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Saudi Arabia: Mirage of reform in Wahhabism’s absolute monarchy

Saudi Arabia is looking in several directions at once.

Gilbert Mercier

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Originally published on newsjunkiepost.com

Crown Prince Mohamed bin-Salman is such a darling of the global mainstream media that many call him, affectionately, by his initials MBS. The new strongman of the Kingdom has often mentioned the need for reforms and modernization of Saudi Arabia, both socially and economically. Can MBS walk the talk of his enticing narrative? The Crown Prince’s charm offensive is, at least partially, a way to cover up his failed attempt to bully Qatar into submission back in June 2017. But what could be his intentions beside creating a smoke screen to hide what has been so far his badly botched regional assertion of force against Qatar?

Everything considered, to describe the timid push for change in Saudi Arabia as a “cultural revolution,” like most of the press in the West and elsewhere are doing in their shameless public relations efforts in favor of Crown Prince Mohamed bin-Salman, is completely disingenuous. The only two significant reforms that the Crown Prince has pushed so far are the largely symbolic lift on the driving ban for women and a slight curtailment of the power of the religious police, who have lost the authority to arrest people outright. Regardless of the hyped intentions of reform, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, de facto ruled by a Crown Prince who has consolidated in his own hands almost all powers, after a palace coup. Saudi Arabia is still very much an authoritarian regime where cinemas, theaters, and alcohol are banned and where men and women who are not related are basically segregated. It is a country of 33 million people that extensively practices the archaic oppression of gender apartheid, a social pressure cooker under the lid of ultra-conservative Wahhabist clerics, where 55 percent of the population is under 25-years-old and with more than 35 percent unemployment.

“I will return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam,” said bin-Salman in a recent interview. But this is historically inaccurate, as the ideological pillar shoring up the House of Saud, since its inception, was and still remains the most fundamentalist brand of Islam, which is Wahhabism. The full statement from bin-Salman is worth mentioning, as it is full of inaccuracies: “We are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. What happened in the last 30 years is not Saudi Arabia. What happened in the region in the last 30 years is not the Middle East. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries, one of them is Saudi Arabia. We didn’t know how to deal with it, and the problem spread all over the world. Now it is time to get rid of it.”

The attempt by bin-Salman to blame the Iranian revolution for the region’s problems and for the revival of fundamentalist Islam ironically sounds like the domino-effect doctrine from the United States Cold War era anti-communist propaganda. This statement will certainly please the West, especially the US in the context of the renewed anti-Iranian sentiment, but it is historically and geopolitically inaccurate. Indeed, King Faisal bin-Abdulaziz, who ruled Saudi Arabia from 1964 to 1975, put in place policies of modernization and reforms, including a formal abolition of slavery, some religious inclusiveness, and the introduction of television broadcast. The efforts by Faisal to reform Saudi Arabia brought forth his assassination, by his own nephew, on behalf of the ultra-conservative Wahhabists.

Therefore, the sociological regression in Saudi Arabia came about four years before Iran’s revolution. It was not caused by it, but by some power and ideological struggles within the Kingdom. Forty-two years later, some of those forces remain at play. Bin-Salman’s somewhat ruthless recent consolidation of power within the dynasty has created serious animosity within the House of Saud. King Faisal’s fate should be a cautionary tale for the young Crown Prince who has disturbed the delicate traditional balance of power within the dynasty itself.

Historically, the notion of an original moderate open Islam in Saudi Arabia is a fallacy. In the Middle East, moderate Islam can still be found in Lebanon, but not in the Gulf. The ruling family in Saudi Arabia would not survive a real cultural or social revolution. As for any fundamentalist religions that back up an absolute power, the Wahhabist Iman’s job is to control the population’s ideology and all its social behaviors. Without Wahhabism and its clerics, the House of Saud would be a house of cards.

There is a dichotomy between what the Saudis say and what they really do. For more than 40 years they have financed Jihadists and the construction of Mosques run by fundamentalist clerics all over the world. By doing so, they have been a major support of terrorism, along with Qatar. Unless they recognize, denounce, and stop such activities, I do not see the possibility of any transformation. Within Saudi Arabia, unless fundamentalist clerics stop running everything in daily life, from the curriculum in schools to public order laws, such as repressive dress codes, nothing can change. The current hypocrisy resides in this: without the support of the hardliner clerics, the authoritarian absolute monarchy regime could and would be questioned, and considering the demographic and inequality pressures, it would eventually collapse.

The lofty talk of social revolution is largely a smoke screen. The real story could be more prosaically about following the money: bin-Salman is creating the mirage of a future open society to lure international investors. The Crown Prince is trying to raise money for a $500 billion project involving Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. The big-ticket item is a giant bridge across the Red Sea, between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as a huge urban development area inspired by Dubai.

There is a caveat in regard to this Red Sea economic zone, which is supposed to be completed by 2025: Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, key backer of the plan, has been depleted for years by poor management, massive weapons purchases, the war effort in Yemen, as well as low oil prices. The fund currently has $230 billion; therefore bin-Salman is planning an initial public offering (IPO) in 2018 on Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest company controlling all of the Kingdom’s oil assets. Bin-Salman intends to sell 5 percent of Aramco, which is expected to raise several hundred billions. Cynically but objectively, the prospect of this IPO on the Jewel of the Crown of the Kingdom has worldwide mega-investors salivating. This decrease in financial sovereignty, which may grow in terms of percentage with time, could mark the beginning of the end for the House of Saud.

Editor’s Notes: Gilbert Mercier is the author of The Orwellian Empire. Photograph one from the archive of Jim Mattis; photographs two, six and eight by Edward Musiak; and photograph ten from the archive of The White House.

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Understanding the Holodomor and why Russia says nothing

A descendant of Holodomor victims takes the rest of us to school as to whether or not Russia needs to shoulder the blame.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the charges that nationalist Ukrainians often lodge against their Russian neighbors is that the Russian government has never acknowledged or formally apologized to Ukraine for the “Holodomor” that took place in Ukraine in 1932-1933. This was a man-made famine that killed an estimated seven to 10 million Ukrainians , though higher estimates claim 12.5 million and lower ones now claim 3.3 million.

No matter what the total was, it amounts to a lot of people that starved to death. The charge that modern-day Russia ought to apologize for this event is usually met with silence, which further enrages those Ukrainians that believe that this issue must be resolved by the Russian acknowledgement of responsibility for it. Indeed, the prime charge of these Ukrainians is that the Russians committed a genocide against the Ukrainian people. This is a claim Russia denies.

To the outside observer who does not know this history of Russia and Ukraine’s relationship, and who does not know or understand the characteristics of the Soviet Union, this charge seems as simple and laid out as that of the Native Americans or the blacks demanding some sort of recompense or restitution for the damages inflicted on these societies through conquest and / or slavery. But we discovered someone who had family connections involved in the Holodomor, and who offers her own perspective, which is instructive in why perhaps the Russian Federation does not say anything about this situation.

Scene in Kharkiv with dead from the famine 1932-33 lying along the street.

The speaker is Anna Vinogradova, a Russian Israeli-American, who answered the question through Quora of “Why doesn’t Russia recognize the Holodomor as a genocide?” She openly admits that she speaks only for herself, but her answer is still instructive. We offer it here, with some corrections for the sake of smooth and understandable English:

I can’t speak for Russia and what it does and doesn’t recognize. I can speak for myself.

I am a great-granddaughter of a “Kulak” (кулак), or well-to-do peasant, who lived close to the Russia/Ukraine border.

The word “кулак” means “fist” in Russian, and it wasn’t a good thing for a person to be called by this label. A кулак was an exploiter of peasants and a class enemy of the new state of workers and poor peasants. In other words, while under Communism, to be called a кулак was to bring a death sentence upon yourself.

At some point, every rural class enemy, every peasant who wasn’t a member of a collective farm was eliminated one way or another.

Because Ukraine has very fertile land and the Ukrainian style of agriculture often favors individual farms as opposed to villages, there is no question that many, many Ukrainian peasants were considered class enemies like my great grandfather, and eliminated in class warfare.

I have no doubt that class warfare included starvation, among other things.

The catch? My great grandfather was an ethnic Russian living in Russia. What nationality were the communists who persecuted and eventually shot him? They were of every nationality there was (in the Soviet Union), and they were led by a Ukrainian, who was taking orders from a Georgian.

Now, tell me, why I, a descendant of an unjustly killed Russian peasant, need to apologize to the descendants of the Ukrainians who killed him on the orders of a Georgian?

What about the Russian, Kazakh golodomor (Russian rendering of the same famine)? What about the butchers, who came from all ethnicities? Can someone explain why it’s only okay to talk about Ukrainian victims and Russian persecutors? Why do we need to rewrite history decades later to convert that brutal class war into an ethnic war that it wasn’t?

Ethnic warfare did not start in Russia until after WWII, when some ethnicities were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and brutal group punishments were implemented. It was all based on class up to that time.

The communists of those years were fanatically internationalist. “Working people of all countries, unite!” was their slogan and they were fanatical about it.

As for the crimes of Communism, Russia has been healing this wound for decades, and Russia’s government has made its anticommunist position very clear.

This testimony is most instructive. First, it points out information that the charge of the Holodomor as “genocide!” neatly leaves out. In identifying the internationalist aspects of the Soviet Union, Ukraine further was not a country identified as somehow worthy of genocidal actions. Such a thought makes no sense, especially given the great importance of Ukraine as the “breadbasket” of the Soviet Union, which it was.

Secondly, it shows a very western-style of “divide to conquer” with a conveniently incendiary single-word propaganda tool that is no doubt able to excite any Ukrainian who may be neutral to slightly disaffected about Russia, and then after that, all Ukrainians are now victims of the mighty evil overlords in Moscow.

How convenient is this when the evil overlords in Kyiv don’t want their citizens to know what they are doing?

We saw this on Saturday – taken to a very high peak when President Petro Poroshenko announced the new leading “Hierarch” of the “Ukrainian National Church” and said not one single word about Christ, but only:

“This day will go down in history as the day of the creation of an autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine… This is the day of the creation of the church as an independent structure… What is this church? It is a church without Putin. It is a church without Kirill, without prayer for the Russian authorities and the Russian army.”

But as long as Russia is made the “problem”, millions of scandalized Ukrainians will not care what this new Church actually does or teaches, which means it is likely to teach just about anything.

Russia had its own Holodomor. The history of the event shows that this was a result of several factors – imposed socialist economics on a deeply individualized form of agrarian capitalism (bad for morale and worse for food production), really inane centralized planning of cropland use, and a governmental structure that really did not exist to serve the governed, but to impose an ideology on people who really were not all that interested in it.

Personal blame might well lay with Stalin, a Georgian, but the biggest source of the famine lay in the structures imposed under communism as a way of economic strategy. This is not Russia’s fault. It is the economic model that failed.

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Mueller Finally Releases Heavily Redacted Key Flynn Memo On Eve Of Sentencing

Alex Christoforou

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Via Zerohedge


Having initially snubbed Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order to release the original 302 report from the Michael Flynn interrogation in January 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finally produced the heavily redacted document, just hours before sentencing is due to be handed down.

The memo  – in full below – details then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interview with FBI agents Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka, and shows Flynn was repeatedly asked about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and in each instance, Flynn denied (or did not recall) any such conversations.

The agents had transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls to Russian Ambassador Kislyak, thus showing Flynn to be lying.

Flynn pleaded guilty guilty last December to lying to the FBI agents about those conversations with Kislyak.

The redactions in the document seem oddly placed but otherwise, there is nothing remarkable about the content…

Aside from perhaps Flynn’s incredulity at the media attention…

Flynn is set to be sentenced in that federal court on Tuesday.

Of course, as Christina Laila notes, the real crime is that Flynn was unmasked during his phone calls to Kislyak and his calls were illegally leaked by a senior Obama official to the Washington Post.

*  *  *

Full document below…

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Don’t Laugh : It’s Giving Putin What He Wants

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself.

Caitlin Johnstone

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Authored by Caitlin Johnstone:


The BBC has published an article titled “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon” about the Kremlin’s latest addition to its horrifying deadly hybrid warfare arsenal: comedy.

The article is authored by Olga Robinson, whom the BBC, unhindered by any trace of self-awareness, has titled “Senior Journalist (Disinformation)”. Robinson demonstrates the qualifications and acumen which earned her that title by warning the BBC’s audience that the Kremlin has been using humor to dismiss and ridicule accusations that have been leveled against it by western governments, a “form of trolling” that she reports is designed to “deliberately lower the level of discussion”.

“Russia’s move towards using humour to influence its campaigns is a relatively recent phenomenon,” Robinson explains, without speculating as to why Russians might have suddenly begun laughing at their western accusers. She gives no consideration to the possibility that the tightly knit alliance of western nations who suddenly began hysterically shrieking about Russia two years ago have simply gotten much more ridiculous and easier to make fun of during that time.

Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the emergence of a demented media environment wherein everything around the world from French protests to American culture wars to British discontent with the European Union gets blamed on Russia without any facts or evidence. Wherein BBC reporters now correct guests and caution them against voicing skepticism of anti-Russia narratives because the UK is in “an information war” with that nation. Wherein the same cable news Russiagate pundit can claim that both Rex Tillerson’s hiring and his later firing were the result of a Russian conspiracy to benefit the Kremlin. Wherein mainstream outlets can circulate blatantly false information about Julian Assange and unnamed “Russians” and then blame the falseness of that reporting on Russian disinformation. Wherein Pokemon Go, cutesy Facebook memes and $4,700 in Google ads are sincerely cited as methods by which Hillary Clinton’s $1.2 billion presidential campaign was outdone. Wherein conspiracy theories that Putin has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government have been blaring on mainstream headline news for two years with absolutely nothing to show for it to this day.

Nope, the only possibility is that the Kremlin suddenly figured out that humor is a thing.

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself. The hypocrisy is so cartoonish, the emotions are so breathlessly over-the-top, the stories so riddled with plot holes and the agendas underlying them so glaringly obvious that they translate very easily into laughs. I myself recently authored a satire piece that a lot of people loved and which got picked up by numerous alternative media outlets, and all I did was write down all the various escalations this administration has made against Russia as though they were commands being given to Trump by Putin. It was extremely easy to write, and it was pretty damn funny if I do say so myself. And it didn’t take any Kremlin rubles or dezinformatsiya from St Petersburg to figure out how to write it.

“Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as ‘disinformation for the information age’,” the article warns. Nimmo, ironically, is himself intimately involved with the British domestic disinformation firm Integrity Initiative, whose shady government-sponsored psyops against the Labour Party have sparked a national scandal that is likely far from reaching peak intensity.

“Most comedy programmes on Russian state television these days are anodyne affairs which either do not touch on political topics, or direct humour at the Kremlin’s perceived enemies abroad,” Robinson writes, which I found funny since I’d just recently read an excellent essay by Michael Tracey titled “Why has late night swapped laughs for lusting after Mueller?”

“If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy,” Tracey writes, documenting numerous examples of the ways late night comedy now has audiences cheering for a US intelligence insider and Bush appointee instead of challenging power-serving media orthodoxies as programs like The Daily Show once did.

If you wanted the opposite of “anodyne affairs”, it would be comedians ridiculing the way all the establishment talking heads are manipulating their audiences into supporting the US intelligence community and FBI insiders. It would be excoriating the media environment in which unfathomably powerful world-dominating government agencies are subject to less scrutiny and criticism than a man trapped in an embassy who published inconvenient facts about those agencies. It certainly wouldn’t be the cast of Saturday Night Live singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to a framed portrait if Robert Mueller wearing a Santa hat. It doesn’t get much more anodyne than that.

Russia makes fun of western establishment narratives about it because those narratives are so incredibly easy to make fun of that they are essentially asking for it, and the nerdy way empire loyalists are suddenly crying victim about it is itself more comedy. When Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr began insinuating that RT covering standard newsworthy people like Julian Assange and Nigel Farage was a conspiracy to “boost” those people for the advancement of Russian agendas instead of a news outlet doing the thing that news reporting is, RT rightly made fun of her for it. Cadwalladr reacted to RT’s mockery with a claim that she was a victim of “attacks”, instead of the recipient of perfectly justified ridicule for circulating an intensely moronic conspiracy theory.

Ah well. People are nuts and we’re hurtling toward a direct confrontation with a nuclear superpower. Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but laugh. As Wavy Gravy said, “Keep your sense of humor, my friend; if you don’t have a sense of humor it just isn’t funny anymore.”

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