Why many Saudis don’t want a Palestinian state (& Saudis attack Canada over Badawi)

August 08, 2018

While Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has denounced the recent arrests of Samar Badawi and other Saudi women rights activists, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama (above with Samar Badawi in 2012) have been largely silent.

Badawi is being held in prison for calling for Saudi women to be granted the most basic rights enjoyed by women in the rest of the world. She is the sister of the imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for calling for freedom of speech in the kingdom.

 

Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who escaped to Canada with their children

 

Raif Badawi on one of the last occasions he was able to see his children

 

“NOT FOOLISH ENOUGH TO LOBBY FOR A STATE THAT WOULD BE AN IRANIAN CLIENT STATE”

[Notes by Tom Gross]

This dispatch concerns Saudi Arabia.

The first article is by Haisam Hassanein, an Egyptian political analyst currently doing his masters at Tel Aviv University. (There are an increasing number of Arabs studying at Israeli universities.)

Hassanein points out that the younger generations of leaders in the Gulf, led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) and his ally Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed (MBZ), have long grown weary of helping support a Palestinian state.

As reported in previous dispatches on this list, MBS, unlike his father King Salman, has recognized Israel’s right to exist and said the Palestinians should either “shut up” or make peace with Israel.

Hassanein writes:

“The younger Gulf generations are now unconvinced that moderation would follow the establishment of a Palestinian state. They believe it is more likely that a fully independent Palestinian state would itself be hostage to radical forces, and would in fact become an extreme source of instability in the region.

“MBS and MBZ are certainly not foolish enough to lobby for and fund the establishment of a state that would most certainly be an Iranian client state... Those who actively dictate policy in the Gulf are convinced that every dollar the Saudis give to the Palestinians means handing it to Iran.”

 

SAUDI ARABIA FREEZES TRADE, EXPELS AMBASSADOR, AFTER CANADA DEMANDS WOMEN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS BE FREED

The second piece below, from The Canadian Press, concerns Saudi Arabia’s expulsion of the Canadian ambassador and the freezing of all new trade with Canada. This comes after Canada a few days ago criticized the arrest of Saudi women’s rights activists, including Samar Badawi, the sister of the imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.

In June, Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women from driving cars – a ban Samar Badawi and other women’s rights activists have long campaigned against.

However, Badawi and others were then arrested as a warning to others not to seek increased rights for women and other Saudis.

Saudi women still need permission from male guardians to travel abroad or marry.

 

A WARNING TO OTHER COUNTRIES TOO

Canada receives 10 percent of its imported crude oil from Saudi Arabia, and bilateral trade between the two nations is $3 billion a year.

“This message is obviously not just being sent to Ottawa,” Giorgio Cafiero, the CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based risk consultancy, told the Associated Press. “It’s a message to countries across Europe and across the rest of the world that criticism of Saudi Arabia has consequences.”

 

WIFE, CHILDREN GRANTED CANADIAN CITIZENSHIP

Raif Badawi is Saudi Arabia’s most prominent pro-liberal democracy political prisoner.

Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and his three children managed to flee Saudi Arabia and receive political asylum in Canada. Last month they were awarded Canadian citizenship.

I am on the board of the Raif Badawi Foundation.

I have interviewed his wife Ensaf Haidar about Raif and Samar Badawi here (video).

Tom Gross with Ensaf Haidar, the exiled wife of Saudi political prisoner Raif Badawi, who is campaigning for his release

 

PALESTINIANS CHEERING AGAINST SAUDI ARABIA IN THE WORLD CUP

Among those who have spoken out in support of the arrests in Saudi Arabia is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“President Abbas affirmed his rejection and condemnation of the Canadian intervention in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the official Palestinian news site Wafa reported on Monday.

In Gaza by contrast, where Iran is reportedly sending almost $100 million to arm and help Hamas while the Iranian population is suffering shortages, MBS’ picture has been burned. During the recent soccer World Cup, on Hamas’ instructions, Gazans cheered for Iran against its Western opponents, while supporting Western countries against the Saudi national team in other matches.

 

INVADING QATAR?

The third piece below, from The Intercept, reveals that Saudi Arabia “planned to invade Qatar last summer” and “Rex Tillerson’s efforts to stop it may have cost him his job.”

The fourth and final piece below is from last month’s Wall Street Journal: “Saudi Arabia Still Detaining Dozens From Corruption Crackdown: Newly arrested join others held for months; detainees have been abused and not informed of any charges.”

-- Tom Gross


ARTICLES

WHY YOUNGER SAUDIS WON’T FUND, FACILITATE OR FIGHT FOR A PALESTINIAN STATE

Why Younger Saudis Won’t Fund, Facilitate or Fight for a Palestinian State

An emerging Gulf leadership has shaken off its elders’ attachment to the Palestinian cause. They’re convinced an independent Palestine means handing Iran and Sunni political Islamists yet another Arab capital

By Haisam Hassanein
Haaretz (opinion pages)
August 6, 2018

That there is a wide gap between the position of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdel Aziz, endorsing full rights for Palestinians, as opposed to his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) should come as no surprise to Western policymakers.

There have been clear recent indications of this difference. The Crown Prince has recognized Israel’s right to exist and was reported as saying the Palestinians should either “shut up” or make peace with Israel.

Pushing back, King Salman reiterated “the kingdom’s steadfast position towards the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state,” and lately declared that U.S. President Trump’s peace plan had to include East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

The Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are experiencing tremendous socio-political change that has accelerated a generation gap that has been widening for some time. One particular divergence in the thinking between the younger generations and the older ones is what approach to adopt towards the Palestinians.

Older Saudis grew up in the 1950s and 1960s during the heyday of Arab nationalism, and its embrace of the Palestinian cause as the main driver for all events in the region. While the Saudis never fully embraced Arab nationalism, they adopted the Palestinian cause to preempt attacks based on a lack of solidarity from their arch-opponents, Arab nationalists.

Thus, the older generation in the Gulf that Saudi King Salman embodies believes deeply in the Palestinian cause, whatever political complexion the Palestinian leadership exhibits.

However, the younger generations, characterized and led by MBS and his close ally Mohamed bin Zayed (MBZ), the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and primary driver of the UAE’s foreign policy, display far less political equanimity; they prioritize realpolitik over political nostalgia. They long ago stopped overlooking what they consider problematic political biases within the West Bank, Gaza, and even among the Palestinian diaspora around the world.

They realize that Palestinians in general are not enthusiastic toward or supporters of Saudi and Emirati interests in checking the power of political Shia Islamists, most notably Iran, and Sunni political Islamists, primarily the Muslim Brotherhood.

There has long been a school of thought in the Gulf that called for a separation between Gulf states’ national interests and the Palestinian cause, but this was still an unpopular position among the general public. But over the last few years, this position has been increasingly adopted, first by younger elites and then more broadly, not least as Saudi Arabia itself has come under missile attack from Iranian proxies.

The younger Gulf generation has seen for itself the attacks launched by Palestinians against their countries on social media, including the burning of MBS’ pictures in Gaza. During the soccer World Cup, many Palestinians rushed to root for Iran against its Western opponents, while supporting Western countries against the Saudi national team. This immediate, visceral experience differentiates the younger Gulf generation from its elders.

The older generation of Saudi and Emirati policymakers have known these Palestinian political tendencies for years, but they overlooked them in the hope that once a Palestinian state is established, local actors sympathetic to Iran would have an incentive to moderate their positions, providing the Saudis offer generous financial contributions. The general prognosis was that the emergence of other moderate groups would counterbalance the radicals.

However, the younger Gulf generations are now unconvinced that moderation would follow the establishment of a Palestinian state. They believe it is more likely that a fully independent Palestinian state would itself be hostage to radical forces, and would in fact become an extreme source of instability in the region.

MBS and MBZ believe that establishing a Palestinian state would mean handing Iran and Sunni political Islamists another Arab capital to control and influence. Iranian influence among Palestinian groups has solidified over the years, and the two crown princes’ assessment is that it is irreversible.

They are fortified in that position by the example of Gaza. Sunni political Islamists have run the Strip disastrously for over a decade, opening the door for [the extremist governments of] Qatar and Turkey to project influence there. That this is also leading to conflict in Egypt further reinforces the belief that an independent Palestine would be a source of instability.

MBS and MBZ are certainly not foolish enough to lobby for and fund the establishment of a state that would most certainly be an Iranian client state, analogous to a Soviet-era satellite state.

Despite this, many Western policymakers still fantasize about the idea that the Gulf countries could provide money to birth and develop a Palestinian state – indeed, this is reportedly one of the founding principles of the Trump-Kushner peace plan.

That is never going to happen. Those who actively dictate policy in the Gulf are convinced that every dollar the Saudis give to the Palestinians means handing it to Iran. The Saudis and Emirates are likely to promise to provide financial assistance in public, but U.S. policymakers should not believe that they would ever deliver when push really comes to shove.

For those in Washington dreaming of another peace process breakthrough, another Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn, this time midwifed by the Gulf – there is little chance this will become anything more than a mirage.

The Middle East has moved on from the 1990s, and just like the Saudis and Emirates have woken up to the facts of the Palestinians’ political biases, policymakers in D.C. must keep up and evolve their thinking to better serve American interests, and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

 

SAUDI ARABIA FREEZES NEW TRADE, INVESTMENT AFTER CANADA DEMANDS ACTIVISTS BE FREED

Saudi Arabia freezes new trade, investment after Canada demands activists be freed
Ottawa is ‘seeking greater clarity’ on statements from Riyadh, Chrystia Freeland’s spokesperson says
The Canadian Press
August 6, 2018

https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/saudi-arabia-suspends-trade-canada-ambassador-1.4775133

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday that it is ordering Canada’s ambassador to leave the country and freezing all new trade and investment transactions with Canada in a spat over human rights.

“We consider the Canadian ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours,” Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry said on Twitter.

Tweet by Saudi Foreign Ministry:

#Statement | KSA through its history has not and will not accept any form of interfering in the internal affairs of the Kingdom. The KSA considers the Canadian position an attack on the KSA and requires a firm stance to deter who attempts to undermine the sovereignty of the KSA.

Tweet by Canadian Foreign Ministry:

@CanadaFP
Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.

The ministry added that Saudi Arabia is recalling its ambassador to Canada. Both the Saudi and Canadian ambassadors were away on leave at the time of the announcement.

The dispute appears to be over a tweet on Friday from Global Affairs Canada.

“Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists,” the tweet said.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry called the use of “immediately release” in Canada’s tweet “unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable in relations between states.”

It dismissed Canada’s characterization of the activists as “an incorrect claim” and said Canada’s attitude was “surprising.”

Tweet by Saudi Foreign Ministry:

@KSAmofaEN

#Statement | The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of #SaudiArabia and is in contravention of the most basic international norms and all the charters governing relations between States.

6:59 PM - Aug 5, 2018

“Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from Canada, means that we are allowed to interfere in Canada’s internal affairs,” it said.

Saudi state television later reported that the Education Ministry was coming up with an “urgent plan” to move thousands of Saudi scholarship students out of Canadian schools to take classes in other countries.

The sudden and unexpected dispute bore the hallmarks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old future leader, whose recent foreign policy exploits include the war in Yemen, the boycott of Qatar and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s surprise resignation broadcast during a visit to the kingdom. Hariri later rescinded the resignation, widely believed to be orchestrated by Riyadh, and returned to Beirut.

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a brief response to the Saudi complaint on Sunday evening.

“We are seriously concerned by these media reports and are seeking greater clarity on the recent statement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Marie-Pier Baril.

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

Tweet by Chrystia Freeland @cafreeland:

Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. 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 said it is also freezing all new trade and investment transactions with Canada and “reserves its right to take further action.” Saudi Arabia is one of Canada’s largest export markets in the region, and some 10 per cent of Canadian crude oil imports come from Saudi Arabia.

It said it will not accept any form of interference in its internal affairs and considers the Canadian position “an attack” requiring a firm stance to deter “attempts to undermine the sovereignty” of Saudi Arabia.

In neighbouring United Arab Emirates, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said Monday on Twitter that his country stands with Saudi Arabia “in defending its sovereignty.” Bahrain’s foreign minister made similar comments in support of Riyadh.

Amnesty International has said Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, was recently detained along with Nassima al-Sada, another prominent female activist.

The human rights group’s Middle East research director described the arrests as part of a larger crackdown on human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Jackie Hansen, a gender rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada, said last Thursday that the circumstances of the arrests were still unclear and there was no news of any charges.

Badawi’s brother was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for criticizing clerics.

He received 50 lashes in January 2015 during a public flogging but is not believed to have received any further corporal punishment since then.

His wife, Ensaf Haidar, and three children live in Quebec and became Canadian citizens last month.

Freeland said on social media last Thursday that she was “alarmed” to hear of Samar Badawi’s arrest.

“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,” she wrote on Twitter.

Bessma Momani, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, believes the apparent diplomatic moves by Riyadh were about more than the Badawi case.

“I think one has to stand back and see that there’s been a lot of heat on Saudi Arabia, particularly its treatment of civil society actors and and human rights activities,” she said. “I think Canada is literally made to be an example.”

Tweet by Bessma Momani @b_momani:

We’ve seen a lot of support for Saudi dissidents in the UK, Canada, the US Congress, & others. But Canada is easier to cut ties with than the rest. There isn’t a strong bilateral trade relationship & poking Trudeau government likely resonates with Saudi’s hawkish regional allies.

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, signalling 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.

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 reached $3.9 billion Cdn 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 Shia cleric.

 

“SAUDI ARABIA PLANNED TO INVADE QATAR LAST SUMMER. REX TILLERSON’S EFFORTS TO STOP IT MAY HAVE COST HIM HIS JOB”

Saudi Arabia Planned to Invade Qatar Last Summer. Rex Tillerson’s Efforts to Stop It May Have Cost Him His Job.
By Alex Emmons
The Intercept
August 1 2018

https://theintercept.com/2018/08/01/rex-tillerson-qatar-saudi-uae/

Thirteen hours before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson learned from the presidential Twitter feed that he was being fired, he did something that President Donald Trump had been unwilling to do. Following a phone call with his British counterpart, Tillerson condemned a deadly nerve agent attack in the U.K., saying that he had “full confidence in the U.K.’s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had called the attack “reckless, indiscriminate, and irresponsible,” but stopped short of blaming Russia, leading numerous media outlets to speculate that Tillerson was fired for criticizing Russia.

But in the months that followed his departure, press reports strongly suggested that the countries lobbying hardest for Tillerson’s removal were Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which were frustrated by Tillerson’s attempts to mediate and end their blockade of Qatar. One report in the New York Times even suggested that the UAE ambassador to Washington knew that Tillerson would be forced out three months before he was fired in March.

The Intercept has learned of a previously unreported episode that stoked the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s anger at Tillerson and that may have played a key role in his removal. In the summer of 2017, several months before the Gulf allies started pushing for his ouster, Tillerson intervened to stop a secret Saudi-led, UAE-backed plan to invade and essentially conquer Qatar, according to one current member of the U.S. intelligence community and two former State Department officials, all of whom declined to be named, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

In the days and weeks after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed down their land, sea, and air borders with the country, Tillerson made a series of phone calls urging Saudi officials not to take military action against the country. The flurry of calls in June 2017 has been reported, but State Department and press accounts at the time described them as part of a broad-strokes effort to resolve tensions in the Gulf, not as an attempt by Tillerson to avert a Saudi-led military operation.

Tillerson made a series of phone calls urging Saudi officials not to take military action against Qatar.

In the calls, Tillerson, who dealt extensively with the Qatari government as the CEO of Exxon Mobil, urged Saudi King Salman, then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir not to attack Qatar or otherwise escalate hostilities, the sources told The Intercept. Tillerson also encouraged Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to call his counterparts in Saudi Arabia to explain the dangers of such an invasion. Al Udeid Air Base near Doha, Qatar’s capital city, is the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command and home to some 10,000 American troops.

Pressure from Tillerson caused Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the country, to back down, concerned that the invasion would damage Saudi Arabia’s long-term relationship with the U.S. But Tillerson’s intervention enraged Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and effective ruler of that country, according to the U.S. intelligence official and a source close to the Emirati royal family, who declined to be identified, citing concerns about his safety.

Later that June, Mohammed bin Salman would be named crown prince, leapfrogging over his cousin to become next in line for the throne after his elderly father. His ascension signaled his growing influence over the kingdom’s affairs.

Qatari intelligence agents working inside Saudi Arabia discovered the plan in the early summer of 2017, according to the U.S. intelligence official. Tillerson acted after the Qatari government notified him and the U.S. embassy in Doha. Several months later, intelligence reporting by the U.S. and U.K. confirmed the existence of the plan.

The plan, which was largely devised by the Saudi and UAE crown princes and was likely some weeks away from being implemented, involved Saudi ground troops crossing the land border into Qatar, and, with military support from the UAE, advancing roughly 70 miles toward Doha. Circumventing the U.S. air base, Saudi forces would then seize the capital.

On June 20, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters that Tillerson had “more than 20 calls and meetings with Gulf and other regional and intermediate actors,” including three phone calls and two meetings with Jubeir. “The more time goes by, the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” she said.

A spokesperson for the State Department told The Intercept last week that “throughout the dispute, all parties have explicitly committed to not resort to violence or military action.” Tillerson, reached through a personal assistant, did not respond to interview requests.

Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told The Intercept that although Mattis meets regularly with the secretary of state, the “details and frequency of those meetings are confidential.”

“The Department of Defense has made clear that the persistent Gulf rift puts at risk mutual regional security priorities and has encouraged all parties seek resolution,” Rebarich said. “It is critical that the [Gulf Cooperation Council] recovers its cohesion as the proud Gulf nations return to mutual support through a peaceful resolution that provides for enhanced regional stability and prosperity.”

Spokespeople for the Saudi and UAE embassies did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Qatari embassy in D.C. also did not respond to interview requests from The Intercept. None of the information in this story was provided by Qatari government officials or the country’s paid public relations consultants.

The invasion plan raises questions about interventionist tendencies on the part of two of the U.S.’s closest allies and largest weapons clients. In recent years, both countries have demonstrated a willingness to use military force to reshape politics in the Gulf, intervening in Bahrain to suppress an Arab Spring uprising in 2011 and waging a three-year, U.S.-backed war that has devastated Yemen.

Robert Malley, president and CEO of Crisis Group and a former top Middle East adviser to President Barack Obama, said that since the summer of 2017, Qatari officials have consistently told him that their country had been threatened with invasion.

“There is little doubt that senior Qatari officials with whom I spoke were convinced — or at least acted as if they were convinced — that Saudi Arabia and the UAE had been planning a military attack on their country that was halted as a result of U.S. intervention,” Malley told The Intercept.

Tillerson’s attempts to de-escalate the conflict in the Gulf diverged from the signals sent by the White House. Trump offered a full-throated public endorsement of the blockade, tweeting that “perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism.” As Tillerson called on the Gulf countries to lift their embargo, Trump told reporters that “the nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”

According to one news report, Tillerson was frustrated with the White House for undercutting him, and his aides suspected that the line in Trump’s prepared Rose Garden remarks had been written by UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, a powerful D.C. player who maintained “almost constant phone and email contact” with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to Politico.

“Senior Qatari officials with whom I spoke were convinced — or at least acted as if they were convinced — that Saudi Arabia and the UAE had been planning a military attack on their country.”

At the time, Kushner was personally handling much of the administration’s diplomacy with the Gulf states, and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE were choosing to go through him instead of the U.S. defense or intelligence establishments. Kushner communicated directly with the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE using the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp.

Some Gulf watchers speculate that the incentive for the planned invasion may have been partly financial. Saudi Arabia’s “cradle to grave” welfare system relies on high oil prices, which plummeted in 2014 and have not fully recovered. Since the current king came to power in 2015, the country has spent more than a third of its $737 billion in reserves, and last year, the Saudi economy entered a painful recession. In response, the government has looked for ways to raise money, including by selling shares in the state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco.

“It’s unsustainable,” said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and 30-year CIA officer, in a lecture last November. “In the three years since [King Salman] ascended to the throne, one third of Saudi Arabia’s reserves have already been spent. You don’t need to have an MBA from the Wharton school to figure out what that means six years from now.”

If the Saudis had succeeded in seizing Doha, they would potentially have been able to gain access to the country’s $320 billion sovereign wealth fund. In November of last year, months after the plan collapsed, the Saudi crown prince rounded up and detained dozens of his relatives in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, forcing them to sign over billions in privately held assets. The government justified the detentions as a corruption crackdown, but it allowed the state to recoup billions in assets for government use.

Beginning in the fall of 2017, the crown princes in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi began lobbying the White House for Tillerson’s removal, according to the source close to the Emirati royal family and another source who is close to the Saudi royal family.

None of the current or former officials interviewed by The Intercept had direct insight into why Trump decided to fire Tillerson. But one source told The Intercept that the timing — a week before the Saudi crown prince arrived for a much-publicized visit to Washington — was significant. During that visit, MBS, as the crown prince is known, was set to discuss the Qatar crisis and future arms sales with the administration.

Four of the sources interviewed by The Intercept also pointed to an ongoing campaign by the UAE to try to provoke Qatar into escalating the crisis. Qatar has continued to complain about violations of its airspace by UAE aircraft, detailing its accusations in a letter to the U.N. earlier this year.

The UAE’s harassment of Qatar also includes crude public insults lodged by UAE leadership against the Qatari royal family. The jibes frequently emanate from the verified Twitter account of Hamad al Mazrouei, a high-level Emirati intelligence official and righthand man to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Mazrouei’s account frequently tweets sexually suggestive content directed at Mozah bint Nasser, the mother of the emir of Qatar. Just last week, Mazrouei tweeted a video of a man and woman – with Mazrouei and Sheikha Mozah’s faces photoshopped onto their bodies – doing a raunchy bump-and-grind.

The content and audacity of Mazrouei’s tweets have led to speculation in Qatari media that the account is actually controlled by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi himself.

 

SAUDI ARABIA STILL DETAINING DOZENS FROM CORRUPTION CRACKDOWN

Saudi Arabia Still Detaining Dozens From Corruption Crackdown
Newly arrested join others held for months; detainees have been abused and not informed of any charges, people close to them say
By Margherita Stancati and Summer Said
Wall Street Journal
July 5, 2018

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia—Months after the start of an anticorruption crackdown, Saudi authorities are still holding a senior prince and several dozen businessmen and former officials in detention and recently have made new arrests, government officials said.

Some of the detainees have been beaten and deprived of sleep while being questioned, officials and people close to the detainees said. In some cases, these people said, those in custody haven’t been charged with crimes and have been permitted little or no contact with relatives or lawyers.

Many are being held at a maximum-security prison outside the capital, while others are being housed in palaces that have been converted into detention centers, two government officials said. The officials acknowledged that some prisoners had been subjected to rough treatment.

Spokesmen for the Saudi government didn’t respond to requests for comment. The country’s deputy attorney general has said some detainees face charges that go beyond corruption and could be tried in courts that specialize in cases of national security and terrorism.

None of the detainees could be reached for comment. People close to several of them said authorities had raised the prospect of treason or terror charges, which could lead to prison or the death penalty, as a tactic aimed at pressing for untrue confessions or financial settlements.

Hundreds of prominent Saudis were arrested in November and detained at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. Most were released after agreeing to make payments Saudi officials say totaled more than $100 billion.

The Saudi government has described the campaign as a way of ridding the country of corruption and leveling the commercial playing field as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman works to revamp the economy and attract foreign investment and talent.

Corruption has been endemic in the kingdom, where much of the economy depends on state spending and a large royal family made rich by oil long operated with few limits. In March, King Salman, Prince Mohammed’s father, established new departments in the attorney general’s office to prosecute corruption cases.

Critics of the government say the new arrests and continued detentions are an effort by Prince Mohammed to consolidate power and sideline potential opponents one year after his father installed him as the country’s de facto ruler in a precedent-breaking move. The government denies the accusation.

Under Prince Mohammed, who runs Saudi Arabia day to day, the government has worked to open up a religiously conservative traditional society with steps such as allowing women to drive and opening cinemas, while at the same time jailing critics, including clerics and rights activists.

Those still in custody include some of Saudi Arabia’s richest men, and some who once held powerful government positions until their arrests last November. Among them are Mohammed al-Amoudi, a Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire; Bakr bin Laden, the chairman of the construction giant Saudi Binladin Group; Amr al-Dabbagh, former head of Saudi Arabia’s investment agency; and Adel Fakeih, a former economy minister and once a trusted aide to Prince Mohammed.

Also detained is a senior royal, Prince Turki bin Abdullah, who served as governor of Riyadh and is a son of the previous monarch, King Abdullah.

A Saudi official in November said the prince was accused of corruption linked to a project to build a subway in Riyadh. He hasn’t been charged and the exact accusations he faces remain unclear, according to a person familiar with the matter, who cast the prince’s arrest as a political move intended to sideline a potential rival of Prince Mohammed.

Some detainees released from the Ritz have been subjected to travel bans and some have had to wear ankle monitors, people close to those former detainees said. Several have become outspoken advocates for Prince Mohammed’s approach. At least one has gone into business with the government.

The Saudi government’s investigation into some prominent business families is still under way, Saudi government officials said. In recent days, three billionaires from the Mahfouz family, a prominent Saudi banking group, have been detained for undisclosed reasons, the officials said.

Other executives have secretly negotiated settlements to avoid detention in recent weeks, these officials said.

Since the Ritz was closed as a detention center and reopened as a hotel in late January, there has been nearly complete official silence on the cases of 56 suspects who didn’t agree to a settlement.

The Saudi government wants to avoid the publicity of the Ritz episode “and will do things more quietly with any new arrests,” a person familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Dabbagh, the former head of the Saudi investment agency and a Jeddah businessman who heads one of the country’s biggest conglomerates, has been subjected to physical and psychological abuse in detention, people familiar with the matter said.

He initially rejected a government request to hand over 70% of his assets and 50% of all future revenue in exchange for his freedom, a person close to him said.

“There are no charges, no evidence, no interviews with family members, executives of his company,” that person said. “He refuses to settle because that would make him guilty, and he isn’t.”

Saudi authorities have discussed charging Mr. Fakeih, the former economy and planning minister, with orchestrating a plot to separate the Hijaz region from the rest of Saudi Arabia, government officials said. People close to Mr. Fakeih said the accusations were baseless.

 

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