Geopolitics

ARABICA - A Daily Shot Of What the Arab World is Saying/Hearing/Sharing

ARABICA - A Daily Shot Of What the Arab World is Saying/Hearing/Sharing

For the third time in five days, Muammar Gaddafi spoke to Libyans, friend and foe.

A R A B I C A ارابيكا

By Kristen Gillespie


LATEST FROM LIBYA

*For the third time in five days, Muammar Gaddafi spoke to Libyans, friend and foe. This time, the Libyan leader made his shout-filled appeal in central Tripoli, directly to a mid-sized crowd of supporters, vowing to "open up the arsenals' on those who defied his rule.

*As much as his declarations, the fate of Gaddafi and his country will depend on the balance of force in the streets in what increasingly looks like the beginnings of an outright civil war. A witness in Tripoli told Reuters that five people were killed when security forces opened fire on protesters in the capital's suburb of Ganzor. Other reports indicate that Gaddafi loyalists opened fire on demonstrators pouring into Tripoli mosques on Friday, but the situation remains chaotic, with independent verification difficult at best.

*BBC Arabic posted a photographic retrospective of Muammar Gaddafi's 41 years in the public eye. Surveying the brutal scene unfolding across Libya, it is easy to forget that Gaddafi was once a dashing military hero who led the charge to depose a despised monarchy.

FRIDAY, FRIDAY

*Another region-wide "day of rage" protests, extending from countries where regimes have fallen (Tunisia, Egypt) or are cracking down on dissent (Libya, Yemen) or trying to reconcile with aspirations for democracy (Jordan, Iraq).

*This from Jordanian tweetster @samihtoukan: "Jordan is the only country where protesters are not being violently confronted by police. I applaud the government for this and we will represent peaceful change."

FACEBOOK FROM ABOVE

*One week after he and his government resigned, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad launched a Facebook page to solicit opinions from citizens. President Mahmoud Abbas has charged Fayyad with forming a new government.

*Today he posted the question about the dreaded Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, security and intelligence services: "What are the most important points that need to be considered for the short-term?" Just five hours after the question was posted, 128 people "liked" it, and 139 people commented.

*A quick sampling of comments on the page: 1. Recover Gaza in any way possible.....2. There is a lack of interest in the families of martyrs. They should receive benefits in order to live a life of dignity...3. There is nothing more important than finding jobs for young people.

CRACK DOWN FROM ABOVE

*Syrian blogger Ahmad Abu-Khair was arrested six days ago without charge and then released without explanation. His blog ahmadblogs.net posts articles about "how to bypass blocked sites, information revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, and the possibility of achieving that in other countries," said the Syrian Association for Human Rights, which publicized his release. Ahmad's most recent post was on January 26th with an entry called "7 fast steps to bypass the ban on facebook and Twitter!"

*Egyptian twitterers posted a video of a security official ordering law enforcement to be merciless with protesters. @Alshaheeed: "After the revolution a local head of security says, we are the masters of the people." Standing outside with a group of security personnel and soldiers, the security chief publicly ordered them to arrest and "cut the hand off" anyone who threatens public order.

Feb. 25, 2011

photo credit: illustir

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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