Is Qatar the Gulf nation we should be worried about?

TRT World is a recently established English language news outlet presenting a Turkish perspective on local and global events. If you’re looking for a different take from the one you may be getting in your own local media, you may find their viewpoint interesting.

UAE & Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan as he sits down to a meeting with of Gulf Cooperation Council leaders

The UAE and Saudi Arabia claim to be opposed to Daesh, yet by supporting a regional order that has contempt for basic lberties, democracy and human life, it is providing daesh with the chaos and blood that is its most vital fuel.

When justifying its recent decision –  along with the UAE, Egypt, the Maldives, Bahrain, Yemen (or what’s left of it) and the Eastern Libyan government – to sever relations with Qatar, Saudi Arabia put out a statement claiming that the reason was that its former ally was “harbouring a multitude of terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to create instability in the region”.

The UAE followed suit, claiming that Qatar was guilty of “ongoing policies that rattle the security and sovereignty of the region as well as its manipulation and evasion of its commitments and treaties”.

This has long been coming.  While the Trump administration might paint this as Saudi and the UAE getting ‘tough on terror’, Qatar is being singled out for its support for revolution in the Arab world – its support for democratic forms of Islamism, namely the Muslim Brotherhood.

saudi criminalsThis is the reason Saudi and, even more strenuously, the UAE have rounded against Qatar. The groups in question are not ISIS (Daesh), but rather groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood – groups that have adhered to Islamic democracy.  The Brotherhood is the main target of this action by Saudi, the UAE and Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood

A few weeks ago the Abu Dhabi-owned daily newspaper The National published an editorial on the Muslim Brotherhood, the title of which declared that the Brotherhood and the Islamic State group (IS) ‘share the same swamp’.

The editorial tenuously justifies this absurd claim by listing instances where the Brotherhood, or its political wings and offshoots, have got into power through democracy.

deceit-disease-slavery UAEFor example, the editorial cites a completely illogical correlation between the election of 16 “Islamists” in the Jordanian parliamentary elections – by which it surely means the election of 15 members of the National Coalition for Reform (NCR) – and “[IS]-related incidents” in the country.

It seems to have escaped the authors of the editorial that the Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Action Front is merely one component force of the NCR, which is a broad democratic coalition that includes secular Jordanian nationalists, ethnic minorities, Christians and women.  This is what the UAE considers to be ‘terrorism’.

And this perhaps subtly reveals the main problem the UAE and Saudi have with Brotherhood-affiliated groups and Qatar, which has refused to persecute them and has backed them. The two nations might seek to claim that the Brotherhood is a threat to democracy, but it is precisely its participation in democracy that makes the Brotherhood such a threat to the UAE.

Read the whole article

Thieves Falling Out? What’s going on with Qatar?

media liesWhy do I follow the mainstream news media? It’s simple. I know they are trying to con me. I know they are telling half-truths, and hiding important information from me. Reading between the lines, however, gives me important clues as to what questions I should be asking to find the answers I really need to know.

So . . . This week I learn that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are cutting ties with oil rich neighbour and former friend Qatar over “alleged support for terrorism”. Well, good for them, you might think. Great to see high profile Muslim countries taking initiative to stamp out this curse currently plaguing the world.

But wait up. Who exactly are the “terrorists” those dastardly Qataris are “allegedly” supporting? The terrible Taliban? ISIS/Daesh? Al Qaeda? Boko Haram? Apparently not. In fact it’s far more likely those groups are funded by Saudis. The object of Qatari affections seems to be the Muslim Brotherhood. Well, ok. They’re just as bad, aren’t they? With a name like that, they’d have to be terrorists. Certainly movers and shakers in the USA and Israel think so: the Clarion Project, the Gatestone Institute, and Israeli Stand With Us express strong opinions on the subject. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates summed up their case with a simple, if inelegant sound byte: “It seems to me, by and large, if it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck, maybe it’s a duck.”

no-ducks-sign

. . . or Muslims!

On the other hand, the people at Brookings say no, and there seems to be debate on the matter within Trump’s administration. Back in March, the Big DT was on the verge of issuing an executive order adding the Brotherhood to Washington’s official list of terrorist organisations – but decided to postpone the decision. Apparently cooler heads in his team were arguing that affixing the “terrorist” label would unnecessarily upset some of America’s allies in the region. Clearly, however, other “allies” are strongly in favour, especially the Saud family, the UAE (Dubai etc) and Egypt. So who’s right?

According to a BBC backgrounder, the movement (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Arabic) was founded in 1928, and “initially aimed simply to spread Islamic morals and good works, but soon became involved in politics, particularly the fight to rid Egypt of British colonial control and cleanse it of all Western influence.” It’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, did create “a paramilitary wing, the Special Apparatus, whose operatives joined the fight against British rule and engaged in a campaign of bombings and assassinations.” Sounds nasty, but you have to remember that, in those days, Britain was fighting a losing global war to hold on to its rapidly shrinking empire. Their plan to wipe Turkey of the map had been foiled by Kemal Atatürk; and MK Ghandi led India and Pakistan to independence in 1947. In 1956, after President Abdul Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, the Brits, French and Israelis actually invaded Egypt – but were ordered out by US President Eisenhower.

1956-mirror-news-usa-front-page-reporting-israel-invades-egypt-during-E5GNF9

That was in 1956

You might think the Muslim Brothers had some cause for indulging in a little active resistance. Not everyone is as patient and peaceful as Mahatma Ghandi. When Hosni Mubarak stood down as President of Egypt in 2011 as a result of “Arab Spring” protests and the (probably reluctant) urging of US President Obama, he had held the position for 29 years, winning “elections” where 70-80% of his citizens didn’t bother to cast a vote. The Muslim Brotherhood had been banned from putting up candidates, but in the first genuinely democratic election in June 2012 they won a comfortable majority. Mohammed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected (and non-military) president. He lasted just over a year. In July 2013 he was ousted by Egypt’s armed forces and his place taken by military commander-in-chief, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Subsequently, the United States and its Western allies have been twisting their tongues into breathtaking contortions to avoid calling the military coup a military coup.

Did the US government’s henchmen have a hand in Morsi’s ousting? Of course they cover their tracks, but we do know that the US had supported Mubarak’s dictatorship, despite his abysmal human rights record. US funding made Egypt’s military the world’s 10th largest, and Egypt reversed its earlier implacable hostility to Israel. It was unlikely that Morsi would have been quite so accommodating to US Middle East policy. US aid was cut off but resumed as soon as Egypt returned to military dictatorship. Go figure, as my North American friends are fond of saying.

Obamas Arab mates

Barack Obama with his Arab mates

Well, Qatar’s tiny population (2.2 million) has the world’s highest per capita GDP, its capital, Doha, is the location for TV broadcaster Al-Jazeera, and the country was selected by FIFA to host the 2022 football World Cup tournament. It’s not exactly a paragon of democratic freedom, but that doesn’t seem to be a major stumbling block to finding favour with US administrations. It does seem that their crime, in the eyes of their neighbours, is lending support to those Muslim Brothers.

Now don’t you think it’s interesting that just after President Donald Trump returns home from a successful visit to his country’s friends in the Middle East, a gang of those friends suddenly decide to pick on a neighbour that has been causing difficulties for the Trump administration? DT wants to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation but some of his advisors are blocking him. Is it possible he suggested to King Salman and the rest of his Arab buddies that now might be a good time to put the screws on Qatar to fall into line?

Whatever the failings of their foreign and domestic programmes, putting the screws on other sovereign states to fall into line is something United States governments are especially good at. We’ve seen what happened in Egypt. We are witnessing (again) what happens to South American nations (Brazil, Venezuela) that think serving their own people takes priority over the interests of US corporations. For all the talk about bringing American-style democracy to the world, we have seen that US administrations are far more comfortable dealing with military dictators than with elected leaders who may have to listen to what their own people are saying.

bombing-yemen

Enlisting recruits for Al Qaeda in Yemen

And whatever may have been said in private, President Trump was only too happy to trumpet his success in clinching a deal to sell $110 billion worth of military hardware to the Saudi rulers. In case you were wondering what the Saudis are doing with all those tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships, Time Magazine tells us that it is mostly being used to slaughter people in neighbouring Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries, currently racked by poverty, starvation and a cholera epidemic. As if the Saudis can’t do enough damage by themselves, the US military has been making its own contribution to peace in the Middle East with commando raids and drone strikes. Tell, me please, who are those poor Yemenis threatening?

Meanwhile Turkey is struggling to persuade its own so-called Western allies to support its struggle against terrorism. Military personnel known to have been involved in the unsuccessful July 15 military coup attempt have taken refuge in EU countries, notably Greece and Germany – and those NATO friends are refusing to hand them over. Fethullah Gülen, believed by Turkey’s government to have been a key figure in efforts to overthrow them, is safely ensconced in his Pennsylvania retreat, while the US government spurns all requests to extradite him. The Pentagon, in open defiance of Ankara’s wishes, is unabashedly supplying military hardware to Kurdish separatist groups in Syria closely allied with the internationally recognised terrorist PKK.

us-iran

Supporting autocrats in the Middle East

I read an interesting book review the other day. ‘Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East’ is a collection of academic articles apparently arguing against Barack Obama’s simplistic assessment of Middle East strife that it is “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia”. So far, so good. The Ottoman dynasty ruled a multicultural, polyglot empire embracing Muslims, Jews and mutually antagonistic Christian sects for six centuries without major sectarian conflict.

Unfortunately, it seems the writers have lurched from one flawed interpretation to another. The reviewer summarises the book’s theme thus: “Behind the current turmoil lies a toxic brew of authoritarianism, kleptocracy, developmental stagnation, state repression, geopolitical rivalry and class dynamics. . . Many of the contributors,” we are told, “make the key point that lethal sectarianism and politicized identities are often manipulated by authoritarian regimes in pursuit of political gain.”

Well, it is undoubtedly true that Hosni Mubarak, for example, made good use of his 29 years as dictator of Egypt to enrich himself and his family. The academics in “Secularization” might have noted, however, that courts in Switzerland and the United States have resisted all attempts by Egyptian authorities to repatriate the tens of millions of dollars stashed by Mubarak in their banks.

The articles seem to attribute the rise of the phenomenon purely and simply to power-hungry “autocrats” in the region stoking internecine hatred for their own purposes. One writer even blames the current lawless chaos in Iraq on neighbours Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, who allegedly sabotaged Washington’s genuine attempts to create “a stable and democratic Iraq”.

static.politico.com

The Big DT with his Israeli mates

Well, I guess we saw in Afghanistan just how genuine was the American desire to bring stability and democracy. After using the Taliban to evict the Russian military from Afghanistan, the United States walked away and left the locals to sort out the mess by themselves – and we’ve seen the result of that. When it suited the White House, they supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. Iran itself had experienced its Islamic revolution as a result of 27 years of US-supported dictatorship by the puppet Shah, installed after a CIA-sponsored coup in 1952. The Saudi royal family gained and retain their power by working with, first the British, and subsequently the United States. Much of the current conflict in the Middle East stems from the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 by the United Nations aka the United States, which has subsequently supported that government’s expansionist aggression against all objections by the international community.

Is this current business with Qatar just another example of local thieves falling out? I don’t think so.

What are the Saudis doing with all that military hardware?

Well, now I’ve got answers to some of my questions.

The weapons sale was one of the largest in history, totaling close to $110 billion worth of tanks, artillery, radar systems, armored personnel carriers, and Blackhawk helicopters. The package also included ships, patrol boats, Patriot missiles, and THAAD missile defense systems.

RTX26U98

Targeting civilians in Yemen

Much of that military hardware will likely be pressed into service in the Saudi fight against its neighbor Yemen, where more than 10,000 people have been killed over more than two years of heavy airstrikes and fighting.

This puts the U.S. in a precarious ethical position, say human rights groups and former U.S. officials. The Saudi-led airstrike campaign has hit numerous schools, hospitals, factories, and other civilian targets, leading to well-documented allegations of war crimes by human rights organizations. The war has also pushed much of the country to the brink of starvation, with more than 17 million people facing famine, according to the U.N.

“There’s a humanitarian aspect that tends to be ignored. This is something that will come back to bite the Saudis as well, and by implication the Americans, because we’re the ones providing the bombs and bullets,” says Robert Jordan, the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia appointed by George W. Bush.

Under the Obama administration, the United States supported the bombing campaign from the beginning, including providing tanker aircraft to refuel Saudi coalition jets in midair. As civilian deaths mounted, Obama scaled back support in 2016, halting the sale of cluster bombs and also halting a $400 million transfer of precision guided missiles, citing what one U.S. official called “systemic, endemic” problems with how the Saudi military chose targets in Yemen.

Rights advocates criticized Obama’s decision to stop the deliveries of some weapons as an inadequate gesture. But Trump’s surge in weapons dispenses with any pretense of American disapproval for the conduct of the campaign in Yemen.

The weapons deal has also raised legal questions. In a legal opinion sent to the U.S. Senate on May 19, the American Bar Association’s Human Rights Center argued that continued arms sales are illegal under American laws that ban sales to states that violate international law. The letter, authored by Vanderbilt Professor and retired U.S. Army Lt. Michael Newton, cited “consistent and credible reports of clear violations of internationally recognized human rights” by Saudi Arabia’s armed forces.

U.S. and Saudi Arabia Sign $110 Billion Arms Deal

Saudi Arabia – A big priority for all US Presidents! America’s true Muslim friends, champions of democracy, women’s rights and LGBIT freedoms!

I’d like to see a list of what the US arms industry is selling the Sauds – and what they are planning to do with all that hardware.

Time Magazine       May 20, 2017

ShowImage

What you said, Mr King – Allahu akbar!

(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) — President Donald Trump and Saudi King Salman signed a series of agreements cementing their countries’ military and economic partnerships.

The two leaders signed a joint vision agreement Saturday at the Saudi Royal Court and sealed it with a handshake.

The agreements also include a military sales deal of about $110 billion, effective immediately, plus another $350 billion over the next 10 years.

The two countries also announced a defense cooperation agreement and private sector agreements Saturday that are intended to create tens of thousands of new jobs in the U.S. defense industry.

Trump has been tending to official business on his first day overseas as president.

Who is Supporting the Terrorists?

I’m passing on this article by Ralph Lopez
 from Global Research that was published on February 24, 2015

Bush Family Ties to Terror Suspects Re-opened by the 9/11 Classified “28 Pages”

As pressure builds to make public 28 pages of a joint congressional inquiry on 9/11 which was classified by President George W. Bush, the Bush family’s well-documented relationships to Saudi and other foreign terror suspects are again coming to the fore.

bush_war_criminalNorth Carolina Republican Congressman Walter Jones told the New Yorker last September, of what is now commonly known as the “28 Pages”:

““There’s nothing in it about national security…It’s about the Bush Administration and its relationship with the Saudis.””

Prominent in the rise of the political fortunes of both the 41st and 43rd presidents is the support of figures listed by the US government as terrorist financiers, as well as some connected to the now closed, Saudi-controlled criminal enterprise known as BCCI.

Two major investors in the 43rd president’s early business ventures, Arbusto Energy and Harken Energy, were Salem bin Laden, Osama’s older brother, and Khalid bin Mahfouz, a 20% stakeholder in BCCI, who was himself accused and investigated for financing terrorism. Mahfouz, who died in 2009, was known as the personal banker of the Saudi royal family.

The Saudi-controlled BCCI played a central role in acting as a conduit for renegade CIA operations run by Lt. Col. Oliver North and General Richard Secord, with the elder Bush overseeing the operations from his position as vice president to Ronald Reagan and as a former director of the CIA. Known as the Iran-Contra Scandal in the Eighties, the renegade operation illegally sold thousands of Stinger missiles to the new Revolutionary Government of Iran, in exchange for Iran hurting President Jimmy Carter’s prospects for re-election by holding onto American hostages in the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. (Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report)

pc_8488f8a3328d56b827a6b4eff8b1718aThe Kerry-Brown Committee also reported on international groups, in particular Israeli, assisting in gunrunning and other illegal operations in league with BCCI. The report stated:

““In April 1989, a network of Israeli arms traffickers, operating out of Miami, made a shipment of 500 Israeli manufactured machine guns through the Caribbean island of Antigua for the use of members of the Medellin cartel. Later, one of these weapons was used in the assassination of Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, and several other of the weapons were found in the possession of cartel kingpin Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha after his death in a gunfight with Colombian drug agents.””

At the center of the Israeli gun-running operation which provided weapons to the Medellin cartel was Israeli national and BCCI banker Bruce Rappaport.

Read the whole article

Turkey catches Fire? Who to blame for ISIS?

The post-modern news media inhabit and project a fascinating virtual world. Friends and family abroad email or text me saying: ‘We heard there was a terrible earthquake in Turkey – are you all right?’ ‘Well, yes,’ I reply. ‘It was an awful thing for the people on the spot, but that spot is nearly 2000 km from Istanbul, so we ourselves only read about it in the newspaper. But I hear the USA is engulfed in race riots and street violence – I hope you guys are all safe.’ ‘Oh sure,’ they say. ‘Ferguson, Mississippi is a long way from our house.’

But we know it's not happening in your part of America

But we know it’s not happening in your part of America

So when you read a headline in Time proclaiming ‘Turkey Catches Fire as ISIS burns Kobani’ I’d like you to bear that in mind. Turkey covers a land area approximately three times that of Japan, New Zealand or the United Kingdom. There are fires from time to time, but I have to tell you, at this stage, the sub-editor at Time seems to have had a rush of blood to the head. One of my students comes from the city of Şanlıurfa, some 40-50 km from the Syrian border. Out of interest I asked him how things are down there. Pretty normal, he assured me.

On the other hand, the situation in parts of Iraq and Syria near Turkey’s southeastern border seems rather dire. Civil war has been ongoing in Syria for three years with no end in sight – and an estimated 1.5 million refugees have crossed into Turkey, overflowing government camps and increasingly finding their way to urban centres in the west. A mysterious new entity labeled ‘ISIS’ by Western media, seemingly unaffiliated to any particular Middle East state, yet remarkably well-trained and equipped with artillery and other modern military hardware, is raging through the region, burning towns, massacring locals and beheading visiting journalists.

A CNN poll in early September allegedly found that a majority of Americans was ‘alarmed’ by ISIS and in favour of bombing them. Incidentally, the poll also found that 83% were in favour of providing humanitarian aid to refugees, but I haven’t heard much more about that. 61% were clear that they didn’t want to see US troops on the ground in Syria or Iraq. The proportion supporting airstrikes is around 2:1 according to a more recent poll. Keith Helser, a ‘commodities trader from suburban Chicago’ is quoted as saying ‘He [President Obama]’s got to do something.’ He said most people he talks with don’t care much about the U.S. airstrikes. ‘It’s a long way away. As long as we’re not letting our own people get killed, I don’t think they care that much.’

Syrian Kurds crossing the border into Turkey

Syrian Kurds crossing the border into Turkey

Well, excuse me, but I don’t see that. Why exactly does President Obama have to do something? And if he genuinely feels he does, why does it have to be dropping bombs from a great height on countries with whom his own government is not officially at war? The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on August 22 saying that more than 191,000 people had been killed in Syria between March 2011 and April 2014, and 2.9 million had fled the country. ‘It is scandalous,’ he said, ‘that the predicament of the injured, displaced, the detained, and the relatives of all those who have been killed or are missing is no longer attracting much attention, despite the enormity of their suffering.’

Western news media, especially in the USA, have made much of the admittedly gruesome deaths of two or three foreign nationals at the hands of ISIS executioners. We also read and see much about Yezidis, Chaldean Christians and Kurds being massacred. Again, I’m sorry, but I don’t see the deaths of those journalists as sufficient reason for large-scale military invasion of a sovereign state with whom we are not actually at war. And I don’t believe Barack Obama does either. I also have serious doubts (along with Mr ‘Chicago commodities trader’ Helser) that most Americans care a great deal about Yezidis or Chaldean Christians, even if they knew what they were. I suspect that there has been a concerted campaign by opinion leaders in the US (political, industrial and financial) using the news media to instill fear into their fellow citizens so that they will support further military action. And the real question, in my opinion, is why?

Bringing peace to the Middle East

Bringing peace to the Middle East

Getting back to recent events in Turkey referred to in that Time article about that country catching fire, it is true that several cities have been experiencing violent street demonstrations where Kurdish citizens are allegedly demanding that the government send military aid to the residents of the Syrian town of Kobani, apparently about to be overrun by ISIS forces. A news item on Thursday in little old New Zealand announced that the US and its allies were ‘chafing at Turkish inaction on Syria.’ It seems that ‘the US and its allies’ want the Turkish government to send troops and tanks across the border into Syria to engage ISIS forces and try to save the town of Kobani – this in spite of the fact that US and its allies are pretty clear in their reluctance to commit ground forces of their own to the conflict. Sitting up there in a bomber at a safe altitude, or at an even safer distance at the controls of an unmanned drone dropping explosive ordinance is apparently ok – but putting US lives at risk . . . Uh, uh. Get those Turks to do it. They’re good at that kind of stuff.

But the Turkish government is being uncooperative, as indeed they were when George W Bush and his allies went a-hunting Saddam Hussein. The line being taken by the US-controlled news media is that Turkey is happy to see ISIS killing Kurds; that they don’t seem to be viewing the threat of ISIS with the appropriate degree of seriousness; and that they are claiming to be worried about PKK Kurdish terrorism when we want them to care more about ISIS.

In fact, in the last two weeks, 160,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing ISIS forces have been permitted to cross the border into Turkey, adding to the 1.5 million Syrians mentioned above. Who will be responsible for feeding, housing and providing gainful employment for these people? The Turkish government is understandably nervous that sending troops into Syria with aggressive intent will provoke a similar response within its own borders. President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu have also made it clear that they are unwilling to commit Turkish troops until the US and its allies clarify their long-term objectives for Syria.

Front page of 'Sözcu' - I suspect the USA is behind it

Front page of ‘Sözcu’ – I suspect the USA has some interest in stirring up protests

Banner front page headline in Turkey’s main anti-government newspaper ‘Sözcu’ this morning announced, over graphic photographs of masked protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and brandishing clubs and sawn-off shotguns: ‘İşte Tayyip’in Eseri’‘This is Tayyip’s [the Turkish president’s] handiwork.’ This in a country where there is, allegedly, no freedom of the press. I couldn’t help wondering what would have happened in the USA if a newspaper had carried a headline, in the days after 9/11, saying ‘This is the Bush family’s handiwork.’ But leave that aside. What I am interested in is, who is actually responsible for the current chaos in the Middle East.

I’m not going to say anything about Israel. I’m not going to enter into a discussion of the extent to which American and British determination to establish a Jewish state in Palestine drastically altered the dynamics in the region, and their commitment to propping it up has created a situation where peace is virtually impossible. No, I’m not.

What I am going to do is direct your attention to a pair of articles written by Alastair Crooke, according to Wikipedia, a British diplomat, a former ranking figure in British Intelligence (MI6) and European diplomacy, and now a vocal advocate for dialogue between militant Islam and the West. Crooke is apparently somewhat unpopular with the neo-conservative club, but what he says makes a lot of sense to me. The first article provides a historical survey of the rise of Wahhabi Islam and its connection with the foundation of Saudi Arabia and its ‘royal’ dynasty. The second proposes the thesis that ‘The real aim of ISIS is to replace the Saud family as the new Emirs of Arabia’.

Crooke argues that Wahhabism was a purist Islamic doctrine originating in the 18th century, strenuously opposed by the Ottomans when they controlled the region, but accepted by the British when, for reasons of their own, they saw fit to settle the Saud family on the Arabian throne after the First World War. Since then there has been an uneasy relationship between the Wahhabist clerics with their Shariah regime, and the Saudi royals pursuing a lavish lifestyle funded by a symbiotic relationship with the USA and its insatiable thirst for oil.

My good friend Abdullah. He doesn't personally flog anyone

My good friend Abdullah. He doesn’t personally flog anyone 😉

In all fairness to the George Bushes and Barack Obama, they probably weren’t/aren’t entirely comfortable with the amputating of hands, stoning of adulteresses and public flogging of women for drinking a glass of beer or driving a car. Sucking up to the Saudi royals involves a certain sleight of mind whereby you pretend you are a persuasive force for modernisation while your weapons factories supply them with state-of-the-art military hardware and you finance their purchases by buying their oil. As Alastair Crooke points out, however, there is a price to pay by King Saud and his family too: an increasing alienation of the Wahhabi believers on whom they depend for their privileged existence. Osama bin Ladin, founder of Al Qaeda, came from a wealthy Saudi family with close ties to the Saudi royals – but his religious principles led to his disillusionment and subsequent exile.

The sad fact for America is that few countries in the world, and probably none in the Middle East (apart from Israel) have much sympathy for their interest in preserving the obscenely opulent lifestyle of the Saudi royals. A Time article today reports that it is not only Turkey that sees Bashar al-Assad as a more important target than ISIS. Neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan are also having to absorb vast numbers of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria – and other Arab states have reasons of their own for wishing to see the back of Assad. The article suggests that the US government’s reluctance to confront the Syrian dictator stems from the fact that his main ally in the region is Iran. The USA is desperate to get Iran to agree to limit its nuclear development programme (so that Israel can continue to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East), and stepping in to oust Assad will very likely put an end to any hope of success in that struggle.

A symbiotic relationship

A symbiotic relationship

I will give the last word here to Alastair Crooke: ‘Here is the difficulty with evolving U.S. policy, which seems to be one of “leading from behind” again — and looking to Sunni states and communities to coalesce in the fight against ISIS.

‘It is a strategy that seems highly implausible. Who would want to insert themselves into this sensitive intra-Saudi rift? And would concerted Sunni attacks on ISIS make King Abdullah’s situation better, or might it inflame and anger domestic Saudi dissidence even further? So whom precisely does ISIS threaten? It could not be clearer. It does not directly threaten the West (though westerners should remain wary, and not tread on this particular scorpion).’

Saudi Bustards

We New Zealanders are very concerned about endangered species of flora and fauna. We actually have a government cabinet minister responsible for the environment. I’ve got a feeling we used to have one tasked with its conservation, but I wouldn’t swear to that.
I have to confess, though, we can sometimes get a bit self-righteous and holier-than-thou on the subject, which we really have no right to be. Since Europeans began to arrive in numbers a mere 170 years or so ago we have managed to eradicate at least twenty species, mostly birds. We have also brought many more to the verge of extinction, including four species of sea mammal.
Nevertheless, being aware of its existence is the first step towards solving a problem, and I feel some pride in the programmes our government funds to preserve fascinating birds like the kakapo from following the dodo into oblivion.
Houbara Bustard
getting it on for the ladies
The modern state of Turkey, despite standing on land that has witnessed the passing of innumerable civilisations for millennia, is surprisingly still home to species of birds and animals not much to be met with elsewhere in Europe: the white-tailed eagle, fallow deer, Iranian gazelle and the Mediterranean seal; the Anatolian spiny mouse, the steppe eagle and the pallid harrier; the striped hyena, Indian crested porcupine, northern bald ibis, demoiselle crane, Saker falcon and the Taurus frog. It’s not so long ago, I understand, that dancing bears were to be seen on the streets of Istanbul for the entertainment of visitors. These days, at least among educated urbanites, more enlightened attitudes are in evidence towards the preservation of native flora and fauna.
Currently before a court near the southeastern city of Diyarbakır is the case of two shepherds charged with illegally shooting a rare Anatolian leopard. The brothers claim that the leopard leaped out of a tree and attacked them. If they hadn’t shot it they would have been torn to pieces. The judge, for his part, has expressed scepticism that the scratches sustained by one of the brothers are consistent with his having been savaged by a 90 kg wild cat. If his decision goes against them, the shepherds could be jailed for three to five years.
While you probably have some knowledge of leopards, gazelles and eagles, you may be less familiar with (perhaps even have less sympathy for) spiny mice, Taurus frogs and crested porcupines. Another creature whose existence may come as a surprise to you is the Asian Houbara (Chlamydotis mcqueenii), sometimes known as the McQueen’s or Houbara Bustard.
The Asian houbara, whose natural habitat is the arid steppe or desert, is apparently quite a large bustard, somewhat bigger than its North African bustard cousins. It is, however, severely endangered and the subject of conservation efforts by the International Foundation for Conservation and Development of Wildlife (IFCDW).
Interestingly for New Zealanders, this big bustard has an important characteristic in common with our own flightless, nocturnal parrot, the kakapo. While many birds form bonded pairs for the purpose of mating and raising chicks, both kokako and bustards engage in what is known in ornithological circles as a lek breeding system. What happens here is that males select a spot to stage their performance and proceed to dance, bellow loudly and otherwise make spectacles of themselves while the young ladies stand demurely around and select a partner. One thing naturally leads to another – after which males and females go their separate ways, males, one assumes, happy to escape the responsibilities of fatherhood, and females relieved that they don’t have to spend a lifetime with those noisy arrogant boorish bustards.
Possibly as a result as a result of this male behaviour, the meat of the bustard is considered, particularly in traditional Arab societies, an aphrodisiac. In addition, bustards seem to have a rather evolutionarily unpropitious approach to being hunted. Hunters on camels would surround the birds and approach in slowly decreasing circles. Eschewing the obvious avian escape of flight, the bustard would attempt to conceal itself in the manner immortalised by ostriches, with generally unhappy outcomes for the survival of the species. It’s also possible that they had learnt the futility of flight from the Arab practice of using trained falcons to catch them on the wing – and just wanted to get it all over with quickly.
Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud
in need of a bustard kebab
Whatever the case, the result, as noted above, is that the Asian bustard is a critically endangered species. Its disappearance has been accelerated as wealthy Arabs have graduated from traditional Mohammedan camels to Western 4WD SUVs and state-of-the-art hunting rifles. The poor little bustard is now a rare sight in the Arabian desert, and sheikhs with potency problems are having to travel farther afield in their search for hubaran assistance. Again, as we New Zealanders are aware, poorer countries are often obliged to woo rich neighbours to spend their money in our market-place. In Pakistan hunting permits for bustards are issued and safari tours organised for Arabs from the upper strata of society. Quotas, of course, are stipulated, but not, it seems, stringently policed.
The matter came to my attention in an articlein our local Turkish newspaper. Saudi prince, Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was reported as having participated in such a hunting safari in the Balochistan region of Pakistan. During the 21-day outing, the royal Saud accounted for 1,977 of the endangered bustards; though Wikipedia records a higher number – 2,100.

Who can know? And who was counting? Maybe His 63 year-old Royal Highness was proud of his achievement, and tweeted the kill as advance warning to the houris in his harem back home . . . ‘Look out, momma! Here I come!’