Saudi Arabia's insecurity

From an essay by Alain Gresh titled "Saudi Arabia's great fear", in Le Monde Diplomatique:

L’appui aux rebelles syriens fait consensus dans l’opinion saoudienne (sauf au sein de la minorité chiite) ; en revanche, le soutien au renversement du président égyptien Mohamed Morsi, en juillet 2013, suscite plus de controverses. « Pour la première fois, nous entendons des critiques, confie, sous couvert d’anonymat, un journaliste influent. “Pourquoi soutenons-nous le renversement d’un président qui se réclame de l’islam ? Pourquoi engloutissons-nous des milliards de dollars en Egypte à l’heure où nos problèmes de logement ou de pauvreté sont si importants ?” » Naguère inaudible, ce malaise s’exprime sur les réseaux sociaux que les autorités cherchent, sans grand succès, à brider. « Dans un monde arabe où les puissances traditionnelles que sont l’Irak, la Syrie ou l’Egypte s’effacent, absorbées par leurs problèmes internes, de plus en plus de forces se tournent vers nous. Et nous ne sommes pas capables de leur répondre. Nous sommes impuissants à régler les crises en Irak ou à Bahreïn, sans même parler de la Syrie », poursuit notre interlocuteur.

The article is also available in English, here. The article notes intra-GCC tensions (not just with Qatar) and the hesitation in much of the region with the Saudi position on the MB, as well as the Iran and US issue.

Dennis Ross and the Saudis

Dennis Ross' call for Obama to "soothe the Saudis" is hardly surprising for this pre-eminent supporter of the status-quo in US Middle East policy since the 1990s, with of course the usual focus on Iran (i.e. against the nuclear talks). But the bit about Egypt is telling too: 

Egypt and Syria will be harder nuts to crack. But focusing on our common strategic objectives is a starting point: preventing Egypt from becoming a failed state, ensuring that jihadis cannot gain footholds in Egypt or Syria, and stopping the genocide in Syria. Perhaps, on Egypt -- where the Saudis cannot afford to be Egypt's ATM forever -- the president could offer to lift the hold on key weapons in return for the Saudis using their influence to get Egypt to finalize an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

If you think what's most important to achieve in Egypt these days is an IMF agreement, you're not just cynical, you're delusional. Ross is as toxic on Saudi Arabia as he is on Israel.

Lunch with the FT: Prince Turki al-Faisal

On America:

“For the Kingdom, it is a matter of putting our foot down, where in the past we did not. It is a matter of accepting reality. You have to acknowledge the world has changed. Obama’s speech to the UN last September made it clear that America will be concentrating exclusively on Palestine and Iran, and for everywhere else – Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Mali, Iraq, Egypt, and so on – you will have to fend for yourself. So whether it is collecting your [Saudi Arabia’s] own resources to do that, or reaching out to others in the area to help you overcome these challenges, we are adjusting to the reality of a retreating America.”

Also reminded me that he stepped down after 24 years as head of intelligence only 10 days before 9/11.

Dennis Ross' tortuous logic

Dennis Ross writes on the Room for Debate blog of the NYT, on the question Saudi support for Egypt:

For the Saudis, there are two strategic threats in the region: Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis back certain opposition forces in Syria to weaken Iran and they support the Egyptian military to undermine the Brotherhood. We will not persuade the Saudis by arguing that the military is overplaying its hand.
If we want to move the Saudis on Egypt, we must address their strategic concerns; meaning, for example, that we must convince them that we are prepared either to change the balance of power in Syria or that we will, in fact, prevent the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.

That sounds more like what Dennis Ross wants the US to do (i.e. more hawkish positions on Iran and Syria) than something that the Saudis would genuinely take into consideration. For if they are concerned about the MB, why would they adjust that concern based on the Iran question? And why should the US decide to shift its positions on Iran simply because of the Egypt question?

Saudi thinking on Egypt

Saudi Arabia has taken a very strong stance in support of the Egyptian military's overthrow of Morsi and the Muslim Brothers. The piece below, published in Saudi's al-Watan, has some glimpses on the al-Saud regime's thinking on this, and especially the role of the US. An experienced Saudi-watcher tell us that the interview, ostensibly with an analyst, actually conveys the views of very high-level officials, most notably their tiff with Washington over the handling of Egyptian crisis.

(I'm not sure who did the translation, though.)  

Saudi Expert Reveals to Elwatannews: King Abdullah to Obama: If Providing Aid to Egypt Burdens You, We Will Provide Double Your Aid”

Ahmed Al Ibrahim: Obama demands suspending aid to Egypt and the King refuses

By Mohamed Hassan Amer

“Obama dealt with the demands of Egypt as if they were demands of his hometown Chicago. He disregarded the interests of Egypt. It would be the Kingdom’s turn next should Egypt fall”. In these words, Ahmad Al Ibrahim, Saudi expert in Saudi-US relations described the Kingdom’s position on the events in Egypt and the pressure exercised by the US Administration following the dispersal of Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda sit-ins.

According to Al Ibrahim, KSA and General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recognised that the “US fierce defence of the Brotherhood confirmed that they had made outrageous promises to the US against the interests of the region. It is therefore urgent to put an end to thisconspiracy.” Al Ibrahim reiterated that the Obama administration proved to be a failure and unworthy of the Kingdom’s trust. But having a wise man like al-Sisi in Egypt ushers in a huge, Arab political cooperation.

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A Saudi Arabia made in the USA

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Will Saudi Arabia Ever Change? by Hugh Eakin | The New York Review of Books

Hugh Eakin on Saudi in NYRB provides an overview of post Arab uprisings Saudi Arabia in this review of three new books on the kingdom:

With three quarters of its own citizens now under the age of thirty, Saudi Arabia faces many of the same social problems as Egypt and Yemen. By some estimates, nearly 40 percent of Saudis between the ages of twenty and twenty-four are unemployed, and quite apart from al-Qaeda, there is a long and troubled history of directionless young men drawn to radicalism. The country suffers from a housing crisis and chronic inflation, there have been recurring bouts of domestic terrorism, and the outskirts of Riyadh and Jeddah are plagued by poverty, drugs, and street violence—problems that are not acknowledged to exist in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.

On top of this, Saudi Arabia also seems to possess several of the attributes that have led to broader revolt in neighboring countries. There is a restive and well-organized Shia minority in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, who have engaged in a series of street protests since early 2011. And young men and women all over the country are exceptionally well connected by new media: only Egypt ranks ahead in Facebook usage in the region; a higher proportion of Saudis now use Twitter and YouTube than almost any other nation in the world. This has made it easier to expose alleged corruption by members of the royal family, as one anonymous Twitter user, “Mujtahidd,” with apparent inside sources, has been doing, attracting more than 800,000 followers in the process. (A mujtahid is a scholar with independent authority to interpret Islamic law.

This youth crisis — some call it a lost generation produced by an incompetent and ultra-conservative educational system — and Saudi Arabia's structural economic problems were touched upon by occasional Arabist contributor Nathan Field here.

There's one particularly intriguing book Eakin reviews:

The reasons Saudi Arabia became the authoritarian US client state we know today—rather than the more pluralistic society this early experience might have foretold—is the subject of Sarah Yizraeli’s revelatory new study, Politics and Society in Saudi Arabia: The Crucial Years of Development, 1960–1982. A senior research fellow and Arabist at Tel Aviv University, Yizraeli has managed to penetrate Saudi society from afar in ways that have eluded journalists and scholars with more direct access. Although she is apparently barred from entering Saudi Arabia as an Israeli citizen, she has long had a following among specialists for her mastery of obscure Saudi and international source material. Significantly, she focuses not on the much-studied decades since 1979, during which an Islamist awakening pushed the regime to reassert its Wahhabi credentials and impose sweeping restrictions on cultural life, but on the largely neglected preceding era.

Intricate in its accumulation of detail and nuance, the story Yizraeli tells is nevertheless stark in its conclusions. During the 1960s and 1970s, exploiting its unprecedented oil wealth, Saudi Arabia was able to build with great speed a technologically advanced, economically self-sufficient welfare state. Far from a project driven by the US and Aramco, however, this radical transformation was masterminded by the royal family itself (above all by King Faisal, who after a power struggle succeeded Saud in 1964) and expressly designed to strengthen its rule and neutralize any pressure for political reform.

Described by Yizraeli as “defensive change,” this strategy involved creating a vast central administration that could co-opt competing factions of society even as it broke down traditional tribal loyalties. Crucial to the state were the assertion of the monarchy’s Islamic roots and the consequent need to separate economic development from political and religious institutions, which could not be tampered with; and the embrace of an ideal of broad consensus that served to isolate and marginalize proponents of more radical reforms.

Equally provocative is Yizraeli’s careful dissection of US policy beginning in the 1960s. Up to the early years of the Johnson administration, she observes, the State Department assumed that economic and social development was supposed to produce representative government, and put constant pressure on the Al Saud to open up the political system. “So consistently did the American Ambassadors to Saudi Arabia…highlight the issue of political and social reform,” Yizraeli writes, that at a meeting with then US Ambassador Hermann Eilts, Faisal “once responded by exclaiming: ‘Does the US want Saudi Arabia to become another Berkeley campus?’” But all this came to an abrupt end in the mid-1960s, when Washington began to take a paramount interest in curbing the spread of Nasserism and promoting the US-led industrialization that Faisal championed: “Stop pushing the Saudis on internal reform,” Secretary of State Dean Rusk advised Eilts, “the king knows what is in his own best interest.”

Thus King Faisal, the robust defender of Al Saud absolutism who by the early 1970s had thousands of political prisoners in his jails, quickly became seen in Washington as the ruler who “modernized the kingdom.” In effect, the US endorsed a state-building strategy that brought American companies such as Chevron, Bechtel, and Lockheed Martin billions of dollars of contracts and investments while giving the monarchy and the religious establishment an ever-growing hold on Saudi society. This was a fateful decision. It fostered years of disregard for human rights and an abysmal record of stirring up violent jihadism, and both continue to this day.

The same US policy towards Saudi Arabia — based on what another Israeli scholar calls the "weapondollar-petrodollar coalition" — continues to this day.

Fixing Saudi unemployment — more than creating jobs

This is a guest post by Nathan Field — a little break from Egypt, Gaza and all that.

Great Tuesday Washington Post piece by Kevin Sullivan on Saudi women and unemployment. The part at the end on Saudi labor policy and the two-tier labor force is critical.

What Sullivan doesn’t address in much detail though is how the presence of so many foreign workers has distorted wages in the private sector, and causes the unemployment problem to persist in a country where there are literally millions of jobs that Saudis could be working.

Importing foreign labor was necessary initially because for the first several decades of the Kingdom’s development the Saudi labor force was not nearly large enough. Harder to understand is why the situation has been allowed to persist through the present, when despite a reasonably qualified Saudi labor force, the ongoing option of easily hiring workers from countries such as the Philippines and India still exists.

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✚ Cameron Gulf tour to mend trade links

Cameron Gulf tour to mend trade links

From the FT:

Mr Cameron will sidestep concerns over regional security and human rights as he pushes British military exports in an effort to get the UK economy moving again. Although the prime minister is expected to raise issues such as Saudi Arabia’s record on suppressing minorities and political opponents, the overwhelming focus of the trip will be commercial.

A Downing Street adviser said: “Pushing commercial interests and promoting human rights go hand-in-hand. But it is worth noting that Saudi Arabia recently came very high on the Human Development Index.”

Worth noting!

How textbooks protect the al-Sauds

How nasty textbooks protect the al-Sauds

From piece on textbooks around the world in The Economist:

Other people’s textbooks have long been a source of worry. After the first world war, the League of Nations sought to make them less nationalistic. Anxieties increased, though, after the attacks on America on September 11th 2001, when some in both America and Saudi Arabia, including officials, supposed that Saudi Arabia’s curriculum of intolerance was responsible, at least in part, for the emergence of al-Qaeda’s brutal brand of jihad. Buffeted by the criticism, Saudi rulers promised reform. From King Abdullah down, Saudis have insisted repeatedly that the intolerant bits of their teaching materials have been removed. But in a stubbornly autocratic country that adheres to a puritanical Wahhabism, there is a lot of intolerance to go round.

The Institute for Gulf Affairs (IGA), a think-tank and human-rights lobby in Washington, DC, reports that much of the material that provoked fury in the West after September 2001 is still used in Saudi classrooms today. Ali al-Ahmed, director of the IGA and author of a forthcoming work on Saudi textbooks, cites such examples as “The Jews and Christians are enemies of the believers”, and “The Jews occupied Palestine with the help of the crusaders’ malevolence towards Islam… But the Muslims will not remain silent”. The Saudi education minister says the books are being revised—but that it will take another three years. Mr Ahmed says change is not happening sooner “because the state would be putting its survival at risk. The purpose of education is to ensure social obedience to the ruler.”

Citing U.S. Fears, Arab Allies Limit Aid to Syrian Rebels

✚ Citing U.S. Fears, Arab Allies Limit Aid to Syrian Rebels

Robert Worth, writing in Riyadh for the NYT, sees growing sign of Saudi buyers' remorse on their backing for jihadists in Syria — US reluctance is an excuse:

Many Saudi and Qatari officials now fear that the fighting in Syria is awakening deep sectarian animosities and, barring such intervention, could turn into an uncontrollable popular jihad with consequences far more threatening to Arab governments than the Afghan war of the 1980s.

“If the killing continues, the youth will not listen to wise voices,” said Salman al-Awda, one of this country’s most prominent clerics, in an interview at his office here. “They will find someone who will encourage them, and they will go.”

Already, there are signs of an uptick in the number of young men crossing illegally into Syria from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries, and of private fund-raising efforts across the gulf to help the rebels acquire heavier weapons. The fighting has also spilled into Turkey, which shelled Syria for four days last week after a Syrian shell killed five Turkish civilians.

Saudi Arabia has long had an antagonistic relationship with the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and sees itself as the protector of Syria’s Sunni majority in a country governed by Mr. Assad’s Alawite minority. But the prospect of an increasingly sectarian civil war in Syria is deeply troubling to many here, where the Afghan jihad spawned a generation of battle-tested zealots who returned home and waged a bloody insurgency that was brought under control only recently.

“The government really doesn’t want to repeat the experience we had with the guys who went to Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Mshari al-Zaydi, a Saudi columnist and an expert on jihadi movements. “The damage from Al Qaeda was worse in Saudi Arabia than it was in the U.S.A.”

The fight in Syria is now terrible, but imagine what the fight will be like when the various countries backing the rebels start backing individual factions...

Osama Bin Laden And The Saudi Muslim Brotherhood

✚ Osama Bin Laden And The Saudi Muslim Brotherhood

Enlightening piece by Stephane Lacroix in FP on the Saudi Brotherhood(s):

From the days of Hassan al-Banna, the Saudi monarchy made it clear that it wouldn't allow the Brotherhood to establish a section in the kingdom. Yet from the late 1960s onward, different groups of Saudis influenced by Egyptian and Syrian Brotherhood exiles started creating local semi-clandestine organizations claiming an affiliation to the MB. A sign that this was the result of a bottom-up dynamic, not a top-down creation, is that four such distinct organizations saw the light at about the same time: one in the western province, called the Brotherhood of the Hejaz (ikhwan al-Hijaz); and three in the central region -- two named after their alleged founder, the Brotherhood of al-Sulayfih (ikhwan al-Sulayfih) and the Brotherhood of al-Funaysan (ikhwan al-Funaysan), and one called the Brotherhood of Zubayr (ikhwan al-Zubayr) because it was established by Saudis whose families had lived in Zubayr, in Southern Iraq. Although the four groups attempted to coordinate their activities and saw themselves as part of one broader entity, they never managed to formally merge.

These groups of Saudi Brothers maintained links to the MB in Egypt and elsewhere, but, because of the sensitivity of the topic, those links remained loose and were never formalized. For instance, Saudi Brothers sometimes attended meetings of the Brotherhood's international organization in the 1980s, but officially they did so in their individual capacity, not as representatives of their organization. Also, Saudi Brothers generally did not pledge allegiance to the supreme guide in Cairo, as members of the Brotherhood are usually required, because, as Saudi citizens, they were already bound by an oath to the Saudi King. In terms of ideology, Saudi Brothers were also quite different from their counterparts elsewhere: although they did read Hassan al-Banna, Sa‘id Hawwa, and Sayyid Qutb, they were also heavily influenced by Salafi authors whom they quoted on issues of creed and on certain issues of fiqh.

If and when Syria is run by the MB, and if and when the MB strengthen their position in Jordan, the al-Sauds will have to start really worrying about their local MB.

The Iranian rial and the price of Saudi chicken

Any connection here? 

The Iranian Regime Is In Trouble - World Report

The devaluation of Iran's currency, the rial, by as much as 40 percent in the last few days has made it very difficult for the average Iranian to afford everyday food stuffs. It is no surprise that protests have broken out in Tehran's central bazaar and its surrounding streets. The bazaar is a critical pillar of support for the Iranian regime. The loss of confidence among Iran's merchant and business classes could shake the foundations of the Islamic Republic.

Chicken price rises lead Saudis to tweet - FT.com

Saudi Arabians are forgoing one of their favourite foods as a Twitter campaign against high poultry prices spreads.

The “Let it Rot” campaign urges Saudis to refrain from eating chicken to punish traders who they say have raised prices by about 40 per cent in the past two weeks.

Saudi Arabia is a leading supplier of chicken, a staple in the country, to neighbouring countries and an export ban imposed this week in an effort to defuse the anger is likely to trigger regional shortages.

One would think not if Saudi chicken are domestically produced. Still, there's much schadenfreude about the troubles of the Iranian economy (which appear not to target regime officials, as "smart sanction" advocates argued, but ordinary people in the hope that this will put pressure on the government — something that led to a disaster in Iraq) and much less about Saudi Arabia's.  

Here's an argument that the rial's devaluation is not as serious as might appear, because the government itself is the main foreign currency earner. The conclusion:

Does all this mean that Iran’s economy is on the verge of collapse, as Israel’s Finance Minster reportedly said?  The answer is no, because most of the economy is shielded from this exchange rate, though not from the ill effects of the sanctions, which will continue to bite for a while. Would it cause sufficient economic pain that would push the Iranian government to make concessions in its nuclear standoff with the West?  The answer is not likely.  The multiple exchange rate system, as inefficient as it is, will protect the people below the median income, to whom the Ahmadinejad government is most responsive.

Update: Paul Mutter has a round-up of the issue of the Iranian rial at PBS' TehranBureau

Syria and Saudi Arabia: tyranny versus tyranny

✚ Syria and Saudi Arabia: tyranny versus tyranny

Brian Whitaker:

In the debate on Syria at the UN General Assembly last week, Bashar al-Jaafari, the Syrian representative, hit back at Arab Gulf states which have lined up against the Assad regime, accusing them of dishonest motives. To quote the Syrian government news agency's report of his speech ...

"Al-Jaafari added that some of the countries that adopted the draft, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, cannot be considered as examples of democracy and respecting human rights, as these countries are governed by oligarchic, tyrannical regimes that don't hesitate to suppress their people and murder protesters, adding that the state of human rights and basic liberties in them is considered among the worst in the world according to documented reports by human rights organisations and opposition sources abroad."

Bearing in mind that Jaafari was himself speaking on behalf of an oligarchical, tyrannical regime – and one that has committed atrocities on a far greater scale that the regimes that he named – he did nevertheless make a valid point. 

The Arab Gulf states' hostility towards Assad is not based on a principled stance against dictatorship, and this creates an opening that the Assad regime can – and probably will – exploit. 

Being a woman IT professional in Saudi Arabia

This morning, Saudi (update: she was born in Saudi but is not Saudi) IT professional Ruba al-Omari tried for the umpteenth time to attend an IT event in Jeddah. Most of the time she's tried this before, she had to be segregated or what she calls "IT mutawwas" would ask her to leave. She tweeted about her experience, and I Storified it below. I thought it illustrated rather well the ordinary struggles of a woman in the kingdom of backwardness. 
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The Saudis and Syria

I don't get it — does Saudi Arabia support a ceasefire or a continued insurrection in Syria? It can't be both!

Syrian official takes hard line on troop withdrawal

‘‘I believe we all agree on the need for an immediate cease-fire to the systematic killing,’’ Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said at a joint news conference with Clinton.

He said arming the Syrian opposition is a ‘‘duty’’ so that it can defend itself against Assad’s onslaught.

Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have spoken about possible military intervention, from arming Syria’s badly overmatched rebels to creating safe zones from which the rebels can operate.

Saudi Mufti: destroy the churches!

Brian's Coffeehouse: Destroy the Churches!:

The declaration of Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Abd al-Aziz b. Abdullah that all churches in the Arabian Peninsula should be destroyed is getting some attention. I first saw this a few days ago at Crossroads Arabia and thought little of it. Saying offensive and somewhat crazy extreme things is practically the job description for the head of that country's religious establishment, which fears the moral collapse of society if women start driving cars.

The Mufti of Saudi Arabia: possibly one of the most dangerous a-holes in a country led by a-holes that the United States has been protecting for the last 60 years. Compare with Iran: they may be religious fanatics too, but so much more tolerant.

Saudi Arabia's unrest in Qatif

Here's a piece on a topic that gets scant coverage generally speaking — the wave of protests and dissidence that has hit Saudi Arabia over the last year. Jess Hill in the Global Mail:

It's all happening in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, home to most of the Kingdom's Shia minority, and 90 per cent of its oil. Seven people have been shot dead by Saudi security forces since October 2011, two in the past month alone. The Saudi Interior Ministry says these deaths resulted from gun battles between protesters and police. But in all amateur videos that show protesters being shot, there is no evidence that protesters were shooting back.

There have been remarkable scenes of rebellion. One photograph, taken on February 10 this year, shows a young man hurling an effigy of Crown Prince Nayef at a row of armoured anti-riot tanks. It's an extraordinary provocation. Prince Nayef is not only the head of the Interior Ministry - he's also the heir to the throne.

But it's not just a few people defying the Prince. On February 13, at a funeral for the most recent 'martyr', 21-year-old Zuhair al Said, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets, chanting "No Sunna, No Shia, but Islamic unity! We're not afraid, down with Nayef! You're the terrorist, you're the criminal, you're the butcher, ya Nayef!"

"We will never rest, country of oppressors! Son of Saud [royal family], hear the voice! We will never give up 'til death!" Prince Nayef responded with his own threat. On February 20, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said these protests were the 'new terrorism', and were being 'manipulated from abroad' (read: Iran). The Ministry would confront them with 'an iron fist', he said, just like it confronted Al Qaeda.

A lot of interesting background there on Qatif, the oil rich region that is mostly Shia, and the specter of Bahrain that hangs over it (and which explains why the West rushed to support Saudi Arabia's intervention in Bahrain). A real uprising in Qatif, targeting petroleum installations, could choke Saudi production and send global oil markets spiraling out of control.

(On a tech note: mixed feelings about the side-scrolling layout on globalmail.com — one of the one hand it renders magazine-style articles well, but on the other hand cut-and-paste is tricky. Still, nice to see a publication think outside the box.)

Hamza Kashgari, social media and the Saudis' dual monarchy

Hamza KashgariThe National reports that the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has “issued a fatwa against Twitter, demanding that ‘real Muslims’ avoid it, calling it a ‘platform for trading accusations and for promoting lies’.”

The pretext for this condemnation of social media is the case of the Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari, who was extradited from Malaysia to the Kingdom after tweeting about the Prophet Muhammad in a manner that the religious authorities deemed blasphemous. If the Saudis wish to make an example, he will be facing blasphemy charges, and possibly death, rather than a lesser (though still absurd) sentencing that would end in him paying a fine. There’s also talk of taking action against anyone who retweeted his messages.

But considering that thousands of Twitter users called attention to Kashgari’s tweets, literally demanding his head, it’s ironic that the Grand Mufti says Muslims should stay off Twitter, since clearly, many salafis are using, and policing it.

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The regional diplomacy of Syria

Here's a little mix of links under the theme "Diplomacy on Syria as a subset of, Iran-Saudi/UAE/Qatar, Sunni-Shia rivalries and the US-Saudi-Israel alliance", a riff off Roula Khalaf's good analysis piece in the FT, Riyadh plays its hand over Syria:

Jamal Khashoggi, the prominent Saudi commentator, sees Syria policy now as part of “the war against Iran”, one strand of a multifaceted battle that includes Saudi support for the European oil embargo and western financial restrictions on the Islamic republic. Amid growing confidence that the kingdom has escaped the winds of change sweeping through the region, he adds, the attitude in Riyadh is “let’s get the most” out of the situation.

Yet no one in Riyadh is under any illusion about the complexity of the crisis in Syria – a country with a delicate sectarian balance and a strategic position in both the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Sunni Arab states’ power struggle with Shia Iran. The conflict on the ground, moreover, has become increasingly militarised as defectors challenge Mr Assad’s security forces, and the government loses control of parts of the country.

Saudi Arabia has now given fresh ammunition to western allies at the UN Security Council to push back against Russia, which has so far blocked action. The Arab League is asking the Security Council to adopt a peace plan that calls on Mr Assad to give powers to a vice-president and form a national unity government.

The rest of the links:

[Thanks, PM]