; conducting a dialogue with them is useless; and demonstrating tolerance towards them is suicide. How is it that leftists never open their mouths against the Muslim world’s primitive, theocratic regimes, which have no democracy, no freedoms and no individual rights? Why were we killed and did we die in wars declared against the enemies of freedom and civilization? Are these principles invalid to the despotic Islamic regimes?
Enough of your double standards of morality; enough of your opacity; enough of your hypocrisy. Crickets of all countries and languages stop the confusion and start along the path to sobriety. The mountain of Islam has not moved for 1400 years; a mountain that consciously opts for primitiveness and ignorance and is ruled by fanatics. Europe is becoming a province of Islam.
Indeed, the religious foundation is the most decisive and significant in understanding the phenomenon. Huntington determined that civilizations are analyzed by means of history, language, traditions, and above all – culture and religion. The Free World, due to primal fears of returning to the religious wars of the Middle Ages, refuses to characterize the threatening reality as a religious conflict. In contrast, the leaders of the Islamic organizations intentionally employ religious terminology when coming to define their terrorist struggle and clearly declare that this is a religious war. For them it is a holy war, Jihad against the infidels, in which religion is the essence of the struggle integrated with colonialist dimension, and the model is Saladdin al-Ayubi, who fought the Crusaders.
Then, hypocrisy combined with much naiveté and ignorance and designed with an approach of political correctness, runs rampant: True, there are radicals among the Arabs and Muslims just as there are in all societies, but they are a minority, “weeds”. On the other hand, the majority is different and peace-loving, and one must not generalize. This is the problem with all of its severity. The relevant questions are:
a) If that is the true situation – how do we know this? Are there corroborating studies and data to substantiate this view? Or we only assume this is the reality, and perhaps the opposite is true, and the fanatics are the majority?
b) Even if a different majority exists, is its voice heard and does it influence the shaping of policy and the decision-making processes? Or we only supply excuses to the horrific phenomenon we don’t understand? Or is it only in our mirror image personality?
c) How many pressure groups and interest groups are there which actively function against Islamic fanaticism and Jihad terrorism? To what extent do they influence? Or we just ignore reality out of confusion? Or we think that our presumptions are true?
d) Where is public opinion voice, the political parties, the media, which prove, through their clear and loud activity, that there are other tendencies and other voices? Or we assume that this is the situation?
e) How many NGO’s are there acting against the terrorist organizations and preventing aid from their reach? Do they just even try to convince that the terrorists are mistaken? Or we just want to, we terribly wish to believe that there are?
f) If there are moderate peace-loving political leaders, where are they? What influence do they have? Is their voice heard? What do they declare and what do they do after the horrible acts of terrorism, except of blaming the US and the CIA, Israel and the Mossad?
g) Indeed, there are intellectuals, educated liberals, condemning wholeheartedly the hideous terrorist acts of the fanatics. However, what influence do they have? Who controls the Islamic communities and in the streets? Which voice is heard and is written in the communication Media? Who is more influential and admired by the youth, in the Madaris (religious schools) and in the mosques?
h) How many peace movements, pro-peace demonstrations and masses marching and rolling for peace and against the terrorist perpetrators can be identified in the streets? Or is it our imagination alone that we see?
Indeed, Nonie Darwish (FrontPageMagazine, January 7, 2005) is correct by blaming on the “silent Muslim majority”.
He is silent seeing the outrageous brutal inhumane terrorist attacks; and he do not act against the medieval-style behavior and practice in the Arab-Muslim world. Generations after generations, Muslims lived under dictatorships were trained to look the other side when Muslims torture and terrorize others. Their silence is in fact means aiding and abetting the cruel culture of hatred, terror, torture and beheadings. Most Islamic studies professors and Islamist groups in the West exercise their freedom of speech given to them, only to speak and argue against the West, Judaism and Christianity. However, they never criticize their culture of origin, and usually support it and serve as Da’wah agents. No matter what the West does, they voice criticism and aligning themselves with the liberal ‘hate America’ crowd in Western academia and media.
Islamism and the old defeated and failed ideology of pan-Arabism is what many of them advocating. They are silent in the face of Muslim poverty, corruption, neglect of human rights, oppression of women, honor killings, beheadings and stoning. They are not using Western freedoms as an opportunity to change their countries of origin, but as an opportunity to influence and change the West to be like the countries they came from. Their goal is also to keep Muslim communities in the West under their control and the control of Muslim world Mullahs, Sheikhs and religious fanatic dictators. Indeed, the silent majority is the problem. Their silence empowers terrorism and brutal dictatorships.
The trends so characteristic of Western democracies, the daily political give-and-take, the heated political debate, the variety of positions and opinions, the pluralism of attitudes – where are they in the Arab-Islamic world? The reality is that there are few who take a stand against, and they almost non-existent from influence and shaping policy point of view. This phenomenon does not stem out of fear of repressive government, but rather it is due to a tradition of authoritarianism at the foundation of the Arab tribal frameworks and the Islamic religion and due to lack of awareness and consciousness of sovereign citizenship. Although there is a reawakening of Arab intellectuals who harshly criticize Arab and Islamic regimes and societies and fanatical terrorism, the problem is that they remain an inconsequential minority lacking any influence.
Although they must be encouraged and provided with all forms of assistance, it is yet the hope that their entreaty will be larger in size and have more influence. Unfortunately, the opposite happens: Western policy suppresses them, because it does not fight fanaticism and aggressiveness, and pays lip service to the issues out of political considerations.
It is clear that the Muslim majority does not play an active role in terrorism and incitement, and the perpetrators of the Apocalyptic Islamic Global Jihad Groups are perhaps a small minority. But one has to bear in mind that all the great revolutions in history were taken and executed by small groups of revolutionary vanguards. Moreover, it is also equally true that the majority does not oppose terrorism, fanaticism and violence. On the contrary, all indications are that they support it, admired the heroes, and are willing to assist them. He who wishes to comprehend the severity of this issue, all he needs is to investigate the place and the role of the youth, those youngsters in all Arab-Islamic states, including where they reside abroad in the West.
A second perspective to bear in mind is that the Arab masses were never in history a significant political player, and the leaders never took their opinions into consideration. The masses never participated in politics and did not influence decision-making processes and policy making. They have never chose leaders or overthrew regimes. Arab-Islamic politics have always unfolded at the level of a small group of the political elites. Indeed, the majority does not make its voice heard and does not express opposition to the atrocities, and this inaction transforms them into collaborators with evil.
The relevant questions to be asked compare to the situation in 50-40-30-20-10 years: are there more mosques than in the past? Are there more people returning to their religious roots? Are there more children named Usama (Bin Laden) and now Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi)? Are there more Islamic communities operating in the framework of Da’wah politics? Are there more terrorist acts or less? Is there more political stability in the Arab-Muslim states or less? Is the Islamic education more modern or does it continue to be traditional-religious? Are there more women wearing traditional clothes and a veil (Hijab, Niqab, Chador) covering their faces? Are the youth more open to other opinions and positions or are they leading the extremist fanatic trends?
There are more questions and indications to observe and to realize that the Muslim world is climbing the radical-fanatic path and accelerating its aggression and not vise versa. Or perhaps we are dealing with the fallacies of Western thinking and distorted mirror images that don’t want to realistically accept the situation? As long as there is no indication of these and other dimensions, perhaps it is more correct to say that no such Arab-Islamic majority exists.
Sigmund Freud was correct when he emphasized: When it comes to self-deception, human beings are geniuses. Albert Einstein claimed that there are two things that are infinite: The universe and human stupidity, although he was not quite certain about the former. He also claimed that the difference between the stupid and the genius is that the genius knows his limitations. Karl Marx noted that the third most significant force moving the wheels of history, after capital and violence, is human stupidity.
Erik Hoffer determines that the obsessive dealing with the chimera of the future is the flight of one unable to confront the present. Barbara Tuchman spoke of the March of the Folly, in which leaders led their people into national catastrophes. And in the Bible we find (Ezekiel, 13:10): “Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untampered mortar”. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah, 5:20).
Amnon Dankner, an Israeli journalist, relates to the free world’s opacity:
Most of the Western world has yet to internalize the fact that it is in the midst of a bitter war, which will last many years. Inundated by fear, ignorance and stupidity, they blame the United States and Israel, and claim that if only all of the Western countries would leave the Muslim world alone and if only Israel would submit or be eliminated, there would be no more claims and allegations by the Muslims; al-Qaeda attacks would cease; Usama Bin-Laden would settle down to his Qur’an studies; and the Islamic Caliphate State would become a charity organization.
Since the days of Hitler, the world has not witnessed propaganda as vitriolic as that emerging from the Arab-Muslim world. This is an ordered doctrine of burning hatred, animosity and contempt for the Western world, Western progress and Western culture. Just as with Hitler: One who fails to listen and read, one who does not take interest and scrutinize, one who ignores and ridicules – will not understand where he lives and what the future has in store for him and what is the meaning of the rhetoric, which is so venomous and the hatred, which is so fiery.
Western culture terrifies the Arab-Islamic soul, and that terror is joined by the profound sense of inferiority of a backward society, which lives a parasitic existence at the expense and thanks to the abilities of Western civilization. The Iranian advancement towards nuclear capability, the existence of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and the availability of biological and chemical capabilities in the hands of Islamic terrorist organizations should terrify everyone.
Translation of the unprecedented hate rhetoric vis-à-vis the West with those capabilities – are awful portents for humanity. It is impossible to satisfy the monster by feeding it bits and pieces, like the weakening or elimination of Israel. The West must understand that it is confronting a voracious appetite of hatred. All of those advocating conciliatory steps, aid and rehabilitation are clueless as to what is really happening.
The issue of liberalization and democratization will be dealt separately. Yet, preliminary questions are to be asked: does Islam want to change and develop? Do the Arab-Islamic regimes aspire to achieve democracy? This is something that Western culture should bear in mind: Arab politics is comprised by authoritarian regimes and patrimonial leaders. There is no democracy, no political liberalism, no civil rights, no citizenship by a sovereign electing “people”, and no governmental responsibility accepting political transparency and responsibility. The political systems are not committed to socio-economic progress. In fact, they are against any action leading to this target, beyond a controlled framework.
Arab and Islamic leaders know that any real economic progress would bring overthrow of the regime and their own political liquidation. You cannot bring economic liberalization without political liberalization, and political liberalization means the total elimination of the authoritarian regimes, and theirs, as patrimonial leaders. They recall time and again the rapid economic and social changes that led to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, Ceausescu in Romania, and Gorbachev, in the Soviet-Union.
According to the Islamic religious groups it is very clear that there is no need for change, since everything is controlled by Allah, and due to the profound belief that the Qur’an contains all human knowledge from the beginning of history through the end of days, and that any change is heresy punishable by death.
In the Middle East, the problem is not economic development that will bring democratization and leads to political moderation. Arab-Islamic political culture demands strong political institutions and governmental authoritarianism, under the code of political stability. This reality is strengthened by the Islamic religion, which emphasize total obedience to the government, whatever are the deeds of the leader. Everything is due to the will of Allah, so, there is no regime responsibility.
Haim Harari claims that the root of the problem is “the entire Muslim region is non-functional”. Twenty-two Arab countries, with a population of four hundred million, “with all of the oil and their natural resources have half of California’s GNP. This creates an unprecedented hothouse for the development of cruel tyrants, terrorism networks, zealotry, incitement, suicide murderers and economic deterioration”. They blame Western culture, the United States and Israel – everyone but themselves.
Four dimensions underscore this phenomenon: a) the Suicide Bomber. This is impressive and frightening, drawing hysterical media coverage. Money, power and murderous incitement are behind. b) Lies of hatred and murderous incitement. c) Money. One of the largest industries in the world in channeled to the cycles of murder and by means of charity and educational organizations, they program the minds of the young generation with hatred, lies and ignorance. d) Absolute violation of the rules. Fanatical terrorism violates of the rules of culture and morality. The Arab regimes externalize the frustration and misery of the masses to colonialism and to xenophobia.
To this reality the former Kuwaiti Communications Minister, Dr. Sa’d Bin-Tafla (June 8, 2004) has referred:
The violence of slaughter, anarchy and bloodshed is a cultural phenomenon. The religious faction sets the rules: To achieve victory or martyrdom in order to restore the Islamic Empire, which stretched from China to Andalusia; The Arab media assists them by painting the world in black and white; and the Arab culture stokes the fire. Are Zionism and Western imperialism connected to this? Absolutely not. A hundred thousand people were massacred in the name of Islam in Algeria over the course of ten years, by Algerians; in Iraq, before the American invasion, violence claimed the lives of more than a million Iraqis, Iranians and Kurds. In Saudi Arabia there is no occupation and no American army, and Moslems are murdered and massacred there. In Palestine there was violence before the advent of the Israelis and there is violence unrelated to them. Genocide is transpiring in Sudan, and the Arab world is indifferent. The Sudan is perpetrating genocide.
This is the “culture of backwardness”, which dominates the Arab world, in the words of Said al-Hammad of Bahrain (al-Ayyam, August 17, 2004), which led the Arabs and Muslims into quixotic wars against the West and globalization. The culture of backwardness also includes the “culture of terrorism”, which adopts the approach of beheading and crushing people; and the “culture of hatred”, which propagates in the minds and consciousness of the youth hatred for the world and for people whose opinions and thoughts are different than theirs.
In political-religious terms: There is an aspiration to bring the entire world under the rule of Islam, in the dynamic terms of perpetual expansion: the Chief Muslim Mufti of Australia and New Zealand, Taj al-Din Hamad Abdullah: “Australia was discovered by Afghani Muslims and the time has come to restore it to its rightful place within Islam.” That too was the resolution of the Islamic Conference, which was held in Riyadh and noted that Muslims remember Andalusia and seek to return to it (Saudi Gazette, March 1, 2005). Yusuf al-Karadawi: Islam will succeed in conquering Europe for the third time: after its two previous failures (in the 7th and the 17th centuries) – by means of the Da’wah.
Yet, it was the former first editor of the Israeli newspapwe, Maariv, Azriel Carlebach, who already in October 1955 wrote:
Has anyone ever gotten anywhere with the Muslims? And why is everyone constantly trying? This is the ignorance, which causes statesman to depict other nations as exact replicas of themselves. However the truth is simple and clear:
There never was, and never will be, any understanding between the world of Islam and the Western world. In all social and cultural areas, Islam is fascism. It is the paradigm of fascism. For generations Islam has educated to violate human nature: Not to utilize the mind and to reject individual rights. Islam has no aspiration towards a better world and the concept of advancement is non-existent.
There is no initiative and no attempts at improvement. They do not adapt the will of Allah and do not challenge the interpretation of the clerics. The motivation pushing Western man to have the land produce more bread has been stifled in the hearts of the Muslim man. Islam has stifled it. The cultured world defended itself against the monster for two or three hundred years. However, over the last two generations, the European nations have committed the fatal error of viewing Muslim man in their own image.
An inchoate mass of hundreds of millions Muslims throughout the world has arisen, a nightmare whose potential threat is enormous. The threat of the psychology of Islam, which lives in a world of delusion, afflicted with attacks of inferiority and delusions of grandeur, which repudiates all that is sacred to the civilized world.
The threat posed to the West by Islam is incalculably greater than that posed by communism. It is possible to speak to communism with the logic of give-and-take. But not with Islam. It is possible to forgive the ignorant “experts” in the State Department who do not understand Islam, however it is impossible to forgive the Israeli people. We should know. We help the world draw an image of Arabs that is the product of our wishful thinking. And we add insult to injury when we distort the picture and confine the debate to a border dispute. The Arabs proffer claims, acceptable to the West. However, that is not the source of its hostile position. And without the occupation and without the refugees, they would continue to oppose Israeli existence just as vigorously.
Above all, we have committed the sin of provincialism against the world and against ourselves. Most of the statesmen in the countries around the world can still sleep soundly. However, we, ourselves, minimize the nature of the true calamity, of which we are merely its incidental and marginal victims. As long as we don’t make an effort and succeed in bequeathing this insight to the world, the truth regarding Islam, we will always be the first victims of its ignorance.
Saudi sports diplomacy: A mirror image of the kingdom’s already challenged policies
Saudi sports diplomacy is proving to be a mirror image of the kingdom’s challenged domestic, regional and foreign policies.
Overlorded by sports czar Turki al-Sheikh, Saudi sports diplomacy, like the kingdom’s broader policies, has produced at best mixed results, suggesting that financial muscle coupled with varying degrees of coercion does not guarantee success.
Mr. Al-Sheikh, a 37-year old brash and often blunt former honorary president of Saudi soccer club Al Taawoun based in Buraidah, a stronghold of religious ultra-conservatism, and a former bodyguard of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, is together with Saud al-Qahtani among the king-in-waiting’s closest associates.
Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, one of the kingdom’s wealthiest investors, acknowledged Mr. Al-Sheikh’s ranking in the Saudi hierarchy when he made a donation of more than a half-million dollars to Saudi soccer club Al Hilal FC weeks after having been released from detention.
Prince al-Waleed was one of the more recalcitrant detainees among the scores of members of the ruling family, prominent businessmen and senior officials who were detained a year ago in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton Hotel as part of Prince Mohammed’s power and asset grab.
Prince Al-Waleed said on Twitter at the time that he was “responding to the invitation of my brother Turki al-Sheikh.”
Mr. Al-Qahtani, who was recently fired as Prince Mohammed’s menacing information czar in connection with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was banned this week from travelling outside the kingdom. Mr. Al-Sheikh has not been linked to the Khashoggi murder.
Nevertheless, his sports diplomacy, exhibiting some of the brashness that has characterized Prince Mohammed as well as Mr Al-Qahtani’s approach, has largely failed to achieve its goals. If anything, it appears to have contributed to the kingdom’s growing list of setbacks.
Those goals included establishing Saudi Arabia as a powerhouse in regional and global soccer governance; countering Qatari sports diplomacy crowned by its hosting of the 2022 World Cup; projecting the kingdom in a more favourable light by hosting international sporting events; becoming a powerhouse in soccer-crazy Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation; and using the competition for the 2026 World Cup hosting rights to bully Morocco into supporting the Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led boycott of Qatar.
To be sure, with the exception of a cancelled tennis exhibition match in Jeddah between stars Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, most scheduled sporting events, including this season’s opening Formula E race in December and the Italian Supercoppa between Juventus and AC Milan in January, are going ahead as planned despite a six-week old crisis sparked by the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.
Yet, if last month’s friendly soccer match in Jeddah between Brazil and Argentina and this month’s World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) Crown Jewel showpiece are anything to go by, major sporting events are doing little to polish the kingdom’s image tarnished not only by the Khashoggi killing but also the war in Yemen that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two. The sports events have so far failed to push Mr. Khashoggi and Yemen out of the headlines of major independent media.
Mainstream media coverage of Saudi sports has, moreover, focussed primarily on Saudi sports diplomacy’s struggle to make its mark internationally. One focus been the fact that Gianni Infantino, president of world soccer body FIFA, has run into opposition from the group’s European affiliate, UEFA, to his plan to endorse a US$25 billion plan for a new club tournament funded by the Saudi and UAE-backed Japanese conglomerate SoftBank.
If adopted, the plan would enhance Saudi and Emirati influence in global soccer governance to the potential detriment of Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup. Saudi Arabia and the UAE spearhead a 17-month old economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar designed to force it to surrender its right to chart an independent course rather than align its policies with those of its Gulf brothers.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sought to engineer a situation in which Qatar is either deprived of its hosting rights or forced to share them with other states in the region, a possibility Mr. Infantino has said he was exploring.
Mr. Infantino has also said he was looking into implementing an expansion of the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams already in 2022 rather than only in 2026. An expansion of the Qatari World Cup would probably involve including others in the Gulf as hosts of the tournament. Qatari officials have all but ruled out sharing their hosting rights.
Another media focus has been alleged Saudi piracy aimed at undermining Qatar-owned BeIN Corp, the world’s biggest sports rights holder, including the rights to broadcast last summer’s Russia World Cup in the Arab world.
Mr. Al-Qahtani reportedly played a key role in the sudden emergence of BeoutQ, a bootleg operation beamed from Riyadh-based Arabsat that ripped live events from BeIN’s feed and broadcast the games without paying for rights. The Saudi government has denied any relationship to the pirate network.
The piracy has sparked international lawsuits, including international arbitration in which BeIN is seeking US1 billion in damages from Saudi Arabia. The company has also filed a case with the World Trade Organization.
FIFA has said it has taken steps to prepare for legal action in Saudi Arabia and is working alongside other sports rights owners that have been affected to protect their interests.
Mr. Al-Sheikh’s effort to create with funds widely believed to have been provided by Prince Mohammed an international Saudi sports portfolio that would project the kingdom as a regional power broker collapsed with fans, players and club executives in Egypt furious at the Saudi officials buying influence and using it to benefit Saudi rather than Egyptian clubs.
“No one, no one at all — with all due respect to Turki or no Turki … will be allowed to interfere in the club’s affairs,” said Mahmoud el-Khatib, chairman of Egyptian club Al Ahli SC, one of the Middle East’s most popular clubs with an estimated 50 million fans. Mr. Al-Sheikh had unsuccessfully tried to use his recently acquired honorary chairmanship of Al Ahli to take control of the club.
Al Ahli’s rejection of his power grab persuaded Mr. Al-Sheikh to resign in May and instead bankroll Al Ahli rival Pyramid FC. He invested US$33 million to acquire three top Brazilian players and launch a sports channel dedicated to the team.
The club’s fans, like their Al Ahli counterparts, nonetheless, denounced Mr. Al-Sheikh and the kingdom and insulted the Saudi official’s mother in crass terms during a match in September. Mr. Al-Sheikh decided to abandon his Egyptian adventure after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ignored his request to intervene. “Strange attacks from everywhere, and a new story every day. Why the headache?” Mr Al-Sheikh said on Facebook.
Mr. Al-Sheikh’s attempt to form a regional powerbase by creating a breakaway group of South Asian and Middle Eastern soccer federations beyond the confines of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) collapsed five months after the formation of the South-West Asian Football Federation (SWAFF) when seven South Asian nations pulled out with immediate effect.
The collapse of SWAFF and Mr. Al-Sheikh’s withdrawal from Egypt were preceded by his backing of the US-Canadian-Mexican bid for the 2026 World Cup against Morocco after he failed to bully the North Africans into supporting the boycott of Qatar.
Adopting a Saudi Arabia First approach, Mr. Al-Sheikh noted that the United States “is our biggest and strongest ally.” He recalled that when the World Cup was played in 1994 in nine American cities, the US “was one of our favourites. The fans were numerous, and the Saudi team achieved good results.”
That was Mr. Al-Sheikh’s position six months ago. Today, men like Prince Mohammed and Messrs. Al-Sheikh and Al-Qahtani are seething. US President Donald J. Trump is proving to be an unreliable ally. Not only is he pressuring the kingdom to come up with a credible explanation for Mr. Khashoggis’ killing, Mr. Trump is also seemingly backtracking on his promise to bring Iran to its knees by imposing crippling economic sanctions.
Saudi distrust is fuelled by the fact that Mr. Trump first asked the kingdom to raise oil production to compensate for lower crude exports from Iran and then without informing it made a 180-degree turn by offering buyers generous waivers that keep Iranian crude in the market instead of drive exports from Riyadh’s arch-rival down to zero.
Seemingly cut from the same cloth as Prince Mohammed, Mr. Al-Sheikh, drew his pro-American definition of Saudi Arabia First from the crown prince’s focus on the United States. Prince Mohammed, Mr. Al-Sheikh and other senior Saudi officials may be considering whether putting the kingdom’s eggs primarily in one basket remains the best strategy.
Whatever the case, Mr. Al-Sheikh’s sweep through regional and global sports has left Saudi leaders with little to leverage in the kingdom’s bid to pick up the pieces and improve its image tarnished first and foremost by Mr. Khashoggi’s killing but also by the trail the sports czar has left behind.
Paris Peace Forum: A missed opportunity for the Middle East
Timed to coincide with the centennial of the World War I armistice, the Paris Peace Forum (PPF) launched by French president Emmanuel Macron adopted a welcome approach to the root causes of contemporary conflict, including climate change and the double-edged sword represented by new technologies.
The forum, which took place from November 11-13, showcased projects that spoke to the innovation and collaboration critical to improving lives and reducing tensions across the globe.
Conspicuous by their absence
Even though the summit saw 65 heads of state from all over the world come together to launch the event, precious few of those leaders came from the Middle East – even though the region could benefit as much as any other part of the world from this “Davos for democracy.” While this first peace summit represented a promising start, any future editions need to find a way to make inroads with citizens in the countries where they are needed most. Of course, this is a two-way street, with leaders in those countries needing to participate in and draw lessons from such gatherings.
The Middle East’s most notable representatives at the event were Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. Their presence was fitting: while so many of their neighbors jostle with each other to secure their own geopolitical ends, Qatar and Lebanon have faced down the instability surrounding them to protect themselves from dangerous regional currents. Unfortunately, the leaders who could have really used reminding of the importance of peace were absent from the stage.
An “island” of stability
Qatar, for its part, has been the subject of a regional blockade for the best part of 18 months. A coalition of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have all severed ties with the country since June 2017 for its alleged “support for terrorism” but more realistically for its willingness to deal with Iran against a backdrop of acrimony between the two sides of the Gulf. The Saudis, for their part, have gone so far as planning to cut Qatar off from the mainland with a new canal.
Far from buckling, however, Qatar has proven remarkably resilient and stuck firmly to a strategy of de-escalation with both sides of the Saudi-Iranian cold war. Events since have rewarded that cool-headedness. Global markets nervous about the turbulence in Riyadh are now looking to Qatar as a regional investment driver instead. Ironically enough, none other than Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman praised the performance of the Qatari economy last month.
Delicate peace in Beirut
Lebanon has had greater difficulty insulating itself from the instability across its border with Syria, but Saad Hariri has nonetheless maintained a fragile domestic peace even after an apparent kidnapping and forced resignation (later rescinded) orchestrated by bin Salman in November of last year. Hariri was detained for two weeks and only released on the back of intense international pressure, apparently out of Saudi anger with the Lebanese premier for cooperating with his Shi’a Hezbollah rivals in Lebanon.
In Lebanon’s torturous system of confessional politics, however, difficult compromises are the nature of the game. Hariri and his Sunni-led political movement have no choice but to negotiate with Hezbollah’s Shi’a faction over the balance of political power on an ongoing basis to keep the country stable. Hariri’s resistance to Saudi demands for aggression has helped keep the peace between Lebanese Sunnis and Shi’a, preventing the sectarian fires that have torn Syria apart from jumping across the border.
External actors have key roles to play
Of course, none of the crises in the Middle East can be viewed in a vacuum. One key part of the program at the Paris Peace Forum summit – entitled Global Powers and the Middle East – focused on the responsibility of outside powers like the United States, Russia, China, Europe and India to find common ground and address the causes of Middle Eastern instability. Left unsaid: these same countries are often deeply involved in perpetuating these crises.
If American, European, or Russian leaders truly want to prevent conflicts in the Middle East, their first step should probably be a sort of Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.” The arms trade is a notable case in point. The Middle East is responsible for 32% of global arms imports. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are three of the five largest customers; their primary suppliers are the US, UK, France, Italy, and Russia.
Rather than encourage stability, this supply of weapons has fed a volatile arms race. Much of that equipment has been used by the Saudi coalition’s intervention in Yemen, which has left eight million Yemenis are the brink of starvation and the country confronting the fastest growing cholera epidemic the world has ever seen. Russia has openly used the civil war in Syria as a venue for showing off its military hardware to potential customers worldwide, even as Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues to massacre civilians.
Instead of helping their local allies arm themselves to the teeth, these outside powers should push Middle Eastern governments to change their damaging patterns of behavior and undertake the kinds of social reforms that are instrumental in easing tensions. Otherwise, systemic inequality and unaccountable leadership will continue to lay the groundwork for conflicts and crises. That might enrich weapons manufacturers, but it will do nothing to achieve the goals pursued in Paris this week.
The sanctions of a split
The tough economic sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran have aggravated conflict between Washington and its close allies. The European Union, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have expressed regret over measures taken by American President Donald Trump and signaled the need to protect their companies. Simultaneously, eight countries have received a six-month “sanctions delay” from the United States, which produced a further negative effect on the balance of strength and set the scene for a further escalation of tension.
The United States announced the resumption of anti-Iranian sanctions, which ban the purchase of Iranian oil and oil products, on November 5. The US Treasury Department pointed out that they were the “toughest” in history: “These are the toughest U.S. sanctions ever imposed on Iran, and will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy, such as the energy, shipping and shipbuilding, and financial sectors. The United States is engaged in a campaign of maximum financial pressure on the Iranian regime and intends to enforce aggressively these sanctions that have come back into effect.”
“The unprecedented financial pressure exerted by the US Treasury Department on Iran should make it clear to the Iranian regime that it will face ever-increasing financial isolation and economic stagnation until it radically changes its destabilizing behavior. From now on, the maximum pressure exerted by the United States will only increase,” – emphasizes US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin. Washington makes it no secret that the ultimate goal of the sanctions is to reduce oil exports from Iran “to zero.”
Over 700 individuals and legal entities have been put on the sanctions list, including the Iranian national air company Iran Air, more than 65 aircraft it owns, and several dozen ships of the merchant fleet. The sanctions prohibit the purchase of Iranian oil and are directed against port operators, shipping and shipbuilding companies, the financial sector, – primarily tanker insurance companies, – and also restrict operations with Iran’s banks and Central Bank.
Fines will be imposed on anyone who trades oil with Iran and works with its banking system. Secondary sanctions (fines and shutout from the dollar system) may be imposed on companies of third countries. The US also demanded that Iran should be cut off from the SWIFT international payment system. According to reports, on November 5 SWIFT suspended access of some Iranian banks to its system, but without reference to the US sanctions.
This step followed President Trump’s announcement in May this year about Washington’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action on the Iranian nuclear program. Adopted in 2015 with the participation of Iran, the USA, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the document envisages easing sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its measures to wrap up its nuclear program under the control of the IAEA. The US president dubbed it “the worst deal ever,” saying that it does nothing to stop Iran from pursing its nuclear and missile programs. After Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, the other participants expressed their commitment to this document.
Two days before the sanctions package was put into effect, US President Donald Trump made it clear that the United States was ready to conclude a new agreement with Iran on more stringent conditions. “Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior, or continue down the path toward economic disaster”, – the US president said on November 3: “The sanctions will target revenues the Iranian regime uses to fund its nuclear program, development and proliferation of ballistic missiles, fuel regional conflict, support terrorism and enrich its leaders”. At the same time, according to Donald Trump, “the United States remains open to reaching a new, more comprehensive deal with Iran that forever blocks its path to a nuclear weapon, addresses the entire range of its malign actions, and is worthy of the Iranian people. Until then, our historic sanctions will remain in full force”.
Having introduced “unprecedentedly tough” sanctions against Tehran, Donald Trump, as part of his business approach to international affairs, left substantial “windows of opportunity” for the subsequent bargaining on a wider range of issues of the international agenda. The USA made an exception for eight states. China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea were allowed to buy Iranian oil temporarily. According to the London-based Financial Times, these countries will be able to import a limited amount of Iranian oil over the next six months.
Simultaneously, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that more than 20 countries have already cut down on oil exports from Iran, reducing purchases by more than 1 million barrels per day. Independent sources indicate that average daily oil production in Iran fell from 3.8 million barrels in May to 3.3 million barrels in early October. This is quite a lot: because of the reduction, Iran loses about 1 billion dollars a month.
Given that the above exemptions from the sanctions list are temporary, the United States will likely resume political and economic bargaining with the eight countries in spring, with a view to preserve a favorable regime for these countries. In the first place, it concerns China. President Donald Trump will try to use the “Iranian factor” in order to achieve maximum concessions on trade and economic issues from Beijing. Among other things, he will probably make an attempt to force the Chinese side to reconsider joint energy projects with Russia. In the meantime, China’s response to the US decision to resume the anti-Iranian sanctions has been markedly restrained. A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry has called on Washington to respect China’s trade rights and expressed “regret” that the United States relaunched sanctions against Iran.
A much more resolute response came from the European Union – whose trade and economic interests are affected by anti-Iranian sanctions first. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement in which they promised to protect their companies from restrictive US measures. “Our goal is to protect the subjects of the European economy that have legal commercial ties with Iran,” the document states.
In the meantime, the European Union is confronted with the problem of creating a specific structure that would allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran without risking falling under Washington’s sanctions. Brussels reported in October that a new mechanism of payment for Iranian oil exports should be legally ready by November 4, and would go into operation in early 2019. However, according to The Financial Times, by the time the current sanctions were introduced, the Europeans did not have even a legal foundation for the defense mechanism and had not come to agreement on the location of the corresponding “special purpose structure” (SPV). “Now we are actively discussing where the SPV will be located, who will participate in it, and are launching the process of registering it. Time is short, and given the complexity and sensitivity of this issue in the light of its geopolitical consequences, we see very rapid and effective progress,” – said a representative of the French Finance Ministry.
For Europeans, sensitivity of this issue lies in their unwillingness to come under tough Washington’s sanctions themselves – especially in the context of deepening trade and economic differences between the US and the EU. “The US authorities are demonstrating that they will act aggressively towards violators of sanctions, which boosts the effect,” warns partner of law firm Morrison & Foerster and former director of the Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury John Smith. “When the United States threatens to punish violators and does it in practice, examples of punished companies force others to think seriously,” he said in an interview published by the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal.
Without waiting for the sanctions regime to come into effect, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani stated that Tehran would be able to overcome it. “America wants to bring down Iran’s oil sales, but we will continue to sell oil to break through the sanctions,” he said.
Tehran could not but point out the fact that the resumption of the US sanctions package against Iran coincided with the anniversary of the capture of the US embassy during the Islamic revolution in Tehran in 1979. Addressing his compatriots, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “The goal of American sanctions is to cripple and restrain the Iranian economy, but the result we obtained in reality was the country’s striving for self-sufficiency.” “The main objective of the United States in all this is to regain the supremacy it had in the period of tyranny. But this will not happen,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.
Meanwhile, Tehran does not attach any fundamental significance to the exclusion of eight states from the sanctions regime. “The Islamic Republic could sell its oil even if these eight countries were not excluded, we would still sell our oil,” said Hassan Rouhani in this regard.
The anti-Iranian sanctions imposed by Washington have not yet had a direct impact on Russia. The sanctions list published by the US Treasury contains only the Russian “daughter” of the Iranian Bank Melli – the Mir Business Bank, registered in Moscow (MB Bank). Its shareholder is Bank Melli Iran, which, according to the United States, provides multi-billion financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). “Bank Melli enabled the IRGC and its related parties to transfer funds both inside and outside Iran,” the statement of the US Treasury said. JSC Mir Business Bank was registered in Moscow in 2002. Bank Melli Iran is its sole shareholder.
According to reports, the Trump administration has decided not to pursue the Russian direction in its pressure on Iran ahead of a new meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States due to take place at the end of this year. The meeting could be held on November 11 in Paris, at events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, or — more likely — at the G-20 summit in Argentina in late November – early December this year. However, regardless of the outcome of this meeting, Russia should bear it in mind that its trade and economic ties with Iran, and in a broader context – relations with OPEC – will become the target of a new round of global games of the US administration.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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