Archive for July, 2017

Qatar’s neighbors issue steep list of demands to end crisis

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.

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New crown prince widely welcomed in Saudi Arabia

2017-06-25

In a surprise move, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud appointed his son Prince Mo­hammed bin Salman bin Ab­dulaziz as heir to the Saudi throne and relieved Prince Moham­med bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz of his positions as crown prince, deputy prime minister and interior minister.

The Saudi royal court announced the reshuffle June 21 with a statement that said Prince Moham­med bin Salman would take over as deputy prime minister, remain as defense minister and retain his other posts.

The statement said the appointment was approved by 31 of the 34 members of the Saudi Allegiance Council, which includes senior members of the royal family who determine succession in the king­dom.

On Twitter, Saudis preferred method of social media interaction, numerous hashtags related to the new crown prince trended heavily, with many celebrating the appointment and others pleading allegiance, bringing traditional Saudi customs into a modern technological context.

“I pledge my allegiance to his Royal Highness, Prince Moham­med bin Salman. May God protect our country and preserve its glory,” wrote Saudi user Fahd Alsaqabi . Abdullah Alshehry wrote: “May God help our new crown prince to elevate our country economically, politically and socially for the good of its citizens.”

Domestically, the news was reported with a sense of optimism and the reshuffle had a positive effect on the Saudi stock exchange, the largest in the Middle East. The Tadawul index increased more than 5%, an indication of trader confidence related to the appointment.

The choice of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, as crown prince makes him the youngest heir to the throne in Saudi history and comes at a time of major changes in the kingdom, known traditionally for its measured pace in dealing with matters related to domestic policy. Several young princes were appointed to high-profile government positions, ushering in a new generation of power.

Since entering the political spotlight in early 2015, Prince Moham­med has generated a reputation as a hard-working, results-orientated reformist, unafraid of making difficult decisions and with a clear vision of where he wants Saudi Ara­bia to be, domestically, regionally and internationally.

One of the prince’s biggest achievements has been the kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic and social reform plan, described by the Wall Street Journal as “the most far-reaching and ambitious program for Saudi reform and restructuring ever seriously proposed.”

The plan is designed to wean the Saudi economy off its traditional dependency on the energy sector, while creating jobs, stimulating the private sector and modernizing Saudi Arabia. A large component of the plan is focused on issues related to the kingdom’s young people, who are estimated to be more than half of the country’s population.

The centerpiece of Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Plan is to be the initial public offering of 1-5% interest in Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable company, valued at an estimated $2 trillion. Prince Mohammed said the measures would raise at least $100 billion a year by 2020, tripling non-oil income.

Another aspect of Vision 2030 is the promotion of a kingdom-based entertainment industry, with the goal of bringing commerce and recreation together. In February, the kingdom had its first Comic Con exhibition, which attracted more than 20,000 visitors, despite fears of a backlash from the religious establishment.

In May 2016, the kingdom set up the General Authority for Entertainment, tasked with putting together an entertainment industry. One of its first endeavors was signing a deal with the Six Flags Entertainment Corporation for a $500 million theme park to be built outside of Riyadh.

General Authority for Entertainment Authority CEO Amr al-Mada­ni said that, by 2020, there will be more than 450 clubs providing a variety of cultural activities and events in Saudi Arabia, creating 100,000 jobs.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83658.

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Saudi king upends royal succession, names son as 1st heir

June 21, 2017

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Wednesday appointed his 31-year-old son Mohammed bin Salman as crown prince, placing him first-in-line to the throne and removing the country’s counterterrorism czar and a figure well-known to Washington from the line of succession.

In a series of royal decrees carried on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the monarch stripped Prince Mohammed bin Nayef from his title as crown prince and from his powerful position as the country’s interior minister overseeing security.

The all-but-certain takeover of the throne by Mohammed bin Salman awards near absolute powers to a prince who has ruled out dialogue with rival Iran, has moved to isolate neighboring Qatar for its support of Islamist groups and who has led a devastating war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.

The prince already oversees a vast portfolio as defense minister. He has become popular among some of Saudi Arabia’s majority young population for pushing reforms that have opened the deeply conservative country to entertainment and greater foreign investment as part of an effort to overhaul the economy.

He had previously been second-in-line to the throne as deputy crown prince, though royal watchers had long suspected his rise to power under his father’s reign might accelerate his ascension. The young prince was little known to Saudis and outsiders before Salman became king in January 2015. He had previously been in charge of his father’s royal court when Salman was the crown prince.

The Saudi monarch, who holds near absolute powers, quickly awarded his son expansive powers to the surprise of many within the royal family who are more senior and more experienced than Mohammed bin Salman, also known by his initials MBS.

Meanwhile, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud, 33, was named the new interior minister tasked with counterterrorism efforts and domestic security. His father is the governor of Saudi Arabia’s vast Eastern Province, home to much of the country’s oil wealth and most of its minority Shiites. The prince is also Mohammed bin Nayef’s nephew, and previously served as an adviser to the interior and defense ministries.

The royal decree issued Wednesday stated that “a majority” of senior royal members from the so-called Allegiance Council support the recasting of the line of succession. However, that vote of support appears to have been from a past gathering of the council two years ago when Mohammed bin Salman was named second-in-line to the throne, and Mohammed bin Nayef was named the king’s successor.

The Allegiance Council is a body made up of the sons and prominent grandsons of the founder of the Saudi state, the late King Abdul-Aziz, who vote to pick the king and crown prince from among themselves. The council does not appear to have met again before Wednesday’s sudden change.

Over the weekend, the king had issued a decree restructuring Saudi Arabia’s system for prosecutions that stripped Mohammed bin Nayef of longstanding powers overseeing criminal investigations, and instead ordered that a newly-named Office of Public Prosecution and prosecutor report directly to the monarch.

The prince had appeared to be slipping from public eye and was not believed to have played a significant role in Saudi and Emirati-led efforts to isolate Qatar for its support of Islamist groups and ties with Iran.

Instead, it was his nephew, Mohammed bin Salman, who embarked on major overseas visits, including a trip to the White House to meet President Donald Trump in March. That visit to Washington helped lay the foundation for Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May, which marked the president’s first overseas visit and which was promoted heavily by the kingdom as proof of its weight in the region and wider Muslim world.

Saudi-U.S. relations had cooled under the Obama administration after Washington pursued a nuclear accord with Shiite-majority Iran that the Sunni-ruled kingdom strongly opposed. The warm ties forged between Riyadh and Washington under the Trump administration may have helped accelerate Mohammed bin Salman’s ascension as crown prince.

Despite his ambitions, which include overhauling the economy to make it less reliant on oil, the prince has faced failures and criticism for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which he oversees as defense minister.

The war, launched more than two years ago, has failed to dislodge Iranian-allied rebels known as Houthis from the capital, Sanaa, and has had devastating effects on the impoverished country. Rights groups say Saudi forces have killed scores of civilians and have called on the U.S., as well as the U.K. and France, to halt the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the Yemen war.

The U.S. already is helping the Saudis with intelligence and logistical support for the bombing campaign in Yemen, and the Trump administration has signaled it could assist with greater intelligence support to counter Iranian influence there.

The newly-minted crown prince also raised eyebrows when he ruled out any chance of dialogue with Iran. In remarks aired on Saudi TV in May, Mohammed bin Salman framed the tensions with Iran in sectarian terms, saying it is Iran’s goal “to control the Islamic world” and to spread its Shiite doctrine. He also vowed to take “the battle” to Iran.

Iran and Saudi Arabia’s rivalry has played out in proxy wars across the region. They back opposite sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen and they support political rivals in Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq. The conflicts have deepened Sunni-Shiite enmity between hard-liners on both sides.

Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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