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SHARMINI PERIES It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
Three summits were held in the city of Mecca, the holiest city of Islam. Now, Saudi Arabia hosted these conferences during the last days of Ramadan, inviting leaders of Muslim countries to attend. One meeting was an emergency meeting of the Gulf states, a second a meeting of Arab states, and a third of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. So through these summits held in the holy city, Saudi Arabia was positioning itself as the hegemon, the leader of the Gulf and leader of the Arab world and leader of the Muslim world. Now, King Mohammad bin Salman, speaking at the Arab emergency summit, explained that Iran was the emergency.
To analyze the significance of these summits, we are joined by As'ad AbuKhalil. As'ad is a leading expert on the Middle East's political situations and Professor of Political Science at California State University at Stanislaus, and he regularly contributes at the Al Akhbar and Consortium News. As'ad, good to have you here.
AS'AD ABUKHALIL Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES As'ad, the way Saudi Arabia is positioning itself as the leader of the Gulf, the leader of the Arab world, and leader of the Muslim world, are they actually achieving this despite the setbacks that they have had by way of the war in Yemen and in Syria, as well as the way in which they have been depicted over the Khashoggi affair? Is this desperation, trying to position themselves, or is the Arab world taking them seriously here?
AS'AD ABUKHALIL Well, I mean, the king of Saudi Arabia is in a very difficult situation because he suffers from Western anger as well as lack of popularity throughout the Arab and Muslim world. However, if the question is, is the Saudi despot capable of summoning all fellow Arab despots who are on the payroll of the Saudi regime and can summon Muslim leaders who also happen to be on the payroll of the Saudi government, and they have them agree to a statement that's prepared in advance in which all the platitudes that are regularly said are said, so the answer to that is yes. However, if we are speaking at the popular level, those meetings generate as much interest on the part of the Arab and Muslim population as much as the annual meetings of potato farmers in Western Lebanon. I mean, they have absolutely no political significance whatsoever. It is largely a factory of empty rhetoric and slogans that people know have no attachment to reality whatsoever.
And you have to bear in mind here that the Saudi government speaks two tongues. On the one hand, they speak to the Western world, in which they emphasize their enmity to Iran, Iran is the enemy and so on. But in Arabic, all three summits, the Gulf and the Islamic, as well as Arab, spoke in categorical terms in rejection of the deal of the century, the Middle East plan being prepared by Jared Kushner and company by the Trump administration. This largely has been lacking from Western coverage of these meetings. There has been very strong emphasis in those statementsas empty as they are, they are paying lip service, obviouslyto the Palestinian question. And the King emphasized this remained a central question and the Saudi government will support the Palestinian people, demands for statehood and all that, and for the two state solution.
So there is a lot of statements and slogans that were tossed out during these meetings in addition to the real purpose for this, which is to gather momentum and mobilize these despots behind Saudi effort against the Iranian government, in a way to ingratiate itselfthe governmentwith the Israeli government and with the Trump administration.
SHARMINI PERIES Right. Now, As'ad, the king seems to be more preoccupied with the Palestinian question here. And yet, Palestinians were banned from going to Mecca to the Haj last year. They placed some stipulations where they required passports be attained by Palestinians so that they can attend the Haj. What is your interpretation of this? How do you square it, with King Salman saying this and then taking action to prevent Palestinians from joining the Haj?
AS'AD ABUKHALIL It's quite blatant, the extent to which the Saudi government's words do not match its rhetoric and its actions. It's very clear that the Saudi government does not run the religious affairs of its control of the two holy sites in a free manner. There is as much freedom of worship in Saudi Arabia as much as there is in Israel. And there is as much free access to the holy sites in Saudi Arabia as much as it is in Israel for the Muslim worshipers and for the Christians. So there is very strict rules that are imposed. And of course, there has been a ban on any political slogans given. In the past, in the history of Islam, the Haj used to be a celebratory event in which Muslims around the world would gather, and it was much freer than it is now. They used to exchange ideas, they discussed politics, and sometimes poets wrote love poems to women and vice versa during these times. It is not like that anymore. It's very highly rigidly controlled by the Saudi government, largely in order to underline the credentials of the Saudi government.
And the government has come under attack, justifiably, because they have been destroying all the ancient Muslim sites in the historic cities of Islam because they want to build new monuments to the royal family and to the Hilton family. There is a monstrous, ugly building now that stands atop, overseeing the holy sites in Mecca itself with a very ostentatious tower with a clock showing the Hilton sign. So Palestinians are fully aware that the Saudi government is a close ally of Israel and has absolutely no interest in helping the Palestinians. Worse than that, the Saudi government criticized Iran for any provision of assistance to the Palestinian people and the arming of Palestinian groups. And yet, it doesn't want to help the Palestinians. So this is what Saudi government does. It doesn't want anybody to help the Palestinians, and it is also unwilling to help the Palestinians because its allies with Israel would prevent it from doing so.
SHARMINI PERIES Interesting. OK. Let's move on to the other hot topic here, which is Qatar. Now, Saudi Arabia signaled that it is willing to lift the embargo on Qatar by inviting the emir to attend the Gulf summit. Now, on the condition that Qatar joined the alliance against Iran, what came out of these meetings in terms of that relationship?
AS'AD ABUKHALIL It didn't go well at all. I mean, Qatar was invited, which was unusual, and I think it was intentional on the part of the Saudi government to demonstrate some solidarity and unity among all Muslims and Arabs, which didn't go well. Because within one day after the conclusion of the summit, the Qatari government issued a statement in which it made it very clear they had their reservations on the final declaration of the Arab League, just as the Iraqi government did, and just as a segment of the Lebanese government did, and they do not agree to this entire focus of hostility on Iran. And the Qatari government criticized the lack of attention to the Palestinian question. And that came as an embarrassment the Saudi government, I have to say. And the Saudi regime responded in kind, widely criticizing the Qataris and all those who side with the Saudi government.
SHARMINI PERIES As'ad, let's talk about the military angle here. Last week, President Trump declared an emergency so he could go over Congress and continue with the arms sales that he had promised to Saudi Arabia. Now, this was construed as an emergency by way of having to deal with Iran. Now, what is the significance of this arms sale? And of course, we cannot ignore the article that was in the New York Times on Sunday in regard to the Emir of the United Arab Emirates. Tie all this up for us.
AS'AD ABUKHALIL This is quite significant, and this is what worries the Saudis the most. There is a mounting resentment against Saudi government within the U.S. Congress, and it has a bipartisan flavor. It is unprecedented now that we have Republican and Democrat agreeing together against normalization of relations with the Saudi government. What is very significant is that here we have Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, the closest allies of the United States in the Arab world, and yet the leaders of both countriesthe actual leader, Mohammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Zayed in UAE, who are not able of visiting the United Statesthey cannot step foot in the U.S. Mohammed bin Salman is afraid because he knows he'll be followed and chased by protesters everywhere he goes and people in Congress are not happy to see him. And Mohammed bin Zayed, as we learned from that long article in The New York Times, is not able to visit the U.S. because he could be summoned for investigation regarding interference in the last presidential election.
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