Reconnecting with the past, reimagining the future

23/09/19

This Saudi National Day, Arab News celebrates the future of Saudi Arabia by reviving its past. In particular, we go back to 1979 — a year in which cataclysmic events took place that changed the Kingdom, as well as the whole region.

Why 1979? Because as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said during his interview with Norah O’Donnell on CBS last year: “We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries. Women were driving cars. There were movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979.”

The famous words of the crown prince were: “This is not the real Saudi Arabia. I would ask your viewers to use their smartphones to find out. And they can Google Saudi Arabia in the 1970s and 1960s, and they will see the real Saudi Arabia easily in the pictures.”

A year before the interview, in October 2017, the crown prince addressed the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, and said: “We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam.”

So what happened in 1979? Two events in particular: The Iranian revolution that brought Khomeini to power, and led to the terrorist acts of Juhayman Al-Otaibi in Saudi Arabia.

If music existed in the days of the Prophet, and if men and women sat and worked together, then what right have these extremists to forbid what God has allowed?

Faisal J. Abbas

Narrow-minded parochial winds swept the region as soon as Khomeini stepped off the plane from Paris in Iran. That led in turn to the whipping up of negative passions and actions by an equally dangerous obscurantist, Juhayman. He, along with his deluded followers, violated the sanctity of the Holy Mosque in Makkah by holding it hostage and spilling blood in the most hallowed place in Islam, our religion’s holy of holies, its sanctum sanctorum.

The events of 1979 cast a long shadow on what had been a peaceful Saudi society. They unleashed forces of darkness that plunged the whole region into unrest and uncertainty. It will be worth reading the article in our special National Day edition by our Iran affairs expert and head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah), Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami. He explains in scholarly detail how the Iranian revolution had a negative impact on the entire Gulf. As he points out: “Iran’s relations with its Arab neighbors … in the 1960s and 1970s … were not as amicable as some suggest, (but) they were certainly not as bleak as they have been since 1979.”

We highlight the importance of Makkah and the savage acts of Juhayman and his men with accounts of eyewitnesses. We will also revisit this event on Nov. 20 this year — the 40th anniversary of the siege — and we promise our readers there will be a special Arab News documentary on every single aspect of those events.

Of course, the effects of 1979 manifested themselves in a wide variety of ways. They led to the previously unchecked power of the infamous religious police. As one of our articles points out, members of the group went about causing chaos in the name of religion. They banned cinemas, destroyed musical instruments, and raided hotels and restaurants, asking couples who were enjoying a meal together in public, or just having a coffee, for proof that they were indeed married. These so-called “promoters of virtue” intruded into the private lives of ordinary citizens, even engaging in car chases that resulted in accidents and loss of life.

This monopoly and high-handedness of the religious police was checked by the announcement of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 program. The removal of the religious police from Saudi streets was, and is, one of the less hyped but most significant reforms of the current leadership. As we detail in one of the articles, the curbing of the religious police’s powers had a domino effect that allowed women to drive, work, travel freely, go to movies, enjoy music — and contribute positively and overall to the growth and progress of our country.

The reforms were criticized by some extremists who said what was happening in Saudi Arabia was a departure from religion — which is utter nonsense. If music existed in the days of the Prophet, and if men and women sat and worked together, then what right have these extremists to forbid what God has allowed? As one of the articles explains, until the end of 1979, Saudi TV used to broadcast songs and concerts by Saudi folk bands and artists, including female singers such as Toha, Etab and Ibtisam Lutfi, to say nothing of concert performances by Um Kalthoum, Fayza Ahmad, Samira Tawfik, Najat Al-Saghira and Farid Al-Atrach.

All this, and many more interesting and highly researched articles in this special edition, highlight how Saudi Arabia is reconnecting with its moderate past and moving into a future that has links to the past. While the missiles and drones from the land of Khomeini and the ayatollahs continue to spread darkness, Saudi Arabia is spreading light for a bright future for its people.

We hope you will enjoy our labor of love as much we have in executing this special project. A very happy National Day to all.

• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor-in-chief of Arab News

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

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Why today is about Saudi Arabia’s future, as much as its past

Time: September 22, 2019  

On National Day, we Saudis typically celebrate our past. In a way, this occasion is very much like Thanksgiving; we look back at the blood, sweat and tears that were sacrificed for the unification of the Kingdom in 1932… and then praise God for what this nation has become.

Cynics would argue that any country which stumbles upon a vast wealth of oil would have ended up the same way. Of course, all these cynics need to do is just look at Iraq and Iran, for example, and they will find out that their argument doesn’t stand.

On National Day, local newspapers typically publish stories reminding the public of why we should be proud of our past. However, we at Arab News have decided to mark this occasion differently this time.

In 2016, Vision 2030 was announced by then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Promising to rid the Kingdom of its dependence on oil through introducing social and economic reforms, the vision quickly emerged as a blueprint to Saudi Arabia’s future.

On National Day, us Saudis typically celebrate our past. However, we at Arab News decided to envision Saudi Arabia’s future under Vision 2030 – and it looks bright.

Faisal J. Abbas

It wasn’t too long after that we started feeling the change.We finally had a young leader who spoke our language, empowered by his father, King Salman. It was uncommon for Saudis to hear the terms “Project Management Office” and “KPIs” from their leaders. Then suddenly, international companies were granted licenses to operate without the need for a Saudi partner. The religious police’s powers were curbed for the first time, and their role restricted to a somewhat advisory one.

A government entertainment authority was established and we – like any normal country – started having concerts and live shows. For instance, this year’s National Day will be celebrated by a special performance of Cirque du Soleil, who are visiting KSA for the first time.

In 2017, Mohammed bin Salman was appointed Crown Prince; with greater powers, he accelerated his reform plans. Only a few months ago, cinema theatres re-opened, a Culture Ministry was established, and women were allowed to drive and enter sport stadiums.

Vision 2030 has also unleashed the potential of Saudi women: From government positions, to CEOs, to Uber drivers, there is no disputing that they are now driving much more than just cars.

In a symbolic gesture, MBS – the man who will one day become Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques – also met with the Coptic Pope in Egypt, the Archbishop of Canterbury in England and with Christian and Jewish leaders in the United States.

Of course, with change comes teething problems. And there is no doubt that not everyone will be at ease with these fast and drastic reforms. Will the vision achieve all of its targets? Certainly not – but the idea is to reach for the stars anyway.

Needless to say, we as Saudis were never used to paying VAT or having unsubsidized utility bills – and of course, many people would rather this not be the case.

However, if we want to be a normal country, we must start behaving like one. For the first time, we in Saudi Arabia are minding our spending, switching off unnecessary lights and considering gasoline bills before we buy our next car.

It is also significant that the government launched ADAA (The National Center for Performance Measurement). In today’s issue, we interview the head of ADAA, Husameddin AlMadani, who tells us that their aim isn’t only to monitor government body performance, but to allow citizens to have a constant say in it too.

As government officials constantly review and amend the targets and deliverables, we at Arab News decided to dedicate today’s National Day coverage to imagining how Saudi Arabia could look in 2030.

With the introduction of artificial intelligence, renewable energy, the completion of mega-projects such as NEOM and the restoration of ancient heritage sites such as Al-Ula, our journalists envisioned Saudi Arabia’s future – and it looks bright.

This is why we are also proud to introduce Road to 2030, our new online section dedicated to tracking and reporting on Saudi reforms and Vision 2030.

As such, today we celebrate the Kingdom’s past, present… and future.

• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News.

Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

This article was first published in Arab News

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From Tokyo to Toronto: Why attacking Saudi Aramco affects the whole world

Time: September 15, 2019

I write this column from Tokyo, where I am a guest of the G1 Institute at its annual international conference. On the eve of the conference, I met a number of participants, high-level Japanese officials and business executives, and they all expressed grave concern for, and total sympathy with, Saudi Arabia following the attacks on the Kingdom’s oil facilities.

Japan is a net importer of oil. It gets nearly 85 percent of its oil from Gulf Cooperation Council members. A staggering 40 percent of its oil comes from Saudi Arabia, so it is no wonder that in the eyes of the Japanese, the attack impinges on their country’s national security, and is felt and seen as such.

The dreadful attack comes as Japan deals with the aftermath of typhoon Faxai. A week after it ripped through Chiba, there are still about 430,000 households living without power, so the last thing this thriving country needs is yet another disruption in its energy supply.

As such, an unhindered and uninterrupted production of oil, and its safe passage through the Strait of Hormuz, is an absolute necessity for Japan’s continued growth.

The full force of the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities does not just affect Japan. It affects the whole world — and the whole world needs to recognize that fact.

The world must stand together in condemning the attacks, and take serious steps to prevent rogue countries and violent militias from hijacking our ability and our right to live normal and peaceful lives.

Faisal J. Abbas

A statement from Saudi Aramco on Saturday said the attacks would see a production suspension of 5.7 million barrels of crude oil per day. That amount represents about half of the Kingdom’s output, which is some 6 percent of the global oil supply — removing that quantity from the market, even for a short time, will have serious repercussions.

While many countries expressed solidarity with Saudi Arabia, it is unfortunate that such a dramatic event did not garner enough of the right kind of attention in the international media. The perpetrators were not challenged as they should have been, and certainly not as they deserved to be.

This may partly be due to ignorance, but we cannot discount that fault-finding and dislike of Saudi Arabia is the new norm in much of the Western media. Outlets and publications are quick to portray Riyadh in a negative — and mostly inaccurate — light.

Many may think that because Saudi Arabia is rich, they need not worry about what happens there. Worse, they may feel that because of its riches it deserves what has happened to it. These people forget the country is the land of the Two Holy Mosques, and sacred to the world’s Muslims.

We have seen similar apathy and a lack of concern and outrage when the Houthis attacked sites near the holy city of Makkah. People forget that in a region consumed by hatred and sectarian differences, it is Saudi Arabia which is leading the fight against terrorism. It is Saudi Arabia which has kept oil prices in check and the oil market stable through continued supply. It is Saudi Arabia which has ushered in reforms in order to become a modern nation. It is Saudi Arabia which has helped prevent many terror attacks on Western soil, and it is Saudi Arabia which has worked, sometimes to its own disadvantage, to maintain the free flow of oil to countries around the world.

It is unfortunate that people do not understand that when such an attack happens, the victims go far beyond the oil companies and the Saudi people, to include babies in incubators in hospitals and children in schools all around the globe. Imagine the consequences if the world’s biggest oil producer were forced to stop producing because of such attacks. Millions of innocent people would suffer. Their daily lives would be affected. If the price of oil shoots up, it is the ordinary men and women at the pumps in the US, Europe, and Asia who will bear the consequences. It is, therefore, a direct attack on all peace-loving people, their ways of life, their economic security and well-being.

The world must stand together in condemning the attacks, and take serious steps to prevent rogue countries and violent militias from hijacking our ability and our right to live normal and peaceful lives.

• Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-chief of Arab News

Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

This article was first published in Arab News

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Netanyahu’s threat a reminder of why Palestinians need a deal

Time: September 12, 2019  

This picture taken on September 12, 2019 shows a general view of a central area of the Jordan Valley. – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a deeply controversial pledge on September 10 to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if re-elected in September 17 polls. He also reiterated his intention to annex Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank if re-elected, though in coordination with US President Donald Trump, whose long-awaited peace plan is expected to be unveiled sometime after the vote. (Photo by Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Pre-election politics in Israel is nothing if not predictable. It is almost expected that the incumbent seeking re-election will try to boost his popularity by launching a military strike or by building more illegal settlements. Alternatively, or on top of such actions, the incumbent prime minister might resort to making preposterous post-election promises, such as Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent pledge to annex the Jordan Valley.

This is not to say that Netanyahu’s threat should not be taken seriously. As any political analyst will attest, we are living in unprecedentedly unpredictable times where anything can happen.

This is particularly true given that the countdown has begun also for the election season in the US. As we all know, being pro-Palestinian does not win any politician votes in Washington, but being pro-Israeli does. In any case, the current US administration has made it crystal clear that unless the Palestinians are willing to sign a deal, there is not much it can do to help.

The Palestinian leadership has so far rejected invitations from White House senior advisor Jared Kushner’s team even to be at the negotiating table. This naturally gives the Israeli leadership — which is likely to be less interested in such negotiations — an excuse that it is the other side which does not want peace.

This brings me to the point I have repeatedly made in this column: Palestinians should play ball. Yes, they are unlikely to get all that they bargain for, but they will not come back empty-handed either. And even if they do, they do not necessarily have to accept the terms.

The longer it takes to reach a peace deal, the more harmful the results will be

Faisal J. Abbas

US and Saudi sources familiar with the Kushner initiative told Arab News earlier this year that the plan would entail sacrifices by the Israelis as well. Also, at no point did any of these sources confirm that there was any plan to annex parts or all of the Jordan Valley. Rather, as reported, they said there would be a proposal involving recognition of the State of Palestine, and a negotiated land swap between the two states.

For decades now, observers have been warning that the window for peace is closing. As painful as the reality may be, Palestinians must be pragmatic and accept the truth that the longer it takes to strike a deal, the less they will be able to get out of it. This has now been historically proven.

Furthermore, the longer it takes to reach a peace agreement, the more harmful the results will be, indeed have already been, for neighboring countries, especially Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

Israelis must act quickly and decisively too, because regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election, the prospects for a two-state solution are rapidly receding. Unless Netanyahu, or whoever becomes the next leader of Israel, has a plan to throw nearly 5 million Palestinians into the sea, the demographics on the ground will make coexistence impossible.

What complicates the situation further is that the Netanyahu team continues to build illegal settlements on Palestinian land to secure votes. While this has helped him become the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, it has made peace with the Palestinians all the more difficult to achieve.

To put the problem in perspective, one need only consider the relatively small number of settlers who had to be relocated when then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dismantled 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005. Or the few thousands who had to be evacuated from the Sinai Peninsula when then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin dismantled 18 Jewish settlements there in 1982.

Under Netanyahu, the number of illegal settlers in the West Bank is said to have grown to 800,000. Such a large population makes relocating the settlers a daunting challenge, and makes negotiations to establish a viable, contiguous state more difficult for Palestinians.

Under the circumstances, a plan to annex the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights or any other piece of Arab land may serve candidate Netanyahu very well from a political standpoint. But there is no gain for Israel going forward, for such a move would only make normalization of ties with Arab countries more difficult, while Iran remains a major threat to Arabs and Israelis alike.

• Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor in Chief of Arab News

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia is not just a US partner, but a strategically

Time: August 26, 2019  

On May 20, 2017 US President Donald Trump (C) received the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (R) at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh. (File/Mandel Ngan/AFP)

Arab News publishes a story today, based on information from the Pentagon, which is a perfect example of US-Saudi cooperation for the greater good. Our US Special Correspondent Ray Hanania describes how American experts are training Saudi pilots to avoid civilian casualties in airstrikes. Pentagon sources have praised Saudi enthusiasm for the program, and the improvement in accuracy that has has been achieved.

On a visit to Washington DC, I met a number of senior State Department and Pentagon officials who are working on confronting Iran and terrorism. From our discussions,

It is safe to say that US decision makers who know the realities on the ground are not only appreciative of Saudi support for the US, but also sympathetic toward what the Kingdom must do to defend itself against the Houthis in Yemen. “I cannot but have full sympathy and understanding for anyone waging war against an Iranian-backed armed militia,” a US government official said.

Of course, no one wants to see civilians hurt, but there is no such thing as a “pretty” armed conflict; war is always ugly.

There have been mistakes in Yemen, and that is sad. One innocent life lost is one too many. But there is a crucial difference between the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthis. The former will do everything possible to avoid harming civilians, even if that means a delayed victory, an increase in skepticism and a longer campaign. The latter, on the contrary, will brag about firing missiles at commercial airports and population centers in Riyadh and elsewhere, with the deliberate aim of harming civilians.

Of course, not everyone in Washington gets this … or indeed wants to. The other sad reality is that, between the war in Yemen and the awful murder last year of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it has become easier to criticize Riyadh and question the value of the historic Saudi-US relationship.

People with short-term memories criticize the Trump administration for blocking legislation that would prohibit selling arms to Saudi Arabia. They forget that President Obama, a Democrat, vetoed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, a profoundly misguided piece of legislation that specifically targeted Saudi Arabia.

Faisal J. Abbas

This is particularly true as America warms up for the 2020 presidential election. With the collapse of the investigation into Donald Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia, the administration’s strong ties to Saudi Arabia have become the favorite new stick with which to beat the president. This was certainly the case during the first round of Democrat debates for the party’s presidential nomination. It is regrettable that some of these otherwise perfectly capable candidates have resorted to using Saudi Arabia as a political football.

This is not to say that the Yemen war cannot and should not be criticized; in that respect it is no different from any war. But when Saudi Arabia has made clear its determination to end the conflict as soon as possible, has made many attempts to reach a political settlement, and, last but not least, is footing a hefty military and humanitarian bill, it is fundamentally unfair for Riyadh to be portrayed as the villain.

As for Khashoggi, while critics would do well to wait for the outcome of the judicial process, it seems to me that some US politicians would like to punish the whole Saudi population for a crime committed by a few; refusing to sell Saudi Arabia weapons to defend itself would allow the Houthis to attack more airports and target more civilians.

However, there is more to the debate in the US than this; some are questioning the very need for a Saudi-US relationship, and it is important to counter their “arguments” with facts.

First, it is a myth that the Democratic Party is inherently anti-Saudi. People with short-term memories criticize the Trump administration for blocking legislation that would prohibit selling arms to Saudi Arabia. They forget that President Obama, a Democrat, vetoed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, a profoundly misguided piece of legislation that specifically targeted Saudi Arabia. Obama, who famously bowed in respect to the late King Abdullah, knew and appreciated Saudi Arabia’s significant regional role.

Second, there are worrying concerns about the arguments advanced by some of the Democrat candidates. Saudi Arabia is not just another US strategic partner, it is a historic and crucial ally in a relationship bound by neither time nor circumstances.

Saudi Arabia will not suddenly cease to be the land of Islam’s two holy shrines, or stop producing oil. Any country that genuinely wants to succeed in the war against terror requires the religious support of Saudi Arabia, and Saudi political weight is essential for initiatives such as Jared Kushner plan for Palestine.

With Princess Reema bint Bandar as the Kingdom’s new — and first female — ambassador in Washington, Saudi Arabia literally has an “uphill” battle to explain these realities to Congress, politicians and journalists. I noticed during my visit that she is determined to meet Saudi friends and critics alike.

It will be difficult to win everyone over, but it is crucial that the facts are laid out and communication channels kept open. This is not just because there is genuine change in the Kingdom (dismantling all forms of male guardianship of women being the most recent example), but if Democrat candidates continue with an emotional and irrational approach to international relations and historic allies, they will harm not only Saudi interests, but US interests too.

• Faisal J. Abbas is Editor-in-Chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

This article was first published in Arab News

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Boots on the ground to safeguard ships on the sea

Time: July 20, 2019

King Salman’s approval for Saudi Arabia to host US forces should be seen as a significant indicator. The decision to allow foreign troops to operate in any country is clearly a sensitive one, so a personal sign-off from the highest authority in the Kingdom is a serious endorsement of this effort to boost regional security and stability.

The Pentagon said it would deploy troops and resources to Saudi Arabia to “provide an additional deterrent” in the face of “emergent, credible threats.” Of course, no one is expecting a deployment of Desert Storm proportions; reports suggest only 500-1,000 soldiers. Nevertheless, even a symbolic US presence indicates yet another major shift in American foreign policy, which was completely misguided during the Obama era. Particularly at a time of heightened tension in the Gulf, this will be read in the Kingdom and in most parts of the region as yet another sign that the Trump administration better understands its own interests, but at the same time will not leave its allies out in the cold.

We — and by “we” I mean both us as US allies, and Americans themselves — are still paying the price of the so-called “Obama Doctrine,” when Washington played a dangerous game of trying to appease the Iranian beast. It was unwise to think that by using the nuclear deal “carrot,” they could lure the rogue Iranian regime back into civilization, to focus on building its own economy rather than terror networks. Predictably, Iran used the financial windfall to spend more on regional destabilization; and Iran-backed Houthi militias attacked the US Navy three times at the end of 2016, giving the administration something of a reality check.

It is important to remember all this, because the Trump administration’s decision will almost certainly be criticized in the US liberal media (the same media that gave a platform to a spokesman for the Houthis, an armed ideological militia with the official slogan of “Death to America”).

On the subject of Yemen, it is also important to remember that the Saudi-led coalition is there at the request of the UN-recognized government; and that, unlike the Houthis, who deliberately and unapologetically target civilian airports and population centers, the coalition reports and apologizes for its mistakes. Furthermore, while Riyadh has supported every international effort to find a diplomatic solution, the Houthis continue to break cease-fires.

As for Iran, the world is beginning to understand that the only language Tehran understands is that of force; the Japanese learned that lesson when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tehran in an attempt at mediation, and the regime orchestrated an attack on a Japanese tanker while he was there.

Even Trump probably now regrets calling off a limited strike last month in hopes that Iran would come to the table; the mullahs don’t care if their economy crumbles and their people suffer. Their agenda is ideological, not necessarily logical.

Early in this crisis, the published opinion of Arab News’s editorial board was that while nobody wants or benefits from a war, a limited surgical strike was required to deter Iran. Unfortunately that ship has now sailed — unlike the tankers in the Gulf illegally seized by Iran, in the evident belief that it will pay no penalty.

So where do we go from here? Decision makers have three options that I can see: Engage in an immediate large-scale war at sea, protect oil tankers by having them sail under Russian or Chinese flags, or buy some time until an international coalition can be formed.

The third option seems the most likely.

• Faisal J. Abbas is Editor-in-Chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

This article was first published in Arab News

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Gulf politics 101: The Qatar boycott for dummies

Time: July 17, 2019  

REMOVING WRONG BYLINE/SOURCE
The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (L), and the Gulf emirate’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani (R) arrive at the opening of the Doha Forum, an international meeting which will discuss regional political, economic and social issues in the wake of the Arab Spring, in the Qatari capital on May 20, 2013. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo by – / AFP)

It is just over two years since the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt) severed relations with Qatar and began a trade, travel and diplomatic boycott. There are no signs that this boycott will be lifted any time soon.

Although this rift has endured for so long that it has become the “new normal,” it is of vital importance for the ATQ to constantly remind the public of the truth about how it came about; and to make it clear that despite the extensive (and expensive) efforts of Doha-funded lobbyists and spin doctors, in this matter Qatar is not the victim, but the villain.

Of course, not everyone knows that, and some may not accept it — either because of vested interests, or perhaps simple ignorance, a common flaw among young diplomats or information officers unfamiliar with the region. These include the former White House staffer Ben Rhodes and other Obama-era officials who bought into the Qatari regime “masterplan” of supporting Islamist groups, some of which are classified as terrorists, to achieve democracy everywhere in the Middle East (everywhere, that is, except Qatar).

QATAR-BASED TERRORISTS WANTED BY UN/US

Khalifa Muhammad Turki Al-Subaiy: Financier and facilitator who has provided financial support to, and on behalf of, the senior leadership of Al-Qaeda, including moving recruits to Al-Qaeda training camps in South Asia.

Ibrahim Isa Haji Muhammad Al-Bakr: Facilitator who provides financial support for and financial services to, and in support of, Al-Qaeda.

Sa’d bin Sa’d Muhammad Sharyan Al-Ka’bi: Facilitator who provides financial services to, or in support of, Al-Nusra Front by raising funds and transferring money to the group and coordinating contributions to it.

Abd-Al-Latif Abdallah Salih Al-Kawari: Facilitator who provides financial services to, or in support of, Al-Qaeda. by transferring money to the group, raising funds for the group, and coordinating contributions to it.

Abd Al-Rahman bin ‘Umayr Al-Nu’aymi: Financier and facilitator for Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Others, such as Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State dismissed by President Donald Trump in March 2018, might have had other reasons for being sympathetic to this terror-supporting regime. As a senior executive at Exxon, Tillerson helped Qatar accumulate its vast wealth in the 1990s, bringing liquid gas technology to Doha and developing plants that propelled Qatar’s share of the global gas market to 30 percent by 2010 (and making many people extremely wealthy in the process).

Nevertheless, it is understandable why Doha might enjoy a certain appeal; it is a tiny state compared with most of its neighbors, so it can easily pretend to be bullied, and falsely claim that it is suffering from inhumane treatment. But this is a boycott by only four countries, and special measures are in place to reduce the impact on ordinary Qataris. Doha remains free to trade with and talk to everyone apart from the ATQ. Moreover, Saudi Arabia made special arrangements for Qatari officials to be invited to all GCC and Arab summits in the Kingdom, and for Qatari pilgrims to perform Umrah and Hajj.

Qatar is no one’s idea of Gaza, and those who have criticisms of the boycott need only compare the Doha regime’s conflicting messages — one day they say they are suffering, and the next they say they have become stronger and more resilient! Even early sympathizers such as Tillerson changed tack when they realized the caviar and champagne were still being flown in, lavish parties were being held and hosted by the likes of Paris Hilton, and Qatari supercars still polluted the streets of European capitals every summer.

To the inexperienced eye, Qatar’s funding and backing of European and American business ventures, progressive think tanks, even football clubs, looks impressive. When millions of dollars land in your company bank account, or when your team wins the French football league effortlessly every year, it is easy to forget that the cash comes from a country that sponsors Al-Nusra Front and other terrorist organizations. Terrorists wanted by the UN and the US live openly and unhindered in Doha. One cannot but wonder if people who criticize the boycott know this. One cannot but wonder, too, how US State Department or intelligence analysts would have reacted if Saudi Arabia had not done the right thing and stripped Osama bin Laden of his citizenship in 1994 and put him and his followers on a wanted list. The duplicity in such matters has always been puzzling.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

TAPES OF TREACHERY

In 2014, two audio recordings provided evidence of Qatari royals’ desire to see Saudi Arabia destabilized and divided. The recordings were believed to be after 2008, since an Arab League meeting the recording referred to was held in Damascus that year.
In the recordings, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, then emir of Qatar and father of current emir Tamim bin Hamad, and Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, then prime minister and foreign affairs minister, can be heard attacking Saudi Arabia and the royal family in a discussion with Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.
In one recording, Hamad bin Jassim says that in 12 years Saudi Arabia will no longer exist, but will be divided into small states. “The region will be facing a volcano. Saudi Arabia will be facing a revolution,” he said.
For his part, Hamad bin Khalifa admitted that Qatar caused a lot of trouble to the Kingdom, and said the Saudi government would not remain the same and would certainly end. He further said the Americans succeeded in Iraq, the second step would be Saudi Arabia. He described Egypt and Jordan as two countries lacking dignity because they coordinated with Saudi Arabia.
The tape was leaked via a Twitter page bearing the name of the media office of Shaikh Abdul Aziz bin Khalifa bin Hamad Al-Thani, a former Qatari finance and petroleum minister who had been residing in Geneva since 1992.

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But of course, duplicity has always been Qatar’s official foreign policy. To understand this, and as a Middle East Politics 101 requirement, I urge newcomers to watch Al Jazeera Arabic and compare it with Al Jazeera English. On the former, you will see Qatar’s spiritual leader, the hate preacher Yusuf Qaradawi, blessing suicide attacks and cursing Jews; on the latter, you will find celebrations of a 30 percent discount on beer in time for the 2022 football World Cup.

So why, you may ask, do some people still see Qatar as the victim? In retrospect, I believe that while Saudi Arabia and the other members of the ATQ were absolutely right to boycott Doha, the manner in which they did it could have been improved upon. The sudden escalation in June 2017 of a dispute that had been simmering for years, and the presentation to Doha of a list of 13 demands, took the world by surprise and helped Doha play the innocent. Had the ATQ presented its case differently, and allowed more time to build it, they would have succeeded in winning much more support than they did.

After all, there is nothing unreasonable in demanding that Qatar stop its long-standing support of terror (an allegation not only by the ATQ, but also by President Trump himself). This is a powerful grievance, and it was an error to bundle it in with such a trivial demand as the closure of Al Jazeera (I have written before that this was wrong; moreover, the ATQ should have made it clear that the issue was the Arabic channel’s content glorifying terror).

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A HANDWRITTEN CONFESSION

On July 11, 2017, CNN revealed what it said were a number of secret agreements struck by Qatar in 2013 and 2014 with its Gulf neighbors prohibiting it from offering support for opposition and hostile groups in those countries besides Egypt and Yemen.

Abiding by the agreements was among six conditions laid down by the Arab Quartet in July 2017 for mending ties with Qatar.

The first agreement — handwritten and dated November 23, 2013 — bore the signatures of the king of Saudi Arabia, the emir of Qatar and the emir of Kuwait, according to CNN.

Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani had become the emir of Qatar in June 2013.

The leaders committed themselves to avoiding interference in the internal affairs of other Gulf countries, including in the form of financial or political support to “deviant” groups.

The first agreement, or the Riyadh agreement, specifically mentioned not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition groups in Yemen that could threaten neighboring countries. A supplemental document signed by the foreign ministers of the same countries discussed implementation of the agreement and included measures barring support of the Muslim Brotherhood and outside groups in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

The measures were applicable to all the countries that signed the document.

As for the second agreement, CNN said it was headlined “top secret,” dated November 16, 2014, and had three additional signatories: The King of Bahrain, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the prime minister of the UAE. It specifically referred to the signatories’ commitment to support Egypt’s stability.

After CNN published the report, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt jointly announced that the documents “confirm beyond any doubt Qatar’s failure to meet its commitments and its full violation of its pledges.”

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More importantly, it was an error for a Saudi source (who I assume can only have been a senior official at the Foreign Ministry or Royal Court) to leak to CNN the contents of the 2014 accord signed by Sheikh Tamim — after the boycott had already begun. Essentially, this was a declaration of guilt and a pledge to reform, made by the emir of Qatar and signed in the presence of the Kuwaiti emir as a guarantor and fellow GCC countries as witnesses. This document would have been of priceless assistance before the ATQ took the action they did. Had it been published earlier, the ATQ would have required only to set a deadline for Qatar to implement it. No reasonable observer could have objected to that.

But we are where we are, and many now ask what these two years have achieved? And has this rift not weakened GCC unity? I take such talk with a grain of salt. What unity can we have when there are authenticated audio recordings widely available online of former Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim conspiring with the Libyan madman Muammar Qaddafi to divide Saudi Arabia and overthrow its royal family?

If there is only one benefit of the 2017 boycott, it is that it has ripped off the masks that concealed the truth, and forced the real issues into the open. After this, we either have true Gulf unity, or we stop wasting time and effort pretending that we ever did.

• Faisal J. Abbas is Editor-in-Chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

This article was first published in Arab News

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The silence is broken

Time: July 08, 2019  

A few days ago, I was privileged to have witnessed history taking place in Saudi Arabia. Yes, a dream came true.

As children, we grew up listening to specific music genres and never thought for a second that we would attend a concert for any international artists in Saudi Arabia.

Between being overwhelmed and super proud of the organization and effort that the authorities have put into making this happen, an idea crossed my mind.

How do these types of events contribute to the narrative and perspective about Saudi Arabia?

I believe I have the answer.

I have previously emphasized the importance of human diplomacy and the significance of exercising soft power to bring nations closer together.

The term “soft power” consists of many things; art is one of them.

Art is a global language that needs no translation, the purest form of communication, and probably the most peaceful one.

The investment in arts and culture has undoubtedly opened the eyes of the world about Saudi Arabia but from a fresh perspective, which means that we are and have always been part of this world at the same speed and pace. The only thing missing was exposure.

The time has come where we have opened our doors for the entire world to be part of an exciting revolution — a wave of change and an opportunity to meet the people of Saudi Arabia.

The idea about Saudi Arabia and its people has been limited to what the “media” has to offer, and most times, it hasn’t done “us” justice. Looking into an entire nation from one angle can sometimes confuse the viewer into believing generalized statements about the culture or basing a judgment according to one incident that doesn’t justify the true nature of a nation.

The point here is to shed light on the need for communication with the rest of the world, not only politically, but socially and culturally, too. I mention this is as an observation on the positive feedback I heard from the international guests who have visited Saudi Arabia and had the opportunity to participate in these events.

I know that some of you might wonder about the relationship between cultural activities and the perspective about Saudi Arabia. The answer is simple. Saudi Arabia has a lot to offer. As a matter of fact, its wealth of knowledge, experience and talent, in terms of the “arts and culture” scene, has always been alive and impressive, and has now been given a platform to flourish — not only to display but to share this knowledge with the rest of the world.

Being a young female in an advancing society gives me a sense of responsibility, to be an active voice on behalf of those who have managed to succeed regardless of all the obstacles and challenges they have faced.

Today, Saudi Arabia has transitioned from being a silent player to a present and impactful voice in almost every aspect out there, and the good news is that the best is yet to come.

• Nada Al-Tuwaijri is an adviser at the Saudi Ministry of Media.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Finding your educational passion

Time: July 01, 2019  

How many of you are in jobs that have nothing to do with your educational background?
I found myself in a job that was indirectly coherent with my educational background in political science. I was a journalist by heart, and hopefully still am, but I did not think that journalism would fit into my career path.
To me, it was fancy to work where I did, my vision and path were not very clear, and at the start, I did not manage to find a link between my job and my education.
Many studies have shown that a large percentage of high school students choose their university major based on social pressure and pressure from parents. This reminds me of a young Saudi who spent seven years going from one major to another — from finance to engineering to business management — until he gathered the courage to pursue a childhood dream and become a chef. I asked him what the peak monthly salary of a well-known chef is. “Up to $200,000,” he said. His reply reflected the fact that it is not what you do but how well you do it.
In 2013, I started thinking: What does it take for a young Saudi to become a successful politician? The answer was not “connections,” but “the right characteristics.” When it comes to education, there are two types of people: The practical and the theoretical (the ones who end up doing PhDs, as if there are not enough professors in the world). How is being theoretical or practical related to finding the right job?
When I was about to graduate, I was exploring options. Like most of my fellow students, I thought: “I’ll follow in my father’s footsteps and become a very successful banker.”
That never happened as I was saved by reality and Liz Reece, a higher-education consultant who locked me in a room and asked me to take a personality test. According to the result, I was meant to be a social sciences graduate, and I was given my best options in terms of majors and universities.
But what about that internship I did in JP Morgan? Reece’s response was: “That’ll look great on your CV dear, but it’s time to move on.” I took the results and went for a long walk, when it suddenly hit me: “Yes, I do have the characteristics to become the next president of cupcakes, so let it be.”
My point is that it is never too early to acknowledge your skills. In fact, the earlier the better so you do not waste time jumping from one major to another and spending 13 years in university, followed by a really boring job that has nothing to do with your interest or passion.
Does that mean that during my long walk I knew exactly what I wanted out of my educational and career life? Absolutely not. I was luckily redirected to the right path that fits my characteristics. Not until my first big accomplishment did I realize that I am in the right career.
Finding your educational passion (either theoretical or practical, by discovering your skills at an early age) will make your experience memorable. Finding the right job does not necessarily mean that if you studied information technology (IT) then you must be an IT manager for the rest of your life. You could be an excellent addition to any innovation lab in the world (with your skills and experience).
According to a study by a Saudi professor, 58 percent of male students and 65 percent of female students face difficulties in choosing the right major, due to their lack of understanding of their potential and passion. That begs the question: Are Saudi students given a chance to explore and utilize their potential?
I believe that the infusion of creativity, art, culture and other subjects in the Saudi education system has widened students’ horizons. Finding the right formula can grant you a wonderful journey, so I wish you the best of luck!

Nada Al-Tuwaijri is the communications managing director at the Misk Art Institute.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi youth must be on crest of wave for change

Time: June 01, 2019  

I have noticed recently that in every social setup the most dominating conversation in the room is “the wave of change in Saudi Arabia,” where the youth have become seekers of knowledge and innovation in a bid to ride the wave.

However, the real question is why has the Kingdom developed from a society that had always been programmed into a certain system, into one that is moving out of its comfort zone in the pursuit of growth?

I genuinely believe that young people have matured to understand the potential we have as a country and when this type of awareness hits home, not even the sky is the limit.

Nevertheless, the reality is that change is never easy. Some heavyweight challenges are in the pipeline and the youth will require patience.

History reveals that Saudi Arabia is not alone in meeting the challenge of change. In every developed country in the world, whether in Europe, Asia, the US or the Middle East, there was always a point where change seemed almost impossible. But then suddenly the struggle and patience paid off. The UAE is a prime example.

It is crucial that the country invests not only in the economy but also in its human relationships with the rest of the world, with the Saudi youth riding the crest of the wave.

Nada Al-Tuwaijri

The world perceives the UAE as a well-advanced country with huge economic potential in areas such as entertainment, science, culture, medicine and technology through its many strategic partnerships in key global markets. And it would seem the country has always been that way.

Yet the perception reflects enormous efforts to position the UAE on the global stage and proves that change is possible in a relatively short time with the right mindset, collaboration and sense of unity.

It is reassuring to know that the UAE shares the same values, culture and beliefs as Saudi Arabia which also has very similar potentials.

Regardless of the similarities the Kingdom might share with neighboring countries, Saudi Arabia has its own unique identity.

As the nation travels on its historic journey of change, it is only a matter of time before it reaches its desired level of growth. It is crucial that the country invests not only in the economy but also in its human relationships with the rest of the world, with the Saudi youth riding the crest of the wave.

 

• Nada Al-Tuwaijri is an adviser at the Saudi Ministry of Media.

This article was first published in Arab News

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