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Friday, September 09, 2016

Voices Saudi Arabia cannot pay its workers or bills – yet continues to fund a war in Yemen

World News | Mon Sep 5, 2016 12:20pm EDT Cash crunch at Saudi firm casts shadow over Lebanon's Hariris By Tom Perry | BEIRUT The Hariri family's pre-eminent role in Lebanese politics is being shaken by a financial crisis at its Saudi construction firm, a development that could dilute Sunni influence in the country and leave Iran's allies even more firmly in control. The troubles at Saudi Oger have led to a cash crunch and layoffs in Lebanon's Future Movement, the political party built with Saudi backing by the late statesman Rafik al-Hariri and now led by his son, Saad. The party's woes have led many analysts in Lebanon to ask whether Riyadh may be cutting its losses in a country increasingly dominated by the Iran-backed Shi'ite Hezbollah despite enormous Saudi efforts to counter it over the years. "We can't deny the existence of a financial crisis, which is a reflection of another one that has nothing to do with the organization. It has an indirect link to the crisis of Saudi Oger," said Rashed Fayed, a Future Movement official who is a member of its policy-making office. The financial engine behind the Hariri family's political network, Saudi Oger has been hit hard recently by a slowdown in the Saudi construction sector linked to the drop in oil prices and resulting state spending cuts. Wage payments to thousands of its workers have been delayed for months, according to Saudi media and the workers themselves. The company has declined to speak publicly about its finances. Many employees of Hariri-owned organizations in Lebanon also say they have not been paid in months. Sources in the Future Movement said some staff were laid off last week. One source, who declined to be named, said the layoffs aimed to cut costs across the movement to safeguard continued operations. The situation may reflect a bigger shift in Saudi policy as other countries become more important in its titanic struggle with Iran, notably Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, analysts say. Lebanon is one of the places where that conflict first flared: with Saudi support, Hariri spearheaded a political confrontation with Hezbollah following his father's assassination in 2005. "Is Hariri part of the past in Saudi, the present, or the future? This is the biggest question surrounding him," said commentator Jihad el-Zein. Although his party has deep roots in Lebanon's Sunni community built over decades, "we can't imagine a political history or presence for it without Saudi Arabia". A BIGGER SHIFT Despite Saudi efforts, Hezbollah's influence in Lebanon has grown only stronger. Riyadh canceled a $4 billion aid package to the Lebanese army and security forces in February over perceived Hezbollah influence on Lebanese foreign policy. The Saudi foreign minister said in March the group had "hijacked" government decisions. While Hezbollah built its legitimacy in the Shi'ite community on the fight to drive Israel from southern Lebanon, Rafik al-Hariri was building his by rebuilding Lebanon from its civil war. He became more powerful than any of a number of Sunni families that had historically led the community. An international tribunal has indicted five members of Hezbollah over his assassination. The group denies any role. Saad followed in his father's footsteps, becoming prime minister in 2009 until his unity government was toppled in 2011 by the resignation of Hezbollah and its allies. He then spent years outside the country, making only short visits until earlier this year when he returned permanently. The Hariri family's network includes media outlets and charitable foundations as well as the Future Movement's party bureaucracy, a large staff of advisors and regional offices. Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat said financial difficulties were first felt in 2009 "but in the last year it has become more acute". Public services including health support offered by the party have been cut back, he told Reuters. "Nothing has been halted completely, but nothing is at the previous level," he said. Fatfat was confident the Future Movement would remain politically dominant, however, "because people realize that we defend their real interests, the state, Sunni moderation and coexistence". AN OPPORTUNITY FOR REFORM? Also In World News Iraq militia fighters join battle for Syria's Aleppo Exclusive: ACT partners with test-prep firms despite signs of cheating in Asia Russian jet came within 10 feet of U.S. spy plane: U.S. officials Yemen foreign minister urges more support for fight against militia foes Hariri's opponents see his financial problems as a harbinger of his political demise. The pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar newspaper declared on the frontpage of its Friday edition that a "massacre" of Future Movement employees was underway. The big test will be parliamentary elections expected to be held next year for the first time since 2009, in which Hariri will face a growing challenge from Ashraf Rifi, a former ally who beat established Sunni politicians in local elections in the predominantly Sunni city of Tripoli in May. Rifi's tough rhetoric has struck a chord with Sunnis who are hostile to Iran and Hezbollah. Hariri is equally scathing in his public remarks, but his party's continued participation in government alongside Hezbollah has exposed him to criticism from hawks in the Sunni community. Rifi resigned from his post as justice minister in February in protest at what he saw as Hezbollah's domination in the unity government, which is widely seen as a guarantor of political stability. He also criticized Hariri for nominating a Hezbollah ally, Suleiman Franjieh, for the vacant presidency last year. For its part, Hezbollah is deeply suspicious of Rifi. Its refusal to consent to the extension of his term as chief of police contributed to the collapse of the government in 2013. While Rifi's politics have won him admirers in Saudi Arabia, where some see him as a potentially more effective ally than Hariri, he does not have the kind of countrywide presence built by the Hariris over nearly two decades. The Future Movement is due to convene a conference in October. Fayed, the Future Movement official, said the financial crisis was an opportunity for reform. A Future activist, who declined to be identified, said Hariri faced a struggle to redefine the movement, forecasting that his dominance would steadily diminish as other Sunni politicians gain ground. "Harirism was built on pillars -- financial capabilities and Arab Gulf backing. In 2016, political Harirism has neither of these," the activist said. Nabil Boumonsef, a commentator in An-Nahar newspaper, said it was too early to say how the crisis would play out for Hariri, who remains the strongest Sunni leader for now. But he warned against him being weakened. "Hariri is the main moderate Sunni force in Lebanon, and if this political track is damaged, you are damaging Sunni moderation," Boumonsef told Reuters. "This is very dangerous for Lebanon." (Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall) ================================= Voices Saudi Arabia cannot pay its workers or bills – yet continues to fund a war in Yemen In Saudi Arabia itself, the government seems unable to cope with the crisis. The 'Arab News' says that 31,000 Saudi and other foreign workers have lodged complaints with the government’s labour ministry over unpaid wages. On one occasion, the Indian consulate and expatriates brought food to the workers so that their people should not starve Robert Fisk @indyvoices 14 hours ago53 Voices Culture Lifestyle Tech Sport Paralympics Daily Edition Voices Saudi Arabia cannot pay its workers or bills – yet continues to fund a war in Yemen In Saudi Arabia itself, the government seems unable to cope with the crisis. The 'Arab News' says that 31,000 Saudi and other foreign workers have lodged complaints with the government’s labour ministry over unpaid wages. On one occasion, the Indian consulate and expatriates brought food to the workers so that their people should not starve Robert Fisk @indyvoices 14 hours ago53 comments 498 jeddah-skyline.jpg Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Wikipedia Almost exactly a year after Salman bin Albdulaziz Al Saud, king of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and head of the House of Saud, hurriedly left his millionaire’s mansion near Cannes with his 1,000 servants to continue his vacation in Morocco, the kingdom’s cash is not flowing so smoothly for the tens of thousands of sub-continental expatriates sweating away on his great building sites. Almost unreported outside the Kingdom, the country’s big construction magnates – including that of the Binladen group – have not been paid by the Saudi government for major construction projects and a portion of the army of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and other workers have received no wages, some of them for up to seven months. Indian and Pakistani embassies approached the Saudi government, pleading that their workers should be paid. Economists who adopt the same lickspittle attitude towards the Saudi monarchy as the British Government, constantly point out that the authorities have been overwhelmed by the collapse of oil prices. They usually prefer not to mention something at which the rest of the world remains aghast: deputy crown prince and defence minister Mohamed bin Salman’s wasteful and hopeless war in Yemen. Since the king’s favourite son launched this preposterous campaign against the Houthis last year, supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni president against Shia Muslim rebels, aircraft flown by Saudi and Emirati pilots (aided by British technical “experts” on the ground) have bombed even more hospitals, clinics and medical warehouses than America has destroyed in Serbia and Afghanistan combined since The result? A country with 16 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves, whose Aramco oil company makes more than $1bn a day and now records a budget deficit of $100bn, cannot pay its bills. At first, the Yemen fiasco was called “Operation Decisive Storm”, which – once it proved the longest and least decisive Arab “storm” in the Middle East’s recent history – was changed to “Operation Restore Hope”. And the bombing went on, just as it did in the pre-“hope” “storm”, along with the help of the UK’s “experts”. No wonder the very same deputy crown prince Mohamed announced this year that state spending on salaries would be lowered, yet individual earnings would rise. In Pakistan, whose soldiers make up a large number of the “Saudi” armed forces, there has been outrage, parliamentarians are asking why three Saudi companies have not paid salaries for eight months, refusing even to provide food for their employees. In some cases, the Pakistanis have paid their own nationals for food supplies. In Saudi Arabia itself, the government seems unable to cope with the crisis. The Arab News says that 31,000 Saudi and other foreign workers have lodged complaints with the government’s labour ministry over unpaid wages. On one occasion, the Indian consulate and local Indian expatriates brought food to the workers so that their people should not starve. The overall figure that the government owes the construction companies owed may be billions of dollars. Overtly xenophobic comments have emerged in the Saudi press. Writing in the Saudi Gazette, Abdulrtahman Saad Al-Araabi said: “Many expats hate us and are angry because we are a rich country. Some of them go so far as to say that we, Saudis, do not deserve these blessings and the money we have. That is the reason why some of them become violent when they do not get paid on time.” people are paying a lot of cash to the Jabhat al-Nusra (recently re-named Jabhat Fateh al-Shamal-Nusrah) or Al-Qaeda or Isis lads out there in the line of fire in Syria. Embassy staff from the Philippines, France and many countries in the Middle East, have raised the problems with the Saudi government. Typical of their responses has been that of Saudi Oger which said it had been “affected by current circumstances [sic] which resulted in some delays in delays in fulfilling our commitments to our employees”. The Saudi government insisted the company paid its employees. Many of them, it should be added, are Lebanese whose Sunni Muslims come from the Sunni areas of Lebanon who traditionally vote for the Sunni leader’s son Saad. An official of the company made the extraordinary statement that “the company’s situation is unstable due to the scrapping [sic] of many of its projects it was to execute,” Meanwhile, workers at United Seemac construction company are complaining they have not been paid for months – or even granted permission to leave the country. Some had apparently not been paid for more than a year and a half. Unlike the big companies such as Binladen and Oger, these men – and they are indeed mostly men – are consumed into the smaller employees. “All the attention is on the big companies – it’s easy to ignore us because we are not so many people.” All in all, a dodgy scenario in our beloved monarchy-dictatorship, whose war against the Shia Houthis – and the Shia Hezbollah, the Shia/Alawite regime in Damascus and Iran – is unending. Wasn’t there an equally dodgy Al-Yamamah arms deal with the Saudis a few years ago? No cash flow problems then. And what does “yamamah” mean in Arabic? “Dove”? Let us go no further. 498

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