A R A B I C A ارابيكا
TRUTH AND/OR BETRAYAL
*Omar Suleiman, the man who headed Egypt's feared intelligence services for 20 years, and who announced President Hosni Mubarak's resignation on live television in February, testified in front of a criminal court that the former president had "full knowledge of every bullet fired into Tahrir Square at protesters." Mubarak "knew about every person, including children, killed and injured by the bullets," Suleiman said, adding that "at no point did he order it to stop."
CIVIL AND/OR TRIBAL WAR
*Just hours after ordering his tribal supporters not to delay any further, armed tribesmen loyal to Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar raided and captured a major military base belonging to the elite Republican Guard led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh's son Ahmed. In a speech to tribesmen on Friday, al-Ahmer announced a truce between him and Saleh. But he also warned, "if Saleh wants a peaceful revolution, we are ready for that, but if he wants war, we will crush him."
POLICE STATE IN SYRIA
*Lebanon's A-Safir newspaper quotes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad telling a youth gathering in Damascus that the country "must pass through several stages before it reaches an ideal situation." During the meeting, the president made more of his typically vague and stilted declarations, acknowledging "the need to develop developmental thinking and to realize this through projects carried out by young people, assuring in this context that the reform process, although delayed, will continue and that there is no going back."
*Meanwhile, Syrian security forces shot and killed at least eight civilians during protests around the country following Friday prayers.
PIOUS POLICE IN SAUDI ARABIA
*The Al-Riyadh newspaper reports that the German Tourism Commission withdrew its participation in the Riyadh International Travel Exhibition after one of its female representatives was unduly harassed by the religious police. Members of the Committee to Prevent Vice and Promote Virture stormed into the exhibition hall, and ordered the German woman to go and change out of her abaya, the black cloak, because it had a red stripe on it. The men also ordered the woman "not to speak with any of the men at the event," the paper reported. "We are ending our participation in this exhibition because of the strange behavior of the strange men who entered the hall in a frightening manner," said one of the German commission's representatives.
May 27, 2011
photo credit: illustir
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.
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.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.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.
For 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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