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.
After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians
The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.
According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.
The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.
“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”
Scandal of Al Hol’s children
Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.
“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”
Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021.
Blockades and bombardment
The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.
“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.
In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.
Living in fear
In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.
At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.
Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.
Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.
The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”
Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants
The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.
“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”
IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking
A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?
The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.
Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.
When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.
Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible. Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.
Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.
The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.
It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.
“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.
I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.
Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.
Elections represent an opportunity for stability and unity in Libya
With just over 100 days until landmark elections in Libya, political leaders must join forces to ensure the vote is free, fair and inclusive, the UN envoy for the country told the Security Council on Friday.
Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) briefed ambassadors on developments ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place on 24 December.
They were agreed under a political roadmap stemming from the historic October 2020 ceasefire between Libya’s rival authorities, and the establishment of a Government of National Unity (GNU) earlier this year.
At the crossroads
“Libya is at a crossroads where positive or negative outcomes are equally possible,” said Mr. Kubiš. “With the elections there is an opportunity for Libya to move gradually and convincingly into a more stable, representative and civilian track.”
He reported that the House of Representatives has adopted a law on the presidential election, while legislation for the parliamentary election is being finalized and could be considered and approved within the coming weeks.
Although the High National Election Commission (HNEC) has received the presidential election law, another body, the High State Council, complained that it had been adopted without consultation.
Foreign fighter threat
The HNEC chairman has said it will be ready to start implementation once the laws are received, and will do everything possible to meet the 24 December deadline.
“Thus, it is for the High National Election Commission to establish a clear electoral calendar to lead the country to the elections, with support of the international community, for the efforts of the Government of National Unity, all the respective authorities and institutions to deliver as free and fair, inclusive and credible elections as possible under the demanding and challenging conditions and constraints,” said Mr. Kubiš.
“The international community could help create more conducive conditions for this by facilitating the start of a gradual withdrawal of foreign elements from Libya without delay.”
Young voters eager
The UN envoy also called for countries and regional organizations to provide electoral observers to help ensure the integrity and credibility of the process, as well as acceptance of the results.
He also welcomed progress so far, including in updating the voter registry and the launch of a register for eligible voters outside the country.
So far, more than 2.8 million Libyans have registered to vote, 40 per cent of whom are women. Additionally, more than half a million new voters will also be casting their ballots.
“Most of the newly registered are under 30, a clear testament to the young generation’s eagerness to take part in determining the fate of their country through a democratic process. The Libyan authorities and leaders must not let them down,” said Mr. Kubiš.
He stressed that the international community also has a responsibility to support the positive developments in Libya, and to stand firm against attempts at derailment.
“Not holding the elections could gravely deteriorate the situation in the country, could lead to division and conflict,” he warned. “I urge the Libyan actors to join forces and ensure inclusive, free, fair parliamentary and presidential elections, which are to be seen as the essential step in further stabilizing and uniting Libya.”
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