The invasion and occupation of Syria by tens of thousands of jihadists who were recruited from around the world to overthrow Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, was financed mainly by U.S. taxpayers and by the world’s wealthiest family, the Sauds, who own Saudi Arabia and the world’s largest oil company, Aramco. America’s international oil companies and major think tanks and ‘charitable’ foundations were also supportive and providing propaganda for the operation, but the main financing for it came from America’s taxpayers, and from the Saud family and from the Government that they own.
One of the best articles that the New York Times ever published was by Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, on 23 January 2016, “U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels”. They reported that, “the C.I.A. and its Saudi counterpart have maintained an unusual arrangement for the rebel-training mission, which the Americans have code-named Timber Sycamore. Under the deal, current and former administration officials said, the Saudis contribute both weapons and large sums of money, and the C.I.A takes the lead in training the rebels. … From the moment the C.I.A. operation was started, Saudi money supported it.” Furthermore, “The White House has embraced the covert financing from Saudi Arabia — and from Qatar, Jordan and Turkey.” But “American officials said Saudi Arabia was by far the largest contributor to the operation.” The invasion and occupation of Syria by jihadists from around the world was primarily a Saud operation, though it was managed mainly by the U.S. Government.
Prior to the failed U.S.-backed coup-attempt on 15 July 2015 to replace Tayyip Erdogan as Turkey’s President, Turkey was part of the U.S-Saudi alliance to overthrow and replace Syria’s Government. But afterwards, Turkey increasingly switched against the U.S. and Sauds, and toward instead supporting the target of the Sauds and of America’s aristocrats: Syria. And, so, Turkey has increasingly joined Syria’s alliance, which includes Iran and Russia. That’s one of the major geopolitical changes in recent decades.
The NYT continued: “The Saudi efforts were led by the flamboyant Prince Bandar bin Sultan, at the time the intelligence chief, who directed Saudi spies to buy thousands of AK-47s and millions of rounds of ammunition in Eastern Europe for the Syrian rebels. The C.I.A. helped arrange some of the arms purchases for the Saudis, including a large deal in Croatia in 2012.”
The U.S. preferred to be supplying the jihadists weapons that weren’t from U.S. manufacturers, in order to impede any tracing back to the United States the arming of the movement to oust and replace Syria’s secular, committedly non-sectarian, Government. The Sauds — who are just as committedly sectarian, and are even supporters of the extreme fundamentalist Wahhabist sect of Sunni Islam — likewise tried to cover their tracks in this operation, but their tracks were financial. The Sauds have been especially skillful at covering their tracks. Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud was a buddy of George W. Bush, and had secretly donated over a million dollars in cash to Al Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks, according to Osama bin Laden’s financial bagman, who had picked up personally each one of the million-dollar-cash donations to that organization until 9/11 and who named amongst those donors not only Prince Bandar but also Prince Salman al-Saud, who subsequently became King Salman, who is now the father of Crown Prince Salman, who recently murdered the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Crown Prince Salman is also a close friend of America’s current ‘prince’, Jared Kushner, the U.S. President’s son-in-law. So, the Saud family are very close with America’s Republican aristocrats, perhaps even closer than they are with America’s Democratic aristocrats. But especially because of the business links, the Sauds are deeply influential throughout America’s aristocracy. Not only is Saudi Arabia the world’s most oil-rich country, but it is also the world’s largest purchaser of weapons from Lockheed Martin and the other American ‘defense’ contractors, which sell exclusively to the U.S. Government and to the governments that are allied with it (such as to Saudi Arabia). So, those corporations depend upon the Sauds more than upon any other family, even than any single American family.
The Saud family are also crucial allies with Israel’s aristocracy, who include such American billionaires as the Republican Sheldon Adelson and the Democrat Lesley Wexner.
Prince Bandar was also reported by the FBI to have financed directly from his personal checking account the U.S. stays, and the pilot-training, of at least two of the 15 Saudis who were among the 19 jihadists who carried out the piloting and plane-seizings on 9/11. So, if Bandar didn’t (perhaps in consultation with George W. Bush) actually plan those attacks himself, he at least was one of their chief financial backers.
The NYT article also mentioned that “In late 2012, according to two former senior American officials, David H. Petraeus, then the C.I.A. director, delivered a stern lecture to intelligence officials of several gulf nations at a meeting near the Dead Sea in Jordan. He chastised them for sending arms into Syria without coordinating with one another or with C.I.A. officers in Jordan and Turkey. Months later, Mr. Obama gave his approval for the C.I.A. to begin directly arming and training the rebels from a base in Jordan, amending the Timber Sycamore program to allow lethal assistance. Under the new arrangement, the C.I.A. took the lead in training, while Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, the General Intelligence Directorate, provided money and weapons, including TOW anti-tank missiles,” so as to conquer Syria, for the Sauds.
These authors were, however, misguided when they wrote that “While the intelligence alliance is central to the Syria fight and has been important in the war against Al Qaeda, a constant irritant in American-Saudi relations is just how much Saudi citizens continue to support terrorist groups, analysts said.” That “support” to jihadists, to the extent that it was financial, came actually not from “Saudi citizens,” but from the Saudi aristocracy, mainly from the Saud family itself. Moreover, in a monarchy — which Saudi Arabia is — there are no actual “citizens”; there are only the monarch and his or her “subjects” not “citizens” (citizens such as exist in a democracy — even it’s only a so-called one). There are only the monarch and his/her subjects — especially in an absolute monarchy, such as Saudi Arabia. So: that term “citizens” was a false and misleading term in that context.
On 6 March 2013, Britain’s Guardian bannered regarding General Petraeus “From El Salvador to Iraq: Washington’s man behind brutal police squads” and reported his having created the death squads in El Salvador and designed the post-Saddam Iraqi torture program for trying to extract from detainees (though the Guardian failed to note this) whatever information they might have about Saddam Hussein’s role in the 9/11 attacks. Nothing was mentioned in the Guardian, about 9/11, but only that “The aim: to halt a nascent Sunni insurgency in its tracks by extracting information from detainees” — but nothing was said there about what type of “information” was being sought, or why. “With Petraeus’s almost unlimited access to money and weapons, and Steele’s field expertise in counterinsurgency, the stage was set for the commandos to emerge as a terrifying force.” But force for what? The Guardian offered nothing on that.
Thierry Meyssan at Voltairenet, on 9 May 2011, headlined “What you don’t know about the Bilderberg-Group” and he wrote: “The operation was controlled in reality by William J. Donovan, the former commander of the OSS (the U.S. intelligence service during the war), now in charge of building the American branch of the new secret service of NATO, Gladio . … Moreover, the security of each subsequent meeting was not provided by the police of the host country, but by the soldiers of the NATO Alliance.” Meyssan said that “Henry Kissinger is the main person responsible for invitations to the Bilderberg Group.” Another of the “core group” was “Henry R. Kravis: U.S. financier, investment fund manager KKR. He’s a major fundraiser for the Republican Party.” Meyssan called this “The Lobby of the most powerful military organization in the world [NATO].”
During the last U.S. presidential elections, it was reported that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton disappeared on June 6, 2008, in order to negotiate an end to their rivalry. In reality, they participated in the annual conference of the Bilderberg Group in Chantilly, Virginia (USA). The following day, Mrs. Clinton announced that she was retiring from the race. … According to our sources, something else happened. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton concluded a financial and political agreement. Senator Obama bailed out his rival financially and offered her a position in his administration (Clinton refused the vice-presidency and instead chose the State Department) in exchange for her active support during the campaign against McCain. Then, the two leaders were presented by James A. Johnson to the Bilderberg Conference, where they assured the participants that they would work together. [Hillary had a solid record and reputation as a neoconservative and as a supporter of overthrowing Syria’s Government.] Barack Obama had already been NATO’s candidate for a long time. [But his campaign rhetoric had nonetheless caused worries amongst the Establishment.] Mr. Obama and his family have always worked for the CIA and the Pentagon.  Moreover, the initial funds for his campaign were provided by the Crown of England, via a businessman named Nadhmi Auchi. [See, e.g.: this and this and this and this.] In presenting the Black Senator to the Bilderbergers, the Atlantic Alliance was, in fact, organizing public relations at the international level for the future president of the United States.
Of course, that was even before Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
On 11 December 2018, Meyssan headlined “Whom does Emmanuel Macron owe?” and he wrote that, “he owes his electoral campaign mostly to Henry Kravis, the boss of one of the world’s largest financial companies, and to NATO – a considerable debt which weighs heavily today on the solution to the Yellow Vests crisis.” Macron had first met “Henry and Marie-Josée Kravis, in their residence on Park Avenue in New York . (This meeting probably took place in 2007. Thereafter, Emmanuel Macron systematically visited the Kravis couple whenever he was in the USA, and Henry Kravis welcomed him in his offices on Avenue Montaigne when he visited Paris.) The Kravis couple, unfailing supporters of the US Republican Party, are among the great world fortunes who play politics out of sight of the Press.” Furthermore:
In December 2014, Henry Kravis created his own Intelligence agency, the KKR Global Institute. He nominated at its head the ex-Director of the CIA, General David Petraeus. With the Kravis couple’s private funds (the KKR investment funds), and without referring to Congress, Petraeus pursued operation «Timber Sycamore» which had been initiated by President Barack Obama. This was the largest weapons traffic in History, implicating at least 17 states and representing many thousands of tons of weapons worth several billion dollars. As such, Kravis and Petraeus became the main suppliers for Daesh..
On 6 June 2017, Meyssan headlined “Confrontation at Bilderberg 2017” and wrote:There exist no photographs of the meeting of the Bilderberg Group, whose work is confidential. Security for the meeting is not handled by the FBI, nor the Virginia police force, but by a private militia organised by NATO.
The Bilderberg Group was created in 1954 by the CIA and MI6 in order to support the Atlantic Alliance. …
The 2017 meeting is also described there: Among the Board of Directors, mostly international corporate luminaries, was “Marie-Josée Drouin-Kravis: Economic columnist in print and broadcast media in Canada. Researcher at the very militaristic Hudson Institute. She is the third wife of Henry Kravis.”
Both Petraeus and his two KKR sponsors are regular attendees at the Bilderberg meetings. What financial stake — if any — in assisting the Sauds to take over Syria, KKR has, is not known. But if there is such, then the U.S. Government’s recent decision to quit its military occupation of Syria will presumably be, to that extent, unfavorable for KKR, and unpopular amongst the 150 companies in which it holds stock.
The great investigative journalists Dilyana Geytandzhieva, Andrey Fomin, Manlio Dinucci, Thierry Meysan, and the South Front site, have, in several articles, documented that the Governments of U.S., UAE, Qatar, and mainly Saudi Arabia, are financing and overseeing a multibillion-dollar privately operated weapons-smuggling operation to Sunni jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda in Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, and Asia. Meyssan writes:
In less than three years, Silk Way Airlines transported at least one billion dollars’ worth of armament.
One thing leading to another, journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva uncovered a vast system which also supplied the jihadists not only in Iraq and Syria, but also in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Congo – also paid for by the Saudis and the Emiratis. Some of the arms delivered in Arabia were redirected to South Africa.
The arms transported to Afghanistan were delivered to the Talibans, under the control of the US, which is pretending to fight them. …
Although, according to the international treaties, neither civil nor diplomatic flights are authorised to carry military material, requests for recognition as «diplomatic flights» require the explicit detailing of the cargo transported. However, at the request of the US State Department, at least Afghanistan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, Congo, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Israël, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Turkey and United Kingdom closed their eyes to this violation of international law, just as they had ignored the CIA flights to and from their secret prisons. …
According to Sibel Edmonds – ex-FBI agent and founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition – Azerbaïdjan, under President Heydar Aliyev, from 1997 to 2001 hosted in Bakou the number 2 of Al-Qaïda, Ayman el-Zawahiri. This was done at the request of the CIA. Although officially wanted by the FBI, the man who was then the number 2 of the international jihadist network travelled regularly in NATO planes to Afghanistan, Albania, Egypt and Turkey. He also received frequent visits from Prince Bandar ben Sultan of Saudi Arabia .
International relations are controlled by international corporations, but the identities of the persons who control those are often hidden; so, it’s not easy to say whom has been enriched by the invasion and occupation of Syria. And, probably, there won’t be funding for investigative journalists to do the costly research to find out whom those persons actually are. But they controlled both Obama and Trump, both of whom carried out their policy on Syria.
Author’s note: first published at strategic-culture.org
Who are the real betrayers of Egypt, Critics or Sycophants?
“You are betraying your country by exposing its defects!” is a common accusation made by the sycophants to the ruling regime in Egypt who have managed to well situated themselves in our society simply by blindly praising the ruler’s policies. Apparently, these sycophants place a higher value on the privileges that they have gained to living in a truly advanced nation. In fact, the real betrayers of any given authoritarian nation are those who justify this immoral ruling mechanism for their own personal gain.
Despotism is the evilest ruling mechanism ever devised; apart from its cruelty and unfairness, it works on inflating the ruler’s ego by mirroring his thoughts that are always passionately endorsed by his flatterers, regardless of their merits! Meanwhile, the ruler’s manipulation of the entire political sphere impairs the state’s ability to detect and correct its blunders. Concurrently, the harsh and inhuman treatment of the state’s critics, which includes threats to their personal lives, results in spreading fear throughout the entire society.
A successful strategy for running a country ruled by a tyrannical government is to enable ignorant citizens to dominate the state media exclusively, thus empowering them to express their opinions on a much wider scale than knowledgeable citizens. This approach consequently creates significant friction between knowledgeable and ignorant citizens, resulting in the polarization of the entire nation. The state methodically fuels this process by labeling the mediocre as loyal citizens and accusing its critics of treason.
The privileging of sycophants financially, along with advancing their power and upscaling their status, have prompted many Egyptians to join this beneficial club, which prerequisites praising superiors and justifying their faults, thus compensating for the natural dullness and incompetence of the flatterers. Meanwhile, the state’s critics who demand freedom and stand by their values are aware that they are engaged in a long-lasting battle and are risking their lives for generations to come!
In fact, sycophants are the weakest link in the state’s ruling dynamics. They hypocritically heap intense praise on the security apparatus who sacrifice their lives to defend our nation – but do their utmost to ensure that their youngsters abandon their military duty; just one facet of their deceitful conduct. Sycophantic behavior and false testimony are the most sinful acts in Islam; yet they have become, ironically, a habitual pattern of behavior in our social norms.
That Egypt needs to be ruled by an Iron-fist is a common argument put forth by the flatterers. It is translated into applying harsh measures to critics and laxity toward lawbreakers – a proposition that reflects the low moral values espoused by flatterers to secure their status. The policy of maximum repression adopted by the current ruling regime might be successful in controlling society; however, it has certainly contributed to an escalation of terrorism activities by political Islamists against the military apparatus.
In my former party, the Egyptian Democratic Front, a few executive party members used to instantly report our internal discussions to the State Security apparatus. In addition totheir immoral conduct and betrayal of their peers, they used to enhance their ratting out by exacerbating our opposing political stands. I argued, at that time, for either offering those ratters a crash course on “minutes-taking” or inviting the State Security apparatus to participate in our meetings to better learn about our viewpoints.
“Cairo is a dirty city” – a painful remark that I occasionally hear from international visitors to our capital. The Egyptian State will never be able to manipulate the perception of millions of diversified tourists who visit Cairo yearly, but we can easily work to bring order to our city and live in a hygienic place. The same applies to other qualities of life such as freedom, dignity and justice; we need to highlight deficiencies in these areas to be able to advance our nation.
President Al Sisi has a clear desire to be a remarkable leader; he believes that expanding our roads and building new flyovers will make Egypt an advanced nation and that these developments will be credited to his legacy. The president is unaware that the future of our country will be written and judged by the youths of today, who are extremely angry with him due to his policy of demolishing humanity and freedom, compounded by his inability to create decent jobs for youngsters.
Egypt is currently confronting a number of complex internal and external challenges, including an economic slowdown, a civil war on our eastern borders, a potential water shortage due to the filling of Ethiopian GRED and rising unemployment. All of these challenges, and many more, will simply be intensified by our deep polarization, further weakening the state. The sycophants’ deliberate misleading of Egypt concerning these challenges is dragging our nation downward, transforming us into a fragile state.
Advancing an old-fashioned country like Egypt requires honest citizens who have bold ideas and enough courage to implement their ideas. These qualities are found more among knowledgeable citizens and critics of the state who are already sacrificing for their country; large numbers of them are spending their best years in prison simply for having voiced their opinions. Modernizing Egypt will require our president to unite our nation, appointing well-educated citizens to key positions and completely discarding state sycophants.
Israel-China Relations: Staring Into the Abyss of US-Chinese Decoupling
Israel knew the drill even before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boarded his flight to Tel Aviv earlier this month four days after the death of his father. It was Mr. Pompeo’s first and only overseas trip since March.
Echoing a US warning two decades ago that Israeli dealings with China jeopardized the country’s relationship with the United States, Mr. Pompeo’s trip solidified Israel’s position at the cusp of the widening US-Chinese divide.
Two decades ago the issue was the potential sale to China of Israeli Phalcon airborne warning and control systems (AWACS). Israel backed out of the deal after the US threatened withdrawal of American support for the Jewish state.
This month the immediate issue was a Chinese bid for construction of the world’s largest desalination plant and on the horizon a larger US-Chinese battle for a dominating presence in Eastern Mediterranean ports.
Within days of his visit, Mr. Pompeo scored a China-related success even if the main focus of his talks with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was believed to be Iran and Israeli plans to annex portions of the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Israel signalled that it had heard the secretary’s message by awarding the contract for the Sorek-2 desalination plant to an Israeli rather than a Chinese company.
The tender, however, is only the tip of the iceberg.
China’s interest in Israel is strategic given the fact that the Jewish state is one of the world’s foremost commercial, food and security technology powerhouses and one of the few foreign countries to command significant grassroots support in the United States.
If there is one thing Israel cannot afford, it is a rupture in its bonds to the United States. That is no truer than at a time in which the United States is the only power supportive of Israeli annexation plans on the West Bank.
The question is whether Israel can develop a formula that convinces the United States that US interests will delineate Israeli dealings with China and reassure China that it can still benefit from Israeli assets within those boundaries.
“Right now, without taking the right steps, we are looking at being put in the situation in which the US is telling us we need to cut or limit our relations with China. The problem is that Israel wants freedom of relations with China but is not showing it really understands US concerns. Sorek-2 was a good result. It shows the Americans we get it.” said Carice Witte, executive director of Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership (SIGNAL) that seeks to advance Israeli-Chinese relations.
Analysts, including Ms. Witte, believe that there is a silver lining in Israel’s refusal to award the desalination plant to a Chinese company that would allow it to steer a middle course between the United States and China.
“China understands that by giving the Americans this win, China-Israel relations can continue. It gives them breathing room,” Ms. Witte said in an interview.
It will, however, be up to Israel to develop criteria and policies that accommodate the United States and make clear to China what Israel can and cannot do.
“In order for Israel to have what it wants… it’s going to need to show the Americans that it takes Washington’s strategic perceptions into consideration and not only that, that it’s two steps ahead on strategic thinking with respect to China. The question is how.” Ms. Witte said.
Ports and technology are likely to be focal points.
China is set to next year takeover the management of Haifa port where it has already built its own pier and is constructing a new port in Ashdod.
One way of attempting to address US concerns would be to include technology companies in the purview of a still relatively toothless board created under US pressure in the wake of the Haifa deal to review foreign investment in Israel. It would build in a safeguard against giving China access to dual civilian-military use technology.
That, however, may not be enough to shield Israel against increased US pressure to reduce Chinese involvement in Israeli ports.
“The parallels between the desalination plant and the port are just too close to ignore. We can’t have another infrastructure divide,” Ms. Witte said.
The two Israeli ports will add to what is becoming a Chinese string of pearls in the Eastern Mediterranean.
China already manages the Greek port of Piraeus.
China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) is looking at upgrading Lebanon’s deep seaport of Tripoli to allow it to accommodate larger vessels.
Qingdao Haixi Heavy-Duty Machinery Co. has sold Tripoli port two 28-storey container cranes capable of lifting and transporting more than 700 containers a day, while a container vessel belonging to Chinese state-owned shipping company COSCO docked in Tripoli in December 2018, inaugurating a new maritime route between China and the Mediterranean.
Major Chinese construction companies are also looking at building a railroad that would connect Beirut and Tripoli in Lebanon to Homs and Aleppo in Syria. China has further suggested that Tripoli could become a special economic zone within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and serve as an important trans-shipment point between the People’s Republic and Europe.
BRI is a massive infrastructure, telecommunications and energy-driven effort to connect the Eurasian landmass to China.
Potential Chinese involvement in reconstruction of post-war Syria would likely give it access to the ports of Latakia and Tartous.
Taken together, China is looking at dominating the Eastern Mediterranean with six ports in four countries, Israel, Greece, Lebanon, and Syria that would create an alternative to the Suez Canal.
All that is missing are Turkish, Cypriot and Egyptian ports.
The Chinese build- up threatens to complicate US and NATO’s ability to manoeuvre in the region.
The Trump administration has already warned Israel that Chinese involvement in Haifa could jeopardize continued use of the port by the US fifth fleet.
“The writing is on the wall. Israel needs to carve out a degree of wiggle room. That however will only come at a price. There is little doubt that Haifa will move into the firing line,” said a long-time observer of Israeli-Chinese relations.
Will Gulf States Learn From Their Success in Handling the Pandemic?
The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic for Gulf states has done far more than play havoc with their revenue base and fiscal household. It has propelled massive structural change to the top of their agenda in ways that economic diversification plans had not accounted for.
Leave aside whether Gulf states can continue to focus on high-profile, attention-grabbing projects like Neom, Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion USD 21st century futuristic city on the Red Sea.
Gulf rulers’ to do list, if they want to get things right, is long and expensive without the burden of trophy projects. It involves economic as well as social and ultimately political change.
Transparency and accurate and detailed public reporting go to the core of these changes.
They also are key to decisions by investors, economists, and credit rating companies at a time when Gulf states’ economic outlook is in question. Many complain that delays in GDP reporting and lack of easy access to statistics complicates their decision-making.
Nonetheless, if there is one thing autocratic Gulf governments have going for themselves, beyond substantial financial reserves, it is public confidence in the way they handled the pandemic, despite the fact that they failed to initially recognize crowded living circumstances of migrant workers as a super spreader.
Most governments acted early and decisively with lockdowns and curfews, testing, border closures, repatriation of nationals abroad, and, in Saudi Arabia, suspension of pilgrimages.
To be sure, Gulf countries, and particularly Saudi Arabia that receives millions of Muslim pilgrims from across the globe each year, have a long-standing history of dealing with epidemics. Like Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, they were better prepared than Western nations.
History persuaded the kingdom to ban the umrah, the lesser Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, in late February, days before the first case of a Covid-19 infection emerged on Saudi soil.
Beyond public health concerns, Saudi Arabia had an additional reason to get the pandemic right. It offered the kingdom not only an opportunity to globally polish its image, badly tarnished by human rights abuses, power grabs, and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but also to retain religious influence despite the interruption in the flow of pilgrims to the kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia is still a reference for many Muslim communities around the world,” said Yasmine Farouk, a scholar of Saudi Arabia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
It also allowed Saudi Arabia to set the record straight following criticism of its handling of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 when the kingdom became the epidemic’s epicenter and in 2009 when it was hit by the H1N1 virus.
Saudi Arabia is also blamed for contributing to a public health catastrophe in Yemen with its frequent indiscriminate bombings.
A country in ruins as a result of the military intervention, Yemen has grappled for the past four years with a cholera epidemic on the kingdom’s borders.
Trust in Gulf states’ handling of the current pandemic was bolstered by degrees of transparency on the development of the disease in daily updates in the number of casualties and fatalities.
It was further boosted by a speech by King Salman as soon as the pandemic hit the kingdom in which he announced a raft of measures to counter the disease and support the economy as well as assurances by agriculture minister Abdulrahman al-Fadli that the crisis would not affect food supplies.
Ms. Farouk suggested that government instructions during the pandemic were followed because of “trust in the government, the expertise and the experience of the government [and] trust in the religious establishment, which actually was following the technical decisions of the government.”
To be sure, Ms. Farouk acknowledged, the regime’s coercive nature gave the public little choice.
The limits of government transparency were evident in the fact that authorities were less forthcoming with details of public spending on the pandemic and insight into available medical equipment like ventilators and other supplies such as testing kits.
Some Gulf states have started publishing the daily and total number of swabs but have yet to clarify whether these figures include multiple swabbings of the same person.
“It is likely that publics in the Middle East will look back at who was it that gave them reliable information, who was it who was there for them,” said political scientist Nathan Brown.
The question is whether governments will conclude that transparency will be needed to maintain public confidence as they are forced to rewrite social contracts that were rooted in concepts of a cradle-to-grave welfare state but will have to involve greater burden sharing.
Gulf governments have so far said little about burden sharing being allocated equitably across social classes nor has there been transparency on what drives investment decisions by sovereign wealth funds in a time of crisis and changing economic outlook.
Speaking to the Financial Times, a Gulf banker warned that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “needs to be careful what he spends on . . . Joe Public will be watching.”
Headed by Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund has gone on a $7.7 billion USD shopping spree buying stakes in major Western blue chips, including four oil majors: Boeing, Citigroup, Disney, and Facebook. The Public Investment Fund is also funding a bid for English soccer club Newcastle United.
The banker suggested that Saudi nationals would not appreciate “millionaire footballer salaries being paid for by VAT (value added tax) on groceries.” He was referring to this month’s hiking of sales taxes in the kingdom from five to 15 percent.
The fragility and fickleness of public trust was on display for the world to see in Britain’s uproar about Dominic Cummings, a close aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who violated lockdown instructions for personal reasons. Mr. Johnson is struggling to fight off demands for Mr Cummings’ dismissal.
To be sure, senior government officials and business executives in the Gulf have cautioned of hard times to come.
A recent Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry survey of CEOs predicted that 70 percent of the United Arab Emirates’ companies would go out of business in the next six months, including half of its restaurants and hotels and three-quarters of its travel and tourism companies.
Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan warned earlier this month that the kingdom would need to take “painful” measures and look for deep spending cuts as a result of the collapse of oil prices and significantly reduced demand for oil.
Aware of sensitivities, Mr. Al-Jadaan stressed that “as long as we do not touch the basic needs of the people, all options are open.”
There was little transparency in Mr. Al-Jadaan’s statements on what the impact would be on employment-seeking Saudi nationals in a labor market where fewer migrant workers would be available for jobs that Saudis have long been unwilling to accept.
It was a missed opportunity considering the 286 percent increase in the number of Saudis flocking to work for delivery services.
The increase was fueled by an offer by Hadaf, the Saudi Human Resources Development Fund, to pay drivers $800 USD a month, as well as a newly-found embrace of volunteerism across the Gulf.
The surge offered authorities building blocks to frame expectations at a time when the kingdom’s official unemployment rate of 12 percent is likely to rise.
It suggested a public acknowledgement of the fact that well-paying, cushy government positions may no longer be as available as they were in the past as well as the fact that lesser jobs are no less honorable forms of employment.
That may be the silver lining as Gulf states feel the pressure to reinvent themselves in a world emerging from a pandemic that potentially will redraw social, economic, and political maps.
Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia
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