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from pjmedia:

Late last month, Ramin Parsa, a Christian pastor who fled Iran as a religious refugee, was arrested for privately sharing his faith testimony in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. He fled persecution in Iran and Turkey, only to find persecution in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

“I came to the U.S. as a political and religious — as a Christian — refugee. They oppressed me for my faith in Iran. I was stabbed in Iran,” Parsa told PJ Media in an interview on Tuesday. Then last week, he was arrested for a private conversation about his faith, handcuffed to a metal chair for four hours without water, and later charged with trespassing.

“These things might happen in other countries, oppressive dictatorships, but not in America,” the pastor said.

Parsa, a pastor at Redemptive Love Ministries International in Los Angeles, Calif., traveled to Minnesota for two days to visit two different churches. He went to the Mall of America (MOA) on Saturday, August 25, with an elder from one of the churches, and with the elder’s 14-year-old son. Shortly after entering the mall, he struck up a conversation with two Somali-American women.

“Our conversation was casual. At first, we were not talking about the gospel,” Parsa recalled. “They asked me, ‘Are you a Muslim?’ I said, ‘No, I used to be a Muslim and I’m a Christian now.’ I was telling them the story of how I converted.”

A passerby could not stand the discussion, however. “Another lady told the guard, ‘This guy is harassing us!'” MOA security came and told Parsa to stop soliciting. “I said, ‘We’re not soliciting.’ But we just left,” the pastor explained.

The pastor and his friends went into a coffee shop, bought a latte, and came out. Parsa told PJ Media he thought that would be the end of it. He was sorely mistaken.

“When we came out of the coffee shop, three guards were waiting for us, and they arrested me right there,” the pastor recalled. “They came after me and arrested me, and said, ‘You cannot talk religion here.'”

Parsa told security he was a pastor. “They told me, ‘We arrested pastors before,'” he recalled, still shocked by the answer. “It was something normal for them, they were used to it.”

Meanwhile, the two Somali-American women who wanted to hear the pastor’s story argued with the woman who reported him to security. They defended Parsa. Onlookers asked why the man was being arrested. “They said, ‘Because he’s a Christian,'” Parsa told PJ Media.

All this was bad enough, but the guards proceeded to abuse the pastor once he was in custody.

“They handcuffed both my hands to a metal chair that was bolted to the ground in a basement,” Parsa said. He said it reminded him of the KGB, the notorious secret police in the Soviet Union.

“They began to file a report and they wanted to take my picture. I said, ‘You cannot take my picture — you arrested me wrongfully,'” the pastor recalled. “They said, ‘Then you’re going to stay here longer.'”

Later, Parsa asked for a glass of water. They refused, unless he would allow them to take his picture. He asked to go to the bathroom. Again, they refused. Shortly before the police came, his captors relented.

“He gave me half of a really small cup of water,” the pastor said. “He was trying to buy me out with that water.”

After nearly four hours, the police arrived.

“The police came to open my handcuffs, and the handcuffs were very tight. It was hurting my hands,” Parsa recalled. “The guard said, ‘I don’t think it hurts that much.'”

He suggested that the security guards treated him with special malice because he is a pastor. “I believe they treated me worse,” he insisted.

The Mall of America did not respond to PJ Media’s request for comment.

After the police took the pastor’s mugshot and fingerprints, they charged him with criminal trespassing. He paid $78 to bail himself out, and his friends picked him up at 2 a.m. While that bail amount may seem low, the pastor insisted, “Every cent is too much for something I haven’t done.”

“I’ve gone through this before — in Muslim countries I was arrested for passing out bibles,” Parsa said. “I didn’t expect that would happen in America. As a citizen in America, I have rights. They denied my basic rights.”

The pastor compared the mistreatment he suffered in Minnesota to the persecution he faced in Iran and Turkey.

“When I became a Christian, I was stabbed, I ran away from Iran. I went to Turkey for two years as a refugee. We had a church and we were passing out Bibles. I was arrested,” Parsa recounted. He mentioned Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American pastor imprisoned in Turkey and charged with terrorism. “They thought the American government was paying us to pass out bibles. I said I wish they would,” he remarked, wryly.

When at last he came to America, he was relieved. “With tears in my eyes, I was so thankful to be in America, where I can express myself, nobody can stop me or oppress me for my faith… and then this happened to me,” Parsa said.

When his family heard the news, they thought it couldn’t possibly have happened in America. “When they realized it happened here, they were really shocked,” the pastor remarked.

Parsa posted about the ordeal on Facebook, and shortly thereafter, the government of Iran arrested his cousin for handing out bibles. “We are praying that my cousin will make it out. My nephew is in hiding,” he said.

read the full article here.

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from Got Questions:

Jesus’ command not to judge others could be the most widely quoted of His sayings, even though it is almost invariably quoted in complete disregard of its context. Here is Jesus’ statement: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Many people use this verse in an attempt to silence their critics, interpreting Jesus’ meaning as “You don’t have the right to tell me I’m wrong.” Taken in isolation, Jesus’ command “Do not judge” does indeed seem to preclude all negative assessments. However, there is much more to the passage than those three words.

The Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean we cannot show discernment. Immediately after Jesus says, “Do not judge,” He says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matthew 7:6). A little later in the same sermon, He says, “Watch out for false prophets. . . . By their fruit you will recognize them” (verses 15–16). How are we to discern who are the “dogs” and “pigs” and “false prophets” unless we have the ability to make a judgment call on doctrines and deeds? Jesus is giving us permission to tell right from wrong.

Also, the Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean all actions are equally moral or that truth is relative. The Bible clearly teaches that truth is objective, eternal, and inseparable from God’s character. Anything that contradicts the truth is a lie—but, of course, to call something a “lie” is to pass judgment. To call adultery or murder a sin is likewise to pass judgment—but it’s also to agree with God. When Jesus said not to judge others, He did not mean that no one can identify sin for what it is, based on God’s definition of sin.

And the Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean there should be no mechanism for dealing with sin. The Bible has a whole book entitled Judges. The judges in the Old Testament were raised up by God Himself (Judges 2:18). The modern judicial system, including its judges, is a necessary part of society. In saying, “Do not judge,” Jesus was not saying, “Anything goes.”

Elsewhere, Jesus gives a direct command to judge: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24). Here we have a clue as to the right type of judgment versus the wrong type. Taking this verse and some others, we can put together a description of the sinful type of judgment:

Superficial judgment is wrong. Passing judgment on someone based solely on appearances is sinful (John 7:24). It is foolish to jump to conclusions before investigating the facts (Proverbs 18:13). Simon the Pharisee passed judgment on a woman based on her appearance and reputation, but he could not see that the woman had been forgiven; Simon thus drew Jesus’ rebuke for his unrighteous judgment (Luke 7:36–50).

Hypocritical judgment is wrong. Jesus’ command not to judge others in Matthew 7:1 is preceded by comparisons to hypocrites (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16) and followed by a warning against hypocrisy (Matthew 7:3–5). When we point out the sin of others while we ourselves commit the same sin, we condemn ourselves (Romans 2:1).

Harsh, unforgiving judgment is wrong. We are “always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:2). It is the merciful who will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7), and, as Jesus warned, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

Self-righteous judgment is wrong. We are called to humility, and “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6). The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector was confident in his own righteousness and from that proud position judged the publican; however, God sees the heart and refused to forgive the Pharisee’s sin (Luke 18:9–14).

Untrue judgment is wrong. The Bible clearly forbids bearing false witness (Proverbs 19:5). “Slander no one” (Titus 3:2).

Christians are often accused of “judging” or intolerance when they speak out against sin. But opposing sin is not wrong. Holding aloft the standard of righteousness naturally defines unrighteousness and draws the slings and arrows of those who choose sin over godliness. John the Baptist incurred the ire of Herodias when he spoke out against her adultery with Herod (Mark 6:18–19). She eventually silenced John, but she could not silence the truth (Isaiah 40:8).

Believers are warned against judging others unfairly or unrighteously, but Jesus commends “right judgment” (John 7:24, ESV). We are to be discerning (Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). We are to preach the whole counsel of God, including the Bible’s teaching on sin (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:2). We are to gently confront erring brothers or sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:1). We are to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15–17). We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

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“The apparent discrimination against Christians by the United Kingdom and the UNHCR is all the more disturbing in light of studies that find Christians to be the most persecuted faith in the world.”

from The Gatestone Institute:

The British government appears recently to have decided that it would like to give the impression that it cares about persecuted Christians. Prime Minister Theresa May said in Parliament on July 18:

“As a Government we stand with persecuted Christians all over the world and will continue to support them. It is hard to comprehend that today we still see people being attacked and murdered because of their Christianity, but we must reaffirm our determination to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions and beliefs and for them to be able to practise their beliefs in peace and security.”

The British Government even recently appointed its first Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief with Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, a former minister, filling the post. According to the government, the role “will promote the UK’s firm stance on religious tolerance abroad, helping to tackle religious discrimination in countries where minority faith groups face persecution”.

Prime Minister May said she looked “forward to supporting [Lord Ahmad] in this new role as he works with faith groups and governments across the world to raise understanding of religious persecution and what we can do to eliminate it.”

Perhaps the UK should not be so quick to preach to others, when it does not appear to be doing much at home to help Syrian Christians, who have been among the most persecuted for their faith since the civil war in Syria began seven years ago:

According to information obtained from the UK Home Office by the Barnabas Fund, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), during the first quarter of 2018, recommended 1,358 Syrian refugees for resettlement in the UK, of which only four refugees were Christians (no Yazidis were recommended). The Home Office agreed to resettle 1,112 of these refugees, all of whom were Muslims, and refused to accept the Christians.

This decision was made despite the fact that approximately 10% of the pre-2011 population of Syria was Christian – a number that has reportedly fallen to 5%. There were also an estimated 70,000 Yazidis in Syria. Yazidis, with Christians, were among the groups most viciously targeted by ISIS in Syria and Iraq. In 2017, moreover, according to the Barnabas Fund, the UNHCR recommended 7,060 Syrian refugees for resettlement in the UK, of whom only 25 were Christians and seven were Yazidis. The Home Office ended up accepting 4,850 Syrian refugees – of whom only 11 were Christians.

While the UK appears to favor Muslim refugees over Christian ones, the fault does not lie with the UK alone. Lord David Alton of Liverpool, a life peer in the House of Lords, wrote in a letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid:

“There is widespread belief, justified or not, among the religious minorities of Syria that the UNHCR is biased against them. The UK has a legal obligation to ensure it does not turn a blind eye to either direct or indirect perceived discrimination by the UN.

“It is widely accepted that Christians, who constituted around 10 per cent of Syria’s pre-war population, were specifically targeted by jihadi rebels and continue to be at risk.

“…As last year’s statistics more than amply demonstrate, this is not a statistical blip. It shows a pattern of discrimination that the Government has a legal duty to take concrete steps to address.”

There certainly does appear to be “a pattern of discrimination” that has been ongoing since at least 2015. According to the Barnabas Fund, the UNHCR, in 2016, recommended 7,499 refugees to the UK, of whom only 27 were Christians and five were Yazidis. In 2015, out of 2,637 recommended refugees, 43 were Christians and 13 were Yazidis.

In December 2016, Nina Shea, Director of the Center for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute, asked the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees at the time, António Guterres, to explain the disproportionately low number of Syrian Christians resettled abroad by the UN. “Mr. Guterres said that generally Syria’s Christians should not be resettled, because they are part of the ‘DNA of the Middle East,'” writes Shea.

Guterres’ statement was a blunt admission of the UN’s apparent disregard for Christian lives, not least because only 9 months earlier, in March 2016, US Secretary of State John Kerry had said, “(ISIS) is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims”. The UN itself stated in September 2005:

“[A]t the United Nations World Summit, all Member States formally accepted the responsibility of each State to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. that all member states had accepted “the responsibility of each State to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity… world leaders also agreed that when any State fails to meet that responsibility, all States (the “international community”) are responsible for helping to protect people threatened with such crimes.”.

The apparent discrimination against Christians by the United Kingdom and the UNHCR is all the more disturbing in light of studies that find Christians to be the most persecuted faith in the world. Christians are “the most widely targeted religious community, suffering terrible persecution globally”, according to a 2017 study by the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, the Religious Freedom Institute and Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Research Project. In June, the ninth annual Pew Research Center report on global religious restrictions also found that Christianity was still the world’s most persecuted faith, with Christians being harassed in more countries (144) than any other group.

In light of these facts, it would certainly appear, as Lord Alton states in his letter, that the UK has indeed been “turning a blind eye” to the plight of Christian (and Yazidi) refugees for several years. Now that May has announced that her government stands with persecuted Christians all over the world, the question remains: What specific initiatives, other than empty words, does the UK government aim to take to rectify the damage that has already been done and to prevent further damage?

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from Got Questions:

Both Christian parents and their married children can have difficulty with the balance between the concept of “leave and cleave” and honoring parents. Some pertinent Bible passages:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined (cleave) to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

There are three aspects to the statement of Genesis 2:24: 1. Leave – This indicates that in a family there are two types of relationships. The parent-child relationship is the temporary one and there will be a “leaving.” The husband-wife relationship is the permanent one—“what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). Problems occur in family life when these two roles are reversed and the parent-child relationship is treated as the primary relationship. When an adult child has married and this parent-child relationship remains primary, the newly formed union is threatened.

2. Cleave – the Hebrew word translated “cleave” refers to (1) the pursuing hard after someone else and (2) being glued or stuck to something/someone. So a man is to pursue hard after his wife after the marriage has occurred (the courtship should not end with the wedding vows) and is to be “stuck to her like glue.” This cleaving indicates such closeness that there should be no closer relationship than that between the two spouses, not with any former friend or with any parent.

3. And they shall become one flesh – Marriage takes two individuals and creates a new single entity. There is to be such sharing and oneness in every aspect (physical, emotional, intellectual, financial, social) that the resulting unity can be best described as “one flesh.” Again, when there is greater sharing and emotional support gained from a continuing parent-child relationship than from the husband-wife relationship, the oneness within the marriage is being threatened, resulting in an unbiblical imbalance.

With these three aspects of Genesis 2:24 in mind, there are also the scriptural admonitions to honor one’s parents. This includes treating them with a respectful attitude (Proverbs 30:11,17), obeying them when their commands are in keeping with God’s laws (“in the Lord” Ephesians 6:1), and taking care of them as they get older (Mark 7:10-12; 1 Timothy 5:4-8).

The line between these two commands is drawn where one is being asked to comply with one principle in such a way that it will violate the other principle or command. When the meddling of a parent violates the “leaving” because it is treating the parent-child relationship as primary (demanding obedience, dependence, or emotional oneness over the desires of, dependence upon, or oneness with the spouse), it should be respectfully rejected and the spouse’s desires honored. However, when there are genuine needs of an aging parent (either physical or emotional, assuming the emotional “need” does not supersede the “leaving” principle), that need is to be met, even if one’s spouse does not “like” the parent-in-law. Biblical love toward the aging parent is given based on choosing to do the loving thing, even when one does not feel like doing it.

The balance between these scriptural mandates is similar to the command to obey those in authority (Romans 13) and the example of the apostles violating that principle when the authority figures ask them to act contrary to God’s mandates. In Acts 4:5-20, the apostles rejected the Jewish authorities’ demand to stop preaching the gospel because their command violated God’s, but the apostles did so in a respectful manner. Similarly, Jesus says we are to honor our parents but that the parent-child relationship is secondary to our relationship with Christ (Luke 14:26). In like manner, when parents violate Genesis 2:24 principles, the parents should be respectfully disobeyed. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, a spouse’s desires should be overlooked if he/she is unwilling to expend the time, energy, and finances required to meet the needs of an aging parent; keeping in mind that one must distinguish true physical and emotional needs from the “felt needs” of an overbearing, demanding parent.

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“They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and take their place among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. A Hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of sinning souls exists.”

from The Jerusalem Post:

The Vatican on Thursday rebuked a well-known Italian journalist who quoted Pope Francis as saying hell does not exist.

The Vatican issued a statement after the comments spread on social media, saying they did not properly reflect what the pope had said.
Eugenio Scalfari, 93, an avowed atheist who has struck up an intellectual friendship with Francis, met the pope recently and wrote up a long story that included a question-and-answer section at the end.

The Vatican said the pope did not grant him an interview and the article “was the fruit of his reconstruction” not a “faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words.”

Scalfari, the founder of Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, has prided himself on not taking notes and not using tape recorders during his encounters with leaders and later reconstructing the meetings to create lengthy articles.

According to Scalfari’s article in Thursday’s La Repubblica, he asked the pope where “bad souls” go and where they are punished. Scalfari quoted the pope as saying:

“They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and take their place among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. A Hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of sinning souls exists.”

The universal catechism of the Catholic Church says “The teaching of the Catholic Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity.” It speaks of “eternal fire” and adds that “the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God.”

It was at least the third time the Vatican has issued statements distancing itself from Scalfari’s articles about the pope, including one in 2014 in which the journalist said the pontiff had abolished sin.

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from Core Christianity:

In Mark 10, a young rich man eagerly comes to Jesus. He is a winner who does not want to give up trying to win.

The good thing about him is that he has a desire for something more, something beyond worldly winning. He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

It is good to ask about eternal life, but his question reveals a deep flaw. You see, as Robert Capon notes, while he wants something more, he can’t imagine pursuing it in any other way than doing through more winning and striving. His question shows he believes there are techniques for inheriting eternal life.

Breaking the Law

Jesus knows the man’s mindset. He responds, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” Jesus is showing him that the law can save no one because the law can be kept by no one. He’s bringing up the law so the young man will take an honest look at how unsuccessful he’s been at practicing the righteousness he thinks is the answer to his problems.

But instead of recognizing his shortcomings as measured by these basic commands, this guy cuts Jesus off with, “I’ve done all those things perfectly since I was a kid.” In effect what he’s saying is, “Why don’t you give me a harder, more grown-up spiritual assignment?”

And how does Jesus respond? This is good for us to see. After being cut-off and ignored, Jesus looks at him and loves him. That’s what he does to us.

Jesus loves us when we don’t get it, when we rebel, when we rely on our own selves and not him. He is the picture of perfect, patient love.

So, with patient love and cosmic understatement, Jesus presses the law even further. “You only have to do one simple little thing.” The man’s eyes widen with anticipation. “Sell all that you have and give to the poor . . . and follow me.”

Jesus has really just applied the first of the Ten Commandments to this rich guy: Worship no other gods but God. Serve nothing but God. Jesus is revealing to him how much he fails to fulfill the commandments because he worships his wealth so much and asking him to give it up.

Jesus does the same thing to us, too. It might not be riches, but it could be anything you love more than God. Your idol is whatever you rely on to justify your existence. This text is not really about wealth, but idolatry. We are all guilty of loving something more than God, so Jesus turns the law on us, too.

Intensifying the Law

There is a reason we write about law and gospel so much: it’s because Jesus and the Apostle Paul talked and wrote about it so much. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus intensified the law when he took the Ten Commandments and told us, it is not just about our outward behavior. If you sin inwardly you have broken all of the law.

Then, in Matthew 22:37 he summarized the law with two prongs. He was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He replied: “Love God with all your heart” (summarizing the first four commandments), and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (summarizing the last six).

Jesus made the law even more dangerous and intense than it was in the Old Testament. He wasn’t just explaining an ethical code for his followers—he was freaking people out so they would know their need for a Savior.

This is what’s supposed to happen when we read: “Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength . . . and love your neighbor as yourself.” That is the law pointing directly at us and asking us to give an account. Our response is not “Sure, that sounds easy and fun,” but instead “Lord have mercy on us!” We need mercy because we fail at those two things.

You don’t love God or your neighbor perfectly. That’s why you need a Savior.

The Law is a Mirror

You see, the law is a mirror. It reflects to us our problem, our condition, our need, and our death. The law is good because it shows us reality. When we look in the mirror, it says, “You need to shave or apply some make-up.” Like a mirror, the law shows us our problem, but it doesn’t fix our problem. The law cannot generate what it commands.

The correct response to understanding the perfect law of a perfect God is what the disciples say in Mark 10:26: “Who then can be saved?”

The Rescue

When applied to sin, the law curses us with judgment. In the presence of the law, only a holy substitute can save us, or else we leave in depression like the young man. Look at what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7 and 8: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! . . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (Romans 7:24–8:3).

Jesus died on the cross in our place to take away our curse for breaking God’s law. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”

Because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, there is an answer to the disciples’ question, “Who then can be saved?” The good news comes when Jesus says, “With man [salvation] is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).

That’s the point of the law and the gospel: with us, salvation is impossible (law), but for God, everything is possible (gospel). It’s when we face the impossibility of doing anything to save ourselves that the gospel of Jesus floods in.

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from Zero Hedge:

The geopolitical reality in the Middle East is changing dramatically.

The impact of the Arab Spring, the retraction of the U.S. military, and diminishing economic influence on the Arab world – as displayed during the Obama Administration – are facts.

The emergence of a Russian-Iranian-Turkish triangle is the new reality. The Western hegemony in the MENA region has ended, and not in a shy way, but with a long list of military conflicts and destabilization.

The first visit of a Saudi king to Russia shows the growing power of Russia in the Middle East. It also shows that not only Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also Egypt and Libya, are more likely to consider Moscow as a strategic ally.

King Salman’s visit to Moscow could herald not only several multibillion business deals, but could be the first real step towards a new regional geopolitical and military alliance between OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and Russia.

This cooperation will not only have severe consequences for Western interests but also could partly undermine or reshape the position of OPEC at the same time.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is currently hosting a large Saudi delegation, led by King Salman and supported by Saudi minister of energy Khalid Al Falih.

Moscow’s open attitude to Saudi Arabia—a lifetime Washington ally and strong opponent of the growing Iran power projections in the Arab world—show that Putin understands the current pivotal changes in the Middle East.

U.S. allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and even the UAE, have shown an increased eagerness to develop military and economic relations with Moscow, even if this means dealing with a global power currently supporting their archenemy Iran. Analysts wonder where the current visit of King Salman will really lead to, but all signs are on green for a straightforward Arab-Saudi support for a bigger Russian role in the region, and more in-depth cooperation in oil and gas markets.

In stark contrast to the difficult relationship of the West with the Arab world, Moscow seems to be playing the regional power game at a higher level. It can become an ally or friend to regional adversaries, such as Iran, Turkey, Egypt and now Saudi Arabia. Arab regimes are also willing to discuss cooperation with Russia, even though the country is supporting adversaries in the Syrian and Yemen conflicts and continues to supply arms to the Shi’a regime in Iran.

Investors can expect Russia and Saudi Arabia to sign a multitude of business deals, some of which have already been presented. Moscow and Riyadh will also discuss the still fledgling oil and gas markets, as both nations still heavily depend on hydrocarbon revenues. Arab analysts expect both sides to choose a bilateral strategy to keep oil prices from falling lower. Riyadh and Moscow have the same end goal: a stable oil and gas market, in which demand and supply keep each other in check to push price levels up, but without leaving enough breathing space for new market entrants such as U.S. shale.

Putin and Salman will also discuss the security situation in the Middle East, especially the ongoing Syrian civil war, Iran’s emerging power, and the Libya situation. Until now, the two have supported opposite sides, but Riyadh has realized that its ultimate goal, the removal of Syrian president Assad, is out of reach. To prevent a full-scale Shi’a triangle (Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon), other options are now being sought to quell Tehran’s power surge. Moscow is key in this.

Putin’s unconditional support of the Iranian military onslaught in Iraq and Syria, combined with its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon or Houthis in Yemen, will be discussed and maybe tweaked to give Riyadh room to maneuver into the Russian influence sphere. The verdict on this isn’t yet out, but Riyadh’s move must be seen in light of ongoing Moscow discussions with Egypt, Libya, Jordan and the UAE.

A growing positive Putin vibe in the Arab world is now clear. The strong leadership of Russia’s new Tsar has become a main point of interest for the (former pro-Western) Arab regimes. The U.S. and its European allies have only shown a diffuse political-military approach to the threats in the MENA region, while even destabilizing historically pro-Western Arab royalties and presidents. Putin’s friendship, however, is being presented as unconditional and long lasting.

Even though geopolitics and military operations in the Middle East now are making up most headlines, the Saudi-Russian rapprochement will also have economic consequences. Riyadh’s leadership of OPEC is still undisputed, as it has shown over the last several years. Saudi Arabia’s eagerness to counter the free-fall of oil prices has been successful, but a much bigger effort is required to bring prices back to a level of between $60-75 per barrel. Russia’s role—as the largest of non-OPEC producers—has been substantial, bringing in not only several emerging producers, but also by putting pressure on its allies Iran, Venezuela and Algeria.

The historically important Moscow-Riyadh cooperation in oil and gas is unprecedented. Without Russia’s support, overall compliance to the OPEC production cut agreement would have been very low, leading to even lower oil prices.

The Saudi-Russian rapprochement could, however, be seen as a threat by the West and OPEC itself. Western influence in the region has waned since the end of the 1990s, not only due to the peace dividend of NATO, but especially because OECD countries are moving away from oil. Saudi Arabia had to find new markets, which happened with China and India. The Saudi future is no longer based on Western customers or support, but lies in Asia and other emerging regions. The FSU region has also popped up on Saudi screens. Investment opportunities, combined with geopolitical support and military interests, are readily available in Russia and its satellite states.

For OPEC, the Moscow-Riyadh love affair could also mean a threat. Throughout OPEC’s history, Riyadh has been the main power broker in the oil cartel, pushing forward price and production strategies; most of the time this was done in close cooperation with all the other members, most of them Arab allies. This changed dramatically after Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed to cooperate in global oil markets. Through the emergence of this OPEC/ non-OPEC cooperation, Moscow and Riyadh have grown closer than expected. The two countries now decide the future of global oil markets before they discuss it with some of the other main players like UAE, Iran, Algeria and Nigeria. King Salman’s visit is seen as another step toward a more in-depth cooperation in oil and gas related issues.

Besides global oil market cooperation, Saudi Arabia is and will become more interested to invest in natural gas development, not only to have an interest in Russia’s gas future but also to bring in Russian technology, investment and LNG to the Kingdom. 

At the same time, media sources are stating that Saudi Arabia is NOT asking Russia to take part in the long-awaited Aramco IPO in 2018. Russian individual investors and financial institutions, however, are expected to take an interest.

Putin understands not only Russian chess tactics but also the Arab “Tawila” approach. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman already will prepare his Tawila strategy, putting enough stones on the table to ensure his successful end game. MBS, currently de-facto ruler of the Kingdom, is targeting a full house—Russian cooperation in energy, defense and investments—while softening Moscow’s 100% percent support of the Shi’a archenemy Iran.

For both sides, Moscow and Riyadh, the current constellation presents a win-win situation. Moscow can reach its ultimate goal in the Middle East: to become the main power broker and knock the US from the pedestal. For Riyadh, the option to counter the Iranian threat, while also bolstering its own economy and hydrocarbon future, is now within reach.

King Salman’s trip could go down in history as the point of no return for the West. Pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin and King Salman of Saudi Arabia could replace historic pictures of King Saud and U.S. President Roosevelt (Bitter Lake, 1945). In a few years, King-to-be Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman might tell his children that this was one of the pillars that changed not only the Middle East but also supported his Vision 2030 plan of becoming a bridge between the old (West) and the new (Russia-Asia).

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