Archive for November, 2013

Obama’s ‘Big Prize’ to Earn Nobel Peace Prize

November 27, 2013

By Nicola Nasser*

Indeed, US President Barak Obama has gone a long way to earn his Nobel Peace Prize, which was prospectively and in advance awarded in 2009 to the 44th president of the United States while less than eight months in office.

However, Obama’s “big prize” to make him “feel that I deserve” the Nobel Prize as he had said then will be waiting for him until he ends the ongoing Israeli war on the Palestinian people and occupation of their land, at least since 1967.

This Israeli war lies at the heart of both the wars Obama inherited as well as those he has just averted and has been all along the source of regional wars, instability and insecurity as well as the source of the deep-rooted anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

To his credit, President Obama, true to his promise to “end a decade of wars,” wound up the war on Iraq, now coordinating winding down his country’s war on Afghanistan next year and twice this year he has navigated successfully to avert and avoid dragging his country into wars on Syria and Iran.

It doesn’t matter much whether Obama has gone thus far out of principle or under the pressures of the financial crisis in his country and the emerging geopolitical realities internationally and regionally in the Middle East.

Pressures would be more likely an interpretation if one is to judge by his shift from his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call on Syrian rebels not to disarm with the aim of enforcing a regime change in Syria to the US co-sponsoring now the upcoming Geneva – 2 conference on January 22 for a political solution of the Syrian conflict.

But the “out of principle” interpretation seems more likely if one is to judge by the AP wire story about the background of the Iran deal, which revealed that Obama was conducting “secret talks” with Iran for about a year before the election last summer of the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, to whose “moderation” a lot of credit was attributed for the success of negotiating the deal.

It is true that Obama’s ongoing “drone war” on Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere, his “leading from behind” in the NATO-led war on Libya, his “warships diplomacy” and “sanctions war” on Syria, Iran and of late on Egypt all vindicate calls for rescinding his Nobel prize, but ending the ongoing Israeli war on the Palestinian people remains his only daring peace move that will tip the balance to his credit for good.

Except for his failure to deliver on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on the Cuban territory, the Arab – Israeli conflict remains the most critical foreign policy area where his deeds still do not match his words.

Long before his opposition to the US-led war on Iraq in 2003, Obama came of political age in the campus anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s and was elected as an anti-war figure; at a presidential campaign debate in South Carolina in 2007 he spoke about meetings with the leaders of Iran, North Korea, and other nations hostile to his country. He was awarded the Noble Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation” and for his vision and work “for a world without nuclear weapons.”

After his new START treaty with Russia cutting down the two countries’ nuclear arsenals, disarming Syria of its chemical arsenal and restricting Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful purposes, disarming Israel of its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction remains the litmus test which will determine the credibility of Obama’s endeavor “for a world without nuclear weapons” and will qualify him to “deserve” the Nobel Peace Prize.

After the signing of the four-page “Joint Plan of Action” interim nuclear deal between Iran and the 5-plus-1 partners in Geneva on this November 24, “He can now also say he has avoided a third war,” according to Bruce O. Riedel, a former administration official who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, quoted by The New York times last Monday.

However the “third war” has been raging bloodily and mercilessly for less than three years now in Syria, “led from behind” by his administration and either openly armed, financed and logistically supported by the US regional Qatari, Saudi and Turkish allies or proxies, it doesn’t matter which, or away from media spotlights by the US Israeli strategic ally.

Partnering with Russia to conclude the January 22 Geneva – 2 conference with a successful political solution of the Syrian conflict, by drying up the regional sources of arms and money that fuel the conflict, will be Obama’s “small prize” towards earning his Nobel prize.

But his “big prize” will remain tied to ending the sixty five-year old Israeli war on the Palestinian people.

Israel’s warmongering against Iran, Syria, Lebanese Hezbullah and Palestinian anti-Israeli occupation resistance movements besieged in the Gaza strip stands isolated in the face of a consensus by the world community on pursuing Obama’s pledge that “diplomacy would continue” because, as he said last Sunday, “we cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems.”

“The plan of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu … has been to launch a massive military assault on Iran that has no guarantee of success in ending the nuclear program but would almost certainly unleash a region-wide war.” (http://www.philly.com, Nov. 24, 2013)

Netanyahu condemned the Iran deal as an “historic mistake;” he stated that “Israel is not bound by the agreement” and has the right to “defend itself by itself” before sending his cabinet minister Naftali Bennett to Capitol Hill to rally Congress against the White House and the State Department and calling on American Jews to oppose the policies of Obama’s government. Netanyahu leaves no doubt that he is well determined to abort the Iran deal and deprive Obama from earning his Nobel Peace Prize.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com

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Syria, Egypt Reveal Erdogan’s ‘Hidden Agenda’

November 20, 2013

By Nicola Nasser*

The eruption of the Syrian conflict early in 2011 heralded the demise of Turkey’s officially pronounced strategy of “Zero Problems with Neighbors,” but more importantly, it revealed a “hidden agenda” in Turkish foreign policy under the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

What Sreeram Chaulia, the Dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs in India’s Sonipat, described as a “creeping hidden agenda” (http://rt.com on Sept. 15, 2013) is covered up ideologically as “Islamist.”

But in a more in-depth insight it is unfolding as neo-Ottomanism that is pragmatically using “Islamization,” both of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s legacy internally and Turkey’s foreign policy regionally, as a tool to revive the Ottoman Empire that once was.

Invoking his country’s former imperial grandeur, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu had written: “As in the sixteenth century … we will once again make the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Middle East, together with Turkey, the center of world politics in the future. That is the goal of Turkish foreign policy and we will achieve it.” (Emphasis added)

Quoted by Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby, writing in last March/April edition of http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org, the goal of Erdogan’s AKP ruling party for 2023, as proclaimed by its recent Fourth General Congress, is: “A great nation, a great power.” Erdogan urged the youth of Turkey to look not only to 2023, but to 2071 as well when Turkey “will reach the level of our Ottoman and Seljuk ancestors by the year 2071” as he said in December last year.

“2071 will mark one thousand years since the Battle of Manzikert,” when the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine Empire and heralded the advent of the Ottoman one, according to Fradkin and Libby.

Some six months ago, Davotoglu felt so confident and optimistic to assess that “it was now finally possible to revise the order imposed” by the British – French Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 to divide the Arab legacy of the Ottoman Empire between them.

Davotoglu knows very well that Pan-Arabs have been ever since struggling unsuccessfully so far to unite as a nation and discard the legacy of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, but not to recur to the Ottoman status quo ante, but he knows as well that Islamist political movements like the Muslim Brotherhood International (MBI) and the Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Party of Liberation) were originally founded in Egypt and Palestine respectively in response to the collapse of the Ottoman Islamic caliphate.

However, Erdogan’s Islamist credentials cannot be excluded as simply a sham; his background, his practices in office since 2002 as well as his regional policies since the eruption of the Syrian conflict less than three years ago all reveal that he does believe in his version of Islam per se as the right tool to pursue his Ottoman not so-“hidden agenda.”

Erdogan obviously is seeking to recruit Muslims as merely “soldiers” who will fight not for Islam per se, but for his neo-Ottomanism ambitions. Early enough in December 1997, he was given a 10-month prison sentence for voicing a poem that read: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers;” the poem was considered a violation of Kemalism by the secular judiciary.

Deceiving ‘Window of Opportunity’

However, Erdogan’s Machiavellianism finds no contradiction between his Islamist outreach and his promotion of the “Turkish model,” which sells what is termed as the “moderate” Sunni Islam within the context of Ataturk’s secular and liberal state as both an alternative to the conservative tribal-religious states in the Arabian Peninsula and to the sectarian rival of the conservative Shiite theocracy in Iran.

He perceived in the latest US withdrawal of focus from the Middle East towards the Pacific Ocean a resulting regional power vacuum providing him with an historic window of opportunity to fill the perceived vacuum.

“Weakening of Europe and the US’ waning influence in the Middle East” were seen by the leadership of Erdogan’s ruling party “as a new chance to establish Turkey as an influential player in the region,” Günter Seufert wrote in the German Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) on last October 14.

The US and Israel, in earnest to recruit Turkey against Iran, nurtured Erdogan’s illusion of regional leadership. He deluded himself with the unrealistic belief that Turkey could stand up to and sidestep the rising stars of the emerging Russian international polar, the emerging Iranian regional polar and the traditional regional players of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, let alone Iraq and Syria should they survive their current internal strife.

For sure, his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood International (MBI) and his thinly veiled Machiavellian logistical support of al-Qaeda – linked terrorist organizations are not and will not be a counter balance.

He first focused his Arab outreach on promoting the “Turkish model,” especially during the early months of the so-called “Arab Spring,” as the example he hoped will be followed by the revolting masses, which would have positioned him in the place of the regional mentor and leader.

But while the eruption of the Syrian conflict compelled him to reveal his Islamist “hidden agenda” and his alliance with the MBI, the removal of MBI last July from power in Egypt with all its geopolitical weight, supported by the other regional Arab heavy weight of Saudi Arabia, took him off guard and dispelled his ambitions for regional leadership, but more importantly revealed more his neo-Ottoman “hidden agenda” and pushed him to drop all the secular and liberal pretensions of his “Turkish model” rhetoric.

‘Arab Idol’ No More

Erdogan and his foreign policy engineer Davotoglu tried as well to exploit the Arab and Muslim adoption of the Palestine Question as the central item on their foreign policy agendas.

Since Erdogan’s encounter with the Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Economic Summit in Davos in January 2009, the Israeli attack on the Turkish humanitarian aid boat to Gaza, Mavi Marmara, the next year and Turkey’s courting of the Islamic Resistance Movement “Hamas,” the de facto rulers of the Israeli besieged Palestinian Gaza Strip, at the same time Gaza was targeted by the Israeli Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 then targeted again in the Israeli Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, Turkey’s premier became the Arab idol who was invited to attend Arab Leage summit and ministerial meetings.

However, in interviews with ResearchTurkey, CNN Turk and other media outlets, Abdullatif Sener, a founder of Erdogan’s AKP party who served as deputy prime minister and minister of finance in successive AKP governments for about seven years before he broke out with Erdogan in 2008, highlighted Erdogan’s Machiavellianism and questioned the sincerity and credibility of his Islamic, Palestinian and Arab public posturing.

“Erdogan acts without considering religion even at some basic issues but he hands down sharp religious messages … I consider the AK Party not as an Islamic party but as a party which collect votes by using Islamic discourses,” Sener said, adding that, “the role in Middle East was assigned to him” and “the strongest logistic support” to Islamists who have “been carrying out terrorist activities” in Syria “is provided by Turkey” of Erdogan.

In an interview with CNN Turk, Sener dropped a bombshell when he pointed out that the AKP’s spat with Israel was “controlled.” During the diplomatic boycott of Israel many tenders were granted to Israeli companies and Turkey has agreed to grant partner status to Israel in NATO: “If the concern of the AKP is to confront Israel then why do they serve to the benefit of Israel?” In another interview he said that the NATO radar systems installed in Malatya are there to protect Israel against Iran.

Sener argued that the biggest winner of the collapse of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad would be Israel because it will weaken Lebanon’s Hizbullah and Iran, yet Erdogan’s Turkey is the most ardent supporter of a regime change in Syria, he said.

Erdogan’s Syrian policy was the death knell to his strategy of “Zero Problems with Neighbors;” the bloody terrorist swamp of the Syrian conflict has drowned it in its quicksand.

Liz Sly’s story in the Washington Post on this November 17 highlighted how his Syrian policies “have gone awry” and counterproductive by “putting al-Qaeda on NATO’s (Turkish) borders for the first time.”

With his MBI alliance, he alienated Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in addition to the other Arab heavy weights of Syria, Iraq and Algeria and was left with “zero friends” in the region.

According to Günter Seufert, Turkey’s overall foreign policy, not only with regards to Syria, “has hit the brick wall” because the leadership of Erdogan’s ruling party “has viewed global political shifts through an ideologically (i.e. Islamist) tinted lens.”

Backpedaling too late

Now it seems Erdogan’s “Turkey is already carefully backpedaling” on its foreign policy,” said Seufert. It “wants to reconnect” with Iran and “Washington’s request to end support for radical groups in Syria did not fall on deaf Turkish ears.”

“Reconnecting” with Iran and its Iraqi ruling sectarian brethren will alienate further the Saudis who could not tolerate similar reconnection by their historical and strategic US ally and who were already furious over Erdogan’s alliance with the Qatari financed and US sponsored Muslim Brotherhood and did not hesitate to publicly risk a rift with their US ally over the removal of the MBI from power in Egypt five months ago.

Within this context came Davotoglu’s recent visit to Baghdad, which “highlighted the need for great cooperation between Turkey and Iraq against the Sunni-Shiite conflict,” according to http://www.turkishweekly.net on this November 13. Moreover, he “personally” wanted “to spend the month of Muharram every year in (the Iraqi Shiite holy places of) Karbala and Najaf with our (Shiite) brothers there.”

Within the same “backpedaling” context came Erdogan’s playing the host last week to the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, not in Ankara, but in Diyarbakir, which Turkish Kurds cherish as their capital in the same way Iraqi Kurds cherish Kirkuk.

However, on the same day of Barzani’s visit Erdogan ruled out the possibility of granting Turkish Kurds their universal right of self-determination when he announced “Islamic brotherhood” as the solution for the Kurdish ethnic conflict in Turkey, while his deputy, Bulent Arinc, announced that “a general amnesty” for Kurdish detainees “is not on today’s agenda.” Three days earlier, on this November 15, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said, “Turkey cannot permit (the) fait accompli” of declaring a Kurdish provisional self-rule along its southern borders in Syria which his prime minister’s counterproductive policies created together with an al-Qaeda-dominated northeastern strip of Syrian land.

Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism charged by his Islamist sectarian ideology as a tool has backfired to alienate both Sunni and Shiite regional environment, the Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian, Emirati, Saudi and Lebanese Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Israelis and Iranians as well as Turkish and regional liberals and secularists. His foreign policy is in shambles with a heavy economic price as shown by the recent 13.2% devaluation of the Turkish lira against the US dollar.

“Backpedaling” might be too late to get Erdogan and his party through the upcoming local elections next March and the presidential elections which will follow in August next year.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com

Libya almost Imploding, Status Quo Unsustainable

November 13, 2013

By Nicola Nasser*

More than two years on since the “revolution” of Feb. 2011, the security crisis is exacerbating by the day threatening Libya with an implosion charged with potential realistic risks to the geopolitical unity of the Arab north African country, turning this crisis into a national existential one. Obviously the status quo is unsustainable.

“Libya is imploding two years after the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi” was captured and killed on October 20,” Patrick Cockburn wrote in British The Independent on last Oct. 10.

Libya’s oil industry has become the target of violent attacks and civil protests, closing export terminals in east and west or/and creating an oil black market. “Security guards” at the country’s main ports are on strike and selling oil independently in spite of a 67% in pay for employees of the state oil sector on last Oct. 31. Libyan oil minister, Abdulbari Ali al-Arousi, told the Financial Times on last April 29 that disruptions to production and export cost the country about $1bn over the previous five months only.

On this Nov. 11 Reuters reported that Protesters shut Libya’s gas export pipeline to Italy, its only customer, in the Mellitah complex, some 100 km west of Tripoli, after shutting down oil exports from there as well. A day earlier, Reuters reported that the separatist self-declared autonomous Cyrenaica government set up a regional firm called “Libya Oil and Gas Corp” to sell oil independently after seizing several ports in the east of the country, where Libya’s two most important oil ports, Sidra and Ras Lanuf, were blockaded by protestors.

Libya is Europe’s single largest oil supplier. Cutting the Libyan oil and gas supplies to Europe on the eve of a winter that weather forecasts predict to be a very cold one would be an excellent pretext for inviting a European military intervention in the country, which seems the only option left for the transitional government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan that ran out of options for its survival.

It is noteworthy here that while the U.N. Support Mission in Libya can obviously “support” nothing, France, Italy, the UK and the U.S., who spearheaded the NATO campaign to topple the former ruling regime, in a joint statement on this Nov. 8, expressed their concern “at the instability in Libya and the threat that (it) poses to the successful achievement of the democratic transition” and reiterated their “support to the elected political institutions,” i.e. to Zeidan’s government.

Ironically, Zeidan on this Nov. 10 warned his compatriots of a possible “intervention of foreign occupation forces” in order to protect civilians under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter because “the international community cannot tolerate a state in the middle of the Mediterranean that is a source of violence, terrorism and murder,” which was the same pretext for the NATO military intervention that contributed mainly, if not created, the security crisis in the first place by destroying the military and police infrastructure of the central government and turned the country practically into a sponsor of regional terrorism in general and an exporter of arms and “Jihadists” to Syria in particular.

Zeidan’s warning of foreign “intervention” could also be interpreted as an implicit threat to ask for it to help rein in the security crisis lest it boils to an implosion of the country.

Forbes on last Aug. 30 reported that Libya’s “energy protection” was failing and quoted PM Zeidan as saying that his government would impose “order by force” when it came to protecting the oil and gas industry and expanded the Petroleum Facility Guards (PFG) to 18,000 members.

Months on, his efforts and threats failed to deter targeting pipelines, refineries and export terminals. His renewed threats since early last September to “bomb from the air and the sea” any oil tanker entering Libya’s territorial waters illegally and trying to pick up illicit Libyan oil have proved hollow and without teeth.

Libya is the second largest oil producer in Africa and the continent’s fourth largest natural gas supplier and already dominates the Southern Mediterranean’s petroleum sector. According to the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC), more than 50 international oil companies were already present in the Libya on the eve of the “revolution.” The country’s potential is more promising; Austria’s OMV said on last Oct. 21 it had struck oil in Libya in its first new discovery since 2011.

On last Oct. 18, CNBC.com quoted Paolo Scaroni, the CEO of the Italian oil and gas firm ENI, which is Libya’s largest foreign partner, as saying: “Everyone is going to be wealthy” in Libya, citing statistics of what could be: “Five million people and 2 million barrels of oil (per day), which means that this country can be a paradise, and I am doubtful that Libyans will not catch this opportunity of becoming the new Abu Dhabi, or the new Qatar or the new Kuwait.”

Libyan Copy of Iraq’s “Green Zone”

Yet Libyans seem determined to miss “this opportunity.” “Revolutionary” Libya, reminiscent of the U.S. – engineered “democratic” Iraq after some ten years of the U.S. invasion, is still unable to offer basic services to its citizens. Real unemployment is estimated at over 30%. Economy has stalled and frustration is growing. Gone are the welfare days of Gaddafi’s state when young families could get a house with benefits for free, people’s medication and treatment were paid by the state and free education made available to everyone. About one million supporters of the Gaddafi regime remain internally displaced; hundreds of thousands more fled for their lives abroad.

Remnants of the destroyed institutional infrastructure of law, order and security is hardly capable of protecting the symbolic central government in Tripoli, reminiscent of its Iraqi counterpart, which is still besieged in the so-called “Green Zone” in Baghdad. Late last October Libya’s central bank was robbed of $55m in a broad daylight robbery. More than one hundred senior military and police commanders were assassinated.

“Libya isn’t just at a crossroads. We are at a roundabout. We keep driving round in circles without knowing where to get off,” Libya’s Minister of Economy, Alikilani al-Jazi, said at a conference in London last September, quoted by The Australian on last Oct. 14.

On last Aug. 30, the Swiss-based group Petromatrix said: “We are currently witnessing the collapse of state in Libya, and the country is getting closer to local wars for oil revenues.” Four days later Patrick Cockburn reported in British The Independent that “Libyans are increasingly at the mercy of militias” and that the “Government authority is disintegrating in all parts of the country.”

Ironically, an estimated one-quarter of a million heavily armed militiamen, who are the main obstacle to creating and empowering a central government, are on government payroll.

Writing in The Tripoli Post on Oct. 31, Karen Dabrowska said that, “Local notables, tribal groups, Islamists and militias are all vying to keep the centre from extending its authority to their fiefdoms and this explains why disparate social groupings can only unite temporarily to prevent the centre from gaining power over them.”

It “goes without saying that the post – Moammar Gaddafi Libya is purely a failed state” governed by militia, Adfer Rashid Shah of the Jamia Millia Islamia, Central University in New Delhi, wrote on last Oct. 15.

Following the heavy infighting in the Libyan capital on this Nov. 7, Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino told newspaper La Republicca that the country was “absolutely out of control” and the situation is worsening, hinting that Italian oil and gas firm ENI was prepared to close its oil wells.

Zeidan’s abduction from his Tripoli’s Corinthia Hotel on last Oct. 10, which the British Economist described as “the shortest coup,” highlighted the country’s deteriorating security crisis. It was interpreted as a “reprisal” for kidnapping five days earlier of Abu Anas al-Libi on suspicion of links with al-Qaeda by U.S. special forces, an act which exposed the inability of the central government to cooperate and coordinate with the American “ally” in his arrest on the one hand and on the other exposed its failure in protecting Libya’s sovereignty against a flagrant U.S. violation thereof.

Last July Zeidan threatened that his government may have to “use force” in Benghazi, the cradle of the “revolution” and the current focus of insecurity, tribalism, separatism, Islamist rebels, decentralization of government, assassination of regular army and security officers and attacks on foreign diplomatic missions who mostly closed their consulates in Libya’s second largest city, where the U.S. ambassador was killed in September last year.

Ahead of his visit to the eastern city on Monday, when he promised reinforcements and logistical support to the security forces there, Zeidan launched a show of force into the city the previous Friday with hundreds of armored troop carriers and army trucks mounted with guns.

But Zaeidan’s threat to “use force” will inevitably be counterproductive, not only because his government’s lack of “force” would compromise his credibility, but because, within the current balance of power between his government and the militias, it will make the security situation worse if it does not ignite a civil war.

Zeidan said his government would give the “revolutionaries” who have turned into rival and vying militias and warlords until next Dec. 31 to join the regular army and police or they will be cut from government payroll, that is if his coffers could afford to sustain their payroll if they accepted and if they did not accept his offer it will be another reason for more mutiny and rebellion.

More likely the government payroll may not be rolling because the government is facing a budget crisis and “from next or the following month, there could be a problem covering expenditure” according to Zeidan himself, as the security crisis has brought oil production to a standstill or out of its control because the “militia groups are behaving like terrorists, using control over oil as political leverage to extract concessions,” according to Dr. Elizabeth Stephens, head of political risk at insurers Jardine Lloyd Thompson, quoted by British The Telegraph on last Aug. 29.

An imminent constitutional crisis could create a power vacuum that in turn would worsen the security crisis. Published by RT on this Nov. 7, analyst Nile Bowie wrote: “In accordance with the transitional roadmap adopted by the transitional government in May 2011, the mandate of the current government in Tripoli is set to expire on February 8, 2014. Failure to implement a new constitution by then would either force Tripoli into extending its mandate – a move which is seen as highly unpopular – or a potential power vacuum scenario which could set off a chain of events that could lead to a civil war or dissolution.”

Pentagon’s Plans No Help

Short of western “boots on the ground” it is doubtful that Zeidan’s government will survive. The U.S. administration of President Barak Obama was repeatedly on record against any U.S. boots on the ground in the Middle East. With the exception of France, which might be ready for the appropriate price to repeat its recent limited and temporary military intervention in Mali, Europe seems against it too.

Zeidan, with less than three months remaining for him in office, seems relying on Pentagon’s plans to arm and train, through “AFRICOM,” a new Libyan army called “a general purpose force.”

But “the case of a separate and underreported U.S. effort to train a small Libyan counterterrorism unit inside Libya earlier this year is instructive,” Frederic Wehrey wrote recently in Foreign Affairs, adding: The absence of clear lines of authority — nearly inevitable given Libya’s fragmented security sector — meant that the force’s capabilities could just have easily ended up being used against political enemies as against terrorists. In August militias launched a pre-dawn raid on the training camp which was not well-guarded. There were no U.S. soldiers at the camp, but the militia took a great deal of U.S. military equipment from the site, some of it sensitive. The U.S. decided to abort the program and the U.S. forces supposedly went home.

The obvious alternative to Zeidan’s western supported government would be a stateless society governed by militia warlords, while the survival of his government promises more of the same.

At the official end of the NATO war for the regime change in Libya on Oct. 31, 2011 U.S. President Obama proclaimed from the White House Rose Garden that this event signaled the advent of “a new and democratic Libya,” but more than two years later Libya is recurring to the pre-Gaddafi old undemocratic tribal and ethnic rivalries with the added value of the exclusionist terrorist religious fundamentalism wearing the mantle of Islamist Jihad.

In the wake of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s death on October 20, a Saudi Arabian Arab News’ editorial said: “The point about Qaddafi’s death is that it makes the next transition stage that much easier, that much safer. As long as he remained at large, he would have been in a position to destabilize the country.” More than two years after Gaddafi’s death, Libya is more destabilized, insecure and fractured that its future is now questionable enough not to vindicate the Saudi daily’s prediction.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com

Saudis Fight a Lost Battle against Change

November 6, 2013

By Nicola Nasser*

The ongoing aggressive Saudi policy for a militarized “regime change” in Syria is more an expression of internal vulnerability, trying hopelessly to avert change outside their borders lest change sweeps inside, than being a positive show of leadership and power, but Syrian developments are proving by the day that the Saudis are fighting a lost battle against change.

Riyadh is fighting several preemptive battles outside its borders in its immediate proximity in a disparate attempt to prevent an historic regional tide of change from changing the country’s pre-medieval system of governance and social life.

Surrounded by a turbulent changing regional and international environment, the Saudi Arabian rulers seem worried as hell that their system is facing an historical existential test for the survival of which they are unwisely blundering in foreign policy to alienate friends, win more enemies, exacerbate old animosities and trying counterproductively to promote their unmarketable way of life as the only way they know to survive, instead of reforming to adapt to modern irreversible changes that are sweeping throughout their surroundings and the world like a tsunami of an irresistible fate.

Change is inevitable and if they insist on resisting it they will be shooting themselves in the legs and fighting back a lost battle, which might delay change for a while, but cannot stop it from flooding their outdated feudal type of family governance, where more than seven thousand royal princes spread over the country like a spider’s net of rulers who dominate every aspect of the political, administrative, security, military, economic and social life.

True, there is the oil factor underlying the aggressive Saudi regional policies, especially vis-à-vis Iran and Iraq, which is covered up by trumpeting the not so unrealistic threat of sectarian Shiism, Iranian regional hegemony and Iran’s nuclear threat lest they endanger the Saudi similar sectarian Wahhabi theology and political prominence in the region where the United States has been the only real hēgemōn since the Saudi family came to power in the Arabian peninsula some one hundred years ago.

For a country where petroleum exports account for some 90 percent of revenue, the prospect of lifting the sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe on Iran and empowering Iraq to carry on with its public plans to increase its oil production to equal or exceed the Saudi level in a few years would bring into oil market very strong competitors who in no time would end the Saudi dominance amid “a continuous decline” in international demand for oil (Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, news.sky.com, July 29, 2013), dwindling US demand for Saudi oil (read Gal Luft and Anne Korin in foreignaffairs.com on Oct. 15, 2013) and the emergence of China as number one importer of oil in the world last September.

Comparison is noteworthy here; Israel likewise has been trumpeting a hypothetical Iranian threat of a non-existent nuclear military program to cover Israel’s own proven nuclear weapons and its real reason for warmongering against Iran, namely to preempt the emergence of a regional competitor in nuclear and defense technology who would compete with Israel’s most lucrative industries in the same Asian, African and South American markets.

True also that there is the political factor of the growing Saudi feeling of an American betrayal and that the US security umbrella is no more a source of relief after President Barak Obama declared an end to a decade of war. Quoted by the jewishpress.com on last Oct. 25, Brooking Institution expert Mike Doran, writing in London’s Telegraph about “The Saudi – American Rupture,” had this to say: “I know of no analogous period. I’ve never seen so many disagreements on so many key fronts all at once. And I’ve never seen such a willingness on the part of the Saudis to publicly express their frustration.”

Nonetheless, as proved by the US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Riyadh on Monday, after about a century old bilateral strategic ties, the ruling Saudis have no other option but to continue risking their survival on US untrustworthy guarantees for their security and to take the advice of “Ergo” in its Feb. report last year, titled “The Waning Era of Saudi Oil Dominance,” that Saudi Arabia “must strive not to alienate the United States,” unless they decide to adapt to change internally and change their foreign policy to adapt to the regional changes as well as to the emerging multi-polar world.

In his obvious attempt to contain the Saudi “frustration,” “to make certain the Saudi-US relationship is on track” and will remain “strategic” and “enduring,” despite the “solid” disagreements, Kerry during his visit to Riyadh went as far as to let down the equality of women as a universal standard enshrined in his country’s constitution when he said that “it’s up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decision” and that this issue “is best left to the Saudi Arabian people.”

The Real Threat of Ideas

However, it is not only the oil and political factors or the sectarian or military threats that are motivating the aggressive Saudi regional policies, but the preempting of the real threat of the ideas and thoughts of change, regardless of whether they come from a rival conservative (Iran) or moderate (Syria) sect or trend of Islam or from the liberal modernity.

It is true also that the Iranian pronounced “Vilayat-e Faqih” leadership of the Shiites outside Iran threatens to encourage the large Shiite minority sitting on the oil fields in the east of the country, or the Shiite majority in neighboring Bahrain, or the large minority of the Zaidi Houthis in northern Yemen just across the southern border of the kingdom, to follow the example of Hezbullah of their Shiite brethren in southern Lebanon in seeking the military and political support of Iran in their decades long struggle to end social, political and economic marginalization; hence the Saudi military intervention in Bahrain.

But the real threat is much more serious than merely inciting minorities inside or beside the country to rebel and revolt. The underlying main message coming out of Iran transcends sects and minorities.

The cornerstone of the Islamic revolution which late Imam Grand Ayatollah Khomeini led and swept away the more powerful and pro-American hereditary rule of the Shah of Iran was the central idea in his book, “Vilayat-e Faqih” (The Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist), that there is no hereditary government in Islam.

“Anyone who has some general awareness of the beliefs and ordinances of Islam” would “unhesitatingly give his assent to the principle of the governance of the faqih as soon as he encounters it,” the late Iranian leader wrote.

Although it is public knowledge that there is no priesthood in Islam, the “elected” government reports to the “male” faqih who is “elected” from a pool of religious hierarchical elite in a somewhat Islamic copy of the Catholic process of electing the Vatican pope.

The Iranian electoral message is a clear threat to the hereditary “royal” court of the Saudi ruling family to whom a similar religious Wahhabi “priesthood” report instead vice versa like in Iran.

This same elected – versus – hereditary argument explains the Saudi U-turn against the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) whom the Saudi royals had nurtured financially and politically, and still nurturing in Syria, against Pan-Arabism and communism until the end of the last millennium. For ideological reasons, the MB has a very longstanding opposition to hereditary monarchies.

As long as the MB was not in power and targeting only Pan-Arab and left – oriented “republican” Arab ruling regimes and political movements, the Saudis perceived no MB threat, but when the so – called “Arab Spring” brought them to power in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen in alliance with their ruling MB brethren in Turkey, their threat became more realistic than hypothetical, to the extent that Saudis risked public disagreements with both their US and Turkish longstanding allies over their removal from power in Egypt, a Saudi – Egypt disagreement over Syria as well as the Saudi – Turkey war by their respective proxies among the armed gangs who are fighting the Syrian government.

However, the burgeoning liberal pluralistic modernity as is unfolding in the “republics” of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria as well as in the “monarchies” of Morocco, Jordan and Kuwait represents a more challenging threat to the Saudi hereditary monarchy and the pre-medieval closed society it hopelessly rules to maintain as such for as long as possible.

Legitimacy Questioned

For this purpose, Saudis succeeded in posturing as the leaders of the counterrevolution fighting both the rival Islamic and the liberal challenges in a lost battle to reverse the irreversible course of history.

Adding to the Saudi vulnerabilities, both challenges are weighing in heavily on the legitimacy of the ruling family whose title to the throne of Saudi Arabia is de facto, not de jure.

Voices that are marginal but loudly heard nonetheless are demanding the Islamic holy places in Mecca and Madina be declared a Vatican – like status free for the Hajj for all Muslim believers because the Saudis have no legitimate title from the Sharia to be their guardians and because they have politicized the Islamic ritual as manifested by banning the Syrians from the Hajj for political reasons.

Resorting to their abundance of petrodollar wealth accumulated from their depleting oil resources could buy mercenaries disguised as Islamic “Jihadists” for the cause of their brand of Islam to confiscate legitimate popular expressions of political and economic grievances in Syria and elsewhere, could bribe their people as well as their Bahraini and Omani brethren out of any integration with the popular protests known as the “Arab Spring” and could abort popular revolts in surrounding Arab countries, but only for a while. Change is inevitable both inside and around the country.

Their only hope for survival ironically lies in following in the footsteps of their bitter foe in Syria, where President Basher al-Assad wisely chose “to lead” the change and reform.

Still better, they could make a U-turn in their regional policy to limit their political isolation in the region by reviving the trilateral axis with Egypt and Syria, which stabilized the region and established a solid basis for a minimum defensive Arab solidarity vis-à-vis Israel since the kingdom joined both countries in their war to liberate their Israeli – occupied lands in 1973; in such a scenario, Iran would be an added value and not “the enemy” as pronounced by Riyadh now.

The alternative is waiting for change to come sooner or later to the Saudi doorsteps; it’s a matter of time only.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com