Saudi Aramco: The Company and the State

Saudi Aramco: The Company and the State

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

It never occurred to me before watching this film that Saudi Aramco, the Saudi oil company isn’t a publicly traded company. In other words, it has no shareholders – it’s entirely owned by the Saudi royal family.

In 2016, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman announced plans to do an IPO (initial public offering) and list the company either on Wall Street or the London stock exchange. Had it gone forward, the IPO would have been the largest in global history. Saudi Aramco, which the Saudi government values at $2 trillion, had hoped to sell 5% of the company to private shareholders for $100 billion. The Crown Prince proposed to use these funds to finance his Public Investment Fund and Vision 2030.*

Late last year the IPO was mysteriously cancelled.

International oil analysts dispute whether Aramco is really worth $2 trillion, largely because they question the size of Saudi oil reserves. Despite the absence of any new oil discoveries (and pumping out 100 billion barrels in 30 years), the Saudi government maintains their reserves still stand at 261 billion barrels (as they did in 1989).

When bin Saman’s father Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ascended to the throne in 2015, he made drastic changes to the law of succession, essentially concentrating power in the hands of his son Mohammad. Some of bin Abdulaziz’s brothers remain attached to a system in which the royal family made collective decisions instead of ceding power to a single monarch. Several reportedly opposed Vision 2030, which is why the Crown Prince had them arrested in 2017 and confiscated their estates.

The capital flight triggered by these arrests not only scared off foreign investors, but also cast a cloud over Aramco’s potential ability to attract shareholders.

Analysts also point to other factors in bin Salman’s decision to postpone the IPO:

  1. Saudi budgetary problems stemming from military over-commitments in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.
  2. Ongoing economic blockade against regional ally Qatar.
  3. The absence of a stable Saudi system of taxation (at present Aramco revenues fund 87% of the government budget).
  4. The absence of a a work ethic in Saudi Arabia. Because basic needs are heavily subsidized, the Saudi population doesn’t tend to see work as a valuable part of their lives – leading to enormous government dependence on foreign workers.

*Saudi Vision 2030 is a plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism

 


 

Abby Martin Presents the Real House of Saud

The Real House of Saud

TeleSur (2015)

Film Review

This documentary was released following the appointment of Saudi Arabia to head the UN Panel of Human Rights in 2015. Its primary purpose is to highlight Saudi Arabia’s scandalous human rights record and the utter hypocrisy of the Obama administration in supporting their appointment to this role. Saudi Arabia’s recent economic attack (via economic sanctions and a boycott) on its former ally Qatar – coupled with its demand they shut down Al Jazeera – serves to remind us of their abysmal record in the area of civil and human rights.

The totalitarian Saudi dictatorship executes its citizens (via head chopping, stoning or crucifixion) at the rate of one every other day. Limb amputation and severe lashings are also frequent punishments. It’s common for women who report being raped to be punished via lashing.

Human rights groups are illegal in Saudi Arabia. In addition to an absolute prohibition on women driving, they need permission from a male relative to work, attend school or seek heath care. Seventy per cent of Saudi women who have graduated university – including 1,000 PhDs – are unemployed.

Only one family, the House of Saud, has ruled Saudi Arabia since its founding in 1925. Saudi princes live in opulent luxury from the country’s oil revenues, while 20% of Saudi citizens live in abject poverty. Youth unemployment is 30%.

Thirty percent of the Saudi population are migrant workers, subject to a slave-like system of indentured servitude in which they must work fifteen hour days, even if they’re sick and often without payment. They’re subject to arrest if they try to leave their employers, as well as being subject to execution for minor offenses.

The most interesting part of the documentary concerns the sordid history of US political and military support for Saudi’s ruthless dictatorship – including their open funding of international terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban – for the sake of cheap oil concessions for US oil companies. This support includes training by the CIA in suppressing unions and other grassroots organizations.

I was very surprised to learn that despite this brutal totalitarian control, popular uprisings are still fairly common, especially in Eastern Saudi Arabia, where much of Saudi Arab’s Shia minority reside. At the time of filming, Eastern Saudi Arabia was under virtual martial law to suppress mass protests inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions.

Syria Already Planning Its Economic Future

 

Guest Post by Sophie Mengel Inside Syria Media Center.

Last Monday the EU Council extended sanctions against the Syrian government for another year, until June 1, 2018. The event occurred as recent Syrian Arab Army successes raise hopes for an end to the Syrian conflict. It’s clearly not enough to talk about food relief and delivery of basic necessities. Manufacturing and foreign trade have also taken major hits in Syria.

 

World Bank: Total economic damage by city

Bilateral Ties Between Syria and Iran

Not so long ago, at a Damascus meeting between Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis and Iranian Ambassador Javad Torkabadi, Khamis highlighted the full-scale economic war the West and their Middle East allies have unleashed against Syria. Tehran, with its long experiencing countering “sanctions war,” and Damascus have become a model of strategic cooperation, both militarily and economically.  However, strong economic ties between Iran and Syria alone will not solve the problem of Syrian economic degradation.

Courting Qatar

Despite their past support for anti-government terrorists, the current economic boycott of Qatar by its “friendly neighbors” is leading to hope of future Qatari investment in the Syrian economy. For Qatar to invest in Syrian zones of influence or to offer Syria offer a kind of Marshall Plan would go a long way towards repairing Qatar’s international image. It would also allow the country to bypass limitations Saudi Arabia seeks to impose on Qatar’s foreign policy, while making it more independent of the US and the EU.

All this would likely depend on consummating an agreement for Iran to purchase LNG from Qatar for onward transport to external consumers. Iran, which is getting closer to Qatar and has strong positions in Syria, has great potential as an intermediary.

Syria is Already Planning Its Economic Future

Despite the ongoing fighting in Syria, the country is already planning its economic future. Syria is rich in energy resources and minerals, including rare-earth metals. At the same time, the country has an advantageous geographical location for transporting goods to the Mediterranean pass through its territory. All this gives Damascus the potential for rapid economic development.

Stability in the region and restoration of foreign trade would enable the Syrians to have a source of stable foreign direct investment. The country has been in the grip of war for more than six years, but is full of enthusiasm to rebuild the economy. The hope of a new life and recent successes on the battlefield inspire optimism on the part of Syrian citizens, as well as the countries such as Iran, China, India, Russia and Armenia that support them.

Follow the latest developments by reading Inside Syria Media Center.

Anatomy of Modern Corruption: The Clinton Foundation and the Superdelegates

What Hillary Clinton Really Represents

Empire Files (2016)

Film Review

This early 2016 documentary is a virtual encyclopedia of Clinton family corruption. Based entirely on publicly verifiable information, it reveals how Hillary, especially, has based her political career on supporting legislation that specifically benefits her corporate and foreign donors. It also explores the identity of some of the 700 Democratic “superdelegates” who helped deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination – despite overwhelming support he received from voters.

The Clinton Foundation was founded in 1997 with the alleged purpose of providing humanitarian relief after international disasters. Its real purpose, however, was to engage in “crisis capitalism,” a term coined by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. Following a disasters, such as the 2001 earthquake in India, the Clinton Foundation would waltz in and create a variety of for-profit projects enabling further exploitation of third world resources and labor by Clinton Foundation donors.

Major donors to the Clinton foundation included Exxon, Walmart, Pfizer, Dow, Monsanto, General Electric (GE), Fox News, the Soros Foundation, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. As senator, Clinton rewarded the latter two donors by supporting deregulation that would lead to their bankruptcy in 2008 and a massive taxpayer bailout.

As Secretary of State, Clinton would grant similar favors to Boeing and GE by facilitating overseas sales of their military hardware and to Exxon by heavily promoting the spread of fracking throughout the world.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Republic and Qatar were also big donors to the Clinton Foundation. In all 181 Clinton Foundation donors lobbied Clinton as Secretary of State and most were successful in getting the policies they advocated enacted.

Many of the 700 superdelegates appointed by the Democratic National Committee (to help ensure their hand picked candidates won the Democratic primary) were also corporate lobbyists hoping to benefit financially from a Clinton presidency: among others, the corporate lobbies represented included the Excel pipeline, the private prison industry, Big Pharma and the four main Wall Street banks (City Group, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase).

How Corporations Used Podesta to Corrupt the Clintons and Obama

The Empire Files: Abby Martin Exposes John Podesta

(2016)

This segment of The Empire Files focuses on the Wikileaks reveal about the obscenely corrupt relationship between John Podesta, the Clintons and Barack Obama. My immediate reaction on watching it was relief and gratitude that Hillary lost the presidency.

Hillary’s campaign manager John Podesta is, first and foremost, is a corporate lobbyist who highest loyalty is to his clients. The Podesta Group, which he owns with his brother, Tony, lobbies for the most powerful corporations in the world, as well as the brutal governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and al-Maliki (Iraqi prime minister 2006-2014). The Wikileaks emails reveal unequivocally that John Podesta systematically (and illegally) used high ranking positions in both the Clinton and Obama administration to advance the profit interests of his private clients.

Under Bill Clinton, it was also John Podesta’s role to covered up numerous instances in which Bill and Hillary Clinton used his position as Arkansas governor for personal financial gain.

When Obama became president, Podesta (who would become Obama’s senior White House advisor), allowed his client Citibank to dictate nearly all of Obama’s cabinet appointments. Podesta would go on to form the Center for American Progress, a supposedly non-profit group that illegal lobbied for private clients of the Podesta Group to receive federal subsidies and lax regulatory treatment.

Deja Vu All Over Again

With the US, Britain, France and Russia rapidly escalating military aggression against Syria, I thought it would be useful to look back at this Al Jazeera documentary from 2004. Al Jazeera analysts were the first to predict (2003) that the US and their allies would lose the war in Iraq.

The Control Room – Propaganda of the Iraq War

Directed by Jehane Noujaim (2004)

Film Review

The Control Room is about the Qatar TV network Al Jazeera and their coverage of the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq. It alternates between footage of the Doha control room and the US Central Command media center. Highlights include vignettes of US officials condemning Al Jazeera for showing footage of civilian casualties and dead and captured Americans.

Because of the Pentagon’s tight control over US media, Al Jazeera was the only mainstream outlet to address the issue of civilian or GI deaths.

Al Jazeera was first launched in 1996 and several Arab countries banned it for criticizing their regimes. In 2003, they would broadcast coverage of the US invasion to 40 million Arab viewers, eventually becoming the most popular Arab TV station.

Their analysts would also be the first to predict (in 2003) that the US had “miscalculated” by invading Iraq – that the Iraqi resistance would eventually defeat the occupation.

The commentary by Al Jazeera senior producer Samir Khader is definitely the high point of the film, especially his discussion of the importance of propaganda in war. I was really surprised by his strenuous efforts to balance pro-US and pro-Iraqi propaganda.

I was astounded by his comment that he would take a job at Fox News if they offered it to him – to “trade the Arab nightmare for the American dream.” He speaks openly about his plans to send his children to the US to study.

The most heart-wrenching part of the film involves the deliberate assassination (via a US missile) of Al Jazeera reporter Tarek Ayyoub as he was broadcasting from the roof of the Al Jazeera building in Baghdad. His death would result the first of many anti-occupation protest marches.

Obama Gives Republicans (and Israel) the Finger

Khamenei

 “The F***s Up Everything”

There’s an article on the Fox News site this morning entitled “Source Says Reported Letter from Obama to Ayatollah F***s Up Everything.”

It quotes a pre-election article from the Wall Street Journal that Obama secretly wrote Ayatollah Khameni in mid-October stressing that any cooperation on dealing with the Islamic State, or ISIS, was tied to Iran striking a deal over its nuclear program. The U.S., Iran and other negotiators are facing a Nov. 24 deadline for such a deal.

The congressional source told Fox News that the letter would upset the inroads they’ve tried to make with “the Sunni league,” noting that the president should have informed Congress of this back-channel if it was in fact going on.

“This f***s up everything,” the source said.

Just to clarify “the Sunni league” refers to the despotic dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Qatar that stone people for blasphemy and behead even more people than ISIS. And which have been the primary funders and arms suppliers for ISIS and the jihadist mercenaries attempting to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina issued a joint statement Thursday night saying it was “outrageous that, while the cries of moderate Syrian forces for greater U.S. assistance fall on deaf ears in the White House, President Obama is apparently urging Ayatollah Khamenei to join the fight against ISIS.”

The move will also anger AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israeli lobby group. Israel seems really keen on provoking an all-out war between the US and Iran.

It’s gratifying to see the President show some backbone. The move, in my view, is long overdue.

Read more here:  Reportedly letter fs up everything

Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Also posted at Veterans Today

Covert US War Hands Syria to Al Qaeda

 

isis

US Suspends Non-lethal Aid to Syrian Rebels

According to the BBC, both the US and Britain have suspended “non-lethal” aid to northern Syria. The decision follows the seizure of Western-backed Free Syrian Army bases by Islamist rebels.

Last week, fighters from the Islamic Front ousted FSA-aligned fighters from the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey. The Islamic Front is a new alliance of rebel fighters dedicated to creating an Islamic state in Syria. The front does not include al-Qaeda affiliates like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front, but its charter welcomes “muhajirin”, or foreign fighters and expresses willingness to co-operate with them.

During the raid, the Islamic Front took over FSA warehouses believed to contain vehicles, communications equipment, and night-vision goggles donated by the US and Britain.

In the past few months, the foreign fighters in ISIS have also been making news  by shooting and beheading FSA fighters and civilians linked to the Syrian opposition.

The US and European countries have been reluctant to supply weapons and ammunition directly to Syrian rebel groups, out of concern they might end up in the possession of foreign jihadists affiliated to al-Qaeda.

However, according to numerous sources, the CIA is still facilitating secret arms shipments via Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The suspension of “non-lethal” support for rebels in northern Syria doesn’t include humanitarian aid distributed through the UN and non-governmental organizations. Moreover US deliveries of non-lethal aid to southern Syria (via Jordan) will continue.

Your tax dollars at work – creating a new Islamic state in the Middle East.

photo credit: Ars Skeptica via photopin cc

Originally published in Veterans Today

Al Qaeda Surges Ahead in Syria

  al nusra

 Rebels Decide to Fight Each Other

 While the major powers behind the proxy civil war in Syria go through the motions of working out a diplomatic solution, rebel forces have begun fighting each other, rather than the Assad regime. The al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants from Iraq and Libya have been fighting the Free Syrian Army in northern and eastern Syria. According to RT, the Islamists are winning.

The split became headline news last week when the Free Syrian Army (FSA) lost Azaz, a city on the Turkish border, to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The latter is sometimes referred to as Al-Nusra, the name for the Syrian branch of ISIS, or the Islamic State of Levant (ISIL). Levant is a historic name applied to the Eastern Mediterranean region comprising Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Amman before it was divided up by the Europeans.

The Daily Mail reports that officers from the FSA are defecting to join ISIS because they are better resourced and “more effective.” Until recently, the ISIS mainly received funding and arms from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However the Washington Post reveals they also receive “private donations” from “sympathetic Muslims.” According to the Post, the sums donated far exceed what the US and NATO supply the FSA.

With more than a dozen competing factions fighting the Assad regime, I find it an enormous challenge to keep all the names straight. Thanks to the Christian Science Monitor, the Economist and the Long War Journal, I have cobbled together the following scorecard to help make sense of the latest reports:

  • Supreme Military Command – armed wing of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and supported by the US and NATO. The SNC grew out of an exile group originally based in Turkey, though its headquarters moved to Qatar in 2012 when the US and NATO intervened to try to reduce infighting among member groups. The Free Syrian Army (a group of defected Syrian military officers) fights under the SMC umbrella.
  • Syrian Islamic Front – “moderate” Syrian Islamic fighters consisting of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafist (Sunni) groups. Cooperates with SMC (at least most of the time).
  • Syrian Liberation Front – coalition of Islamic fighting groups, with Saqour al Sham the largest. Fights independently of SMC but sometimes cooperates with them.
  • Democratic Union Party – Syrian offshoot of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Its mainly pro-Assad militias control Kurdish areas in north-east Syria and support Kurdish autonomy. In July, a Kurdish guerrilla group with links to the al-Assad regime and the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party ( PKK)  forcefully expelled Al-Nusra from the Syrian border town of Ras Al-Ayn.
  • Anti-Assad free speech Alawites (a branch of Shiite Islam) led by Bassam al Youssef. A a political group with no organized military wing.
  • Al Qaeda linked groups:
    1. Al-Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra (the Syrian branch of the al Qaeda linked ISIS (ISIL). Controls Aleppo and has established Sharia law there.
    2. Ahrar al  Sham – a Syrian Islamic group sympathetic to al Qaeda groups, which the Economist has mistakenly labled as sympathetic to the FMC.
    3. Ahfad al Rasoud Brigade.
    4. The Islamic Kurdish Front

Reprinted from Veterans Today