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Canada’s labour movement must take a stand against the Saudi arms deal

Canada’s labour movement must take a stand against the Saudi arms deal

by Simon Black and Anthony Fenton*

As Canada’s largest labour organization and the political arm of the labour movement, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has long been a voice for peace, human rights and social justice.

But on one of the most controversial issues in Canadian politics, Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia, it has failed to take a meaningful stand.

Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners are waging war in Yemen. The war has plunged the country into what the United Nations calls “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

According to a recent UN report, approximately 70,000 Yemenis have died since the beginning of 2016. Hospitals, schools, markets and mosques are common targets for Saudi coalition airstrikes.
Two thirds of the Yemeni population require humanitarian support or protection, 17 million are food insecure, three million have fled their homes and 14.5 million require access to safe drinking water. And as UN Women has found, women and girls bear the brunt of this devastating situation. A 2018 report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded that violations and crimes under international law have occurred and continue to be perpetrated in Yemen.
Canada’s complicity

Canada is complicit in the war in Yemen. The export of made-in-Canada light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia, an approximately $15-billion contract originally signed by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, is now proceeding under export permits approved by the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau.

New export permits for arms shipments to Saudi Arabia have reportedly been suspended pending an indefinite review by the Trudeau government following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But according to recent data from Statistics Canada over half a billion dollars worth of armoured fighting vehicles have been exported through the port of Saint John, N.B., to Saudi Arabia in 2019 alone.

There is credible evidence that Canadian weapons sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in the devastating war in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition continues to commit serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia also has a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of its own citizens.
Where’s the Canadian labour movement? Continue reading

UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson comments anger the rulers of Saudi Arabia, forcing Downing Street to distance itself from his views

UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson comments anger the rulers of Saudi Arabia, forcing Downing Street to distance itself from his views

When the British government is forced to choose between factual truth and political imperatives, it chose politics

The UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stated a fact almost universally known by now. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia is fomenting sectarian war in the region. Saudi officials were angered by the comments and Saudi media accused British media of having an Iranian bias when reporting his comments.

Saudi rulers’ unhappiness with UK media is not specific to this particular instance. They are threatened by the rise in news stories portraying the Saudi military campaign in Yemen in a negative light. BBC had several programs that put the blame for the horrific conditions of children in Yemen on Saudi Arabia. Moreover, UK media in general is highlighting the hypocrisy of UK government, which criticizes Saudi War in Yemen, but keeps selling weapons that enable the rulers of the kingdom to conduct its destructive war in Yemen.

In its attempt to manage this crisis, especially that UK premiere was a guest during the GCC summit in Bahrain, Downing Street was forced to release a statement distancing itself from Johnson’s views.

Johnson’s comment is just one in many negative statements made by Western leaders, in the last two years, accusing Saudi Arabia of spreading an extremist interpretation of Islam

and supporting terrorist groups around the world. Outgoing U.S. president, Barack Obama made the case against Saudi Arabia in a 90-page long article summarizing his views in The Atlantic. Last summer, German intelligence officials also accused Saudi Arabia of building Islamic centers in the West that promote Wahhabism. The incoming U.S. administration will likely take a harsh stance against Saudi Arabian leaders as well.

In short the Saudi rulers must reform their political and religious institutions to be able to live in peace with their neighbors or risk crippling isolation.

Will hubris bring the end of the Saudi regime?

Will hubris bring the end of the Saudi regime?

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Saudi Arabia’s bizarre behavior was on display, again, during the last two weeks. The recent actions reveal how Saudi Arabia’ rulers leverage the kingdom’s oil-generated wealth, Wahhabism, and religious sites and institutions to exert unmatched control in world politics–unmatched even by the superpowers of today.
Here is the chain of events.
On Thursday, June 2, the United Nations released its blacklist of states and armed groups that violate children’s rights during conflict. In it, Saudi Arabia–and its coalition partners but mainly Saudi Arabia–was found responsible for “killing and maiming children in Yemen.” The report concluded that the coalition led by Saudi Arabia “was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries last year, killing 510 and wounding 667… The coalition carried out half the attacks on schools and hospitals.”

Saudi Arabia’s PR and diplomatic missions’ machines shifted into overdrive. First, as reported by several news outlets, its top diplomats informed UN officials that unless Saudi Arabia is removed from the list, the kingdom will stop funding all UN agencies. Second, and to facilitate its break with the UN, the rulers summoned Wahhabi religious clerics to meet and issue a fatwa declaring the UN “anti-Muslim”, thereby justifying the cutting of aid and dues to the UN. Third, the rulers called on members of its coalitions–the Arab coalition supporting its war on Yemen and the Islamic coalition supporting its alleged anti-terrorism efforts–to pressure the UN to remove the kingdom from its blacklist. Within a week, the UN announced that it was removing Saudi Arabia and its war on Yemen coalition partners from the list pending a joint investigation.

Have the rulers of Saudi Arabia achieved anything from this show of power and influence? Yes, they have achieved this: a clear demonstration that money offers rich individuals and nations immense power to obfuscate the truth. At what cost? The Saudi rulers multiplied their losses rather than curtail them.

1. Once on the list, the image of the kingdom has been irreversibly tarnished. By forcing the UN, through reported threats and enticements, to remove it from the blacklist, it added new damage: it exposed the kingdom’s rulers as bullies, arrogant, and thugs who resort to blackmail to achieve political goals.

2. When they called on their religious figures to issue a fatwa against the UN, they solidified the perception and the reality of their use of Islamic institutions in service of political masters, not the other way around as suggested by the titles the rulers choose for themselves: Servants of the Two Noble Sanctuaries.

3. The pressure the Saudi rulers exerted on their already reluctant coalition partners will gradually alienate those countries who find other reliable partners who will not use them the way the Saudi rulers do. Once that happens, the government of Saudi Arabia will be on a path to being isolated.

4. The Saudi rulers’ reliance on religious institutions as a convenience kiosk of fatwas-on-demand exposes the rulers’ insidious campaign to define Sunni Islam through a Wahhabi filter.

The events unleashed by the so-called Arab Spring have transformed Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies in ways they hardly imagined. First, Qatari satellite TV channel, Aljazeera, which reserved the right to criticize all Arab governments except those ruling the CCG member states, was exposed as a sectarian political tool in the hands of the ruling elite. Second, Saudi Arabia’s aggressive interference in the affairs of Muslim countries through bribes and threats was exposed. Some of the recently revealed actions show the extent of their otherwise secret dealings:  giving millions to Malaysian politicians, supporting Sunni tribes in Iraq to remove the elected prime minister—Nouri al-Maliki, arming Salafi fighters in Syria to overthrow the Syrian government, bombing Yemen to extend the rule of an interim president, offering refuge to a Tunisian dictator wanted for murder and embezzlement, supporting Egyptian military rulers who removed a democratically elected president, blocking the selection of a president in Lebanon, reneging on a gift to Lebanese military, and supporting Morocco to punish Algeria for challenging its control over the Arab League.

This problem with the UN report is indeed all bad news for the Saudi rulers. But it ought to be good news for the Muslim peoples. It exposes the Saudi rulers’ use and abuse of religious institutions and their perversion of Islam to preserve their corrupt, clannish control over sites revered by billions of Muslims around the world. This exposure is a necessary step for dealing with one of Saudi Arabia’s most dangerous brainchild: al-Qaeda and its derivatives. By examining the Saudi use of wealth and religious institutions, Sunni Muslim thinkers will begin to address the origins of ISIL’s corrupted interpretation of Islam and act against its genocidal agenda that is rooted in Saudi Wahhabism.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Saudi Arabia’s attempt to create a Sunni-Shia sectarian war hinges on fragile alliances and a retrograde worldview

Saudi Arabia’s attempt to create a Sunni-Shia sectarian war hinges on fragile alliances and a retrograde worldview

What is happening in Yemen and why?

In the post-Arab Spring Middle East, the rulers of Saudi Arabia see no place for neutrality. Their default position has become that declared by President Bush after 9/11: You are either with us or against us. Even the winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Tawakkol Karman, who is also a leading figure in Yemen’s Islah party, flew to Riyadh to join Abd Rabuh Hadi and bless the Saudi-led bombing campaign against Yemen, which killed thus far over 1000 people, including children and women. Indeed, neutrality is not an option when it comes to loss of life, but those who are inviting a foreign country to bomb their own people are siding with aggression.

Although the Saudi rulers started moving its military closer to the border with Yemen, it reassured the world community that the military buildup was for “protecting our borders only.” Suddenly, the kingdom did attack Yemen and without any provocation or threat to its territory. It did so under the umbrella of a coalition consisting of ten Arab and Muslim countries. This coalition empowered a 34 year old Saudi prince, the youngest defense minister in the world—and that is not a complement, to use all the military hardware his kingdom has accumulated over the years to bomb the Houthis and their allies to submission. The declared goals and justifications of this brutal war are: restore the legitimate government in all of Yemen and disarm the Houthis and their allies.

The said coalition is now shrinking forcing the rulers of the Gulf States to resort to intimidation and threats. For instance, when Pakistani lawmakers, reflecting the wish of the people who elected them, voted to stay neutral, Gulf States’ officials derogatorily branded Pakistan a “media ally.” After providing Egypt with billions of dollars to support the regime that overthrew Morsi, Saudi Arabia and UAE have pressured Sisi’s government to take a more visible role in the bombing campaign against Yemen.

As for legitimacy, it might suffice to quote an Arabic proverb that states: faqid al-shay’ la yu`tih [one cannot give that which one does not have]. Countries led by rulers who lack legitimacy lack the authority to bomb another country that is attempting to build its own representative government. Despite the Saudi claim, Hadi, like his predecessor and all other Arab rulers prior to the Arab Spring, does not represent a legitimate government in Yemen. However, the same way the Gulf States had supported Saleh, they are now supporting Hadi despite the fact that his term as interim president had expired February 27, 2014.

The social uprisings that forced the Tunisian dictator to escape disturbed the rulers of Saudi Arabia. They offered him a home even though he was accused of killing hundreds of Tunisians. Saudi Arabia’s rulers did not like the uprising that replaced Egypt’s Housni Mubarak with an elected president either. They spent billions to undo the “damage” brought by the revolution and were happy that a second “revolution sent an elected president to prison and reinstated a new authoritarian regime in Egypt. Saudi Arabia’s rulers worked hard to contain the spreading wave of protest in Yemen and impose a compromise meant to preserve its influence over its southern neighbor. However, the Saudi and Qatari rulers used the same wave of protest to overthrow or attempt to overthrow Arab governments that did not succumb to their influence like the Libyan and the Syrian governments.

The so-called Arab Spring protest movements provided influential rich Arab rulers with serious challenges and enticing opportunities. The crisis in Yemen represents both challenges and opportunities, forcing to the forefront a flawed logic and bringing together an alliance that is fraught with contradictions. 

First, the rulers of Qatar still consider Mohamed Morsi the legitimate president and that country’s satellite television channel, Aljazeera, continues to call anti-Sisi opposition “the supporters of legitimacy.” The Turkish government, too, refuses to normalize relations with Egypt unless Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood members are released from prison. Sisi’s government responded to these requests last week by issuing death sentences against a number of Muslim Brotherhood leaders. This did not bother the backbone of this alliance, Saudi Arabia, which, albeit under the leadership of the previous king, branded the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization

Second, in 2012, then under the sway of Qatar, the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership and recognized the Syrian Coalition as the “sole legitimate representative” of that country. This year, the Coalition was not even invited to attend the yearly meeting that was held in Egypt. 

Third, Saudi rulers reckon that a magnified fear of Shias would minimize the conflict among Sunni countries and, at least temporarily, unite them against the Iranian imagined threat. This strategy is more dangerous than productive. It exposed the Saudi rulers’ disdain to minority social groups and latent racism. It cannot be embraced by other Muslim countries, like Pakistan and Turkey, who have significant minorities and whose leaders gain power through the ballet, not the sword. With these contradictions aside, let’s examine the Saudi claim that its war on Yemen is for the purpose of restoring legitimacy.

After months of peaceful demonstrations, the Saudi rulers convinced then Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, whom they supported for decades, to resign and transfer his powers to his deputy, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, ahead of an early election and receive immunity from prosecution in return. Hadi was expected to form a national unity government and call for early presidential elections within 90 days, which he did and easily won since his name was the only one on the ballot. This process in itself was illegal since Yemen’s constitution (article 107) requires a minimum of two candidates competing for the presidency. 

Nonetheless, this transition agreement which was engineered by Saudi Arabia and its GCC allies in 2011, set a two-year time limit on Hadi’s presidency starting from the date of his inauguration, which took place on 27 February 2012. This agreement, which was later endorsed by the UN, also stipulated that a new president be elected under a new constitution. Such constitution never saw the light of the day allowing Hadi to remain in power despite the expiry of his term. 

Frustrated by delays, Houthis and their political and tribal allies, including former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, pushed for establishing a presidential council to replace Hadi and form a unity government to oversee the transition. Although Saleh was barred by the terms of the agreement from returning to power, he continued to exert influence and was hopeful that his son, Ahmed Ali Saleh, will be the next president. When the Houthis and their allies overran Sana`a in September 2014, Hadi reigned. After escaping to the southern city of Aden, then to Riyadh, he withdrew his resignation, providing a political, but not necessarily a legal, cover for Saudi Arabia to start its military campaign.

If it were not for their greed and disdain for the poor, the rulers of the Gulf States could have provided themselves with an actual legal basis for intervention in Yemen had they made that country part of the GCC. However, Yemen was excluded from the club of rich Arab nations despite the 1,100 miles of shared borders. After the Arab Spring, shamelessly, Saudi Arabia reached out to Morocco, which is thousands of miles away, and Jordan and invited (invitation was later revoked) them to join the GCC–but not Yemen. Yet, after allowing that country to fall into abject poverty, they now claim that the stability and welfare of Yemen are important enough to wage a destructive war on this impoverished yet proud country.

The Saudi intervention in Yemen is dangerous for the region and for the world and it is unprecedented. It is dangerous because the Saudi bombardment is creating the kind of environment (failed states) in which groups like al-Qaeda thrive. Curiously, after two weeks of intense bombardment, not a single bomb has fallen on al-Qaeda fighters who used this opportunity to solidify their control over Shibwa and expand their control over Yemen’s largest province, Hadramawt.

Hadi’s legitimacy aside, no country shall intervene militarily in another sovereign country without legal authority. Had Yemen been invaded by a foreign country, theoretically, Hadi could have asked for outside help. However, that is not the case here: Even the Saudi rulers admit that the Houthis are part of the Yemeni society –making the conflict an internal one. The Saudi rulers began their attack on Yemen and then asked the Arab League and the UNSC for legal authority

The so-called alliance is falling apart as the number of civilian casualties rises and the cost of destruction increases. The old adage, you break you own it, will apply here. Pakistan and Sudan cannot afford to be weighed down by the cost of war in and rebuilding of another country when their own peoples are struggling with poverty. Pakistan has already made its decision to stay out of this conflict. More countries will peel off as the human and financial costs of the war continue to climb, reducing the anti-Houthi coalition to Gulf States minus Oman and several other countries with debt owed to the rich Arab club of nations.

At home, the Gulf States are marketing their military campaign as a firm stance against the aggressive Shia neighbor, Iran, accusing it of supplying Houthiswith weapons. The Saudi Grand Mufti issued a call for mandatory draft to train and arm Saudis to protect “religion and nation.” This rhetoric is consistent with the internal Saudi discourse, which is sectarian in nature. Instead of facing their own internal problems and dealing with their chronic failure to embrace representative governance, the rulers of the Gulf States continue to blame foreign countries and inflame sectarian tensions.

There is another reason why Saudi Arabia launched its war on Yemen when it did: the Iranian-P5+1 preliminary nuclear agreement will transform the geopolitics of the Middle East. With Iran freed from being blamed for all the Middle Eastern problems, the politics of fear will be replaced with contesting ideas and expressing desire for open governance, which would expose the Gulf States’ retrograde ideology, political repression, and hateful sectarianism.

The post-Arab Spring Middle East is not the same as the pre-Arab Spring Middle East. The Saudi rulers want to preserve the old order and continue to privilege genocidal rhetoric. That is a failed strategy. As President Obama suggested in a recent interview, Saudi Arabia’s rulers fear not a Houthis’ takeover of Yemen on behalf of Iran, they fear most a new paradigm: an independent and democratic Yemen where leaders are elected by the people, not appointed by the head of the clan.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

The rulers of the Gulf States are bent on destroying countries that refuse or escape their influence

The rulers of the Gulf States are bent on destroying countries that refuse or escape their influence

Saudi Arabia and Yemen
by Ahmed Souaiaia
During the early days of the so-called Arab Spring, nervous for their own continued rule, the rulers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), led by the King of Saudi Arabia, proposed the expansion of the GCC to include Jordan and Morocco—but not Yemen. Yemen shares borders with two GCC member states yet it was excluded from this club of rich Arab countries. Yemen is not a good candidate because, despite poverty and political corruption, its people actually have a genuine desire to move towards representative governance. That is a non-starter for the Guff States. They prefer countries with similar governing tradition: exclusive family or clan rule and no prospects for democratic rule. That is why Jordan and Morocco were good candidates but not Yemen.

Now that the Houthis are controlling half the country, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and its proxies decided to preserve their control over the other half. To do so, they helped a former interim president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, escape to the southern city of Yemen, Aden, and moved their embassies out of the capital Sana`a. Today, Hadi declared Sana`a “occupied capital”.

The Gulf States are playing a dangerous game similar to the one they played in Syria. They are likely to use proxy groups, mostly salafi fighters, as a counterweight to the Houthis. Should they do that, and should these ISIL-like fighters become strong enough, such groups will not just attack Sana`a, they will claim Riyadh as they march north to meet their allies who would be marching south from Iraq and Syria.

What is behind Saudi Arabia’s uncharacteristic aggressiveness?

What is behind Saudi Arabia’s uncharacteristic aggressiveness?

Until before Cablegate, when in February 2010 WikiLeaks began releasing classified U.S. cables, Saudi Arabia was known for its quiet diplomacy. Then its secret dealings were revealed and exposed its actual dealings. Regionally, released documents exposed Saudi Arabia as an enthusiastic proponent of military intervention in Iran. Privately, the Saudi rulers told U.S. officials that Iran is the biggest threat. Publicly, they emphasized Saudi Arabia’s commitment to a diplomatic, peaceful solution to the Iranian problem. In other words, the Saudi rulers conducted a two-tract, contradictory policy. The leaks deprived them of the cover of diplomatic secrecy. 
Together, WikiLeaks and the Arab Awakening highlighted Saudi Arabia’s reliance on authoritarian rulers and extremist Salafis to exert influence around the world. The Arab Spring threatened authoritarian rulers and extremist Salafis. Access to information and public participation in selecting leaders became a threat to Saudi religious and political paradigms and for those reasons they are now fully prepared to pursue an aggressive foreign policy publicly. In other words, Saudi aggressive meddling in the affairs of its neighbors is not new, it is simply overt nowadays.
In the short run, the Saudis will be able to exert limited influence in the region, mainly through their ability to create instability using violent, fanatic elements. In the long run, the Saudi money that is supporting Salafi political parties in Tunisia and Egypt and their open military support of Salafi armed groups in Syria will not succeed in preserving their governing paradigm. First, because it is ideologically flawed and socially unjust. Second, if the Salafis become willing and successful participating members in the democratic processes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and other Awakened Arab countries, they would want to have the same rights in Saudi Arabia itself. Thirdly, the Saudis’ enthusiastic support of the uprising in Syria cannot and will not absolve them of the long record of supporting authoritarians such as Mubarak and Ben Ali, who is still living under their protection. In the end, only genuine political and religious reform can save the kingdom from radical, and perhaps violent changes.

What caused the Syrian and Yemini uprisings to falter?

What caused the Syrian and Yemini uprisings to falter?

Syria: From peaceful uprising to armed rebellion
By all accounts, the success of the uprisings against the old guard in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya was not matched in Yemen and Syria. The failure of the Yemeni and Syrian uprisings to achieve their goals can be explained by the post-revolutions’ events in the Arab Awakening countries and the Gulf States’ meddling therein.

After nearly a year of hard struggle against the authoritarian regimes in the first three Arab Awakening countries, the youth of the revolution were overlooked in the elections due to the efficiency of the political machine of religious parties. In all three countries, Islamists, moderate and otherwise, reaped the fruits of uprisings initiated and realized by apolitical youth who were less interested in ideology and more driven by their yearning for dignity and respect.

But when the dust settled, religious and nationalist groups were able to mobilize their followers and gain control of elected bodies. This trend sent a shock of despair among the youth in Syria and Yemen. They became uninterested in sweating and bleeding for a cause that will be hijacked by Muslim brothers, salafis, and tahriris.

The second factor that contributed to the starving of the uprisings in Syria is the uncharacteristic “support” from the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Syrian youth were not interested in having their fight for dignity sponsored and bankrolled by regimes that have no culture of social justice, shared governance, and respect for human dignity. For many Syrians, it is bizarre that the Saudi family could offer the former dictator of Tunisia protection while calling for Assad’s removal from office. It is inexplicable that the same regime that hospitalized and supported the dictator of Yemen and called for a peaceful, political solution to the crisis there was willing to arm and finance the rebels in Syria. It is disturbing that the same regime that sent military tanks and troops to crush a peaceful uprising in Bahrain wants the UNSC and the Arab League to send troops into Syria. 

Simply put, the Syrian youth who struggled for political rights were not persuaded by the crocodile tears of the ruling families in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Perhaps, when those rulers recognize the human rights of immigrants, respect the dignity of women, and end sectarian and ethnic discrimination in their countries, then, and only then, can they side with the Syrian people and speak on their behalf.

Considering the Saudi involvement in the Syrian crisis, it would seem as if the Saudis gambled on a win-win situation: the removal of Assad whom they despised for many reasons or the derailing of the Arab Awakening. They may have gotten the latter; while depriving the Arab peoples of a chance to transform their world for the better.
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