[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap] audi columnist, Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Latif Aal al-Sheikh: The ideology of the al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah movement is similar to, or even worse than the Nazi ideology. Both Jihadi-Salafi and Nazism are based on hatred and physical elimination of the other. Both ideologies share hatred of the other and eliminating through his physical extermination – and they have many other common denominators as well.
After the ruin, destruction, and bloodshed that Nazism brought upon mankind, the number of its victims reached tens of millions, the world arose to fight against this murderous ideology, and all steps were taken on the ideological, cultural, and political levels, to prevent this ideology from spreading anew.
The question arises is why, in light of the similarity between these two ideologies, we haven’t learned a lesson, and why we are not fighting against the foundations of al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah, its religious scholars, its theoreticians, and its preachers, just as we deal with criminals, murderers, and robbers? The concept of jihad has become a destructive terrorist concept, a call to murder.
In his next article titled “On the Contrary, They Are Worse than the Nazis and Stray More from the Right Path,” al-Sheikh writes: The terrorists have sullied Islam with blood and tarnished its name through violence, killing, explosions, and destruction, it is the obligation of clerics and everyone involved in Da’wah before anyone else to defend the religion and the peaceful people from among the Muslims and others. Have the clerics of our times fulfilled their duty? The most direct answer is: Sadly, no!
Imagine that the way of dealing with statements by al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah is comparable to the West’s way of dealing with Nazism, would TV channel, like the Qatari al-Jazeerah dare to spread this ideology and demand ‘freedom of speech’? Everybody knows that this channel in particular has had the greatest media impact on the shaping, spreading, and strengthening of this dangerous trend, and that it provides it with wide space to express its ‘acts of heroism’, its statements, and its videotaped operations, to the point where it has become the primary platform of [al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah] as is happening today in Iraq.
Therefore, one of the primary missions of the international community today is to repeat its experience with Nazism and to deal with this dangerous barbarian culture exactly as it dealt with the Nazi culture. If this does not happen, the near future is liable to bring consequences of which will be far more severe for all of humanity than [the consequences] of World War II (al-Jazeerah (Saudi Arabia), July 10, 2005, and July 24, 2005).
Umran Salman, a Bahraini journalist living in the U.S., criticizes the Sunni silence over the extermination of the Shi’ites in Iraq: Aren’t the Arabs Ashamed When Some of Them Massacre Iraqi Citizens?
When the Jordanian terrorist, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, declared war against the Shi’ites in Iraq, to blow up children, women, and the elderly, none of the Arabs uttered a word and none shed a tear for the thousands of Iraqis being murdered. Don’t the Arabs feel sense of shame when some of them kill and massacre Iraqi citizens? Don’t they feel pangs of conscience when they try to come up with excuses and justifications for the murderers and criminals whom they call the ‘resistance?’ How can they be silent and ignore declaration of the extermination of millions of people because of their sectarian affiliation? How is one to [describe] the Arab silence in light of the murder of Shi’ite Iraqis and their intimidation in the most despicable and base of ways? The murderers declare their positions publicly and consider them Jihad for the sake of Allah. How is one to explain [the silence of] politicians and members of the media?
What can we say in light of the attitude of the Arab media and the Arab satellite channels in particular, which report the killings, the slaughters, and the suicide bombings among Iraqi citizens coolly. The war being waged by the terrorists against the Shi’ites in Iraq is among the acts of collective extermination, which is rare in modern history.
There has been no case in the past in which somebody has declared a similar war against a race or a group as a whole, except Nazi Germany against the Jews. Muslim scholars in Arab countries have issued dozens of Fatawa about current political issues, but have not issued even a single fatwah declaring bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, or al-Zarqawi to be infidels. The world is witness that the Arabs and the Sunnis are silent and standing idly by, and some are even welcoming, the cold-blooded murder of the Shi’ites. They will bear this mark of shame for all eternity.
The Sunnis have persecuted the Shi’ites, declared them infidels, and continue to treat them in their countries as second-class citizens and have returned today to complete what they started in previous centuries. In the 21st century they are continuing their massacres and crimes against them, in full view of the world. Do these people not feel the shame and disgrace that shroud them? (www.elaph.com, October 15, 2005: MEMRI, no. 1010, October 21, 2005).
Saudi author, Badriyya al-Bishr, a lecturer in social sciences at King Saud University, in an article titled: “Imagine You Are a Woman”.
Imagine you’re a woman. You always need your guardian’s approval regarding each and every matter. You cannot study without your guardian’s approval, even if you reach a doctorate level. You cannot get a job and earn a living without your guardian’s approval. Imagine you’re a woman and the guardian who must accompany you wherever you go is your 15-year-old son or your brother. Imagine you’re a woman and you are subject to assault, beatings, or murder. In the event that your husband is the one who broke your ribs [people will say] that no doubt there was good reason for it.
Imagine you’re a woman whose husband breaks her nose, arm, or leg, and when you go to the Qadi to lodge a complaint, he responds reproachfully ‘That’s all?!’ In other words, beating is a technical situation that exists among all couples and lovers. Imagine you’re a woman and you are not permitted to drive. Imagine you’re a woman in the 21st century, and you see Fatawa by contemporary experts in Islamic law dealing with the rules regarding taking the women of the enemy prisoner and having sexual intercourse with them, even in times of peace.
Imagine you’re a woman who writes in a newspaper, and every time you write about [women’s] concerns, problems, poverty, unemployment, and legal status, they say about you: ‘Never mind her, it’s all women’s talk’ (al-Sharq al-Awsat, October 9, 2005: MEMRI, no. 1012, October 24, 2005)
The liberal Bahraini journalist, ‘Umran Salman, explains Arab-Muslim hatred. Hatred in the Arab and Muslim world is a general phenomenon that is not limited only to the Americans. It is possible that the Arabs and Muslims hate each other no less than they hate others. In the 1990s, over 200,000 citizens were killed in Algeria, most of them by extremist Islamic groups. What was the response of most of the Arabs and Muslims?
Presenting justifications for the murderers and terrorists. During those years, the Taliban movement also abused Shi’ites, Azeris, Tajikis, and other minorities, and no one did anything to stop it. In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, occupied it, and expelled its residents. What was the response of the Arabs and Muslims? Nothing. On the contrary: Most Arabs and Muslims supported Saddam. And in 1991, Saddam murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shi’ites and Kurds, and Arabs and Muslims did not condemn it.
These days, Arab militias, supported by the Khartoum government, are continuing their racist campaign of annihilation against the African Muslims in Darfour. In Iraq, al-Zarqawi and the terror groups affiliated with him are slaughtering Shi’ites and blowing up their mosques and their schools, after declaring war on them. In both cases, none of the Arabs or the Muslims are acting to prevent this, or even to condemn the deeds.
In total, during a single decade alone no less than half a million Arab and Muslim victims were murdered by Arabs and Muslims. In addition, the religious, ethnic and national minorities in the Arab world, Shi’ites, Isma’ilis, Jews and Christians have been subject to humiliation, persecution, as characterized by racism.
The United States response to terror attacks of September 11, 2001, was aimed at accomplishing three goals:
First, to strike a crushing blow against the al-Qa’idah’ and its allies in the Taliban in Afghanistan. This goal was accomplished;
Second, to destroy the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein and of the fascist Ba’th party in Iraq. This goal too was accomplished;
Third, to spread democracy and freedom in the Middle East. This project will continue for decades to come, but will it succeed?
The first blow infuriated the Islamists; the second blow infuriated the pan-Arab nationalists; and the third blow infuriated the Arab regimes. Gradually, an unofficial alliance emerged between these three parties, with the long-term goal to thwart the new American policy.
Since this alliance is too weak to respond militarily, it responds in the media, the educational systems and the mosques with propaganda, as to distort the image of the U.S. in order to make the Arab citizens loathe everything American. This [propaganda] machine operated at full power in order to brainwash the Arab citizens, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in order to fan the hatred against the U.S. (Mideast Transparent, October 25, 2005: MEMRI, no. 1016, November 2, 2005).
The Liberal Tunisian Dr. Iqbal al-Gharbi, in an article titled “Whither the Arabs and Muslims in the Age of Forgiveness and Pardon?”
The Muslims must take responsibility for their past, must stop blaming others, and must be self-critical. We still insist that we are always the victims, and that we are always innocent. Our history is angelic, our imperialism was a welcome conquest, our invaders were liberators, our violence was a holy jihad, our murderers were Shuhada’, and our defective understanding of the Qura’n and the daily violation of the rights of women, children, and minorities were a tolerant Shari’ah.
Since our societies have known, to date, only a culture of resentment, of hatred, and of seeking vengeance [the question arises] whether we are capable of reconsolidating cultural, moral, and humane relations with the other? Is it possible for us to abandon our current cultural heritage that is full of great illusions and of denigration of the other? There is no doubt that aggression, invasions, and wild acts of annihilation are engraved in human history and widespread across the globe amongst both Muslims and non-Muslims.
But what differentiates us today from others is the extent of our awareness of history… and the extent to which we justify in the name of Islam. What is happening today is an attempt to falsify our history in line with the extreme Islamist movements that call for a return to the illusion of the purity of the era of the first caliphs.
This comes at a time when the historical facts show clearly that the [early Islamic] state that we ennoble with an idyllic nature was a state of civil strife. Why are we hiding the facts and misleading our children? Why don’t we call things by their name, and set them in their historical context? Why do we insist on beautifying our history and on living outside it?
The new ideological atmosphere obliges us to adopt human rights, and to treat these rights as a cultural value and as an achievement – not as merely a tactical maneuver, waiting for a change in the international balance of power, or for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. We must take a number of practical steps: we must renounce, once and for all, the Islam that is awash with accusations of unbelief and treachery that divides the world into the camp of Islam and the camp of unbelief, the camp of war and the camp of peace.
This division destroys any serious dialogue between religions and cultures. We must renounce the dhimmi laws, and apologize to the Christian and the Jewish minorities. We must put an end to our changing of the facts, and to the miserable fabrications that we created in an attempt to prove that these minorities enjoyed a high status in the Islamic state. We must assess Islamic history objectively, and issue an historic public apology to the Africans who were abducted, enslaved, and expelled from their homes.
The Arabs and the Muslims played a sizeable role in this loathsome trade. They alone caused the uprooting of 20 million people, from among the victims of the slave trade. We must apologize to the religious minorities and the small schools of Islamic thought, such as the Isma’ili, the Bahai, the Alawi, and the Druze, for the humiliation and denigration they suffered. Why don’t the Sunnis ask forgiveness from the Shi’ites for the slaughter at Karbala, and for the assassination of Hussein [the grandson of Muhammad], so as to bring to an end the painful past.
By bearing responsibility for our deeds and mistakes, we will abandon our narcissistic self-aggrandizement. Psychology teaches us that every person and every cultural group becomes more mature as it moves from the stage of placing responsibility and blame on others to the stage of self-examination and self-criticism (Metransparent, October 17, 2005: MEMRI, no. 1019 – November 4, 2005).
Regarding its years-long policy of granting safe haven to Muslim extremists; enabling them to spread their ideas in schools, mosques, and the media; giving them legal protection, in the name of freedom of expression and individual rights; and increased criticism of the “silent Muslim majority” and “moderate Muslim intellectuals”, who capitulate to Islamist pressure and do not speak out decisively. Europe must change its lenient treatment of Muslim extremists. Saudi intellectual Mashari al-Dhaydi wrote:
The time has come for those who turn a blind eye to notice that the enemies of freedom have, unfortunately, exploited the atmosphere of freedom provided by the European countries, to spread religious fanaticism everywhere. People who disseminate the ideological and political platform of bin Laden are the greatest enemies of the freedom that the European countries defend. Fundamentalist terrorism knows no borders, and it also threaten the West (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 12, 2005).
‘Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed, director-general of the al-‘Arabiya TV channel, called for the expulsion of Muslim extremists:
For over 10 years now, we have warned against the dangers of leniency, not tolerance, in handling the extremism that is now spreading like a plague among Muslims in Britain. We were never understood why British authorities gave safe haven to suspicious characters previously involved in crimes of terrorism. Why would Britain grant asylum to Arabs who have been convicted of political crimes or religious extremism, or even sentenced to death? The terrorist groups make the most of freedom of speech and movement, by spreading extremist propaganda.
The time has come for British authorities to be realistic and resolute regarding extremism, before complete chaos is unleashed onto British society. In the past, we told you: ‘Stop them!’ Today, we tell you: ‘Expel them’ (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 9, 2005).
Incitement on the Internet must be stopped. One terrorist group murders and a group of extremists justify the act, incite, and recruit others. The Internet has become a main tool for the terrorists. This is the most important and effective medium in corrupting Muslims’ thinking. The source of intellectual danger today is the media, as a whole, including the Internet. It must be censored (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 18, 2005).
Arab columnist Diana Mukkaled writes that The BBC ”Panorama” special dealt with Islamic leaders in Britain who expressed their support for suicide operations against Israeli civilians yet condemned the London attacks. The questions that preoccupy Europe today is who are the enemies living among us; why do they label others as infidels; and why do they hate us?
British Muslim leaders expressed their viewpoints with the belief that ‘We are the believers and the people of paradise and they are the unbelievers and the people of hell’. Such is a language that is present on a daily basis and hardly any [Arab] broadcasting channels are free of such dispute. Yet within the minds of those who propagate these acts, lies the belief that the world will not heed their message when repeated in Arabic on Arab broadcasting channels.
These people will use different terminology when speaking in English on foreign television networks. The world is closely watching of what is written and broadcast in all Arab media. Therefore when a Muslim clerics referring Jews as “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs,” it is inevitable that such words will reach millions of people around the world. The problem does not lie in what the BBC said, but rather in what we say (al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 1, 2005).
The Islamist’s answer to the liberals’ criticism came from British Islamist Dr. ‘Azzam al-Tamimi. On August 29, 2005, he argued that Muslim critics are Islam’s worst enemies, whereas support from non-Islamic sympathizers is Islam’s greatest asset. He calls these liberal writers “traitors” and says that without their help, “Blair and Bush, and the leaders of Australia and New Zealand, would not have dared to act impudently toward Islam and the Muslims… but for the traitors among us,” who help them in a “frenzied attempt to destroy Islam.” In a BBC interview al-Tamimi stated: sacrificing myself for Palestine is a noble cause. It is the straight way to pleasing Allah, and I would do it if I had the opportunity” (BBC interview: November 2, 2004. al-Quds al-‘Arabi, MEMRI, September 7, 2005. No. 980).
al-Tamimi’s argument echoes a similar accusation by sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, the head of the Islamist al-Muhajirun movement in Britain, who was deported to Lebanon. He termed “the notorious fundamentalist” by the London Arabic-language daily al-Sharq al-Awsat. In his interview, Bakri said: “The Muslim community in Britain allows itself to join the British intelligence, security, and army. Therefore, I consider them responsible before Allah…” He also said, “I accuse those recruited by the British government, and they must account for their actions before Allah.”
There is no doubt that the forces of the extreme right and the racist movements and the Zionist lobby in this democratic system have been full of rancor and hatred, and that these events gave them the opportunity to spew their venom. while they justify the violations of human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law, under the pretext of fighting Islamic extremism and terrorism. Despite their small numbers, they are widespread, and the danger posed by those traitors, who reside in the liberal democratic countries is even higher than the rulers of Arab countries. These traitors are a far cry from the giants of the British left, Ken Livingstone and the fighter George Galloway who has allied himself with Muslims. The traitors are a small group full of envy and rancor. In our long-term war of defense against injustice and aggression, we will find in our midst leaders, politicians, writers, and academics standing in the other camp against us. They are the enemy (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 30, 2005).
The Director of MEMRI Reform Project, has summed up the situation of the few Arab Intellectuals and reformists, stating that they are under threat by the Islamists. The restrictions placed on intellectuals’ freedom of expression in the Arab world and the death threats from Islamists are hampering the activities of reformist, secular, and moderate Arab intellectuals. Many of them have found asylum in Western countries, and are attempting to impact Arab and international public opinion from there. Some have stopped writing; others have been forced to request protection from the authorities (MEMRI, November 23, 2005, no. 254). This horrific situation has much worsened through the years to 2016:
Muhammad Sa’id al-‘Ashmawi, an Egyptian judge and author, threatened for his interpretation of Quoraanic verses according to their historical context, which was perceived by Islamists as undermining their religious validity.
Dr. Ahmad Al-Baghdadi, a reformist author who teaches political science at Kuwait University, published a public request for political asylum in a Western country. Accused of contempt for Islam, after he wrote in June 2004, in a Kuwaiti paper, that he would prefer his son study music rather than Qur’an. Claimed that there is a connection between studying Islam and reciting the Qur’an, and terrorism and intellectual backwardness.
Lafif al-Akhdar, accused of an anti-Islamic book defaming Muhammad. He issued a call urging civil society organizations around the world, and especially human rights organizations, to take legal measures to protect him. His chief accuser is Rashed al-Ghanushi, one of the extremist Islamists who enjoys political asylum in Britain, incites extremist Islamists to kill al-Akhdar.
Sayyed Al-Qimni, an Egyptian reformist author and researcher received death threats from Islamists, announced in July 2005, that he was retracting everything he had written in the past, and would no longer write or appear in the media. He had been spared a fate similar to that of the assistant editor of the al-Ahram, Ridha Hilal, who disappeared in August 2003 and the Egyptian security services have been unable to locate him or to discover what befell him.
Arab intellectual reaction to this was: what is the difference between killing a man with a gun and issuing a fatwah permitting his killing? We all know how these stories end: somebody accuses someone else of heresy and a third person, seeking reward in the hereafter, physically eliminates the one accused of heresy. The clerics who incite to terrorism are inciting the Muslim youth to carry out suicide acts and to murder innocent people. This is an incitement to murder the free intellectuals who call for democracy, secularism, and modernism. This is a religious terrorism.
Dr. Shaker al-Nabulsi accused Arab governments, which cannot do anything when it comes to clerics who sanction bloodshed. What have the Arab authorities done about Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi? What have the Western governments done about Rashed Al-Ghanushi, who lives in London? And what has Saudi Arabia done about the 26 clerics who published a fatwah legitimizing jihad in Iraq, which is, in essence, pure terrorism?
The international community should establish an international tribunal to try these people. The terror against the intellectuals reveals the cultural bankruptcy of the Arab regimes and of the Arab peoples. By Allah, the West should not be condemned for thinking that every Muslim is a terrorist, when it sees all these shameful deeds and the Muslims remain as silent as the dead.
The martyrs of free thought are such as Farag Foda [an Egyptian intellectual who was assassinated by fundamentalists] Hussein Muruwwa and Mahdi ‘Amel [Lebanese intellectuals who were assassinated by fundamentalists], Mahmoud Taha [a Sudanese intellectual who was executed by Hassan al-Turabi], Ahmad Al-Baghdadi [a Kuwaiti intellectual who was jailed for his views].
Shifting Middle Eastern sands spotlight diverging US-Saudi interests
A series of Gulf and Middle East-related developments suggest that resolving some of the Middle East’s most debilitating and devastating crises while ensuring that efforts to pressure Iran do not perpetuate the mayhem may be easier said than done. They also suggest that the same is true for keeping US and Saudi interests aligned.
Optimists garner hope from the fact that the US Senate may censor Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for the October 2 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul; the positive start of Yemeni peace talks in Sweden with an agreement to exchange prisoners, Saudi Arabia’s invitation to Qatar to attend an October 9 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh, and a decision by the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut production.
That optimism, however, may not be borne out by facts on the ground and analysis of developments that are likely to produce at best motion rather than movement. In fact, more fundamentally, what many of the developments suggest is an unacknowledged progressive shift in the region’s alliances stemming in part from the fact that the bandwidth of shared US-Saudi interests is narrowing.
There is no indication that, even if Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani decides to accept an invitation by Saudi king Salman to attend the GCC summit rather than send a lower level delegation or not attend at all, either the kingdom or the United Arab Emirates, the main drivers behind the 17-month old economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state, are open to a face-saving solution despite US pressure to end to the rift.
Signalling that the invitation and an earlier comment by Prince Mohammed that “despite the differences we have, (Qatar) has a great economy and will be doing a lot in the next five years” do not indicate a potential policy shift, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash insisted that the GCC remained strong despite the rift. “The political crisis will end when the cause behind it ends and that is Qatar’s support of extremism and its interference in the stability of the region.,” Mr. Gargash said, reiterating long-standing Saudi-UAE allegations.
Similarly, United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Sweden convened with the help of the United States may at best result in alleviating the suffering of millions as a result of the almost four-year old Saudi-UAE military intervention in Yemen but are unlikely to ensure that a stable resolution of the conflict is achievable without a lowering of tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Even humanitarian relief remains in question with the parties in Sweden unable to agree on a reopening of Sana’a airport to facilitate the flow of aid.
More realistically, with the Trump administration, backed by Saudi Arabia and Israel, determined to cripple Iran economically in a bid to force it to alter its regional policies, if not change the regime in Tehran, chances are the Yemeni conflict will be perpetuated rather than resolved.
To Yemen’s detriment, Iran is emerging as one of the foremost remaining shared US-Saudi interests as the two countries struggle to manage their relationship in the wake of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. That struggle is evident with the kingdom’s Washington backers divided between erstwhile backers-turned-vehement critics like Republican senator Graham Lindsey and hardline supporters such as national security advisor John Bolton. The jury is out on who will emerge on top in the Washington debate.
The risks of the Saud-Iranian rivalry spinning out of control possibly with the support of hardliners like Mr. Bolton were evident in this week’s suicide bombing in the Iranian port of Chabahar, an Indian-backed project granted a waiver from US sanctions against the Islamic republic to counter influence of China that support the nearby Pakistani port of Gwadar.
Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Revolutionary Guards spokesman Brigadier General Ramadan Sharif suggested without providing evidence that Saudi Arabia was complicit in the attack that targeted the city’s police headquarters, killing two people and wounding 40 others.
Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the Guards, said the attack was the work of Ansar al-Furqan, an Iranian Sunni jihadi group that Iran claims enjoys Saudi backing.
Iran’s allegation of Saudi complicity is partly grounded in the fact that a Saudi thinktank linked to Prince Mohammed last year advocated fuelling an insurgency in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan that incudes Chabahar in a bid to thwart the port development while Mr. Bolton before becoming US President Donald J. Trump’s advisor called for US support of ethnic minorities in Iran.
In a bid to create building blocks for the fuelling of ethnic insurgencies in Iran, Pakistani militants have said that Saudi Arabia had in recent years poured money into militant anti-Iranian, anti-Shiite madrassas or religious seminaries in the Pakistani province of Balochistan that borders on Sistan and Baluchistan.
The divergence of US-Saudi interests, agreement on Iran notwithstanding, was on display in this week’s defeat of a US effort to get the UN General Assembly to condemn Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s denunciation of Hamas as a terrorist organization and its demand that Qatar halt support of it, voted against the resolution.
The vote suggested that Mr. Trump may be hoping in vain for Saudi backing of his as yet undisclosed plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that is believed to be slanted towards Israel’s position.
Saudi ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said the defeated UN resolution would “undermine the two-state solution which we aspire to” and divert attention from Israel’s occupation, settlement activities and “blockade” of territories occupied during the 1967 Middle East war.
Saudi Arabia’s changing status and the divergence of longer-term US-Saudi interests was also evident in this week’s OPEC meeting in Vienna.
To get an OPEC deal on production levels, the kingdom, once the oil market’s dominant swing producer, needed an agreement with non-OPEC member Russia on production levels as well as Russian assistance in managing Iranian resistance, suggesting
The agreement, moreover, had to balance Mr. Trump’s frequently tweeted demand for lower prices, and the kingdom’s need for higher ones to fund its budgetary requirements and Prince Mohammed’s ambitious economic reforms and demonstrate that the Khashoggi affair had not made it more vulnerable to US pressure.
The emerging divergence of US-Saudi interests in part reflects a wider debate within America’s foreign policy community about what values the United States and US diplomats should be promoting.
With some of Mr. Trump’s ambassadorial political appointees expressing support for populist, nationalist and authoritarian leaders and political groups, the fact that some of the president’s closest Congressional allies back the anti-Saudi resolution illustrates that there are red lines that a significant number of the president’s supporters are not willing to cross.
All told, recent developments in the Middle East put a spotlight on the changing nature of a key US relationship in the Middle East that could have far-reaching consequences over the middle and long-term. It is a change that is part of a larger, global shift in US priorities and alliances that is likely to outlive Mr. Trump’s term(s) in office.
Qatar’s decision to leave OPEC
The Emirate of Qatar will leave OPEC as from January 1, 2019.
The primary reason for this choice is the Emirate’s project to become the world leader in the natural gas market, raising its production from 77 million tons per year to 110 million tons. However, there is obviously also a geopolitical and energy decision underlying Qatar’s current choice.
This is the Emirate’s final response to the boycott and blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia on Qatar in June 2017, with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen, Maldives, the Libyan GNA, Egypt and Jordan – based on Saudi Arabia’s generic accusation whereby Qatar was supposed to sponsor and support “terrorism” on its own.
The blockade was imposed two days after President Trump had met as many as 55 Heads of Arab and Muslim countries to build a sort of NATO equivalent, always against “terrorism” – an alliance to be set up immediately to counteract, above all, the Shiite and Iranian danger.
Let us leave aside the twenty-eight pages taken from the report of the US Senate on September 11, which would definitively prove the connection between those Al-Qaeda operatives and the Saudi regime – as well as the many multiannual reports of private and public funding to the jihadists and finally the lines of credit opened again by eminent citizens of the Wahhabi Kingdom in favour of Al Baghdadi’s Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate.
The Saudis, however, are too rich not to be believed, especially by the USA – hence the great blockade on Qatar succeeded also with the support of some Western countries.
For the whole Middle East, their troops, like the US ones, reported to CENTCOM, at the Al Udeid base having its headquarters precisely in Qatar.
The strategic characteristics of Qatar, which today wants to build its autonomous natural gas organization – independent of the oil one of OPEC, which does not deal with gasand is, however, dominated by Saudi Arabia – are many and particularly interesting: firstly, the Qatari people are probably the richest citizens in the world.
If we assume that the Americans’ average income is 100, that of Qatari citizens is 187.4.
Just about the size of the Falkland Islands, the Emirate has 1.9 million residents, with a very high and growing share of immigrants.
From 2000 to 2010 the Emirate’s economy grew by a 12.9% average per year.
Its future growth up to 2022 is expected to be 18% higher than the current one.
There is also an interesting geopolitical sign: Qatar participated – with great commitment – in the Western operations against Gaddafi by supporting, in particular, the black market of Cyrenaica’s oil, together with the Turkish intelligence services.
Nevertheless Qatar supports also some “rebel” jihadist Syrian groups against Assad, thus doing half a favour to US allies – while hosting, since 2013, a political office of the Afghan Taliban, which is well known and also frequented by the US intelligence service operatives.
Qatar’s global industrial and financial investments, however, are manifold.
Through its sovereign fund, the Emirate owns significant shareholdings of the Agricultural Bank of China – and certainly the Qatari decision to leave OPEC has been blessed by China. It also has shareholding in the Airbus Group; the London Stock Exchange (15.1%); Volkswagen (17%); Lagardère, a large and diversified media and publishing company; the Paris St.Germain football club; the Virgin megastore; the HBSC, one of the largest banking groups in the world; Credit Suisse (5.2%) and Veolia, a French water and gas utility and service company.
Not to mention the countless real estate operations: Porta Nuova in Milan; Westin Excelsior in Rome; Gallia in Milan; Costa Smeralda in Sardinia; Deutsche Bank; Barclay’s; Royal Dutch Shell; Tiffany; Siemens; the Heathrow airport; Walt Disney and the Empire State Building.
In addition to many other shareholdings not mentioned in this paper.
However, it has also a 3% shareholding of Total, which for Italy is an extremely important sign; a majority shareholding of the Miramax entertainment and movie company, as well as shareholdings in Rosneft, the Russian giant of natural gas and raw materials, and in the big five-year project for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in Germany and in the EU – a 30 billion US dollar project, of which 10 invested for Germany alone.
Therefore, between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in the fight between oil producers and natural gas extractors, there is a real war for the hegemonic conquest of technologically advanced areas and of Europe, in particular, with a view to definitely acquiring markets and using their diversification opportunities.
Moreover, Qatar is at least as rich in natural gas as Iran (and, together with the Shiite Republic, it participates in the exploitation of the South Pars II marine field), but also as the Russian Federation.
The new Qatar-centred “gas OPEC” means, therefore, that there is no longer the US-friendly Sunni oil OPEC, precisely the one that organized the great petrodollar recycling started after Egypt and Syria’s Yom Kippur war against Israel in 1973.
Oil recycling at a “high” price against the US dollars which, after the end of the Bretton Woods agreements, led to the new hegemony of the US currency and its inappropriate exchange rate, despite its internal fundamentals.
“The dollar is our currency, but it is your problem”, FED Governor Paul Volcker said to his fellow Governors of the European Central Banks.
At that time, there was not yet the weak and irresolute timidity of the Euro to make the picture more complex.
The European currency is not a lender of last resort, but it plays the game of the global currency as an alternative to the US dollar, with the operational results we can imagine.
It is therefore no mere coincidence that the only strategic uses of the Euro were the minimum Iranian ones, in the oil Stock Exchanges of the islands in the Persian Gulf, or the more paraded than real ones by Saddam Hussein.
In essence, reverting to the geopolitical sense of the very recent Qatari decision to leave OPEC, this means that the 600,000 barrels/day of oil extracted from Qatar are considered fully marginal by it and certainly can never compete with Saudi Arabia’s 11 million barrels/day of Saudi Arabia.
Qatar plays the game with its natural gas – it does not play its oil cards.
The current Qatari operation, however, implies a strategic choice in the near future, which could be the creation of a “gas OPEC” with Russia and Iran, in view of a doubling of the LPG prices in 2019, with China becoming the world’s LPG top consumer and the USA the world’s top oil extractor, albeit with the new and expensive shale techniques, which generate profits only with high oil barrel prices.
Or an economic and financial alliance between Qatar, China, Japan and Russia, which could marginalize the dollar area by reducing it to oil.
At geopolitical level, this will certainly mean greater instability – not necessarily fully peaceful – between the Emirate and the Saudi Kingdom, while the former will invest – also within the EU – in the industrial processing of LPG, which mainly regards plastics, resins and all synthetic products from hydrocarbons.
If Russia – which also plays on the Saudi table – will be able to control its oil production, in line with the Sunni OPEC, the Qatari operation will be successful, but only for the creation of the new LPG market, and Qatar will not affect the positions already reached by Saudi Arabia and its allies.
Conversely, if Russia and Iran increase oil production, the pro-Saudi OPEC will definitely collapse and the African, Indonesian and South American production areas shall look for other regional cartels and, hence, for other geopolitical axes.
Furthermore, the bilateral relationship between the USA and Saudi Arabia will be put to an end, given the new US production and oil power, its global exporting capacity and, finally, its autonomy from the Middle East political and financial cycles.
Moreover, according to the Emir’s policy lines, the Qatari economy is focused on attracting and accumulating foreign investments, especially after the 2017 blockade, which has attracted much capital from Asia and the Middle East itself, in addition to the opening of new ports and the creation of new Special Economic Zones.
Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have used the so-called Arab “springs” to broaden their personal power and create strong competition among the Gulf countries.
Moreover, Qatar has used the phase following the Arab “springs” to redefine its traditional expansion axes: the special relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and its traditional link with Iran.
The Emirate, in fact, believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is the central axis of Arab politics and, hence, intends to support it.
While all the others repress it, in line with Saudi Arabia.
Even after the fall of the “Muslim Brotherhood” regime in Egypt – with the coup organized by Al Sisi in 2013 against Mohammed Morsi – Qatar keeps on supporting the fraternal Ikhwan or also Hamas and all the other organizations that have integrated into the global network of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Saudi tension with Qatar also results from the Qatari geo-economic link with Iran and, above all, from Iran’s economic growth after the 2014 JCPOA agreements on the Iranian nuclear capacity. Saudi Arabia wants to avoid said agreements leading to the economic, oil and military recovery of the Shiite Iran.
Furthermore it cannot be ruled out that, in the near future, Saudi Arabia – possibly supported by the USA, which now believes in every “counterterrorist” storytelling – even organizes a coup against Al-Thani and the current Qatari ruling elite.
The sequence of attempted and failed coups is already long.
It would be a geopolitical suicide, but it may happen.
Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries are now dependent on the remittances sent from Qatar by their fellow citizens to their homeland, even if, as countries, they sided with Saudi Arabia during the blockade imposed on Qatar in 2017.
Since the beginning, however, Tunisia refused to condemn Qatar (and Italy should be more careful to these infra-Islamic shifts), while Turkey – which operated with Qatar during the Libyan jihadist uprising – does not accept the Saudi diktat. The same obviously holds true for Iran and – probably less intuitively – for Oman.
After an ambiguous phase, even the Russian Federation – which had not well foreseen the internal conflict on Qatar within the Gulf Security Council in 2017 – has gradually linked itself to the Emirate, even without questioning its ties with Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, the United States has even discovered it still has a large military base in Qatar and hence cannot afford a worsening of the infra-Arab conflict and, above all, of the infra-Wahhabi conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Obviously the issue of relations between Qatar and “terrorism”, or the link between Qatar and Iran, is a completely uncertain and widely manipulated issue.
The Emir’s speech that expressed support for Iran and Hamas and criticized the other governments of the region – a speech that allegedly was to be held on May 23, 2017 – was never delivered. There had been announcements widely publicized by the Saudi and Emirates’ news agencies, but the Emir’ speech had never been delivered.
In this regard, the official Qatar’s news agency in Doha talked about the hacking of Qatari websites, but not even this is certain.
There is also the issue of the one billion US dollars paid as a ransom to “bandits” in Iraq by some members of the Emir’s family.
It is ascertained that part of that money arrived at the Syrian Al-Qaeda “section”, Jabhat Tahrir al Sham, with a share of funds that – not too strangely – later reached the Iranian government.
Certainly there is also the already-mentioned support for the Muslim Brotherhood and there are now ascertained links between the Ikhwan and some Iranian financial and political-military networks.
Everything is possible in the Middle East.
In Doha there is also a “historical” office of the Palestinians and also one of Hamas, which has always been an integral part of the Muslim Brotherhood, while it is certain that large amounts of money were sent by Qatar to the Egyptian Brotherhood during Morsi’s government and that the Ikhwan militias from every part of the Middle East were trained in Qatar.
Obviously, at least initially, the guerrilla warfare in Libya after Gaddafi’s fall was a clash between the forces supported by the Qatari intelligence services and those organized by the other Emirates, with a specific role played by Turkey – a loyal ally of Qatar – above all at economic level.
Westerners’ stupidity did the rest.
Moreover, Qatar also sent its troops so that the Sunnis could regain control in Bahrain during the 2011 Shiite uprising.
Nor should we forget that, apart from the Al Udeid US base in Qatar, Turkey itself is building its base in Qatar for as many as 5,000 soldiers – a base located in Tariq bin Ziyad, south of the capital city.
However, how does the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – the instrument of confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar – work?
Is it not affected – like OPEC – by an internal weakness that blocks it for any relevant decision?
The GCC was founded in 1981. However, the monetary union, which has been gradually abandoned by Oman and the Emirates, has never been reached.
And the GCC still regards Iran as an “imperialist” factor of radical destabilization of the Arabian peninsula, especially with the organization of Shiites in Saudi Arabia and in other areas of the Emirates.
The Shiites within the Saudi regime account for 15-20%, especially in the major oil extraction areas. Obviously the Saudi regime does not want to destabilize these areas and, above all, it does not want to break the link between the USA and the Sunni world of the Arabian Peninsula – a break that, in the near future, would lead to the victory of the Iranian Shiites.
Iran: Which way to go?
The US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), seriously hampered the chances for keeping the landmark accord in place.
The accord, signed in 2015 by the P5+1 group of countries — China, Germany, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — with Iran, requires Tehran to maintain a peaceful nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
According to the IAEA, Iran strictly abides by the terms of the JCPOA, while the international community is unable to do the same, no matter how much politicians in the EU and other countries would like to stick to its provisions – all because of US pressure.
Sadly, the United States has financial and economic levers to punish not only Iran, but also foreign companies doing business with the Islamic Republic. Given the choice of either maintaining business relations with the US and the rest of the world or with Iran alone, there is little wonder which of the two options they will go for. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they will do this under US pressure. Business always goes where the money is and sticking with the US looks a more profitable way to go. This is exactly what business-savvy Donald Trump is staking on.
In 2018, some 100 foreign companies, including big ones as Shell, Volkswagen, Daimler, Peugeot, Airbus, Total, PSA, Siemens, and Russia’s LUKOIL and Zarubezhneft, started pulling out of Iran even before the US sanctions, announced by President Trump in May, actually took effect. However, although bending under Washington’s pressure, the authors of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) as well as the European Union as a whole and many other countries around the world are still interested in keeping the nuclear accord alive. Why?
First, the JCPOA is a truly historic document which, possibly for the first time ever (not mentioning, of course, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – NPT) has curbed the nuclear ambitions of a particular country and put its nuclear program strictly in line with international laws and IAEA requirements. This is a vivid example of the world countries’ effective diplomatic work, which created a precedent of genuine confidence of the parties for the sake of preserving the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Secondly, Iran a leading player in the volatile region of Western Asia, which incorporates the Middle and Near East, the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea zone, and Central Asia.
Thirdly, it should be borne in mind that Iran is a powerful source of hydrocarbons, and that its territory is an important transit route for oil, natural gas and other products to the world market. A well-educated population and a relatively developed industry and agriculture attract the attention of world business. In addition, the 70-million-strong Iran, which boasts one of the world’s biggest militaries, is an important factor in West Asian and world politics.
What needs to be done to resist US sanctions and, thereby, save the JCPOA?
To solve this complex task, Iran and all countries willing to preserve the accord, above all Britain, France, Germany and the EU as a whole, should work together. This is already being done now with the direct and active participation of Russia and China.
Today, the main priorities are:
Providing legal assistance to companies doing business with Iran. The practical implementation of the EU-declared blocking statute, which declares null and void US sanctions against Iran on its territory, prohibits European companies from observing them, as well as implementing any decisions by foreign stemming from these sanctions. The blocking statute also allows European organizations to take legal action to make up for the losses incurred as a result of the implementation of sanctions at the expense of persons who caused these losses (meaning the US government).
It is also necessary to establish an independent payment system that would safeguard European businesses against US sanctions on Tehran (a special purpose vehicle, SPV, to facilitate financial transactions with Iran) with the possible involvement, among others, of the French and German central banks.
The EU is creating a special legal entity to carry out transactions with Iran. Other participants will be able to join in, which will allow European companies to work with Iran in keeping with European legislation – something like the SWIFT banking system, only on a European scale and based on the euro.
This will be an extremely difficult task for Europeans, both from “political” (a real challenge to the US) and technical standpoints. EU foreign policy chief, Frederica Mogherini, said: “The involvement of the Finance Ministers of the E3 [France, Germany, UK] is of key importance at this stage. They are working hard to finalize it. I cannot tell you a date, but I can tell you that work is continuing and is progressing in a positive manner.”
In his turn, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that this was fraught with problems.
“We need to redouble our efforts here and this is what we are doing now with both Europeans and Iranians.”
Meanwhile, the Iranians, who have so far been strictly implementing the terms of the 2015 nuclear accord, are losing faith in the EU’s ability to resolve the problem. Therefore, it may take several months to see whether this plan is really working.
Speeding up the process of shifting to the use of national currency in trade with Iran (primarily by Russia, China, India, Turkey, which have done this before) would be of much help to Tehran.
In order to move around the financial and banking hurdles erected by the United States, it would be advisable to enlist the help, whenever possible, of Islamic banks in Muslim countries for cash transactions to and from Iran. The Islamic banking system has its specific features that are hard to destroy from the outside, even by a financial superpower like the United States.
The same is true about small and medium-sized companies in Muslim countries used as intermediaries in financial transactions with Tehran. Moreover, it is small and medium businesses, and not necessarily in Muslim countries alone, that can play the main role in maintaining trade and other economic relations with Iran.
Therefore, it would be equally desirable for the EU to provide legal and financial assistance to small and medium-sized companies in Europe, which are willing to do business with Iran, and to shift the main load from big companies to medium and small firms for financial transactions with Iran in Euros. Even though they will hardly be able to completely replace the giant companies, small and medium-sized firms have all they need to offset at least part of the losses. According to Iranian estimates, Tehran hopes to establish business relations with many of the 23 million or so small and medium-scale enterprises in Europe in order to circumvent US sanctions. Moreover, Iran has good experience in getting around tough sanctions between 2012 and 2016.
What can Tehran do under these circumstances? First and foremost, it should establish a business triangle of Iran-EU, Islamic banks and Islamic small and medium-sized businesses, build close trade and economic partnership with European and other small and medium-sized businesses. This is quite feasible because the Americans will find it hard to keep an eye on a huge number of enterprises, much less trace their transactions in Euros, especially if the European Union contributes to such cooperation with Iran.
Iran’s Supreme Economic Coordination Council recently allowed the country’s private sector to sell crude oil abroad as a way of circumventing US sanctions. This is the first time the Iranian private companies have been granted permission to trade in oil. Tehran should avail itself of this opportunity as soon as possible.
As for Iran’s time-tested methods of tackling sanctions like, for example, the use of “ghost” oil tankers, which switch off their automatic identification system (AIS) transmitters not to disclose their route and destination, as well as selling “unrecorded” oil at reduced prices, I can assume that these methods have been used before and are being used today.
It seems that, in view of the situation at hand, Tehran should also recall its oil-for-goods project with Russia, prepared back in 2014, whereby Iran supplies oil to Russia (at least 100,000 barrels per day – about 5 million tons a year) in exchange for industrial equipment and machinery. Four years ago, the plan was never implemented in full because Iran, already withdrawing from the sanctions regime in keeping with the JCPOA, was no longer interested in it.
There was only one shipment made in November 2017, to the tune of 1 million tons. The project could be revived now. Russia’s Promsyryeimport, which is part of the Russian Energy Ministry and was created expressly with this project in mind, will implement the Russian side of the deal.
A program of developing two Iranian oil fields, Aban and Peydar, by Promsyryeimport (which replaced Zarubezhneft) and Iran’s Dana Energy Company, could also be considered.
Overall, the across-the-board cooperation between Russia and Iran against US sanctions could contribute very significantly to minimizing their impact.
Tehran will certainly put to maximum use the great potential of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which proved so effective during the period of hard-hitting sanctions of 2012-2016 and which controls between 25% and 35% of the country’s economy and 25% of all its capital.
In 2012-2016, the IRGC set up a large-scale system of circumventing the sanctions by controlling considerable “gray” financial flows to, through and out of Iran. IRGC intelligence was gathering information abroad about the “weak” spots in the sanctions system, about the most effective ways of circumventing sanctions, and was also obtaining data on new technologies Iran was not allowed to buy.
Iran and countries opposed to US sanctions against it are looking for ways to ease their impact. Even though completely neutralizing the negative effect of these sanctions will hardly be possible, a certain let-up is quite possible.
Well, the Iranian response to the US sanctions could at times be controversial, but Washington’s exit from the JCPOA and the US sanctions themselves are by no means legal either.
In October, President Hassan Rouhani warned that the previous four months had been a difficult time for the Iranians and that the coming few months would be equally hard. He said that the government would make every effort possible to tackle the situation. Meanwhile, Tehran says it will stick to the terms of the JCPOA as long as its other signatories (save for the US, of course) do the same. Can they do this?
The situation is complex and unpredictable. For Iran, much will depend on whether the JCPOA is kept alive without the US, if Tehran is able to maintain, albeit limited, financial and economic cooperation with foreign countries, primarily with small and medium-sized businesses, and whether it is satisfied with the results of this cooperation.
How will the sanctions, and especially the fall in oil production and exports, affect the national economy and the life of ordinary Iranians? A good question, given the impact the internal political situation can have on the alignment of political forces in the country.
The outcome of this struggle may not take too long coming. Maybe six months, when a European mechanism against Washington’s unlawful withdrawal from the JCPOA and the resumption of its sanctions on Iran is already in place and the deadline set by President Trump for the eight importers of Iranian oil has expired.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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