Casualties of the Middle East’s Information Wars

    Why should the United States embroil itself further in the Middle East’s multiple proxy wars when America’s putative allies are more consumed with fighting among themselves than in combatting our mutual enemies?

    On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, ordered Qatari citizens to leave their countries and closed their borders, ports and airspace to Qatar.  They took these steps in response to, among other things, allegations of Qatari interference in their internal affairs, including support for extremists and political dissidents.  Since then, these oil-rich combatants have turned the United States into a battleground in their regional dispute.   

    As documented by The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/31/world/middleeast/hacking-united-arab-emirates-nso-group.html) and Wall Street Journal (https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-new-lobbying-qatar-targeted-250-trump-influencers-to-change-u-s-policy-1535554647) Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and untold political capital tearing each other down in the U.S., while Iran continues to clean our clock in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. 

    The casualty list of this scorched earth campaign is long and growing.  First and foremost are the Trump Administration’s efforts to weaken and isolate the Islamic Republic of Iran. A united front against Tehran remains a pipe dream as long as this crisis continues.  Moreover, Iran has become Qatar’s primary source of food imports now that supplies through Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been cut off. 

    The reliability of the Gulf states as U.S. allies has also been called into question.  What are U.S. policymakers to think when their partners’ petty internal squabbles not only prevent coordinated action against our most pressing common enemy – Iran, but more importantly provide the clerical regime there a golden opportunity to exploit these differences to its advantage? 

    By bringing their battle to America’s shores, these states have made U.S. politicians and pundits their tools to curry favor and gain influence.  Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was paid fifty thousand dollars by the Government of Qatar to visit the emirate.  Leaked emails reveal that Elliott Broidy, the former Finance Chairman of the Republican National Committee, colluded with Saudi Arabia and the UAE to remove Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was seen as too close to Qatar. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/21/us/politics/george-nader-elliott-broidy-uae-saudi-arabia-white-house-influence.html).  Broidy has in turn sued the Government of Qatar, alleging that it hacked his email accounts and leaked stolen and forged material to U.S. and foreign journalists. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-fundraiser-elliott-broidy-sues-qatar-alleging-cyber-smear-campaign/2018/03/26/29f1a962-3118-11e8-8bdd-cdb33a5eef83_story.html?utm_term=.e8a4fd3a2172)

    For me, this food fight is personal.  I am a Saudi dissident who was exiled from Saudi Arabia for denouncing the monarchy’s corruption, religious intolerance, and its practice of silencing all manner of dissent. I am known to be independent of any party or government since my arrival in Washington, D.C. in 2001. For the past twenty years, as the founder and Director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs (https://www.gulfinstitute.org/), I have been speaking out against human rights violations by the Saudi monarchy and advocating for a more representative system of government guided by a modern constitution.

    My outspokenness has made me yet another casualty of the Middle East’s information wars. On May 15, I was publicly accused by the President of the Saudi America Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC) of being “terrorist” who “will use any means to exterminate the prospects of a peaceful world.” (https://www.politico.com/newsletters/politico-influence/2018/07/10/martin-joins-cozen-oconnor-275176). SAPRAC is a U.S.-based lobbying vehicle for the Saudi regime. A significant portion of its funding comes from Riyadh, where its senior management live and work. The President of SAPRAC has close affiliations with virulent anti-Semitism. (https://dailycaller.com/2018/07/26/saudi-arabia-foreign-agent/), yet the firm remains a favored mouthpiece in the Saudi regime’s efforts to burnish its image and denigrate its critics.   

    The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an important country.  Its stability and dependability as a U.S. ally is critical for the well being of the region and the national security of the United States.  We all benefit from a full, frank and honest discussion of the Kingdom’s policies at home and abroad.  Attempts to silence voices such as mine do a disservice to a committed and informed public. 

    Put simply, the people of America and the Middle East deserve better. We should endeavor to amplify, not silence, those who speak out for truth and transparency.  The Government of Saudi Arabia would do well to distance itself from organizations such as SAPRAC that engage in ad hominem attacks intended to vilify well-intentioned critics and voices of dissent.  Nothing would demonstrate better the Saudi regime’s purportedly good intentions than to disavow the thuggish tactics of SAPRAC, which is paid to advocate on its behalf. 

    Ali al Ahmed is the founder and President of the Institute for Gulf Affairs. 

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