Trump, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Iran

Saudi Arabia is mad at Canada:

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday that it is ordering Canada’s ambassador to leave the country and freezing all new trade and investment transactions with Canada in a spat over human rights.

“We consider the Canadian ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours,” Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry said on Twitter.

Why? It seems because of this tweet:

Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists.

That’s obviously a terrible thing:

The Saudi Foreign Ministry called the use of “immediately release” in Canada’s tweet “unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable in relations between states.”

It dismissed Canada’s characterization of the activists as “an incorrect claim” and said Canada’s attitude was “surprising.”

“Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from Canada, means that we are allowed to interfere in Canada’s internal affairs,” it said.

Canada replied as they should:

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a brief response to the Saudi complaint on Sunday evening.

“We are seriously concerned by these media reports and are seeking greater clarity on the recent statement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Marie-Pier Baril.

“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world. Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.”

This reaction is typical of Saudi Arabia:

The dispute with Canada is part of a larger pushback against external criticism, analysts say. Germany similarly has found itself targeted by the kingdom in recent months over comments by its officials on the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

It’s also not the first time Saudi Arabia has lashed out diplomatically over the Badawi case. In 2015, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Sweden and stopped issuing work visas for Swedes after the Scandinavian country’s foreign minister described the Badawi court decision as “medieval” and the kingdom’s ruling Al Saud family as presiding over a “dictatorship.”

Normally, the US would be expected to back up an ally like Canada but:

Analysts say the dispute between Riyadh and Ottawa shows Saudi Arabia won’t accept any outside criticism and will continue flexing its muscles abroad, especially as the kingdom enjoys a closer relationship with President Donald Trump.

In a (hopefully) coincidence, today is the day US sanctions on Iran are renewed:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran will be rigorously enforced and remain in place until the Iranian government radically changes course.

‘‘We’re hopeful that we can find a way to move forward but it’s going to require enormous change on the part of the Iranian regime,’’ he said Sunday. ‘‘They’ve got to behave like a normal country. That’s the ask. It’s pretty simple.’’

Since the Trump administration hasn’t said anything about Saudi Arabia, I guess they consider their actions to Canada’s statements to be normal?


John Kerry is on the wrong side

Let’s look at how things are going in Yemen and Bahrain:

Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of gulf countries conducting airstrikes against the Iranian-backed Houthis. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, whose country chairs the GCC, said relations with Iran will be chilly until the country ends its interventionist policies.

“We stressed that if Iran wants to have normal relations with the GCC states, it has to change its policies and abide by the good-neighborhood principle,” he said.

Wait, Saudi Arabia is directly involved in Yemen but it’s Iran who needs to end its interventionist policies?  Has Iran done this?

A Saudi-led coalition battling Shiite rebels and their allies in Yemen used U.S.-supplied bombs in an airstrike last month on a market that killed at least 119 people, a human rights group said Thursday, further highlighting American involvement in the conflict.

The March 15 bombing targeting the northwestern town of Mastaba marked the second-deadliest airstrike of the year-long Saudi-helmed campaign — and the results were horrific. Survivors said the outdoor market, next to a shantytown inhabited largely by people who fled there from other battle zones, was obliterated by double strikes that came about 10 minutes apart, with mangled bodies thrown hundreds of yards away.

And has Iran allowed this?

Al-Qaeda has made major financial gains as a result of the war in Yemen, running its own mini-state and pocketing $100 million in looted bank deposits and revenue from running the country’s largest port, a Reuters investigation has revealed.

The group’s deep pockets and increased power are down to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which has reportedly helped it become stronger than at any time since its emergence almost 20 years ago.

Iran has been sending weapons to Yemen, but given the above this statement by John Kerry sounds more than a little hypocritical:

“If Iran is going to give meaning to the words in the last few days about wanting to work with people, it is by getting engaged in making peace in Yemen, not adding more weapons and fueling the conflict,” Kerry said.

And he’s worse when talking about Bahrain:

Referring to Bahrain earlier in the day, Kerry criticized the Bahraini opposition, saying its boycott of a 2014 election had a “polarizing” effect.

Kerry, appearing with Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, praised reforms Bahrain has made to open its political system but said more steps were needed to counter violent extremism. He suggested that the opposition had played a role in preventing more reforms.

“Regrettably, I think a great mistake was made when the opposition chose to boycott an election,” said Kerry, the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Bahrain since a government crackdown that followed protests in 2011 by Bahrain’s majority Shiite Muslims. “I think that polarizes things rather than helps them.”

Standing beside the foreign minister, Kerry hailed Bahrain as a “critical security partner” of the United States and said security was the foundation of the relationship between the countries.

“At the end, our relation with Bahrain is built on common interests that we share, and one of those interests is joint efforts to combat violent extremism,” Kerry said. “We believe that broadening rights and opportunities, bringing people together in the political process, is one of the ways to counter it.”

Let’s look at the Freedom House’s ratings for Bahrain:

Bahrain’s political rights rating declined from 6 to 7 due to grave flaws in the 2014 legislative elections and the government’s unwillingness to address long-standing grievances among the majority Shiite community about the drawing of electoral districts and the possibility of fair representation.

Their conclusion: Not Free.

But Freedom House breaks things down further (the scores are out of 100 where 0 is the best, 100 the worst):

If you look at the aggregate score of Bahrain, you find they have a score of 14 (in this case, higher is better)–only 16 regions have worse scores (out of 211 entries; they are 12th worst when you only count countries–the rankings include places like Tibet and Crimea which are disputed regions in a country).

So, Bahrain is a pretty bad country that John Kerry should not be praising. Oh, and Saudi Arabia is even worse (the 10th worst country; Iran is slightly better at 20th worst).

Our Ally

What’s going on in Yemen?

The United States on Tuesday sponsored a United Nations Security Council session intended to draw attention to the dire consequences of the war in Yemen, but the meeting also raised questions about potential crimes committed by a Saudi-led military offensive that the Pentagon actively supports.
The United States refuels military jets and provides intelligence support to the military coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, that is trying to defeat Houthi insurgents in Yemen. Since those airstrikes began in March, more than 2,700 civilians have been killed, dozens of schools and hospitals have been attacked and the United Nations has warned of breaches of international law.
But during the session on Tuesday, the United Nations’ top human rights official said that the Saudi-led coalition bore the greatest responsibility for the civilian carnage. The official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, said that while both sides in the conflict had engaged in attacks on civilians, “a disproportionate amount appeared to be the result of airstrikes carried out by coalition forces.”
Wow, so Saudi Arabia is committing war crimes with weapons and intelligence supplied by the US. I assume now that it’s clear, the US will change its support:
Despite those conversations, the Obama administration has not blocked a $129 million weapons deal with Saudi Arabia. It has also not suggested that it would withdraw its support for the Saudi-led operations, nor said that it would conduct its own investigations into military airstrikes that might amount to serious crimes.
Oh well, never mind. At least Saudi Arabia is helping control the spread of ISIS and al-Qaeda:
Nine months of war between a Saudi-led military coalition and a Yemeni rebel group have left thousands of civilians dead, a nation gravely polarized and the land strewn with debris, mines and unexploded bombs.
The conflict has produced another bitter legacy: a new branch of the Islamic State that has quietly grown in strength and appears determined to distinguish itself as Yemen’s most disruptive and brutal force, carrying out attacks considered too extreme even by the country’s branch of Al Qaeda.
Both the Islamic State and Al Qaeda have profited from a security vacuum while trying to rally Yemen’s Sunnis against the Shiite-led rebels, known as the Houthis, who are from the north, analysts say. Crucially, the groups have both faced little or no resistance from the Saudi-led coalition and its allies, which are focused on defeating the Houthis.
Well fuck, it seems the US is on the same side as al-Qaeda and ISIS in Yemen. Great work that.

Whose side are we on?

Yemen is a mess:

Saudi-led air strikes on a missile depot in Yemen’s rebel-held capital Monday sparked explosions that left at least 18 people dead and 300 wounded, flattening houses and shaking faraway neighbourhoods.

The Shiite rebels have seized control of large parts of the Arabian Peninsula nation, including Sanaa, and fought fierce battles with pro-government forces.

A coalition of Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia launched the air campaign against the rebels last month, vowing to restore the authority of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled to Riyadh as the militiamen advanced on his southern stronghold of Aden.

The coalition says it has carried out more than 2,000 strikes since the start of the campaign, gaining complete control of Yemeni airspace and knocking out rebel infrastructure.

The United Nations says the fighting and air strikes have left hundreds dead and thousands wounded, and there has been increasing concern of a huge humanitarian crisis.


Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which was long forced into the shadows by U.S. drone strikes and commando raids, has taken advantage of the growing chaos in Yemen’s multi-sided war to carve out a potential haven that counter-terrorism experts say could help it launch terrorist attacks.

After seizing a regional airport and a coastal oil terminal this week, Al Qaeda militants consolidated their gains Friday in Mukalla, an Arabian Sea port. Fighters stormed a weapons depot and seized armored vehicles and rockets after apparently forging a truce with local tribes and forcing government troops to flee.

Since Al Qaeda is a bigger threat, than the Houthis, in the Middle East as a whole, Saudi Arabia must be bombing them more also. Umm no:

The Houthis have fought with AQAP, Sunni Muslims whom they consider enemies. But the Saudi airstrikes have only targeted the Houthis — giving Al Qaeda a relatively free hand.

So the US is helping the Saudis who are fighting the Houthis who are fighting al Qaeda who the US is also fighting. Lovely.

Saudi women can now vote, but not drive

This seems  a bit backwards to me:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Sunday granted women the right to vote and run in future municipal elections, the biggest change in a decade for women in a puritanical kingdom that practices strict separation of the sexes, including banning women from driving.

So women are severely restricted in their ability to go anywhere (they can pretty much only go somewhere if they’re escorted by a man), but they can vote. I suppose the ability to vote might get them more freedom, but I think I’d rather to be able to move about freely than vote (also note that this seems to give veto power to a husband, he could not allow his wife to vote).

I also like this little bit (italics added):

“We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society,” the king said in an address to the Shura, noting during the five minutes he spent on the subject that senior religious scholars had endorsed the change.

More on Bahrain

It seems Bahrain has really decided to go the suppression route:

As my colleagues Lara El Gibaly and David Jolly report, eight opposition activists were sentenced to life in prison in Bahrain on Wednesday for what the state news agency describedas “plotting to topple the government,” during two months of demonstrations earlier this year.

The same court, presided over by a uniformed member of the kingdom’s military, also sentenced 13 other activists to terms of between 2 and 15 years in jail.

Again it seems that Wikileaks is doing more than the US:

This year’s harsh crackdown on Shiite Muslims in Bahrain follows the playbook  that Sunni Muslim-ruled Saudi Arabia used against Shiites in its own Eastern  Province as recently as two years ago, secret State Department cables show.

Some of the officials named in the cables as responsible for the 2009  Eastern Province crackdown now are advising Bahrain’s leaders.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington declined to comment. U.S. officials do not  respond to requests for comment about WikiLeaks cables.

In annual human rights reports, the State Department has expressed  concern about anti-Shiite actions in Saudi Arabia but it’s unclear whether U.S.  officials protest the actions in their private meetings with Saudi  officials.

The similarity between the actions ascribed to Saudi officials in the  cables and what has taken place in Bahrain since Saudi troops arrived there  March 15 also is striking. Saudi officials quoted in the cables even cite the  same reasons for closing mosques – improper permits and illegal construction –  that Bahraini officials used to explain why they have destroyed at least 40  Shiite mosques in the last three months.

According to the Aug. 15, 2009, cable, Saudi officials closed at least  five Shiite mosques in the Eastern Province in 2009. At least 20 had been closed  since 1998, the Sept. 16, 2009, cable said.

Here’s the US response:

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner expressed concern about the severity of the sentences and the fact that the civilians were tried in a military court.  “As President Obama said in his May 19th speech, such steps are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens. We understand that these cases will now go through an appeals process. We continue to urge the Bahraini government to abide by its commitment to transparent judicial proceedings, conducted in full accordance with Bahrain’s international obligations, and to create the conditions for a meaningful, inclusive and credible dialogue,” he said.

Ooh, tough words. At least the US has had an effect, they encouraged the king to begin a national unity dialogue:

Bahrain’s King Hamad al-Khalifa has promised to open a national dialogue on political reform next month but trials are to continue, including a case against more than 30 doctors and nurses accused of supporting the protests.

Ya see, this is how an open dialogue works: the opposition says some things and then the government arrests them. It works very well. And if you want them to say something in particular, torture them.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is becoming the stop for all your repression needs. If you need troops to suppress your population, they’re there (and it’s a good opportunity to set up a marriage). If an ex-dictator needs a place to stay with no fear of extradition, it’s a wonderful place (not that Tunisia’s ex-President wants to be there, he was tricked; it was also, I’m sure, just all gifts that led him to control up to a quarter of Tunisia’s economy). And if you want to control your women, why Saudi Arabia doesn’t even allow its women to drive (women driving is such a big deal that Hilary Clinton has now publicly declared her support). Saudi Arabia needs a good revolution.

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