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Terrorism

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Why is the UK Committed to Supporting the Saudi Regime?

Given Saudi Arabia's appalling human rights record, Theresa May's statement of support for the Saudi regime can seem almost bizarre. The government's own House of Commons International Select Committee concluded in its 2 February 2016 report (see my Parliament page) saying, "The Government must take urgent action to suspend all sales of arms to Saudi Arabia until it can provide clear evidence that the risk that such arms are being used in serious violations of international humanitarian law has subsided". More recently, in September, its Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) concluded (as reported by the BBC), "The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition is now so great, that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia." So how come, when Jeremy Corbyn challenged them on this issue, Theresa May, Philip Hammond, and Boris Johnson shook their heads and reacted like in the picture below?
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According to what logic must we adopt a 'Hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil' policy towards Saudi Arabia, and how can our support for such a human rights abusing regime possibly keep us safe on the streets of Britain?

On 16 October 2016, Boris Johnson, together with America's John Kerry, issued a joint plea to Russia and Assad to show mercy in the Syrian conflict. Watch it in the video below:
Boris says, "As everybody knows, the situation in Aleppo is getting worse and worse. The real answer, I am afraid, lies with those who are perpetrating it. And that is overwhelmingly the Assad regime, and its puppeteers in the form of the Russians and indeed the Iranians. But it's really up to them now to listen, and to show mercy… show mercy to those people in that city. Get that ceasefire going, get the negotiations going in Geneva, and let's bring this slaughter to an end".

I don't mean in any way to trivialise the terrible suffering of the Syrian people. But was there ever such a case of the pot calling the kettle black? For Boris might equally have said (if I may take the liberty to change a few words), "As everybody knows, the situation in Yemen is getting worse and worse. The real answer, I am afraid, lies with those who are perpetrating it. And that is overwhelmingly the Saudi Arabian regime, and its puppeteers in the form of the Americans and indeed the British. But it's really up to them now to listen, and to show mercy… show mercy to those people in that country. Get that ceasefire going, get the negotiations going in Geneva, and let's bring this slaughter to an end".

The irony overwhelms me!

I do also wonder how long the Syrian war would have lasted if, for the last five years, the UK and the USA, together with Saudi Arabia, had not been arming and supporting the Syrian rebels. Likewise back in January, had the UK and USA heeded multiple calls from the United Nations and many other human rights authorities, to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, I wonder whether Saudi Arabia would have resumed its merciless bombing of Yemen when the ceasefire broke down in August. Has our support of Saudi Arabia and its Middle Eastern agendas not stretched out the wars in Syria and Yemen, and exacerbated the humanitarian catastrophes now facing both those countries?

I also question our government's take on what constitutes a legitimate government. The UK supports Saudi's war on Yemen, believing it is supporting Yemen's legitimate government that was overthrown in early 2015. But when the Arab Spring happened in 2011, why did the UK not support Syria's legitimate government? It seems that the UK respects the legitimacy of a Middle Eastern government only if that government is pro-West and pro-Saudi. As long as we keep Saudi on our side, Sunni Muslim governments tend to follow Saudi's lead in maintaining a pro-western stance. Shia Muslim governments fall foul of Saudi Arabia, who have a paranoid hatred of all things Shia, and they fall foul of the West because Shia governments, along with Iran, maintain a pro-Russian stance. We are still entangled within the trappings of the Cold War, both the old cold-war between Russia and the West, and also the growing cold-war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

On the same occasion that Boris Johnson and John Kerry issued a joint statement about Syria, they did also issue a joint statement about Yemen:

Two days later, on 18 October 2016, this call was met by a UN accounement of a 72 hour Yemen ceasefire. Let's hope it lasts longer than that!

On 7 October 2015, David Cameron defended the UK's support for Saudi Arabian in a manner very similar to that of Theresa May's recent defence:
David Cameron defends UK'S horrid deal to elect Saudi Arabia on UN Human Rights Council, 7 October 2015
Although very reluctant to do so, Jon Snow wouldn't let Cameron off the hook until he answered the question. David Cameron said:
"We have a relationship with Saudi Arabia, and if you want to know why, I'll tell you why. Because we receive from them important intelligence and security information that keep us safe."

Jon Snow interjected:
"Are we sure, Prime Minister, are we sure that they are not actually, some elements of them, in the clerics and elsewhere, the Wahabbi radicals, involved actually in fuelling the very people we're trying to defeat, in ISIS and the rest of them".

David Cameron continued:
"I will answer that very directly because I think you're asking a very important question. The reason we have the relationship is our own national security. I can think of one occasion since I have been Prime Minister where, you know, a bomb that would have potentially blown up over Britain was stopped because of intelligence we got from Saudi Arabia. So of course it would be easier for me to come on your program and say 'I'm not having anything to do with these people, it's all terribly difficult, etc'. For me, Britain's national security and our people's national security comes first."

I find this a very enlightening conversation. And I think Jon Snow's question was a very enlightened one.

It seems deeply ironic to me that we trust in our relationship with Saudi Arabia for our own national security. At the same time, the terrorist threat from which we are trying to protect ourselves comes mainly from the ideological exports of two countries, namely Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Over the last 50 years or so, Saudi Arabia has used tens of billions of pounds from its oil wealth to export Wahhabism around the world. Wahhabism is Saudi's ultra-conservative, ultra-intolerant form of Salafist Islam. Its embracing of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood in the 1960's, mixing Wahhabist ideology with the ideology of people like Egyptian cleric Sayyid Kutb, has produced a toxic mix that we know today as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and other jihadist Islamic movements.

A Brief Description of Wahhabism

Most people in Britain have very little understanding of Wahhabism. A excellent place to learn about it is to read Wikipedia's description of Wahhabism. This is a long and very informative essay on the subject, and I would certainly recommend it as bedtime reading for Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond who really owe it to us to be properly informed in their decision making. I would, however, give one caveat. They might not sleep too well afterwards when they realise who they are actually in bed with!

Most of you reading this website are probably not going to take the time to read Wikipedia's detailed description of Wahhabism. So let me give my own brief summary.

Wahhabism is named after an 18th Century Islamic scholar, Muhammad Ibn Alb al-Wahhab (1703-1792). He was an Islamic Reformer, not in a modernist sense, but rather like an Islamic equivalent to Martin Luther who started the Protestant Reformation.

In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg. He was rejecting many practices that had become traditions of the Catholic church over the centuries, including the selling of indulgences and veneration of Catholic Saints. And he was calling Christians back to the Bible, to rediscover Christianity as it had originally been intended in the 1st Century AD. A particular emphasis of Luther's was the doctrine of 'Justification by Faith'. Given that the New Testament essentially calls you to love God and love your neighbour, and to do to others as you would have them do to you, Luther's call back to the Bible was a good call.

In Saudi Arabia in the 1740's Ibn Abd al-Wahhab began calling Muslims back to a strict literal interpretation of the Quran, and to a form of Islam as practiced during the lifetimes of the Prophet Muhammad and his first three Caliph successors. The practice of the early Muslims , known in Arabic as 'as-Salaf as-Salih', is considered exemplary. 'Salaf' is a word that essentially means 'original'. As such, Wahhabism is a type of Salafism, that calls Muslims back to a form of Islam as practiced by the 'original' Muslims. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's reformation included a rejection of many Islamic practices, especially those of Sufis and Shiites, including for example the veneration of graves of various figures revered in Islamic tradition. Veneration of Islamic saints was considered by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab as a form of 'Shirk', and he promoted as his central doctrine that of 'tawhid'. Tawhid means strict unitarian Islamic monotheism. 'Shirk' means literally 'association' and means to associate Allah with a partner of some kind, whether human, deity or otherwise. It is the unforgivable sin in Islam. People who commit the sin of shirk are referred to in the Quran as 'mushrikuun', often translated as idolaters or infidel. The other practice that Ibn Abd al-Wahhab adopted was that of 'takfir', which simply means to label people as 'kufaar', unbelievers or kaffirs in English . Rather than criticising other Muslims for practices he disagreed with, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab argued that they were guilty of committing 'shirk' and should no longer be considered as Muslims, but as kaffirs.

Unless you are knowledgable about Islam, you might miss the implications of such a policy of 'takfir'. The Quran forbids Muslims to kill other Muslims except for a just cause, or if they commit adultery or if they reject Islam and become apostates. But if Muslims can label other Muslims as unbelievers, then they can justify killing them. And so Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's reformation call is not really like that of Martin Luther. It is more like that in Mein Kampf.

Today, the people of Yemen stand on a cliff-edge, and Saudi Arabia continues to bomb the country, pushing them mercilessly every closer towards an abyss of human misery and famine. The reason they can justify doing that is that they don't consider the Houthi Shiites to be true Muslims. It's the Wahhabi practice of 'takfir'.

In 1744 Ibn Abd al-Wahhab made a pact with Muhammad Ibn Saud, the ruler of a nearby town. Ibn Saud agreed to protect him and propagate the doctrines of his Wahhabi mission, while Ibn Abd al-Wahhab pledged to support the ruler, supplying him with 'glory and power'. He promised Ibn Saud that whoever championed his message 'will by means of it, rule the lands and men'. In other words, he convinced Ibn Saud that the promotion of Wahhabism would lead to the expansion of Ibn Saud's rule. This is an alliance that has stood firm for 250 years. Basically today, Wahhabits are Salafists who support the House of Saud, or in the case of Qatar and the UAE, Salafists who support their Wahhabist rulers.

Since the 1970's, Saudi Arabia, and more recently Qatar, have used their tremendous oil wealth to sponsor the spread of Wahhabism throughout the world. They have funded books, scholarships, fellowships, mosque-building, islamic centres, universities, and children's madrasas, both in the Western World, but also around the Middle East and in Africa and Asia.

In 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to suppress a growing Islamic insurgency, Saudi Arabia got involved. A Saudi Muslim cleric, Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, issued a fatwa, supported by Saudi's Grand Mufti (highest religious scholar) making it the obligation of Sunni Muslims to fight defensive jihad against the Russians. Between 1982 and 1992, an estimated 35,000 jihadists volunteered in Afghanistan, including between 12,000 and 25,000 Saudis, sponsored by the Saudi government. Because it was still the cold war era, America supported this jihadist resistance, providing weapons, training and logistical support. The Russians were forced out, and it was a tremendous victory for Islamic Jihad. It was also a tremendous training ground for thousands of Salafist Jihadis.

In 1990, when Sadam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia feared that he might then invade Saudi Arabia, many of those veteran jihadists became disillusioned by Saudi Arabia's response. Instead of turning to the Islamic world for defence, Saudi Arabia turned to America and the West, inviting infidel western soldiers into the holy land of Saudi Arabia. America and the West successfully drove Sadam Hussein out of Kuwait, but in the process Saudi Arabia lost the allegiance of many of those battle-hardened Wahhabist Jihadis, who considered the Saudi Regime to have acted like 'kufaar'. Of course, it you are a Wahhabist and you find reason to label your fellow Muslims as 'kufaar', then you also have reason to kill them. Consequently, Al-Qaeda was formed, primarily as a Salafist movement intent on overthrowing the Saudi Regime, but also intent on resisting infidel western involvement in the Arab World. Technically, Al-Qaeda are Salafists, but no longer Wahhabists because they have denounced their allegiance to their Wahhabist rulers.

And more recently, ISIS has emerged out of Al-Qaeda.

On 10 February 2015, a Jordanian Muslim lawyer, Zaid Nabulsi, wrote an impassioned article, 'We Have a Problem', for the Jordan Times, lamenting not just the barbaric murder of Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kasabeh, whom ISIS burnt to death in a metal cage, but also the manner in which Saudi Arabia has so effectively transformed much of Sunni Islam into Wahhabism. In many of ISIS's most barbaric acts, they have cited the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah, a 13th Century Islamic scholar whose teachings had a profound influence on Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, and on Wahhabism as it exists today. This article is so worth reading that I include it here, rather than merely as a link.

We Have a Problem, by Zaid Nabulsi, Jordan Times, 10 February 2015

By Zaid Nabulsi for the Jordan Times:

Enough is enough. It is time to speak out.

“Islam is innocent” is an incomplete sentence. Introspection is needed, for, if we shy away from reality, the alternative will be more images like those we witnessed last Tuesday night, when brave Lt. Muath Al Kasasbeh was burnt to death in a cage.

The inconvenient truth that is overlooked or willfully ignored by apologists for the indefensible is the fact that Wahabism, the cult of mediaeval austerity founded by Ibn Abdul Wahab (1703-1792), has over the last half century been exported to every mosque and school throughout the Muslim world until it completely enveloped mainstream Sunni Islamic teachings.

Wahabism has entirely replaced, and become, Sunni Islam; the two cannot be told apart anymore.

Some Wahabist teachings, which have permeated the air we breathe in the Muslim world, are simply irreconcilable with decent human values, especially the ones that declare that every non-Wahabist is a disposable body whose bloodletting is unproblematic.

So enough of this burial of our heads in the sand. It has become tiresome to keep hearing the unproductive cliché that Islam is innocent after each atrocity committed by devout fanatics who did nothing except execute the exact letter of their textbooks, which order them to slaughter the infidels.

The escapism that mainstream Islam has nothing to do with those atrocities does not hold water anymore because Wahabism and Islam have become indistinguishable.

To understand the crisis of Muslims today, one has to remember that Wahabism exists in several textbooks containing the alleged sayings of the Prophet Mohammad, or books of “Hadith”, revered by so many.

What we must confront is the undeniable fact that it is from many stories found in these books that the unprecedented cruelty of groups such as the so-called Islamic State and Jabhat Al Nusra emanates.

The problem today has nothing to do with the original spirit of Prophet Mohammad’s message. Nor has it anything to do with the tumultuous history of Muslims over 14 centuries, parts of which were no doubt glorious and enlightened.

The catastrophe today is with the visible manifestation of Islam in the modern world, as demonstrated by the prevalent beliefs and practices of many people who call themselves Muslims.

This negative image of Muslims is not all just smoke and no fire. This is what those 120 Islamic scholars who sent a letter to Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi last year could not fathom.

IS did not invent a new Islam. On the contrary, its followers are strict adherents of the same textbooks quoted in that long letter (bizarrely addressed to “Dr Ibrahim Awwad Al Badri”, Baghdadi’s real name, bestowing intellectual respectability upon this mass murderer, as if one were writing a letter to the mayor of Copenhagen).

In fact, the scholars’ letter was a misguided attempt to disinfect Wahabism, to cleanse it from itself, by claiming that IS simply misinterpreted texts that are otherwise compatible with human decency.

In that sense, the letter squabbled over the semantics of the alleged instructions by the Prophet to spread Islam by the sword, but it did not dare renounce the authenticity of those same sayings.

Instead, the scholars argued that IS has simply taken those instructions out of context, and so they addressed the devotees of Ibn Taymiyah (the mentor of Wahabism, 1263-1328) with counterarguments based on those same problematic Ibn Taymiyah texts that IS employed to justify its barbarity.

The truth of the matter is that, faced with the IS and Nusra atrocities, Muslims cannot afford to give Wahabism a facelift. If we truly want to defend Islam, we need to perform a much more invasive surgery.

Take the Muslim Brotherhood as an example of the prevalence of the Wahabist teachings among Muslims today. The Brotherhood is the virtual womb that incubated all the current jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda itself (Al Zawahiri hailed from the Egyptian MB offshoot that murdered president Anwar Sadat). Yet, when Abu Musab Al Zarqawi was killed in 2006, the three most senior leaders of the MB in Jordan brazenly visited the condolence house in Zarqa and announced to the media that Zarqawi was a martyr in the eyes of God, despite Zarqawi having blown up three hotels in Amman the previous year, killing scores of Jordanians going about their lives or celebrating a peaceful wedding.

We need not go too far back.

More recently, former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, of the MB, committed much worse deeds than his Jordanian counterparts while he was briefly in office, using his pardon prerogatives to release the murderers who carried out the 1997 Luxor massacre of 62 elderly European tourists. Not only that, Morsi even appointed the leader of that group as a governor of Luxor itself.

The MB in Jordan, despite their token condemnation of the immolation of Kasasbeh, still refuse to describe him as a martyr.

Some may counter that it is poverty and economics, not Wahabist doctrine, that explain why so many Muslims are supportive of such murderous trends. This simply defies the facts.

The orgy of decapitations in Syria over the last four years was promoted by very rich Sunni clerics such as Yusuf Al Qaradawi and Mohammad Al Uraifi, aided by the countless satellite stations openly calling for the murder of Alawites and Shiites, and financed by billions from extremely wealthy but hateful Muslims.

So, enough with the denials. It is time to raise the alarm. We have a problem!

It is not a coincidence that for over a decade we, Muslims, dominated the world record in mindless televised massacres. There is obviously a propensity towards eliminating “the other”, imbedded deep within Wahabist ideology.

It is not only foolish to deny this fact, it is also dangerous, for we would be covering the cancerous tumour with a bandage. What we cannot deny is that many of the Wahabist textbooks are the same operating manuals that Islamist butchers use to justify their savagery.

For example, very few people know that while Muath was being set on fire in that macabre video, the voiceover was a recitation of an Ibn Taymiyah fatwa deeming the incineration of unbelievers a legitimate act of jihad. Ibn Taymiyah is not some obscure scholar on the fringe of Sunni Islam. In the Sunni world, he is universally venerated with the title “Sheikh of Islam”, elevating him to an almost infallible clerical status.

If we really want to defend Islam as a religion of mercy, if we really want to be believed when we proclaim the innocence of this religion, we need to do more than just repeat this meaningless mantra about us having nothing to do with IS.
We have to muster the courage to identify the specific texts that actually defame Islam, denounce them and permanently cleanse Islamic tradition of them.

The writer is a Jordanian attorney and partner in the law firm of Nabulsi & Associates. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

A Deeper Understanding of the Terrorist Threat

If you want to gain a deeper understanding of the terrorist threat that we face in the West from rogue Wahhabism, and how the Muslim Brotherhood has influenced that threat, I would recommend watching the following video. This is an hour-long talk given by Major Stephen Coughlin in November 2010, at an event commemorating the victims of the Fort Hoot massacre which occurred on 5 November 2009 when US Army Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and injured 30 others at the Foot Hood military base. Stephen Coughlin is a former intelligence analyst at the Pentagon, and an expert on Sharia Law.

Major Stephen Coughlin, November 2010, Foot Hood Texas

The British Government's Deepest Darkest Fears

We all have our deepest darkest fears. Usually they are flashes of irrational thought that occasionally jump out of the shadows and catch us unawares. In reality we can usually dismiss them and get on with living our lives. But just occasionally, they actually come to pass, as I learnt in 2009 when my first wife was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer.

I would like to suggest that the British government has a deep dark fear that they would prefer you didn't know about.

For decades now, along with America, we have been selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Until the war broke out with Yemen in March 2015, Saudi had never really used them in anger, so we were able to carry on selling them weapons without it troubling our consciences too much. But when you understand Wahhabism, you realise that actually we have armed a monster.

Until recently, we imposed tough sanctions on the nation of Iran, following a big fall-out between the West and Iran when the revolution took place in 1979. We considered Iran to be a dangerous regime, a threat to peace, both in the Middle East region, and further afield internationally. But we have overlooked the dangers posed by Saudi Arabia. Quietly, subtly, Saudi Arabia has been undermining World Peace for decades, right under our noses, through its export of ultra-intolerant Wahhabism. Our arms sales to Saudi have all been part of a mutually beneficial trade relationship with a country that not only sells us the oil we want, but also has billions and billions to spend buying our exports, not just of arms, but of every possible kind of luxury item.

We have armed them to the teeth, and now they are bombing the heck out of their poorest neighbour, the people of Yemen, who have done us no harm. Why do we support them in doing so, and continually excuse their human rights violations. In January 2016, why did our government ignore calls from its own International Development Committee to set up an independent enquiry into Saudi Arabia's human rights violations? Why did we insist that they should be the ones to investigate their own abuses?

I think the answer is that having created and armed the monster, we now want to keep the monster on our side, whatever the cost.

I recently watched the fictional US TV drama, Homeland. In season 3, Saul Berenson's great achievement is to successfully recruit Iranian thug, Javardi, to the CIA. In the process, Javardi cold-bloodedly murders his estranged ex-wife and daughter. But by the end of the season, Nicholas Brody has assassinated a top Iranian official, opening the way for Javardi to take his place. From there, Javardi can influence Iranian policy in the USA's favour. If we were to imagine it as fact rather than fiction, then we might attribute the recent Iran deal and thawing of relations between Iran and the West, not to President Obama, but to Saul Berenson and the CIA, with the beautiful but bipolar Cary Matthison playing her essential part in the process.

Back to the real world of fact rather than fiction, it strikes me that the UK government's relationship with Saudi Arabia is rather like that. We may recognise that Saudi Arabia is a monster. But we believe we have recruited the people right at the top of the Saudi regime, and we will do whatever it takes to keep them on our side. The only problem, when you trust in relationships like that, is that you never really know how many sides they are actually on. Saudi Arabia is now so powerful and so well armed that the possibility its leaders are not really on our side is such a frightening thought that we try to keep dismissing it as one of our irrational deepest darkest fears.

On 10 February 2015, the same day that Zaid Nablusi wrote the above article, 'We have a problem', our own Prince Charles was on a visit to Saudi Arabia. During his visit, he raised the case of Raif Badawi, the young blogger who has been publicly whipped and sentenced to 10 years in prison for creating a blog that criticised Saudi Arabia's human rights record:
More than 18 months later what are we to make of the fact that Raif Badawi is still languishing in a Saudi jail, and could again be publicly whipped whenever they feel like it? Personally, the way I interpret their response is that Saudi Arabia's leaders have given Charles a virtual middle-finger. And if they subtly give Charles the middle-finger, what respect do they have for our Queen, or for our government, or for our nation, or for the values we hold dear?

Two days before that, on 8 February 2015, Charles was in Jordan visiting King Abdullah. It was just a few days after their pilot, Muath al-Kasabeh, had been burned alive in a metal cage by ISIS. Charles used the occasion to raise his concerns about Islamic radicalisation, including in the UK. The reality is, it is Saudi Arabia that is the source of that radicalisation, for it has spent tens of billions of dollars exporting it to the UK and around the world.
Unfortunately, our government's deepest darkest fears don't end there. Or if they do, they shouldn't.

After Al-Qaeda flew aeroplanes into the twin-towers on 9/11, Saudi Arabia did much to try to deflect the facts that Al-Qaeda was essentially a Saudi Arabian terrorist group, that Osama bin Laden was a Saudi citizen who had grown up in Saudi, and that 15 out of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian citizens. They deflected much of that reality by emphasising Osama bin Laden's ancestral links to Yemen, and they tried to convince us that Al-Qaeda was actually more of a Yemeni terrorist group. After all, hadn't they been responsible for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole?

Now Osama bin Laden's ancestral links to Yemen are undeniable. But how do we view President Barak Obama, for example? Is he a Kenyan or is he an American? His father was a Kenyan, but Barak Obama was born and mostly raised in America. The fact that the American people elected him as their president reflects their recognition of him as an American. Shouldn't we recognise that Osama bin Laden was a Saudi, and stop thinking of him as a Yemeni?

Now it is also true that the poor country of Yemen has been a fertile recruiting ground for Al-Qaeda, and that many of bin Laden's companions who ended up in Guantanamo Bay were Yemeni citizens. But actually, before the Iraq war of 2003, Al-Qaeda really didn't have much of a hold in Yemen. It was after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with Al-Qaeda being progressively pushed back and hunted out of those countries, that many of them took advantage of Yemen's porous borders and sought refuge there in the deserts of Yemen's Al-Hadramaut Province.

During the years when Ali Abdullah Saleh was Yemen's President, he adopted a policy of pro-Western co-operation against Al-Qaeda, allowing the Americans to fly their drones over Yemen's air space and carry out targeted assassinations of Al-Qaeda jihadists, despite the program being very unpopular with the Yemeni population. During the 2011 Yemeni Revolution, as part of the Arab Spring, Al-Qaeda managed to make big advances in Yemen, taking advantage of the popular unrest that the government was dealing with. They captured Abyan Province and declared an Al-Qaeda Emirate in Yemen. This was a very significant development for Al-Qaeda in Yemen, as it meant they actually controlled territory, rather than merely being a guerrilla terrorist organisation. By then they had called themselves Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, which was an alliance between the Yemen's Al-Qaeda and Saudi's Al-Qaeda who had been forced to retreat from Saudi by the Saudi army. AQAP had some setbacks in 2012 and were forced to retreat from Abyan by the Yemen government. But when Saudi Arabia started their war against Yemen's Houthis in March 2015, the renewed chaos gave AQAP another opportunity to expand. Days later, on 2 April 2015, AQAP captured the port City of Al-Mukalla, making it the capital of their Al-Qaeda Emirate. They held Al-Mukalla for just over a year until 25 April 2016 when they were forced to retreat by forces from the UAE, presumably the UAE's elite group of Columbian mercenaries. But as far as I understand it, AQAP still have an Emirate in Yemen that covers over 300 miles. The following Al-Jazeera video clip shows who controlled the different parts of Yemen in April 2016:

Al-Jazeera, April 2016

Why am I talking about AQAP and what's my point? Simply this. Now that AQAP control a territory hundreds of miles wide, that is their self-declared Al-Qaeda Emirate in Yemen, imagine the possibilities for their expansion in the months or years ahead. While I was in Yemen, the Houthis rose up in arms every year from 2004 onwards, but it always seemed that the Yemen government would manage to contain the war within the Saada province in the North. I never imagined them taking the capital and most of North Yemen, as they did in 2014 and 2015. Similarly, no-one seemed to foresee the emergence of ISIS and how they would take over swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014, declaring a Caliphate. Just imagine now that AQAP manage to advance into Saudi Arabia and overthrow the House of Saud. That has always been Al-Qaeda's primary goal, since its formation.

If they were to achieve that goal, and Saudi Arabia were to fall into their hands, along with all its oil and all it military hardware, ISIS's Islamic State would look like child's play in comparison. When the British government make policy decisions relating to the Yemen War, that must surely be their deepest darkest fear.

Given that Saudi Arabia's war against the Houthis has actually strengthened AQAP's position in Yemen, I wonder whether the UK government has really thought through its support for Saudi Arabia in its Yemen War.

I would suggest that the Saudis, along with the UK and USA, should strive for a negotiated settlement to the War, in which they recognise the Houthi government's rule over North Yemen, and the rule of President Hadi's government over the South of Yemen, including Hadramaut Province where AQAP have established their Emirate. Hadi has already made an alliance with the Southern Nationalists. The Saudis should now leave the Houthis alone, and concentrate on driving AQAP and ISIS out of the South. Because the Houthis are Zaidi Shiites, there is never a possibility of them making an alliance with AQAP or ISIS against Saudi Arabia.

Such a negotiated settlement does involve a reversal of the 1990 unification between North Yemen and South Yemen, and a delicate issue in the negotiations would be the exact location of the border between the two, and in particular, which side of the border the City of Taiz should be on. Historically Taiz was on the North side of the border, but I suspect that given a choice, the people of Taiz would choose to join the South. In the Yemen War, Taiz has been the site of fiercest resistance to the Houthi take-over, and I can never see them being happy to accept a Houthi government.

Between about 1950 and 1962, Taiz was the Capital of the Zaidi Imamate of North Yemen. In 1950, because of personal health issues, the Imam moved his capital from Sanaa to Taiz. Taiz is at a lower altitude than Sanaa, and its climate was better suited to his health. During the two years that I lived in Taiz, from 1995 to 1997, I remember visiting the Imam's Palace. It was a somewhat bizarre museum. The walls of the entrance hall were covered in photographs of public executions in Taiz's public square, and the rooms of the museum prominently displayed masses of empty alcohol bottles, and his many western luxury goods from the 1950's. Also on display was his lion's den, with real live lions that were descendants of the Imam's lions. The message was clear. The people of Taiz remembered their Zaidi Imam as a cruel tyrant who lived an immoral and decadent lifestyle, and belonged to a bygone era like that of Daniel and the lion's den. Consequently, I really can't see the people of Taiz accepting Houthi rule, and I suspect the City of Taiz will be a critical issue in negotiations for a settlement to the Yemen War.
Stacks Image 80638

Map of Yemen showing pre-1990 borders

Why is the UK Committed to Supporting the Saudi Regime? - Conclusion

Although, at the top of this page I described Theresa May's assertion that 'our relationship with Saudi Arabia helps keep people on the streets of Britain safe' as somewhat bizarre, I hope you will see that there is actually some logic to it. The reason we face a terrorist threat on the streets of Britain is that Saudi Arabia has created that threat by its worldwide export of Wahhabist ideology. The terrorists are essentially Wahhabists gone rogue, who now pose a threat to both Saudi Arabia and to ourselves. So we share a common enemy. As long as Saudi Arabia is prepared to share intelligence with us about what its own citizens are getting up to, there is real value in our own intelligence services receiving that information.

However, in my opinion, it is not worth us sacrificing our own values in order to keep on receiving occasional titbits of intelligence. We are not mere dogs waiting for intelligence crumbs from our master's table. If we have a relationship that is worth maintaining, we must be able to influence and change their policies, especially in relation to human rights and other values that we hold dear.

On 8 October 2016, immediately following Saudi Arabia's bombing of a funeral in Yemen, killing 140 people and injuring more than 500, the White House issued the following statement:
"We are deeply disturbed by reports of today's airstrike on a funeral hall in Yemen, which, if confirmed, would continue the troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians. U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check. Even as we assist Saudi Arabia regarding the defense of their territorial integrity, we have and will continue to express our serious concerns about the conflict in Yemen and how it has been waged. In light of this and other recent incidents, we have initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led Coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with U.S. principles, values and interests, including achieving an immediate and durable end to Yemen's tragic conflict. We call upon the Saudi-led Coalition, the Yemeni government, the Houthis and the Saleh-aligned forces to commit publicly to an immediate cessation of hostilities and implement this cessation based on the April 10th terms."
Similarly, the UK's security cooperation with Saudi Arabia must also stop being a 'blank cheque'. We must suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately, and not consider resuming them without a proper review, including an independent investigation of Saudi Arabia's human rights violations, as called for by the Netherlands in 2015, and by the House of Commons International Development Committee on 2 February 2016.

On 15 October 2016, the UK's Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, as part of a report welcoming the initial investigation into the 8 October funeral bombing, made the following statement:
"There can be no military solution to the conflict in Yemen. We urge all sides to recommit to political talks and to implement a Cessation of Hostilities. I stressed this in meetings with Yemeni and Saudi leaders, including President Hadi and Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir, in Saudi Arabia this week. We are considering the Saudi investigation report in detail."
This is a very significant statement, given that it was made by Tobias Ellwood, who up until now has staunchly defended the UK's arms sales to Saudi. Tobias was one of the panel members present at the International Development Committee's hearings on 27 January 2016 (see my Parliament page), and defended the UK's policy in spite of clear evidence presented that Saudi was using those weapons to commit human rights violations. If Tobias Ellwood really believes his statement above, that 'there can be no military solution to the conflict in Yemen', then he must advocate an immediate suspension of arms sales. Now it is time to see if he, and the UK government, acts according to his words.

It is also time for Saudi Arabia to show that they at least have an iota of respect for Prince Charles, our Queen, our government and our values. They should release Raif Badawi from prison immediately, and stop giving Prince Charles a virtual middle-finger.

Saudi Arabia must stop its war against Yemen's Houthis immediately. For a start, they are fighting the wrong enemy, and their efforts so far have merely strengthened the hand of their real enemy. Saudi Arabia's real enemy in Yemen, and ours, is AQAP, and to a lesser extent ISIS. If they want to fight in Yemen, they should focus on crushing AQAP and ISIS.

Finally, if the Saudis really believe Islam is such a great religion, they should stun the world by launching the greatest most generous ever relief effort to save the Yemeni people from starvation, and to help rebuild Yemen's infrastructure. After all, they surely wouldn't wish to be outdone by Christian America's example of helping Germany and Japan rebuild after the devastation of World War II, would they now?
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