Category: Injustice on the Arabian Peninsula


October 15, 2018

ISTANBUL (AP) — A team of investigators entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Monday for what Turkish officials called a joint inspection of the building where Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared nearly two weeks ago.

The team arrived by unmarked police cars at the consulate and said nothing to journalists waiting outside as they entered the building. Police then pushed back journalists from the front of the consulate, where they’ve been stationed for days, setting up a new cordon to keep them away.

The makeup of the investigative team that entered the diplomatic compound was not immediately clear. International concern continues to grow over the writer’s Oct. 2 disappearance. American lawmakers have threatened tough punitive action against the Saudis, and Germany, France and Britain have jointly called for a “credible investigation” into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

A Foreign Ministry official had earlier said the team would visit the diplomatic post Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations. Officials in Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team that flew into and out of Turkey on Oct. 2 killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who had written Washington Post columns critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The kingdom has called such allegations “baseless” but has not offered any evidence Khashoggi ever left the consulate.

Such a search would be an extraordinary development, as embassies and consulates under the Vienna Convention are technically foreign soil. Saudi Arabia may have agreed to the search in order to appease its Western allies and the international community.

However, it remained unclear what evidence, if any, would remain nearly two weeks after Khashoggi’s disappearance. As if to drive the point home, a cleaning crew with mops, trash bags and cartons of milk walked in past journalists waiting outside the consulate on Monday.

President Donald Trump has said Saudi Arabia could face “severe punishment” if it was proven it was involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance. Trump tweeted Monday that he had spoken with Saudi King Salman, “who denies any knowledge” of what happened to Khashoggi.

“He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer,” Trump wrote. “I am immediately sending our Secretary of State (Mike Pompeo) to meet with King!” On Sunday, Saudi Arabia warned that if it “receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom’s economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy.”

“The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures or repeating false accusations,” said the statement, carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The statement did not elaborate. However, a column published in English a short time later by the general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite news network suggested Saudi Arabia could use its oil production as a weapon. Benchmark Brent crude is trading at around $80 a barrel, and Trump has criticized OPEC and Saudi Arabia over rising prices.

Saudi media followed on from that statement in television broadcasts and newspaper front pages Monday. The Arabic-language daily Okaz wrote a headline on Monday in English warning: “Don’t Test Our Patience.” It showed a clenched fist made of a crowd of people in the country’s green color.

The Saudi Gazette trumpeted: “Enough Is Enough,” while the Arab News said: “Saudi Arabia ‘will not be bullied’.” The Arab News’ headline was above a front-page editorial by Dubai-based real-estate tycoon Khalaf al-Habtoor, calling on Gulf Arab nations to boycott international firms now backing out of a planned economic summit in Riyadh later this month.

“Together we must prove we will not be bullied or else, mark my words, once they have finished kicking the kingdom, we will be next in line,” al-Habtoor said. Already, international business leaders are pulling out of the kingdom’s upcoming investment forum, a high-profile event known as “Davos in the Desert,” though it has no association with the World Economic Forum. They include the CEO of Uber, a company in which Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars; billionaire Richard Branson; JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Dimon; and Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford.

News that the CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, would pull out of the conference drew angry responses across the region. The foreign minister of the neighboring island kingdom of Bahrain, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, tweeted Sunday night that there should be a boycott of the ride-hailing app both there and in Saudi Arabia.

Late Sunday, Saudi King Salman spoke by telephone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about Khashoggi. Turkey said Erdogan “stressed the forming of a joint working group to probe the case.” Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said King Salman thanked Erdogan “for welcoming the kingdom’s proposal” for forming the working group.

The king said Turkey and Saudi Arabia enjoy close relations and “that no one will get to undermine the strength of this relationship,” according to a statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency. While Turkey and the kingdom differ on political issues, Saudi investments are a crucial lifeline for Ankara amid trouble with its national currency, the Turkish lira.

Prince Mohammed, King Salman’s son, has aggressively pitched the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. But Khashoggi’s disappearance has led several business leaders and media outlets to back out of the upcoming investment conference in Riyadh, called the Future Investment Initiative.

The Saudi stock exchange, only months earlier viewed as a darling of frontier investors, plunged as much as 7 percent at one point Sunday before closing down over 4 percent. On Monday, Riyadh’s Tadawul exchange closed up 4 percent.

Concerns appeared to spread Monday to Japan’s SoftBank, which has invested tens of billions of dollars of Saudi government funds. SoftBank was down over 7 percent in trading on Tokyo’s stock exchange.

Khashoggi has written extensively for the Post about Saudi Arabia, criticizing its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women’s rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving. Those policies are all seen as initiatives of the crown prince.

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey, and Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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August 27, 2018

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Bin Salman has threatened to target women and children in Yemen with the Saudi-led Arab coalition despite international criticism, Al-Khaleej Online has reported.

According to an “informed source”, who asked not to be named, the Crown Prince issued his threat during a meeting with the coalition’s military commanders following the massacre in Hodeida earlier this month.

“Do not care about international criticism,” Bin Salman is alleged to have told his officers, a reference to the international condemnation of military operations against civilians in Yemen, particularly raids that kill women and children. “We want to leave a big impact on the consciousness of Yemeni generations. We want their children, women and even their men to shiver whenever the name of Saudi Arabia is mentioned.”

Bin Salman’s threats coincide with condemnation of the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s bombing of displaced civilians as they fled from the fighting in Hodeida province.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180827-bin-salman-threatens-to-target-women-and-children-in-yemen-despite-international-criticism/.

August 06, 2018

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Monday ordered the Canadian ambassador to leave the ultraconservative kingdom within 24 hours after his nation criticized the recent arrest of women’s rights activists.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry also said it would freeze “all new business” between the kingdom and Canada. Some 10 percent of Canadian crude oil imports come from Saudi Arabia. “Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in an extraordinarily aggressive statement. “Canada and all other nations need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the kingdom over its own citizens.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if Ambassador Dennis Horak was in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia said it would recall its ambassador to Canada as well. Marie-Pier Baril, a spokeswoman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Canada was “seriously concerned” by Saudi Arabia’s actions.

“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world,” she said in a statement. “Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.”

The dispute appears centered around tweets by Canadian diplomats calling on the kingdom to “immediately release” women’s rights activists recently detained by the kingdom. Among those recently arrested is Samar Badawi, whose brother Raif Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for criticizing clerics. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, is now living in Canada.

Freeland tweeted about the arrests on Thursday. “Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia,” she wrote. “Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”

Saudi Arabia ended in June its long practice of not allowing women to drive automobiles in the Sunni kingdom. However, supporters of women’s rights were arrested just weeks before the ban was lifted, signaling that only King Salman and his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will decide the pace of change.

Saudi women still need permission from male guardians to travel abroad or marry. The diplomatic dispute with Canada may be part of that assertive foreign policy pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed under his father. Germany similarly has found itself targeted by the kingdom in recent months over comments by its officials on the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

It isn’t immediately clear what new business could be affected between the two countries. Bilateral trade between the two nations reached $3 billion in 2016, with tanks and fighting vehicles among the top Canadian exports to the kingdom, according to government statistics.

Saudi Arabia in recent years has expelled Iran’s ambassador over attacks on its diplomatic posts following its 2016 execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

June 23, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that have cut ties to Qatar issued a steep list of demands Thursday to end the crisis, insisting that their Persian Gulf neighbor shutter Al-Jazeera, cut back diplomatic ties to Iran and sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

In a 13-point list — presented to the Qataris by Kuwait, which is helping mediate the crisis — the countries also demand an end to Turkey’s military presence in Qatar. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the list in Arabic from one of the countries involved in the dispute.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain broke ties with Qatar this month over allegations the Persian Gulf country funds terrorism — an accusation that President Donald Trump has echoed. Those countries have now given Qatar 10 days to comply with all of the demands, which include paying an unspecified sum in compensation.

Qatari officials in Doha did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the AP. But the list included conditions that the gas-rich nation had already insisted would never be met, including shutting down Al-Jazeera. Qatar’s government has said it won’t negotiate until Arab nations lift their blockade. The demands were also likely to elicit Qatari objections that its neighbors are trying to dictate its sovereign affairs by imposing such far-reaching requirements.

Only a day earlier, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had warned the demands must be “reasonable and actionable.” The U.S. issued that litmus test amid frustration at how long it was taking Saudi Arabia and others to formalize a list of demands, complicating U.S. efforts to bring about a resolution to the worst Gulf diplomatic crisis in years.

According to the list, Qatar must refuse to naturalize citizens from the four countries and expel those currently in Qatar, in what the countries describe as an effort to keep Qatar from meddling in their internal affairs.

They are also demanding that Qatar hand over all individuals who are wanted by those four countries for terrorism; stop funding any extremist entities that are designated as terrorist groups by the U.S.; and provide detailed information about opposition figures that Qatar has funded, ostensibly in Saudi Arabia and the other nations.

Qatar vehemently denies funding or supporting extremism. But the country acknowledges that it allows members of some extremist groups such as Hamas to reside in Qatar, arguing that fostering dialogue with those groups is key to resolving global conflicts.

Qatar’s neighbors have also accused it of backing al-Qaida and the Islamic State group’s ideology throughout the Middle East. Those umbrella groups also appear on the list of entities whose ties with Qatar must be extinguished, along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the al-Qaida branch in Syria, once known as the Nusra Front.

More broadly, the list demands that Qatar align itself politically, economically and otherwise with the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional club that has focused on countering the influence of Iran. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led nations have accused Qatar of inappropriately close ties to Iran, a Shiite-led country and Saudi Arabia’s regional foe.

The Iran provisions in the document say Qatar must shut down diplomatic posts in Iran, kick out from Qatar any members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, and only conduct trade and commerce with Iran that complies with U.S. sanctions. Under the 2015 nuclear deal, nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were eased but other sanctions remain in place.

Cutting ties to Iran would prove incredibly difficult. Qatar shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Iran which supplies the small nation that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup its wealth. Not only must Qatar shut down the Doha-based satellite broadcaster, the list says, but also all of its affiliates. That presumably would mean Qatar would have to close down Al-Jazeera’s English-language sister network.

Supported by Qatar’s government, Al-Jazeera is one of the most widely watched Arabic channels, but it has long drawn the ire of Mideast governments for airing alternative viewpoints. The network’s critics say it advances Qatar’s goals by promoting Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood that pose a populist threat to rulers in other Arab countries.

The list also demands that Qatar stop funding a host of other news outlets including Arabi21 and Middle East Eye. If Qatar agrees to comply, the list asserts that it will be audited once a month for the first year, and then once per quarter in the second year after it takes effect. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.

Hussain Al-Qatari in Kuwait, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Vivian Salama in Washington contributed to this report.

June 15, 2017

Co-founder of Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front, Sheikh Ali Belhadj, has criticized the siege imposed by a number of Gulf and Arab countries on Qatar.

In an interview with Quds Press, Belhadj strongly criticized the involvement of Islamic institutions and using them to achieve political purposes against the State of Qatar.

“The involvement of the Muslim World League, with the aim of gaining legitimacy for the siege against Qatar, is an insult to this institution and to the teachings of Islam which refuse such behavior in the holy month of Ramadan,” he said.

The Muslim World League should have remained neutral towards this dispute and sought to heal the rift instead of involving itself in such a way.

Belhadj pointed out that Qatar is not the target of the blockade, but the aim is to strike every Arab or Islamic country that wants to support the oppressed or the Palestinian cause.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170615-algerias-belhadj-slams-boycott-of-qatar/.

June 15, 2017

King Salman of Saudi Arabia has given Pakistan’s prime minister an ultimatum over Qatar. In an attempt to force Nawaz Sharif to take sides, the monarch jibed, “Are you with us or with Qatar?” the Express Tribune has reported.

The king posed the question during a meeting between the two leaders in Jeddah on Monday as part of the effort to find a diplomatic solution to the Qatar crisis. “Pakistan has told Saudi Arabia it will not take sides in the brewing diplomatic crisis in the Middle East after Riyadh asked Islamabad ‘are you with us or with Qatar’,” the newspaper pointed out.

Pakistan has been treading a careful path since Saudi and other Gulf countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. However, the Saudi government wants Pakistan to side with the kingdom.

Citing a senior government official, who was briefed on the talks at the monarch’s palace in Jeddah, the Express Tribune said that Pakistan would not take sides in any event that would create divisions within the Muslim world. “Nevertheless, in order to placate Saudi Arabia, Pakistan offered to use its influence over Qatar to defuse the situation. For this purpose, the prime minister will undertake visits to Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey,” the newspaper added.

Sharif traveled to Jeddah accompanied by army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other senior officials to discuss the emerging situation in the Gulf. It is thought that Prime Minister Sharif’s mediation visit to Saudi did not achieve any immediate breakthrough.

According to an official statement, Sharif met King Salman in Jeddah and urged an early resolution of the impasse in Gulf in the best interest of all Muslims.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170615-saudi-king-gives-pakistans-prime-minister-an-ultimatum-over-qatar/.

June 14, 2017

Jordan’s economy has incurred losses worth $2 million since a closure of the Saudi land borders last week against the Jordanian exports heading to Qatar as a result of the Gulf diplomatic rift.

On 5 June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and began an economic blockade against the Gulf state. Jordan later joined the move by announcing a reduction in diplomatic representation with Qatar.

According to sources at Jordan’s Exporters and Producers Association for Fruits and Vegetables, Jordanian traders who have previously signed exporting contracts with Qatar, started exporting their products by air.

Jordanian shipments’ volume to the Gulf state has also dropped to 90 tons per day, down from 600 tons per day before the blockade.

According to Al Jazeera, Saudi Arabia has prevented the entry of 85 Jordanian trucks loaded with vegetables and fruits, and over 10 trucks which were loaded with livestock heading to Qatar, following the rift.

Qatar has begun pursuing alternative routes and agreeing on new deals with other countries to counter the blockade imposed by most of its neighboring Arab states. Turkey was ready to help resolve the dispute, according to the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, while Iranian officials have offered to send food to Qatar by sea.

Moreover the Danish company, A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, which owns the world’s biggest container line, has worked to bypass the transport ban imposed on Qatar by using alternative routes. Last Friday, it announced that it would begin container shipments to Qatar via Oman, avoiding trade restrictions imposed on the Gulf state by Arab countries.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170614-jordan-plunges-into-economic-crisis-following-qatar-blockade/.