Archive for March, 2014

Iran’s Rouhani extends hand to Gulf monarchies

Muscat (AFP)

March 13, 2014

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sought Thursday to mend fences between his mainly-Shiite country and Sunni-dominated Gulf monarchies distrustful of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support of the Syrian regime.

Rouhani, winding up a two-day visit to Oman, said the Islamic republic offered “a hand of fraternity to all the countries of the region.”

“Relations with one country should not grow at the expense of another. We want to see the countries of the region live in peace, understanding and friendship,” Rouhani told a business gathering in Muscat.

The sultanate maintains strong links with Iran and has played an important role as mediator between Western countries and Tehran.

But other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which besides Oman also comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have cool relations with Tehran.

Its Arab neighbors have expressed concern about the reliability of Iran’s sole nuclear power plant at Bushehr in the southern Gulf and the risk of radioactive leaks should it be hit by a major earthquake.

Like world powers, they also fear a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear drive, despite repeated assertions by Tehran that its atomic ambitions are peaceful.

Ties between Gulf countries and Iran have also been strained by Tehran’s backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in its battle against rebels supported by the Arab monarchies.

“Cooperation and rapprochement would benefit the whole region,” said Rouhani, adding that his country is “open to investors from the region, especially Omanis.”

Oman and Iran are seeking to expand trade, which reached $1 billion last year, and bilateral investments which they expect will top $10 billion by the end of this year, Iranian Ambassador Ali Akbar Sibeveih said Monday.

Oil- and gas-rich Iran has been struggling to export its products due to strict US and European sanctions on Tehran over its controversial nuclear program.

Iran and Oman signed a preliminary agreement Wednesday to build a $1 billion, 200-kilometer (125-mile) submarine pipeline to import gas from the Islamic republic…

Source: Space War.


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Saudi Arabia names Brotherhood a terrorist group

March 07, 2014

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia identified the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group along with al-Qaida and others Friday, warning those who join them or support them they could face five to 30 years in prison.

A Saudi Interior Ministry statement said King Abdullah approved the findings of a committee entrusted with identifying extremist groups referred to in a royal decree earlier last month. The decree punishes those who fight in conflicts outside the kingdom or join extremist groups or support them.

The king’s decree followed the kingdom enacting a sweeping new counterterrorism law that targets virtually any criticism of the government. The Muslim Brotherhood has been targeted by many Gulf nations since the July 3 military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, himself a Brotherhood member. Saudi Arabia has banned Brotherhood books from the ongoing Riyadh book fair and withdrew its ambassador from Qatar, a Brotherhood supporter, along with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

In a statement, the Muslim Brotherhood condemned Saudi Arabia’s decision. “It is one of the founding principles of the group not to interfere in matters of other states, and this new position from the kingdom is a complete departure from the past relationship with the group, since the reign of the founding king until now,” the statement read.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Attie praised the decision, saying it “reflects the coordination and solidarity” between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He said he hopes that other countries make the same decision.

“We expect other countries to fulfill their responsibilities in the fight against terrorism,” Abdel-Attie told journalists Friday. The Saudi statement, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, identified the other terrorist groups named as al-Qaida’s branches in Yemen and Iraq, the Syrian al-Nusra Front, Saudi Hezbollah and Yemen’s Shiite Hawthis. It said the law would apply to all the groups and organizations identified by the United Nations Security Council or international bodies as terrorists or violent groups. It said the law also would be applied to any Saudi citizen or a foreigner residing in the kingdom for propagating atheism or pledging allegiance to anyone other than the kingdom’s leaders.

The counterterrorism law bans meetings of the groups inside or outside of the kingdom and covers comments made online or to media outlets. The unprecedented and harsh prison terms seem aimed at stemming the flow of Saudi fighters going to Syria, Yemen or Iraq. The Syrian civil war is believed to have drawn hundreds of young Saudis, worrying some in the kingdom that fighters could return radicalized and turn their weapons on the monarchy.

Influential Saudi clerics who follow the kingdom’s ultraconservative religious Wahhabi doctrine encouraged youths to fight in the war and view it as a struggle between Syria’s Sunni majority and President Bashar Assad’s Alawite, Shiite-backed minority.

Saudi officials and some clerics have spoken out against young Saudis joining the war. However, the Saudi government backs some rebel opposition groups in Syria with weapons and aid. The new law is also believed to reflect pressure from the U.S., which wants to see Assad’s overthrow but is alarmed by the rising influence of hard-line foreign jihadists — many of them linked to al-Qaida — among the rebels. U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia and meet King Abdullah this month.

Meanwhile in Qatar, outspoken Egyptian cleric Youssef el-Qaradawi did not deliver his usual sermon on Friday. The reasons for his absence were not made immediately public. His past sermons, in which he publicly criticized the UAE and other Gulf countries for their support of Egypt’s new government in its crackdown on the Brotherhood, led to outrage among Qatar’s neighbors who saw the comments as an attack on their sovereignty.

Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Abdullah Ribhi in Doha, Qatar, contributed to this report.

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Saudi, Bahrain, and UAE recall Qatar ambassadors

Wednesday, 05 March 2014

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates decided Wednesday to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar over the latter’s non-commitment to a security cooperation agreement.

In a joint statement, the three Gulf countries explained that Qatar’s failure to implement the Riyadh agreement of November 23, 2013 has led to this decision. The agreement included provisions for security cooperation, non-interference in the internal affairs of other Gulf countries, and halting support for “individuals or groups that threaten the security and stability of the GCC, whether by direct security work or attempting to exert a political influence, or supporting hostile media”.

While the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani signed the November agreement, he has not yet put it into effect, the statement added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


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Saudi, UAE, Bahrain recall their envoys from Qatar

March 05, 2014

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain said Wednesday they have recalled their ambassadors from Qatar in the clearest move yet underscoring their apparent displeasure over Doha’s support for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group in Egypt and elsewhere the region.

The three Gulf Arab states made the announcement in a joint statement on state media, saying Qatar had breached a regional security deal. They said the move was made to protect their security. Tensions between the three and Doha intensified following the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Arab Spring protests in early 2011. Mubarak was long seen as a reliable Saudi ally and one whose disdain for Islamist groups was in line with the kingdom’s own.

Qatar’s massive financial and public support for Mubarak’s successor, President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, stood at odds with UAE and Saudi policies — as did its condemnation of Morsi’s ouster last July by the Egyptian military, following days of massive protests in Cairo against the Islamist president.

At home, both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have cracked down on Islamist groups with links to the Brotherhood, which they see as a threat to their ruling systems. They are both staunch supporters of Egypt’s new military-backed government, which subsequently launched sweeping crackdowns on Morsi and his Brotherhood supporters.

The joint Gulf statement said Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani failed to uphold a security agreement that he signed in late November in Saudi Arabia. The emir of Kuwait was a witness to the meeting in Riyadh and the agreement was endorsed by other members in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

The agreement called on all GCC members not to interfere, “whether directly or indirectly” in another member nation’s internal affairs. It also stipulated that GCC countries would not support organizations or individuals that threaten the security and stability of Arabian Peninsula countries “either through direct security work or by attempting to influence politics.”

The language appeared to have been shorthand for support for the Brotherhood and Qatar’s funding of the Doha-based pan-Arab Al-Jazeera network. However, three months after signing the agreement, no action was taken by Qatar despite “great efforts” by the Gulf Arab nations to reach out to Doha’s leadership to fulfill its side of the deal, said the Saudi-UAE-Bahrain statement.

Details of the November agreement were not made public until Wednesday. Saudi analyst Anwar Edshki said the decision was a warning to Qatar to stop inciting violence by Islamists in Egypt. “It is Qatar’s right to support the Muslim Brotherhood, but not its right to threaten security in Egypt and incite the (people on the) street,” he said.

Edshki, who chairs the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies in Saudi Arabia, said Qatar’s policies have created chaos in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Egypt. However, what particularly disturbed Saudi Arabia and the UAE more recently was how Qatar allowed Islamic cleric Youssef el-Qaradawi to continue attacking the policies of these countries publicly.

The withdrawal of ambassadors from Qatar came after a meeting Tuesday in Riyadh of GCC foreign ministers that tried to “persuade” Qatar to keep up its end of the deal. “However, all these efforts have not resulted, with great regret, in the consent of the State of Qatar to adhere to these procedures,” the statement said. “So the three countries have to start taking whatever they deem appropriate to protect their security and stability by withdrawing their ambassadors from the State of Qatar, as of today.”

Though Wednesday’s announcement was unprecedented for the region, last month the UAE signaled it was losing patience with Qatar when it summoned Doha’s ambassador to formally protest the comments of the outspoken pro-Brotherhood el-Qaradawi who criticized the Gulf country’s policies toward Islamist groups on Qatari TV.

The Emirati leadership said Qatar should stop the Egyptian-born cleric from expressing comments critical of the UAE. Even though the UAE was part of Wednesday’s three-state announcement, its ambassador to Qatar has not been present in Doha for several months.

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UAE backs Saudis with Muslim Brotherhood blacklist

March 09, 2014

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates has thrown its support behind neighboring Saudi Arabia’s decision to label the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, increasing Gulf Arab pressure on the Islamist group.

Saudi Arabia listed the 86-year-old Brotherhood along with several other groups, including al-Qaida affiliates, as terrorist organizations on Friday. Those who join or support the groups could face five to 30 years in prison under the new Saudi policy.

The Gulf moves against the Brotherhood follow an Egyptian decision to label it a terrorist organization in December. The move by the military-backed interim government in Cairo comes amid a crackdown on the group following its July ouster of the country’s first elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi.

Cairo based its accusation mainly on a series of deadly bomb attacks that it says the Brotherhood orchestrated. The Brotherhood denies the accusations. Egyptian authorities have produced little evidence showing a direct Brotherhood link that is open to public scrutiny, and most of the attacks have been claimed by a Sinai-based militant group.

The Western-allied UAE, a seven-state federation that includes the cosmopolitan business hub of Dubai, said it will cooperate with Saudi Arabia to tackle “those terrorist groups through liquidating all forms of material and moral support.”

“The significant step taken by (Saudi Arabia) in this critical moment requires concerted efforts and joint collective work to address the security and stability challenges that threaten the destiny of the Arab and Muslim nation,” the UAE said in a statement carried by official news agency WAM late Saturday.

The Saudi terrorist designation also blacklisted al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen and its former affiliate in Iraq, the Syrian al-Nusra Front, Hezbollah within the kingdom and Yemen’s Shiite Hawthis. The Brotherhood condemned the Saudi move against it Friday as a “complete departure from the past relationship” with the kingdom and insisted that it does not interfere in matters of other nations.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the two largest Arab economies, have increasingly clamped down on the Brotherhood in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. They along with the tiny kingdom of Bahrain last week withdrew their ambassadors from nearby Qatar to protest what they saw as its failure to uphold a deal to stop interfering in other nations’ politics and supporting organizations that threaten the Gulf’s stability. Analysts say the move in large part reflects Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood and its supporters.

The Emirates has jailed dozens of people allegedly linked to Brotherhood-affiliated groups on state security charges over the past year. It accuses Islamist groups of trying to topple its Western-backed ruling system.

The nation’s top court last week sentenced a Qatari doctor to seven years and two Emiratis to five years in prison for collaborating with an illegal Islamist group. The same court in January convicted 30 men, most of them Egyptian, of setting up an illegal Brotherhood branch in the UAE. They received prison terms ranging from three months to five years.

Another 69 people were last year sentenced to up to 15 years behind bars after being convicted of links to Al-Islah, an Islamist group suspected of ideological ties to the Brotherhood.

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