Saudi Arabia simmers over U.S.-Iran communication

October 9, 2013

Riyadh upset with Washington’s moves in the Middle East, Mursi’s trial set for November, and businessmen stay away from dangerous investments in Russia. Today is Wednesday, October 9, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.  

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) has coffee with Saudi Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Abdulrahman upon his arrival at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, April 23, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Watson/Pool

Keep your friends close. Washington’s overtures to Tehran could shake the U.S.’s longstanding friendship with Saudi Arabia, which adds the recent direct communications between President Obama and his Iranian counterpart to a long list of grievances against its Western ally:

Engaged in what they see as a life-and-death struggle for the future of the Middle East with arch-rival Iran, Saudi rulers are furious that the international body has taken no action over Syria, where they and Tehran back opposing sides… The alliance between the United States, the biggest economy and most powerful democracy, and Saudi Arabia, the Islamic monarchy that dominates oil supplies, is not about to break. But, as happened 40 years ago next week when an OPEC oil embargo punished U.S. war support for Israel, Riyadh is willing – albeit without touching energy supplies – to defy Washington in defense of its regional interests.

On Monday, King Abdullah denounced the Muslim brotherhood in a rare TV appearance, indirectly criticizing the U.S. for not protecting then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak against the mass 2011 protests which led to his ouster. Saudi Arabia is primarily concerned with Shi’ite Muslim clerics who call for revolution in Iran and, they believe, contribute to anti-Sunni sentiment in the region at large. Iran has rejected any U.S. condition for participating in the Syria peace conference, effectively refusing to consider cease support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Iran will discuss its disputed nuclear program with world leaders next week, a meeting one former nuclear negotiator said should be used as an opportunity to build confidence between respective leaders.


University students and members of the Muslim Brotherhood shout slogans against the military in front of Cairo University in Cairo, October 8, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Brotherhood trial set. An Egyptian court set a November 4 date for deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi’s trial. Mursi and other Brotherhood leaders were charged with inciting violence during a protest that left dozens dead last December:

Mursi has been held in a secret location since his overthrow in early July. If he is brought before the court, it will be his first appearance in public since then. The trial could further inflame tensions between the Islamist movement and the army-backed government and deepen the political instability that has decimated tourism and investment in the most populous Arab state. Judge Nabil Saleeb said Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood members had been charged with “inciting the killing and torture of protesters in front of the Etihadeya (presidential) palace.”

A U.S. official said Washington will likely stick to an earlier decision to withhold most military aid from Egypt, as it walks the line between supporting the democratic process that led to Mursi’s election and maintaining ties with Egypt’s powerful army.

Private security officers guard the Georgian restaurant Khachapuri in Moscow, September 3, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Risky business. Men in hoods and balaclavas chased staff out of a restaurant with metal rods, beat employees, and smash furniture in a Moscow raid that exemplifies why investors are discouraged from Russia’s business landscape, where property laws offer little protection and corruption is pervasive:

Putin made improving Russia’s investment climate a priority when he returned to the Kremlin last year for a third term. He has since pushed through an amnesty on some economic crimes that has seen hundreds of entrepreneurs released from jail. Critics say the changes are cosmetic and that the weak rule of law and collusion between corrupt law enforcement and justice officials still mean that victims of corporate raids lack adequate recourse to defend their rights. Several small and medium-sized businesses in Moscow polled by Reuters for this article described an insecure environment with movable laws, weak enforcement and the threat of being targeted by government or law enforcement officials on the make.

One foreign businessman said he felt his interests were safe after seeking protection from local, well-connected investors, and one restaurant owner said, “You are protected as long as your property is not of any interest to the people in power.”

Nota Bene: Isolated Hamas struggles to meet its payroll in Gaza strip.


Not the worst – The U.S. debt disaster is still better than Japan’s. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Donut-muffin wars – An English bakery is disputing Starbucks’ proprietary claim to the “duffin.” (The Atlantic Cities)

Maduro-man – Maduro asks parliament for special powers to fight corruption. (BBC)

E-OK – The European Parliament rejects strict restrictions on e-cigarettes. (New York Times)

Virtual kidnap – Spanish band told by phone they could be shot at any time. (The Guardian)

From the File:

  • Around 60 dead in clashes in Central African Republic.
  • Former dictator Musharraf free to leave Pakistan.
  • China’s Bo Xilai can appeal life sentence.
  • Ancient letter details Australian outlaw Ned Kelly’s capture.
  • Turkish court upholds convictions of top officers over coup plot.


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