Post from August, 2011

Qatar hopes for returns after backing Libyan winners

Wednesday, 24. August 2011 19:33

Some media have got the emir of Qatar down as some kind of Haroun al-Rashid, with the massive patronage of the arts… whatever – we wrote this one up anyway, which makes reference to the Arab renaissance pretensions of the Qatari Project.

DUBAI/DOHA Aug 24 (Reuters) – Qatar was one of the first countries to back Libyan rebels seeking to overthrow its one-time friend Muammar Gaddafi and with his 42-year-old rule collapsing, the natural gas exporter hopes to reap the political and economic rewards. […]

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Flagman and influencing government policy post-Mubarak

Sunday, 21. August 2011 19:08

Despite all the fears about the future of the Egyptian uprising, the trouble now with Israel over the deaths of Egyptian soldiers highlights one of the major shifts that have taken place since January 25: the new power of the Arab street – which politicians and assorted experts abroad have for long long loved to rubbish – to influence government policy. You might think it’s normal for government agendas to reflect at least in broad outlines the will of the people. Not so round here, where Sadat singlehandedly took Egypt’s military out of the equation in the historic conflict with Israel over its displacement of the indigenous population according to terms of a new alliance with the United States involving peace-for-handouts. […]

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Saleh’s vow to return keeps Yemenis guessing

Wednesday, 17. August 2011 19:41

DUBAI (Reuters) – Burned, wounded and forced into medical exile in Riyadh, Ali Abdullah Saleh had seemed down and out, but a bravura speech by the Yemeni leader suggests he might yet return home to a country convulsed by months of unrest, violence and economic misery. […]

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Analysis: Saleh’s vow to return keeps Yemenis guessing

Wednesday, 17. August 2011 3:01

By Andrew Hammond and Isabel Coles

DUBAI | Wed Aug 17, 2011 1:00pm EDT

(Reuters) – Burned, wounded and forced into medical exile in Riyadh, Ali Abdullah Saleh had seemed down and out, but a bravura speech by the Yemeni leader suggests he might yet return home to a country convulsed by months of unrest, violence and economic misery.

Saleh, visibly healthier than the gaunt, scarred figure who appeared in a televised speech five weeks ago, vowed in his address Tuesday to come back, hinting he will track down those behind an attempt to assassinate him in June. […]

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SaudiLeaks: Saudi funded Nahr al-Barid war on … Saudis

Tuesday, 9. August 2011 0:04

A US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks (and which has gone under the radar) appears to show that Saudi Arabia paid the Lebanese army to attack the Nahr al-Barid refugee camp in 2007 to finish off a militant group with many Saudis in its ranks. At the time, Saudi Arabia was extremely embarrassed about the revelations that Saudis were among the Fatah al-Islam fighters ensconced in the Palestinian refugee camp (“Saudis fighting in Iraq, Lebanon embarrass homeland,” Reuters, 19 July 2007). Lebanese officials indicated during the fighting that there were dozens of Saudis among Fatah al-Islam fighters, which Saudi media said was exaggerated. One report from a Saudi analyst said there had been up to 300 Saudi jihadists operating in Nahr al-Barid, and PLO chief in Beirut Sultan Abul-Aynein has been quoted as saying 23 Saudis died there (see Sami Moubayed, “Loose Saudi Cannons in Lebanon,” Asia Times, 19 July 2007). […]

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SaudiLeaks: Yemen as vassal state, weapons for Saleh

Monday, 8. August 2011 5:53

An arresting set of US diplomatic cables from the Sanaa embassy have been released recently by Wikileaks concerning Saudi-Yemeni relations. They paint a picture of Yemen as a country President Ali Abdullah Saleh has reduced to vassal status with the “big brother” Saudi Arabia, which comes off as a spoiler that has done little good for the country. Many might wonder why Saleh as a Zaydi Shi’ite would facilitate Wahhabi (Salafi) influence in Yemen. An opposition academic seems to nail it in this comment – Wahhabi obedience to a “just” (Sharia-friendly) ruler (square brackets are mine): […]

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SaudiLeaks: ‘peak oil’ and Aramco’s 12.5 mln bpd

Sunday, 7. August 2011 3:05

An Aramco consultant says in 2006 Aramco will have trouble going past 12.5 bpd, but the US embassy notes Manifa field will make that possible sometime in the future. And former Aramco head Abdullah Juma pooh-poohs the Matt Simmons book from 2005 on Saudi oil production hitting its maximum production levels sooner than people think, Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy (Simmons died in slightly odd circumstances in 2010). However, Sadad al-Husseini, a former Aramco board member, tells US diplomats in Riyadh in December 2007 that Aramco has exaggerated Saudi reserves: a global output plateau will be reached in the next 5 to 10 years and will last some 15 years, until world oil production begins to decline. “While al-Husseini believes that Saudi officials overstate capabilities in the interest of spurring foreign investment, he is also critical of international expectations,” it says.

Here are the cables: […]

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SaudiLeaks: 2007 fear of Iran attacking Saudi oil

Sunday, 7. August 2011 3:04

So this US cable from the Riyadh embassy in April 2007 – released on 26 June 2011 – outlines Saudi Interior Ministry fears that Iran could ruin Saudi oil production with even a “stupid” missile, in coordination with militant cells among the Shi’a population and Aramco employees. A Joint Working Group apparently involving CIA analysts, Interior Ministry officials, US diplomats and others. This and various other cables talks about Saudi Hizbollah as a reality. Interior Ministry Chief of Staff Major General Dr. Saad al Jabri “expressed his worries with a ‘layered’ attack by both military forces and terrorists, which could then be compounded by a Shi’a reaction in the Eastern Province. He stated, ‘we would like to be prepared for worst case scenarios, we do not want any surprises.'” […]

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SaudiLeaks: US reports on Shi’ite loyalties

Saturday, 6. August 2011 0:48

This Wikileaks cable from May 2006 – one of the latest released concerning Saudi Arabia – is interesting in light of the uprisings: (released 2 July 2011). It appears to be the conclusion of considerable research by the embassy – and hats off to them for undertaking it, but not for doing nothing about it – on the situation of Shi’ites in the Eastern Province. It says the loyalty of most to the Saudi state is assured as long as the kingdom’s reform discourse continues. Leaders among Shi’ite communities returned to the country in the early 1990s in an agreement with King Fahd. The end of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and his persecution of Shi’a as of 2003 raised people’s hopes. Then in 2005 Abdullah became king. Things haven’t gone as planned though and with the Saudi response to the protest movement within Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region, the image of King Reform is, let’s say, rather battered and bruised. I wonder what such a study would say were it conducted now. […]

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Media grapple with Syria in the dark

Wednesday, 3. August 2011 15:08

Mark Twain once wrote that rumours of his death had been an exaggeration. It’s become fashionable to herald the imminent death of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but I wonder if we’re not jumping the gun. Media reporting about a situation like the Syrian protest movement and the Damascus’ government efforts to crush and coopt it can have a kind of snowball effect. International outlets are mostly shut out of Syria, they rely on information from residents who may or may not be linked to rights or opposition groups and footage that some of these organisations and individual activists manage to get outside the country and propagate. Without the ability to make judgements from inside the country about what’s going on, media are really hamstrung.

Assessing how many have died is a case in point. Media like facts and statistics, the better to judge and describe a situation. This week, reports from the rights, opposition, activists and ordinary people said on Sunday that the army’s assault on Hama had killed up to 140 people. With some news outlets that figure had been scaled back to around 80 the next day. One group being cited is Avaaz, a U.S.-based online advocacy group for democracy. Avaaz said, as of 2 August, that since 15 March 1,634 have died, 2,918 people have disappeared, and of 26,000 arrested 12,617 remained in detention in Syria, but how they could know with such accuracy I do not know. […]

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