Stephen Harper is beginning to catch a bit of flack over the sale of 15-billion dollars worth of Canadian-built light armoured fighting vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
At first blush it’s hard to understand what Saudi Arabia, that already has a significant armoured force but shows no inclination to use it except to suppress pro-democracy dissidents in places like Bahrain, wants with those LAVs. Maybe it’s got something to do with this, the simmering religious conflict between the Sunni House of Saud and Shiite Iran. Could the Saudis be gearing up to crush their own Shiite minority?
Last October, Saudi Arabia’s Special Criminal Court sentenced Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr — a popular Shi’ite cleric and outspoken political dissident — to death.
This was not an ordinary criminal trial, even considering Saudi Arabia’s liberal use of capital punishment. Among other charges, the prosecutor sought to convict al-Nimr of “waging war on God” and “aiding terrorists,” even calling for the cleric to be publicly executed by “crucifixion.” In Saudi Arabia, this rare method of execution entails beheading the individual before publicly displaying his decapitated body.
The widely revered Shi’ite cleric was ultimately convicted of “disobeying” the king, waging violence against the state, inviting “foreign meddling” in the kingdom, inciting vandalism and sectarian violence, and insulting the Prophet Muhammad’s relatives. However, al-Nimr’s family and supportersclaim that the ruling was politically driven and insist that the cleric led a non-violent movement committed to promoting Shi’ite rights, women’s rights, and democratic reform in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabian Shi’ites have long complained of state-sponsored discrimination and human rights abuses by conservative Sunni authorities.According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabian Shi’ites “face systematic discrimination in religion, education, justice, and employment.”
In early 2011, anti-government protests erupted in the Qatif district of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, which is home to nearly all of Saudi Arabia’s 3 million Shi’ite citizens and nearly one-fifth of the world’s oil supply. Throughout 2011 and 2012, al-Nimr was a leader in these protests, in which activists demanded the release of the “forgotten prisoners” — a reference to nine political prisoners who had been detained then for some 16 years.
After Saudi Arabian, Emirati, and Kuwaiti forces entered Bahrain to help quell a non-violent Shi’ite uprising in the tiny island kingdom, Saudi Shi’ites expressed solidarity with their Bahraini counterparts. This prompted officials in Riyadh to fear that growing Shi’ite dissent could trigger a crisis in the strategically vital Eastern Province, which borders several other countries with sizeable Shi’ite populations. So between March 2011 and August 2012, the Saudi government waged a harsh crackdown on Shi’ite protestors, killing over 20, injuring several dozen, and detaining over 1,000 others, including 24 children.
|Birds of a Feather|
When you supply 15-billion dollars worth of armoured fighting vehicles to a gang of double-dealing cutthroats like the House of Saud, you’re complicit in whatever they do with them. Prominent Saudis like Prince Bandar bin Sultan have openly stated that the Saudis are gearing up to exterminate Shia Islam.
Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”
More here, here and here.
|Is it better to have gambled and lost?|
Theories as to why OPEC didn’t reduce quotas at its meeting in Vienna on Nov. 27 are as cheap and abundant as crude in North Dakota. One holds that the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia want to hurt the Shiites of Iran, who need high-priced oil to finance their government.Another, expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, is that the whole thing is a conspiracy to undermine Russia, the world’s biggest oil producer. Yet another is that the Saudis hope to drive oil prices below where it makes sense for American shale producers to invest in new production. But shale producers have lowered their costs so much that in key fields they can make profits at $50 to $70 a barrel. That’s above core OPEC members’ exploration and production costs but below what many need to cover their government spending. “If my calculations are correct, this will go down as one of the worst commodity trading decisions ever,” Wilbur Ross, billionaire investor and chairman of WL Ross (IVZ), wrote in an e-mail.In fact, prices are being forced down not by any action (or inaction) of the Saudis but by the American shale producers, who are simply producing all the oil they can to maximize their profits. “Collectively, they’re not the most sophisticated folks, especially when it comes to world markets,” says Charles Ebinger, a senior fellow in the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution.With apologies to Ebinger, the shale producers don’t need to be sophisticates. Each operator is so small, it can increase production without pushing down the market price. That makes them price “takers,” not price setters. And because shale wells are short-lived, producers don’t have to plan far ahead, says Karr Ingham, a petroleum economist in Amarillo, Texas.Singly the shale busters are nothing. Collectively, their breakneck production is breaking OPEC’s neck. This is the remorseless, leaderless free market at work.