Breitbart … Rose with Trump and Claims to ‘Protect’ him


London – It is usually the custom of businessmen and groups to pressure newspapers and website to portray them in a positive light, whether politically or commercially. It is rare however for a media outlet to succeed in infiltrating the political realm, the most powerful administration on the planet no less. This is exactly what the Breitbart media network did in a relatively short time after it was initially shunned by the majority of the political elite in Washington due to its views that leaned towards violence and discrimination.

Its executive chairman Steve Bannon had even served as director of Donald Trump’s electoral campaign before he was later appointed White House chief strategist for a period that did not exceed eight months. Bannon was behind many of Trump’s electoral slogans and he helped in devising his presidential priorities. These are the same priorities that were adopted by Breitbart.

While this right-wing news site does not enjoy the popularity and credibility of other media, such as the New York Times, Washington Post and even Buzzfeed, it has become the most popular conservative site after Trump’s election as president.

But what is Breitbart and has it really become an indication of the US administration’s policies? Is it really the White House’s unofficial spokesman?

Israeli idea and American birth

Conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart chose in 2007 to establish his own news website. He had previously worked with famous media pioneers, such as Arianna Huffington and Matt Drudge.

Co-founder of Brietbart, Larry Solov revealed in a 2015 article that Andrew Breitbart had the idea to establish his website while they were on a media trip to Israel in 2007. He said that Breitbart got the idea to set up a media network that “backs freedom and Israel.”

Solov said: “Andrew turned to me and asked if I would de-partner from the 800-person law firm where I was practicing and become business partners with him.”

“Maybe it was the impact of the historical place that we were in, but I agreed,” he said.

“I remember that we discussed that night our desire to set up a site that supports freedom and supports Israel,” recalled Solov.

Andrew Breitbart, who realized the importance of digital media, first set up a website that offers news from various agencies, such as Fox News. He republished them on his website before establishing in 2008, 2009 and 2010 three related news websites that reflect his editorial policy. A number of journalists who shared an opposition to the left, moderate right and traditional media soon joined these outlets.

Breitbart gained notoriety in 2010 and 2011 for publishing a series of false stories that relied, on several occasions, on manipulating videos. One such incident involved USDA official Shirley Sherrod. The site aired a video of her that showed her making racist comments. This led to her sacking from the USDA, but the video was later revealed to have been tampered with.

In 2011, Breitbart restored some of its credibility when it reported New York Representative Anthony Weiner’s scandal involving sexually explicit photographs. The scandal eventually led to his resignation.

The right’s Huffington Post

Breitbart gained further notoriety by publishing a series of scandals involving liberal and bureaucratic politicians and organizations. It became shunned by the Democrats and centrists, and even some Republicans, who said that the website sought to create political sedition and hate to promote its misleading stories.

After joining Breitbart, Bannon declared that he wanted the outlet to become the right’s Huffington Post. Bannon did not rise to prominence until after Andrew Breitbart died of a heart attack in 2012. He continued in his predecessor’s footsteps and worked on expanding and updating the website. It now has offices in Texas, Florida, California, London, Jerusalem and Cairo.

Bannon, Breitbart’s godfather

Bannon served four years in the navy in the 1980s as he pursued his studies in national security from Georgetown University. Given his admiration of then US President Ronald Reagan, he pursued business management at Harvard University. He worked at Goldman Sacks before leaving it to establish a small investment bank, Bannon & Co., which was later purchased by Societe General in 1998.

Bannon then shifted careers and turned his eyes on the media and Hollywood. He soon produced a documentary that highlighted the political development during the Reagan years. He followed that with more movies that reflected his right-wing interests.

He met Andrew Breitbart in 2004 and they discussed forming a news website. After Andrew’ death, Bannon took over the site, which many said became a mouthpiece of the Tea Party, especially in wake of Barack Obama’s election as president.

Even though Bannon managed to develop the website, many among Andrew’s team criticized him because he had steered away from the “founder’s legacy.” Ben Shapiro, a major editor and one of Andrew’s friends, said that the founder sought to confront the bullies in politics and he used Breitbart to do so. He eventually resigned from the site in objection to Bannon’s leadership and direction he was taking.

Protecting the president from his enemies

Bannon’s return to the media after his brief stint in Washington sparked controversy in the media and political fields because he was privy to top secret meetings at the White House. His return was also seen as an opportunity to detect Trump’s interests and leanings.

Shortly after his departure from his White House post, Bannon held an editorial meeting at Breitbart after which he held a rare press conference during which he declared that he will “fight his enemies alongside President Trump.” He made his statement in reference to the so-called “fake” media, as labeled by the US president.

Many believe that Breitbart is leading media wars that the president cannot take on himself. It has even gone after some of Trump’s closest aides due to their “vague” positions. Breitbart attacked Trump’s daughter Ivanka and later her husband Jared Kushner, both of whom it described as the “Democrats” at the White House. The website also attacked Trump’s strategy in Afghanistan, but it soon came back to support him when it came to his goal to build a border wall with Mexico and end the Obamacre health program.

Bannon asserted once again that he will continue to protect the American president from his “enemies”. He focused on immigration and defended Trump’s views, accusing the Catholic church of backing immigration for economic purposes.

Conditional White House ally

The number of readers of Breitbart rose from 2.9 million in 2012 to 17 million in 2016, revealed data published by the Washington Post, making it the most popular conservative American news site. The massive jump in readership can be attributed to exclusive interviews it made with Trump during his electoral campaign.

This has not gone without criticism, as Shapiro explained that he decided to resign from Breitbart after it became clear that the website had become more loyal to Trump than its own employees.

Bannon responded to the claims, saying that “our loyalty is not to Trump, but our readers and values.”

Al-Jubeir: Iran’s Propaganda of Rapprochement is Ridiculous


London- Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir said on Tuesday that Tehran’s propaganda of rapprochement with Riyadh is “ridiculous,” adding that meetings held with the Iranian delegation during the Hajj season were not a “normalization of relations,” but had only a religious aspect.

During a news conference at the Saudi embassy’s headquarters in London, the Saudi minister said: “If Iran wants to improve its relationship with the Kingdom, it should change its policies and stop terrorism and interference.”

Al-Jubeir said that “Iran is destabilizing the region through Hezbollah and terrorist attacks, while al-Qaeda leaders in Iran have given orders to carry out attacks in the Kingdom.”

The foreign minister also spoke about the crisis with Qatar, saying that the four states (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain) had presented a list of demands to Doha and would refuse to deal with a country that interferes in the affairs of other countries.

“No harm if the crisis with Qatar continues for another week, month, year or two years. We will not deal with a state that supports terrorism at the financial and media level,” he said, asserting that the people of Qatar is the only one who decides who governs them, noting that Britain stood neutrally in the crisis and did not support the Doha position.

Al-Jubeir also denied reports that the four countries had placed a “siege” on Qatar, stressing that no country can be accepted while its media is supporting terrorism and terrorist operations.

“The four countries have boycotted Qatar and not sieged it…Do you see planes from the four countries flying in the Qatari airspace for monitoring? No,” he said.

On Yemen, Al-Jubeir stressed that the Arab alliance deals in Yemen under international law, noting that “Sana’a airport can be reopened if the United Nations takes over.”

Saudi Electricity Secures $1.75bn Loan


London- Minutes after signing the greatest joint international funding agreement in the history of Saudi Electricity Company (SEC), Ziyad Mohammed Al-Shiha, president and chief executive officer of SEC, described the deal as an international expression of trust in the company’s performance and the kingdom’s economy in general.

Saudi Arabia’s national electricity company on Wednesday announced it had secured USD1.75 billion (SAR6.56 billion) in international loans to finance future plans. The banks that took part in the funding are: HSBC, Standard Chartered, NATIXIS, Citibank, First Abu Dhabi Bank, the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and Mizuho Bank.

In statements to Asharq Al-Awsat, Shiha said that SEC earning of such a huge loan in a record period of time – less than two months – is an international voting in favor of the company’s achievements, the kingdom’s economy, Saudi Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program 2020.

He added that the loan aims at funding the basic programs and that “we invest every year between 30 to 40 billion riyals within capital expenses to fulfill the kingdom’s demand. This loan will help us fund expenses related to electricity generating, transporting and distributing.”

Commenting on dividing SEC into four firms, Shiha pointed that the plan is being studied by competent governmental authorities.

SEC is considered the biggest electric service facility in the MENA and the one of the greatest services’ facilities in the world – it also has a large assets base that reached 441.2 billion riyals (usd117.6 billion) at the end of June.

US-Korean Escalation, Political Skirmishes or Imminent Nuclear War?

London- Skirmishes between the US and North Korea leaders proceeded during the past days and words such as “fire” and “fury” replaced “economic sanctions” and “international isolation”, in an escalation that some saw might take a military approach.

North Korea said on Wednesday it is “carefully examining a plan to strike the US Pacific territory of Guam with missiles.” The strike plan will be “put into practice in a multi-current and consecutive way any moment once leader Kim Jong-Un makes a decision.”

The Korean threat came in response to Trump statements at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Trump affirmed in a tweet, “My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.” He added, “Hopefully we will never have to use this power.”

France called on all the concerned parties to act responsibly and de-escalate the situation regarding North Korea, after North Korea said it was considering plans for a missile strike on the US Pacific territory of Guam.

“We call on all sides to act responsibly,” government spokesman Christophe Castaner told reporters at a news briefing on Wednesday, adding that France was preoccupied by the situation.

Germany as well called on North Korea and the US to de-escalate the situation while China urged in a statement all parties to proceed pursuit to reach a peaceful solution in the nuclear topic.

Al-Jadaan: Saudi Arabia’s Hosting of 2020 G20 Summit Reflects World’s Trust


Hamburg – Saudi Arabia will host the 2020 G20 summit in what Finance Minister Mohammed Abdullah al-Jadaan said was a reflection of the world’s trust in “the Kingdom, its economy and ability to organize such a major gathering.”

He added: “This is an opportunity for the Kingdom to prove its role and ability.”

It also gives it an opportunity to demonstrate its capabilities and its various investment opportunities, he added on the margins of the 2017 G20 summit that was concluded in the German city of Hamburg on Saturday.

Furthermore, the minister said that Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the 2020 summit will highlight the region and present an occasion for the world to assert the area’s economic growth and stability.

“Saudi’s Arabia’s organization of the G20 summit is a major opportunity for the Kingdom, its people, economy and private sector,” al-Jadaan stressed.

“I am certain that the repercussions of the development will reach the whole region, both in the Gulf and Arab countries,” he continued.

On what the 2020 summit will focus on, the minister said the options will be studied within a year and they will be discussed with the members of the world’s 20 most powerful economies.

He revealed that a committee, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is handling this file, “because it is a very important issue for the Kingdom.”

The topics of the summit will be determined and released next year, he explained.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Saudi Arabia is one of the founding members of the G20 group.

“It has effectively taken part in all of its summits since its foundation,” he stressed.

Saudi Arabia participated in the two-day 2017 G20 summit, held under the title “Shaping an Interconnected World.” The proceedings in Hamburg got underway on Friday.

A Saudi delegation attended the summit on behalf of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz. It included Minister Ibrahim Abdulaziz al-Assaf.

‘Positive Chemistry’ between Trump, Putin in 1st Meeting

Hamburg- The meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Germany on Friday overshadowed the G20 summit.

The two leaders discussed for more than two hours the crises in Syria and Ukraine, terrorism and cyber security, Russian news agencies reported.

At the start of the meeting, Trump, who appeared informal and relaxed, said it was “an honor” to be with Putin.

“We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned,” Trump said.

Putin, too, described the mere fact they were meeting as positive, adding that he hoped it would “yield positive results.”

“Phone conversations are never enough definitely,” Putin said. “If you want to have a positive outcome in bilaterals and be able to resolve most international policy issues, that will really need personal meetings.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson characterized the meeting as “very constructive.”

“The two leaders I would say, connected very quickly,” Tillerson said, adding “there was a very clear positive chemistry between the two.”

“There are so many issues on the table… Just about everything got touched upon… Neither one of them wanted to stop,” he said.

Tillerson said the Russians have asked the US for proof and evidence of their alleged interference in the 2016 election, which Russia denies.

According to the Secretary of State, Trump pressed Putin on the issue and that they’d agreed to follow-up meetings.

A the G20 summit that was held in Hamburg, the major economies agreed to redouble efforts to tackle the financing of extremist groups.

The countries issued a joint statement condemning the “scourge” of terrorism funding, and praised the work already undertaken to shut off sources of finance for illicit groups.  

“We underline our resolve to make the international financial system entirely hostile to terrorist financing and commit to deepening international cooperation and exchange of information,” the statement said.  

The G20 nations urged countries to support the work of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a 37-member international organization that tackles terrorist financing. 

“We call on all member states to ensure that the FATF has the necessary resources and support to effectively fulfill its mandate,” they said. 

“There should be no ‘safe spaces’ for terrorist financing anywhere in the world.” 

British Currency Exchange Companies Suspend Trading in Qatari Riyal Temporarily

British Currency Exchange Companies Suspend Trading in Qatari Riyal Temporarily

London- British currency exchange companies suspended trading with Qatari Riyal temporarily while other companies said that the Qatari currency is currently not available amid the diplomatic crisis between some Arab countries and Doha.

The spokeswoman for Exchange Company Travelex said in a statement on Thursday that the company has resumed purchasing the Qatari riyal globally after a brief suspension “due to business challenges”.

For her part, a spokeswoman for the British Post Office, which is one of the leading agencies that provide currency exchange services in Britain, told Asharq Al-Awsat that it has suspended all its trading in the Qatari Riyal since June 5.

In a statement issued, the British company explained that “many foreign currency providers have stopped trading in Qatari riyal temporarily, meaning that the currency is not available currently at Post Office branches.”

It explained that the office will respect its commitment to the principle of “guaranteeing repurchase” to customers and that the situation will remain under review by UK Currency Providers.

Notably, Standard and Poor’s on June 7 downgraded its long-term rating of Qatar by one notch, to “AA-“ from “AA”, and put the rating on watch, meaning there was a significant chance of a further downgrade while Fitch put it under control after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt cut their diplomatic relations with Doha.

Standard and Poor’s said that the continuation of the crisis for a long time will weaken the economic growth in Qatar.

UK Elections Caught up Between May’s Wager on Landslide Win, Corbyn’s Rising Popularity


London – Six weeks ago, British Prime Minister Theresa May surprised the UK political scene by announcing out-of-cycle general elections. Her decision comes after repeatedly rejecting the idea of allowing a third British prime minister change in the short time of three years.

May said that a vote would deliver a more united Parliament and strengthen UK’s negotiating stance with Brussels for exiting the European Union– opposition from lawmakers threatened to jeopardize the government’s plans for Brexit.

Conservatives were looking forward at a 20-percentage-point lead against the opposition Labour Party, May’s win was almost a guaranteed landslide, however, the last few weeks have changed the status quo.

The move on announcing elections that would secure stronger parliament support on EU divorce talks made even more sense with polls revealing May’s leadership popularity outstripping that of Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair.

Nonetheless, Tories have seen an upsetting setback in support after the Labour Party presented its left-wing agenda amid intensified controversy hovering over May’s proposed health care project for seniors, and her unwelcomed absence from broadcast public debates.

A plunge in support and ongoing developments stirred doubts on May actually losing the bet she made in April 2016.

Britons head to polls in a few days for the second time since 2015. Scheduled for June 8 each of the 650 parliamentary constituencies will elect one Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament.

Unlike traditional general elections, British people now are voting on an additional category aside from economics, health and education — the ballots will be deciding UK’s program for EU exit talks, which are set to change the future of the country for generations to come.

The Brexit Runner

Polls show that a healthy Tory majority has been on the cards long enough to support May’s win in the upcoming elections.

The Voter-May dynamic proved promisingly positive during the first period the prime minister’s time in office, Britons believe that she had struck a balance between committing to implementing Brexit –which the British voted yes for- and protecting UK economic, political and social interests by maintaining a close relationship with European neighbors on the other hand.

May argues only she can provide the “strong and stable” leadership needed to secure a satisfactory exit from the European Union.

After changing her stance on EU membership, May gained considerable support within her party base. But this support itself served as a weak point challenging the validity of May’s leadership.

Critics, whether in among party comrades or opposition ranks, argued that May is not eligible to lead exit negotiations with Brussels given the circumstances that surrounded her rise to power.

Opponents hinted that the 60-year-old did not secure premiership through general elections, meaning she lacked a popular mandate.

Stakes and Pitfalls

In an effort to quell speculation and solidify her position, May decided to fight in early elections approved by a two-thirds majority in a 522 to 13 vote in the House of Commons on 19 April 2017. Little did the conservative party leader know that this democratic process would put her popularity and campaigning skills to the test.

Undeniably, May’s election campaign had to overcome several stumbling blocks in the conservative camp.

May had sparked wild controversy by introducing a party program that compromises on social welfare for the elderly—before, May was also criticized for cuts effecting the police and public services government since 2010, which were partly blamed for the deadly terrorist attack on Manchester that harvested the lives of 22 people.

All the more, May’s confident campaign struggled when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the prime minister of shying away from confrontation, after she had openly refused to partake in a debate last week on BBC with other political officials.

Commenting on recent polls predicting a sharp drop in the number of Tory seats, Conservative candidate for Mitcham and Morden, Alicia Kearns told Asharq Al-Awsat she does not trust polls in Britain. A view that was seconded by Angela Rayner, British Labour politician and the shadow education secretary.

Stressing that the public must not begin to falter its national duty to vote, Kearns added that elections are won in the streets, cafes, gatherings and at the workplace. She also urged constituencies to vote and persuade their friends to hit the ballots in order to escape mess entailed by a coalition government.

A recipe for indecision and stalemate, a coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which multiple political parties cooperate, reducing the dominance of any one party.

The Corbyn Factor

Party upsets were not the sole reason behind May’s loss of a smashing victory and confusing expectations, the sudden rise of Jeremy Corbyn, hardline leftist and Labour leader played a significant role in turning tables.

Also tipping the balance was a surprising registration of some 3 million additional voters among which are a dashing million millennials.

Put together, Corbyn’s increasing popularity and an additional mass number of voters have successfully managed to blur out the image on election turnout drawn by polls, analysts and politicians.

After losing elections for the second run in a row, the Labour Party shifted more and more towards the left—Corbyn had hence been able to gather enough support to rise up to the competition and lead the party on a new path.

The party’s parliamentary bloc was split by the Corbin campaign to bring it back to its socialist roots, nevertheless, with Corbyn’s campaign displaying strong fondness of socialist roots and moving away from its centre-left position supported by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Labour Party lawmakers headed straight on for a crippling split.

Corbyn was clearly abandoning the Labour Party’s pro-business pro-government track.

Despite that, Corbin succeeded in attracting thousands of new supporters, mostly young people who are enthusiastic about his leftist platform.

A source at the Corbyn campaign told Reuters that momentum behind the Labour Party leader had been building ever since election broadcasting regulations, which ensure party leaders get airtime, came into force a month ago.

Mosul Old City Offensive Imminent


London – While Iraqi military sources warned on Friday from an imminent offensive in the Old City of Mosul, trapped civilians in the area were facing difficult choices on how to evacuate.

Iraqi forces asked residents to leave the Old City using the “safe corridors” that are designed for this purpose, but at the same time, those forces asked the residents not to use cars or motorcycles in order to avoid them being confused with the extremists.

Meanwhile, Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesperson for the 68-member coalition against ISIS, said on Friday that Iraqi Security Forces were continuing their advancement in the battle against the terrorist organization and are now surrounding three neighborhoods in western Mosul.

“They will liberate Mosul — it’s just a matter of time when that’s going to happen — but I’m not going to put a timeline on that for them,” he said.

Speaking at a news conference in London, Dillon explained that the remaining ISIS militants control less than 10 square kilometers of the city, adding that cleansing this area is difficult to control and constitutes a great challenge.

“West Mosul is arguably the most complex and dangerous combat urban environment that any force has seen in decades,” he said.

The Colonel added that around 50,000 fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) supported by the International Coalition were now getting prepared to regain the Syrian city of Raqqa.

Dillon said ISIS realized it would not win the Mosul battle and therefore its militants now aim to kill as many people as they can to prevent life in the city from returning to normal.

1,000 US Soldiers in Syria with ‘Flexible’ Powers

London- Around 1,000 US soldiers are currently deployed in Syria, but their commander has flexible powers that allow him to ask for additional forces, a US official at the US Central Command (CENTCOM) told Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday.

CENTCOM spokesperson Maj. Josh Jacques said there was no strategic reserve (of forces) specifically working for the Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the operational name for the joint coalition military intervention against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

“However, OIR Commander US General Stephen Townsend has the powers to spread additional forces that could come from any part of the world,” Jacques said.

His comments came following media reports that US President Donald Trump has given the Pentagon the authority to independently set troop levels in Iraq and Syria.

According to critics, the policy under Barack Obama allowed the White House to have a wider say in decision-making on battles abroad.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon confirmed this process and said: “The move does not mean that the numbers of troops in Iraq and Syria will change nor does it change the process by which we will manage those forces.”

The Pentagon’s statement was confirmed by spokesman for the US-led international coalition Colonel John Dorrian who told Asharq Al-Awsat that the US forces, which were lately deployed in Syria would not participate in the fighting, but their role was limited to advise coalition allies (Syrian Democratic Forces), and support them with artillery powers.

“Our role is to offer support and advisory, not to fight,” he reiterated.

Briefing reporters via teleconference at the US Embassy in London, Dorian said the number of ISIS militants currently fighting in Raqqa is estimated between 3,000 to 4,000 people, but their number decreased in Mosul to 1,000 terrorists.

Speaking about foreign fighters who had joined ISIS and are now seeking to escape and return home, Dorrian said in most cases, those fighters are being captured, either by the SDF, the Iraqi security forces or in Turkey.
“We’re not seeing a tremendous number of those because a lot of the foreign fighters are very hardcore and they came here to die,” Dorrian said.