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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Arab Royal Families of the Persian Gulf (Part I)

(I have chosen to leave the link empty tonight.  Anyone requiring additional information on these families can use Google, which is full of interesting, sometimes scandalous and often incorrect details.)

The Persian Gulf region is home to no-less than twelve royal families of Arab descent. I have chosen to not include the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, even though they descend from the Arabian Peninsula, because King Abdullah is not sitting on a mountain of oil. The royal families of Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman are in a class of wealth all to themselves. In the 1980s, when it became fashionable to flaunt money, media stories of Arab Shaykhs purchasing private jumbo jets, Beverly Hills property and entire retail store chains were a regular part of the news cycle. The environment has become a bit more discreet.  The ruling families of the Gulf region are traditional and conservative, but it is an Islamic brand of conservatism that bears little resemblance to the Heritage Foundation and the Koch brothers.  They must conduct a daily balancing act, between the need to be loyal to Islam and the fear of revolution from Islamic traditionalist within their own countries.  All of the Gulf states have traditionally been allies of the United States and Europe.  Americans and Europeans are the largest consumers of Arab oil (China may have moved into first place recently, but I don't think so), and the West has always more or less guaranteed the security of the various Gulf monarchies.  One fact that you can bet on: the Gulf states close the wagons when necessary and will do what it takes to protect one another.  In 1990 Saddam Hussein, claiming that the Emirate was actually a province of Iraq, invaded and occupied Kuwait.  The other monarchies immediately began utilizing financial resources and diplomatic effort in order to send Saddam packing.  They were successful.  Today's post will focus on Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, and tomorrow we will have a close look at Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE.

House of Sabah: The Kuwaiti royal family has extremely close ties to the United Kingdom (as do a number of other Gulf families).  Not only does Kuwait sit on top of a significant amount of oil, it also happens to be located in a very sensitive and valuable piece of real estate.  All sea-bound Iraqi oil must past through the Shatt al-Arab river at the northern shore of the Persian Gulf (the Shatt al-Arab is more of a confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers as opposed to an actual river).  If Iran were so inclined (and the west did not intervene), the Iranian military is more than capable of occupying both the Shatt al-Arab and Kuwait, which would give the Iranians control of a nice chunk of the world's exportable petroleum.  The Sabah family is actually not nearly as conservative as some of the other Gulf families.  Recently, women were allowed to stand for Parliament (a rump Parliament totally subservient to the Sabah family, but still, its a start) and suggestions have been made about granting more rights to the thousands of foreign workers in Kuwait (who do all the nasty work so the wealthy Kuwaitis don't have to get their hands dirty).  After the nightmare of Iraqi occupation, during which many Kuwaitis were executed, Kuwait made efforts to expand its military and strengthen its border with Iraq.  But its a question of manpower.  Kuwait will never have a population large enough to support a legitimate army of national defense. So Kuwait stays on the good side of the United States, at least diplomatically.  On the other hand, the Kuwaitis allow extremists and fundamentalists to recruit and purchase equipment openly, and appear to support ISIL efforts to depose Bashir al-Assad in Syria.  Its a tough choice for Kuwait.  The economy flourishes when they allow an open market for services needed by terrorist groups, and the Sabahs have never been fans of the Ba'athists in Damascus or Baghdad. But the Sabahs have gotten in trouble before by trying to play both sides of the fence.  If they allow enough of a presence of terrorists and like scum into Kuwait City (ostensibly for business purposes), they just might find themselves thrown out of the Palace by ISIL or Al Qaeda.  And I for one would leave them to their devices.

House of Thani: I have always had a particular fascination for the Thani family and Qatar.  Similar to the royal houses of the UAE, the Thanis have been around since the invention of the wheel, and they have always worn the pants in Doha. When Saddam invaded Iraq in 1990, the Qataris were a bit worried that, if unopposed, Saddam just might swallow up little Qatar as well.  History and a review of Saddam's true intentions reveal that they didn't have much to worry about, but the Thanis are firm believers in "never hedging your bets". While cultivating a strong relationship with the United States military (Qatar is home to the U.S. Air Force Al Udeid Base, whose location is strategic, to say the least),  The Qatari royal family is quite large, in proportion to the total population of Qatar.  It is believed that one branch of the Thani family supports the Islamic fundamentalist cause.  Terrorists have been known to use Qatar as one giant safe house, with particular terrorists (wanted for murder by Interpol and the United States) actually allowed into the palace to meet the Emir!  Qatar does appreciate the money they receive as rent for the large U.S. Air Force Base, and also the protection from the bad guys in Teheran (and Baghdad), but the royal family is very happy to play both sides.  One can only imagine if the CIA of old was allowed to conduct one night of multiple renditions in Qatar, how many squealing terrorist pigs we could  pick up.  One can dream.....

House of Khalifa: The current head of the Al-Khalifa family in Bahrain is Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.  Bahrain professes to be a teeny tiny bit democratic, in that issues pertaining to the state and the royal family are debated by the seventeen-strong Ruling Family Council.  Unlike the other Gulf states, the Arab Spring of 2011 arrived in Bahrain with a vengeance.  The people of Bahrain decided to join the party, and riots broke out in Manama, the capital city. The U.S. Naval Base (Naval Support Activity Bahrain) nor any other U.S. institutions were ever in any real danger. The anger that led to demonstrations seemed to be centered amongst students and young people. The Ruling Family Council, never very popular with the Qatari people, was taken by surprise. Although the situation was eventually brought under control, the Al-Khalifas were both scared and embarrassed. Since then the Prime Minister and government functionaries have been very patient with voices of discontent, and the family has made an effort to appear open to the public. Again, (interestingly enough), the anger of the demonstrators never really seemed focused on the American presence. The people were acting with one voice, asking for more authority in the government and more overall freedom. Bahrain seems more ripe for a Beatles revolution that it does an Islamic fundamentalist one.

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