Emboldened by US President Donald Trump, authoritarian leaders of the Mideast have cracked down on their perceived internal adversaries, with mass expulsions, arrests, deportations, media blackouts, shutdowns and even, in the case of Saudi Arabia, the murder of a journalist.
In 2017, Middle Eastern countries cut off diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar, started saber-rattling threats against Iran, escalated a brutal war in Yemen, and essentially destroyed the US role in mediating peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
In May 2017, President Trump met with autocratic leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, telling them “we are not here to lecture you, we are not here to tell other people how to live.” In contrast to the Obama Administration, he promised to remain silent on issues of human rights, offering tacit approval to take a hard line on internal dissent, labeling it with the broad brush of “counter-terrorism.” Trump sided with the Gulf States against Iran and gave a green light to wage economic warfare against Qatar. He demonstrated his solidarity with Saudi leaders by participating in a sword dance.
Human rights activists in Bahrain said the situation worsened dramatically after Trump’s Middle East summit.
On June 5, 2017 Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut off diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, and ordered thousands of Qataris to leave their countries within 14 days. “Families ripped apart, freedom of expression under attack amid political dispute in the Gulf,” Amnesty International reported. In the UAE, any person who questioned the dispute with Qatar on social media would face immediate imprisonment of 3 to 15 years.
One day after the Gulf States and Egypt severed diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, Trump on Twitter took credit for the dispute and accused Qatar of supporting terrorism by tolerating the Muslim Brotherhood. “During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” the President tweeted.
So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding……extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017
Trump’s former aide, Steve Bannon, helped organize the summit in Saudi Arabia and has had close ties to the UAE for years, well before he joined the Trump campaign and even after his ouster from the White House. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Crown Prince, met with Bannon and other Trump aides before Trump took office, and met with Trump at the White House, ostensibly to discuss bilateral cooperation on trade and investments.
As in the dispute over the 2016 US election results, there are charges of Russian hacking, and UAE involvement. Qatar claimed it was hacked by either Russia or the UAE, which set off the diplomatic crisis. Qatar’s Emir allegedly went onto social media to post incendiary remarks praising Iran, Hamas, and criticizing Trump. Qatar’s neighboring countries took immediate offense, but Qatar claimed the emir never made the incendiary remarks but was hacked. That denial didn’t stop Qatar’s neighbors from launching the embargo.
“Together We Prevail” was the banner headline in government-controlled (UAE) National newspaper in May 2017 with a full spread picture of Trump with King Salman. “Trump in Riyadh: The United States and the Arabian Gulf reset their relationship with a historic presidential visit to reinforce the values of security, stability and prosperity.”
In a speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, Trump urged Gulf leaders to “drive out” the “crisis of Islamic extremism.” He announced investments of $400 billion between KSA and the US, specifically $110 billion for a Saudi-funded defense purchase.
- Saudi Arabia, UAE, Israel Pushed Trump to Strike ‘Grand Bargain’ With Putin on Syria, Ukraine (New Yorker, July 9, 2018.)
- How Trump, Israel, and the Gulf States Plan to Fight Iran and Leave the Palestinians Behind. “Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the most politically important of the Emirates, believed that the Gulf states and Israel shared a common enemy: Iran. Like Netanyahu, M.B.Z. considered Iran to be the primary threat to his country..M.B.Z., M.B.S., in conversations with U.S. officials and Jewish-American groups, expressed disdain for the Palestinian leadership…Coöperation among Israel and the Gulf states has expanded into the Sinai Peninsula, where M.B.Z. has deployed Emirati forces to train and assist Egyptian troops who have been fighting militants with help from Israeli military aircraft and intelligence agencies. .” (New Yorker, June 18, 2018)
- How Two Gulf Monarchies Sought to Influence White House (NYT, March 21, 2018)
- One Year In, Trump’s Mideast Policy is Imploding (New Yorker, 2018)
- Trump Is Dismissive of Human Rights Values (Human Rights Watch, Jan. 2018)
- Trump Abandons Human Rights Agenda (New Yorker, May 2017)
- Congress Must Push Back on Human Rights Abuses (HRW, Mar. 21, 2018)
- Trump Set Back Human Rights in First Year (HRW, Jan. 2018)
- Trump’s administration is promoting democracy and human rights. Fortunately, he has yet to notice. The Economist, Dec. 2017.
- 5 Arab Nations Seek to Isolate Qatar, Putting US in Bind (NYT)
- 2017 Riyadh Summit and Aftermath
- Families Ripped Apart, Freedom of Speech Under Attack in Gulf (Amnesty International, June 10, 2017)
- UAE Orchestrated Hacking of Qatari Government Sites, Sparking Regional Upheaval (Washington Post, July 16, 2017)
- UAE Denies Qatar Hacking
- Supporting Qatar on Social Media A Crime in UAE (The National, June 7, 2017)
- Qatar Behind Hack on Trump Donor With Business Ties to UAE, Lawyer Says (Washington Free Beacon, March 20, 2018)
- 119 Qatari Students Prevented from Continuing Education in UAE
Trump & UAE
- UAE Ruler Met With Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn in New York, Dec. 2016, and then secretly in Seychelles in Jan. 2017 to discuss how to improve US-Russia relations. (CNN)
- Russia and UAE have joint investments. Trump was offered a $2 billion real estate deal from Emirati businessman in 2017 but he says he turned it down because he didn’t want to be perceived as taking advantage of the presidency. (Business Insider, March 8, 2018)
- UAE Hires Bannon-affiliated Company to Spread Anti-Qatar Ads
- Bannon’s Murky Ties to UAE Deepen
- Did UAE Offer Financing for Favors to Trump Administration?
- UAE Linked to Efforts to Get Rex Tillerson Fired for Qatar Support
- Trump Says Sheikh Mohammed Is A ‘Very Special Person’ (The UAE National)
- Saudis, UAE Face Risk of Backlash Over Alliance With Trump (WSJ, March 2018)
- George Nader, a political advisor to UAE ruler, pushed WH to remove Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to support “confrontational approaches to Iran and Qatar and repeatedly pressed the president to meet privately outside the White House with the leader of U.A.E.” (NYT) Nader has been granted immunity to cooperate with special counsel on how he might have helped direct Emirati money to Trump’s political efforts.
- In meetings with Mideast leaders, Nader promised to lobby Trump to reduce the influence of Turkey and Iran. (Mideast Eye, March 2018)
- How UAE Lobbyists Captured Washington (Middle East Eye, March 13, 2018)
- UAE Human Rights Record 2017, according to Human Rights Watch
- Human Rights Activists Warn of Worsening Situation in Bahrain (June 2017)
- Trump Ignores Abuses, Extends Military Cooperation with Bahrain (Nov. 2017)
- Trump drops human rights conditions to tell fighter jets to Bahrain (March 2017)
- Trump’s pandering to Bahrain has deadly consequences (December 2017)
- Rights Group Urges US to Confront Bahrain as Activist Jailed (December 2017)
Trump and Saudi Arabia
- Trump’s Love Affair with the Saudis by William Hartung
War in Yemen
- Escalation (December 2017-February 2018)