Arabic language news update by Barry Webb September 16

The number one topic this past week in the Arabic media is the attack against the Abqaiq oil refinery installations in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.

Immediately after the attack the Shi’a Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility saying that they used ten drones to attack two separate refineries in Saudi Arabia’s eastern region. These claims were made in a Houithi-produced video which circulated on the internet.

Subsequent news reports out of the U.S. have claimed that the drones and “cruise missiles” were fired from Iranian soil. However, the Kuwaitis have complained that the missiles were fired from Iraqi soil right across the border from them. From this standpoint Kuwait has asked for a closer military cooperation with Saudi Arabia without specifying what that would entail, but one would suspect an “Iron Dome” type of defense to take down anything flying over Kuwaiti territory.

On 17 September published an article repeating the Houthi claim of responsibility without mentioning which refinery, or refineries, were hit or how many drones were used. In this article the Houthis threated that “there is more to come,” then made the case that as long as Saudi Arabia is bombing them, the Saudis have to expect repayment in kind.

(Note that the Houthi claim of responsibility was met with some doubt in international quarters because this attack represented an exponential upgrade in technology and expertise than previously exhibited by the Houthis. If the Houthis did in deed execute this attack, it would mean that they had the ability to strike anywhere in Saudi Arabia and/or the U.A.E.)


The entire south and east of Iraq is predominantly Shi’a, and a number of Iranian militias and Iranian-sponsored Iraqi Shi’a militias have been operating in that area since the U.S. invasion of Iraqi in 2003. The Iranian-sponsored Iraqi Shi’a militias are called heshd sha’bi meaning “popular mobilization” and it was one of these groups that recently fired a missile into the protected so-called “Green Zone” of Baghdad which contains most of the Foreign Embassies, including that of the U.S. Therefore, it is not inconceivable that one of these groups operating in S.E. Iraq could have fired the drones and/or missiles from Iraqi soil.

That being said, though, whether it was the Iranian-backed Houthis of Yemen, or the heshd sha’bi of Iraq, or the Iranians themselves, in either case Iran is responsible. The equipment, technology, and expertise to handle a weapons system of this sort and the skills to pull off such a precise hit from a targeting standpoint could have come only from a state actor. This action is in line with Iran’s behavior over the past several months of using its proxies in Yemen, Iraq, and other countries to do its dirty work. It can therefore claim deniability, though the technology, equipment, and targeting instructions were given to said proxies by Iran.

What Iran is trying to do here is to deliver a message that if they cannot sell their petroleum resources to the outside world, then neither can any of America’s allies in the region. The Iranian Mullah’s may be also trying to shore up their sagging popularity on the home front by trying to play macho in the international arena by seeing how far they can go in terms of giving the American giant a black eye without directly hitting an American installation or killing American personnel which could invite a response Iran has no desire to suffer.


Tunisia held presidential elections this past Sunday, 15 September. The final results according to the independent Tunisian election commission were reported on 17 September by . According to these results, established politicians fell victim to the public’s contempt as only 45% of the electorate bothered to show up at the polls. As a result, a couple of outsiders were able to grab the top two spots out of a field of 26, and will compete in the run-off election in a couple of weeks.

The winners were a lawyer named Qays Sa’eyiid running as an independent and garnering 18.4% of the vote, and a businessman currently under arrest for corruption and money laundering named Nabeel al-Qarouri. Running under the banner of the “heart of Tunis” party he garnered 15.5 % of the vote.

The candidate of the Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood-allied party an-nahdhah garnered 12.8 %, a significant downturn for that party which had won 34% and 33% in the previous two elections.


In the days prior to the elections, the Tunisian candidates held televised debates American style, with all the candidates lined up on stage, seven at a time, standing behind lecterns. That was an interesting development for an Arab country, and the decline in popularity of the Islamist party punctuates that. Perhaps Tunisia will become the first Arab country to develop a real democracy, and a system of government that is neither a theocracy, monarchy, or a military dictatorship. We can only hope.

But, things do not look so good in Egypt:


Arab Spring 2.0 may hit Cairo streets this Friday. A well-known 26-year old singer/actor and “contractor” named Muhammad ‘Ali has used social media platforms to send out a flyer promoting a campaign to force current Egyptian President as-Sisi out of office.

This Muhammad ‘Ali was born in Denmark to an Egyptian father and an Iraqi mother and has been performing concerts all over Europe, as well as acting in movies and TV dramas. In recent years he has been serving as a “contractor” for the Egyptian army.

Using social media, he has called upon Egyptians to take to the streets in every province of Egypt to demand as-Sisi’s removal, and according to a 16 September article on his flyer has received “unprecedented response.”

He apparently believes that if his flyer can collect more than 30 million favorable hits, backed up by huge street protests this Friday, that as-Sisi and his retinue will have no choice but to step down. Among his accusations against the as-Sisi regime is corruption. He further claims that neither the army, police, or people want to see as-Sisi remain in power.

If the internet campaign does not convince as-Sisi to step down, then according to Muhammad ‘Ali the people should stage a peaceful protest in the streets for just one hour to deliver a stronger message.

For its part, according to a 16 September report on the Egyptian ministry of interior has gone into high security alert mode. They have cancelled all leave requests by officers, and ordered those currently on leave to return to work. They are busy trying to gather the names of people who are forwarding these flyers and videos to others, and threatening to shut down the internet entirely. The security officers have also been ordered to talk to their relatives and neighbors to instill fear in them should as-Sisi be removed saying that they will become “refugees on the borders of other countries because there is no alternative for leading Egypt” (than as-Sisi).

A left-wing activist Kemal Khaleel has already been arrested.


In the fall of 2018 I wrote a short essay for the Clarion Project entitled Trouble in Egypt?
I reposted it along with some updates and expansions on several months ago under the title Arab Spring 2.0: Will it come to Egypt?

Well, unfortunately it looks like my fact-based predictions are coming true. Even if nothing transpires this weekend, the pressure will continue to build. The carrot and stick approach as-Sisi is using will only go so far. And, the regime’s arresting of leftists serves only to antagonize its only potential allies.

As I’ve pointed out before, as-Sisi has been trying to impose his brand of a “Disneyland Islam” on the country by brute force while pretending that real Islam does not exist out fear that the guardians of “real Islam” in al-Azhar will turn against him and replace him with a “true believer” more to their liking.

This Muhammad ‘Ali who is trying to stir up this new revolution is, as a singer and actor, a denizen of what I call in my book “Disneyland Islam,” and likely has no conception whatever of what “real Islam” entails. The same can be said of the majority of the Egyptian people as over 80% of them still think that they want Shari’a law to be the law of the land without the faintest idea of what that means. In 2013 they rejected a Shari’a government thinking that the “real Islam” being imposed by the Muslim Brotherhood government was not “real Islam.”

Boy, will they be surprised once again, because, as-Sisi’s security people are right: If President as-Sisi is removed chaos will follow and unsavories will gain control of the country. Those unsavories will be Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood variety. It will be a repeat of the rejected Muhammad Mursi government, though with a more subtle, and gradual approach to imposing Shari’a. It will also be closely allied to Turkey, Qatar, and possibly Iran.

And, as I pointed out before, if Egypt blows expect total chaos across the entire Middle East from Morocco to Iraq and Saudi Arabia.


Barry Webb had a 25-year career as an Arabist for the NSA, holds two MA degrees in related subject matter, and is currently a senior fellow for Americans for Intelligence Reform He is also the author of CONFESSIONS OF AN (EX) NSA SPY: Why America and its Allies are Losing the War on Terror. His website is:

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