SHAFAQNA – Robert Carter, also known by his Muslim name Muhammad Ali Carter, is a journalist, news editor and TV presenter and formerly a docmuntary maker and presenter working for the London-based Islamic religion, culture and news channel, Ahlulbayt TV. Muhammad is an English-born, social activist and Muslim revert. He has also assisted in the production of successful documentaries focusing on Middle Eastern politics, religion and current affairs. Robert Carter’s preferred areas of expertise are UK news, Middle Eastern politics and global Muslim affairs, most specifically the history, culture and politics of Lebanon, Iran and Yemen. Carter has travelled around the Middle East working with many journalists, charities and activists from that region including other news networks in a number of different Middle Eastern countries. After visiting and speaking to many different people from conflict zones and impoverished Arab countries, Muhammad has sought to seek out and explain the true stories from the ground; while tackling the customary mainstream media’s misconceptions of a heavily misunderstood region. The official website of Ayatollah Khamenei has conducted an interview with Mr. Carter on the ongoing war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia as well as a few more issues within the MENA region. The following is the full text of the interview:
How do you analyze the situation in Yemen? What’s the reason for the deafening international silence on the continued massacre of children in Yemen? How are Yemen’s revolutionaries operating against Saudi aggressors?
To answer your first question is not easy, but I will try to be as precise as possible on a subject which many have written entire books on. The situation in Yemen is much more complex than the mainstream media likes to admit. In fact, I would argue that the Yemen crisis is the most oversimplified conflict in recent history. Virtually all media outlets are reporting the Yemen conflict as a sectarian ‘Sunni-Shia’ civil war which is part of a bigger, regional sectarian ‘cold war’ between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, the truth is (as often is the case) absent from the general public’s vision.
Anyone who has spoken to people living in Yemen, as I have, will know that this is not considered a civil war by the natives, but an invasion. The so-called ‘Shia rebels’ are in fact not Jaffari Shia Muslims as found in Iran or Iraq, they are actually part of a unique Islamic sect known as Zaidi Muslims. Their tribal community, which also contains Sunni Muslim tribes, does share some very basic similarities with Jaffari Shia Islam, which is the majority religion in Iran; Zaidiism is often described as a Shi’ite off shoot school of law which, of all the schools of thought within Shiism, is the closest to the Ahlul-Sunnah traditions. Many Zaidi Muslims in Yemen actually identify themselves closer to the majority Sunni Islam then they do to the majority Jaffari Shia identity felt in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon – even the Persian Gulf Shia community found in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain do not share the Houthi’s unique identity.
The Yemen revolution of 21 September 2014 which ended with the ousting of the Hadi led government was supported by Yemenis from various different tribes and religious sects, even as the Houthi-led forces took control of Sana’a, the official Yemeni Army did not formally intervene, due to the moral guidance division of the armed forces declaring its “support for the people’s revolution” which explains the speed in which the revolution was able to achieve its ambition to remove the previous regime and install a new more democratically independent and inclusive government. This was a continuation of the manifestation of the Arab spring in which people revolted against corruption, lack of economic opportunities and nepotism.
None of these vital facts is mentioned, nor is the fact that Saudi Arabia has ignored all attempts by the new Yemeni administration to resolve their internal conflicts peacefully without foreign intervention or war. The most recent example was during several UN-backed peace talks, mediated by Ismail Ould Cheikh, held in Kuwait between the Saudi-backed exiled Hadi government and the Houthi delegation, the peace talks have so far all failed due to the unreasonable pre-conditions set by the Hadi government, such as calls for the Houthi’s to relinquish Sana’a and surrender all their arms without offering anything in return. The Houthis offered to accept peace as long as a new inclusive government was to be formed; Hadi refused and promised to boycott all peace talks.
The media has stuck to the same tedious and lazy narrative, it’s a Sunni-Shia sectarian struggle and the “Iran-backed” Shia Houthi rebels must be defeated at all costs, due to decades old paranoia of the Iranian Islamic revolution. The Houthis have openly said they are not led by the Iranians or any other foreign entity, not to mention the fact both the Iranians and Obama himself have stated the same.
“When the Houthis started moving, that wasn’t on orders from Soleimani, that wasn’t on an order from the IRGC,”
Obama was referring to Qasim Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The media, however, has taken the Saudis opinion as trustworthy fact, despite Saudi Arabia’s growing reputation among human rights groups as a child killer in Yemen. Growing concern within the international community including the US congress about Saudi’s campaign in Yemen and its ideological support for Takfiri groups such as al-Qaida and Daesh, illustrated with congress overturn of Obama’s veto to allow the families of 9/11 to sue the Saudi government; growing voices to stop selling weapons to the Saudis due to human rights violations in Yemen and within the oil rich kingdom; which brings me to the second half of the question: Why the silence?
Partly due to ignorance, partly due to the fact the media refuses to allow journalists to cover the counter arguments made by Yemenis in response to the Saudi propaganda but most importantly the Saudi-led war against Yemen deeply involves both USA and UK support. The one question everyone should be asking is, why? Why is there death and destruction occurring in epic proportions in Yemen? Why was there a people’s revolution against the government? Why is Saudi Arabia attacking Yemen so aggressively? And of course, Why no major public condemnation or coverage? If these questions are to be asked and answered then we must look at the history of the region and scrutinize the west’s own relationship with Saudi Arabia. We ‘The west’ hold lucrative business ties with this country, and our desperation to hold onto regional dominance through indirect, semi-imperialism Middle East foreign policy is not a valid reason to ignore the war crimes happening in Yemen.
Grass root journalists are not given the opportunity to ask these questions, when they do, are dismissed by the mainstream media as anti-Saudi or conspiracy theorists. People want to know what is happening, since the release of an Ahlulbayt TV documentary this year which I assisted in its production, “Saudi: A Regime Declining?”, I have received positive feedback from various professionals, desperate to understand the truth, which mainstream sources choose not to cover, except for a modest few and usually not in great depth.
Saudi Arabia has been using UK and US manufactured weapons, including internationally condemned weapons such as cluster bombs and white phosphorous against civilian and non-military targets indiscriminately, since they began operations against the revolutionaries over a year ago, illustrated best by the Saudi coalitions bombing of a Yemeni school for the blind back in January.
This “partnership from hell” as Kim sheriff, a Yemeni human rights lawyer and activist based in London so eloquently put it, is what keeps the bombs dropping and the media silent. The Government refuses to acknowledge anything happening in Yemen, despite overwhelming proof of war crimes being committed according to human rights groups and ground based journalists; much of the mainstream media is holding a biased narrative, showing photos of dead or dying Yemeni children is not a priority but Syrians are, why? Could it be because the White house public enemies of choice both Putin and Assad are desired for condemnation in preference of America or the UK’s long time puppet Saudi Arabia and allies in the GCC?
Hypocrisy, corruption and unprofessional media bias sadly exist in the world of big money media. Fox news, a huge American international news network, which is currently partly owned by the wealthy Saudi Prince Al-Waleed is a prime example of how big media giants are exposed to corruption. It is only natural a big western news giant who accepts investment from foreign Saudi billionaires would not have the freedom to criticize in depth the Saudi goose that lays its financial golden eggs. The foreign investment into Western media companies is just the beginning of growing Saudi influence in the US. The Saudi government and its affiliates have spent millions of dollars on U.S. law, lobby and public relations firms to increase Saudi Arabia’s vocal power in the United States and before the United Nations particularly at such a crucial time in the Middle East. A number of Washington’s premier law and lobby firms —including Podesta Group, BGR Government Affairs and DLA Piper (just to name a few)— have been tasked with the job to lobby Saudi’s case in the US. Saudi Arabia now holds so much assets in the US that they hold economic leverage which they have threatened to use against the US by withdrawing up to $750 Billion of assets from the economy should the US turn against any Saudi demands.
Despite the intense pressure and suffering, the Yemeni people are fighting back; Yemen is a country famous for its resistance against foreign forces. The British, during the golden age of the British Empire, were unable to ever fully occupy Yemen, just holding onto a strategically important port city of Aden. More recently in history, Egypt who sent a huge force of tens of thousands to Yemen in order to secure a regime change, in turn, lost tens of thousands over the 8 years of resistance by the Northern Yemenis, eventually leading to Egyptian withdrawal without Nasser’s Egypt achieving its intended goals. In fact, Egypt suffered such a bad military defeat in Yemen some Egyptian historians refer to the war in Yemen as Egypt’s Vietnam.
The resistance itself provides yet more evidence for my earlier point, that Yemen is not a sectarian civil war. The Saudi-led sectarian narrative which is adopted by the majority of (so called) experts on the Yemen conflict is rejected by the majority of Yemen’s population; it is instead a joint nationalistic and patriotic struggle by Yemenis against foreign aggressors. Tribesmen, Houthi’s, civilians and the official army have all united in one joint resistance effort against the Saudi and Persian Gulf military operations. Military fighting is the most obvious form of resistance seen from Yemen but also massive public protests across the country, local media coverage, and eyewitness feedback have offered more evidence to prove that the people of Yemen are also resisting Saudi’s efforts to subdue Yemen. Saudi Arabia are desperate to portray Yemen’s revolutionaries as a gang of illegal Iran-backed Shiite terrorists who seized the country by force against the will of the people and inspired by Iranian string pulling, all complete fantasy, proven by the persistence of the Yemeni public to stand by the new government in massive public demonstrations, despite the intense hardships imposed on them by the Gulfs nationwide siege.
Where does Saudi Arabia stand in the Syrian crisis? How do you see the status of the Saudi-backed terrorist groups in Syria?
Saudi Arabia’s role in Syria has been very clear; They have supported the armed opposition to Assad’s government since the very early stage of the conflict. Instead of pushing for a peaceful solution they have opted for a rapid escalation of violence by funneling money, aid and weapons into the hands of extremist Wahhabi groups such as the Al-Nusra Front (Al Qaeda’s former rep in Syria). Wahabbi groups like Al-Nusra are considered terrorist groups by the west, yet still, Saudi Arabia has been allowed to support them in full without major condemnation, despite the sense of alarm by many in Washington. At the very least the media should label these groups as ‘Saudi-backed’ or ‘Saudi-Proxies’ since they qualify more to hold these titles in comparison to the (so-called) ‘Iranian-backed’ Houthis in Yemen. It is due to Wahhabi radicals of this nature that have helped turn the conflict so shockingly sectarian, so quickly, since the Syrian civil war began.
These groups have effectively become part of a larger proxy army building foreign policy which Saudi Arabia has conducted across the region for decades. This has proven to be a risky policy, doomed to fail. These Wahhabi terror groups may follow the same ruthless cult-like Wahhabi ideology which Saudi Arabia follows, however, all of these Wahhabi-inspired groups are unpredictable in nature; they don’t hold a direct line of sophisticated or reliable communication or loyalty to Saudi Arabia, Turkey or the US, all of whom support these types of groups in one form or another in Syria and Iraq. This type of reckless strategy has failed to achieve even its most basic goals. Assad remains, the Wahhabi opposition is losing ground, and the resistance axis led by Saudi’s regional rival Iran remains intact. Saudi Arabia and its proxy forces are becoming weaker and more insignificant by the day, billions have been spent with no returns, and the same blatant waste of money can be seen also in Yemen. These expensive military flops are beginning to cause new unprecedented domestic problems for Saudi Arabia who for the first time is introducing new taxes on its citizens, while struggling to pay its workers’ wages, leading to public protest. Saudi is bleeding cash in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain; they will have to decide whether to continue this implosive and sectarian regional policy or admit defeat.
Wikileaks revealed after 2010 a US interest in destabilize Syria by backing radical opposition groups was in the framework as far back as 2006 (five years before the ‘Arab Spring’ began). The leaked cable revealed how millions of dollars were provided to opposition groups under the Bush administration following Syria’s support for anti-Israel groups such as Hezbollah during the July 2006 war. Although the cable does not reveal Saudi involvement at that time, it falls within the Saudi interest of supporting any policy to weaken Iran to benefit themselves, Saudi’s support for radical Takfiri fighters aided in the rapid creation of Wahhabi inspired extremist groups such as The Nusra-Front which has since become one the most powerful and dangerous terror groups active in Syria today.
While people of Saudi Arabia are against any normalization of ties with Israel, why are Saudi rulers signaling the normalization? What do you think would be the potential outcomes?
The Saudi relationship with Israel doesn’t come from a position of strength but from a position of paranoia and weakness. In the past, a Saudi-Israel relationship would have been considered unthinkable, but the answer for why this partnership is now forming can be answered very simply. Saudi Arabia and Israel both fear Iran and Iranian regional influence. The Arab world is going through a major transitional period; the failure of secular Arab nationalism headed by Baathism and the collapse of some many Western-propped Arab dictators during the Arab spring has led to a swing towards Arabs religious identities. The Arab Shia who has spent decades as a cowering regional minority, in most cases marginalized and oppressed by their secular, nationalistic, western supported dictators are now looking to reconnect with their own unique faith and are inspired by Iran’s example of a theocratic system of governance instead. The Shia Muslims of today are loud, proud and demanding freedom with fair representation like never seen before. This is most concerning for Saudi Arabia who not only have a vocal Saudi Shia minority demanding reforms of their own but other Arab countries with a Shia majority such as Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon are all pulling away from the acceptance of Saudi Arabia’s sphere of influence.
Saudi Arabia fears this new Shia revival and has done so since Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution. Saudi Arabia has a significant Shia Muslim community itself and doesn’t want to see a Saudi Shia community which resides in the oil-rich eastern province of Saudi Arabia to hold any kind of real power. Israel, in turn, fears Iranian regional popularity among disgruntled Islamic movements due to the Islamic Republics fierce anti-imperialist stance and Iran’s support for these Islamic resistance movements such as seen in Palestine and Lebanon. Iran has held onto its backing of Arab resistance movements across the region including Hamas and Hezbollah which fight against Israeli expansionism. Both the Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia partner America politically and protect America’s interests in the Middle East, both Israel and Saudi fear Iran, and both Israel and Saudi have growing international condemnation due to their aggressive foreign policies. It is only natural that both countries, feeling at risk, would seek some type of alliance to protect each other’s interests. The Saudi’s may be seeking to use Israel’s power in Washington to lobby the US government as its own influence is declining due to US moves away from Saudi oil with the use of fracking.
So far, much of the news surrounding the new forming relationship is based on rumors; however signs of a blossoming relationship are become more blatant, building up evidence to support the media’s accusations. A tweet posted by Bahrain’s Minister of Foreign affairs, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, complimenting the late ex-Israeli leader Shimon Peres speaks volumes of the warming of relations between the Gulf states and Israel.
Do you agree with the idea that the newly appointed Saudi rulers, in comparison with their predecessors, are behaving more immaturely in politics? How so?
There is an abundance of evidence to suggest that the new leadership of Saudi Arabia is dangerously compulsive and inexperienced. It seems that the Saudi’s are playing a game of checkers while the Iranians are playing chess; while the Saudis think in years, the Iranians think in decades. The King incumbent is relying on the young and inexperienced Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to fill in the gap in leadership left exposed by the Kings inability to perform his duties due to rumored illness such as Alzheimer’s.
The new Prince has been spearheading a number of new policies to deal with a growing list of challenges for the Kingdom. A promise of dealing with international terrorism coming from Saudi’s new leadership is not matching their actual policy practices. Saudi Prince Mohammad Bin Salman made a public call at the end of 2015 for a joint Muslim coalition to unite and fight against regional and global terrorism. I remember watching the Crown Prince say:
“There are a number of countries that suffer from terrorism, for example, Daesh (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, Terrorism in Sinai, Yemen, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan which requires a strong effort to fight”.
Yet Saudi Arabia has done little (if anything) to combat ISIS or Al Qaeda’s numerous branches; there are even some very concerning cases which Saudi Arabia actually fights alongside Al Qaeda, such is the case in Yemen. Another promise made by the new Prince has so far failed to see any practical results. The promise to redesign the country’s economy, which relies too heavily on its oil exports for revenue during a period in which the oil prices are plummeting to an all-time low.
During such volatile times, a country in Saudi Arabia’s position (you would suspect) would begin to make plans to step back from costly or risky military ventures, not so for Saudi Arabia. The Saudi’s intervention in Yemen and Bahrain as well as supporting of opposition terrorists in Syria has cost Saudi billions of dollars with insignificant results. The Yemen conflict is just the latest of a growing list of military failures, a conflict which was supposed to have Sana’a back in Yemen’s ex-president Hadi’s grasp within a few weeks but now the conflict has dragged on for over a year, costing Saudi Billions. Saudi Arabia is now facing huge international condemnation for its various human rights abuses; the execution of a prominent Shia Ayatollah, Shiehk Nimr al-Nimr, for leading peaceful protests in Saudi Arabia caused huge international condemnation and needlessly created risks to Saudi Arabia’s lucrative relationship with the west. With the war in Yemen still raging during a time when Saudi has placed itself under the international spotlight for abuses to minorities, Saudi’s campaign in Yemen, like Egypt, may be referred to in history as Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam.
Before the war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia had complete freedom to buy arms from the west without scrutiny, despite have one of the worst human rights records in the world. Now all that past freedom is at risk, a number of countries have already backed away from any relationship with the warmongering state and now Saudi Arabia’s state religion is coming more under scrutiny from a global community which has simply had enough of Saudi Arabia’s reckless regard for human life. Saudi Arabia which is the home of the modern, radical Wahhabi ideology has also created major resentment from the world due to Saudi’s constant links with global Wahhabi terrorism, I am of course talking about Saudi Arabia’s links to the 9/11 attacks as the prime example, that is, of course, another huge topic which if you read the news carefully enough you will be aware of Saudi Arabia’s attempts to distance itself from the evidence linking its government to the 9/11 plane hijackers. However as in most cases, when trouble comes calling on Saudi’s doorstep, they just blame Iran!
If Saudi Arabia’s continued support for radical criminals isn’t enough evidence of immature management, a final example I can offer of the sheer incompetence of Saudi Arabia’s new ruling elite is the continuous calamities that surround the Islamic holy sites of Mecca and Medina in recent years. Stampedes, sectarian attacks on pilgrims, falling cranes, the harassment and poor treatment of pilgrims by Saudi religious police, bomb attacks in Medina, and a general politicization of what is supposed to be a religious place of worship open to all Muslims, all problems which have afflicted the holy sites in such a short space of time can only be explained by sheer incompetence by Saudi authorities.
The Hajj pilgrimage should always remain a non-political event which people of all nationalities can go and practice their faith in peace. The Hajj has instead become a dangerous affair, the latest major incident during the Hajj pilgrimage of 2015 saw a horrific stampede take place which has the death of an estimated 2,236 pilgrims, which some countries believe to be a gross underestimation. Iran (who lost some 464 pilgrims in the incident) has claimed that the actual loss of life exceeds 4700 deaths. Saudi was also accused of trying to hide the official figures in order to downplay the severity of the incident, which (some suggest) may have been caused by a Saudi Prince driving a convoy through a road which should have been reserved for the millions of pilgrims travelling around the city, leading to the Mina crush. For this year’s Hajj, following the horrendous stampede incident of 2015, Iran requested extra security measures to be made by the Saudi’s to ensure pilgrims safety. Saudi Arabia has refused to make any extra efforts despite what is an appalling record of gross incompetence in managing the safety of pilgrims. As a result, the Iranian government has not allowed its citizens the right to attend the most important religious event for Muslims due to fear of a repeated incident and failure of Saudi Arabia to offer unbiased protection and security to peaceful Muslim pilgrims.
The new Saudi administration reeks of inexperience and desperate times call for desperate measures. The Saudi regime seems to be jumping from one disaster to another, leaving journalists and regional experts at odds as to what the future could look like for Saudi Arabia and the region, the only thing we journalists all seem to agree on, me included, is whatever the future is for the Gulf, it probably won’t be the long await peace that has eluded the Middle East for all these years.
This interview was published in Ayatollah Khamenei’s website