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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince just made a big mistake

Precipitate and unexplained decision to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar and impose an air and land blockade of the country bears the hallmarks of the erratic decision making of Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and de facto ruler, Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Alexander Mercouris

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There has been considerable debate about the reasons for the extraordinary diplomatic and economic attack on Qatar organised by Saudi Arabia today.  What makes it baffling is that there is no real explanation for it.

It is well known that the Gulf’s two Wahhabi monarchies don’t get on well with each other.  The Saudis and the Qataris have regularly competed with each for influence, for example by backing different groups of Jihadis in Libya and Syria.  Qatar is also a major supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, opposes the Saudi backed Egyptian government which came to power through a military coup launched against Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s democratically elected President who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has supported the Palestinian group Hamas, which is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, and which has also in the past had close connections with Saudi Arabia’s enemies, Syria and Iran.

The Saudis like other Gulf autocracies are also known to have been made extremely angry by some of the reporting of Al-Jazeera, the Qatari based and funded media group, which has become the most internationally known media group in the Arab world, whose displays of independence have incensed the other Gulf monarchies.

Strikingly one of the very first steps taken by Saudi Arabia following the severing of diplomatic ties with Qatar was to close down Al-Jazeera’s Saudi office and revoke its broadcasting licence.  This was explained by the following somewhat bizarre announcement, which implies that Al-Jazeera has been inciting mutiny amongst Saudi troops fighting the Houthis in Yemen

The move came after Al-Jazeera has promoted plots of terrorist groups, supported the Houthi militias in Yemen, and tried to break the Saudi internal ranks by inciting them to leave the country and harm the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Lastly, there have been hints that the Qataris have been unhappy with the ultra hard line Saudi Arabia has recently been following against Iran.

Certainly it is true that the Qataris have maintained a slightly less hostile attitude towards Iran than the other Gulf States.  Qatar’s ruler, emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, even had the temerity to telephone Iran’s President Rouhani recently to congratulate him on his re-election.

However, though the the ruling families of Saudi Arabia and Qatar – the Al-Sauds and the Al-Thanis – are known to dislike each other, and have long had a rivalrous relationship, they have nonetheless more often than not managed to work closely with each other, and were doing so until just hours ago in the war against the Houthis in Yemen.  This is unsurprising since as both are Wahhabi Gulf oil monarchies they have so much in common with each other that it is all but inevitable that they should align with each other on most issues.

In this case what is genuinely extraordinary about the Saudi move is that the Saudis have provided no real explanation for it.  As if to underscore the fact, the Saudi Press Agency has released a multiplicity of statements over the course of the day purporting to explain this decision, none of which however does so to any truly satisfactory degree.

Here is the first statement

An official source stated that the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia emanating from exercising its sovereign rights guaranteed by the international law and protecting its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism has decided to sever diplomatic and consular relations with the State of Qatar, close all land, sea and air ports, prevent crossing into Saudi territories, airspace and territorial waters, and start immediate legal procedures for understanding with fraternal and friendly countries and international companies to implement the same procedure as soon as possible for all means of transport to and from the State of Qatar for reasons relating to Saudi national security.

Here is the second

The Command of Coalition to Support the Legitimacy in Yemen announced that it has decided to end the participation of the State of Qatar in the coalition due to its practices that enhance terrorism, support for its organisations in Yemen including Al-Qaeda and Da’esh (ISIS), and dealing with coup militias in Yemen which is contrary to the coalition’s objectives of which the most important one is fighting terrorism.

Here is the third

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken this decisive decision as a result of grave violations being committed by the authorities in Doha over the past years in secret and public aiming at dividing internal Saudi ranks, instigating against the State, infringing on its sovereignty, adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, promoting the ethics and plans of these groups through its media permanently, supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups in the governorate of Qatif of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Bahrain, financing, adopting and sheltering extremists who seek to undermine the stability and unity of the homeland at home and abroad, and using the media that seek to fuel the strife internally; and it was clear to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the support and backing from the authorities in Doha for coup Al-Houthi militias even after the announcement of the Coalition to Support the Legitimacy in Yemen.

The Kingdom has also taken this decision in solidarity with the Kingdom of Bahrain being subjected to terrorist campaigns and operations supported by the authorities in Doha.

and here is the fourth and last

Since 1995, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its brothers have made strenuous and continued efforts to urge the authorities in Doha to abide by its commitments and agreements, yet, they have repeatedly violated their international obligations and the agreements they signed under the umbrella of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for Arab States to cease the hostilities against the Kingdom and stand against terrorist groups and activities of which the latest one was their failure to implement Riyadh Agreement.

In accordance with the decision to cut off diplomatic and consular relations, Saudi citizens are prohibited from traveling to Qatar, residing in or passing through it while they, residents and visitors have to hurry leaving its territories within 14 days.

The decision, for security reasons, unfortunately prevents Qatari citizens’ entry to or transit through the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and those Qatari residents and visitors have to leave Saudi territories within 14 days, confirming the Kingdom’s commitment and keenness to provide all facilities and services for Qatari pilgrims and Umrah performers.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia affirms that it has long been patient despite the fact that the authorities in Doha continue to evade their commitments and conspire against it in the interest of the Qatari people, which is a natural and genuine extension of their brethren in the Kingdom and an integral part of their pillars.  The Kingdom will continue to support the people of Qatar, its security and stability regardless of the hostile practices being carried out by the authorities in Doha.

This multiplicity of statements, which make accusations against Qatar which are so vague and general as to be all but meaningless, and which accuse Qatar of things like supporting Jihadi terrorism of which Saudi Arabia is universally known to be equally guilty, suggest that the Saudis themselves are unable to pinpoint any single action of Qatar’s that explains or justifies their decision.

There have been some suggestions that the Saudis were angered by statements carried by Qatar’s news agency on 23rd May 2017 which had Qatar’s ruler emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani criticising recent tensions with Iran and calling Hamas and Hezbollah ‘resistance organisations’.

The Qataris claim these statements were false, and were inserted on their news agency’s website as a result of a hack.  I have no doubt they are right, and moreover I strongly suspect that the hackers were the Saudis, looking to manufacture pretexts for the action against Qatar which they took today.

The second and the third of the series of statements published by the Saudi Press Agency refer to the conflict in Yemen, in which Qatari troops have been fighting the Houthi militia alongside the Saudis and under Saudi command.  These statements, echoing the accusations the Saudis are making against Al-Jazeera, suggest that the Saudis may have been angered by contacts between the Qataris and the Houthi militia, as well as by some of Al-Jazeera’s reporting of the Yemen war.

It is no secret that the Saudi led war against the Houthis in Yemen is not going well, and it could be that in their anger the Saudis have turned on the Qataris, who they have long resented as difficult and unruly allies, and are blaming them for the failures of the war.

Whilst this makes a kind of sense, going so far as to sever diplomatic relations and impose a land and air blockade seems a wildly precipitate and disproportionate way to express this anger.

It is also counterproductive.  It suggests that Saudi Arabia is no longer willing to tolerate any show of independence by any of its allies, and take extreme action to impose its will on them.

This is bound to create resentment, with Saudi Arabia’s fellow Gulf monarchies now aware that they too may face the crack of the whip if they step out of line at any time.

In international relations it is always better to try to keep the mailed fist concealed as much as possible inside a velvet glove.  The Saudis have always known this in the past, and their conduct of diplomacy has always been based on it.  On this occasion they have heedlessly and pointlessly cast the glove off.  Though their Gulf allies and Egypt have done as ordered, they will be quietly seething, and their populations will be even more.

There is also the question of whether this move makes any sense in geo-strategic terms.  However angry Saudi Arabia may be with Qatar, whether about its failures in Yemen or over any other issue, acting in this way against Qatar is not going to solve Saudi Arabia’s problems whether in Yemen or anywhere else.  Instead what Saudi Arabia has done has been to break the ranks of the Saudi led regional alliance, the Gulf Cooperation Council, handing an unlooked for diplomatic victory to Iran, which is bound to try to capitalise on the development by seeking to forge quietly closer links with a now otherwise isolated Qatar.

 

Qatar is also a vital ally of the US, which has a major air base in Qatar.  There have been some suggestions that Saudi Arabia’s action against Qatar was cleared with Donald Trump during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

This is actually extremely unlikely, and though the US is unlikely to intervene directly in the quarrel on Qatar’s side, it will not be happy at a Saudi action that puts a key US ally under pressure, which threatens instability across the whole region, and which provides a potential opening for Iran.

As to the question of instability, what is so strange about the Saudi action is that the last of the four statements issued by the Saudi Press Agency today shows that the Saudis themselves are worried by the potential for instability their own action today has caused.  How else to explain the following words in this statement?

The Kingdom will continue to support the people of Qatar, its security and stability regardless of the hostile practices being carried out by the authorities in Doha.

(bold italics added)

These words, saying that Saudi Arabia will continue to support Qatar’s “security and stability”, sound very strange when it is Saudi Arabia itself which by severing relations and imposing a land and air blockade is putting Qatar’s “security and stability” at risk.

If the action Saudi Arabia has taken against Qatar today is precipitate and counterproductive, then why was it taken?

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that we are seeing yet another example of the wild and reckless decision making that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, the 31 year old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is prone to.

I have already written of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s wildly overambitious plans for Saudi Arabia’s economic development, and of his paranoid plans for a pre-emptive war against Iran.

The decision to sever diplomatic relations with Qatar and to impose a land and air blockade on the country looks like another of these impulsive and ill-though-out decisions Prince Mohammed bin Salman seems prone to making.

Another example is of course the decision to invade Yemen, which is widely known to have been made by Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself, overruling the advice of more experienced Saudi Princes, and which may be the ultimate cause of the current crisis in Saudi Arabia’s relations with Qatar.

Saudi Arabia is a notoriously closed and secretive society, whose inner counsels are very difficult for outsiders to read or penetrate.  However there must be people within Saudi Arabia who must be becoming increasingly worried at the erratic and increasingly reckless way in which the affairs of the Kingdom are being managed.

Not so long ago Saudi Arabia was famous throughout the region for always acting quietly and with discretion.  Today under the leadership of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman it acts brazenly and irresponsibly.

One wonders for how long this will continue before opposition to Prince Mohammed bin Salman crystallises.

The Saudi Princes have in the past shown a ruthless ability to act decisively in order to preserve their positions, and it is not unknown for a Saudi King to be removed from the throne if his behaviour comes to be seen as destabilising.

Perhaps it is time for Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who is not even King yet – to start watching his back.

Better still, he needs – urgently – to start listening to some advice.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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