In the current vision of the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the Saudi national anti-corruption Commission “Nazaha” has worked very well. The anti-corruption Nazaha is a complex organization, with a large set of international and local rules, always explicitly referring to the UN – and anyway international – best practice.
It will not be so easy to define Mohammed bin Salman’s fight against corruption as an “ideological operation” or, even worse, “primitive”.
The issue of corruption has been at the core of the Saudi political debate for years.
As early as 2013, the Riyadh Economic Forum had placed the issue of public and private corruption at the centre of Saudi government actions, while the Commission was established officially with King Abdullah’s Executive Order No. A/65 of March 2011.
A wide mandate having strong political impact, designed since its inception – even before the current Crown Prince – to be the main tool for the King’s control over his vast and chaotic ruling class, regardless of their being blue-blooded or not.
So far the Saudi Nazaha, similar to many other anti-graft agencies operating throughout the Sunni Arab world, has collected data on over 2,000 sensitive cases and imposed penalties in 94% of initial reports.
Certainly Prince Muhammad bin Salman is using Nazaha’s power to eliminate his political enemies, but this is quite obvious in a struggle for absolute power following Machiavellian (and Quranic) rules whereby the property of subjects, in particular, must be rescued.
“Nevertheless, a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women “(The Prince, Chapter XVII).
The Quran reads as follows: “Devour not your wealth among yourselves vainly, nor present it to the judges that you may devour a part of the wealth of other men sinfully and knowingly” (Al-Baqarah, Surah “The Cow,” verse 188).
Furthermore, Muhammad’s doctrine on corruption contains many other Quranic and Sunnah verses, which there is no point in quoting here.
The Islamic legal tradition, however, is very strict: in fact, a hadith of the Prophet simply condemns bribery – both those who grant and those who receive bribes, along with the intermediary – all placed by the Prophet on an equal footing.
The granting of illegal assets to favour and facilitate a subsequent transaction, however, is an offense to divine law, not just to corporate law, in the meaning that we Westerners attribute to the concept of “civil law”.
Hence the doctrinal basis on which the Saudi anti-corruption Commission relies is theologically wide and sufficiently complex.
Nevertheless, with a view to understanding the political logic of the Saudi anti-corruption Commission, we must at first see who and how has been hit by the Saudi penalties imposed by the Nazaha in Riyadh, upon Saudi royal orders.
As many as 512 Saudi citizens have been hit – for various reasons – by the anti-corruption sweep of Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s Commission.
Moreover 1,286 private and corporate current accounts have been frozen so far.
It should also be noted that many Saudi people targeted by this anti-corruption probe – which is more rational to define as a bloodless coup – are part of the three branches forming the Riyadh Intelligence Services.
Firstly, as is well-known, there is the General Intelligence Presidency (GIP), the Mukhabarat al-A’amah, whose old leader Khalid Bin Alì al-Humaidan has been put aside.
The other intelligence services, namely the internal security police and, above all, the Mabahit, responsible for counter-espionage and internal and political security, have also been decapitated by the current graft crackdown of the Heir to the Throne.
In particular, Prince Muhammad bin Salman wants to capitalize on the current honeymoon with Trump Presidency, as well as avoid the coup that was probably looming large for Salman and his son Mohammed.
He also wants to acquire absolute hegemony over the Sunni world against the Iranian Shiite operations which will be tolerated at best in Central Asia, but never in the Persian Gulf.
If the Saudi King had abdicated in favour of his son Mohammed – as he had long been planning to do – he would soon have put aside Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the Interior Minister and direct heir to the Saudi Kingdom in the traditional line of succession.
In fact, on June 21, 2017 Bin Nayef was replaced by Muhammad bin Salman.
Let us better analyse, however, the list of the main people accused of corruption: as already noted, there is Muhammad al-Walid bin Talal, together with the President of the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MEBC), namely Walid Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, who had avoided to sell his broadcasters to the Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman.
Al-Ibrahim was also President of the United Press International (UPI) until the annus mirabilis of the old Saudi power, namely 2000 – the year of Bin Laden’s ambiguity.
However, we will revert to this issue at a later stage.
He also founded Al Arabiya, as an alternative to the Qatari Al-Jazeera, still in the hands of the “Muslim Brotherhood”.
It is worth noting that currently all coups start for and end in the media ownership or control.
The people arrested on November 4 last include also Mutaib bin Abdullah, former Minister of the Saudi National Guard.
He graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as a lieutenant in 1974 and was former representative of the Ford Motors Co. He was at the helm of the Saudi military organizations.
The list of arrested people includes also Turki bin Abdullah al Saud, former Governor of Riyadh until 2015, who is charged with corruption in the Riyadh Metro project still to be completed, for having taken advantage of his role and influence to award contracts to his own companies. He is the seventh son of King Abdullah and graduated in “strategic studies” at the University of Leeds, Great Britain. He was also a manager of the King Abdulaziz Foundation, as well as promoter and organizer of various transactions with British and US companies.
Another Prince arrested in the November “corruption crackdown” is Turki bin Nasser al Saud, a prince of the Royal Family and Head of the Saudi National Meteorology and Environment Service.
This agency also deals with environmental protection and pollution control.
This is an important sign: probably Nasser al Saud covered up the environmentally damaging affairs of some Saudi companies, but this is certainly not the reason why Nasser al Saud was arrested.
Rumours are rife about his business in the Lebanon, where he received funds from a local politician, Mohammed Safadi – and he is also reported of having been under scrutiny by the UK Serious Fraud Office as early as 2005.
Old stories about the Saudi Royal Family coming out again when it is more convenient for the new Crown Prince.
Also Fahd bin Abdullah Saud, former deputy-Defence Minister, was arrested.
He studied at the Naval Staff and Command College and was former Commander of the Saudi Navy. He has always played a leading role in the balance of power within the Kingdom and the al Saud Family, by deciding and managing many military and civilian careers.
Also King Fahd’s son, namely Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, was arrested on November 4 last. He is supposed to have been killed during the arrest, but the government denies the police shot him.
He lived mainly in Switzerland and travelled to Saudi Arabia only for official meetings.
Removed from his assignments as early as 2011, he was mainly a businessman: he was the long arm of the Saudi Oger, a real estate company.
Said company was initially owned by Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese leader assassinated in 2005, and went bankrupt on July 2017.
Oger Communications, however, keeps on supplying Internet, fixed and mobile telephone services in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Lebanon, Jordan and South Africa.
Today the power uses and is mainly focused on the Internet and mobile telephone services.
Al Fahd has a “confidential” portfolio of at least one billion dollars in the United States – as recently ascertained by the New York Supreme Court – and other real estate properties in Minneapolis, which have recently gone bankrupt.
He is (was) de facto owner of the already mentioned MEBC.
As already reported in other articles, the non-noble people arrested include Khaled Al Tuwajiri, Head of the Saudi Royal Court with King Abdullah.
In 2012 he had harshly criticized the “Westernization” process underway in Saudi Arabia. He was removed from his post at the Court, on which he had very strong influence, through the old King Abdullah and his son Miteb, the Minister of the National Guard.
Another detainee is Adel Fakeih, former mayor of Jeddah, and later Labour Minister, Health Minister and, since April 2015, Minister for Economy and Planning.
Besides his public service (although the watershed between these two worlds is somehow blurred in the Saudi Kingdom), he worked for the Al Marai Group, operating in the food, building and finance sectors, as well as President of the Aljazira Bank. Later he also worked for the Saudi Glass Company and as top manager of the Savola Group, a food company selling sugar, cooking oil, dairy and catering products in Africa, Saudi Arabia, the whole Middle East, Africa and Turkey.
Incidentally, we will shortly witness large economic and political movements in Turkey, just as a result of the Saudi “bloodless coup”.
Fakeih was also in charge of the global and Middle East markets for the Saudi British Bank.
Said banking network is supposed to have organized the coup against Salman and his son under the banner of “return to traditions” and, possibly, by raising the old issue of social justice.
The “purged” people – almost as in an old Soviet palace coup – include Amr al-Dabbagh, President and founder of the Al Dabbagh Group, who graduated in management in California and is very active in the non-profit sector.
The Al Dabbagh Group controls 57 companies in the food, oil, automotive, real estate and packaging sectors.
In all likelihood, Mohammad bin Salman wants to hit precisely the old Saudi “global enterprises” in order to avoid an overlapping of financial and political power, with a highly enterprise-oriented elite.
Another detainee is Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al Assaf, former Saudi Finance Minister and State Minister of the Saudi Kingdom.
He was arrested on charges of purchasing land around the Great Mosque of Mecca, in view of its planned expansion, by taking advantage of his public role and influence.
Former Saudi Arabia’s representative to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and later vice-Governor of the Saudi Monetary Authority, Al Assaf is still member of the Board of Directors of Saudi ARAMCO – the “jewel of the crown” of the future privatization advocated by Prince Muhammad Bin Salman – and, before his arrest, also President of the Saudi Development Fund.
He had attended the recent G20 Summit in Hamburg, but it did not bring him luck.
Another detainee is Khalid Abdullah al-Mohem, who had studied electrical engineering in the United States and was later appointed General Manager of Saudia, the commercial airline of the Kingdom.
Manager of the well-known Saudi British Bank and of the above-mentioned Almarai, a large food and dairy company, he held countless assignments in the food, catering, telecommunications and cement sectors, as well in the HBSC, the Saudi Investment Bank, and in the airlines of the Kingdom.
The list of people arrested include also Saleh Abdullah Kamel, founder of the Dallah al Baraka Group, a multinational dealing with healthcare (private hospitals), financial investment, real estate, banks, transport and logistics.
President of the General Council of Islamic Banks and Financial Institutions, he also led the Arab Thought Foundation and the Saudi Chambers of Commerce.
Another too powerful tycoon to be tolerated by the new Heir to the Throne.
The Crown Prince no longer wants the Islamism naïvely defined as “radical”, but rather the pursuit of Saudi national interest.
Muhammad bin Salman’s “bloodless coup” has put an end to the geopolitical link between Saudi interest and global jihad.
From now on, the “holy war” will be regional or waged wherever the Saudi interest is focused, at least as to the share of jihad funded by Saudi Arabia.
Another well-known personality arrested is Bakr bin Laden, the true “King of Jeddah” – as people call him – and also half-brother of the much more notorious Osama bin Laden.
It should be made very clear that this is not an “anti-terrorism” operation.
Bakr bin Laden currently works in Qatar for his family-run company operating in the traditional real estate sector, but he is still one of the primary economic links between the United States and the Saudi world.
The detainees include also Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammed al-Sultan, the founder of the already mentioned Almarai.
A country and the education and training of its ruling class, in particular, may also be controlled through the distribution of food and its organization.
He was also Admiral of the Saudi Royal Navy.
Also Mohammad al-Tobaishi, former Head of Protocol at the Royal Court of Riyadh, was arrested.
Probably the United States should better analyse what this “bloodless coup” means for its new equilibria in the Middle East.
The former CEO of the “Saudi Telecom Company”, namely Saoud Al Dawish, was arrested.
He had already been convicted of bribery in 2012. This is another sign that the Crown Prince is catching in his net both the economic leaders who are most interesting for him in the telecom, banking, real estate and retail sectors, and the old corrupt bribers already well-known to the Royal House and the Saudi people, with whom Muhammad bin Salman wants to recreate a charismatic bond.
It is certainly an advertising operation, albeit well-studied, regardless of the real faults of the arrested people.
Last but not least, we must also mention Nasser Al Tayar, President and CEO of the Al Tayar tourist Group.
With a view to targeting the relations between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world, also the management of tourist companies must be undermined.
Furthermore, until his arrest on November 4 last, Tayar was also President of the Arab Publisher House, “Medina Press”, but the Al Tayar Group operates also in the real estate, hoteling, aviation and food sectors.
Crown Prince’s current anti-graft sweep is focused on the food, real estate and telecommunication sectors. The aim is to hit and decapitate the primary sectors of economic and media consensus to rebuild a new network of relations in the Middle East and respond to the Shiite operations even with a military clash.
The primary goal of the West – firstly the United States and secondly the now irrelevant Europe – will be to avoid the clash, as well as mediate, defuse and use it for its own purposes.
I am not optimistic that it will pursue said goal.
The Turkish Gambit
The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon. One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria. Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps. The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.
Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian. After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families. About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.
How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question. Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently? For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.
There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter. Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes.
Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability. If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point. Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal: access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.
Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon. It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke. It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood. The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.
A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power. The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson. So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006. Now they are feared by Israeli troops.
To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump. Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past. It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving. If you go in, you will have to police the area. Don’t ask us to help you.” Is that subject to misinterpretation? It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office.
For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions. Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included. Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire. On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May. Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith. The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can. Where are they headed? Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.
Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences.
Author’s Note: This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.
It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.
Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.
Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.
Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.
It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.
Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around
Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around.
Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.
But also because what could prove to be a strategic error is rooted in a policy of decades of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political rights that was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage societal cohesion.
The policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in recent years.
The group that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Turkish refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for up to 20 percent of the country’s population traces its roots to the carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, Father of the Turks.
It is entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.
The phrase was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by then prime minister, now president Erdogan.
It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States, Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that enabled the emergence of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to spark debate in Turkey about the Kurdish question and prompt the government to refer to Kurds as Kurds rather than mountain Turks.
Ironically, Turkey’s enduring refusal to acknowledge Kurdish rights and its long neglect of development of the pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast of the country fuelled demands for greater rights rather than majority support for Kurdish secession largely despite the emergence of the PKK
Most Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land s long as they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion of a Jewish state.
Nonetheless, both minorities favoured an independent state for their brethren on the other side of the border but did not want to surrender the opportunities that either Turkey or Israel offered them.
The existence for close to three decades of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and a 2017 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for Iraqi Kurdish independence, bitterly rejected and ultimately nullified by Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian opposition, did little to fundamentally change Turkish Kurdish attitudes.
If the referendum briefly soured Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relations, it failed to undermine the basic understanding underlying a relationship that could have guided Turkey’s approach towards the Kurds in Syria even if dealing with Iraqi Kurds may have been easier because, unlike Turkish Kurds, they had not engaged in political violence against Turkey.
The notion that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful resolution.
The talks prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters, and a call for an end to the insurgency. Mr. Ocalan predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would be resolved peacefully.
The PKK’s military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”
The talks broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as a US ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Bitterly opposed to the US-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further negotiations.
Turkey responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Nonetheless, in a statement issued from prison earlier this year that envisioned an understanding between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces believed to be aligned with the PKK, Mr. Ocalan declared that “we believe, with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the problems in Syria should be resolved within the framework of the unity of Syria, based on constitutional guarantees and local democratic perspectives. In this regard, it should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns.”
Turkey’s emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering the PKK’s presence in the region could have provided inspiration for a US-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had contemplated.
The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish understanding enabled Turkey to allow an armed Iraqi Kurdish force to transit Turkish territory in 2014 to help prevent the Islamic State from conquering the Syrian city of Kobani.
A safe zone would have helped “realign the relationship between Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara, and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria,” Turkey scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August.
The opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.
In many ways, Mr. Erdogan’s decision to opt for a military solution fits the mould of a critical mass of world leaders who look at the world through a civilizational prism and often view national borders in relative terms.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin pointed the way with his 2008 intervention in Georgia and the annexation in 2014 of Crimea as well as Russia’s stirring of pro-Russian insurgencies in two regions of Ukraine.
Mr. Erdogan appears to believe that if Mr. Putin can pull it off, so can he.
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