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The meeting between al-Sarraj and General Khalifa Haftar

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] L [/yt_dropcap]ast mid-February both the leader of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj, and the leader of the Libyan National Army – that is the leader of “Operation Dignity” – Khalifa Haftar, were in Cairo, but no one can still today check whether they actually met. Indeed, as far as we know, they did not, considering the real allergy that Haftar has for the leader of Tripoli’s GNA.

Again last mid-February, in the Egyptian capital city, al-Sarraj met the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Mahmoud Egazi, who deals with the Libyan dossier for the Egyptian President.

Egypt supports Haftar for many reasons: the presence of over 750,000 Egyptian workers in Libya – and, at Gaddafi’s time, they were at least 1.5 million, mainly Copts.

The other reasons are the tension in Sinai, now being jihadised; 1,200 kilometers of borders with Libya, which are very hard to keep under control; remittances from Libya to Egypt to the tune of 33 million US dollars a year, as well as a 75% decrease of bilateral trade.

Egypt will keep Libya united as long as it can, but it will certainly avoid the spreading of the Muslim Brotherhood (siding with al-Sarraj) and the various derived jihadist fraternities.

Great Britain, foolishly happy to have finally weakened Italy, cannot but support al-Sarraj, while France, which thinks also about the Suez Canal, supports el-Sisi and hence also Haftar.

Haftar, however, did not meet with al-Sarraj, who was in Egypt – as we have seen – and the leader of “Operation Dignity” avoided seeing him.

Moreover, Tobruk’s Parliament has noted that “there is no moral nor material obligation” to respect the immigration memorandum between al-Sarraj’s government and Italy.

With whom are we talking in Libya? With the democratic-UN ghosts or with the “effectual truth of the matter” – just to quote Machiavelli?

Ultimately, we do not still know the reason why the United Nations, the European Union and many others take al-Sarraj and his government so seriously.

Furthermore, in honour of the mythical Western enlightened “secularism”, we wish to point out that respect for the Islamic law, namely the sharia, is the fifth of the 32 “principles” enshrined in the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat on December 17, 2015, which is at the basis of al-Sarraj’s current government.

On the other hand, al-Sarraj’s government relies on Turkey’s and Qatar’s support, while the Turkish diplomacy is led by Amrallah Ishlar, who travels perpetually back and forth between the various capital cities of current Libya.

Are we really sure that this strange Turkish activism is in Europe’s or, at least, Italy’s interest, considering that also France supports Haftar?

Are we sure that Turkey does not want also an Islamist pole on the Maghreb coast, graciously granted to it by Western stupidity – a pole controlling the Libyan African oil and the Mediterranean region?

The submission of NATO and EU interests to Turkey’s is now a painful mystery.

Do they want to support Turkey against the “tyrant” Assad, so that Syria becomes as pervious and porous as a sponge?

Do they want to imagine that instead of cooperating with Russia in Syria and the Middle East, Turkey is finally seduced by the immense Western stupidity?

Moreover Ahmed Mitig, one of al-Sarraj’s four deputies, does not consider important to fight Isis in Sirte which, for Tripoli’s government, clearly appears to be a useful buffer to protect itself from Haftar’s forces.

Now, with “Operation Dignity” in the Libyan oil crescent area, we realize all the importance of a power taking more action so as to have less UN-style talk and more military facts.

In 2011 only a perfect fool could imagine this Libyan scenario and both in France and Great Britain we found two useless idiots who, with a view to taking ENI away from us and putting an end to the disastrous project of the Union for the Mediterranean, set fire to the weakest point in Maghreb.

Moreover, as is well-known, al-Sarraj’s domestic allies in Tripoli are both the Salafists and the Muslim Brothers.

With a view to opposing Isis, we support its ideological progenitors, by trusting al-Sarraj’s red tie.

Since the insurgency against Gaddafi, the Muslim Brothers have systematically murdered at least 500 elite officers of the Libyan Armed Forces, in Benghazi only, while even today, in the United States, the obvious equation between Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist groups is denied by the US government.

Well done. Who do you think has spread the concept of Qur’an as the only law? Fear makes you do unthinkable things, but stupidity is even worse.

Furthermore, rumors are rife that in early 2016 the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda in Libya reached a political agreement – something which would only surprise the many people disinformed about the “sword” jihad.

Hence what is it? Blindness? Ignorance? Amateurism? A mix of all three.

The West – in the hands of the last master and of ruling classes and politicians who only see the poor (Arab) money – leaves to its enemies the lines of its final penetration and its complete defeat.

Moreover, so far al-Sarraj’s government – so dear to the United Nations and to the European Union – has failed to muster the support of Tripolitania’s Islamist militia led by Khalifa al-Ghweil or of Tobruk’s “House of Representatives” or, finally, of Cyrenaica’s government led by Al Thinni.

Hence, what is it for? For making Turkey do business? For supporting Qatar, which invests massively in our companies?

Furthermore, “Libya Dawn” militias do not support al-Sarraj yet, but only obey to al-Ghweil, while both Haftar and Tobruk’s forces have successfully countered, with weapons in their hands, any attempt by Al Sarraj’s few military forces – especially those of the Muslim Brotherhood – to conquer Cyrenaica’s oil districts.

And, indeed, we paid al-Sarraj’ soldiers.

Hence, even assuming it may lead to some results, the Abu Dhabi meeting will be a success only for General Khalifa Haftar, who will show to al-Sarraj such a mediation line not to make him be overthrown (no one has an interest in replacing an absolute nobody) and avoid his uprising in Tripoli, which – however – would not go beyond the second floor of the building – in front of the port – hosting the GNA, so dear to the United Nations and its ignorant leaders.

Nobody knows what would happen if al-Sarraj were to go to the bathroom on the first floor without being protecting by his bodyguards.

According to some anonymous sources, during the two hours of private talks in Abu Dhabi, the two leaders accepted to hold Parliamentary and presidential elections within 2018.

Again according to these sources, Al-Sarraj accepted to support the appointment – by March 2018 – of General Haftar to serve as provisional President of the new future Libyan Republic, in addition to leading a national unity government with all the forces on the field to manage the upcoming elections.

Al-Sarraj feels he is weak and understands that – as Mao Zedog would have said – the EU and the UN are two “paper tigers”. Hence he is endeavouring to survive his non-existent Tripoli’s government.

Moreover, the crime organizations which handle migrant trafficking have been fully eradicated from the coastal areas where Haftar’s “Operation Dignity” rules, while they thrive on the other shores.

This too would be a sign to consider if a quite responsible a skillful government ruled in Italy.

Nevertheless, we doubt that – despite the professional competence and intelligence of the Minister for Internal Affairs, Marco Minniti – the current government wants to get to the root of the matter.

They are too weakened by the talk about al-Sarraj’s “legitimate power”, created only upon their own request.

As many readers may recall, al-Sarraj’s Libyan Presidential Council, created in March 2016 and located in the base of Abu Sittah, near Tripoli, relied on the Libyan Political Agreement signed on December 17, 2015, which appointed only nine members of al-Sarraj’s government, with no other signatures in support of it.

Westerners are divided like the Libyan forces inside the country. In its magnificent blindness, the United States supports only Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA) and its President, al-Sarraj.

Do not ask us why – it is just a leap of faith.

Tripoli-Abu Sittah’s government also wants “to fight against people’s traffickers and to repress ISIS in Sirte”, but we know that so far these two goals have only been reached by Haftar.

France supports Haftar because it wants to avoid spreading the contagion to Senegal, Gambia, Niger and Morocco.

And it still has interests between the Horn of Africa and the Suez Canal.

No UN nonsense or foolishness will distract France’s attention from its bilateral relations with Egypt.

As is well-known, also the Russian Federation supports Haftar and there will soon be a Russian base in Cyrenaica and a Russian power projection onto the Western Mediterranean region.

Hence, with Tripoli-Abu Sittah’s government, it is as if Andorra wanted to rule over France or Spain.

However, the agreement finally signed in Rome on March 28 last between the Tuaregh, Tebu and Awlad Suleiman tribes – all operating south of Libya – to stop the trafficking of human beings and stabilize the country is good news.

Nevertheless the Russian Foreign Minister, Lavrov, is perfectly right in supporting “inclusive dialogue and avoiding betting on a single force only”.

What is surprising, however, is the fact that the United Nations and, above all, the European Union have not yet realized it.

The Italian Foreign Minister, Angelino Alfano, believes that “dialogue is positive” and that “also Haftar should be given a role”.

He is certainly right, but the role played by the General of “Operation Dignity” is now clear, while al-Sarraj’s role remains inevitably on the back of the stage.

Hence what should be done?

Simple actions should be taken. Convening a Conference in Rome, whether the UN or the pro-EU useless hierarchies like it or not.

Negotiating a clean-cut and militarily clear delimitation of internal lines and strictly order all Libyan parties to hold elections by and no later than October 2017.

Defining one single national unity government, which shall be established after the local elections.

Creating not a multitude of sympathetic amateurs at war, but a series of effective NATO outposts between the various factions.

Thanks to the idiots that have fragmented and disrupted it, Libya is now only a land of factions.

We should know it and try to separate the military groups, even harshly.

Libya is no longer the country created by Italo Balbo’s Mazzinian genius or the nation built by Gaddafi’s iron will.

Certainly, the leader of Tripoli’s government, Khalifa al-Ghweil, did not allow al-Sarraj and the UN envoy, Kobler, to land in Mitiga, the only airport in the capital city.

While Tripoli’s President does not rule even in his city, Italy and the other naïve supporters of Kant’s perpetual peace refuse to have relations with the only Prince having Weapons – just to quote Machiavelli – namely Haftar, because Cyrenaica’s government, to which the General refers and reports, is a friend of the Russian Federation.

Cyrenaica has already established an “Eastern” branch of the National Oil Company (NOC), the only company authorized by the UN to sell Libyan oil, which – on April 25 last – immediately ordered a sale of 650,000 barrels, loaded on the Indian ship Distya Ameya in the port of Malta, to be sold through a company of the United Arab Emirates.

After UN pressures, the Indian ship returned to Libya, but now the oil split is an objective fact.

In all likelihood, the idea of General Haftar and of Tobruk’s leader, Al Thinni, is to set the precedent of Cyrenaica’s autonomy similar to that of Iraqi Kurdistan.

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

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Turkish Newspaper Implicates UAE’s Crown Prince in Covering Up Murder of Khashoggi

Eric Zuesse

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud, and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, are close friends and allies, who jointly lead the war against Houthi-led Yemen. On Sunday afternoon, November 18th, a leading Turkish newspaper, Yeni Şafak, reported the two leaders to have also collaborated in hiding the murder on October 2nd in Istanbul of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Yeni Şafak headlined “Dahlan ‘cover-up team’ from Lebanon helps hide traces of Khashoggi murder” and reported that on October 2nd, “A second team that arrived in Istanbul to help cover-up the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was dispatched by Muhammed Dahlan, UAE Crown Prince Muhammed bin Zayed’s chief hitman in the region, … according to an informed source who spoke to Yeni Şafak daily on the condition of anonymity.”

On November 16th, the Washington Post had headlined “CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination”.

Bin Salman and bin Zayed are U.S. President Donald Trump’s closest foreign allies other than, possibly, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. All four men are determined that there be regime-change in Shiite Iran. This anti-Shia position bonds them also against the Houthis, who are Shiites, in Yemen, where bin Salman and bin Zayed lead the war, and the United States provides the training, logistics, and weapons. Both bin Salman and bin Zayed are fundamentalist Sunnis who are against Shia Muslims. Israel and the United States are allied with these two princes. Saudi Arabia’s royal family have been committed against Shia Muslims ever since 1744 when the Saud family made a pact with the fundamentalist Sunni preacher Mohammed ibn Wahhab, who hated Shia Muslims. Thus, Saudi Arabia is actually Saudi-Wahhabi Arabia, with Sauds running the aristocracy, and Wahhabists running the clergy.

In 2017, in Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh, Trump sold, to the Saudi Crown Prince, initially, $350 billion of U.S.-made weapons over a ten-year period (the largest weapons-sale in world history), and $110 billion in just the first year. That deal was soon increased to $404 billion. For Trump publicly to acknowledge that Salman had “ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination” would jeopardize this entire deal, and, perhaps, jeopardize the consequent boom in America’s economy. It also would jeopardize the U.S. alliance’s war against Shiites in Yemen.

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Revisiting the Qatari crisis

Ahmed Genidy

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In 2017 the dispute between Qatar and a number of its neighbours Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Oman has considered as the most serious crisis since years and could escalate in the future to destabilise an already turbulent region. The Qatari support to the extremist parties and terrorist entities in the region is the apparent reason, however, conflicting of interest between Qatar and the other states about the Iranian relations, the political Islam and the competition over the regional leadership are the main reasons. Egypt, Oman and the UAE with the leadership of Saudi Arabia withdrawing diplomats, closing borders, announcing a number of Qatari citizens as terrorist supporters and place an embargo on Qatar and most of its interests and businesses in the region.

The primary reason for the Saudi’s camp blockade is the Qatari politically and financially support for violent extremist groups often affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood which considers as a real threat for the other GCC states in particular because of the ability of these group to create a secretive organisation with extreme religious behaviour. However, Qatar is relatively weaker in terms of politically and militarily than the Saudi’s camp, but it has continued to support its Islamist allies for many reasons: ideological sympathy; a believe that political Islam could reflect into Qatar’s influence in the region; a desire to challenge the traditional regional influence especially Saudi Arabia and its followers. In addition, Qatar has used its owned media tool the Aljazeera channel to magnify the Muslim Brotherhood influence and to criticise leaders in Cairo, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi which has been the major thorn in the relations.

The Qatari-Iranian close tie is the second source of tension which seen by other GCC states as a threat to the stability and even the existence of the Sunni majority states in the Gulf. The growing Qatari Iranian relation is evident in many occasions such as the Qatari voting against the UNSC resolution that calling on Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment project and the signing of Qatari Iranian agreement in counterterrorism cooperation which is a Qatar approach to benefit from the Iranian forces due to the modest Qatari military capability. Moreover, the Amir of Qatar called the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and congratulated him on his re-election on April 2017. Finally, Qatar paid the amount of $700 for Kataab Hezbollah Iraq (Iranian baked militia) for the exchange of a member of the Qatari royal family who has been a hostage in Iraq, (probably falsely) was the act that irritated most of the GCC states and triggering the crisis.

The Trump’s administration policy in the region gives Riyad, Cairo and Abu Dhabi the green light to punish Qatar for its support to the Islamic movement. Trump expressed a passive acceptance to the Saudi and its allies in an attempt to contain the greedy Iranian strategy in the region and to confront the rising of the radical Islam. However, it seems that Saudi and its allies are unqualified for such a containment scheme to Iran the giant regional power. Trump also took credit on Twitter and describe the Qatari Amir as “high-level founder of terrorism.” Thus, the blockade can see as an attempt from the Saudi’s camp to push Qatar back to the line, an opportunity to satisfy their allies in Washington and to shift the public opinion to the Qatari issues instead of many internal issues and shortcoming.

The crisis involved a number of unpredictable stakeholders with huge interests in the region which could turn the situation into uncontrollable in many ways. The blockade camp clearly desires that Qatar recognise how serious they are, rapidly back to the line and admit unambiguously their list of demands which include shutting down Aljazeera, end the cooperating with Iran, stop supporting the Islamic parties and recognise the Saudi leadership in the GCC region. On the other hand, Qatar with its relatively small population 300,000 citizens and fund over $300 billion ensures the state will never face a serious financial issue in the future. Moreover, Qatar is the home of the U.S. air base Al-Udeid which is a critical component of the U.S. campaign in the Middle East. Therefore, Qatar knows that the U.S. has an immediate interest in emphasising the stability and the security in Qatar in particular while the U.S. does not have an alternative to Al-Udeid base to support its strategy in the Middle East. The Saudi’s camp is unlikely to abandon their demands. The crisis shows how much the GCC leaders are threatening and in a confusing situation toward support specific radical Islam movements and relation with Iran. In addition, the blockade camp can maintain the sanctions for a long time rather than take a military action due to its economic cost and the lack of suitable capabilities to conduct such a war. For instance, the Saudi campaign in Yemen now and after three years, shows a significant failure to achieve its strategic goals.

The current situations for both sides show that the crisis could easily continue for more years which is a critical concern to all the stakeholders in the region. Now Iran and Turkey are playing a significant role in supporting Qatar needs of foods and goods to minimise the inconvenient of the embargo. Also, Ankara is considering enhancing its military presence in Qatar which seen as a direct threat to Saudi Arabia the major regional compotator for the Turkish influence. That also shows a high possibility of an Iranian Turkish large-scale involvement in case of a military confrontation.

The U.S. mission should focus on balancing the support to the Gulf States and their core interests as well as supporting the stability by avoiding encouraging them from adopting a risky diplomatic offensives options that can backfire into the whole region. It seems that the U.S. should adopt nuanced diplomacy to end the crisis which is not that simple for the current U.S. administration. Since the conflicting parties of this crisis will not likely find a comprehensive solution on their own, the U.S. should make it a priority to help them do so before the costs of the dispute continue to escalate in unpredictable ways.

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Saudi sports diplomacy: A mirror image of the kingdom’s already challenged policies

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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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.

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