The shock move by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to try to isolate Qatar looks to have failed. In fact, it appears to have bolstered the country's ties to Turkey and Iran, as well as the public standing of the Emir, while harming the Gulf council By JONATHAN GORVETT    People walk in Mall of Qatar in Doha, on July 5, 2017. Photo: Reuters/ Naseem Zeitoon   Eight months after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt moved to politically and economically isolate Qatar, there are few signs in the country’s capital, Doha, that their blockade is achieving its objectives. Outlined in 13 demands, those objectives included forcing Qatar to break links with Iran, close a Turkish military base, shut down TV channel Al Jazeera and end support for groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet nowadays, there is much evidence to suggest that the blockade has served only to rally Qataris behind their ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, while also strengthening the country’s links with Iran and Turkey. The crisis may, however, have delivered some permanent damage to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional alliance long dominated by Saudi Arabia, to which both the blockaders and Qatar belong. At the same time, as a key ally of both Qatar and the blockading states, the crisis has placed the US in a difficult position. Later this month, President Trump, who initially backed the blockade, will seek to bring an end to the impasse by meeting the Saudi, Emirati and Qatari leaders in Washington. “I think the blockading states now realize that what they were trying to get out of this isn’t going to happen,” says Jason Tuvey, Middle East Economist at London-based Capital Economics. “Now, though, the importance of saving face can’t be underestimated.” First moves Immediately after the blockade began, back in June 2017, the Qatari economy took a major hit.   Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land frontier, while the Saudi and UAE authorities also closed their ports to Qatari shipping. Air access was also restricted, forcing flights to travel by lengthier routes, while the Saudi central bank ceased trading with Qatari banks in Qatari currency. Ratings agencies downgraded the country, while Qatari citizens in the blockading nations were forced to leave, with diplomatic links severed. In July and August that year, Qatar’s imports slumped around 40%, year-on-year. Investors began moving their money out of the country, and the cost of some imported food and medicine went up ten-fold, according to Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. Meanwhile, with Qatar a major work destination for many expatriate South Asian and Filipino nationals, the crisis also hit the Asia-Pacific, with many layoffs reported. At one point, more than two million of the 2.6 million population were expats. Qatar is, however, one of the world’s richest countries. Blessed with huge reserves of natural gas, its rulers were able to quickly inject some $38.5 billion into the economy during those crucial first months, according to ratings agency Moody’s. New supply chains were rapidly established, substituting goods from Turkey and Iran for those from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Qatar was also fortunate that Port Hamad, a major new harbor, was completed in September. This was key, as previously, some very large vessels had been unable to dock at Doha and often had to call in at the UAE port of Jebel Ali, before sending goods bound for Qatar in smaller ships. Post-September, giant international cargo vessels could instead head straight for Doha and avoid the blockade. “Since those first two months, the Qatari economy has weathered the crisis quite well,” Tuvey said. “Even the banking sector, which was one of the most vulnerable areas, with large external liabilities and deposit outflows, is now beginning to see a trickle back in.” The blockade has also given a boost to efforts at more self-sufficiency within the state. A key example of this is the dairy sector, which had been dominated by imports from Saudi Arabia. Now though, Qatar has imported thousands of cows and set up its own dairy farms. One of these, Baladna, aims to have 10,000-head by April, to take care of 100% of Qatar’s milk needs. Impact for many was personal, social Some businesses have suffered, however. “You do hear that firms which had been doing a lot of business in Saudi Arabia or the UAE have been hurting, as they don’t have access to their markets anymore,” says Mehran Kamrava, director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University-Qatar. “Until they find alternative places to do business, this definitely has an effect on them.” Yet for many, the economic effects of the blockade seem hardly noticeable. “To be honest, we don’t feel any economic impact,” says Mohammed K. Al-Rwaili, head of program coordination at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Doha. “The currency is stable, pegged to the US dollar, the stock market is now also stable and a lot of infrastructure projects are going ahead and roads are opening… We don’t see Saudi milk anymore, but there’s plenty from Turkey and Europe instead.” For many Qataris, the impact is more personal and social. “I have family in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Rwaili continues. “Since the blockade, I can’t visit them. As a Muslim, too, it affects me that I can’t visit Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, and perform one of my religious duties.” Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani addresses the 72nd UN General Assembly in New York, on September 19, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Shannon Stapleton   Political popularity Meanwhile, the blockade has led to a groundswell of support for the Emir. Pictures of the 37-year old Sheikh Tamim, who came to power in 2013, are everywhere around Doha, with many Qataris praising him for standing up to Saudi and Emirati pressure. For many, he has become a personification of national sovereignty. “The Emir has unprecedented popularity,” says Kamrava, and while several members of his Al Thani clan living outside Qatar have come out in support of the Arab Quartet, “they are really rather marginal figures, whom no one takes seriously.” At the same time, Qatar’s links with Turkey strengthened, as Ankara rapidly stepped up to support Doha when the crisis began, fast-tracking the despatch of troops to a military base in Qatar. Iran also became an alternative source of supplies, while Doha restored full diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic soon after the blockade began. In addition, fellow GCC members Kuwait and Oman have not followed Saudi, Emirati and Bahrani commands to join the blockade and have instead kept relations with Qatar as before. This places a major question mark over the future of the GCC, which was founded in 1981. “I don’t think we’ll see it break up,” says Kamrava, “as no one wants to be the party responsible for that. But we may find the GCC becoming even less meaningful, less an organization for coordination and collaboration between the Arab Gulf states.” In the long term, the crisis is likely to damage an important and scarce commodity in the region – trust. “What happened to my country is not an easy thing,” says Al-Rwaili. “One day you believe these countries are your neighbors, friends, and then… We need to have a dialogue with these countries, and it’s better if we are together with our neighbors… but in the long term, we will not forget this.” With the Saudi, Emirati and Qatari leaders meeting President Trump this month, the hope is that the US, an ally to all three, may help solve the current impasse. Yet, “even if there is a resolution,” Tuvey said, “Qatar wants to make sure it can’t ever be put under the same strain again.”

Still, guards surround Saudi prince's palace and he is kept under house arrest Saudi Arabian royal Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud arrives homes after months of imprisonment (AFP)   Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has arrived home after being released from his detention in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, Middle East Eye has learned. The Saudi billionaire had been held in the hotel in the Saudi capital since 4 November after being arrested as part of an anti-corruption crackdown. Family sources also said the prince was released on Saturday. "He has he arrived home," one told Reuters. Still, guards were surrounding his palace and he was being kept under house arrest, according to informed sources who spoke to MEE on condition of anonymity. A government source told AFP that he was released following a financial "settlement" with authorities "The attorney general this morning approved the settlement with Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal," the source said without disclosing any figures. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), the 32-year-old son of the king, has spearheaded the unprecedented crackdown on corruption among members of the government and royal family as he consolidates his grip on power in the kingdom. Alwaleed, one of the world's richest men and owner of Kingdom Holding Company, was among some 350 suspects rounded in the crackdown, most of whom have been released after agreeing financial settlements with the kingdom. According to informed sources, MbS was demanding that Alwaleed sign over ownership of the entire Kingdom Holding Company and Alwaleed had been refusing to do this. If a settlement was not reached, Alwaleed was set to demand a trial. In an interview with Reuters on Saturday, the prince had said he expected to soon be released. "There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government," he said in the interview, conducted shortly after midnight. "I believe we are on the verge of finishing everything within days. "I told the government I'd stay as much as they want because I want the truth to come out on all my dealings and on all things that are around me."   Photo showing Al-Waleed Bin Talal in detention (Reuters)   "Only a couple of days till cases of corruption-related settlements are closed in preparation for referring remaining defendants to the public prosecution," state news agency Al Arabiya reported earlier this week, citing what it called an infographic created by the public prosecutor. "Ninety-five people are still detained." The government on Friday also released a number of other detainees including Waleed al-Ibhrahim, head of the MBC media giant, Khaled Tuwaijri, former chief of the Saudi royal court, and Turki bin Nasser, former head of the country's meteorology agency. The government has released other high-profile detainees in recent weeks such as former National Guard chief Prince Miteb bin Abdullah following his "settlement" with authorities reportedly exceeding $1bn. Authorities have said most of those detained struck monetary settlements in exchange for their freedom, which could earn state coffers about $100bn. The windfall settlements will help the government finance a multi-million dollar package announced by King Salman this month to help citizens cope with the rising cost of living, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan told Al Arabiya television in Davos on Wednesday. Some critics have labelled the campaign a shakedown, but authorities insist the purge was aimed to target endemic corruption as Saudi Arabia seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy. The Ritz-Carlton is set to re-open for business next month as the campaign draws to an end, sources at the hotel have said. Its website lists rooms as available from 14 February.   Source: MEE 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Hassan Ammar/AP) By Editorial Board December 24, 2017   SAUDI ARABIA’S Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to shake up the hidebound kingdom. He has already announced that women will be permitted to drive, launched an anti-corruption campaign, allowed movie theaters to open next year, imposed budget austerity and revealed expansive ambitions to diversifythe economy away from its dependence on oil. All this seems responsive to a restive younger generation. But the crown prince has occluded his vision with a taste for grandeur. He reportedly bought a luxury chateau for more than $300 million in Louveciennes, France, near Versailles, and he acquired a 440-foot yacht from a Russian tycoon in 2015 for about $550 million. Those prices are eye-watering, but the Saudi government says the crown prince did not provide $450.3 million for the most expensive art purchase in history, a Leonardo da Vinci painting recently sold at auction. Certainly, the anti-corruption campaign, in which 159 of the kingdom’s richest businessmen, princes and officials were rounded up and detained at a five-star Ritz-Carlton Hotel last month, had more than a whiff of a power grab. The corruption problem is real, and so is the impatience of the younger generation. But don’t look for trials for those detained in their cushy suites. Instead, the crown prince is attempting to coerce the wealthy into signing over tens of billions of dollars in assets to avoid prosecution and win their freedom. This is a crude method of an autocratic regime, not a modern rule-of-law state. Why did the crown prince, railing against self-enrichment by his peers and colleagues, decide to plunk down more than half a billion dollars for the mega-yacht and the villa in France, which sits on a 57-acre landscaped park? The chateau was completed in 2009 with a 17th-century design but modern technology, according to the New York Times: “The fountains, sound system, lights and whisper-silent air conditioning can all be controlled remotely by iPhone.” Nice. But the symbolism is awful and suggests the crown prince has one vision for his people and another for himself. If he is truly interested in demonstrating enlightened and modern leadership, he should unlock the prison doors behind which he and his predecessors have unjustly jailed people of creativity, especially writers critical of the regime and intolerant religious hard-liners. Recently, he oversaw a crackdown that swept up influential clerics, activists, journalists and writers on vague charges of endangering national security. Allowing these voices to thrive and exist in the open would be a real contribution to the kind of society he says he wants. In particular, he should arrange an immediate pardon for blogger Raif Badawi, serving a 10-year jail sentence in the kingdom for the crime of free expression. Mr. Badawi offended hard-liners when he wrote that he longed for a more liberal Saudi society, saying, “Liberalism simply means, live and let live.” Global Opinions Editor Karen Attiah advises President Trump to stop tweeting endorsements of Saudi Arabia's unpredictable crown prince.(Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post) Opening Mr. Badawi’s cell door would do more to change Saudi Arabia than purchasing a fancy yacht and a villa in France.   Source: The Washington Post

The Muslim world has reacted with fury tonight after Donald Trump declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel despite an international outcry. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was among leaders to immediately denounce the announcement as he accused the US of 'withdrawing' from the peace process. Furious protests are raging in Turkey, Gaza while French President Emmanuel Macron also slammed President Trump following his historic intervention. President Trump was warned peace in the Middle East could be under threat if the US became the first country to identify Jerusalem as Israel's capital. KEY EVENTS US embassy in Jordan suspends services and instructs children to miss school United Nations Secretary General: 'There is no plan B on Middle East peace process Palestine President: US has 'withdrawn' from peace process   Protests erupt in Lebanon PALESTINIAN REFUGEES IN LEBANON PROTEST TRUMP'S ANNOUNCEMENT   Pictures: Protest at Trump decision continue (Image: Anadolu) (Image: AFP) Outraged protests at Trump’s decision continue in several countries, particularly those in the Middle East. American flags and effigies of the US President are being burnt in the street. Head of the Political Bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, has attended one demonstration in Gaza. (Image: Getty Images Europe) 'There is no Plan B' After Trump spoke on Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters: “I have consistently spoken out against any unilateral measures that would jeapordise the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians.” Protests in Istanbul (Image: REUTERS) “In this moment of great anxiety, I want to make it clear: There is no alternative to the two-state solution. There is no Plan B,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to support the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to return to meaningful negotiations.” Angela Merkel: 'We do not support President Trump' Angela Merkel has become the latest world leader to rebuke Donald Trump. The German Chancellor said she does not agree with the President after he declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, according to her spokesman Steffen Seibert. He tweeted: “The federal government does not support this position because the status of Jerusalem as part of a two-state solution to be negotiated.” Kanzlerin #Merkel zur Entscheidung von @POTUS Trump bzgl. Jerusalem: „Die Bundesregierung unterstützt diese Haltung nicht, weil der Status von Jerusalem im Rahmen einer 2-Staaten-Lösung auszuhandeln ist.“ — Steffen Seibert (@RegSprecher) December 6, 2017 Angela Merkel has distanced herself from Donald Trump (Image: Getty) UN Security Council 'to meet Friday to discuss Trump speech' The United Nations Security Council is likely to meet on Friday to discuss Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Diplomats said a request for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to publicly brief the Security Council. The meeting was apparently requested made by Britain, France, Bolivia, Egypt, Italy, Senegal, Sweden, and Uruguay. President Trump abruptly reversed decades of US policy on Wednesday, generating outrage from Palestinians and defying warnings of Middle East unrest. Mr Trump also plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Furious protests have broken out against President Trump (Image: REX/Shutterstock) Christmas lights switched off in Bethlehem in protest over Trump speech VIDEO SHOWS PROTESTERS MARCHING THROUGH BETHLEHEM STREETS Christmas lights were tonight switched off in Bethlehem, Jesus’ traditional birthplace, in protest at Donald Trump’s Jerusalem speech. Palestinians turned off festive illuminations on a Christmas tree outside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born. Another tree was darkened in Ramallah, next to the burial site of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Christmas lights were switched off outside a church in Bethlehem (Image: @naglaSalahEldin/Twitter) US embassy in Jordan warns Americans not to take children to school over fears of violent protests US embassy staff have warned Americans in Jordan not to take their children to school tomorrow amid rising anger over Donald Trump’s Jerusalem speech. In a series of tweets, which were posted following President Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, staff said movements for US staff and their relatives was being restricted. That was said to include an “instruction” not to take children to school. The @US EmbassyJordan account also said services had been suspended and that all embassy travel, both official and personal, has been banned until further notice. It comes amid fears of violent protests over Mr Trump’s declaration, which has sparked outrage across the Muslim world.   UNVERIFIED FOOTAGE SHOWS PROTESTERS GATHERING OUTSIDE US EMBASSY   Demo held outside US embassy in Berlin Protesters are now gathering outside the US embassy in Berlin. Pictures shared on Twitter show Palestinian flags being waved near the city’s Brandenburg Gate. It comes after the US embassy in Germany warned Americans to be vigilant after President Trump said Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. The remarks have sparked fury across the Muslim world. A demonstration in front of the US Embassy in German capital Berlin, condemning Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel#HandsOffAlQuds #القدس_عاصمتنا #HandsOffJerusalem#القدس_عاصمه_فلسطين_الابديه — Ali Hussein (@Alihussein_2) December 6, 2017 Donald Trump (Image: REX/Shutterstock) Christians 'protest Trump's speech by switching off Christmas tree lights' The White House had a conference call with Christian faith leaders about Trumps Jerusalem announcement. Faith leaders were reportedly “absolutely ecstatic” about todays decision. Meanwhile Christians in Bethlehem have turned off their Xmas tree lights to protest Trumps decision — Ayman Mohyeldin (@AymanM) December 6, 2017 Czech Republic appears to back Trump by describing Jerusalem 'future capital of both states' The Czech Republic has appeared to sensationally back Donald Trump after saying it considers Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and Palestine. Following Mr Trump’s controversial declaration, the country said it considered the city to be the “future capital” of both states. The statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic reads: “The Czech Republic currently, before the peace between Israel and Palestine is signed, recognizes Jerusalem to be in fact the capital of Israel in the borders of the demarcation line from 1967. “The Czech Republic together with other EU member states, following the EU Foreign Affaires Council Conclusions, considers Jerusalem to be future capital of both states, meaning the State of Israel and the future State of Palestine. “The Ministry can start considering moving of the Czech embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem only based on results of negotiations with key partners in the region and in the world.” Position of MFA to Issue of Jerusalem: — Czech MFA (@CzechMFA) December 6, 2017 Protesters target US embassies More US embassies have tonight been targeted by protesters amid rising anger over President Trump’s speech declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Demonstrators have been filmed chanting outside an embassy in Amman, Jordan in unverified footage. US embassy staff have already warned people not to send their children to school over fears of angry protests. The US embassy in Ankara, Turkey, was also the scene for angry activists while arrangements were being made for a sit-in protest tomorrow in Kuwait. UNVERIFIED FOOTAGE SHOWS PROTESTERS GATHERING OUTSIDE US EMBASSY US citizens told to 'remain vigilant' in UK and Berlin US embassies in London and Berlin have warned Americans to ‘remain vigilant’ in the wake of President Trump’s controversial Jerusalem speech. Advice issued to US nationals includes the need for “caution and personal awareness”. It comes amid mounting anger towards the US in the Muslim world after President Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. READ: Security message for U.S. Citizens — U.S. Embassy London (@USAinUK) December 6, 2017 US embassy in Jordan suspends services and instructs children to miss school The US embassy in Jordan has instructed children to avoid school tomorrow as it suspended services. In a series of tweets, the embassy asked Americans in the country to keep a low profile as it feared violent protests over President Trump’s Jerusalem speech. The recent announcement that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may spark protests, some of which have the potential to become violent. — U.S. Embassy Jordan (@USEmbassyJordan) December 6, 2017 All Embassy travel outside Amman, both official and personal, has been prohibited until further notice. Americans in Jordan are encouraged to maintain a low profile and to remain alert to developments. — U.S. Embassy Jordan (@USEmbassyJordan) December 6, 2017 The U.S. Embassy in Amman has temporarily suspended routine public services. U.S. government personnel and their family members in Jordan are limiting public movements, including an instruction for children not to attend school on December 7, 2017. — U.S. Embassy Jordan (@USEmbassyJordan) December 6, 2017 The demonstration is among many taking place across the Muslim world after Mr Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In Turkey, protesters gathered outside the US Consulate in Istanbul and the US embassy in Ankara. HUNDREDS PROTEST OUTSIDE U.S. CONSULATE IN ISTANBUL Fatah 'calls for general strike in Jerusalem' Palestinian political party, Fatah, has reportedly called for a general strike in Jerusalem tomorrow to protest against Donald Trump. The group has called for a day of protest after President Trump declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and pledged to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. The move was reported by journalist Khaled Abu Toameh on Twitter. Furious protests are raging across the Muslim world following Mr Trump’s announcement as world leaders queued up to rebuke him over his intervention. FATAH calls general strike in #Jerusalem Thursday to protest Trump declaration. — Khaled Abu Toameh (@KhaledAbuToameh) December 6, 2017   Donald Trump appeared to slur his words during a major speech today, as he officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel. The President appeared to have trouble pronouncing ‘s’ sounds towards the end of his speech. It led to a bizarre moment as he finished his address, where he said: “Thank you. God blesh you. God blesh the Israelis. God blesh the Palestinians and God blesh the United Shtates” Another passage the President appeared to struggle with read: “And finally I ask the leaders of the region, political and religious, Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Christian and Muslim to join us in the noble quest for lasting peace.” Trump’s bizarre speech came amid warnings that moving the US embassy will plunge the Middle East - and the world - into “a fire without end.” 'More than 250,000 Palestinians protest against Trump in Gaza' Reports in Gaza say 250,000 Palestinians have descended in protest at Donald Trump’s move to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Gaza News Twitter account, the official account of the Gaza News Agency, said an angry march was under way in Gaza with protesters filmed waving Palestinian flags. A picture also show tyres being burned amid the reported chaos. May brands Trump move but "unhelpful" but 'shares his desire to end conflict' Theresa May tonight branded Donald Trump “unhelpful” for declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but added she ‘shared his desire’ to end the conflict in the Middle East. The Prime Minister has responded to the President’s historic announcement in which she appeared to rebuke him but also applaud him for his “commitment to a two-state solution”. Mrs May also reiterated there were no plans to move the British embassy in Israel from its current base in Tel Aviv Mrs May said: “We disagree with the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital before a final status agreement. We believe it is unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region. “The British Embassy to Israel is based in Tel Aviv and we have no plans to move it. “Our position on the status of Jerusalem is clear and long-standing: it should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states. “In line with relevant Security Council Resolutions, we regard East Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. “We share President Trump’s desire to bring an end to this conflict. “We welcome his commitment today to a two-state solution negotiated between the parties, and note the importance of his clear acknowledgement that the final status of Jerusalem, including the sovereign boundaries within the city, must be subject to negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. “We encourage the US Administration to now bring forward detailed proposals for an Israel-Palestinian settlement. “To have the best chances of success, the peace process must be conducted in an atmosphere free from violence. We call on all parties to work together to maintain calm.” Theresa May has reacted to President Trump (Image: Getty) United Nations Secretary General: 'There is no plan B on Middle East peace process' UN Secretary General António Guterres tonight said there was no “plan B” for peace in the Middle East. Mr Guterres said a two-state solution was key to bringing stability to the region, which has tonight been thrown into doubt after President Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Amid mounting condemnation from across the globe, Mr Guterres said: “From day one as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have consistently spoken out against any unilateral measures that would jeopardize the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians. “Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties on the basis of the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, taking into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides. “I understand the deep attachment that Jerusalem holds in the hearts of so many people. It has been so for centuries and it will always be. “In this moment of great anxiety, I want to make it clear : there is no alternative to the two-state solution. There is no Plan B. “It is only by realizing the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition, with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Palestine, and all final status issues resolved permanently through negotiations, that the legitimate aspirations of both peoples will be achieved.” UN Secretary General António Guterres (Image: WPA Pool) EU Commission reveals "serious concern" over Trump announcement The EU Commission has tonight revealed “serious concern” peace could be destabilised in the Middle East over President Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem. The group said it feared “repercussions” after Mr Trump said Jerusalem was Israel’s capital and pledged to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. It also clarified its position remain unchanged as it continues to work towards a two-state solution. In a tweet, the EU Commission said: “Serious concern about today’s announcement by the US President Trump on Jerusalem & repercussions this may have on the prospect of peace.  “The EU position remains unchanged. We will increase our work with parties & partners to negotiate status of Jerusalem as capital of 2 states.” Serious concern about today’s announcement by the US President Trump on Jerusalem & repercussions this may have on the prospect of peace.  The EU position remains unchanged. We will increase our work with parties & partners to negotiate status of Jerusalem as capital of 2 states — European Commission (@EU_Commission) December 6, 2017 The Mirror’s Defence and Security Editor Chris Hughes has given his thoughts on tonight’s historic declaration by Donald Trump. For years the US has avoided moving their embassy to Jerusalem, thereby affirming the city as the capital of Israel. There was never any point in doing so. The danger of an explosion of violence across the Middle East in reaction to such a controversial move meant the easiest choice was not to bother. At best, Muslims throughout the world may be offended that Trump has yet again ridden roughshod over their claim over the city. At worst it could spark a conflagration the likes of which we have not seen in years across the Middle East and the rest of the world.  Coming at a time of high risk of an Islamist terror attack across Europe it will certainly pour more petrol on the troubled fires of UK extremism. Just when the terror group Islamic State is being destroyed militarily the last thing the west needs to be doing is to invite more terrorism. But if by moving the US embassy there, Trump formally indicates Israel’s capital is Jerusalem, the very city which the Jewish state should share with Palestinians, all bets are off. By grasping at approval ratings to bolster the turbulence hitting his presidency Trump may spark violence across the region the likes of which have not seen in many years. And this has the potential for horrific implications for the rest of the world including Britain. Donald Trump's decision could trigger a wave of violence (Image: AFP) Canada distances itself from Trump and calls for "calm" Canada has become the latest country to distance itself from Donald Trump as it called for calm in the Middle East. Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the status of Jerusalem could only be resolved by settling the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. It comes as Donald Trump tonight declared Jerusalem to be the Israel’s capital - sparking fury across the Muslim world. Ms Freeland said: “Canada is a steadfast ally and friend of Israel and friend to the Palestinian people. “Canada’s longstanding position is that the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. “We are strongly committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel. “We call for calm and continue to support the building of conditions necessary for the parties to find a solution.” Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs on the status of #Jerusalem — Foreign Policy CAN (@CanadaFP) December 6, 2017 Lebanese PM: US move 'rejected by Arab world' Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said President Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and move its embassy there has been ‘rejected by the Arab world’. Mr Hariri tweeted: “The American decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the transfer of the embassy to it is a step rejected by the Arab world and warning of the dangers of blowing on the region. “Lebanon condemns and rejects this resolution and proclaims on this day the highest degree of solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to establish an independent State with Jerusalem as its capital.” القرار الأمريكي بالاعتراف بالقدس عاصمة لإسرائيل وبنقل السفارة اليها خطوة يرفضها العالم العربي وتنذر بمخاطر تهب على المنطقة. لبنان يندد ويرفض هذا القرار ويعلن في هذا اليوم أعلى درجات التضامن مع الشعب الفلسطيني وحقه في قيام دولة مستقلة عاصمتها القدس. — Saad Hariri (@saadhariri) December 6, 2017 Palestine President: US has 'withdrawn' from peace process Palestine’s President has accused the US of ‘withdrawing’ from the Middle East peace process. Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly ordered his team to return from Washington in response to President Trump’s announcement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Mahmoud Abbas (Image: REUTERS) 19:22 Reports: Palestinian forces plan Jerusalem 'strike' Reports on social media suggest a “strike” is set to hit Jerusalem tomorrow. Speculation suggests Palestinian national and Islamic forces will take action in the city after President Trump declared it Israel’s capital. Elsewhere, reports suggest a “day in anger” will take in Lebanon while a march for Palestine is believed to be taking place in Tunisia. It comes ahead of an expected outcry over President Trump’s announcement tonight at the White House. Critics had warned Mr Trump he threatened peace in the Middle East if he went ahead with the plan. Protests are building against Donald Trump (Image: Anadolu) Where is the US embassy moving? Donald Trump pledged to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He made the announcement in an historic speech where he said he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The move has sparked furious protests across the world as critics warned the move would threaten peace across the Middle East. Here’s a map showing where the embassy will move to. Map of Tel Aviv to Jerusalem Jeremy Corbyn: Trump is 'reckless threat to peace' Jeremy Corbyn has slammed Donald Trump’s historic announcement on Jerusalem as a ‘reckless threat to peace’. The Labour leader has voiced his outrage after the President broke with tradition by saying he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He also called on the Government to condemn the “dangerous act”. Mr Corbyn tweeted: “Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including occupied Palestinian territory, is a reckless threat to peace. The British Government must condemn this dangerous act and work for a just and viable settlement of the conflict.” Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including occupied Palestinian territory, is a reckless threat to peace. The British Government must condemn this dangerous act and work for a just and viable settlement of the conflict. — Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) December 6, 2017 Jeremy Corbyn has condemned Donald Trump (Image: PA) Protests raging across Turkey Protests are raging at US buildings in Turkey following President Trump’s announcement. Demonstrators have taken to the streets outside the US embassy in Ankara and near the US Consulate in Istanbul. It comes after President Trump declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and pledged to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv. Demonstrators have gathered in Istanbul near the US Consulate (Image: REUTERS) And near the US embassy in Ankara (Image: REUTERS) French President: We do not support Trump French President Emmanuel Macron has hit out at Donald Trump over his historic announcement on Jerusalem. Mr Macron said his country does not support President Trump’s “unilateral” decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and called for calm across the region. He said: “This decision is a regrettable decision that France does not approve of and goes against international law and all the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.” His remarks come as countries warned Trump against making the announcement. Emmanuel Macron (Image: Getty) UN Secretary General: Jerusalem must be resolved through negotiation UN Secretary General António Guterres has said Jerusalem must be resolved through “direct negotiations between the two parties”. Making a statement soon after President Trump declared the city as the Israel’s capital, Mr Guterres tweeted: “Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties on the basis of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.” Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties on the basis of Security Council & General Assembly resolutions - @antonioguterres — UN Spokesperson (@UN_Spokesperson) December 6, 2017 Israeli PM: The Jewish people will be "forever grateful" Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the Jewish people will be “forever grateful” after Donald Trump declared Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. The leader tweeted: “Thank you for today’s historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “The Jewish people and the Jewish state will be forever grateful.” He said the decision was an important step towards peace and called on all countries to follow the US and move their embassies to Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: @POTUS Trump, thank you for today’s historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Jewish people and the Jewish state will be forever grateful. — PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) December 6, 2017 Protests raging across Gaza over Trump announcement Protesters shout slogans during the protest of Jerusalem’s recognition at the Jabaliya Refugee Camp in Gaza City, Gaza. Donald Trump broke with tradition to formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital today and begin preparations to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (Image: Anadolu) (Image: Anadolu) (Image: Anadolu) Trump: US would support 'two state solution' Donald Trump says the United States would support a two state solution if it was agreed by both sides. The President said he was committed to facilitating peace in the Middle East following his historic announcement. Speaking at the White House, Mr Trump said he had “judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians”. It comes as he was warned recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be ‘declaring war on Muslims’. Trump made the historic announcement tonight (Image: AFP) Hamas staging rallies over Trump announcement Hamas has declared mass protests will be held rejecting President Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinian militant Islamist organisation said rallies would take place in Gaza, Rafah and Jabalia tonight. حركة حماس تنظم مسيرات جماهيرية حاشدة مساء اليوم الأربعاء، في غزة ورفح ومخيم جباليا رفضاً لقرار ترامب بالاعتراف بالقدس عاصمة للاحتلال ونقل السفارة الأمريكية إلى القدس. — حركة حماس (@hamasinfo) December 6, 2017 Rallies are being held in Gaza (Image: Anadolu) Trump says declaration is 'long overdue step' towards peace in Middle East President Trump said his announcement was “a long overdue step” to advance the Middle East peace process and work towards a lasting agreement. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned it would have “dangerous consequences” for the region. Donald Trump made the historic announcement tonight (Image: AFP) President Trump says Jerusalem is Israel's capital Donald Trump has tonight announced Jerusalem as the capital of Israel despite an international outcry. President Trump was warned peace in the Middle East could be under threat if the US became the first country to identify Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But the President failed to change course and made the declaration. Palestinian diplomat Manuel Hassassian accused Mr Trump of ‘declaring war on Muslims’ if he followed through with his announcement. Protests are now expected to gather at US embassies across the world. The announcement was condemned by the UK, Russia, China and several Muslim-majority nations.   Source: The Mirror

DONALD Trump risks sparking a religious war in the Middle East and “angering Muslims” after recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city today, Turkey and Iran have warned. By BELINDA ROBINSON Dec 6, 2017    Turkish Prime Minister Binary Yildrim warned the move could spark a holy war and make the region’s problems unsolvable, saying it was vital for global peace that President Trump change his mind. While President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said through a spokesman that the US was “plunging the region and the world into a fire with no end in sight”. They are among a host of leaders furious at Mr Trump's recognition of Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv, as the Israeli capital in a speech in Washington later today. Even the Pope has criticised the move, issuing an unusually strong plea to respect the status quo, and UN resolutions on the subject. Pope Francis said: “I cannot keep quiet about my deep worry about the situation that has been created in the last few days.” He also urged Mr Trump not to make the declaration about Jerusalem, as it was vital to "recognise the rights of all people", in the Holy Land to continue dialogue. Pope Francis said he hoped “wisdom and prudence prevail, in order to avoid adding new elements of tension to a global panorama that is already convulsed and marked by so many cruel conflicts”. But Mr Trump is pressing ahead with the significant US policy change to defy the Arab world, amid further plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.   Getty Pope Francis has urged the president to respect UN resolutions Getty Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lashed the president over the move At the White House today the US President said his announcement was nothing more than a "recognition of reality and the right thing to do, something that has to be done". He directed the State Department to begin looking for a site for an embassy in Jerusalem, in a move from their existing site in Tel Aviv - a process which is expected to take years, although Trump has signed a six-month delay to the move. Mr Trump said he would remain deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians depsite his announcement, adding "the United States would support a two state solution if agreed to by both sides". Getty Mr Trump risks sparking a religious war in the Middle East Turkish leader Binary Yildirim warns Jerusalem is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims and is a contentious part of Israel-Palestinian negotiations. Following the 1967 Middle East war, Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital. But the claim is not recognised by the international community or Palestinians. Palestinians maintain that Jerusalem will be the capital of their future state. The Palestinians' chief representative to Britain, Manuel Hassassian, blasted Mr Trump ahead of the decision to move the US embassy. He told the BBC: "If he says what he is intending to say about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel, it means a kiss of death to the two state solution. “He is declaring war in the Middle East, he is declaring war against 1.5 billion Muslims (and) hundreds of millions of Christians that are not going to accept the holy shrines to be totally under the hegemony of Israel.”  Getty Iran’s Supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, expressed his anger over the decision to move the US embassy Getty Manuel Hassassian, blasted Mr Trump ahead of the decision to move the embassy Iran’s Supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, expressed his anger over the decision, saying it was a sign of “incompetence and failure.” Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu also joined the chorus of condemnation against Mr Trump saying he viewed it as “illegal.” He told CNBC: “Israel is trying to normalise relations with other Muslim countries, so it will not serve Israel well. I hope there will be no such decision by President Trump." "This can go as far as severing Turkey's ties with Israel. I am warning the United States not to take such a step which will deepen the problems in the region. "We have to warn the United States that such a decision will be against the U.N. resolutions and international law and international agreements.”  Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, also raised the alarm, he said this morning: "Let's wait and see what the president says exactly. "But we view the reports that we've heard with concern. We think Jerusalem should be part of the final settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis."   Source: Express UK

Donald Trump’s abandonment of decades of US policy has set him at odds with the rest of the world and could have far-reaching consequences By Harriet Sherwood Wednesday 6 December 2017  Palestinians watch a televised broadcast of Trump announcing US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Jerusalem’s Old City. Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters   Defiant Trump confirms US will recognise Jerusalem as capital of Israel In a move condemned by most of the world, Donald Trump has announced the US will recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. What does his controversial move mean for the key players? The peace process This has been effectively at death’s door since former secretary of state John Kerry’s peace mission ended in failure in 2014. But the international community – apart from the US – is united in saying recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is disastrous for any hopes of reviving meaningful talks. The status of Jerusalem is one of the pivotal issues that diplomats and peacemakers have said must be agreed between the two parties in negotiations. The Palestinians They will see Trump’s announcement as the end of their hopes and demands for East Jerusalem as a capital of a future independent Palestinian state. Although few Palestinians want a return to violence, many will feel that diplomatic efforts have got them no closer to a state of their own and will see little alternative to direct action. The state of Israel The Israeli government will be thrilled. Ever since it captured (and later annexed) East Jerusalem in the 1967 six-day war, Israel has claimed the city as its “eternal and undivided” capital, and have longed for international recognition. It will reinforce the view of many Israeli politicians that there is little to be gained by negotiating with the Palestinians. Some 200,000 Israelis living in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, illegal under international law, will also celebrate. The region Trump’s move will further destabilise an already volatile region. The powerful Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said the US was “plunging the region and the world into a fire with no end in sight”. Turkey hinted it might cut diplomatic ties with Israel if the plan goes ahead. The Saudis – important allies of the US in the region – believe the move damages Riyadh’s continuing efforts to rekindle a peace deal. The Arab countries which border Israel – Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – are certain to condemn the move.  Europe Most western European countries will be deeply alarmed by US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But a key question is whether the EU will take action, such as robustly enforcing bans on imports from West Bank settlements and refusing to deal with Israeli businesses operating in occupied territory, setting itself on a clearly differentiated course from the US. Christians in the Holy Land Patriarch Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox patriarchate, widely seen as the most senior Christian figure in Jerusalem, and a dozen other church leaders in the Holy Land, sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday warning of “irreparable harm”. His move “will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division”, they said. Church leaders will be anxious to protect Christian sites. The city itself In 2015, Palestinians made up 37% of the city’s population of about 850,000. Many live in overcrowded homes and neighbourhoods, unable to get permits to build or extend. Three-quarters live below the poverty line and 25% live in neighbourhoods cut off from the rest of the city by the separation barrier. It is hard to see how Trump’s move will improve conditions for them. Nir Barkat, the city’s mayor, said on Wednesday “here in Jerusalem and Israel we applaud the president” and if people became violent “they will pay a heavy price”.   Source: The Guardian

Of all the issues at the heart of the enduring conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, none is as sensitive as the status of Jerusalem. The holy city has been at the centre of peace-making efforts for decades. Seventy years ago, when the UN voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, Jerusalem was defined as a separate entity under international supervision. In the war of 1948 it was divided, like Berlin in the cold war, into western and eastern sectors under Israeli and Jordanian control respectively. Nineteen years later, in June 1967, Israel captured the eastern side, expanded the city’s boundaries and annexed it – an act that was never recognised internationally. Israel routinely describes the city, with its Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy places, as its “united and eternal” capital. For their part, the Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future independent Palestinian state. The unequivocal international view, accepted by all previous US administrations, is that the city’s status must be addressed in peace negotiations. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital puts the US out of step with the rest of the world, and legitimises Israeli settlement-building in the east – considered illegal under international law.

CAROOL KERSTEN  Carool Kersten is Reader in the Study of Islam & the Muslim World at King's College London.    The Saudi crown prince moves towards concentrating absolute power in his own hands, while escalating tensions on several fronts. Donald Trump meets with Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office at the White House, March 14, 2017. Picture by Pool/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images.   If Machiavelli were alive today, he might have modeled his political treatise ‘The Prince’ on Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS). Events on the first Saturday of November show that the young heir apparent is confident enough to move on several fronts at the same time on his way to what increasingly seems like concentrating absolute power in one pair of hands: his own.  With the purge and detention of dozens of princes and business tycoons (some doubling both roles), as well as (former) ministers and other senior officials, MBS is doing two things: First of all, he is catering to the sentiments of the average, generally young, Saudi regarding the corrupt elites. This is a safe bet, because the population is well aware of how princes and their coteries acquired their wealth. Riskier, however, is the breaking of a long-held taboo: Publicly turning on other members of the royal family. The last time this happened openly was in 1962, when the then crown prince and later King Faisal exiled a number of firebrand young royals. Known as the ‘Free Princes’, their calls for reforms were considered too radical and dangerous for the position of the dynasty. Ironically, their ring leader is the father of one of the detained princes Al-Waleed bin Talal.  In the present instance, the radical is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia himself. Much attention is paid to a rapid succession of changes and initiatives launched by the intrepid crown prince, presented as part of his Vision2030 for a future post-petroleum Saudi Arabia: Women will not only be allowed to drive cars, but also issue fatwas or Islamic legal opinions. Then there is the plan for a high-tech mega city in the country’s northwest – strategically located near the Red Sea on the crossroads between Asia, North Africa and the Mediterranean.  Now he personally heads  an anti-corruption board that already seems to have a number of high-profile cases up-and-ready. To a degree, this is all cosmetic. Firing and detaining dozens of very senior royals and officials takes long and careful planning More important is the real-life Saudi version of Game of Thrones, consisting of a series of royal ‘musical chairs’ that started already in 2012,; three years before MBS’s father, King Salman, ascended to the throne. Since then Saudi Arabia has had five crown princes.  The latest changing of the guard came only this Summer. In what was nothing short of a palace coup, MBS managed to oust his older cousin, Muhammad bin Nayef, as both crown prince and interior minister. A favourite of the political establishment in Washington, it says much of MSB’s abilities as a power player. How could an experienced political operator presiding over a massive security and intelligence apparatus be caught so off guard? The same appears to be true now. Firing and detaining dozens of very senior royals and officials takes long and careful planning, involving substantial numbers of people. How was this kept secret? Also why did the security detail of business tycoon Al-Waleed bin Talal not put up a fight? Not to mention the National Guard, until yesterday under command of Prince Miteb, the son of former King Abdullah. Once considered next in line of the throne, even after being side-lined from that, he managed to hold on to the powerbase created by his father in the 1960s and build into what is effectively a shadow army recruited from the Bedouin tribes, used to offset the regular army and security forces of the interior ministry in a careful balance of power between different branches of the royal family. It appears MBS is set on putting an end to such balances and taking absolute control of political power in Saudi Arabia. While the latest purge is presented as part of an investigation into the mismanagement of the massive floodings in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah in which more than a hundred people died, MBS is picking off influential figures from different sectors of Saudi society, targeting not only fellow royals, but also cabinet members, senior administrators, and financiers. This means that MBS can count on the loyalty of substantial numbers of people in senior enough positions within the bureaucracy, police and military to pull off such operations without equally powerful people getting wind of it. While he appears to be successful in securing his domestic powerbase, other events taking place on Saturday as well might throw a spanner into the wheels of MSB’s political machine. The surprise resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, while being in Saudi Arabia, was also more likely than not instigated by MBS as part of his rivalry with Iran for influence and power in the Middle East. The launch of a missile against Riyadh Airport by the Houthis in Yemen that same evening seems too much of a coincidence. The Houthi forces are supported by Iran in the vicious Yemen civil war, in which Saudi Arabia became meddled up when MBS became defence minister. Also the row with Qatar, which is jeopardizing the unity with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) fits within that scenario. But exerting influence in international relations adds a host of variables that might be more difficult to manage than excercising domestic political control. So far MBS has managed to surprise friend and foe with his ability to outmanoeuvre and outsmart the competition, but how long will he be able to juggle an increasing number of balls at the same time?

JOE ODELL  With the help of international ‘cyber security dealers’, the internet has been transformed into a central component of authoritarian control. Giant poster dedicated to Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, located near the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi. Picture by Artur Widak/NurPhoto USA/PA Images.   In the aftermath of the ‘Arab Spring’, as counter-revolution casts its repressive shadow across the Middle East and North Africa, the tools that a short while ago enabled revolutionary organisation on a mass scale have subsequently changed hands. Once celebrated, and in some quarters credited, as playing the defining role in the Arab uprisings of 2011, social media and the internet more broadly have now been transformed into a central component of authoritarian control, as the balance of power has shifted firmly away from the masses in the region. This is evident in the United Arab Emirates where government critics, bloggers and human rights defenders have been disappearing at an alarming rate as a result of their social media activity, while dozens of online news publications from the Huffington Post to Al Jazeera have been blocked by the authorities for publicly expressing views counter to that of the state. Since 2011, Gulf rulers have passed legislations that effectively criminalise criticism of their regimes. In a bid to quell the harbingers of revolt, authorities have tightened their control over information and communication technologies. For a brief moment, the internet provided a space within Emirati society where debate, criticism and ideas thrived In the UAE this control came in the form of the cybercrime law, approved in November 2012 by Emirati president Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed. Its vaguely worded provisions effectively outlawed the use of information technology as means to argue for political reform, criticise senior officials or organise unsolicited demonstrations, enabling Emirati authorities to clamp down more efficiently on dissenting voices within their borders. This cyber crackdown materialised in response to the faint rumblings of discontent which began to manifest themselves in the Emirates. As revolutions engulfed the Arab world in 2011, Emirati lawyers, academics and human rights activists took to blogs and social media sites to call for relatively modest democratic reforms and, for a brief moment, the internet provided a space within Emirati society where debate, criticism and ideas thrived. A political opposition had begun to emerge in the 'sleepy Emirates', which was previously dubbed the 'Switzerland of the Middle East' for its relative internal stability and seemingly mediatory foreign policy agenda. These developments seemed to confirm the long-held view by certain sections of the academic community that predicted that as the Gulf monarchies sought to diversify their economies away from reliance on oil revenues, the development of technological and communication infrastructure, alongside inward capital flows from western tech companies, would result in the emergence of a civil society that would eventually democratise the political apparatus of the state. This modernisation drive has been no more evident than in the UAE, where in the last decade a burgeoning tech start-up scene has developed, to the extent that Apple and Google have opened headquarters in Dubai. The Emirate has consciously marketed itself as the ‘Silicon Valley of the Middle East’, even setting up ‘the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authorities’ that the Prime Minister of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid al-Maktoum promises will make Dubai the “world’s leading centre of advanced electronic innovation, design and development.” Crucially, this sort of discourse enables the Emirati authorities to project an image of the UAE as a beacon of openness, tolerance and modernity to the outside world. As technological advancement has increased, so too has the repressive arm of the state The impact of this new digital economy has resulted in a 91% internet penetration in 2016, with social media activity at one of the highest rates in the Middle East. Yet, as technological advancement has increased, so too has the repressive arm of the state, as the Emirati authorities have sought to utilise these developments to curtail freedom of speech and suppress dissenting voices. Through the cybercrime law they have all but crushed the emergent movement that began to develop inside the country. Since the Arab uprisings of 2011, the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) have worked closely with cyber-crime units attached to the security apparatus to implement a suffocating internet censorship and surveillance system. A cyber-police force, officially termed the department of Anti-Electronic Crimes, constitutes a special unit within the Dubai police force which works around the clock to monitor the internet, disproportionately targeting political dissenters and human rights activists. The vague provision of what constitutes a cyber-crime has meant that in particular, journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and government critics find themselves tracked by the authorities. In recent years, they have been arbitrarily detained, forcefully disappeared and in some cases tortured because of their social media activities. According to the Emirates Media and Studies Centre, in 2016 alone around 300 people were detained for comments on social media sites that allegedly criticised the ruling regime. Furthermore, in March of this year, Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar and prominent Emirati academic Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith received jail sentences of three to ten years respectively due to Facebook and Twitter comments that the authorities deemed to be critical of the state. It is important to note that this tightly controlled police state has, in the UAE, been facilitated by a new network of global ‘cyber-arms dealers’ that have been only too happy to cater to a burgeoning gap in the market, created by oil-rich Gulf monarchies with an eye to quell any form of dissent. Earlier this year, a BBC investigation revealed that British based arms manufacturer BAE systems had been exporting cyber-surveillance software to the UAE, and other Middle Eastern states, which has subsequently been used by the Emirati authorities to spy on their citizens. Furthermore, in 2016, QintetiQ, a UK company formerly part of the Ministry of Defence that specialises in cyber security ‘providing comprehensive monitoring and alerting software’ opened an office in Abu Dhabi to provide ‘technical advice and support to security clients primarily within the UAE’. This tightly controlled police state has, in the UAE, been facilitated by a new network of global ‘cyber-arms dealers’ that have been only too happy to cater to a burgeoning gap in the market In a story that garnered international attention last year, the prominent Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor was dubbed ‘the million-dollar dissenter’ by media outlets after it was discovered that his iPhone had been hacked by the UAE authorities with software supplied by the Israeli security company NOS Group. The Emirati government reportedly paid the Israeli firm $1 million dollars for the software. Mansoor received a text message promising him information on political prisoners in the UAE if he clicked on a link in the message. Suspicious and alert to such threats, he passed the phone on to Toronto based Citizen Lab, who specialise in communications technologies and human rights. They discovered that the hacking software would have enabled authorities to track Mansoor’s every movement and conversation, essentially turning his phone into a mobile surveillance device. Commonly referred to as the last man speaking out about human rights in the UAE, Mansoor was arrested for his social media activity and disappeared in March this year. He remains in an unknown location without access to a lawyer. The case of the United Arab Emirates sheds light on the fact that these technologies, when in the hands of repressive authoritarian regimes, can be used to eliminate any kind of democratisation of social media, or the internet more broadly. Cyber technology cannot be viewed out of the context of the material conditions in which they are embedded. Instead, they should be seen as enabling and enhancing a state’s control over its citizens. As the balance of power has shifted away from the masses so too has social media, which is now situated within the confines of authoritarian rule. For a flicker of a moment it provided an alternative space in which political dissent thrived and organised, but now with the assistance of an international network of 'cyber security dealers' this space, for now, has well and truly closed.   Joe Odell is Press Officer at the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE. He regularly writes and speaks on political issues in the Middle East @ICFUAE

Authorities have frozen the bank accounts of the accused.   Saudi King Salman Bin Abdelaziz Al Saud has overseen a purge of senior figures Image: ABACA/PA Images   SAUDI ARABIA SAID today that 201 people are being held for questioning over an estimated $100 billion (€86 billion) in embezzlement and corruption, after the biggest purge of the kingdom’s elite in its modern history. Princes, ministers and a billionaire business tycoon were among dozens of high-profile figures arrested or sacked at the weekend, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman consolidates power. The purge comes amid heightened regional tensions, with Saudi Arabia and Iran facing off over a missile attack from Yemen and a political crisis in Lebanon after prime minister Saad Hariri’s shock resignation announced from Riyadh. “A total of 208 individuals have been called in for questioning so far… Seven have been released without charge,” the Saudi information ministry said in a statement, quoting attorney general Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb. Authorities have frozen the bank accounts of the accused and warned that assets related to the alleged corruption cases would be seized as state property, as the government appears set to widen the crackdown. “The potential scale of corrupt practices which have been uncovered is very large,” the statement said. Based on our investigations over the past three years, we estimate that at least USD $100 billion has been misused through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades. High-profile figures, including billionaire tycoon Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, were arrested or sacked in the crackdown — just after an anti-graft commission headed by the crown prince was established. Rising tensions Prince Mohammed, the son of 81-year-old King Salman, is already seen as the country’s de facto ruler controlling all the major levers of government. With the purge, which analysts describe as a bold but risky power play, the crown prince has centralised power to a degree that is unprecedented in recent Saudi history. The crackdown comes as he moves to accelerate his Vision 2030 programme to modernise the conservative kingdom, but also as Riyadh takes a more aggressive stance in its wider region. In the wake of a failed missile attack against Riyadh airport on Saturday, which was claimed by Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen, the kingdom has accused Tehran of “direct aggression”. Iran vehemently dismissed the charge that it supplied missiles to the Huthis and warned Saudi Arabia of its “might”, prompting fresh acrimony between the regional heavyweights. The tensions appear to be playing out in Beirut, the latest front line of the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. On Saturday, Hariri cited Iran’s “grip” on Lebanon and threats to his life when he announced his resignation in a televised speech from Riyadh, precipitating a new political crisis in Beirut. Saudi Arabia today urged its citizens to leave Lebanon “as soon as possible” and also called on them not to travel to the country, without specifying any threat. Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Thursday demanded the return of Hariri from Saudi Arabia, amid media reports that he was being held in the kingdom. The regional tensions could escalate the proxy conflict between Riyadh and Tehran, which back opposing sides in wars and power struggles from Yemen to Syria.   Source: AFP

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