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Middle East

Isolation on the peninsula

Sajad Abedi

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Influence and domination of the region by taking decisions such as money and lobbies directly and indirectly with the West was one of the ways of the Saudi rulers, but with the coming of Malik Salman, Saudi Arabia’s expansionist thinking was publicly revealed, causing the country in the region Take actions that go beyond the tact and wisdom of the Saudi rulers.

The Saudi creditor’s spirit led him to break his path to his goals. There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia has always sought to undermine Iran’s prominent role in the international and regional arena, and the rulers of this country have no sense in their pursuit of this ambition to engage in reactionary and annoying political movements. Naturally, the continuation of such a trend in the future will be negatively affected by the deadlock in reaching Saudi plans in the future. Saudi political recklessness, which is largely irrelevant, stems from the mentality of Saudi rulers over Western support for Saudi action. But evidence suggests that Westerners such as the United States and Britain are cynical about the country, and arms sales to the country from the West have provided a more favorable background for Saudi Arabia and armed terrorist groups. On the other hand, Saudi rulers are required to buy weapons for more influence in the region and control of Iran. The country’s set of spending to meet such a goal along with today’s economic problems and the dilemmas of living in some of the less developed cities in Saudi Arabia will in the future lead to a decline in the political status of the Saudi family.

Saudi Arabia’s turbulent approach in recent years and its role in waging war and violence in the region have allowed the plundering of human resources and raw materials in the Muslim world to the West.

Al Saud, in fear of internal revolts

Given Saudi Arabia’s lack of development and the availability of such facilities as oil and economic benefits, Hajj rites and rituals and the violent behavior of the Saudi rulers in dealing with Saudi Arabia’s critical society, which mainly includes Shiites deprived of economic, cultural and social resources, It was expected that the people of this country would also provide a ground for political change in the Arab Spring, but the long-term interest of the West in the country during this period and the support of the Saudi rulers has led to the conditions for the popular revolutions in the Arabian Peninsula Has encountered many bottlenecks.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, which brings with it the leadership of the Sunni world, faces many challenges in the international arena in the current context. Naturally, there are problems with the realization of the realization of Arab and Islamic countries.

Since the advent of the Wahhabi phenomenon and the use of wealth, Saudi Arabia has been able to identify itself as one of the religious differences in the Islamic world, but the emergence of a hateful phenomenon, such as riots and violent currents like ISIS and the role of Saudi Arabia As an intellectual creator of religious terrorism, the low credit of the Wahhabi coin has spread among Islamic movements. The Grozny summit and the consensus of religious scholars to withdraw from the religious circle of the Muslim world have led to a severe dissatisfaction with the Saudi political and religious authorities, and at the same time it shows that the Saudi rulers must gradually oblivion the realization of the dream of the flagging of the Islamic world. To leave

Another challenge for Saudi Arabia is its attempt to open up relations with the Zionist regime. The travels of Adel al-Jabir, former foreign minister to the occupied territories and his conversation with Netanyahu, the prime minister of the occupation regime of Quds, and the ministers of defense and foreign affairs of the regime and the head of the Mossad, signal Saudi efforts to convert the Arab hostility to the Zionist regime against the Arab hostility to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although Saudi rulers use large amounts of money and numerous media and satellite channels to justify such an action, it does not seem that such a long-term approach would be in the interest of Saudi rulers.

Riyadh, which last year’s attempt to restore its reputation in the world, has been severely under the pressure of Western media and public opinion in two stages. Once, when the United Nations officially announced that Riyadh had withdrawn its name from the black list of child custody in Yemen, again after the American security reports showed Saudi citizens have played a major role on September 11, these two issues in 1995 made Saudi Arabia the most significant hit.

In the Saudi economy, it tried to launch a full-scale oil war against Iran as the main rival in the region, but the country’s vulnerable economy, which in the new period faced significant declines in income and increased youth unemployment in the social sphere, the possibility of continuing the oil duel Has faced serious obstacles to Saudi Arabia, and eventually it was Iran that would have been victorious in oil diplomacy and Saudi Arabia had to restrict its production of oil.

Failure in Hajj Diplomacy

Another point was the impact of Saudi Arabia’s unsuccessful event on hosting pilgrims to the Battle of Al-Haram, which caused Iran’s refusal to send pilgrims to administer the Hajj and Umrah ceremonies. Regardless of the political implications of this Iranian campaign for Saudi Arabia, the absenteeism of Iranian pilgrims as one of the most active Muslim countries for sending pilgrims to Hajj and Umrah rituals has caused great damage to the Saudi economy.

Regarding the conditions of Iran and Saudi Arabia in the region, friendly relations between the two countries will be very important and will increase the security factor of the countries of the West Asia and the Middle East, however, to achieve a satisfactory level of relations for the two countries need to provide The prerequisites are, of course, provided with Saudi advance. Saudi disagreements with Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria can only be resolved if Saudi rulers make fundamental changes to their approaches. The rifts between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as major differences with Qatar over regional and climate issues, are the challenges facing Salman. The government, which has so far shown that there is a lot of confusion in politics, does not have a disciplined and coherent approach. His behavior has exacerbated the political system in the country and provided the grounds for the departure of traditional, relatively calm, traditional policies, with the administration of King Abdullah’s time in the Saudi administration, and the replacement of tension and crisis and inconsistency in approaches. It is natural that in such a situation, it would be very difficult to talk about Iran’s engagement with Saudi Arabia.

Iran has always stated that it wants to establish good relations based on mutual respect with the countries of the region and has refused to make any attempt to express its goodwill. The political and economic interactions of the Islamic Republic of Iran with Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman, regardless of their position in the Gulf Cooperation Council on Iran’s sovereignty over the three islands, and … relatively calm and with moderation. Iran has always emphasized that taking into account the preservation of national interests, it will take advantage of its facilities to calm the region and fight against terrorism. This is while the Saudi approach is in the opposite of Iran’s policies. As long as Saudi Arabia’s position on terrorists does not change, conditions for reforming relations are not ready. On the other hand, Saudi rulers must avoid changing the way they do in the massive propaganda of tribalism, creating tension between religions and spreading hatred among Islamic countries, and encouraging young people to be militant and extremist, and without making these changes, the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Middle East

As Marsha Lazareva languishes in jail, foreign businesses will “think twice” before investing in Kuwait

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IF THERE IS one thing to glean from the case of Marsha Lazareva, it’s that foreign businesses must now think very carefully before investing in Kuwait.

For more than a year, Lazareva, who has a five-year-old son and is one of Russia’s most successful female investors in the Gulf, has been held in the Soulabaiya prison by Kuwaiti authorities. Those authorities claim she ‘stole’ half a billion dollars, a claim she strenuously denies.

Human rights groups and prominent officials, including the former FBI director, Louis Freeh, and Jim Nicholson, former Chairman of the Republican Party and former US Ambassador to the Vatican, have called for her release and expressed concerns about the apparent absence of due process in a country where Lazareva has worked for over 13 years. Both Freeh and Nicholson visited Kuwait in recent weeks with Neil Bush, son of the late President George H. W. Bush. Bush has said Lazareva’s incarceration ‘threatens to darken relations between the U.S. and Kuwait, two countries that have enjoyed a long and prosperous relationship.

Russian officials have been equally concerned. Vladimir Platonov, the President of the Moscow Chamber of Commerce and Industry, confirmed that a single witness gave testimony in Kuwaiti court, and only for the prosecution. ‘I myself worked in prosecution for more than eight years, and I cannot imagine any judge signing off on an indictment like this,’ he said. ‘One fact of particular note is that Maria was given 1,800 pages of untranslated documents in Arabic.’

Serious questions surrounding the safety and future viability of investing in Kuwait are now being raised. Through The Port Fund, a private investment company managed by KGL Investment, Lazareva has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to local infrastructure and economic development projects during her time in the country. Until 2017, when a Dubai bank froze $496 million without cause, she had worked largely unobstructed.

But as things stand, more foreign investment is unlikely to be forthcoming. Jim Nicholson has said that the ‘imprisonment and harassment’ of Lazareva ‘threatens’ U.S. support. adding that the ‘willingness of the U.S. to do business with Kuwait’ is based on ‘its record as a nation that respects human rights and the rule of law’. Mark Williams, the investment director of The Port Fund and a colleague of Lazareva’s, has called on international investors to ‘think twice before doing business in this country’. 

These comments will surely concern the Kuwaiti government, who said last year that FDI was ‘very crucial’ to the success of its Kuwait Vision 2035 road map. In September 2018, the FTreported that the government planned to reverse its traditional position as an investor in order to diversify its economy, carrying out a series of reforms designed to facilitate foreign investment and assist investors.

But despite these changes, which have propelled Kuwait to 96th—higher than the Middle East average—in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ report, investors may be unwilling to take the risk so long as Lazareva remains in jail. Lazareva’s lawyers have accused Kuwait of violating international law by breaching a long-standing bilateral investment treaty with Russia. Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC has brought the case to the attention of the British public and the EU, writing in The Times that ‘there is no evidential basis to justify any claim of dishonesty, corruption or any other criminal wrong’. He added: ’Anyone thinking of doing business in Kuwait should read on with mounting concern.’

What’s worth remembering is that Kuwait is an important, long-standing ally of the UK, and a country generally seen as stable and fair. It is equally a major non-NATO ally of the United States, where there are more than 5,000 international students of Kuwaiti origin in higher education. But these relationships, and the investment to which they have historically led, have been cast into doubt. And it now seems certain that relations will continue to sour so long as Marsha Lazareva languishes in Soulabaiya.

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Middle East

Economic reform in the Gulf: Who benefits, really?

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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For Gulf leaders, long-overdue economic reforms were never going to be easy.

Leaders like the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed, quickly discovered that copying China’s model of economic growth while tightening political control was easier said than done. They realised that rewriting social contracts funded by oil wealth was more difficult because Gulf Arabs had far more to lose than the average Chinese. The Gulf states’ social contracts had worked in ways China’s welfare programmes had not. The Gulf’s rentier state’s bargain—surrender of political and social rights for cradle-to-grave welfare—had produced a win-win situation for the longest time.

Moreover, Gulf leaders, struggling with mounting criticism of the Saudi-UAE-led war in Yemen and the fall-out of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, also lacked the political and economic clout that allowed China to largely silence or marginalise critics of its crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the troubled northwestern province of Xinjiang.

The absence of a welfare-based social contract in China allowed the government to power economic growth, lift millions out of poverty, and provide public goods without forcing ordinary citizens to suffer pain. As a result, China was able to push through with economic reforms without having to worry that reduced welfare benefits would spark a public backlash and potentially threaten the regime.

Three years into Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 blueprint for diversification of the economy, Saudi businesses and consumers complain that they are feeling the pinch of utility price hikes and a recently introduced five per cent value-added tax with little confidence that the government will stay the course to ensure promised long-term benefit.

The government’s commitment to cutting costs has been further called into question by annual handouts worth billions of dollars since the announcement of the reforms and rewriting of the social contract to cushion the impact of rising costs and quash criticism.

In contrast to China, investment in the Gulf, whether it is domestic or foreign, comes from financial, technology and other services sector, the arms industry or governments. It is focused on services, infrastructure or enhancing the state’s capacities rather than on manufacturing, industrial development and the nurturing of private sector.

With the exception of national oil companies, some state-run airlines and petrochemical companies, the bulk of Gulf investment is portfolios managed by sovereign wealth funds, trophies or investment designed to enhance a country’s prestige and soft power.

By contrast, Asian economies such as China and India have used investment fight poverty, foster a substantial middle class, and create an industrial base. To be sure, with small populations, Gulf states are more likely to ensure sustainability in services and oil and gas derivatives rather than in manufacturing and industry.

China’s $1 trillion Belt and Road initiative may be the Asian exception that would come closest to some of the Gulf’s soft-power investments. Yet, the BRI, designed to alleviate domestic overcapacity by state-owned firms that are not beholden to shareholders’ short-term demands and/or geo-political gain, contributes to China’s domestic growth.

Asian nations have been able to manage investors’ expectations in an environment of relative political stability. By contrast, Saudi Arabia damaged confidence in its ability to diversify its oil-based economy when after repeated delays it suspended plans to list five per cent of its national oil company, Saudi Arabian Oil Company, or Aramco, in what would have been the world’s largest initial public offering.

To be sure, China is no less autocratic than the Gulf states, while Hindu nationalism in India fits a global trend towards civilisationalism, populism and illiberal democracy. What differentiates much of Asia from the Gulf and accounts for its economic success are policies that ensure a relatively stable environment. These policies are focused on social and economic enhancement rather than primarily on regime survival. That may be Asia’s lesson for Gulf rulers.

Author’s note: first published in Firstpost

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Ratcheting up tension: US designation of Revolutionary Guards risks escalation

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The stakes in the Middle East couldn’t be higher.

Suspicion that the United States’ intent is to change the regime in Tehran rather than its officially stated goal of forcing Iran to curb its ballistic missile program and support for militias in Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen was heightened with this week’s decision to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

It was the first time that the United States labelled a branch of a foreign government as a terrorist entity, particularly one that effects millions of Iranian citizens who get conscripted into the military and for whom the IRGC is an option.

“Today’s unprecedented move to designate the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization demonstrates our commitment to maximize pressure on the Iranian regime until it ceases using terrorism as tool of statecraft,” tweeted Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton..

The designation effectively blocks Mr. Trump’s potential successor from possibly returning to the 2015 international accord that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, complicates any diplomatic effort to resolve differences, and changes the rules of engagement in theatres like Syria where US and Iranian forces operate in close proximity to one another.

“Through this, some US allies are seeking to ensure a US-Iran war or to, at a minimum, trap them in a permanent state of enmity,” said Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, referring to Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The designation was likely to embolden advocates in Washington, Saudi Arabia and Israel of a more aggressive covert war against Iran that would seek to stoke unrest among the Islamic republic’s ethnic minorities, including Baloch, Kurds and Iranians of Arab descent.

Both Saudi Arabia and Israel were quick to applaud the US move. Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu, on the eve of a hard-fought election, claimed credit for the suggestion to designate the IRGC. The official Saudi news agency asserted that the decision translates the Kingdom’s repeated demands to the international community of the necessity of confronting terrorism supported by Iran.”

The risk of an accident or unplanned incident spiralling out of control and leading to military confrontation has also been heightened by Iran’s response, declaring the US military in the greater Middle East a terrorist entity.

The US move and the Iranian response potentially put US military personnel in the Gulf as well as elsewhere in the region in harm’s way.

The designation also ruled out potential tacit US-Iranian cooperation on the ground as occurred in Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State and in Afghanistan. That cooperation inevitably involved the IRGC.

Beyond geopolitical and military risks, the designation increases economic pressure on Iran because the IRGC is not only an army but also a commercial conglomerate with vast interests in construction, engineering and manufacturing.

It remained however unclear to what degree the sanctions would affect the IRGC, which, already heavily sanctioned, does much of its business in cash and through front companies.

US policy, even before the IRGC designation, had already raised the spectre of a nuclear race in the Middle East. The designation increases the chances that Iran will walk away from the nuclear agreement.

Saudi Arabia has however already been putting in place the building blocks for its own nuclear program in anticipation of Iran abandoning the agreement and returning to its full-fledged, pre-2015 enrichment project.

The IRGC goes to the heart of the Iranian regime. It was formed to protect the regime immediately after the 1979 revolution at a time that Iran’s new rulers had reason to distrust the military of the toppled shah.

Some of the shah’s top military and security commanders discussed crushing the revolution at a dinner on new year’s eve 1978, some six weeks before the shah’s regime fell. It was the shah’s refusal to endorse their plan that foiled it. The shah feared that large-scale bloodshed would dim the chances of his exiled son ever returning to Iran as shah.

The IRGC has since developed into a key pillar of Iran’s defense strategy which seeks to counter perceived covert operations by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel by supporting proxies across the Middle East.

It is a strategy that has proven both effective and costly, Iran’s failure to address fears that the strategy is an effort to export its revolutions and topple the region’s conservative regimes, particularly in the Gulf, has raised the cost.

To be sure, the Iranian revolution constituted a serious threat to autocratic rulers. It was a popular revolt like those more than 30 years later in the Arab world. The Iranian revolt, however, toppled not only an icon of US power in the Middle East and a monarch, it also created an alternative form of Islamic governance that included a degree of popular sovereignty.

The revolution unleashed a vicious cycle that saw Gulf states fund the eight-year long Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s in which up to one million people died; Saudi Arabia wage a four-decade long US$100 billion campaign to globally propagate ultra-conservative, anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian strands of Islam; repeated attempts to stoke ethnic tensions among Iran’s disgruntled minorities, and Iranian counter measures including support for proxies across the Middle East and violent attacks against Americans, Israelis, Jews and regime opponents in various parts of the world.

“Given that the IRGC is already sanctioned by the US Treasury, this step is both gratuitous and provocative. It will also put countries such as Iraq and Lebanon in even more difficult situations as they have no alternative but to deal with the IRGC. It will strengthen calls by pro-Iran groups in Iraq to expel US troops,” said Barbara Slavin, an Iran expert at the Washington’s Atlantic Council

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