Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) has a lengthy piece in which he talks about Saudi succession and the issues facing the new king. Not surprisingly, those issues are the same as faced the former king.

Cordesman gently slaps those who were expecting some sort of crisis in succession. The Saudis have been doing this for some time now; they know how to do it.

He points out numerous areas of reform where progress must continue if the Kingdom is to meet its challenges. He sees no reason why it cannot do so. He sees no major shifts in foreign policy, alliances, or cooperation with other nations, particularly when it comes to fighting terrorism.

Saudi Arabia’s Smooth Succession: The King is Dead, Long Live the King
Anthony Cordesman

Once again, Saudi Arabia has managed its succession without problems, delay, or any signs of serious divisions within the royal family. One of its most competent and impressive kings has died, but the Crown Prince – Prince Salman – officially became king virtually at the time King Abdullah’s death was announced. Moreover, Prince Muqrin immediately became the full Crown Prince, ensuring that one of the youngest sons of Ibn Saud would become king or de facto ruler if Prince Salman became incapacitated or died.

Within less than 24 hours, the new King also announced a whole list of new appointments that gave the next generation of princes more power and helped prepare for the succession after Prince Muqrin:

January:27:2015 - 08:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs a Reuters article previewing Pres. Obama’s visit to Riyadh to offer condolences on the death of King Abdullah and to meet with the new Saudi king. The article is given a misleading headline, I think. While there are indeed Republicans included in the President’s party, it’s more of collection of super-wonks of foreign policy. National Security Advisors, Secretaries of State, and high-level advisors to the President are all on the plane.

The article suggests that issues such as Iran, Syria, Yemen, and oil prices are likely subjects of conversation. I’d think so. And I’d throw ISIS into the mix.

Obama includes Republicans in big delegation to meet new Saudi King

New Delhi, Reuters—President Barack Obama will fly a 30-member delegation, including top officials and respected Republican foreign policy veterans, to Riyadh on Tuesday to meet Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman Bin Abdulaziz as the crisis in neighboring Yemen continues to boil.

The hastily scheduled trip to pay respects following the death last week of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz underscores a strengthening US-Saudi alliance that extends beyond oil interests to regional security.

Cutting short a three-day trip to India, Obama’s visit comes as Washington struggles with worsening strife in the Middle East and counts Saudi Arabia among its few steady partners in a campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants who have seized swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Obama is slated to arrive in Riyadh at 3:25 pm local time (12:25 pm GMT), and will leave around four hours later.

Following Abdullah’s death last Friday, Obama will try to get relations off to a smooth start with Salman, who takes power after a period of sometimes tense relations between Washington and Riyadh.

Arab News reports on the President’s arrival:

Obama arrives in Kingdom to meet King Salman

January:27:2015 - 07:57 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman, has made his first speech, pledging to follow the path of his predecessors. He also called for unity within the ranks of Islam, Asharq Alawsat reports.

The first changes in government have also been announced. The Royal Court sees several big changes, including the replacement of the Chief and Deputy Chief, and appoint his son, Mohammed, as Chief. He also named Mohammed as the new Minister of Defense. The new Chief will make further nominations for changes.

Mohammed Bin Naif has been named Deputy Crown Prince and Second Deputy Prime Minister. This is the first appointment of a grandson of the country’s founder to a position that put him in line for the throne.

King Salman calls for national unity, appoints new Crown and Deputy Crown Prince

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—New Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz has called for national unity and solidarity following the death of King Abdullah, moving quickly to appoint a new Crown Prince and Deputy Crown Prince. He pledged no change in the Kingdom’s direction, stressing that he will follow the “true approach” of his predecessors.

In his first speech as King, the new Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques said: “I am, God-willing, to carry out this great trust. We will continue, with God’s grace and strength, committed to the true approach which was followed by this state since its inception at the hands of the founder, King Abdulaziz, God’s mercy upon him, and at the hands of his sons after him, God’s mercy upon them.”

“The Arab and Islamic nation is in dire need today of unity and the maintenance of solidarity. We will continue in this country, that God has honored by choosing it as a platform for His message and as the direction Muslims must pray. Our march is to undertake everything possible to keep the unity of our ranks and the unity of word and in defense of our nation’s issues, guided by the teachings of our true Islamic religion which was favored by the Lord to us, the religion of peace, mercy and moderation,” he added.

The article reports that pledges of allegiance to the new king and his successors will take place tonight, following evening prayers in Riyadh.

January:23:2015 - 08:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat (here reprinted by Al Arabiya TV), Abdulrahman Al-Rashed points to Saudi Arabia’s long struggle with religious extremism (for certain values of “extreme”). He notes that just 17 years after the founding of the country, Saudi leaders had to resort to violence to put down a revolt by the Ikhwan, the tribal group that had militarily supported the cause of the Al-Saud, but which had now become a problem when it challenged the government over its policies.

From the Brotherhood of Sabilla to ISIS
Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda and similar groups are not really states the sense we understand. They are an idea of extremism that unites those who subscribe to it and those who support it in different forms, either with bullets, dollars, words or emotions. There are extremists who may be against taking up weapons, but they agree with violent groups on the ultimate idea and goal, even if they differ on the means to use.

Unlike what’s common in political analysis, extremism and extremists have always represented a threat to the Saudi Arabia. But this truth gets lost in a sea of accusations and the whole image is blurred even to the most well-informed people on the Middle East and Saudi Arabia in particular. This false historical understanding of the friend and the foe is no longer limited to foreigners and Arab propagandists. This false understanding has entered Saudi Arabia itself where some believe it and other extremists promote it. I think extremism is the biggest enemy and is the biggest threat to Saudi Arabia. This is why it’s in our interest to systematically, institutionally and continuously fight it.

January:22:2015 - 11:26 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV runs a Reuters story about a report from the International Monetary Fund on the results of the crash in oil prices. Not only will oil-exporting states like Saudi Arabia be forced to run a deficit, it says, but gains by countries that might benefit from low energy prices will be limited by reduced global activity.

Oil export losses to reach $300 billion in Middle East

Losses from lower oil exports should sap up to $300 billion from economies in the Middle East and Central Asia this year, as countries in the region adjust to falling crude prices, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday.

Economies that are particularly dependent on oil exports, including Qatar, Iraq, Libya and Saudi Arabia, will be hit hardest by the more than 50 percent decline in petroleum prices, the IMF said in an update to its outlook for the Middle East and Central Asia.

Oil prices are now hovering near six-year lows amid expectations of an abundance of supply tied to unexpectedly high production of U.S. shale crude.

The IMF said, however, that falling crude prices will not translate immediately into major gains for oil importers in the Middle East and Central Asia, which have been hurt by the slowing growth prospects of key trading partners in the euro zone and Russia.

January:22:2015 - 11:19 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed muses on the strange state of the world in which Arab audiences cheer Israeli actions against a target that both find repulsive. Israel’s recent attack that killed some of the Hezbollah leadership — and an Iranian general — shows that international politics need not be black and white, on and off. He notes that both Israel and the Arab states are politicking Washington over Iranian nuclear arms and could find themselves allied if Iran does produce atomic weapons. Strange world indeed.

How did we end up cheering for Israel?
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Many have welcomed with cheers the sudden Israeli strike on Sunday that killed six Hezbollah members and a general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who, for some reason, were secretly present in Syria’s Quneitra region.

The cheering for this act on social networking platforms is an expression of anger and indignation, and we’ve even sensed these feelings expressed by sympathizers with Islamist groups.

This represents a huge change of feelings about Hezbollah, due to its heinous actions in targeting its rivals in Lebanon and its involvement in the killing of thousands in Syria. Many of those who have shifted from admiring Hezbollah to hating the group did so in less than a decade.

These people used to support Hezbollah in Lebanon in the past and they used to adopt the Shi’ite group’s political and military agenda. Anger began to surface when Hezbollah’s militias occupied west Beirut during the events of May 7, 2008, three years after the party’s involvement in the assassination of Sunni leader Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah, and also Iran, have lost the respect and status they’ve always enjoyed in the name of Islam, Lebanon and Palestine. Hezbollah’s biggest fall came after its clear sectarian bias in Syria emerged when its members joined the terrible war there, which has killed more than 250,000 people in what is surely the most shameful crime in the history of the region. Iranian involvement in Syria will also have further repercussions.

In my opinion there’s no doubt that if a confrontation occurs between Israel and Hezbollah, or between Israel and Iran, many Arabs will pray for the defeat of Hezbollah’s militias and the generals of its Iranian ally. This strange feeling, even if temporary, reflects the change in the region’s alliances and political stances.

January:21:2015 - 07:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

Following the deaths of several Saudi border guards, including a general officer, Saudi Arabi has decided to play hardball. New orders have gone out to the Border Guards directing them that they are not to engage in negotiations, but to shoot intruders. Saudi Gazette reports:

Border Guard given orders to shoot intruders
Mishal Al-Otaibi | Saudi Gazette

RIYADH — Border Guard officers have been ordered to shoot intruders without engaging in any negotiations, said spokesman Maj. Gen. Muhammad Al-Ghamdi.

Iraqi Border officials have been informed of these instructions, which are considered a legitimate right of the Kingdom.

Al-Ghamdi said border officers will implement the instruction to protect Saudi territory and people.

“The instructions were made as a result of regional situation and the latest attacks on Arar borders,” Al-Ghamdi said. The officers are ready for any emergency and will not hesitate to implement the orders given to them.

Earlier this month, militants killed two Saudi Border Guards and their commanding officer in an attack near the city of Arar.

January:19:2015 - 11:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The British newspaper The Telegraph runs an article — complete with infographic — on the 600-mile-long fence Saudi Arabia is constructing along its border with Iraq. The article notes that the fence will serve to keep ISIS militants out of the Kingdom. It will also make it more difficult for adventurous young Saudis to go north for purposes of jihad.

Revealed: Saudi Arabia’s ‘Great Wall’ to keep out Isil
Richard Spencer

When a raiding party from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant attacked a Saudi border post last week, it was no mere hit on a desert outpost.

The jihadists were launching an assault on the new, highest profile effort by Saudi Arabia to insulate itself from the chaos engulfing its neighbours.

The Saudis are building a 600-mile-long “Great Wall” – a combined fence and ditch – to separates the country from Iraq to the north.

Much of the area on the Iraqi side is now controlled by Isil, which regards the ultimate capture of Saudi Arabia, home to the “Two Holy Mosques” of Mecca and Medina, as a key goal.

The proposal had been discussed since 2006, at the height of the Iraqi civil war, but work began in September last year after Isil’s charge through much of the west and north of the country gave it a substantial land border with the Kingdom to the south.

January:16:2015 - 08:39 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

In a thoughtful piece for Asharq Alawsat, Amir Taheri talks about how analyses of the Charlie-Hebdo incident that fall back on the “Clash of Civilizations” fail. He talks, too, about how democracy, while providing an apparent “soft target” for terrorism, is also the way to end it. It is not the democracy that is practiced in the West that will provide the cure, however. It is the democracy that must develop in Islamic nations that will end “terrorism in the name of Islam.”

Democracy is the answer to terrorism
Amir Taheri

By now you might feel that you have read all you need to about the events in Paris last week that triggered worldwide sympathy for a France absorbing the shock of terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, to discuss ways of fighting back against this latest form of terrorism we may still need to put the event in some context.

Looking for a shorthand analysis, some commentators branded the event as the latest example of the “clash of civilizations” foreseen by Samuel Huntington two decades ago. We are told that the assassination of cartoonists and the murder of Jewish shoppers showed Islam, as a civilization, challenging the Christian civilization, its rival for more than 15 centuries. There are at least two problems with that analysis.

The first is that Islam and Christianity, in their many varieties, are religions and can hardly be regarded as “civilizations.” There is a European civilization which has, in the name of the Enlightenment, progress, human rights, and more recently democracy, helped reshape the whole world. However, that civilization traces back its origins to ancient Greece and Rome. If anything, Christianity, once it had become the state religion under Emperor Constantine, tried to de-Europeanize the European civilization but ended up becoming one of its many ingredients.

On the Islamic side, one could speak of Arab, Iranian and Turkish civilizations, among many others, of which Islam is a major component. However, in every case, none could be understood with exclusive reference to Islam. The Arabs had developed several civilizations of their own, long before Islam appeared, as had the various Iranic and Turkic peoples. In the same way that reducing Chinese civilization to Buddhism or the Indian to Hinduism is reductive, suggesting that all 57 Muslim-majority nations belong to a single bloc at war against a Christian bloc is misleading.

The second problem with the “clash of civilizations” analysis is that even the various groups and countries that use Islam as a political ideology rather than a religion cannot be regarded as a monolithic bloc with a common strategy. We are already witnessing an inflation of pretensions towards Caliph-hood. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has its caliph just as the Taliban have their own Amir Al-Mu’mineen (Commander of the Faithful). Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram have also named their respective caliphs. Iran has a “Supreme Guide” who claims to be the religious leader of all Muslims, while branches of Al-Qaeda have retained their own fatwa-issuing “sheikhs.”

January:16:2015 - 07:43 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

In an article written for The Jordan Times, and here reprinted by Al Arabiya TV, Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab notes that certain world leaders are all for free speech, at least while they’re abroad. At home, though, not so much. Speech is still censored in much of the Arab world, if not directly by government, then indirectly (through, for example, the withhold of subsidies or government subscriptions), or by the drawing of ‘red lines’ beyond which journalists self-censor.

World leaders walked for freedom of speech but bar it at home
Daoud Kuttab

Social media activists have filled cyberspace with comments and arguments justifying the presence of this or that leader at the gathering held in Paris in support of the people of France after the brutal killing, in two separate attacks on journalists, cartoonists, policemen and everyday shoppers in a Jewish supermarket.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was attacked for going to Paris while avoiding Gaza. Arab leaders were criticized for attending the French demonstration while not working to protect freedom of expression in their countries.

Arab leaders have many considerations, of course, when they make decisions such as last week’s. When a superpower like France calls for worldwide support, it is incumbent on world leaders to show solidarity by participating.

January:16:2015 - 07:32 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

While all the major Islamic organizations condemned the attack on Charlie-Hebdo magazine, they seem to all be also condemning the magazine and its penchant to insult things many hold dear. Arab News reports on the backlash to the magazine’s most recent cover.

They’re missing the point.

Free speech is free: that is, it is not limited by government; it is not properly the target of vigilantes, no matter how righteous they think themselves. Further, there is no right to being free from insult, abuse, or hurt feelings.

Assume there is such a right. Who, then, draws the lines?

I am sure that Jews and Christians who are abused by sermons in mosques might take exception to the freedom given those imams. Are the imams to be shut down and jailed? In some countries, they would indeed face punishment at the hands of government, but those countries do not adhere to principles of free speech. Citing laws — bad laws — against “hate speech” or “blasphemy,” some countries do punish speech that hurts feelings. What they mean by “free speech” is “positive speech about things we all agree with.” That might work in a homogenous society where everyone thinks the same, or in bee hives and ant nests, but it’s both impossible and impractical to try and impose such a regime on human beings.

Muslim world questions logic behind Charlie antics

RIYADH/CAIRO: Iyad Madani, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, has denounced the publication of sacrilegious cartoons by French magazine Charlie Hebdo Wednesday, calling the move “insolence, ignorance and foolishness.”

He said: “Freedom of speech must not become a hate-speech and it must not offend others. No sane person, regardless of doctrine, religion or faith, accepts his beliefs being ridiculed.”

Prominent Saudi scholar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghamdi said that publication of the latest image was a mistake. “It’s not a good way to make the people understand us. Jesus or Moses, all messengers (of God) we should respect,” and should not be made fun of in pictures or words, Ghamdi said. “I believe it will make more problems.”

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestinian lands, Mohammed Hussein, said such cartoons “fuel feelings of hatred and resentment among people” and publishing them “shows contempt” for Muslim feelings.

See also:

French magazine’s fresh anti-Islam insults flayed

Let me be clear. I’m not picking on Muslims here. Even France, even after the slaughter at Charlie-Hebdo, doesn’t get what free speech means.

France arrests 54 for defending terror; announces crackdown

January:15:2015 - 08:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

In an opinion piece for Al Arabiya TV, Prince Turki Al-Faisal — former Saudi Ambassador to the US and UK as well as head of Saudi Intelligence — gives a review of the history of the rise of ISIS. He notes how the actions and inactions of several regional states all led to the growth of the group. He suggests that a better and more accurate name for the group would be Fahesh: “obscene.”

A New Name for ISIS
Pr. Turki Al-Faisal

When the international community decided to punish Al-Qaeda and the Taliban for the 9/11 attacks, a number of Al-Qaeda members fled to Iran. The Iranian authorities then sheltered these militants under the supervision of the intelligence service. Some of them included members of Osama Bin Laden’s family, as well as Saif Al-Adl, one of Al-Qaeda’s most senior military commanders and the man responsible for planning the attacks on Riyadh in May 2003, and Salih Al-Qar’awi, the leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Qar’awi later relocated to Waziristan in Pakistan where he was eventually killed by an American drone attack and his body flown back to Saudi Arabia from Pakistan.

Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the destruction of the Iraqi government, military and security institutions, Tehran allowed many of these individuals to enter neighboring Iraq, where they found fertile ground to carry out their schemes. Here, they re-grouped and rebranded under the new name, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and were also joined by militants coming from other countries, such as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and Muhsin Al-Fadhli, the leader of the Khorasan Brigades. Fadhli, who comes from a prominent Shi’ite family in Kuwait, is believed to be responsible for the attack in Najaf that killed the senior Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir Al-Hakim. The Iranian government also allowed Fadhli to enter Syria shortly after the uprising there began.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad actually allowed the entry of many of these individuals through his country and its borders, where they eventually made their way into Iraq. In fact, and in what is the first twist in this story, former Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki sought during his first term in office to submit an official complaint to the UN Security Council accusing Assad of supporting terrorist groups and allowing the passage of their members into Iraq. But Maliki never followed through on the accusation, leaving space for Al-Qaeda in Iraq to form in the country, where it eventually found strong resistance in the form of US forces and armed Sunni tribal coalitions. Many members of the group and its leadership were killed during these fierce battles, among them Zarqawi. Those who survived were thrown into American-run prisons in Iraq; but as soon as the US started pulling troops out of the country during Maliki’s first term, the men were released. Among them was Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, along with some of his close aides.

January:15:2015 - 08:27 | Comments Off | Permalink
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