21st Century News
In an analysis of the ongoing dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar published on June 12, this writer had commented that the “Saudis might have bitten off more than they can chew.” That is what appears to be happening, according to the latest developments in the region.
When the Saudis and their allies—the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain—announced breaking of diplomatic relations and imposition of a blockade against Qatar on June 5 for “sponsoring terrorism,” they expected Qatar to capitulate to their demands quickly, within days. However, that has not happened so far, more than a month later.
If anything, Qatar has hardened its stand and categorically rejected the threats and ultimatums issued by the Saudis and their friends, refusing to succumb to their pressure. The Qatari Foreign Minister has said that Qatar will “never surrender our sovereignty to end the siege” and saw “little chance of a rapid reconciliation.” Qatar has also reminded the UAE that 80% of its electricity supplies depended on the export of Qatari gas to the Emirates.
Earlier, on June 23, the Saudis and their allies had presented a list of 13 “demands” to Qatar with an ultimatum to accept them within ten days. According to some analysts, the demands were so unreasonable that they were “designed to be refused.” Their acceptance by Qatar would have meant complete loss of its sovereignty and subjugation to Saudi Arabia.
The demands included, inter-alia, severance of diplomatic relations with Iran; end of Qatari support to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and some other Islamist groups; closure of the Qatari TV channel Al Jazeera; and alignment of Qatar’s policies with those of the other Gulf and Arab countries.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain have a particular dislike for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) because it does not accept the primacy of absolute Arab monarchies. MB offers an alternative model of Islamic government by adopting some democratic participation of the people in the political process. Qatar’s funding and support to the MB is seen by some Gulf regimes as an existential threat.
Secondly, the Saudi action against Qatar for “sponsoring terrorism” rings hollow, because Saudi Arabia is widely viewed as the biggest financier and supporter of terrorist groups in the world. The Kingdom’s client, Pakistan, is seen as the “ground zero” of terrorism globally, for harbouring a very large number of terrorist groups on its soil.
In addition to the demands mentioned above, Qatar was asked to terminate the Turkish military presence in the country immediately, and sign a blank cheque covering “reparations and compensation for loss of life and other financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years.” The ultimatum did not specify what would be done if Qatar did not comply with the demands.
In the event, Qatar did exactly that: it ignored the ultimatum, despite its extension—at the behest of Kuwait—for two days, till July 5. On that day the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt met in Cairo, and said they “regretted” Qatar’s “negative” response to their demands, and will enact new measures against it.
They released a Joint Statement on July 6, saying that their initial list of 13 demands was now void, and pledged new political, economic, and legal steps against Qatar..
Qatar’s non-compliance with the ultimatum is being viewed as a major embarrassment for Saudi Arabia & Company, which grossly miscalculated and did not have a Plan B in case Qatar refused to be intimidated by them.
On the other hand, Qatar, helped by its immense wealth, is preparing for the long haul by establishing new supply networks for essential commodities such as food and water. Iran and Turkey are major beneficiaries of this operation.
Though Qatar’s growing closeness to Iran and its support for the Muslim Brotherhood are two major reasons for the Saudi action against it, there are other important economic reasons also. On April 14, 2015, Qatar launched the first Chinese Yuan clearing hub in the Middle East, saying it would boost trade and investment between China and the Gulf states. Four major Chinese bankshave also identified the Gulf and the West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region as a priority area for their operations.
This cannot have been good news for the Saudis and the Americans, who want oil and gas to be priced only in US Dollars. Their pricing in Yuan would be a threat to the petrodollar hegemony.
Qatar’s wealth is based on a gas field it shares with Iran, the largest in the world. It needs good relations with Iran to exploit the gas reserves in the field, known as North Dome in Qatar and South Pars in Iran. It is, therefore, unlikely that Qatar will end its cordial relationship with Iran merely to please the Saudis. Qatar’s future economic prospects depend on cooperation with Iran, which has emerged as the biggest winner in the Saudi-Qatari spat.
If the Saudi blockade of Qatar continues, Iran’s farmers would be in a position to sell around 400,000 tonnes of food annually to Qatar, with corresponding losses for the Saudi food industry, which used to meet Qatar’s requirements. Qatari air traffic in Iranian airspace has already increased by around 17% since the closure of Saudi airspace to Qatari aircraft.
The other big gainer in the above imbroglio has been Turkey, which has already sent around 4000 tonnes of food to Doha. Some 105 Turkish cargo planes loaded with food and other aid have landed in the country.
Turkey is also bolstering its military presence in Qatar. 88 Turkish troops along with five armoured vehicles recently landed in Doha. The number of Turkish troops could go up to 1000, or even 3000, according to an agreement signed by the two countries a few years ago. A Turkish air force contingent in Qatar is also on the cards.
Qatar has taken other steps which suggest that it is preparing to face the Saudi blockade for an extended period. According to a Reuters report, Qatar plans to boost its LNG production by around 30% in the next 5 to 7 years, amounting to around 100 million tonnes per year. That would be equal to about one-third of global production of LNG, and would likely take some market share away from Saudi Arabia and other countries. Also, it could also trigger a price war, which would hurt the Saudis.
No wonder some analysts believe that Qatar has enough financial resources to face the Saudi blockade for years.
Observers also believe that the Saudis and their allies are unlikely to embark on a military invasion of Qatar. The most important reason for this assessment is that Qatar hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East—the Al Udeid air base—which is CENTCOM’s forward headquarters in the region and where around 10,000 US soldiers are deployed. The US Secretaries of State and Defence have called for a negotiated peaceful solution to the dispute. The deployment of Turkish military in Qatar has further muddied the waters.
Also, in recent statements, the UAE and Saudi foreign ministers have not threatened to invade Qatar. The UAE minister has said that the alternative [to Qatar’s non-compliance with the ultimatum] is not escalation but “parting of ways.” The Saudi foreign minister has stated that boycott of Qatar will continue until it changes its policies in line with those of Riyadh.
As things stand, it appears that the Saudi misadventure in Qatar—engineered by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Sultan (MbS), with encouragement by his “mentor,” the UAE Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed—has backfired. This is the second major Saudi fiasco attributed to MbS—the first being his invasion of Yemen two years ago, which has drained Saudi resources without achieving any objectives, other than causing large-scale death and destruction in that already impoverished country.
If MbS is rash enough to invade Qatar, he is highly unlikely to subdue that country. Qatar is not Yemen; it has immense financial resources and friends in high places, including the US, EU, and China. Invading Qatar will drive the country further into the arms of Iran, the target of the Trump-Saudi “Sunni NATO.”
MbS is also unlikely to get much support or mercenaries for invasion of Qatar even from Saudi clients such as Pakistan, which reportedly refused to openly back the Saudis against Qatar when asked by King Salman whether Pakistan was “with us or with Qatar.” In the GCC, both Kuwait and Oman have important commercial relations with Iran and have maintained their neutrality in the dispute. They do not approve of the Saudi action against Qatar.
According to one report, neither King Salman nor MbS will travel to Hamburg to participate in the forthcoming G-20 meeting in Germany, because they fear a coup if either of them leaves the country. This report may or may not be correct, but it suggests that all is not well with the Saudi Royal Family, because of the manner in which MbS was made the Crown Prince, and his follies in Yemen, and now Qatar.
The Saudi-Qatar dispute is unlikely to end anytime soon unless there is a regime change in either of them. By threatening new political and economic sanctions, the Saudis have left no room for a face-saving formula that could be acceptable to both sides. Moreover, Qatar has gained new allies such as Iran and Turkey, whose power and influence is not inconsiderable.
As a result, the geopolitics of the Persian Gulf have changed, probably irrevocably. For all practical purposes, Qatar is out of the GCC in the foreseeable future. The “Sunni NATO,” headed by a Pakistani General, is stillborn. The dynamics of the war in Syria may change, with Qatar-backed Jihadi groups becoming quieter—a gain for President Assad and a loss for the Saudis, the US, and its allies.
MbS has, single-handedly, achieved a great deal, though not in the interest of Saudi Arabia. He is likely to be preoccupied with saving his own skin—and that of his father—in the near future.
Niraj Srivastava is a former Ambassador of India who has served in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, and the United States, among other countries
READ MORE SYRIA NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire SYRIA Files
The future of postwar Syria: victory looks like Iranian Islamic Socialism
by Ramin Mazaheri
Russia’s economic output in 1921 – following World War One and then four years of (International) Civil War – was slashed by a mind-boggling 80% as compared to 1913.
The Russian Civil War was truly international because there were 14 foreign armies operating on Russian soil after 1917: The Germans occupied 25% of Russia’s former territory, the British took oil fields around Baku and furnished 1 million guns to help supply the anti-socialist counter-revolution, the Japanese settled in Siberia, the Americans, Canadians and Australians were all there, etc.
This combination of appalling destruction and foreign meddling should sound familiar to those following Syria.
And yet it took the new Soviet nation only until 1928 – just 7 years – to reach the economic output of 1913.
What is interesting here is not is how they achieved that – the pros or cons of socialism, Lenin, Trotsky, the Russian character, whatever – but the simple fact that not only is war profitable but the rebuilding is also.
Syrians can take heart in this reality, amid the ongoing effort to expel terrorists from their borders: Things will get better quickly when peace is restored and meddling, belligerent foreigners are ejected.
It’s a pleasant, and important, idea to contemplate: What will a rebuilding and rebuilt Syria will look like? What form of society will the Syrian people choose in order to move forward?
Experiencing war, as 20th century history proves, politically radicalizes the populace in the direction towards socialism and away from feudalism/capitalism.
Therefore, we can assume that the Syrian people – when sovereignty is restored – will intensely demand modern Muslim democracy. It seems very unlikely that the Assad government will stop this “radicalization” towards more democracy as they will no longer be concerned about losing their power.
Did you may find that statement surprising? The reasoning is simple: Assad and his colleagues have made their bones, and won over 2-3 generations (at least) by beating off the horrid invaders. If they give the Syrian people a postwar program they believe in and accept, they will be supported for decades despite any Western efforts to discredit and topple them. This is exactly how it played out in Iran, North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cuba, etc.
Assad won’t be the obstacle, so let’s be clear on the only way the Syrian people are NOT allowed to choose their own postwar model: If the Syrian state loses its sovereignty and is dismembered.
Obviously, this is what Israel wants (Golan Heights), but the entire West as well as Israel doesn’t want a unified Syria; they are obviously content to see Libya dismembered and Iraq on the way to dismemberment via an independent Kurdistan and the instigation of a hitherto-unknown “modern Sunni-Shia divide”.
However, let’s put aside all those possibilities which indicate failure and discuss the future of a peaceful, sovereign Syria.
Surely, Syrians will reject the Western model
It’s not as if Syria is going to join the European Union…nor would they want to, after seeing the EU does to its weaker countries like Greece.
It seems insane for Syria to install what France imposed on Lebanon after stripping it from Syria: the so-called “confessional model”, where ethnicity and religion informally and formally prohibit everything from intermarriage to holding certain government posts. It is no exaggeration to call this both racial- and religion-based model “Confessional Apartheid”. This historically-unnatural, imperialist, outdated model is also allegedly secular.
However, even if this lie has been institutionalized as much as possible, it is as big a lie as the “separate but equal” facilities for Whites and Blacks in the post-Civil War United States.
This Confessional Apartheid has led to such disunity that Lebanon has not been able to prevent longtime Israeli occupation, achieve social unity, nor prevent rapacious billionaire capitalists like the Hariri clan from selling their country off to Western corporations.
That is not going to be the Syrian way. LOL, we are envisioning them winning, after all!
What form of government should Syria have?
Firstly, it is certainly not for me – being not your typical Western journalist – to decide for the Syrian people if Syria’s future leader should be Assad or not. Regardless of leadership, Syria does have a chance to start anew so I suggest they look at history for examples.
Many who know Iran say that the French Revolution’s genius was political, the Russian Revolution’s genius was economic, and that the Iran Revolution’s genius was moral. The specific genius of the Iranian Revolution appears to be that it allows religion to play an active role in government.
This is a radical concept, but it certainly has worked for Iran despite all efforts to sabotage this model. Whether or not it reaches the impact of the former two revolutions remains to be seen, but Syria could be the first to adopt many of its tenets and thus be a springboard for many others to follow.
Certainly, the utter lack of morality in the pro-capitalist Western governments is apparent to all, non-Muslims included. Aping Western democracy in 2017 is a recipe for a legal spy state which works to protect its bankers and shareholders.
Personally, I find it hard to believe that having a Catholic priest being Italy’s Trade Minister, for example, would necessarily be a negative thing. In fact, were he a good priest, I would assume it would be a positive development. This is not the common view in the West, but the only question should be: would the average Syrian voter choose such an arrangement?
I’d say: very likely. At the very least, modern Muslim democracy seems to necessarily mean that voters should have the right to choose.
But that is another question which I cannot answer for Syria, and which they have to answer for themselves: How much influence will religion have in the actual governing of Syria?
Mullahs, I remind the reader, have no official status in Iran: they gain power because they are elected or because they achieve cultural status. In 2013, for example, our current president Hassan Rouhani was elected for his first term despite being the only cleric among the eight first-round candidates!
Religion – and this is indeed a revolutionary notion – was obviously not viewed by the Iranian people as a hindrance to democracy, modernity or prosperity.
A modern, victorious Syrian state will necessarily resemble Iran
Many will accuse me of cultural chauvinism with that claim, but I am aware of my possible bias: please listen to the case and you will see I am imagining what the Syrian people want, not what I want.
Perhaps Syrians will choose to remain with the current Ba’athist Party – it is the “Arab Socialist Ba’ath party” (although never billed as such in Western media), so at least they reject ethnic/state divisions and capitalism.
But the Western-based, secular, Ba’athist model clearly did not work superbly in Syria, most notably in fighting imperialism. A revival of Ba’athism seems like a step backwards, which does not mean it cannot work, but it may not be enough to the post-war Syrian people, who are emboldened by their war struggle.
If Ba’athism is out, what model should they choose? Well, Syria is 90% Muslim – Islam is important to the locals.
The idea that Islamic traditions in law – which began with Prophet Muhammed and have been regularly altered and updated until the present day – should be excluded is anathema to the average Muslim, and quite fairly. If Syrians vote willingly for English Shariah (Common Law), Roman Shariah (Civil Law), Hindu Shariah (Dharma Law) or some other foreign set of traditions…I would be quite surprised.
By putting it in these quite accurate linguistic terms, let’s just assume Shariah (Islamic Law) is the basis of modern Syria’s government and we can move on with our lives, hmmmm? The hardcore Atheists excluded, of course.
Putting Shariah into modern democratic form is not unique to Iran, of course, but Iran does have currently the best working model: Voter participation rates, growth in human development, number of foreign army bases they host – Iran is near the top or at the top in all of these desirable categories, globally.
Therefore, having a non-secular government based on existing religious and historical traditions, and combined with modern democracy…would essentially be a repeat of what Iran has done. It is not at all unrealistic to predict that Syrians may, like Iran, want to see religion become a major motivating political force…while still retaining inter-ethnic unity, socialism and anti-capitalism as fundamental tenets, of course.
How else would Syria resemble Iran?
Culturally, it seems impossible for a modern, rebuilt Syria to not impose some controls on the press, but far more than Iran does. Syria has millions of refugees, and the hard-core anti-Assad/pro-Western of them will be effective 5th columnists. This is not an indictment of Syrian refugees whatsoever – it is a simple fact that some of them would work to undermine the victorious government just as they did prior to 2011.
Of course, the foreign press, who suffered no privation during the Syrian War and heartlessly egged it on, will rabble-rouse constantly against any restrictions, which would mainly target their media billionaires/corporations as well as their lack of monopolies in the lucrative reconstruction effort.
The new Syria will certainly be anti-imperialist – this is another similarity with Iran. Both will continue to oppose the Zionist project. And by opposing foreign occupation and oppression that leads to…
The new Syria will certainly be anti-capitalist. Yet another similarity it would have with the Iranian model.
One may call a Muslim nation capitalist, but they are certainly less capitalist than the Western variant. Perhaps this is because Islam is appears far more inherently anti-capitalist than Christianity, or maybe it’s due to the modern Muslim’s world experience with imperialism?
What’s certain is that only by a loss – only by turning Syria into a “modern” Western plaything like Lebanon – will Syria become more capitalist than its previous socialist Ba’athist state.
Syria will be subjected to a Western blockade even if it does win – like all independent nations – therefore it will need a model to operate as a siege economy. Iran’s “resistance economy” fits that bill as well.
Iran’s assistance may be the only way a peaceful Syria remains that way
Victorious-but-weakened Syria will need allies to avoid closed-border bloodshed, but who else is there in the region but Iran?
Turkey, given their assistance to Daesh forces, will be despised for a decade or more, and certainly as long as Erdogan is in power. The Persian Gulf monarchies are opposed to modern Muslim democracy. An alliance with Israel would prove that democracy has lost in Syria. The Egypt-Syria alliance of the bygone United Arab Republic of 1958-61 is absolutely impossible given the anti-democratic ousting of Morsi.
The EU will never openly ally with any pro-Assad government except for in business deals, as that’s capitalism. Russia will obviously be an ally, but on a regional level it seems only Iran can have Syria’s back.
Just as the walking-dead Soviet Revolution in 1920 was permanently impaired by the German failure to provide revolutionary material assistance, Syria risks enormous challenges by relying totally on itself. Yes, Iran has succeeded despite this, but Iran benefits from far greater distance from imperialist powers and far greater oil wealth.
Besides proving an ideological framework – not a mere carbon copy – for Syria’s future, Iran is seemingly the only regional ally possible for newly-peaceful Syria.
The wealth and capabilities of Iranian industry would work wonders to revive Syrian economic output to prewar levels. If Iran remains revolutionary in character – which it does – Iran will not be trying to plunder and dominate but to simply share the wealth of reconstruction in a mutually-beneficial fashion.
Syria following the Iranian model – like Iraq, Afghanistan and others – could be unstoppable
Syria may be, for all the reasons I’ve listed, the first convert to what we can refer to as Islamic Socialism.
I have already decisively proven the socialist character of Iran, which is “revolutionary socialism + Islam”.
If the US were not massively present in Iraq and Afghanistan both of these nations would have probably already been won over to Iranian Islamic Socialism. The cultural ties and interchanges between the three countries are enormous, and the other two would likely follow and resemble the one that is functioning at a high level.
So, in many ways it would be historically fitting for Syria to be won over to Iranian Islamic Socialism first: Aiding Syria would prove Iran’s bonafides as being truly revolutionary in character, i.e. not putting its national interests first, as Syria is not a neighbor.
A rebuilt Syria could be the first major step in a true shift in the Muslim world, one that goes beyond just independence from imperial meddling, though that remains the necessary first step for all regional nations except Iran and Turkey (and Syria). The two of Syria and Iran could, one hopes, inspire locals to kick the Americans out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Two becomes three, three becomes four, and in this way the Middle East could be reborn – seems like the path of a true “Arab Spring”.
The notion that “two cannot become three” because of a Sunni-Shia divide is something only non-Muslims would seriously consider. I cannot stress enough what imperialist claptrap that is.
Revolutionary socialism + religion has global appeal
Syria being the first adopter would start to prove that the Iranian Revolution must be on par with the French and Russian Revolutions.
Is morality in government such a scary notion? Were the Indian silver miners of 16th century Peru hurt more by Christianity or capitalism? Which was the real scourge should be obvious – capitalism.
Religion and government have been intertwined in human history for…always, after all: the idea of secularity could easily be an aberration; something which was tried but failed. Isn’t that exactly what we say about communism?
Is there any doubt that such a formula already has an appeal in Latin America? Chinese Confucianism – ancestor worship with a genuine metaphysical cosmology – is only classified as not a religion out of ignorance and misunderstanding.
Syria adopting the Iranian model would mean they have joined a revolution, but that decision is obviously between their leadership and their people.
However, it is not a starry-eyed dream to say that the exportation of the Iranian Revolution – retrofit to local democratic desires, of course – could lead to independence and prosperity on a scale not seen in the Muslim world for more than two centuries.
And this is exactly why the Arab monarchies, Israel and the West fear Iran so much: it works, it’s logical and it’s increased democracy.
The alternatives to the Iranian model in the Muslim world – certainly, none are currently working as well. But with Russian and Iranian assistance against the international invaders, such a revolution is tantalizingly possible.
What’s clear from 1917 Russia and elsewhere is that achieving peace with foreign invaders is never enough – Syria needs a modern framework to prevent endless civil strife.
A Syria which uses Iranian Islamic Socialism as its framework means working with a proven winner. It would be a sure step towards guaranteeing national sovereignty and an exciting step towards creating a new, better modernity for the Syrian people.
And isn’t that what The People around the world want for Syria?
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.