JORDAN: ROUGH POLITICS
In Jordan's Lower House of Parliament, largely wedded to the status quo, Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit barely managed to win a 53-50 vote of confidence following accusations of involvement in a murky casino deal involving King Abdullah's closest advisers and confidantes. The representatives already voted to indict former Tourism Minister Osama Dabbas on corruption charges. But in an extraordinary act for Jordanian politics, Dabbas returned this week to the small city of Salt, the heart of his tribal support base, and promptly blamed senior officials for the scandal at an open press conference. Dabbas said he refused to serve as a scapegoat for the aborted casino-construction project, blaming the head of the intelligence agency and a former confidante to the king for orchestrating the deal.
BAHRAIN: TICKET HOME
Moheet.com quotes official sources as saying that the 1,000 Saudi soldiers currently guarding key government buildings in Bahrain will begin withdrawing next week. Soldiers from the UAE and Saudi Arabia arrived in Bahrain in March to help quell the insurrection there against the ruling Al Khalifa family.
EGYPT: DINOSAUR TWEETS
Wael Ghonim tweets about government officials: "Government dinosaurs: Old, thinking little, making many mistakes, moving slowly, devoid of vision, weak of hearing and severely damaging anyone around them."
Al Jazeera features a question-and-answer interview with Tunisian writer Habib al-Salaami, who just published "The women of al-Bustan" in Arabic, a story of a modest family living in the Tunisian capital. On Tunisia , al-Salaami says that "society is the result of ambivalence and acceptance of the control of what some would call extremist religious thought." Add to that the layer of repression exercised by deposed President Ben Ali for decades "who rulsed Tunisia based on fear. And this has impacted the behavior of the Tunisian, who doesn't feel safe with anyone and resorts to deceit, lying and hypocrisy to protect himself."
Al-Salaami says that other, larger themes unite the Arab world: Swinging between "past and present, between tradition and modernity, between tradition that still has a strong presence in the patterns of our thinking and the desire for modernization."
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.
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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