Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Amir Taheri reviews Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson. The book demythologizes Lawrence of Arabia, noting what he actually did and did not do. There’s far less to the story than the myth (and David Lean’s 1962 film) lead one to believe.
The book also addresses, Taheri tells us, the facts behind two other famous myths, the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration.
The Deconstruction of a Hero
Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of
the Modern Middle East
By Scott Anderson
The narrative goes something like this: The British sent one of their spies, T.E. Lawrence, to incite the Arabs to revolt against the Ottomans. Thus the British seized control of the Middle East, which they then carved into pieces in a deal with the French known as the Sykes–Picot Agreement. On the margins of the main events, the British also issued the Balfour Declaration, which gave Palestine to the Jews who created Israel.
The crucial point in that narrative is to obtain a proper understanding of its central personage: Lawrence.
If you thought you knew all you needed to know about “Lawrence of Arabia,” if only thanks to David Lean’s epic film, think again. Scott Anderson’s magisterial new book retells the story in a way that challenges some aspects of the Lawrence myth.
Saudi Arabia has formally declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization. Belonging to, supporting, or offering public sympathy toward the group is now against the law, Al Arabiya TV reports.
At the same time, the government has criminalized membership in or support of Hezbollah, as well as the al-Nusra Front and ISIS organizations now active in Syria.
Saudi Arabia blacklisted on Friday the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group among three other militant groups in the Middle East, Al Arabiya News Channel reported, citing a royal decree.
The Saudi terrorism list also includes the kingdom’s branch of the Shiite Hezbollah movement and the Syria-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front.
Hundreds of Saudi fighters are believed to have joined ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria. The Saudi authorities have extended a deadline for those fighters to return home.
The royal decree also criminalized taking membership in, supporting and sympathizing with any of those groups.
Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE, provides some analysis of why Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE decided to pull their ambassadors from Qatar yesterday. Among the reasons he cites are Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, its inability to rein in the firebrand cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Qatar’s machinations with Turkey to support the Brotherhood, and allegations that Qatar and Turkey are establishing spy networks in the GCC to report on anti-Brotherhood actions.
Gulf trio pull Qatar ambassadors – why now?
Dr. Theodore Karasik
Today, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. The statement from SPA stated that Qatar had not lived up to its agreements with the rest of the GCC states (from November 2013) regarding “among them and committing to principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other GCC countries and not supporting anyone who threatens the security and stability of GCC countries including organizations and individuals and not supporting the antagonistic media.” There are several significant reasons for this abrupt and sudden action.
First, Doha continues to support the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan). Ever since the ascension of Emir Tamim, and much to the chagrin of the rest of the GCC, the Qatari government is continuing to support all vestiges of the Ikhwan. Ikhwan institutions continue to function in Doha including associations and commercial entities.
Over at Asharq Alawsat, Abdulrahman al-Rashed offers his take on the issue. While less wide-ranging, he offers somewhat more depth.
In a surprise move and somewhat against the interest of Gulf Cooperation Council unity, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar. The reasons stated, according to this piece in Arab News based on news agency reports, is that Qatar is not getting with the program of toning down Islamic extremism in places like Syria. In particular, Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood runs counter to the policies of many of the GCC states. Also, by allowing people like the cleric Yusuf Qaradawi, resident in Qatar, to criticize the workings of individual state governments, Qatar is violating the rule about interfering in member states’ internal affairs.
While not stated, I suspect the chronic irritation of Qatar-backed Al-Jazeera TV is also a factor.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain said on Wednesday they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar because Doha had not implemented an agreement among Gulf Arab countries not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs.
The three Gulf Arab states followed what the local press described as a “stormy” late Tuesday meeting of foreign ministers from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh.
In a joint statement, the three states said GCC members had signed an agreement on Nov. 23 not to back “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals — via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media.”
Qatar had been a backer of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that is banned in most Gulf states.
“Al Majalla” magazine runs an interview with Abdullah Anas, a former mujahideen in Afghanistan and companion of Usama bin Laden during the fight against Soviet occupation. Anas is unabashedly proud of the effort and the way in which it was conducted. He finds that the so-called jihad now being promoted in Syria can only be described as barbaric and hugely unlawful. Interesting reading.
Jihad, Then and Now
The Majalla speaks to Abdullah Anas
As the situation in Syria grows worse and simultaneously more complicated day by day, the fears of observers of the conflict have become more focused on the foreign jihadists who have travelled to the war-torn country to take part in the fighting. With the chaos unleashed by some of the “Arab Afghans” who joined the struggle against the former Soviet Union’s presence in Afghanistan in the 1980s still fresh in the minds of the world’s intelligence and security services, it is worth looking back once more at the experiences of the members of this group. Few are more familiar with the Arab Afghans and their struggle than Abdullah Anas.
The son-in-law of Abdullah Yusuf Azzam—who became Osama Bin Laden’s mentor when he arrived in Afghanistan—Anas was second-in-command at the Bureau of Services office in Peshawar that supported the Arab Afghans and Afghan Mujahideen. Today, Anas remains proud of the decade he spent involved in the Afghan struggle, and counts Ahmad Shah Massoud and Osama Bin Laden as former comrades in arms.
Before meeting Azzam, Anas was already a founder of the Islamic movement in southern Algeria and worked with Algeria’s leading Islamists Mahfoudh Nahnah and Abbas Madani. He remains a part-time imam and a teacher of the Qur’an, having studied in Saudi Arabia and Algeria. Following his religious studies he took a degree in international politics in the UK. His journey to Afghanistan began when he came across a legal opinion written by Azzam, who argued that it was obligatory for Muslims to fight in Afghanistan. By chance he later met Azzam in Mecca and was invited to travel to Afghanistan with him.
After the departure of the Soviets from the country and the assassination of Azzam in 1992, Anas grew disillusioned by the takfirist ideas that had become increasingly prominent thanks to new arrivals such as Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al-Qaeda. Anas’s role had been to focus on the logistical needs of the Afghan Mujahideen, while the organization that came to be known as Al-Qaeda had a larger agenda, which would become infamous in the years that followed. As infighting broke out among the Afghan Mujahideen, Anas left for Algeria, though his affiliation to the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and the subsequent military crackdown that followed its election success in 1992 forced him into exile in France and then the UK.
Today, Anas says he is in the process of writing his memoirs, running a TV channel and working with young people.
Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed takes a look at the popularity of conspiracy theories across the Middle East. Conspiracy theories, he says, are a comfort because they reduce complex situations about which many things may be unknown into something that is easily understood. It doesn’t matter whether they are true or not because they serve a separate purpose.
Most of the current conspiracy theories, he writes, actually have the cart before the horse. Situations develop for their own reasons: Saddam Hussein had his own political reasons to invade Kuwait; he did not need the US to tell him to go ahead in safety. He did not need anyone to push him into attacking Iran.
What other states do, though, is to act in response to events and try to shade the events or their consequences into directions to their benefit.
In Syria, no outside force created the opposition to the Al-Assad regime. That was spontaneous action on the part of Syrians. Outside forces — including Russia, China, the US, the EU — will try to find ways that whatever results is, if not to their benefit, at least not to their detriment.
Opinion: Conspiracy theories that will not die
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
According to some people, Iraq’s former president Saddam Hussein only invaded Iran during Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini’s rule because he was entangled with foreign parties and only invaded Kuwait after receiving his cue from the US envoy in Baghdad.
Some argue that Libya’s revolution against Muammar Gaddafi was a foreign act and the toppling of Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak was also a conspiracy. Some think the Muslim Brotherhood made it to power because of US planning. The Brotherhood thinks Egypt’s General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi turned against them because of Western interference.
And for three years now, the Syrian regime has been saying that the West is behind the revolution against it, while the rebels insist there’s a conspiracy to besiege their revolution for the sake of keeping Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in power.
A few days ago, my colleague Eyad Abu Shakra wrote an article saying it’s time to acknowledge there are conspiracies being planned outside our region. My colleague, Eyad, is not the only one who sees a conspirator behind every crisis. For decades now, this has been the common belief among intellectuals. This belief was strengthened by books that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s such The Game of Nations by Miles Copeland.
I don’t want to completely deny conspiracy theories because secret apparatuses from each country are involved in activities that are meant to influence situations in a direction that best benefits their country. But there is a proliferation of conspiracy theories in modern history books.
The UAE’s Gulf News runs a report on the rise of Prince Mohammad Bin Naif, Minister of the Interior, as a replacement for Prince Bandar Bin Sultan as the point-man for Saudi efforts in Syria. Mohammad, who established the Saudi rehabilitation program for returned/captured jihadists, has been working to separate Syrian rebels battling the Al-Assad regime from the extremists who are also fighting, but for entirely different reasons. The mixing of the two groups has been a serious impediment to US efforts in Syria as the US is simply unwilling to provide support if it ends up in the wrong hands.
The article notes that among those looking at Saudi succession issues, Mohammad is rated as being very much in the game.
Riyadh (Reuters): Saudi Interior Minister Mohammad Bin Nayef, perhaps the most powerful younger prince in the ruling Al Saud family, is shaping Riyadh’s new emphasis on protecting the kingdom from a fresh wave of Islamist militancy inspired by the war in Syria.
The United States pulled out the stops for him when he visited Washington last week to prepare for President Barack Obama’s fence-mending trip to Riyadh next month.
Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Central Intelligence Agency chief John Brennan, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and National Security Agency director Keith Alexander all sat down with the 54-year-old, a veteran of Saudi Arabia’s fight against Al Qaida.
Prince Mohammad seems likely to be a central figure in the world’s top oil exporter for decades to come. Many Saudis say he is a strong candidate to become king one day.
“He’s now playing not only the role of Interior Minister, but also that of a senior diplomat and adviser to the king,” said Robert Jordan, US ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03.
Prince Mohammad, btw, escaped being killed by a suicide bomber back in 2009 who carried his bomb within his own body.
Al Arabiya TV translates a piece from the Arabic Al-Hayat that points out to the potential ramifications of King Abdullah’s announcement of new anti-terrorism laws.
It’s all well and good that the Kingdom is going to aggressively go after those taking part in terrorist activities or promoting extremism within the Kingdom. It’s even extending its reach to activities taking place outside Saudi Arabia. Condemning groups like Al-Qaeda and its affiliates is good. But Saudi Arabia is also going to have to figure out how it will deal with Hezbollah, a group generally recognized (at least by the US and Saudi Arabia) as a terrorist organization.
Because Hezbollah plays an important (and usually negative) role in Lebanon, just how will Saudi Arabia deal with it? As a Shi’ite organization, it doesn’t have many supporters within the Kingdom. It does have some, though. It also has friends that are friends of Saudi Arabia. Will the Saudis revert to “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and its corollary? That remains to be seen.
The Saudi king issued a royal decree earlier this month stipulating between 3 to 20 years imprisonment for any persons who participate in jihadist fighting outside the Saudi kingdom.
The order also specified jailing anyone who belongs or supports any religious group or extremist movement.
The decision came after a long struggle against terrorism – a fight that lasted for over ten years and that came as a result of exploiting Saudi youths in foreign battles aimed at serving suspicious parties. The kingdom has therefore launched a new era of war against terror, and this comes within the context of similar battles launched by Egypt and the UAE against sleeper “Muslim Brotherhood cells” and their armed allies.
This new awakening in fighting terrorism must not exclude Hezbollah in Lebanon. The party accused of assassinating former premier Rafiq Hariri has refused to hand over its accused members to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) under the excuse that the tribunal is politicized.
The Saudi-US Relations Information Service (SUSRIS) provides that handy scorecard for the major groups now on the US government’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The groups range from the well known like Al-Qaeda and its various affiliates to old-time groups like the Abu Nidal Organizations whose continued existence is somewhat surprising. The locations of the groups range from the Maghreb, across the Middle East and Turkey, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, and on to Indonesia.
Each group’s citation includes links to the source of information for each group’s inclusion.
… Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) are foreign organizations that are designated by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended. FTO designations play a critical role in the fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business.
Today we take this opportunity to highlight some of the terrorist groups from the Middle East North Africa region subject to the U.S. FTO designation. Many are profiled in a useful resource at the U.S. National Counter Terrorism Center Web site. We have included the guidelines the U.S. Government uses in reaching FTO designations and for dealing with such groups.
In its efforts to rein in the potential spread of terrorism, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has announced a new law that would punish those going off to fight in foreign wars as jihadists. Penalties include three- to 20-year prison sentences; five- to 30-year terms for those who were in the armed forces prior to joining foreign fights. The penalties will also be applied to those who materially support terrorist groups — as defined locally, regionally, or internationally.
This is also part of Saudi Arabia’s approach to limit the appeal and effectiveness of certain Salafist groups fighting in Syria.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi national who fight abroad or who join terrorist groups could face up to 20 years in prison, according to a royal decree issued on Monday by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
According to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the text of the decree read: “Whoever participates or is involved in hostilities outside the Kingdom or joins radical religious and intellectual groups or currents shall be sentenced to not less than three and not more than twenty years in prison. However, the punishment shall be increased to no less than five years and no more than thirty years in prison for armed forces servicemen.”
King Abdullah also called for the formation of a cross-ministerial committee to establish a list, which will be periodically updated, designating terrorist groups and movements.
The King announced that the decree aimed to safeguard the Saudi state from criminals who are working against its stable and constitutional system in a bid to undermine national security and stability.
“We also want to protect our people from imported ideologies that target the Kingdom’s security, stability and peace and damage its regional and international reputation and its relations with other countries,” he said.
Iran considers Saudi Arabia, not Israel, its principal enemy, according to Fred Hof, Special Advisor for Transition in Syria. Al Arabiya TV reports on Hof’s recent testimony before a congressional panel.
This shouldn’t be all that surprising, actually. The issues that divide Iran and Israel are more philosophical than concrete. Iranian relations with Saudi Arabia, however, are competitive (not to say combative) on numerous, very real grounds. Iran’s role in supporting the ‘rejectionist front’ and groups like Hezbollah is actually more a matter of political expediency than a critical issue for national survival. Iran does tend to see its frictions with Saudi Arabia in much more existentialist terms, whether it’s for the ‘leadership of the Muslim community’, or establishing the price of oil, or just regional supremacy.
Former U.S. ambassador Frederic Hof has revealed that Iranian officials, in private meetings, told him that Iran is not in conflict with the United States or Israel but rather believe Saudi Arabia to be the main threat considering its perceived tampering in Syria, Kuwait’s daily al-Rai reported.
The former special advisor for transition in Syria at the U.S. Department of State spoke at a congressional panel discussion this week and shed light on the undisclosed meetings that are frequently held between U.S. and Iranian officials.
According to Hof, one Iranian official told him that “neither the U.S. nor Israel intervened in Syria,” adding that the real problem was Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent, Turkey.
Hof said that Iran believes Saudi Arabia to be Iran’s real enemy inside and outside Syria, and not Israel.
An interesting opinion piece from Al Arabiya TV. The writer, a Fellow in Muslim Politics and Societies at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, ponders the role of modern technology and its intersection with the politics of the Middle East. Questioning whether the Internet and social media were the means or the end of Arab Spring, he goes on to note that governments can — if they chose to do so — exert far more control of the media than they currently do. Just in surveilling the media, they can learn more about its users than the users realize. He concludes with the observation that perhaps the thought of living in an alternate reality — the one provided by the closed chambers of social media — is enough, at least for some.
The Middle East has met the enemy, and he’s online
It all happened so fast. Tunisia was in America’s peripheral vision; we’d read, from time to time, of mounting protests, huge crowds straining the grand avenues of Tunis, the Arab street finally out on the street.
But then the dictator fell, and so did many a pundit’s career. There rose in their place new voices, closer to the ground, more sympathetic to the reality, more optimistic about the possibilities. Everybody had told us this could not happen. Except it did.
On Jan. 25, when Tahrir square became the center of massive protest, you can bet we were all glued to screens of various sizes.
Drunk on the Kool-Aid
The first revolutionaries knew how to sell themselves, and we were primed to buy. We believed in social media. We got drunk on the Kool-Aid. We worshipped at the altar of technology. What had started in Tunisia wouldn’t stay in Tunisia.
After some three weeks, Mubarak was forced to resign, and the crowds went home, for reasons unfathomable today.
There was an almost messianic fervor to the dispatches I’d get. It was young Arabs, not the stodgy Islamists, who’d change things. Political parties were so 20th century.
Social media would free everyone. Google, Facebook, Twitter. Who needed ideologies?