Football, Yemen and More
Newcastle United Football Club flag. Source.
Last week the efforts of the Public Investment Fund to participate in the takeover of UK football club Newcastle United fell apart, mainly due to the lingering fallout over Saudi Arabia’s tolerance and likely creation of a pirated version of Qatari sports broadcaster BeIN Sports.
The dominant theme among patriotic commentators and Tweeters was that the English Premier League would go on to regret its lengthy vetting process that stalled out over the BeOutQ affair.
This article is a brief explanation of my tweets in which I mentioned that the British would regret their shunning of the Saudi Investment Fund, which would have been a great addition to English sport in general and Newcastle in particular. I repeat – they will really regret this. Muqbil bin Jad’ia, Al-Riyadh, 8.3.2020
See also, from the son of the former editor of Al-Sharq al-Awsat:
#NUFC fans voiced their disappointment on the outcome of the deal using the hashtag #WeWantSaudi… The deal, which would have wielded positive effects on the club and the city of #Newcastle, disintegrated due to the premier league’s one-sided nature!#NewcastleTakeover pic.twitter.com/8udzKW4bqk — 🇸🇦 سعود بن سلمان الدوسري (@999saudsalman) July 30, 2020
Straight news coverage stuck to the PIF’s press release:
It was not possible to continue our investment proposal, especially with lack of clarity regarding the circumstances in which the next season will start and the new standards that will be presented for matches, training and other activities. Al-Riyadh, 7.30.2020
Muqbil bin Jad’ia has been hyping the deal for some time:
On the value for the PIF: “There is no investment in isolation the risks… it is a risk in my view that does not exceed 3% because it is impossible for the English fans to refrain from attending the stadiums. It is in their culture and entertains them, while the channels will not leave this great treasure – The English Premier League – rather than competing to purchase rights even if the value is affected by the Corona virus. Sponsors will not cede English clubs as important and influential marketing platforms. So I say that if it does, it will be a successful deal by all standards.” (Al-Riyadh, 4.27.2020)
Prior to the announcement of the deal: “These rumors spread widely as if the news is true, forgetting that the deal has not yet been decided. There are regulations and laws that control the transfer, and perhaps the most prominent is the Fair Financial Play Regulation that requires European clubs not to spend more than their revenues.” (Al-Riyadh, 5.4.2020)
[Sports correspondent Farraj al-Shammari]: “[The deal] will generate a lot of profits in the medium and long term… and the club’s advantages are its overwhelming mass support in the Northeast of England, and the absence of a strong competitor in the region. The team’s legacy and its heroism also factor in, in particular winning four times in the league championship, although the last of which was in the twenties of the last century.” (Al-Riyadh, 9.5.2020)
Khalid al-Matrafi, a fairly prominent patriotic Tweeter online, made sure to warn of Qatari interference:
Qatar incites against Saudi Arabia on the pretext of Riyadh broadcasting BeOutQ channels and pirating them BeIN Sports channels, which was later proven wrong with the testimony of international judicial arbitrators [note – only true in a very strict reading of the case. Verdict notes there was “prima facie” evidence that beoutQ is “operated by individuals or entities under the jurisdiction of Saudi Arabia.”]. It described the deal as “sportswashing”, a term used to describe countries trying to develop international reputations by investing in major teams or hosting important sporting events… What Doha fears from the acquisition of Newcastle by the Public Investment Fund is that it gives Riyadh considerable influence in London. Al-Riyadh, 5.3.2020
Yemen – Let them Govern themselves
There has been a fair amount of discussion of the Riyadh Agreement, signed last October between Yemen’s national government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) to stave off a fracturing of the anti-Houthi coalition in Yemen. This stems from open conflict between the two factions last August – recent enough that even this blog has discussed it before.
More and more, commentators veer between claiming credit for Saudi successes in developments such as the signing of the Riyadh accord, and blaming Yemenis themselves for their inability to consolidate the coalition-backed government’s hold on part of the country.
See, for example, Dr. Fayez al-Shehri, a member of the Shura Council (though not on either the Security or Foreign Affairs committees) on Yemeni television – praising Saudi “shuttle diplomacy,” complaining that there is not a single Yemeni faction to deal with, and that there is no Yemeni political elite “that can put the interests of the country first, second and third.” He refers to the “well-known Yemeni problems of their personal associations and loyalties” – part of a growing trend to root the failures of the campaign in the personal as well as cultural weaknesses of Yemeni leaders and even the Yemeni people.
عضو مجلس الشورى السعودي د.فايز الشهري: #السعودية معنية بشكل رئيسي باستقرار #اليمن عبر الجولات المكوكية وسلسلة المحادثات لتسوية الأزمة على مدار السنوات الماضية pic.twitter.com/2IN8yXslUP — الحدث اليمني (@Alhadath_Ymn) July 30, 2020
Elsewhere, Dr. Fayez wrote about the “Yemen and its Five Major Problems,” relying on his experiences of visiting Yemen on a business trip in 2003 and living in Sheffield in the United Kingdom for five years, an experience that “enabled [him] to get to know some of the leading members of the Yemeni community from all walks of life.” (?)
First, geography. “The modern Yemeni state was not formed in a natural and complete political, cultural and geographical situation.”
Second, a corrupt and compromised elite: “An important segment of the Yemeni “elite” political class and the complexities of its political connections and loyalties.”
Third, a weak state that folded when “creative chaos” came to town in the Arab Spring. “The weakness and fragility of the state’s institutions, led by the army, the security establishment, and the legislative system, have failed to manage the consequences of “creative chaos” and subsequently joined forces with the Houthi movement to sustain chaos and destruction.” [Conveniently dating the problem to just before the coalition-backed intervention.]
Fourth, tribalism. “An absence of national priorities and the presence of tribal interests, and this problem contributed to further weakening the state and undermining the nation’s sovereignty in dealings at home and abroad.”
Fifth, cultural beliefs inculcated by the corrupt and compromised elite. “Opportunism within an important part of the political leaders, traditional leaders among the “sheikhs” and spiritual figures, who established in the conscience of the simple Yemeni citizen a conviction that says that the causes and solutions of Yemen’s problems come always and only from abroad.”
Fayez al-Shahri, Al-Riyadh, 8.3.2020
Other commentators have continued to chastise the Yemeni leadership to not waste the diplomatic opportunities provided by the Kingdom’s initiatives:
Here, it is necessary to re-remind all the Yemeni political components that they alone bear a great historic responsibility towards their country and their people, requiring them to set aside their differences and advance their national interest during a very delicate and sensitive stage, upon which the future of Yemen depends. Hamood Abu Talib, Okaz, 7.31.2020
Abu Talib has been exasperated with the Yemeni government-in-exile for some time. From January, in an article entitled “Is is possible to save Yemen with such a government?!”:
The legitimate Yemeni government residing abroad, day after day, faces more resentment because of its practices and its mistakes, in addition to the different visions, attitudes, and loyalties of its members that are divided into different blocs with different goals. Just one goal must be agreed upon and sought by all. The worst and perhaps most dangerous fact is what seems to be the bias of some members of this government to the side of the main opponent, the Houthi group. Others allow themselves to be included in the media and propaganda opposed to the Arab coalition led by the Kingdom, while still more offer a suspicious silence regarding this dangerous situation on Yemen and the mission of the Arab coalition. Okaz, 1.31.2020
See also, from August.
The Yemeni people need a moment of responsibility from all Yemeni leaders. A government needs to work on the ground to determine the needs of citizens, and work to provide the necessary health services to deal with the Corona pandemic. It must demonstrate successful experiences in the liberated areas, and between joint military forces, that postpones all fighting except for a confronting the bankrupt project in the hands of the Houthis. Abd al-Rahman al-Rariri, Okaz, 8.2.2020
A look back
Maybe it’s worth a quick and incomplete (I only have so much time) look back at past discussions of the war in Yemen. Dr. al-Shahri in 2015 (Saudi-led before the intervention):
“Dr. Al-Shehri indicated that the political reality on the ground in Yemen requires one of two types of confrontation. The first is acceptance, and this is not what more than 80% of the Yemeni people want [unclear what this statistic comes from]. Of course, it is not to Gulf satisfaction because it will not lead to Yemen’s stability. The second is to restore the status sought by the Yemenis – this type of engagement may require a unified Gulf stand supported politically by the Arab League system so that the people of Yemen can restore their political sovereignty. This would be according to the agreements reached in the Peace and Partnership Agreement (to be approved) and what the Yemeni people agree upon through their national representatives. This will ensure the that Yemen is protected from entering into civil war and further economic collapse, with resulting negative effects on Gulf security.” Al-Riyadh, 1.22.2015
As for some other justifications and discussions back in the day, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed was far more optimistic in May of 2015:
There are two things Saudi Arabia cannot tolerate in Yemen’s neighbor: chaos and external rivalries. The chaos began with confrontations between the Yemeni forces in the north, and with Southerners declaring their intention to secede. Then came the dangerous role of Iran with the Houthi minority, that rules the capital Sana’a for the first time in its history! This would mean that Iran would encircle Saudi Arabia in Syria and Iraq in the north, and from Yemen in the south. This is a brief story of the Yemeni problem. Now, there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia will need to renew its relationship with the Yemeni forces and tribes, as it did in the past, because there is no central authority governing all of the country, and when there is, it will also need exceptional political and economic support. There is nothing to prevent the victory of Saudi Arabia, as the majority of Yemenis, from tribal elders, and even ordinary citizens, are linked to their Saudi neighbor more than any other country, and Iran and others cannot replace it, whatever it seeks.Aawsat, 5.21.2015
Discussions have unsurprisingly tracked the battlefield fortunes of the coalition. Here is ARR striking a more conciliatory tone shortly before coalition forces re-took Aden:
It is a great illusion that those who think that the Iranian, Russian and Western parties will remain permanent supporters. If the protracted crisis lasts for a year, two years and more, the Yemenis will discover that everyone has gone out of their way to other issues, and that even the UN Secretary-General and his envoy will not answer their phone calls, as the Somalis realized in the endless quarter-of-a-century’s war. We address the various Yemeni leaders, both legitimate and rebellious, to think beyond today, and this year, for fear of a permanent deterioration. We hope that they search for a political solution that brings them together in a viable and sustainable system. Without it it will be difficult to repair this broken relationship. Aawsat, 6.26.2015
Compare with after-Aden:
Aden is the first city in a series of fierce future battles that government forces have to fight, and the capabilities of the military are not enough for them to fight in rugged terrain and complex tribal areas, but will require high political and diplomatic skills. The goal of the liberation of Aden is not to separate it, but to reunite Yemen under a real state, away from the rule of gangs such as the Houthis. It is important for the Yemeni government and its allies to take a lot of effort to persuade the northern forces to join the Legitimate government and stand against the Houthis and the rest of independent forces, to accelerate the rest of the project to liberate all of Yemen and return it to a unified state governed by law… with international sponsorship. Aawsat, 7.29.2015
Some unfortunate predictions, too, like this in February 2016:
There is no doubt that the war in Yemen, with the pain it caused, prevented the control of the rebellious bilateral system, Houthi-Saleh, who, if victorious, would have turned Yemen into an arena of revenge and tribal and sectarian struggles. Perhaps if the Gulf countries had not interfered, the fate of Yemen would have been the same as Somalia, which was left to face civil wars and famines, as the civil war has continued there for nearly twenty years. Abdelrahman Al Rashed, Aawsat, 3.2.2016
And by 2017, an eradicationist bent to Gulf aims + highlighting governance successes:
After two years of war in Yemen, here are the coalition and Yemeni forces of the legitimate government in Yemen able to control more than 80 percent of the Yemeni territories, where the coalition succeeded in establishing a Yemeni state from scratch, with a government and army after having been without them for a while long. A legitimate government and an eternal alliance, in compliance with the terms of reference for a peaceful settlement, in exchange for a militia that prefers war on peace, and the use of force over negotiations, as long as it continues to be intransigent and does not prefer a peaceful solution, there is no way but to continue the war until its causes [i.e. the houthis] cease to exist. Salman al-Dosary, Aawsat, 3.30.2017
And from ARR:
…the world is facing a tragedy in Yemen because of its inability to understand the nature of the fighting. Al-Houthi is not a rebel group that wants to defeat its opponents and control the government, as is the case in other conflicts. Rather, Al-Houthi is just like Al-Qaeda, an extremist armed religious group. And just as the international community is convinced that confronting ISIS is the solution, and forcibly expelling it from Mosul in Iraq, it must understand that the Houthi must be dealt with similarly in Yemen. Just as the international coalition refused to negotiate with ISIS in Raqqa, and chased it and expelled it from it and the rest of the Syrian cities it dominated, rather than looking for a peaceful solution with it, the situation in Yemen is similar to that. The truth is that there is no peaceful solution with the Houthi group. Aawsat, 12.25.2017
Odds and Ends
From another column by Khalid al-Matrafi in May, a suggestion of financial concerns lurking beneath the surface.
Every day, the Saudis question each other through WhatsApp groups about the fate of their salaries, and the possibility of their allowances [Note – a lot of public-sector employees’ income derives not from official salaries but from “allowances” that increase this base salary] being included in the decision to rationalize government spending. This is especially true after Finance Minister Mohamed Al-Jadaan’s interview with Al-Arabiya about the measures that the Kingdom will take to maintain the cohesion of its economy after being affected by the repercussions of the pandemic Corona virus. Al-Riyadh, 5.11.2020
A day after a Wall Street Journal article on a hidden Saudi nuclear project, in cooperation with China, an op-ed from ARR on the UAE’s nuclear reactors (which started up this week) and the importance of safe nuclear energy projects by responsible powers in the region (i.e. not Iran).
And a couple more entries in a long line of right-wing Saudi commentators viewing everything through the prism of (and hatred of) foreigners + immigrants. Curiously, this has even been the case for the George Floyd protests, not typically viewed as an immigrant-led movement. Fahad al-Dughaithir, writing in Okaz:
It is clear that freedom without controls, and without the presence of red lines, along the acceptance of immigrants in millions of different levels, races and religions is not freedom, nor is it human rights, but a mixture of chaos and terrorism that explodes from time to time and destroys everything that has been built in decades. Okaz, 7.28.2020
And self-styled American affairs analyst Ahmed Al Farraj on events in Portland (not known for a racially inclusive past):
Burning the American flag in Tehran, sorry, in Portland For the first time I write: This is not the America in which I studied and lived the most beautiful of my days .. This is America of the immigrants, who brought with them the worst of their cultures
⭕️⭕️ احراق العلم الأمريكي في طهران عفوا في بورتلاند للمرة الأولى أكتبها : هذه ليست امريكا التي درست بها وعشت فيها أجمل أيامي .. هذه امريكا المهاجرين الذين جلبوا معهم أسوأ ما في ثقافاتهم ✋ pic.twitter.com/Zc7IXK84RV — Dr. Ahmad Alfarraj (@amhfarraj) August 2, 2020
Dr. Al-Farraj, a former interpreter for Prince Sultan who earned graduate degrees in the United States, makes a show of providing audiences with “neutral” commentary but his Twitter feed leans… quite far right.
This includes an obsession with Ilhan Omar in particular – a black Muslim leftist immigrant woman critical of Saudi Arabia being gasoline on the flames of xenophobia.
The disgusting cartoons he retweeted below speak for themselves, but particularly egregious is describing Tlaib and Omar as “mujanaseen” – a pejorative term reserved for those who aren’t “true” citizens of Gulf countries but acquired citizenship through various political maneuvers over the years.
هناك من انتقدني على هذه الكاريكاتيرات التي تبرز سعي الهان عمر ورشيدة طليب بقولهم انت تكبير الامور وان نظرتك في غير محلها الان بانت الحقيقة pic.twitter.com/curJ1blRm9 — فهد الجبيري (@faljubairi) July 8, 2020
[Update] Explosion in Lebanon
Saudi commentators wasted no time in making it clear exactly who they held responsible for the explosion in Lebanon, seemingly the product of years of kleptocracy and sclerotic oligarchy.
If we want to search for the actor [responsible] according to the known and clear data, the task is not difficult. The use of ammonium nitrate is linked to Hezbollah according to previous proven facts. But is there a possibility that Hezbollah intentionally detonated the tons of explosive material that it had stored for years? Answer: why not. Hamood Abu Talib, Okaz, 8.5.2020
The port has exploded, but the big bomb on which Lebanon stands has not yet detonated. The lit match promises is still in the hands of Hassan Nasrallah, and Lebanon will not survive until the demise of Hezbollah. Khalid al-Suleiman, Okaz, 8.6.2020
The fingers of accusation always point to Hezbollah and it is not an accusation so much as a fact known to everyone, because that party, by its absolute dependence on Iran, executes its agenda not in Lebanon alone, but in the entire region. It is a disruptive policy aimed at spreading chaos and instability. Editorial, al-Riyadh, 8.5.2020
The Great Fire of Lebanon is caused by a party larger than a state, and that another country, Iran, have both stalemated right of the Lebanese government, which must be funded by Gulf, Arab, and international countries – hostile to Iran, and to this stymied party. The reason for the Great Lebanon Fire is that everyone must finance governments that Iran chooses, and gives its blesses, and that come under Hezbollah. The aim is to have antagonistic, destructive governments from Yemen to Syria, and from Iraq to Bahrain – is there a greater farce? Tariq al-Hamid, Okaz, 8.6.2020
The port explosion, which destroyed about a third of downtown Beirut, was yet another act under the control of Hezbollah. It stores its weapons and explosives, intentionally, among civilian areas, and is not responsible for their safety. This is in addition to its assassination against legitimate authorities, and building up a military and security force that exceeds the state’s power and is deployed in internal and external wars. Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed, Aawsat, 8.6.2020