As we noted in September (when the price had just dipped below $100 a barrel), after an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, the world oil price has since slumped. It now stands at around $60 a barrel. Recall that way back in late 2001, when the US was invading Afghanistan, it stood at a lowly $11. At that time, we predicted an imminent price shock to jump-start the planned industry expansion—both in the Caspian Basin and here at home, overcoming environmental concerns. Boy, were we right. The price of a barrel first broke the $100 mark in 2008, and has frequently crossed it in the years since then, although it never quite hit the much-feared $200-a-barrel. But now the petro-oligarchs are talking like $100 may be the new $200. Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi last month answered "we may not" when asked if markets would ever lift prices to $100 again. (CNN, Dec. 23) How much of this are we to believe, and what is really behind the slump?
SEAL Team 6 commandos raided a village near Wadi Abdan in Yemen's southern Shabwa governorate (see map) early Dec. 6, in an effort to rescue a US photojournalist held hostage by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but the captors killed the journalist and a South African held with him. (NYT, BBC News, The Telegraph, Dec. 6) The failed raid came days after it was reported that Saudi Arabia suspended aid to Yemen in response to the growing power of the Shi'ite Houthi rebels. Although word is just breaking now, the aid was apparently cut off after Houthi fighters took over the capital Sanaa in September. (Al Jazeera America, Dec. 4) While the rebels have ostensibly withdrawn from Sanaa under a peace deal, they continue to expand their control of several key points around the city, on Dec. 6 seizing control of the Yemeni military academy. The Defense Ministry has broached incorporating the Houthi fighters into the national army. (DPA, Dec. 6)
Hundreds of thousands from across Saudi Arabia attended a funeral for the victims of an attack earlier this week on a Shi'ite meeting hall in the village of al-Dalwa, Eastern Province. Mourners repudiated sectarianism, chanting "Sunnis and Shi'ites, we are brothers!" Calling the funeral march a "demonstration of national unity," marchers said they represent the "silent majority" that opposes sectarianism. Eight people—including three children—were killed in the Nov. 3 attack, when masked gunmen fired on a crowd of people celebrating Ashura. Saudi authorities responded with a huge security operation, arresting 15 in six cities across the country. Two security troops were killed in a raid in central Qassim province, and three suspects shot dead. Authorities say one of the attackers had recently returned from fighting (presumably for ISIS) in Iraq and Syria. (Middle East Eye, Nov. 7)
Saudi Arabian rights activists on Nov. 1 said that authorities had arrested Suad al-Shamari, a prominent women's rights advocate, for insulting Islam. The arrest, they said, was part of an effort to eliminate dissent. Suad al-Shamari is a founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, a liberal human rights group. Last month, in a reference to religious or tribal leaders, Shamari posted on Twitter that she had been called "immoral and an infidel" for her criticisms of "their sheiks." Another founder of the rights group, Raef Badawi, was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam, a conviction upheld by an appellate court in September. His wife said Oct. 31 on Twitter that Shamari is in Jeddah prison for the same charge. One of the activists reporting her arrest, who wished to remain unnamed, stated that this charge is commonly used against those who work to defend human rights.
A court in Saudi Arabia on Oct. 27 sentenced three lawyers to between five and eight years in prison for criticizing the justice system on the social networking website Twitter by accusing authorities of carrying out arbitrary detentions. The Saudi Press Agency reported that the lawyers were each convicted of different crimes, including using the social media outlet to propagate against the Saudi judiciary, criticize Islamic Sharia law and interfere in the independence of the judiciary. The lawyers are also banned from using social media and traveling. The court also warned other social media users that they could face similar punishment for similar offenses and that they were being monitored.
Sh'iite Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was convicted Oct. 15 of sedition and other charges in Saudi Arabia's Specialized Criminal Court and sentenced to death, raising fears of unrest from his supporters in neighboring Bahrain. Al-Nimr has been a vocal critic of the majority Sunni government in Saudi Arabia and was a key leader in the 2011 Arab Spring-inspired Sh'iite protests in the country. Al-Nimr was found guilty of not obeying King Abdullah, not pledging allegiance to him or the state, incitement of vandalism and sectarian strife, demonizing Saudi rulers, calling for the collapse of the state, and insulting relatives and companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Disobeying the ruler is a charge punishable by death. Prosecutors unsuccessfully asked that the body and head be put on public display, a severe punishment only rarely carried out. Al-Nimr will likely appeal the sentence, as activists are typically given long jail sentences on appeal despite harsh verdicts.
Saudi Arabia is persecuting rights activists and silencing government critics, according to a report issued Oct. 10 by Amnesty International (AI). AI finds that members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) have been persecuted since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011. The Saudi government has reportedly targeted 11 of the founding members of the ACPRA since 2011, eight of whom are currently detained, with the remaining three awaiting outcome of their trials. The director of AI's Middle East program, Said Boumedouha charged that "Saudi Arabian authorities have sought to wipe out all trace of ACPRA, just as they have sought to stamp out all critical voices demanding peaceful reform." AI urged the Saudi government to cease its campaign against these political protesters:
The US carried out its first air-strikes against ISIS targets in Syria on Sept. 22. In a statement, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the US used "a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles" launched from the USS George HW Bush in the Persian Gulf. Kirby said that because these strikes are ongoing, he could not give details about where they took place. But an unnamed Pentagon official told NPR the strikes targeted positions near Raqqa, the ISIS de facto capital. Planes from five Arab countries participated in the strikes—also not named by Kirby, although FoxNews identified them as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar. There was no indication that the Syrian government had been consulted on the strikes, as Damascus had demanded.