The Wall Street Journal reports: Saudi Arabia maintained a pointed silence Sunday on the new nuclear pact between world powers and Saudi Arabia’s top rival, Iran, while other Gulf and Arab states gave a cautious welcome to a deal hoped to ease tensions in a region bloodied by proxy battles between Shiite Iran and Sunni Arab states.
Saudi political commentators voiced persistent fears that Iran would now see itself as freed to advance on other, non-nuclear fronts against its Middle East rivals.
By early Monday in the Middle East, most of the region’s Muslim powers — Turkey, Egypt, and at least four of the six wealthy Arab Gulf countries — had issued statements expressing support for the deal. The United Arab Emirates., a commerce-minded nation that traditionally has thrived on doing business with both Iran and Arab states, welcomed the deal as one it hoped would protect the region “from the tension and danger of nuclear proliferation,” the emirates’ council of ministers said.
Saudi Arabia, the most powerful of the Arab states and the most intensely suspicious rival of Shiite Iran, made no public comment on the pact Sunday, and its foreign ministry didn’t return requests for comment. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: For Kuwait’s embattled rulers, clashes earlier this week with anti-government protesters were more than just a sign tensions may be mounting. The crowds themselves showed the widening nature of the Gulf nation’s political crisis: Stirrings of a rare alliance of convenience between liberals and Islamists against Kuwait’s Western-backed leadership.
While it’s not the first time Middle East protests have brought together political foes — Cairo’s Tahrir Square last year and Iran’s postelection unrest in 2009 had a full spectrum of voices — Kuwait’s tiny size means that the coalescence of such varied groups could make for an opposition that punches far above its own weight.
Despite the rising unrest, the ruling family appears in no imminent danger of an Arab Spring-style revolt such as Bahrain’s 20-month-old Shiite Muslim-led uprising against the Sunni monarchy.
But the emerging alliance underscores the complicated challenges for Kuwait’s ruling family as the oil-rich country moves toward Dec. 1 parliamentary elections.
Simultaneous pressure from liberals and Islamist conservatives could push Kuwait deeper into a political morass that has already disrupted the economy and raised questions about stability in one of Washington’s most critical military footholds in the region.
Kuwait’s importance to the Pentagon rose sharply after the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq in December. It is now the hub for American ground forces in the Gulf, where the U.S. and its Arab allies seek to counter Iran’s military buildup.
Al Jazeera reports: Police in Kuwait have used teargas, stun grenades and baton charges to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators protesting against changes to the electoral law, which the opposition has called a “constitutional coup” by the government.
Protesters gathered in various parts of the capital, Kuwait City, on Sunday to march towards the government’s headquarters, but riot police swiftly surrounded some groups and used teargas and stun grenades to disperse them, witnesses said.
The opposition decided to take to the streets after the government – which is dominated by the ruling al-Sabah family – announced last week it was calling elections for December 1 and would change the electoral law.
The opposition called for a boycott of the poll, which follows the dissolution of the parliament elected earlier this year in which it had held a majority.
The announcement was the latest move in an intensifying power struggle between the ruling establishment and parliament that has seen eight governments come and go since the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, came to power in 2006.
Marc Lynch writes:
While the American and international debate over Libya continues, the situation in Bahrain has just taken a sharp turn for the worse. A brutal crackdown on the protestors followed the controversial entry of security forces from Saudi Arabia and three other GCC states. Media access has been curtailed, with journalists finding it difficult to gain entry to the Kingdom (I was supposed to be in Bahrain right now myself, but elected not to try after several journalists let me know that they were being denied entry and several Embassies in Doha warned me off). The road to political compromise and meaningful reform now appears to be blocked, which places the long-term viability of the Bahraini regime in serious question.
The response of the Bahraini regime has implications far beyond the borders of the tiny island Kingdom — not only because along with Libya it has turned the hopeful Arab uprisings into something uglier, but because it is unleashing a regionwide resurgence of sectarian Sunni-Shi’a animosity. Regional actors have enthusiastically bought in to the sectarian framing, with Saudi Arabia fanning the flames of sectarian hostility in defense of the Bahraini regime and leading Shia figures rising to the defense of the protestors. The tenor of Sunni-Shi’a relations across the region is suddenly worse than at any time since the frightening days following the spread of the viral video of Sadrists celebrating the execution of Saddam Hussein.
The sectarian framing in Bahrain is a deliberate regime strategy, not an obvious “reality.” The Bahraini protest movement, which emerged out of years of online and offline activism and campaigns, explicitly rejected sectarianism and sought to emphasize instead calls for democratic reform and national unity. While a majority of the protestors were Shi’a, like the population of the Kingdom itself, they insisted firmly that they represented the discontent of both Sunnis and Shi’ites, and framed the events as part of the Arab uprisings seen from Tunisia to Libya. Their slogans were about democracy and human rights, not Shi’a particularism, and there is virtually no evidence to support the oft-repeated claim that their efforts were inspired or led by Iran.
Mohammed Ayoob writes:
The real reason for the establishment of the GCC in 1981 was not defense against external enemies threatening the security of GCC states but cooperation against domestic challenges to authoritarian regimes. Its main task was and continues to be coordination of internal security measures, including sharing of intelligence, aimed at controlling and suppressing the populations of member states in order to provide security to the autocratic monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The establishment of the GCC was in large measure a reaction on the part of the Gulf monarchies to the Iranian revolution of 1979 in which people’s power toppled the strongest autocracy in the neighborhood. The Arab autocracies of the Gulf did not want to share the Shah’s fate.
That ensuring the security of autocratic regimes was the principal reason for the existence of GCC has become crystal clear with the military intervention by Saudi-led forces in Bahrain to put down the democracy movement and prevent the freedom contagion from spreading to other parts of the Gulf. It is true that the Saudis are apprehensive of the Shia majority coming to power in Bahrain because of the impact it could have on its own restive Shia minority in the oil-rich east of the country. Riyadh is also worried about the impact of a change in regime in Bahrain on the balance of power between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region. (One can, however, argue that Saudi military intervention in Bahrain’s affairs will in fact redound to Iran’s benefit in the long run by further de-legitimizing the al-Khalifa rule in Bahrain).
But these are secondary explanations. The primary concern of the Arab autocracies in the Gulf is the suppression of democratic movements regardless of the sectarian character of the populations engaging in democratic struggles. They are worried that if any of the autocracies fall or even reach a substantial compromise with democratic movements it will have a domino effect in the entire Gulf region consigning all of them to the dustbin of history. The GCC was established as an instrument to protect and prolong autocratic rule on the Arabian littoral of the Gulf. Its military operation in Bahrain has clearly shown this true colors.
Issa Khalaf writes:
As soon as news emerged that the Libyan protestors were also planning to take to the streets, I was horror-struck. This wasn’t going to be Egypt or Tunisia, or even frightened emirs, sultans, and monarchs. Libya has neither Egypt’s vibrant civil society nor developed institutions, nor a military that can easily challenge Qadhafi’s rule. Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi – variously, Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Arab Republic, great leader of the al-Jumhuriyya al-‘Arabiyya al-Libiyya, the General Commander of Libya’s Armed Forces, the Head of [every] Council of State and of the Arab Socialist Union, the learned author of the al-kitab al-akhdar (Green Book), the Brotherly leader and Guide of the Revolution, Africa’s King of Kings, Supreme Leader regally surveying his kingdom or majestically visiting abroad accompanied by an elite, armed female bodyguard corps, ubiquitously, honorifically titled leader without official state title – was not about to take rejection lightly. Nor is this eccentric megalomaniac, a caricature of himself, about to let go of power after four decades, his son essentially in the same breath raising the spectre of social disintegration without the Leader and unleashing the full, bloody fury of the state.
True, permanent rulers everywhere don’t easily let go of one of life’s foremost aphrodisiacs, power, and can’t conceive that anyone else can rule their subjects like them, with their benevolent patriarchy. They all crave the attention and revel in the whimsical arbitrariness that accompany being number one, including hobnobbing with world leaders. Qadhafi’s flamboyance, including his romanticized ‘tent’ outings and a costume for every occasion and genre, was once curious, with an air of populism about it. But his African-style personal rule has not been a laughing matter for decades, and his endless speeches on TV and lectures to foreign audiences, including western women on converting to Islam, have nauseated his people. This ageing, narcissistic, deluded man, ruling over merely 5-6 million people in a petroleum-rich country the size of Alaska, cannot possibly accept the reality of letting go of all this, or that his people don’t want him, hence his rage and violence against them.
Qadhafi, like his now absent Egyptian counterpart, is symptomatic of Arab rulers’ stunning, unenlightened failure to pay any regard to placing their people’s future and well-being, much less encourage institutional inter-Arab cooperation for the sake of social and economic development, over their own immediate self-interest. (Whatever criticism one reserves for Egypt’s Jamal ‘abd al-Nasir, his attempt to live by principle, humbly refusing to enrich himself or his family, is admirable by today’s kleptocratic standards.) The Libyan dictator is what old Arab nationalism-turned-authoritarianism – including its ‘radical’ versions found in the regimes of Algeria, Syria, Iraq and the now hapless PLO, or ‘socialist republics’ such as Tunisia or Egypt – has wrought. This amounts to bureaucratic or tyrannical one party or no party states, violently crushing civil society, suffocating public space, privately owning and enriching themselves on state resources.
That insistent, ancient character of élite Arab political culture – the reliance on narrow social groups and classes, those with wealth and economic power to sustain an unwritten contract maintaining the dictator’s rule and circulating power within the state – has not yet disappeared. If anything, it has been supplemented in the last fifty years by secretive, shadowy, Qadhafi- and Saddam-like personality cults and intelligence services. All Arab regimes, regardless of regime type, have essentially behaved like dynasties.
A Northern Virginia teen who had been barred from flying home from Kuwait landed in Washington on Friday morning, four weeks after being detained, allegedly beaten by Kuwait authorities and questioned by FBI agents about possible terrorist connections.
Gulet Mohamed, dressed in a worn hooded sweat shirt and sweat pants, was embraced by his family after he arrived at Dulles International Airport, the end of an ordeal that he said had “made me stronger.”
The United States “is built upon fighting for your rights,” Mohamed, 19, said in an interview.
Civil liberties groups charge that his case is the latest episode in which the U.S. government has temporarily exiled U.S. citizens or legal residents so they can be questioned about possible terrorist links without legal counsel.
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. government on behalf of 17 citizens or legal residents who were not allowed to board flights to, from or within the United States, presumably because, like Mohamed, they were on the government’s no-fly list. Of those stranded overseas, all were eventually told they could return, often after they agreed to speak to the FBI. None was arrested upon their return.
The ACLU suit, filed in Portland, Ore., alleges that Americans placed on the no-fly list are denied due process because there is no effective way to challenge their inclusion. The government does not acknowledge that any particular individual is on the no-fly list or its other watch lists. Nor will it reveal the exact criteria it uses to place people on its list.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports:
The drone technology that has revolutionized warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is entering the national airspace: Unmanned aircraft are patrolling the border with Mexico, searching for missing persons over difficult terrain, flying into hurricanes to collect weather data, photographing traffic accident scenes and tracking the spread of forest fires.
But the operation outside Austin [described at the beginning of this report] presaged what could prove to be one of the most far-reaching and potentially controversial uses of drones: as a new and relatively cheap surveillance tool in domestic law enforcement.
For now, the use of drones for high-risk operations is exceedingly rare. The Federal Aviation Administration – which controls the national airspace – requires the few police departments with drones to seek emergency authorization if they want to deploy one in an actual operation. Because of concerns about safety, it only occasionally grants permission.
But by 2013, the FAA expects to have formulated new rules that would allow police across the country to routinely fly lightweight, unarmed drones up to 400 feet above the ground – high enough for them to be largely invisible eyes in the sky.
Glenn Greenwald writes:
Gulet Mohamed is an 18-year-old American citizen whose family is Somalian. His parents moved with him to the U.S. when he was 2 or 3 years old, and he has lived in the U.S. ever since. In March, 2009, he went to study Arabic and Islam in Yemen (in Sana’a, the nation’s capital), and, after several weeks, left (at his mother’s urging) and went to visit his mother’s family in Somalia, staying with his uncle there for several months. Roughly one year ago, he left Somalia and traveled to Kuwait to stay with other family members who live there. Like many teenagers who reach early adulthood, he was motivated in his travels by a desire to see the world, to study, and to get to know his family’s ancestral homeland and his faraway relatives.
At all times, Mohamed traveled on an American passport and had valid visas for all the countries he visited. He has never been arrested nor — until two weeks ago — was he ever involved with law enforcement in any way, including the entire time he lived in the U.S.
Approximately two weeks ago (on December 20), Mohamed went to the airport in Kuwait to have his visa renewed, as he had done every three months without incident for the last year. This time, however, he was told by the visa officer that his name had been marked in the computer, and after waiting five hours, he was taken into a room and interrogated by officials who refused to identify themselves. They then handcuffed and blindfolded him and drove him to some other locale. That was the start of a two-week-long, still ongoing nightmare during which he was imprisoned for a week in an unknown location by unknown captors, relentlessly interrogated, and severely beaten and threatened with even worse forms of torture.