Flynn’s lawyer meets with members of special counsel’s team, raising specter of plea deal

ABC News reports: The lawyer for President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn met Monday morning with members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team — the latest indication that both sides are discussing a possible plea deal, ABC News has learned.

Trump’s legal team confirmed late last week that Flynn’s attorney Robert Kelner alerted the team that he could no longer engage in privileged discussions about defense strategy in the case — a sign Flynn is preparing to negotiate with prosecutors over a deal that could include his testimony against the president or senior White House officials.

That process would typically include a series of off-the-record discussions in which prosecutors lay out in detail for Flynn and his lawyers the fruits of their investigation into his activities. Prosecutors would also provide Flynn an opportunity to offer what’s called a proffer, detailing what information, if any, he has that could implicate others in wrongdoing. [Continue reading…]

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Trump tells Turkish president U.S. will stop arming Kurds in Syria

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration is preparing to stop supplying weapons to ethnic Kurdish fighters in Syria, the White House acknowledged Friday, a move reflecting renewed focus on furthering a political settlement to the civil war there and countering Iranian influence now that the Islamic State caliphate is largely vanquished.

Word of the policy change long sought by neighboring Turkey came Friday, not from Washington but from Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at a news conference that President Trump had pledged to stop arming the fighters, known as the YPG, during a phone call between Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Mr. Trump clearly stated that he had given clear instructions, and that the YPG won’t be given arms and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago,” the Associated Press quoted Cavusoglu as saying to reporters following the call.

Initially, the administration’s national security team appeared surprised by the Turks’ announcement and uncertain what to say about it. The State Department referred questions to the White House, and hours passed with no confirmation from the National Security Council.

In late afternoon, the White House confirmed the weapons cutoff would happen, though it provided no details on timing.

“Consistent with our previous policy, President Trump also informed President Erdogan of pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria, now that the battle of Raqqa is complete and we are progressing into a stabilization phase to ensure that ISIS cannot return,” the White House statement said, referring to the recent liberation of the Syrian city that had served as the Islamic State’s de facto capital.

The decision to stop arming the Kurds will remove a major source of tension between the United States and Turkey, a NATO ally. But it is likely to further anger the Kurds, who already feel betrayed since the United States told them to hand over hard-won territory to the Syrian government. [Continue reading…]

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Mike Flynn business partner Bijan Kian now subject of Mueller probe

NBC News reports: A former business associate of Michael Flynn has become a subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation for his role in the failure of Flynn’s former lobbying firm to disclose its work on behalf of foreign governments, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.

Federal investigators are zeroing in on Bijan Kian, an Iranian-American who was a partner at the now-dissolved Flynn Intel Group, and have questioned multiple witnesses in recent weeks about his lobbying work on behalf of Turkey. The grand jury convened for the investigation will soon have a chance to question some of those witnesses, the sources say.

Mueller recently indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates simultaneously. Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty. Both Flynn’s and Manafort’s lobbying firms have come under investigation for failing to disclose lobbying work on behalf of foreign governments. [Continue reading…]

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Does cooperating witness have info on Flynn tie to Turkey?

NBC News reports: A gold trader who is close to Turkish President Recep Erdogan is now cooperating with federal prosecutors in a money-laundering case, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter, and legal experts say prosecutors may be seeking information about any ties between the Turkish government and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

Reza Zarrab, a dual Turkish-Iranian national, faces charges in federal court in Manhattan for skirting sanctions on Iran by allegedly moving hundreds of millions of dollars for the Iranian government and Iranian firms via offshore entities and bank accounts.

But Zarrab is now out of jail and speaking to prosecutors — a move President Erdogan had been desperately hoping to avoid. [Continue reading…]

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Under the gaze of the U.S. and British-led coalition, ISIS fighters were provided safe passage out of Raqqa

BBC News reports: Lorry driver Abu Fawzi thought it was going to be just another job.

He drives an 18-wheeler across some of the most dangerous territory in northern Syria. Bombed-out bridges, deep desert sand, even government forces and so-called Islamic State fighters don’t stand in the way of a delivery.

But this time, his load was to be human cargo. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters opposed to IS, wanted him to lead a convoy that would take hundreds of families displaced by fighting from the town of Tabqa on the Euphrates river to a camp further north.

The job would take six hours, maximum – or at least that’s what he was told.

But when he and his fellow drivers assembled their convoy early on 12 October, they realised they had been lied to.

Instead, it would take three days of hard driving, carrying a deadly cargo – hundreds of IS fighters, their families and tonnes of weapons and ammunition.

Abu Fawzi and dozens of other drivers were promised thousands of dollars for the task but it had to remain secret.

The deal to let IS fighters escape from Raqqa – de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate – had been arranged by local officials. It came after four months of fighting that left the city obliterated and almost devoid of people. It would spare lives and bring fighting to an end. The lives of the Arab, Kurdish and other fighters opposing IS would be spared.

But it also enabled many hundreds of IS fighters to escape from the city. At the time, neither the US and British-led coalition, nor the SDF, which it backs, wanted to admit their part.

Has the pact, which stood as Raqqa’s dirty secret, unleashed a threat to the outside world – one that has enabled militants to spread far and wide across Syria and beyond?

Great pains were taken to hide it from the world. But the BBC has spoken to dozens of people who were either on the convoy, or observed it, and to the men who negotiated the deal. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller probing possible secret lucrative deal between Turks and Flynn during presidential transition

NBC News reports: Federal investigators are examining whether former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn met with senior Turkish officials just weeks before President Donald Trump’s inauguration about a potential quid pro quo in which Flynn would be paid to carry out directives from Ankara secretly while in the White House, according to multiple people familiar with the investigation.

Investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference with the U.S. presidential election recently questioned witnesses about the alleged December 2016 meeting between Flynn and senior Turkish officials, two people knowledgeable with the interviews said. The questions were part of a line of inquiry regarding Flynn’s lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey.

Four people familiar with the investigation said Mueller is looking into whether Flynn discussed in the late December meeting orchestrating the return to Turkey of a chief rival of Turkish President Recep Erdogan who lives in the U.S. Additionally, three people familiar with the probe said investigators are examining whether Flynn and other participants discussed a way to free a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who is jailed in the U.S. Zarrab is facing federal charges that he helped Iran skirt U.S. sanctions.

Mueller is specifically examining whether the deal, if successful, would have led to millions of dollars in secret payments to Flynn, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey’s Idlib incursion and the HTS question: Understanding the long game in Syria

Charles Lister writes: After several days of speculation surrounding a possible Turkish intervention, on Oct. 8 Turkish reconnaissance troops crossed into Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib to scope out a first phase “de-escalation” deployment. Turkey’s move came within the broader context of a Russian-led initiative to de-escalate the conflict in Syria by focusing on specific geographic zones, of which Idlib was the fourth. In the days that followed the Oct. 8 deployment, limited numbers of Turkish troops used small country roads to establish thin lines of control spanning between the Idlib border town of Atmeh, east through Darat Izza and into Anadan in Aleppo’s western countryside. Two much larger convoys of at least 50-100 armored vehicles crossed at night on Oct. 23 and late on Oct. 24, effectively completing Turkey’s initial objectives.

The loose buffer zone that resulted serves primarily to place Turkish troops in a prime position to monitor and contain the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in their stronghold of Afrin, 30km north of Darat Izza. It was from Afrin that YPG militiamen and women had launched repeated attacks on Syrian opposition positions in northern Idlib, indicating the Kurdish group’s likely intent to expand aggressively southward. The YPG’s stronghold in Afrin also gave it the means to defend against any future attempt by Turkish-backed opposition forces to retake YPG-occupied towns like Tel Rifaat. Turkey saw these strategic realities as security threats, given the YPG’s structural and ideological affinity with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization that has fought a deadly insurgency against the Turkish state for more than 30 years.

Notwithstanding the significance of a Turkish intervention in Idlib, the development raised eyebrows for another reason: Turkey’s soldiers had been provided an armed escort into Idlib by none other than the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Therein followed a flurry of accusations of Turkish collusion with al-Qaeda that although understandable, largely missed the potential significance of developments up to that point. I was in Turkey in the days leading up to the operation and was near the border as it began, meeting with a broad range of Syrian opposition groups and figures. [Continue reading…]

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Wall Street Journal reporter sentenced to prison by Turkish court

The Wall Street Journal reports: A Turkish court sentenced Wall Street Journal reporter Ayla Albayrak to two years and one month in prison Tuesday, declaring her guilty of engaging in terrorist propaganda in support of a banned Kurdish separatist organization through one of her Journal articles.

The conviction of Ms. Albayrak, who is currently in New York, highlights the increasing targeting of journalists in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has gained attention for deteriorating media freedoms.

“This was an unfounded criminal charge and wildly inappropriate conviction that wrongly singled out a balanced Wall Street Journal report,” said Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerard Baker. “The sole purpose of the article was to provide objective and independent reporting on events in Turkey, and it succeeded.”

Ms. Albayrak plans to appeal the decision.

“Given the current climate in Turkey, this appalling decision shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but it did,” said Ms. Albayrak.

Turkish legal actions against Ms. Albayrak began after the publication on Aug. 19, 2015, on the Journal’s website of her article “Urban Warfare Escalates in Turkey’s Kurdish-Majority Southeast.” The story and an accompanying video reported on the state of a conflict in Silopi, Turkey, between Turkish security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. It included interviews with the local mayor and residents, a Turkish government official, as well as a representative of an organization Turkey says is the youth unit of the PKK. [Continue reading…]

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What are Turkey’s plans for Syria?

 

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Is the Middle East destined to fragment?

Robin Wright writes: Pity the Kurds. Theirs is a history of epic betrayals. A century ago, the world reneged on a vow to give them their own state, carved from the carcass of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. The rugged mountain people were instead dispersed into the new states of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, with another block left in Iran. Since then, all three countries have repressed their Kurds. Saddam Hussein was so intent on Arabizing Iraq’s Kurdistan that he paid Arab families to unearth long-dead relatives and rebury them in Kurdish territory—creating evidence to claim Arab rights to the land. He also razed four thousand Kurdish villages and executed a hundred thousand of the region’s inhabitants, some with chemical weapons. Syria stripped its Kurds of citizenship, making them foreigners in their own lands and depriving them of rights to state education, property ownership, jobs, and even marriage. Turkey repeatedly—sometimes militarily—crushed Kurdish political movements; for decades, the Kurdish language was banned, as was the very word “Kurd” to describe Turkey’s largest ethnic minority. They were instead known as “mountain Turks.”

Iraq’s Kurds got a bit of revenge this week. In a historic but controversial referendum, more than ninety per cent of voters endorsed a proposal to secede and declare their own country. “The partnership with Baghdad has failed and we will not return to it,” the President of Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, vowed on the eve of the poll. Jubilation erupted. Waving their distinctive flag—three stripes of red, white, and green, with a blazing golden sun in the center—Kurds across northern Iraq took to the streets.

The Kurdish vote reflects an existential quandary across the entire Middle East: Are some of the region’s most important countries really viable anymore? The world has resisted addressing the issue since the popular protests in 2011, known as the Arab Uprising, or Arab Spring, spawned four wars and a dozen crises. Entire countries have been torn asunder, with little to no prospect of political or physical reconstruction anytime soon. Meanwhile, the outside world has invested vast resources, with several countries forking out billions of dollars in military equipment, billions more in aid, and thousands of hours of diplomacy—on the assumption that places like Iraq, Syria, and Libya can still work as currently configured. The list of outside powers that have tried to shape the region’s future is long—from the United States and its European allies to the Russian-Iran axis and many of the Middle East’s oil-rich powers. All have, so far, failed at forging hopeful direction.

They’ve also failed to confront the obvious: Do the people in these countries want to stay together? Do people who identify proudly as Syrians, for example, all define “Syria” the same way? And are they willing to surrender their political, tribal, racial, ethnic, or sectarian identities in order to forge a common good and a stable nation?

The long-term impact of these destructive centrifugal forces is far from clear. But, given the blood spilled over the past six years, primordial forces seem to be prevailing at the moment, and not only among the Kurds. “The only people who want to hold Iraq together,” Lukman Faily, the former Iraqi ambassador to Washington, opined to me recently, “are those who don’t live in Iraq.” That sentiment is echoed, if not as concisely, elsewhere.

The challenge is addressing the flip side: If these countries, most of them modern creations, are dysfunctional or in danger of failing, what then will work to restore some semblance of normalcy to an ever more volatile region? No major player, in the region or the wider world, seems to be exploring solutions. [Continue reading…]

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Iran, Turkey move to re-establish role as regional backbone

Ali Hashem writes: Iran and Turkey are among the oldest rivals in the Middle East. This rivalry between the former Ottoman and Persian empires has calmed in recent decades, yet, with the spark of the Arab Spring, the two nations with opposing alliances revived their bitter race for influence and power in the region.

It was clear that the 1823 and 1847 Treaties of Erzurum still have an effect on today’s Turkey and Iran. Therefore, despite all the tension, blood and proxy collision, Ankara and Tehran remained resilient and have always looked for ways to reach compromises. Political relations between the two preserved a level of warmth. Now that the wars in Iraq and Syria, from an Iranian point of view, are coming closer to an end, a common threat in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region is prompting both sides to put aside differences and unify efforts to prevent a domino effect that might harm their national security — namely the Kurdish dream of an independent state.

On Aug. 15, Iran’s Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri made a rare official visit to Turkey to meet his counterpart, Gen. Hulusi Akar, and senior Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to Bagheri, the visit was “necessary to exchange views and more cooperation on the military subjects and different regional issues, issues related to the two countries’ security, security of borders and fighting against terrorism.” [Continue reading…]

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Mueller seeks White House documents on Flynn

The New York Times reports: Investigators working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, recently asked the White House for documents related to the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, and have questioned witnesses about whether he was secretly paid by the Turkish government during the final months of the presidential campaign, according to people close to the investigation.

Though not a formal subpoena, the document request is the first known instance of Mr. Mueller’s team asking the White House to hand over records.

In interviews with potential witnesses in recent weeks, prosecutors and F.B.I. agents have spent hours poring over the details of Mr. Flynn’s business dealings with a Turkish-American businessman who worked last year with Mr. Flynn and his consulting business, the Flynn Intel Group.

The company was paid $530,000 to run a campaign to discredit an opponent of the Turkish government who has been accused of orchestrating last year’s failed coup in the country.

Investigators want to know if the Turkish government was behind those payments — and if the Flynn Intel Group made kickbacks to the businessman, Ekim Alptekin, for helping conceal the source of the money.

The line of questioning shows that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry has expanded into a full-fledged examination of Mr. Flynn’s financial dealings, beyond the relatively narrow question of whether he failed to register as a foreign agent or lied about his conversations and business arrangements with Russian officials. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s war against ISIS in Syria: Why Putin, Assad, and Iran are winning

Robin Yassin-Kassab writes: In his inaugural address, U.S. President Donald Trump promised to “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.”

To be fair, he’s had only about six months, but already the project is proving a little more complicated than he hoped. First, ISIS has been putting up a surprisingly hard fight against its myriad enemies (some of whom are also radical Islamic terrorists). The battle for Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, has concluded, but at enormous cost to Mosul’s civilians and the Iraqi army. Second, and more importantly, there is no agreement as to what will follow ISIS, particularly in eastern Syria. There, a new great game for post-ISIS control is taking place with increasing violence between the United States and Iran. Russia and a Kurdish-led militia are also key players. If Iran and Russia win out (and at this point they are far more committed than the U.S.), President Bashar al-Assad, whose repression and scorched earth paved the way for the ISIS takeover in the first place, may be handed back the territories he lost, now burnt and depopulated. The Syrian people, who rose in democratic revolution six years ago, are not being consulted.

The battle to drive ISIS from Raqqa—its Syrian stronghold—is underway. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by American advisers, are leading the fight. Civilians are paying the price. United Nations investigators lament a “staggering loss of life” caused by U.S.-led airstrikes on the city.

Though it’s a multiethnic force, the SDF is dominated by the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, whose parent organization is the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States (but of the leftist-nationalist rather than Islamist variety) and is currently at war with Turkey, America’s NATO ally. The United States has nevertheless made the SDF its preferred local partner, supplying weapons and providing air cover, much to the chagrin of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Now add another layer of complexity. Russia also provides air cover to the SDF, not to fight ISIS, but when the mainly Kurdish force is seizing Arab-majority towns from the non-jihadi anti-Assad opposition. The SDF capture of Tel Rifaat and other opposition-held towns in 2016 helped Russia and the Assad regime to impose the final siege on Aleppo.

Eighty percent of Assad’s ground troops encircling Aleppo last December were not Syrian, but Shiite militiamen from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, all armed, funded and trained by Iran. That put the American-backed SDF and Iran in undeclared alliance.

But those who are allies one year may be enemies the next. Emboldened by a series of Russian-granted victories in the west of the country, Iran and Assad are racing east, seeking to dominate the post-ISIS order on the Syrian-Iraqi border. Iran has almost achieved its aim of projecting its influence regionally and globally through a land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean via Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. In this new context, Assad and his backers are turning on the SDF. On June 18, pro-Assad forces attacked the SDF near Tabqa, west of Raqqa. When a regime warplane joined the attack, American forces shot it down. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey chooses Russia over NATO for missile defense

Bloomberg reports: Turkey has agreed to pay $2.5 billion to acquire Russia’s most advanced missile defense system, a senior Turkish official said, in a deal that signals a turn away from the NATO military alliance that has anchored Turkey to the West for more than six decades.

The preliminary agreement sees Turkey receiving two S-400 missile batteries from Russia within the next year, and then producing another two inside Turkey, according to the Turkish official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. A spokesman for Russia’s arms-export company Rosoboronexport OJSC said he couldn’t immediately comment on details of a deal with Turkey.

Turkey has reached the point of an agreement on a missile defense system before, only to scupper the deal later amid protests and condemnation from NATO. Under pressure from the U.S., Turkey gave up an earlier plan to buy a similar missile-defense system from a state-run Chinese company, which had been sanctioned by the U.S. for alleged missile sales to Iran. [Continue reading…]

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The Kremlin’s contradictory behavior in Syria

Anton Mardasov writes: The Kremlin is seeking to flesh out the idea of creating four de-escalation (“safe”) zones in western war-torn Syria while trying to help President Bashar al-Assad regain control of lost territories in the east. When it comes to the west, Moscow is talking about the de facto end of the civil war and aims to covertly weaken the Syrian opposition. As for eastern Syria, Russia is trying hard, though discreetly, to distance itself from the US-Iranian confrontation and preserve communication channels with Washington. It is also advocating decreasing the influence of both the United States and Kurds and urging pro-Kremlin oligarchs to help fix the economy.

Russia’s policy in Syria seems successful, and that appearance is meant to impress the Russian population ahead of the 2018 presidential election. In reality, however, Moscow is confronted with a range of problems as it proceeds with its purely tactical plans. Syrian government troops continue fighting in Daraa province, and the Southern Front — the rebel alliance that until recently had hardly opposed the regime — boycotted the fifth round of negotiations in Astana, Kazakhstan, which resumed July 4.

Some Russian analysts, referencing their sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense, argue that Russian military and political leaders are well aware that Iran and Assad intend to prevent the UN’s peace plan from succeeding. (The UN Security Council unanimously adopted the plan, Resolution 2254, in late 2015.) The analysts worry that Tehran and Damascus might try to convince Moscow to not cooperate as well. [Continue reading…]

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Amid Turkey’s purge, a renewed attack on Kurdish culture

The New York Times reports: Gosto’s kebab shop is not the only diner on its block, let alone on its street. It is, however, the one that perhaps reveals most about the threat to Kurdish culture.

Its owner and manager — the cheery, chubby Vural Tantekin — turned to the kebab trade only in January, after the city authorities sacked most members of his municipally run theater troupe.

“The reason,” said Mr. Tantekin, during an interview squeezed between kebab orders, “was to stop us from performing in Kurdish.”

For people like Mr. Tantekin, the fate of Diyarbakir’s theater troupe is emblematic of an ongoing assault on Kurdish culture at large.

Since the founding of the Turkish republic in 1923, which enshrined a monocultural national identity, the country’s sizable Kurdish minority — around 20 percent of the population — has often been banned from expressing its own culture or, at times, from speaking the Kurdish language. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey drops evolution from curriculum, angering secularists

The New York Times reports: Turkey has removed the concept of evolution from its high school curriculum, in what critics fear is the latest attempt by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to erode the country’s secular character.

Starting in September, a chapter on evolution will no longer appear in ninth graders’ textbooks because it is considered too “controversial” an idea, an official announced this week.

“Our students don’t have the necessary scientific background and information-based context needed to comprehend” the debate about evolution, said the official, Alpaslan Durmus, the chairman of the Education Ministry’s Education and Discipline Board, which decides the curriculum, in a video posted on the ministry’s website.

The news has deepened concerns among Mr. Erdogan’s critics that the president, a conservative Muslim, wants to radically change the identity of a country that was founded in 1923 along staunchly secular lines. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi and allied autocrats demand Qatar shuts down Al Jazeera

Reuters reports: Four Arab states boycotting Qatar over alleged support for terrorism have sent Doha a list of 13 demands including closing Al Jazeera television and reducing ties to their regional adversary Iran, an official of one of the four countries said.

The demands aimed at ending the worst Gulf Arab crisis in years appear designed to quash a two decade-old foreign policy in which Qatar has punched well above its weight, striding the stage as a peace broker, often in conflicts in Muslim lands.

Doha’s independent-minded approach, including a dovish line on Iran and support for Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, has incensed some of its neighbors who see political Islamism as a threat to their dynastic rule.

The list, compiled by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain, which cut economic, diplomatic and travel ties to Doha on June 5, also demands the closing of a Turkish military base in Qatar, the official told Reuters.

Turkey’s Defense Minister Fikri Isik rejected the demand, saying any call for the base to be shut would represent interference in Ankara’s relations with Doha. He suggested instead that Turkey might bolster its presence.

“Strengthening the Turkish base would be a positive step in terms of the Gulf’s security,” he said. “Re-evaluating the base agreement with Qatar is not on our agenda.” [Continue reading…]

In an editorial, the New York Times says: [B]y attacking Al Jazeera, the Saudis and their neighbors are trying to eliminate a voice that could lead citizens to question their rulers. Al Jazeera was the prime source of news as the Arab Spring rocked the Middle East in 2011.

That uprising ousted the military-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak and led to Egypt’s first free election, which brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. A loose political network founded in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has renounced violence. The real reason it’s been labeled a terrorist group is that autocratic regimes see it as a populist threat. [Continue reading…]

For CNBC, Abid Ali writes: Al-Jazeera has been a constant thorn in the side of its neighbors. The news network was the first independent media network in the Middle East winning plaudits with more than 20 years of broadcasting. But after the Arab Spring, Doha was forced to tone down coverage to maintain stability in neighboring countries, especially in Bahrain.

Qatar has been forging an independent foreign policy since the discovery of gas and a palace coup where the former Emir ousted his pro-Saudi leaning father. Since 1995 the country has been on a tear with a construction boom reshaping the desert state. While Qataris are the world’s richest per capita ($130,000), in neighboring Saudi Arabia more than 35 percent live under the national poverty line.

“The State of Qatar recognizes that a decision to close Al-Jazeera will infringe on their sovereignty,” Wadah Khanfar, the former director general of Al-Jazeera, told CNBC in a phone interview. “The independence of the state is at risk. If they move against Al-Jazeera what next? They will stand firm.” [Continue reading…]

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