By Pepe Escobar
The counter-revolution, paraphrasing the late, great soul jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron, will not be televised; it will float downstream flush with hard cash. Take Egypt. The House of Saud has just given Supreme Military Council leader Field Marshall Tantawi US$4 billion in cold hard cash - although not even the Sphinx knows for sure how much power Tantawi, 75, deposed tyrant Hosni Mubarak's former minister of defense, really wields.
Washington extended Cairo $1 billion in "debt forgiveness" and another $1 billion in loan guarantees. Not much - compared to what Washington extends to Israel, but still a signal. And then the International Monetary Fund extended an extra $3 billion in loans. The "new" Egypt will start to do business already bound in unforgiving chains.
This goes a long way to explain how the "opening" of Rafah - the border with Gaza - was not really an opening. The quota of free-moving Gazans is a maximum of 400 a day; and no less than 5,000 Gazans remain blacklisted. So essentially the gulag situation remains similar to Mubarak-sanctioned levels.
This also goes a long way to explain why now you see it/now you don't tentative Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei is now on an overdrive charm offensive on Saudi media - singing the praises of King Abdullah while performing the contortionism of ignoring frenetic Saudi support for Mubarak until (and beyond) the last minute.
Cash is king
In Yemen, the House of Saud is - what else - buying Yemeni tribes with cold hard cash, in the name of "stability in the region". Even though it is living up to its reputation of prime asylum for fleeing Arab dictators, the House of Saud officially is in favor of President Abdullah Saleh stepping down in the name of "less bloodshed and less unpredictability".
The House of Saud insists - no irony intended - Saleh is being hosted for "humanitarian motives". Officially, the House of Saud also abhors a "power vacuum". Said vacuum nonetheless remains quite persistent, now coupled with fears of "rising chaos". Washington, meanwhile, scans the horizon frantically trying to spot any dronable al-Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP) "targets".
If Saleh ships himself back to Yemen that could only happen because the House of Saud said so. So we have a situation where Saleh's son Ali is commanding the elite Republican Guard - from inside the presidential palace - and his four cousins are also in control of key military units. The current "acting" leader, Vice President Abdu-Rabo Mansur Hadi, is a figurehead.
Saudi Arabia seems to condone, for now, this theoretically vacuum-cleaned power arrangement. As for the wide-ranging Yemeni protest movement, their only shot now would be to force Hadi to hang on, push for a transitional government, and try to quell the counter-revolution, directed by Saleh's family, with people power. If that's the case, the House of Saud will brutally - and directly - step in.
In Bahrain, the House of Saud explicitly supports the National Human Rights Organization; no wonder, its head was appointed by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa last year, so the organization must support the ruling dynasty - yet not as much as the Saudi masters. Bahrain's really independent human-rights organizations, meanwhile, have had their leading activists arrested and facing military trials.
And just like a thief in the dead of night, who sneaked into Washington to be received at the White House by US President Barack Obama this past Tuesday? No one else than Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa.
There was no press conference. There were no pictures. It's like this conversation would self-destruct in five seconds - but it did take place, between a drone-heavy Nobel Peace Prize and the head of the military of a Persian Gulf American satrapy which is busy toppling its own people. No amount of rhetoric will alter the math: Washington fully backs outright repression all across the Persian Gulf - to the extreme delight of the House of Saud.
He is heavy, he's no brother
Then there's the Muslim Brotherhood question - essential in the context of the carefully orchestrated US/Saudi counter-revolution.
The Muslim Brotherhood is being instrumentalized by the House of Saud all across the board, from Syria to Egypt. In Egypt, the reactionary old guard Brotherhood is working very close with the Military Council; "rewards" for good behavior by both Washington and Riyadh should be in the works.
Clearly this won't translate as an endorsement of ElBaradei - whose appeal is towards disenfranchised young people, liberals, a few leftists and a smatter of progressive Islamists who defected from the "traditional" Muslim Brotherhood.
As for the even more reactionary Salafis, they are now getting into Facebook groups, in a public relations offensive to try to improve their dreadful image and sort of mingle with "other intellectual and political currents".
Saudi media meanwhile is awash with their own public relations extolling the merits of the kingdom and denigrating the "corruption of the ruling family and its cronies" in selected Arab republics such as Syria and Libya. According to the official platform of the Gulf Counter-Revolution Club, also known as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), all Arab monarchies are as virtuous as virgins in paradise.
As the cold hard cash counter-revolution goes on, the future of the great 2011 Arab revolt looks grimmer and grimmer. It all depends on how forcefully the Tahrir Square spirit will keep the Military Council in Egypt in check. And how progressive forces in Egypt, Yemen and beyond find ways to counterpunch the relentless impact of the House of Wahhabism/Saudi oil wealth.
By Hannah Gurman
The International Defense Exhibition, otherwise known as IDEX, has been held bi-annually in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since 1993. It is the largest defense expo in the Middle East and North Africa and one of the biggest in the world. But far from being a one-off, it highlights the UAE's growing stature as a global arms buyer.
This year's IDEX took place in February in the glistening Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Its high ceilings and massive rooms displayed a diverse array of high-tech weaponry against the backdrop of heavily illuminated signboards like the ones you see in the showrooms of luxury car dealerships. All the big Western defense corporations were there - Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Dyncorp, Northrup Grumman, European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co - as well as Chinese companies, including China North. There were also a host of local companies including Arabian Aerospace, Abu Dhabi Ship Building Company, and the state-owned Mubadala. Like all of these events, it was a heavily male enterprise. The exhibitors wore suits. The visitors wore either the military uniform of the UAE or traditional Arab dress.
Outside, the expo began with a parade and air show, and representatives from BAE Systems gave passers-by a tour of the latest features of their all-terrain tank. Just inside the entry hall, visitors could check out a parked yellow Hummer on their way to the exhibits. At the US pavilion, a representative from Boeing demonstrated the features of its integrated defense simulator, and General Dynamics showed off its latest MK-47 machine gun. At the Lockheed Martin exhibit, you could get within inches of anti-aircraft missiles propped on plastic risers like pieces of modernist art - so shiny you could see your reflection in them.
This lavish exhibition occurred a full three months before The New York Times broke the story that former Blackwater/Xe founder Erik Prince had struck a secret deal worth US$529 million with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, [the deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces] to form a mercenary army for the UAE. According to reports cited in the story, the force will be used to protect oil pipelines and skyscrapers against terrorist attacks and suppress internal uprisings of the large population of migrant workers living in the country - as well as potentially engaging Iran, long the UAE's biggest regional foe.
Coverage so far has centered on Prince and his notorious company. But the full story of the UAE's employment of foreign companies to build up its military and defense goes well beyond Blackwater/Xe and includes a virtual who's who of Western defense companies.
A brief history of the UAE military
The UAE we know today is a relatively new entity. For most of the last two centuries, Britain provided security in the region in exchange for lucrative trading deals and control of the sheikhs' relations with other foreign powers. Security was handed over to the UAE in 1971, when the sheikhs of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and four other emirates agreed to form a federal union.
Although the UAE's military, known as the Union Defense Force (UDF), is technologically advanced, it is relatively small in numbers. In many armies, the vast underclass typically fills the rank and file. But in the UAE, this social group is made up almost entirely of non-citizens - migrant workers who build the roads, skyscrapers, and golf courses where the oil titans and Branjelinas of the world like to play. There are currently about 65,000 members serving in the UDF. Though most of the officers are UAE nationals, most of the foot soldiers are mercenaries from other Arab states and Pakistan.
In recent years, the UAE has made massive military and defense investments in an effort to rebuff Iran, become a dominant military player in the region, and diversify its oil-dependent economy. Recruiting ever more foreign soldiers - like the Colombian paramilitaries who will be part of Prince's mercenary outfit - is a key part of this endeavor. Purchasing ever-larger amounts of the best high-tech weaponry is perhaps an even more important part. In 2009, the UAE was the biggest foreign purchaser of US arms. In October 2010, it invited 50 US-based defense companies to visit and see the opportunities for growth first-hand.
Who's profiting from the UAE arms proliferation?
The UAE's long-term plan is to build its own defense industry into a major international player. In accordance with this plan, 75% of the contracts at IDEX went to local firms, including Emirate Systems, which got a $550 million deal to coordinate military intelligence and communicate military operations down the chain of command. Another major deal involved the Abu Dhabi-based Bayanat Co, which obtained a contract to provide aerial surveillance within the UAE.
As with most aspects of the UAE economy, Western businesses have an integral and profitable role to play in this endeavor. They work as "partners" with the local companies. Typically, this means they provide the expertise, training, and equipment, while the UAE government provides the money. The state-owned Mubadala Development Co, which has seen growing profits in recent years, does business with all the biggest Western contractors.
All parties involved are careful about how they publicly frame these partnerships. The UAE works hard to brand such endeavors with the proper Arabian stamp. To this end, an official video of the UAE armed forces posted on YouTube shows shirtless Arab sailors with turbans rowing apace with a massive battleship, men in long white robes and head scarves riding vigorously atop Arabian horses alongside tanks in the desert, and real-live falcons flying next to F-16 Fighting Falcon planes. Okay, we get it. Modern killing technology meets the elegant tradition of the Arabian warrior. This is the best of both worlds, a potent (pun intended) mixture of Western and Arabian warrior traditions.
The Western defense industries are equally careful to stem potential accusations that they have sold out to foreign Muslims who might one day turn their backs on us and join the global jihad. In the United States, industry reps couch their connections with the UAE in the all-American lingo of good business ethics. The spokesperson for the National Defense Industries Association (NDIA), the industry's most influential lobbying arm, explained that the UAE firms "profess similar values as US industry. They all emphasize integrity, service, commitment and excellence".
They also share the value of making money. A brief sampling of recent contracts gives an idea of just how much money is at stake in the growth of the UAE's military apparatus:
Who loses out?
The rapid expansion of the UAE military has the tacit support, if not outright blessing, of the US government. In response to the news that Blackwater had struck a deal with the UAE, a Barack Obama administration official was quoted as saying, "The gulf countries, and the UAE in particular, don't have a lot of military experience. It would make sense if they looked outside their borders for help... They might want to show that they are not to be messed with." The US Defense Department recently announced reforms that will make it easier for domestic defense companies to export their products to foreign buyers.
There are at least two reasons for the administration's position. First and foremost, it regards the UAE as one of its most important allies in the region. The emirates supported both Iraq wars, and it currently is involved in cracking down on the protest movement in Bahrain - it sent 500 police officers to suppress the revolt in the tiny Gulf kingdom. In the midst of the crackdown, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed was welcomed by the White House with open arms.
Support for exporting US arms to the UAE is also part of a larger move to accommodate the defense industry, which has repeatedly voiced concern about the threat of a shrinking defense budget, although the supposed US$78 billion in cuts represent little more than a cap on future growth and a reshuffling of the current budget.
In this broader context of both the US willingness to provide arms for Gulf allies and the ongoing budget wars in the United States, direct contracts between the defense industry and the UAE appear to be a win-win situation for everyone - everyone, that is, except the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and critics of the UAE regime who will be among the targets of the military's beefed-up surveillance systems and the mercenary's guns.
It is telling that the UAE government would rather hire mercenaries to suppress potential rebellions than improve the conditions of these workers, who are systemically abused by their bosses and forced to live in cramped slums with little or no access to basic infrastructure and services.
In recent months, the UAE has arrested and jailed at least five democracy activists as well as disbanded the board of directors for the National Jurists Association and the Teacher's Association, two of the country's most eminent civil society organizations and supporters of democratic reform. The UAE's enhanced military apparatus will likely suppress any potential protest movement that might develop as part of the Arab Spring.
The enhanced ties between the United States and the UAE raise important questions about who is actually responsible for the actions of the Emirati military. Currently, neither the US government nor the defense industry has spoken out against the government's crackdown. It would be delusional not to acknowledge the US role in the UAE's human rights abuses. If and when an atrocity is committed against the migrant workers and democracy activists by the UAE military, Erik Prince and the UAE government won't be the only ones to blame.