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Destabilising Saudi Arabia? Crown Prince consolidates control; eliminates rivals

Saudi Crown Prince’s attempts to concentrate power put Saudi Arabia’s whole system of governance at risk

Alexander Mercouris

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The round-up of Saudi Princes which took place on 5th November 2017 is simply the latest in a succession of purges initiated by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman, as he tries to consolidate his position by getting his hands on all of Saudi Arabia’s levers of power.

As is often the case in purges of this kind, a large number of people have been rounded up on ‘corruption charges’ (the standard pretext used to conceal power struggles of this sort) in order to conceal the identity of the true target of the purge.

That target was Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, the commander of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard, the third in the triad of defence and security agencies which underpin the rule of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Family.

Of these three the largest and most powerful is the Saudi military, which Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman controls directly as Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister.

The second is the Interior Ministry, which controls Saudi Arabia’s police and law enforcement agencies.

Its former head, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, was appointed Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s own father, King Salman, in April 2015, shortly after King Salman succeeded to the throne following the death of King Abdullah, the previous Saudi King.

As Interior Minister Prince Muhammad bin Nayef headed a sprawling police and internal security apparatus built up by his father Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, who was Saudi Arabia’s Interior Minister from 1975 to 2012, and who was also briefly Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince for a few months before his death.

In addition, from February 2014 Prince Muhammad bin Nayef also became the head of Saudi Arabia’s external intelligence agencies in succession to the notorious Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who was sacked following a disastrous “secret” meeting with Russian President Putin in the summer of 2013..

As Crown Prince, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef retained overall control of both of the Interior Ministry and of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agencies.  However he was abruptly demoted and  sacked from all his posts in the first purge engineered this year by Prince Muhammad bin Salman in June 2017. Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who up to then had been Deputy Crown Prince, then arranged to have himself declared Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince in direct succession to his father King Salman in place of Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, making Prince Muhammad bin Salman the direct heir to the Saudi throne and the intended successor as Saudi King of his father King Salman when King Salman dies.

By securing Prince Muhammad bin Nayef’s downfall, Prince Muhammad bin Salman therefore removed from the scene a powerful Prince who was a rival for the throne.

As might have been predicted, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef’s downfall then appears to have been followed by a purge of his supporters from his former power base – the Interior Ministry – and their replacement with people Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman presumably considers loyal to himself.  It seems that the powers of the Interior Ministry have also been significantly cut back.

Having eliminated one potential rival in the person of Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and brought the Interior Ministry under his control, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has now turned his attention on another potential rival – Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah – and the third agency in Saudi Arabia’s security triad, the Saudi National Guard.

This is a huge well-equipped paramilitary force – it is said to number 100,000 men – which operates within Saudi Arabia as practically a parallel army to the ‘official’ Saudi army which is headed by Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

Like the army the National Guard is equipped with heavy weapons (though not tanks) and has its own air arm consisting of helicopters and light aircraft.

Unlike the official Saudi army recruitment to the National Guard is restricted to members of tribes believed to be especially loyal to the Saudi Royal Family.

In effect it functions within Saudi Arabia as a sort of Praetorian Guard, protecting the Royal Family from the risk of an internal revolution or coup.  As such it also controls security in the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina, the control of which gives the Saudi Royal Family its legitimacy (the official title of Saudi Arabia’s King is “Custodian of the two Holy Mosques” ie. of Mecca and Medina).

The commander of the National Guard is therefore a key figure in the Saudi power structure.

Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, its now ousted head, was not only one of Saudi Arabia’s best connected  and most influential Princes, but he also had a continuous connection with the National Guard extending back to 1990, making it loyal to himself and an effective power base.  He became its commander in 2009.

Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah is also the son of King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s former King, who was King from 2005 to 2015, making Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah therefore a potential rival for the Saudi throne.

Like Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah also belongs to a more senior generation of Saudi Princes born in the 1950s, who must be feeling unsettled by the meteoric rise of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who was born in 1985 and is only 32.

In addition it seems that Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah were friends, and political allies, a fact which would have made them doubly threatening to Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, and which would have ensured that the fall of the one would be followed swiftly by the fall of the other.

By ousting Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah from his position as commander of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is therefore looking to eliminate a powerful potential rival, and to bring the National Guard under his control.

If Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman can pull off the trick – and for the moment he seems to be doing so – he will have control of all of Saudi Arabia’s defence, intelligence, and internal security institutions – the Defence Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the country’s intelligence services and the National Guard – in his hands.

With Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman already in charge of Saudi Arabia’s economic policies and its civilian ministries, and with a purge of Saudi Arabia’s clerical establishment previously carried out in September, he must hope that this will concentrate all the levers of power in Saudi Arabia in his hands.

Though in the short term Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman appears to be achieving some success, it must be said that this is a high risk strategy.

Though Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, its King has never before ruled as an autocrat.  Rather he has ruled on behalf of the entire Saudi Royal Family as its trustee.

That means that the Saudi King has traditionally consulted widely within the Royal Family before making important decisions, and that he has always given power to other members of the Royal Family, to whom he has entrusted important functions such as the control of the Interior Ministry and of the National Guard.

Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is throwing all that out of the window.  By seeking to concentrate all power in his own hands he really does seem to be aiming at making himself Saudi Arabia’s autocrat.

In the process he must be causing intense anger within the Saudi Royal Family, with many of its members furious at the way in which they are being shunted aside, and at the shabby treatment – as many of them will see it – of the Family’s senior Princes like Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah.

Beyond that the use of the issue of corruption as the cloak behind which to carry out the purge is one which is all but guaranteed to provoke further anger and alarm.

Saudi Arabia though possessing many of the trappings of a state is nonetheless ultimately the property of the Saudi Royal Family.  In such a system lines between what is corrupt and what is not inevitably become blurred.

The result is that what in many countries would be seen as corruption in Saudi Arabia is the accepted norm, becoming in effect the organising principle of Saudi Arabia’s government and society.

It is doubtful that most of the Saudi Princes, accustomed to thinking of the Kingdom’s wealth as their own collectively held personal property, even think of many of the things they do as corruption.

The result is that almost any prominent Saudi Prince can be classified as ‘corrupt’, with the term from their point of view having little or no meaning or having much relevance to the things they do.

In such a situation for Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to start jailing Saudi Princes because he calls things which all of them do and have been long accustomed to doing ‘corrupt’ is all but guaranteed to provoke alarm and anger across the rest of the Royal Family.

Since the accession of his father King Salman in 2015 Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has been remarkably active as he he looks to put into effect his own vision of himself and of the future of the Kingdom.

He has launched a war against the Houthis in the Yemen which by all accounts is not gong well.  He has also conducted a feud with Qatar which seems ill-advised, and he has now extended his meddling to the affairs of Lebanon as well.

He has also committed the Kingdom to a grossly over-ambitious and unrealistic economic policy, with the latest fantasy being the creation from scratch of an all-new industrial city for which there is no obvious purpose or need.

He is now acting to eliminate his rivals and to concentrate all power in the Kingdom in his hands, achieving thereby a position of greater power in Saudi Arabia than any Saudi King before him except for the Kingdom’s founder, King Abdul-Aziz Ibn Said.

At the same time he is purging the country’s clerical establishment, enacting liberal innovations such as allowing women to drive cars, whilst declaring that he intends to replace Saudi Arabia’s stern Wahhabi religious ideology with a more ‘moderate’ version of Islam, which he claims – falsely – to have been that of the Kingdom’s founder, King Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud.

This purported internal ‘liberalisation’ of Saudi Arabia looks to me like a ploy by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to gain popular support as he consolidates his power from the younger, more liberal and better educated members of the Saudi elite.

I am as skeptical of it as is Gilbert Mercier and I would add that it is anyway at odds with the reality of the rapidly growing centralisation of power in Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s own person which is now underway.

As I said in my previous discussion of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s grandiose economic policy, the person of whom his actions increasingly remind me is the late Shah of Iran.

Like the Shah Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman promotes an appearance of ‘modernisation’ and ‘liberalisation’ in order to disguise and justify his increasingly autocratic and arbitrary behaviour.

Like the Shah Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is doing this whilst pursuing a break-neck military build-up, a grandiose and completely unrealistic foreign policy, and an economic policy which is so grandiose that it has left all reality behind it.

Like the Shah Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has the unqualified support in all his follies of the US, whose Secretary of State Rex Tillerson almost certainly gave the purge the green light during the course of his recent visit to Riyadh.

In the case of the Shah it all ended in tears, with the Shah forced into ignominious exile by the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Saudi Arabia is a very different society from Iran, lacking Iran’s history and its ancient culture and tradition of parliamentarianism and democracy.

The fact however remains that by acting to eliminate all rivals Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman must be provoking huge anger within Saudi Arabia, whilst by concentrating all power in his own hands he will have no one else to blame if things go seriously wrong.

Meanwhile his purported religious ‘liberalisation’ – because of the way it is being combined with his growing trend towards achieving personal power – is more likely to be seen as threatening by most sections of Saudi society than as attractive to them.

One way or the other by his recent actions Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has taken Saudi Arabia further down the road first to autocracy, and then to collapse.

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Clinton-Yeltsin docs shine a light on why Deep State hates Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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Bill Clinton and America ruled over Russia and Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s. Yeltsin showed little love for Russia and more interest in keeping power, and pleasing the oligarchs around him.

Then came Vladimir Putin, and everything changed.

Nearly 600 pages of memos and transcripts, documenting personal exchanges and telephone conversations between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, were made public by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dating from January 1993 to December 1999, the documents provide a historical account of a time when US relations with Russia were at their best, as Russia was at its weakest.

On September 8, 1999, weeks after promoting the head of the Russia’s top intelligence agency to the post of prime minister, Russian President Boris Yeltsin took a phone call from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The new prime minister was unknown, rising to the top of the Federal Security Service only a year earlier.

Yeltsin wanted to reassure Clinton that Vladimir Putin was a “solid man.”

Yeltsin told Clinton….

“I would like to tell you about him so you will know what kind of man he is.”

“I found out he is a solid man who is kept well abreast of various subjects under his purview. At the same time, he is thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners. I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the nearly 600 pages of transcripts documenting the calls and personal conversations between then U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, released last month. A strong Clinton and a very weak Yeltsin underscore a warm and friendly relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Then Vladimir Putin came along and decided to lift Russia out of the abyss, and things changed.

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Here are five must-read Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges from with the 600 pages released by the Clinton Library.

Via RT

Clinton sends ‘his people’ to get Yeltsin elected

Amid unceasing allegations of nefarious Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, the Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges reveal how the US government threw its full weight behind Boris – in Russian parliamentary elections as well as for the 1996 reelection campaign, which he approached with 1-digit ratings.

For example, a transcript from 1993 details how Clinton offered to help Yeltsin in upcoming parliamentary elections by selectively using US foreign aid to shore up support for the Russian leader’s political allies.

“What is the prevailing attitude among the regional leaders? Can we do something through our aid package to send support out to the regions?” a concerned Clinton asked.

Yeltsin liked the idea, replying that “this kind of regional support would be very useful.” Clinton then promised to have “his people” follow up on the plan.

In another exchange, Yeltsin asks his US counterpart for a bit of financial help ahead of the 1996 presidential election: “Bill, for my election campaign, I urgently need for Russia a loan of $2.5 billion,” he said. Yeltsin added that he needed the money in order to pay pensions and government wages – obligations which, if left unfulfilled, would have likely led to his political ruin. Yeltsin also asks Clinton if he could “use his influence” to increase the size of an IMF loan to assist him during his re-election campaign.

Yeltsin questions NATO expansion

The future of NATO was still an open question in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and conversations between Clinton and Yeltsin provide an illuminating backdrop to the current state of the curiously offensive ‘defensive alliance’ (spoiler alert: it expanded right up to Russia’s border).

In 1995, Yeltsin told Clinton that NATO expansion would lead to “humiliation” for Russia, noting that many Russians were fearful of the possibility that the alliance could encircle their country.

“It’s a new form of encirclement if the one surviving Cold War bloc expands right up to the borders of Russia. Many Russians have a sense of fear. What do you want to achieve with this if Russia is your partner? They ask. I ask it too: Why do you want to do this?” Yeltsin asked Clinton.

As the documents show, Yeltsin insisted that Russia had “no claims on other countries,” adding that it was “unacceptable” that the US was conducting naval drills near Crimea.

“It is as if we were training people in Cuba. How would you feel?” Yeltsin asked. The Russian leader then proposed a “gentleman’s agreement” that no former Soviet republics would join NATO.

Clinton refused the offer, saying: “I can’t make the specific commitment you are asking for. It would violate the whole spirit of NATO. I’ve always tried to build you up and never undermine you.”

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia turns Russia against the West

Although Clinton and Yeltsin enjoyed friendly relations, NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia tempered Moscow’s enthusiastic partnership with the West.

“Our people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with NATO,” the Russian president told Clinton in March 1999. “I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that.”

Yeltsin urged Clinton to renounce the strikes, for the sake of “our relationship” and “peace in Europe.”

“It is not known who will come after us and it is not known what will be the road of future developments in strategic nuclear weapons,” Yeltsin reminded his US counterpart.

But Clinton wouldn’t cede ground.

“Milosevic is still a communist dictator and he would like to destroy the alliance that Russia has built up with the US and Europe and essentially destroy the whole movement of your region toward democracy and go back to ethnic alliances. We cannot allow him to dictate our future,” Clinton told Yeltsin.

Yeltsin asks US to ‘give Europe to Russia’

One exchange that has been making the rounds on Twitter appears to show Yeltsin requesting that Europe be “given” to Russia during a meeting in Istanbul in 1999. However, it’s not quite what it seems.

“I ask you one thing,” Yeltsin says, addressing Clinton. “Just give Europe to Russia. The US is not in Europe. Europe should be in the business of Europeans.”

However, the request is slightly less sinister than it sounds when put into context: The two leaders were discussing missile defense, and Yeltsin was arguing that Russia – not the US – would be a more suitable guarantor of Europe’s security.

“We have the power in Russia to protect all of Europe, including those with missiles,” Yeltsin told Clinton.

Clinton on Putin: ‘He’s very smart’

Perhaps one of the most interesting exchanges takes place when Yeltsin announces to Clinton his successor, Vladimir Putin.

In a conversation with Clinton from September 1999, Yeltsin describes Putin as “a solid man,” adding: “I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

A month later, Clinton asks Yeltsin who will win the Russian presidential election.

“Putin, of course. He will be the successor to Boris Yeltsin. He’s a democrat, and he knows the West.”

“He’s very smart,” Clinton remarks.

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New Satellite Images Reveal Aftermath Of Israeli Strikes On Syria; Putin Accepts Offer to Probe Downed Jet

The images reveal the extent of destruction in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport.

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Via Zerohedge


An Israeli satellite imaging company has released satellite photographs that reveal the extent of Monday night’s attack on multiple locations inside Syria.

ImageSat International released them as part of an intelligence report on a series of Israeli air strikes which lasted for over an hour and resulted in Syrian missile defense accidentally downing a Russian surveillance plane that had 15 personnel on board.

The images reveal the extent of destruction on one location struck early in attack in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport. On Tuesday Israel owned up to carrying out the attack in a rare admission.

Syrian official SANA news agency reported ten people injured in the attacks carried out of military targets near three major cities in Syria’s north.

The Times of Israel, which first reported the release of the new satellite images, underscores the rarity of Israeli strikes happening that far north and along the coast, dangerously near Russian positions:

The attack near Latakia was especially unusual because the port city is located near a Russian military base, the Khmeimim Air Force base. The base is home to Russian jet planes and an S-400 aerial defense system. According to Arab media reports, Israel has rarely struck that area since the Russians arrived there.

The Russian S-400 system was reportedly active during the attack, but it’s difficult to confirm or assess the extent to which Russian missiles responded during the strikes.

Three of the released satellite images show what’s described as an “ammunition warehouse” that appears to have been completely destroyed.

The IDF has stated their airstrikes targeted a Syrian army facility “from which weapons-manufacturing systems were supposed to be transferred to Iran and Hezbollah.” This statement came after the IDF expressed “sorrow” for the deaths of Russian airmen, but also said responsibility lies with the “Assad regime.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to express regret over the incident while offering to send his air force chief to Russia with a detailed report — something which Putin agreed to.

According to Russia’s RT News, “Major-General Amikam Norkin will arrive in Moscow on Thursday, and will present the situation report on the incident, including the findings of the IDF inquiry regarding the event and the pre-mission information the Israeli military was so reluctant to share in advance.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry condemned the “provocative actions by Israel as hostile” and said Russia reserves “the right to an adequate response” while Putin has described the downing of the Il-20 recon plane as likely the result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances” and downplayed the idea of a deliberate provocation, in contradiction of the initial statement issued by his own defense ministry.

Pro-government Syrians have reportedly expressed frustration this week that Russia hasn’t done more to respond militarily to Israeli aggression; however, it appears Putin may be sidestepping yet another trap as it’s looking increasingly likely that Israel’s aims are precisely geared toward provoking a response in order to allow its western allies to join a broader attack on Damascus that could result in regime change.

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“Transphobic” Swedish Professor May Lose Job After Noting Biological Differences Between Sexes

A university professor in Sweden is under investigation after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded”

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Via Zerohedge


A university professor in Sweden is under investigation for “anti-feminism” and “transphobia” after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded” and that genders cannot be regarded as “social constructs alone,” reports Academic Rights Watch.

For his transgression, Germund Hesslow – a professor of neuroscience at Lund University – who holds dual PhDs in philosophy and neurophysiology, may lose his job – telling RT that a “full investigation” has been ordered, and that there “have been discussions about trying to stop the lecture or get rid of me, or have someone else give the lecture or not give the lecture at all.”

“If you answer such a question you are under severe time pressure, you have to be extremely brief — and I used wording which I think was completely innocuous, and that apparently the student didn’t,” Hesslow said.

Hesslow was ordered to attend a meeting by Christer Larsson, chairman of the program board for medical education, after a female student complained that Hesslow had a “personal anti-feminist agenda.” He was asked to distance himself from two specific comments; that gay women have a “male sexual orientation” and that the sexual orientation of transsexuals is “a matter of definition.”

The student’s complaint reads in part (translated):

I have also heard from senior lecturers that Germund Hesslow at the last lecture expressed himself transfobically. In response to a question of transexuallism, he said something like “sex change is a fly”. Secondly, it is outrageous because there may be students during the lecture who are themselves exposed to transfobin, but also because it may affect how later students in their professional lives meet transgender people. Transpersonals already have a high level of overrepresentation in suicide statistics and there are already major shortcomings in the treatment of transgender in care, should not it be countered? How does this kind of statement coincide with the university’s equal treatment plan? What has this statement given for consequences? What has been done for this to not be repeated? –Academic Rights Watch

After being admonished, Hesslow refused to distance himself from his comments, saying that he had “done enough” already and didn’t have to explain and defend his choice of words.

At some point, one must ask for a sense of proportion among those involved. If it were to become acceptable for students to record lectures in order to find compromising formulations and then involve faculty staff with meetings and long letters, we should let go of the medical education altogether,” Hesslow said in a written reply to Larsson.

He also rejected the accusation that he had a political agenda – stating that his only agenda was to let scientific factnot new social conventions, dictate how he teaches his courses.

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