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Israel an Enemy of Freedom-Loving People Everywhere

Eric Zuesse

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Israel is fighting constantly not only against Gazans, and against Palestinians generally; it is fighting constantly against freedom-loving people everywhere, who oppose dictatorship of any type, and in any country, on principle, irrespective of nationality.

Here’s an example showing how much of a dictatorship and enemy of democrats it is:

Anna Dressler was a ship-hand on a flotilla of two small boats launched from Palermo Italy that were manned by 34 people from 12 countries in international waters and that were seized — stolen — by Israel’s military, on 29 July 2018. They became seized because these boats were carrying medical supplies in violation of Israel’s internationally illegal blockade against food and medicine reaching the residents of Gaza. She was on the boat “Al-Awda,” which was 42 miles from Gaza at the time of seizure-theft. Israel’s troops seizing it were masked, and were armed with machine-guns.

The first video of this incident was released on August 20th.

A “Legal and Welfare Update and Appeal” dated August 14th by the Freedom Flotilla, stated that,

The two boats ‘Al Awda’ (The Return) and ‘Freedom’ were hijacked by the Israeli Occupation Forces in international waters 42 and 49 nautical miles respectively off the coast of Gaza. During their unlawful detention, crew, participants and journalists were subjected to a range of physical and emotional violence.

The captain of Al Awda was threatened with execution, 4 people were tasered, 3 people had ribs broken by the Israeli military and one person had his foot broken.

They were all taken against their will to Israel, unlawfully imprisoned and ultimately deported. The Israeli authorities have stolen the boats and the 13,000 Euros worth of medical supplies that we were carrying as gifts, as well as many of the participants’ personal belongings (including clothes, a Bible, credit cards, IDs and mobile phones). Incredibly, they have begun to take legal action to attempt to confiscate the boats.

These people had been in constant communication with their colleagues on land; so, if they’d been killed by the Israelis, it would immediately have become an international incident, enraging 12 countries. They had to be released, and thus they were. These people weren’t Palestinians; they had rights that were cared-about in other countries. Though a gangster-state, Israel recognized that these people couldn’t be simply discarded, like trash — as Palestinians are treated by Israel.

So, here’s how the journey got to that stage:

On June 27th, Ms. Dressler, writing in the third person as “she,” had posted, as “Deckhand on Freedom”, her personal background, and presented an explanation, written as impersonally as she could, as to why she was participating in this flotilla (which, though she didn’t note the fact, was manned entirely by volunteers who knew that they were placing themselves in severe jeopardy for doing this):

Anna was born in Germany and is now living in Sweden, but mostly she is out on travels and ‘projects’ around the globe. She is an activist and problem solver – a person with a diversity of professions. In 2012, she was the Project Leader for an anti-money laundering campaign. In 2015-2016, she participated in a private project working with refugees near the Macedonian border and along the Balkan route. She enjoys her freedom wholeheartedly and wants others to have the same opportunity.

On July 18th was posted, by the Freedom Flotilla, the following “Leaving For Gaza – Media Release”:

Four boats from the ‘Right to a Just Future for Palestine’ Freedom Flotilla Coalition are scheduled to leave Palermo, Sicily, to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza, and to assert the Palestinian people’s right to freedom of movement and their right to a just future. …

As always, our boats carry representatives from across the world and messages of love and solidarity for those living under the inhumane, decade-old blockade – the collective punishment on the civilian Palestinian population of Gaza. Given the dire situation in Palestinian hospitals, we are also transporting some urgently needed medical supplies (#Gauze4Gaza).

This need is even more critical given the thousands of people severely wounded by Israeli snipers and tear gas in the past few months during the Great March of Return protests (see 10 July UN report on serious injuries). …

It is also encouraging to see the local welcomes we are being given, including by the Mayor of Palermo who rightly connects our campaign with the Caravana Abriendo Fronteras, who have just arrived from Spain, and similar demands for the opening of borders and freedom of movement from the City Council of Cádiz (Spain) and Naples (Italy).

Spokesperson for the International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza, James Godfrey said: “This Flotilla is necessary to highlight the international community’s failure and its ongoing complicity in the illegal blockade of over two million Palestinians in Gaza, more than half of them children.”

On July 23rd, was posted “Freedom Flotilla Coalition sets sail for a just future for Palestine”, and it reported:

Freedom Flotilla leaves Palermo to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Three boats are sailing with boxes of medical supplies: Al Awda (The Return), a large converted fishing vessel; Freedom to Gaza, a large sailing vessel; and Falestine, a smaller sailing vessel. A fourth boat, Mairead, will not sail at this time. Another Sicilian port Messina, opened its open arms as usual with a series of wonderful community events, and we are grateful for their solidarity.

All three boats making their way to Gaza will be donated to the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, that includes a fisherman’s union that will use the boats to fish in order to feed their families.

Spokesperson for the Swedish Ship to Gaza campaign, Jeannette Escanilla, said the boats would provide important economic and training opportunities for Palestinians trapped in Gaza.

“The illegal Israeli naval blockade has devastated the Palestinian economy, and in particular has hurt the fishing industry in Gaza so these boats will provide important economic opportunities for Palestinians in Gaza, and also training opportunities in sailing, to enable them to gain better qualifications. Currently, the Israeli Occupying Force prevent Palestinians in Gaza from sailing more than a few nautical miles from shore, and routinely attack fishing and other boats from Gaza.”

On July 26th, Dressler posted “ON THE WAY TO GAZA WITH FREEDOM – ANNA DRESSLER (UNITED KINGDOM/GERMANY)”. She said:

Gaza is a zone in the world where human rights seem to be forgotten. I believe that every person can change the world, on their own way, wherever they are and in which way they can. Let’s start here, with a blockade that should never have existed, and continues, along with everyone else, man-made, disasters.

On August 4th was posted to youtube “ANNA DRESSLER – SOS”, in which, six days after the seizure, theft, and assault, by Israel, against these people and their vessels, Anna, speaking in Swedish, publicly demanded that her Government in Stockholm enforce her rights as a Swede, against the Government of Israel, and that the ships and their supplies be at least returned to their owners.

On that same date, August 4th, the Freedom Flotilla itself headlined “SOS – Just Future for Palestine”, and officially notified the foreign ministers of the 12 involved countries whose nationals’ rights had been violated by Israel in this incident. These 12 countries were: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, UK, and U.S.

The following day, August 5th, Jeannette Escanilla wrote, for the Steering Committee, Ship to Gaza Sweden (her official title being “Spokesperson for the Swedish Ship to Gaza campaign”), addressed as follows:

To the Foreign Minister of Sweden; Margot Wallström

To the Prime Minister of Sweden; Stefan Löfven

Ship to Gaza’s sailing ketch “Freedom for Gaza” was approaching the coast of Gaza when it was boarded by Israeli militants on Friday 3 August on international waters, a gross violation of international law. The last reported position of the vessel before boarding was about 40 nautical miles from coast of Gaza at 20:06 (CET).

The Swedish flagged ship and its cargo of medical supplies were seized by Israel and the 12 persons onboard were abducted and led to Israel, a country they did not intend to visit.

Ship to Gaza demands that the captured crew, the ship and its and cargo will be returned to the position where they were boarded and allowed to continue their voyage on international and Palestinian waters without being interupted, in accordance with international law. In this way we can complete the purpose of the journey, which is to hand over “Freedom” as a gift to Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC)*, as well as 18 boxes of medical supplies, gauzes and sutures, to the organization My Care in Gaza. The lack of healthcare in the Gaza strip is appalling.

Our long term demands are also that the eleven-year illegal and destructive blockade of the Gaza Strip is finally lifted. The Swedish government has repeatedly backed the requirement of a lifting of the blockade. We now expect that the same government, whose flag is worn by the attacked ship, will also support our specific requirements regarding crew, cargo and ships. Ship to Gaza calls on Israel and Egypt to now meet the demands of large parts of the world community, that the illegitimate and destructive blockade of the Gaza Strip will be lifted after eleven years of isolation and aggression.

There is an obvious discrepancy between that “Friday 3 August” date, which she wrote on 5 August, versus the subsequent claim in the August 20th released video, of “29 July 2018,” as being the date on which their boats were stolen. An explanation is thus needed from them, regarding that discrepancy. However, in any case, the Swedish Ship to Gaza has made public that,

Ship to Gaza has now received an answer to the open letter that we, through our chairman Jeanette Escanilla, have sent to the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström on August 5th.

The Minister writes:

Thank you for your letter dated 5th of August 2018. 

The situation in Gaza is very critical. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described the situation as a humanitarian crisis. Furthermore, as you wrote, the lack of medical supplies is disastrous, not least since so many people have been injured as Israeli military has been deployed in connection with demonstrations along Gaza’s border in recent months.

Sweden upholds the principle of freedom of the seas and freedom of navigation. The government has been in contact with the Israeli authorities regarding Ship to Gaza, and has expressed that the actions of the Israeli authorities in relation to the Swedish-flagged vessel Freedom and the persons onboard constitutes a breach of international law. The government has also demanded that the ship, its cargo and the persons who were aboard be released. The Swedish Embassy in Tel Aviv is monitoring the imprisoned Swedish citizens’ consular rights and visited all of them on Sunday, August the 5th. 

The Swedish government will continue to work towards an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and towards a fair and sustainable two-state solution in which the two states can co-exist, peacefully, side by side. Ending the isolation of Gaza and providing humanitarian aid to its people are two critical, urgent steps towards that end. 

(Translated by Ship to Gaza)

The Swedish Ship to Gaza commented on that statement: Ship to Gaza wishes to emphasize that the wording … in principle corresponds with our own demands that the crew, cargo and boat should be returned to the place where they were boarded and be allowed to continue their journey to Gaza. We are now being notified that the activists and crew is being deported from Israel. This is not in agreement with our demands or with the requests of the Swedish government.

We also want to know what the Swedish government is doing now to enforce the demands regarding our ships, cargo and crew, but even more importantly, also with regards to the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

On August 8th, Ms. Dressler posted: Anna arrived last night at Berlin airport. Read her preliminary report of the cruel and inhumane treatment that the Israeli authorities meted out to her despite having a German passport. “…Can you then imagine how few rights Palestinians have…”

Anna’s resolve is strengthened and she declared that “We will continue to fight for freedom…”.

Please continue to demand the release of all of the Political Prisoners.

On August 13th, the Freedom Flotilla posted “SECOND MEDIA RELEASE ON MEDICAL SUPPLIES NOT REACHING GAZA” and listed, and linked, to the international laws that Israel had violated in this incident.

On August 17th, UK’s Stuart Littlewood headlined at American Herald Tribune “The UK’s Prime Minister-in-Waiting Must Zap the Circling Sharks”, and he reported on the extreme pressure that the progressive UK politician Jeremy Corbyn was facing for his not clearly taking a stand favoring Israel against the Palestinians, and he reported Corbyn’s being accused by Israel of “anti-Semitism” for that (as if it were wrong to recognize that Israel is an enemy nation; as if to recognize this is somehow against Jews or Judaism, instead of being against racist fascism in any nation, and against apartheid in any nation, and against theocracy in any nation, and against the imposition by any nation, of dictatorship — all of which presumptions are clearly lies). Littlewood noted that,

While the mainstream, including the BBC, have been sticking the knife into Corbyn, none of them (as far as I’m aware) reported a much more serious outrage – the hijacking by Israeli Occupation Forces of two vessels heading for Gaza and the violent assault, abduction and imprisonment of the 34 people from 12 countries who were on board – one of them a British consultant from the famous ‘Barts’ Hospital in London.

That is basically where things currently stand on this matter. The other governments involved (among the 12, besides Sweden), have been silent. Only Dressler’s nation has not. But no indication exists that even Sweden is following up with any demand against Israel. The underlying assumption seems to be that governments in The West (including the Sauds and their friends — all also “Western”) will continue simply to side with Israel against the Palestinians, even when their own citizens’ rights have been violated by Israel’s illegal imposition and enforcement of this illegal blockade.

Among the Governments that refused to enforce its citizens’ rights in this matter is the United States. Refusing to enforce its citizens rights that have been illegally violated by Israel, is routine for the U.S. Government to do. Ever since 1967, Israel has been supported by America, though America’s enemy, at war against Americans, and Israel has stayed that way, but the U.S. Government itself (and its news-media) has been keeping that fact, of Israel’s war against Americans — Israel’s being an enemy — a bipartisan secret from the American people (who are required, furthermore, by their Government, to pay to Israel’s Government, $3.8 billion per year, so that it can buy U.S.-made weapons from Lockheed Martin and other politically top-connected American companies — Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” — which are the intended beneficiaries of this coercion, by America’s Government, against America’s citizens). It’s the proven and incontrovertible reality, of the U.S. Government’s tyranny, against its own people.

Without such lies as that Israel is America’s friend instead of America’s enemy, and without such hiding of crucial facts from the public (for ‘national-security’ purposes, of course — not for billionaires’ profits), none of this could happen, and could be even credibly called ‘democracy’. This is actually a ‘democracy’ based on lies. But is that really possible, or is it instead just another lie, one to cover-up all the others? If that’s the case, then the problem is, obviously, much deeper than merely Israel versus the Palestinians, and nothing that the mainstream press publishes in The West regarding international relations can be trusted, at all, for its keeping this secret throughout the decades.

Certainly, what you are now reading, on this site, isn’t mainstream in The West. So, you are here reading Western samizdat, forbidden truths — truths that are forbidden to be published in The West. Nonetheless, all of this article is documented to be true. Just click onto a link anywhere that you doubt it. You will find that it’s all true — not just “maybe true” (like mainstream ‘news’ often is) — it is all unequivocally true. And, yet, what politician can say it? What would they be implying if they did say it? Can they say it? Apparently not.

What you’ve read here is, therefore, exposing just the visible tip, of an iceberg, of lies.

Author’s note: this article first published at The Saker

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Middle East

Turkish Strengthened Parliamentary System

Muratcan Isildak

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“Corrected” or “enhanced” system of parliamentary debate, thoroughly sat on Turkey’s agenda in recent days. There are two reasons for this. First, it is unclear what, all from a single source power is collected, brought Turkey no balance-point of the current regime where there is no monitoring mechanism. Of democracy, of freedom, which abolished the rule of law, both inside and outside the war which, as all institutions of workers pouring connected to a single person, the economy of bottoming out, which is a record level of unemployment, inequality of well increase as a Turkey. Undoubtedly, the first step to get out of this darkness and tidy up the wreckage is to get rid of the one-man regime called the “Presidential Government System”. The question then arises of what kind of management system to replace. The second reason is the increasing signs that the MHP-backed AKP government is about to end. A transition period will begin after the end of AKP rule. But where is the transition? This question should be discussed and an answer should be sought.

The parliamentary system has led to the domination of the majority over the minority in Turkey. Since there are no mechanisms to prevent the executive from dominating the legislature, the power is meeting in the hands of the prime minister, who is the head of the ruling majority party. The end of the independence of the judiciary, the silencing of the press, the pressure on the opposition, the arbitrary administration all took place in the parliamentary system.

Such a new democracy changes the focus of politics. The subject of politics, political parties cease to be party heads, but become the people themselves. However, in order to create a grassroots popular movement, people need to unite within the framework of a project and not be a “mass”, but turn into a “people” that decide their future. Such “people” make decisions about their own problems and demand that governments implement these decisions. Such a people does not leave their future to the rulers, they take control of their future. Such a people becomes the engine of change in society, creates a libertarian, egalitarian, new society.

One of the most important features of participatory democracy is that it is based on equality. Equality in income distribution as well as in participation can be achieved in this way. We have seen the concrete application of this in the example of Porto Allegre in Brazil.

There are many different models of participatory democracy. These models cover a wide spectrum, from the budgeting powers of local units to different decision-making platforms. It is necessary to discuss these and, according to the results, the construction of local democratic institutions. 

However, no matter what model is adopted, participatory democracy has some unchangeable basic principles:

Participation is open to all who live in that place.

Participatory democracy institutions are independent from the state. The aim of the system is to realize a power sharing between representative democracy institutions and local democracy institutions. Representative democracy institutions will lose their power as they will transfer some of their powers to local institutions. 

But considering that representative democracy is not working well anyway, this weakening is not a loss for democracy.

Informing the public correctly. For this, there is a need for effective use of social media as well as the prevalence of freedom of expression and press in the country.

Participatory democracy leads to deepening democracy and creating a culture of participation. However, the main problem here is that the people adopt this culture with an active citizenship awareness. Successful pilot project implementations are required for this.

Let’s not forget that my imagination of the future determines what we will do now.

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Middle East

The Battle for Jerusalem: Turkey’s Erdogan stakes his claim

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t mince his words at this month’s opening of parliament. In his first assertion of a claim to a lost non-Turkic part of the Ottoman empire, Mr. Erdogan declared that Jerusalem is Turkish.

“In this city, which we had to leave in tears during the First World War, it is still possible to come across traces of the Ottoman resistance. So Jerusalem is our city, a city from us,” Mr. Erdogan said.

He went on to say that “the current appearance of the Old City, which is the heart of Jerusalem, was built by Suleiman the Magnificent, with its walls, bazaar, and many buildings. Our ancestors showed their respect for centuries by keeping this city in high esteem.”

Mr. Erdogan was referring to the 16th century Ottoman sultan, a sponsor of monumental architectural development, who is widely viewed as having protected his Jewish subjects.

In July, Mr. Erdogan described that month’s return of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a sixth century Orthodox-church-turned-mosque-turned-museum, to the status of a Muslim house of worship as paving the way for the “liberation” of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.

Mr. Erdogan’s office released a month later a four-minute video clip suggesting that Turkey’s quest for leadership of the Islamic world was as much a military and nationalist endeavor as it was a religious drive. Laced with martial music, the clip meshed religious and Ottoman symbolism.  Entitled Golden Apple, the clip ended with a panorama view of Al-Aqsa.

The president, who embeds his often raw nationalism in a religious mantle, can have no illusion that Jerusalem would return to Turkish rule.

Yet, by putting forward his claim, Mr. Erdogan hopes to put his quest for leadership of the Muslim world on par with that of one Turkey’s staunchest rivals, Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is home to Islam’s two most sacred cities, Mecca and Medina.

Rather than seeking to regain lost Ottoman territory, Mr. Erdogan is staking a claim to custodianship of Jerusalem’s Haram ash-Sharif or Temple Mount and Al Aqsa mosque compound that currently rests with a Jordanian-controlled religious endowment known as the Waqf.

The president escalated his rhetoric at a moment that the Palestine Authority has reached out to Turkey as well as Qatar in the wake of the normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and a series of statements by prominent Saudi and other Gulf leaders taking President Mahmoud Abbas’ administration to task for squandering opportunities for peace with the Jewish state.

Mr. Erdogan’s claim adds to Jordan’s worries that Israel, in the wake of the formalization of its ties to Gulf states, could support Saudi ambitions to join the Hashemite kingdom, if not replace it, as the holy site’s administrator.

Israel Hayom, Israel’s most widely read newspaper that is supportive of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, quoted an unidentified Arab diplomat as saying that Saudi funds were needed to counter Turkish influence in Jerusalem.

“If the Jordanians allow the Turks to operate unhindered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, within a matter of years their special status in charge of the Waqf and Muslim holy sites would be relegated to being strictly ‘on paper,’” the diplomat was quoted as saying in June.

Raed Daana, a former director of preaching and guidance at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Directorate, said in 2018, in the wake of US President Donald J. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, that Saudi Arabia had secretly invited Palestinian Muslim dignitaries in a bid to garner support for a Saudi role in the Waqf.

Mr. Daana attributed the secrecy in part to a refusal to accept the invitation by a number of Palestinian religious figures.

Jordan last year increased the number of members of the Waqf from 11 to 18 in a bid to give it a more a more Muslim rather than exclusively Jordanian  flavour and to fend off attempts by regional powers to muscle their way into the body.

The new members included officials of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestine Authority as well as figures with links to Turkey and Gulf states like Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, a former grand mufti of Jerusalem and Holocaust denier who has defended Mr. Erdogan’s militancy regarding Jerusalem; and Mr. Sabri’s successor, Muhammad Hussein, who had close ties to the United Arab Emirates until he last month barred Emiratis from visiting Al Aqsa in protest against the UAE’s recognition of Israel.

Mr. Erdogan has in recent years been laying the groundwork for his claim with millions of dollars in donations to local Islamic organizations as well as Turkish religious activists and pilgrims in Jerusalem whom Israel has accused of instigating Palestinian protests.

Turkey’s Directorate General for Religious Affairs (Diyanet), that is part of Mr. Erdogan’s office, lists Al-Aqsa as a site for the umrah, the lesser Muslim pilgrimage.

Israeli sources say Turkey’s cultural center in Jerusalem as well as a Turkish renovated coffeeshop two minutes from the city’s Western Wall that is adorned with Turkish and Palestinians flags as well as portraits of Mr. Erdogan and Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II serve as a meeting point for activists and pilgrims.

“Turkey is working diligently to deepen its involvement and influence on the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem, and in east Jerusalem neighbourhoods. It is encouraging welfare-religious (dawa) activities…aimed at drawing the Palestinian public toward the Turkish-Islamic heritage and at weakening Israel’s hold on the Old City and east Jerusalem,” said conservative Israeli journalist and analyst Nadav Shragai.

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Middle East

Kingdom’s journey from ultra-conservatism to ultra-modernism

Abdul Rasool Syed

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Saudi Arabia, currently, is undergoing a phenomenal metamorphosis; a country widely known for its ultra-conservative posture is now gradually moving towards liberalism. It is witnessing a remarkable transformation in its socio-economic-cultural contours. The kingdom, once influenced and controlled by orthodox clergy, did not let women come out of their domestic confines but, now, the situation has diametrically changed. It has allowed the womenfolk incredible latitude to not only come out of home but also to travel abroad independently. They are, thus, supposed to contribute to country’s socio-economic development by working shoulder to shoulder with men. Economy, too, is being diversified; the kingdom is jettisoning its chronic dependence on oil revenues and is moving towards rapid Industrialization. Acculturation, once regarded as taboo by Saudi society is now, being appreciated bit by bit.

The man, who masterminded this movement of colossal change, is none other than Crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS); He is the real catalyst that is working devotedly and diligently to improve his country’s image nationally and internationally. His ideology is described as nationalist and populist, with conservative attitude towards politics and a liberal stance on economic and social issues.

However, His style of governance came under severe stricture by journalistic community. He has been dubbed as “extremely brutal” by journalist Rula Jabrael and “authoritarian” by Late Jamal khashoggi. On contrary, his move to reform the country has been widely lauded and supported by Saudi populace.

Prince Mohammad is of opinion that his country has been severely harmed by traditional clergy that considered any reformative move as a sin and hence, has kept the country stagnant economically and socially. He emphatically stated at one occasion: “we are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world. We will not waste 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today.” He later added that Saudi Arabia “will remain committed to the principles “of Islam, “the religion of tolerance and moderation”. The kingdom “will keep on fighting against extremism and terrorism”—a message directly meant to counter the outrageous edicts released by leading clerics against anything they perceived a threat to Saudi society.

The crown Prince took the clergy as a great hurdle in the way of kingdom’s socio-economic development. He, therefore, trimmed its wings of power by stripping it of its policing powers. Instead, the government took the reins into its hands to guide the society. Now, with the passive and emaciated clergy, Prince is aggressively pursuing his agenda of reforms.

“Vision 2030” is the bedrock of Prince Mohammad’s scheme of socio-economic change. Under this vision, he is going to transform country’s economic physiognomy. Vision 2030 aims at steering Saudi’s economy towards more diversified and privatized structure. It expounds goals and measures in various fields, from developing non-oil revenue and privatization of the economy to e-government and sustainable development.

To this end, Bin Salman, in October 2017, at the inaugural conference of Future investment initiative in Riyadh, announced the plan for the creation of NEOM, a $ 500 billion economic zone to cover an area of 26000 sq km on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea cost, extending into Japan and Egypt.  NEOM aims at attracting investment in sectors of renewable energy, biotechnology, robotics and advanced manufacturing.

 A project to build Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear reactor was also announced by Prince Mohammad in November 2018. The kingdom aspires to build 16 nuclear facilities over the next 20 years. Efforts to diversify Saudi energy sector also include wind and solar energy.

Apart from this, a much awaited high-speed railway line connecting two holiest cities of Islam Mecca and Medina was inaugurated by Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) in last week of September 2018. The Harmain Express is 450 km line travelling up to 300 km/h that can transport around 60 million passengers annually.

In addition, before the outbreak of corona virus, in order to boost tourism industry, the kingdom started issuing e-visas to tourists. It  opened up its borders to fans of live sport, music and culture for the first time with the launch of a new online visa process dedicated to welcoming international tourists.

Moreover, in 2016, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) shared the idea for “Green cards” for non-Saudi foreigners with Al-Arabia Journalist Turki Al-Dakhil. In 2019, Saudi cabinet approved a new residency scheme “Premium Residency” for foreigners. The scheme will enable expatriates to permanently reside, own property and invest in the kingdom.

Prince MBS is staunch proponent of women emancipation. He contends that dream of progress and sustainable development cannot be realized unless women become part and parcel of workforce. He, therefore, has brought about many reforms pertaining to the status of women in Saudi society.

For this very purpose, he allowed women to drive in the kingdom. Driving licenses are, therefore, being issued to women at a very fast pace; the number of women drivers on the road, according to Saudi officials, is expected to grow to 3 million by 2020. Further, Saudi women may now attend soccer matches and sporting events. Gyms and fitness centers for women are being established. They can also join the military and intelligence services. They are allowed to open their own business without male’s permission and to travel abroad independently without male guardian. In this very spirit, Saudi Arabia appointed its first woman to head Saudi stock exchange.

On entertainment side, Saudi government has established an entertainment authority that began hosting comedy shows, professional wrestling, live music concerts and monster truck rallies.

In April 2017, Prince MBS announced a project to build one of worlds largest cultural, sports and entertainment cities in AL-Qidiya, southwest of Riyadh. The plan includes a safari and a six flags theme park.

Additionally, cultural transformation of the kingdom is also underway. It held its first public concert by female singer in December 2017. And in January 2018, a sport stadium in Jeddah became the first in the kingdom to admit women. In April 2018, the first public cinema opened in Saudi Arabia after a ban of 35 years, with plans to have more than 2000 screens running by 2030.

This all became possible, when clerical hold over the kingdom was eviscerated. The orthodox clergy with its antiquated and rigid doctrines was the biggest obstacle in the way of progress and development of the kingdom. Addressing this issue, Prince MBS said that he aimed to have Saudi Arabia start “Returning to what we were before—a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.” He told the country’s clerics that the deal the royal family struck with them after the 1979 siege of Grand Mosque in Mecca was to be re-negotiated.

The crown prince believes that industrialization and wahhabism are mutually exclusive. The wahhabies are committed to fixed social and gender relationships. These are consistent with an economy built on oil sales, but industrialization requires a dynamic culture with social relations constantly shifting.

 Inter alia, Ayaan Haris Ali, a celebrated author and human rights activist claimed that if MBS “succeeds in his modernization efforts, Saudis will benefit from new opportunities and freedoms, and the world will benefit from curtailing Wahhabi radicalization agenda. A decade from now, the kingdom could look more like the UAE, its prosperous and relatively forward looking neighbor”.

In the end, I would like to quote Prince Mohammad bin Salman who while addressing to packed audience at the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh said that Middle East can be the “New Europe” and that he would like to see the economic transformation of the region happen within his life time. He said: “his ‘war’ was restoring the Middle East to its past glory. “I believe that the new Europe is the Middle East”. “Saudi Arabia in five years, he added,” will be completely different”.

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