Against corruption and for culture

“Documenting the Undocumented” by Huda Beydoun, 2013.

Misk Art Institute is organizing an October Arab art festival in New York and sending Saudi artists to study in California

By Rasheed Abualsamh

The sweep against corruption in Saudi Arabia began to wind down on Jan. 27, 2018, when Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman, was released from his luxury jail at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the capital, Riyadh.

Hours earlier, an interview that he gave to the Reuters news agency was posted on the internet. In the video, the prince – whose personal wealth is estimated at US$17 billion, making him one of the wealthiest men in the world — categorically denied that he is corrupt and said he had insisted on spending more time in the hotel to get rid of all suspicions. It seemed strange how he showed the little kitchen where they brought vegan dishes for his meals, since he owns a palace in Riyadh with more than 400 rooms. Alwaleed said he will return to running Kingdom Holding, which includes several cable TV networks, a record label, a stake in Banque Saudi Fransi and large stakes in Citibank, Apple, Twitter, and Lyft, among others.

News of Alwaleed’s release made the value of Kingdom Holding shares rise 10% in one day, after having fallen more than 20% when he was arrested in November.

Bakr bin Laden, the former head of the Saudi Binladin Group, was also freed last week. But the government now controls the construction company, although the Bin Laden family holds several seats on the executive board. The contractor faced difficult times in recent years, despite being hired for decades for the expansion of the mosques in Mecca and Medina. But a lamentable accident occurred in the Great Mosque of Mecca in 2015, when a crane fell during a violent gale and killed 107 people. It seems that this sealed the fate of the company, which never recovered from the accident.

In any case, the Saudi attorney general, Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb, announced on Jan. 30, 2018, the end of investigations into the 325 people who had been detained at the Ritz-Carlton. He also announced that the government had recovered US$107 billion in deals made with the detained princes and businessmen. About 60 prisoners remain, who have refused to make a deal or admit to having made money illegally. They were transferred to Al-Hair prison, south of the Saudi capital, and will face legal proceedings.

As far as the eye can see, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) has the support of the Saudi population for this anti-corruption campaign and for his liberalizing steps. Under his influence, his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, has allowed Saudi women to drive automobiles from June of this year. Until 2017, the conservative kingdom was the only country in the world that banned women from driving. King Salman also ordered the reopening of cinemas, after a break of more than 30 years, and allowed the entrance of women in sports stadiums to attend football matches.

But it is in the area of ​​culture that MBS is going further. He authorized the formation of the Misk Art Institute and appointed the Saudi artist Ahmed Mater to direct the institution. The Crown Prince already chairs the Misk Foundation, with educational, social, and cultural programs aimed at Saudi youth.

The institution has several Saudi artists on display at a museum in Brooklyn, New York, and is choosing the design for the Saudi pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. The institute will also organize an Arab art festival in New York in October, and send Saudi artists to study in California. More than 60% of management positions in the entity are held by women.

Saudi directors were very excited about the news that cinemas were going to open again in the country. Until now, they could only display their works abroad or on the internet. Now, with these cultural reforms, they will be able to show their films in local cinemas or on Saudi TV.

Saudi filmmaker Faiza Ambah, who filmed “Mariam” in France in 2015 — about the struggle of a young Muslim woman on whether to use the hijab (Islamic veil) in her public school — told me that she recently showed her film to a mixed group of young Saudis at a café in Jeddah, and then participated in a conversation with the public about the topics touched on in her film.

“The audience’s reaction was very surprising to me,” she said. “First, they understood the movie on several levels. They really were movie fans. Half the audience was female, and two girls talked about relationships that did not work out over the issue of whether or not to use the hijab,” said the director.

According to Faiza, the next exhibition of a movie in that café is already scheduled, and will be a film of another Saudi director, Shahad Ameen.

Faiza told me that she has already received invitations to show short films on Saudi TV, and that the Misk Foundation is granting funding to filmmakers in the kingdom. “The King Abdul Aziz Cultural Center in the Eastern Province is also supporting Saudi filmmakers. They called me a year ago and asked me to share new projects with them, and they wanted to support me. And a university professor who was in the audience offered to provide me her students to be interns on any project that I would execute.”

Only five years ago, this level of official support for Saudi artists and filmmakers did not exist. Film funding always came from the private sector, and even so, several Saudi filmmakers had to seek foreign funding to make their films. But now, it seems the Saudi government has realized the soft power that culture has. It remains to be seen how much freedom Saudi artists will have.

–This article appeared originally in Portuguese in O Globo newspaper.

Saleh’s death leaves Yemen in limbo

Sanaa

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The murder of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh by the Houthis on Dec. 4, 2017, as he tried to flee Sanaa, left the country, wracked by a bloody civil war for three years, in limbo.

Saleh ruled Yemen for 33 years until 2012, when he was forced to step down after a series of demonstrations in 2011 on the streets of Sanaa by Arab Spring activists calling for more democracy, and because of pressure from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.

On Dec. 2, 2017, Saleh stated in a TV interview that he was ready to start negotiating with Saudi Arabia. Despite being a strong ally of the Saudis for more than 30 years, Saleh, in a turnaround in 2014, allied himself with his former enemies the Houthi rebels. These are Zaydis, a Shiite strand of Islam, and make up only 30 percent of the population. They have the support of Iran, which made them instant enemies of the Saudis.

In September 2014, the Houthis took control of Sanaa with the help of forces allied to Saleh, forcing President Abdo Rabbo Hadi to flee to Aden in the south and then to the Saudi capital, Riyadh. This triggered the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition to defeat the Houthis and put Hadi back in control of the country.

Saleh’s interview was the signing of his own death sentence. His disappearance from the scene has left both sides of this civil war in limbo, not knowing what to do next. Last weekend, more than 200 people from the intelligentsia linked to Saleh disappeared from the streets of Sanaa, forcibly taken away by the Houthis, Nasser Wedaddy, an analyst, told me in an interview.

The civil war has destroyed the country, which was already the poorest in the Arab world. It is estimated that almost 14,000 people have already been killed or injured. There are close to a million cases of suspected cholera; three million Yemenis are refugees within their own country, and more than 200,000 have fled to neighboring nations.

And the country is divided into three parts: the northern part and the capital controlled by the Houthis; the region of Aden, in the south controlled by forces loyal to Hadi; and much of the region of Hadramuth in the east, controlled by tribes loyal to Al-Qaeda.

Analysts say there may be a bloodbath in the capital if forces loyal to Saleh decide to avenge their leader’s death. “It will take a lot of tribal patience and control to prevent a bloodbath on the streets of Sanaa and other parts of the North,” said Elana DeLozier, director of strategy at the Emerge85 Lab research center in Abu Dhabi. “The enemies of the Houthis include Saleh’s followers; the coalition; the Ahmars (a powerful tribal family); the Salafists; the Islah party, and the General People’s Congress party; the southern resistance; and al-Qaeda. Houthis have no noticeable domestic alliance beyond some tribal support. And that does not bode well for them,” she explained.

The name of Saleh’s son — Ahmed Ali Saleh, who has so far been living in the UAE — has been cited as a possible successor to his father as Yemeni president. But Weddady and DeLozier do not think this will happen because Ahmed does not have much support in the country, and because the current vice president of the government in exile, Ali Al-Mohsen, has a powerful base of co-religionists in Yemen.

“There is a lot of talk about Ahmed coming to power with the support of the GCC, but there are many flaws in the projected scenarios. First, there is no indication that Ahmed can command the same authority as his father. Second, this scenario does not deal cleanly with the legitimate government of President Hadi and his deputy, Ali Mohsen. This has been ardently manifested against Ahmed taking power. Ahmed’s preparation by his father to take power in the future is among Mohsen’s motives to turn against Saleh in 2011. Finally, the Saudi government made many efforts to support President Hadi’s legitimacy even when it was not politically beneficial or convenient. The Saudis do not want to give the impression that they are installing a government in Sanaa,” DeLozier explained.

“Putting aside the formalities, focusing on Hadi is a mistake. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who in his way is the closest copy of Ali Abdullah Saleh,” said Weddady. “He is a very perceptive man who has considerable tribal and support networks. He has a lot of experience shaping the politics of Yemen. He’s the person I take most seriously now.”

Loyalty counts for little in Yemen. Whoever is your ally one day can easily turn into your enemy from one day to the next. Saleh was the master of this game, being first an ally of the Saudis and Americans; responsible for ordering the death of a Houthi leader in the 1990s; then allying himself with the Houthis in 2014. And this past weekend, he wanted to get back with the Saudis. “Governing Yemen is like dancing on the heads of snakes,” Saleh once said.

Yemen deserves an immediate ceasefire to evacuate wounded and sick civilians and allow medicines and food to enter and be distributed. The Yemenis are the most friendly and hospitable in the Arab world, but no one would believe it seeing the destruction of the country today. It is a pity that, because of a minority that wants to control the country, Yemen has been destroyed.

Doubts Raised About Effectiveness of New Saudi  Opposition Movement

A Saudi woman drives in Saudi Arabia, where women are still not allowed to drive:

FROM MY ARCHIVES:

24/10/2006

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Christian Science Monitor

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – An exiled Saudi millionaire has
taken on the nearly impossible task of bringing reform
to this conservative kingdom.
Talal Al-Rasheed, a member of a leading Saudi family
that once ruled central Arabia for several decades,
announced the launch of a new opposition movement in
August that will focus on ending what he claims is
endemic corruption in the kingdom.
He joins a long tradition of opposition to the ruling
Al-Saud family, some of it even from within the royal
family itself. But all of these opposition movements
have failed in bringing dramatic change to a deeply
suspicious population that has been kept quiet through
massive state subsidies and handsome payouts by the
royal family.
Several Saudi analysts have said they doubt that the
recently launched opposition movement will have much
support among the Saudi population.
Al-Rasheed, who has lived in exile in Paris since
1980, told the Christian Science Monitor in an
interview that his group seeks political and social
reforms in the oil-rich kingdom, which would see the
establishment of an elected parliament and more rights
for women.
The religiously conservative kingdom currently only
has a powerless appointed Shoura Council and women are
barred from driving, voting and holding political
office. Although King Abdullah has allowed limited
reforms such as the municipal elections held last year
for the first time in 40 years, many Saudis say that
change is coming too slowly.
“Our group seeks the following: Democratic,
transparent parliamentary elections; liberating women
and giving them their full rights; arresting the
people who are stealing the government’s money, giving
the press its freedom of expression, and to have the
administrative and legitimate authority at the hands
of the citizens and their elected representatives
only,” said the 70-year-old Al-Rasheed.
Al-Rasheed claims to have 2,000 supporters in the
kingdom, both Sunni and Shia, conservative and
liberal, and says that “there are many wealthy people
who support us.” But not everyone is sure of this wide
range of support.
“I do not believe that he has 2,000 supporters. I’m
very skeptical about this figure,” said Adel
Al-Toraifi, an analyst and newspaper columnist based
in Riyadh.
Nawaf Al-Obaid, a security advisor to the Saudi
government, also doubts the level of support claimed
by Al-Rasheed.
“I have doubts about him saying he has 2,000
supporters in the kingdom,” said Al-Obaid. “I think
they are Internet supporters, people who have
expressed support on their website.”
Al-Rasheed said that his group plans to beam
opposition television programs into the kingdom via
satellite, run an Internet website and publish a
newspaper.
“Our TV station will air democratic programs that call
for justice and equality. We want to eliminate
corruption from governmental bodies, especially the
judiciary where people are using bribes to rule and
issue judgments against Allah’s rules,” explained the
reformer. “Everyone will have access to this TV
station, even people who disagree with us.”
He denied rumors that he was joining forces with
another Saudi opposition leader, the London-based Saad
Al-Faqeeh, although Al-Obaid claimed that Al-Rasheed
would be using the satellite broadcasting company of
Al-Faqeeh to beam programs into the kingdom.
“We have no practical association with Saad
Al-Faqeeh. We respect him because he’s a fighter who
deserves to be respected. However, we view things
differently,” said Al-Rasheed.
Al-Faqeeh and his Movement of Islamic Reform in Arabia
have been effectively neutralized since July 2005 when
the US government managed to link him to Al-Qaeda by
alleging that he posted messages written by the terror
group on his website. Al-Faqeeh’s websites have been
subsequently shut down and he has apparently stopped
broadcasting TV programs into the country.
The Al-Rasheed clan is very large and is part of the
Al-Shammar Bedouin tribe that extends from Hail all
the way into Iraq. Long rulers of Hail in central
Arabia, they ruled most of central Arabia, including
Riyadh, from 1887 until 1902, when the founder of
modern Saudi Arabia Abdulaziz Al-Saud recaptured
Riyadh after living in exile in Kuwait for several
years.
Many members of the Al-Rasheed clan have been
receiving a monthly government stipend, much like the
more than 5,000 princes of the royal Al-Saud family
receive. This has served to pacify them and buy their
allegiance to the Saudi state, though many Al-Rasheeds
still believe that they are the legitimate rulers of
the kingdom.
Talal Al-Rasheed is said to have received millions of
dollars in stipends from the Saudi government over the
years, but he denied that he was still receiving a
stipend.
“We belong to the Al-Rasheed family and as you know
it’s been a ruling family for decades. We have enough
fortune to cover the cost of our expenses and needs. I
used to receive regular stipends from the government
until 1975. Since then I haven’t received any money
from the Saudi government,” said Al-Rasheed.
“He’s a pretty old man. He’s been living in Paris for
the past three decades. It’s doubtful that he has much
support among the Al-Rasheed clan,” said Al-Obaid.
“He’s trying to have a unified opposition, but how can
you lump liberal Sunnis and Shias with hardcore
Salafis?”
But Al-Rasheed said he was confident that his movement
would be successful because of its broad base and
inclusiveness.
“We can’t measure the success or failure of an
opposition group by seizure of the government through
a coup. Saudis today are not the same as in the past.
They are now part of much smaller world. We are
walking on the same path as others because we want
reform. However, we’re different in being a national
movement that includes all regions of the country,”
explained Al-Rasheed.
But Al-Toraifi disagrees, saying that the reformists
in the kingdom are too disorganized and distracted to
pose much of a threat to the royal family. He also
believes that King Abdullah is trying to bring in
democratic reforms but faces much opposition both from
the powerful “ulama” (religious scholars) and within
his own family.
“King Abdullah is going slowly with reforms as he
faces opposition from within the royal family and
faces regional problems such as the war in Lebanon and
Iran’s expansionist tendencies,” said Al-Toraifi.
“Reforms are coming very, very slowly. The lack of
transparency on the part of King Abdullah in terms of
his reform plan makes it difficult to gauge just how
far he’s willing to go.”

 

Saudi blocks imports of Brazilian meat from four plants

Brazilian Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi inspects meat at a Seara plant.

UPDATE: The Saudi Food and Drug Authority announced late on March 22, 2017, that the Kingdom was suspending the import of meat from four Brazilian meat processing plants.

Brazilian Ambassador to the Kingdom Flavio Marega met the head of the SFDA on March 22 and explained to him the ongoing investigation dubbed “Weak Meat” being undertaken by the Federal Police.

 By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

BRASILIA—The Saudi envoy to Brazil said that he and other foreign ambassadors in the Brazilian capital are waiting for the conclusions of the Brazilian government’s investigation into the bribing of meat inspectors and alleged export of rotten meat. Thirty-three inspectors and meat company officials have been arrested, and three meat-processing plants have been closed.

Several countries have already put a temporary freeze on imports of Brazilian meat, including China, South Korea and Chile. One of the meat companies being investigated exported chicken parts to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Ambassador Hisham al-Qahtani told me in an interview that Saudi authorities are aware of the accusations that rotten meat was exported from Brazil. He was one of the 33 ambassadors that attended a dinner hosted by Brazilian President Michel Temer on Sunday night at a posh barbecue restaurant in Brasilia to assure them of the safety and quality of Brazilian meat.

“President Temer and Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi explained everything that is happening,” said Qahtani. “They will do an investigation and will inform us of their findings. It is a very complicated situation, so we have to wait to see what the results of the investigation will tell us.”

Qahtani noted that Saudi authorities are aware of the situation. “I don’t know what they will decide in the Kingdom, but they are already aware of the investigation,” he said.

Saudi Arabia is the largest importer of Brazilian chicken in the world. According to Brazilian National Agricultural Society statistics, the kingdom imported more than US$1.150 billion in chicken products from Brazil, which amounted to 746,000 tons, in 2016.

The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) is responsible for monitoring food safety in the Kingdom, and last sent a team of inspectors to visit Brazilian meat processing plants in 2015, when the Kingdom lifted its three-year ban on Brazilian beef.

Brazil’s ambassador to the Kingdom told me in an interview that he is going to meet with SFDA officials on Wednesday in Riyadh to brief them on the Brazilian government’s investigation.

“So far I have not received any special instructions on how to calm the fears of Saudi consumers,” ambassador Flavio Marega said. “But we are basing our information on what President Michel Temer said at the dinner with foreign ambassadors. I am meeting with the head of the SFDA on Wednesday, and will find out then what the position of the Saudi government is.”

The Brazilian Agriculture Ministry posted a list on its website on Monday of the meat companies being investigated by the ministry and the Federal Police for allegedly exporting adulterated meat products. The Seara company is listed as having exported frozen chicken parts to the Kingdom, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, and the European Union. Seara is owned by the giant JBS Group, the largest meat company in the world. In 2016 it had earnings before taxes of US$1 billion.

The Federation of Muslim Associations in Brazil (Fambras), which does halal certification of Brazilian chicken and beef exports to Muslim countries, said in a statement on its website that the quality of Brazilian halal meat was excellent and that it makes sure that Brazilian meat processors follow all of the necessary rules to produce, store and sell meat suitable for the consumption of Muslims.

“I do not believe that the Saudi authorities will impose restrictions on Brazilian meat since they already follow and inspect the procedures done here in Brazil and they know that there is no risk,” said Ali Zoghbi, the vice-president of Fambras, in an interview from Sao Paulo.

President Temer defended the quality of Brazilian meat, saying on Monday that all of the country’s production of meat could not be devalued because of the actions of a few. “We have more or less 4,850 meat processing plants in Brazil, and only three of them have been shut, apart from the 18 or 19 plants that are going to be investigated,” he said.

“I think the investigation is more centered on corruption rather than the quality of Brazilian meat,” said Miguel Daoud, a business consultant, in an interview with Globo News. “Eighty percent of the meat produced in Brazil is consumed locally. I am not that pessimistic, although this is a very serious investigation by the Federal Police,” he added.

Many analysts have noted that Brazil has built its reputation as an exporter of excellent quality meat products over the past ten years, and that this scandal has the possibility of setting back Brazil’s meat exports by five years.

National service is a must

Saudi soldiers in formation.

Saudi soldiers in formation.

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The call by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Alsheikh for mandatory military conscription of Saudi youth is an overdue and excellent one. Not only would it bring much needed discipline into the lives of young Saudis, it would also give them a greater purpose in life.

The Grand Mufti said he wanted to see specific legislation enacted that would make military service compulsory for young Saudi men for a specified period of time. Our government would do well to seriously look into this. Many countries around the world have had mandatory military service for decades, and even our Gulf allies such as Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE already have some form of military service.

Can you imagine the discipline of having to rise at 4:30 in the morning and be ready for full inspection by 5 a.m.? Conscripts would have to make their own beds, shine their own shoes and wash their own clothes. No one would have their Indonesian maid there to do all of the domestic chores. No, the Saudi youth will have to do this themselves, and do it well without complaining.

I think the idea of mandatory military service should be expanded to include national service such as doing volunteer work, like helping to build housing for the poor, so as to accommodate Saudis who absolutely do not want to do military service. That way, Saudi women could also be included in this mandatory public service, which would be a great way to build confidence, capability and experience among all of our youth.

I attended the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh last week, and was very pleased to see so many young Saudis, both male and female, attending and asking relevant questions of the speakers. But I still think that as a nation we lack certain basic life skills and independence to do them, which other youth have learned through necessity. While our oil wealth has been a blessing in that it has enabled us to be able to hire maids and drivers to help us in our daily lives, it has also made many of us “dumb” in many ways. How many young Saudis are capable of cleaning their own rooms, washing their own clothes and bathrooms without the help of servants? This may seem like something trivial, but it is not. We must have these everyday life skills in order to prove to ourselves that we are capable and not helpless, spoiled brats.

To sweeten the prospects of military and national service, the government could promise to give university scholarships for those Saudis who excel in their service to study abroad. In return, the government would insist that these scholarship students return to the Kingdom to work for a certain number of years.

Young Saudis are far too often accused of being lazy and of floating through life without any purpose. This is unfortunate; something that mandatory national service would certainly help change. In order for this concept to work, all Saudis regardless of wealth or position would be obliged when they turn 18 years old to undertake national service for a minimum of one year or 18 months. They would of course be paid a monthly stipend by the government for their service. Refresher training every five years, for two months until the age of 35, would keep our military conscripts up to date with the latest techniques.

Compulsory national service is an idea that is long overdue. Young Saudis are in dire need of such a program to give them purpose in life and to make them responsible and valuable citizens. For sure there will be much resistance to this idea in the beginning, but when the youth see the benefits of it, they will surely be glad that the government introduced it.

Holding workers accountable

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, visits an empty government office.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, visits an empty government office.

This article was printed in Arab News on September 11, 2016:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The surprise inspection of government offices in Dubai on the morning of Aug. 28 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the UAE’s prime minister and ruler of Dubai, found that many managers were not at their desks working. Video released of the ruler showed him walking around empty offices, looking at papers piled on desks and not looking pleased at all.

His surprise inspection tour took him to the municipality, Dubai international airport, the

Land Department and the Department of Economic Development. The next day his office announced the retirement of nine of these managers, mentioning their titles and full names. It was a way of naming and shaming. Just imagine if a similar thing happened here in Saudi Arabia? It would send shockwaves through our bloated bureaucracy.

The ruler felt he could not fire subordinates for not being at work when their superiors were also skipping work. He also stressed that the retirements were a method of retiring the older generation, who had already proved their abilities, to allow the younger generation a chance at running things.

The problem with public servants all around the world is that they often become entrenched and entitled bureaucracies that only want to do their duties when they feel like it and at their own pace. Egypt and India are two countries that have huge civil service contingents that are very efficient when they want to be, and incredibly slow, hard-headed and lazy when it suits them.

Go to any government office in the developing world and more often than not you will find long queues of people waiting to be attended to by bureaucrats. Meanwhile, the government workers can be seen drinking endless cups of tea and bantering among each other, seemingly oblivious to the waiting public. It seems that the quasi-for life jobs that they have, shield them from the efficiency standards that the private sector is subject to.

A recent cartoon in a Saudi newspaper showed a worker running out of an office while hurriedly telling a tea boy to leave a glass of tea on his desk so that his boss would think that he is somewhere in the building and coming back soon. I think everyone who has ever worked in an office laughed at reading the cartoon’s text as it must have struck a chord. But it captured perfectly the attempt of many in Saudi Arabia to appear to be working, while in fact slacking off to go to a social gathering, to smoke or just to bunk off work at the expense of the employer.

Unfortunately far too many Saudis and Gulf citizens think this is still acceptable behavior as long as they don’t get caught neglecting their professional responsibilities. This leads to a loss of morale among other workers in the offices where this occurs. It is also incredibly inefficient and unfair as well; as more often than not someone else in the office will have to do the shirker’s work on top of their own work.

I am sure that there some Saudis who work extremely hard and do not fit this pattern of behavior. Often, we have been lulled into this sense of entitlement and consequent slacking off because of the immense oil wealth we as a nation have been fortunate enough to be blessed with. “Oh, someone else can do my work,” has normally been the attitude. But with the plunge in oil prices, and the realization that our oil reserves will not last forever, Saudis have better wake up soon to their new reality and work much harder than they have ever before.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/983096/columns

Iran’s pack of lies

This column was printed in Arab News on September 17, 2016:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

With the Haj pilgrimage just successfully completed in Makkah with no serious injuries this year, without any Iranian pilgrims, and with Saudi Arabia successfully fighting to stop Iranian domination of Syria and Yemen from taking place, the Iranian government has decided once again to lash out at the Kingdom.

In a shocking and sickening opinion piece for the New York Times this week, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif calls on the world to rid the world of “Wahhabism,” using a term that we Saudis have rejected for decades. He falsely claims that Saudi money funds such extremist groups as Daesh and the Nusra Front in Syria. The whole article would be laughable if not for the sinister tone pervading it. Indeed, a British friend of mine was horrified at the piece, telling me that it sounded as if the Iranians were calling for the genocide of all Saudis.

Indeed it is highly ironic that a country that has vowed to export its Islamic Revolution since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, is now accusing Saudis of exporting conflict and death. Everyone is well aware that the Iranians were behind the formation of the Hezbollah guerilla group in Lebanon; and that their support of the Assad regime in Syria has caused the death of hundreds of thousands of Syrians in the civil war there, now in its fifth year.

Zarif brings up the old canard of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US as “proof” that Saudi Arabia is bent on attacking everyone. But the 9/11 Commission report found that no Saudi official gave support to the hijackers. Then he accuses Saudi money of funding extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh. The Saudi government has said that some misguided individuals may have donated money to these groups and even fought for them, but that does not mean the government supports them. Far from it. Al-Qaeda and Daesh are deadly enemies of the majority of law-abiding Saudis, with both groups responsible for a string of bloody terror attacks in the country that have claimed many lives.

Zarif claims that the Kingdom is confronting Iran in all of the Middle East in order to contain Iran. That he got right. If there is one country in the region that is fanning the flames of sectarianism it is Iran with its support of Shiite militias in Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. He falsely claims that Saudi Arabia pines for the return to the days when Saddam Hussein was live and in power. Saudis are not sentimental for the past, but that does not mean that they will sit quietly and allow Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen run roughshod over Sunni communities.

After all, everyone with a few brain cells realizes that the overthrow of Saddam in 2003 brought in a Shiite-majority government backed by Iran with militias that have killed, intimidated, tortured, extorted, blackmailed, kidnapped and summarily executed thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians because of their sect. Even the Saudi ambassador to Baghdad has been the target of threats from Shiite militias in Iraq, who have said they would kill him.

Zarif also brings up the old accusation that the Kingdom has exported an intolerant version of Islam by funding the building of mosques and Islamic centers for Muslim communities around the world. This is patently untrue. Here in Brazil, the Kingdom has helped fund more than 50 mosques since the 1970s, most of them staffed by Egyptian imams. No extremist Muslim groups have popped up here, except for a few terrorist suspects that were arrested in July and who were influenced by Daesh through the Internet and not in local mosques.

It is cynical of Zarif to suggest at the end of his screed that the Kingdom can be part of the solution of tackling radical Islam, as if we need his permission or blessing to fight against the misguided monsters of Daesh and Al-Qaeda.

The Kingdom has never been against the Iranian people, but it will not stand still and allow the Iranian government to run roughshod over Sunni communities throughout the Arab world. Cooler heads need to prevail in Tehran to stop the current clash between the two sides, which may ignite into a conflagration much larger than the current one.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/985506/saudiarabia

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