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Saudi Arabia

Bernnie Federko

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The Saudi crown prince just made a very risky power play

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Saudi Arabia detains princes, ministers
Authorities in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4 arrested royal family members and ministers as well as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire investor. (Reuters)
By David Ignatius Opinion writerNovember 5 at 5:22 PMLoaded in 0.37 seconds

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says he’s cracking down on corruption. But the sweeping arrests of cabinet ministers and senior princes Saturday night looked to many astonished Arab observers like a bold but risky consolidation of power.

MBS, as the headstrong 32-year-old ruler is known, struck at some of the kingdom’s most prominent business and political names in a new bid to gain political control and drive change in the oil kingdom. By the count of the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel, the arrests included 11 princes, four ministers and several dozen others.

“He’s creating a new Saudi Arabia,” said one Saudi business leader contacted Sunday. He noted that the anti-corruption campaign follows other aggressive but controversial moves, including a royal decree allowing women to drive and limits on the religious police.

“This is very risky,” the business leader said, because MBS is now challenging senior princes and religious conservatives simultaneously. The executive, who strongly supports MBS’s liberalization efforts, worried that “he’s fighting too many wars at once.”

The list of arrestees includes Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the son of the previous king and the head of the Saudi national guard, traditionally a locus of tribal power. “The national guard was part of the balance among the royal family. He’s taken that balance out,” the Saudi executive noted. “He’s the goliath who can fight it all.”

hosted a gathering of technology and business leaders from around the world. Saturday night’s arrests showed the iron fist inside the futuristic velvet glove.

MBS described his campaign in a brief video clip circulating on Saudi social media. “I assure you anyone involved in corruption will not be spared, whether he’s a prince or a minister, or anyone.” The arrests were accompanied by a decree creating a “supreme committee” to investigate corruption. The committee has “the right to take any precautionary measures it sees fit,” including seizing assets and banning travel.

MBS has chosen what’s likely to be a popular target with younger Saudis. Corruption has enfeebled Saudi Arabia for generations, draining the royal treasury and impeding the modernization the crown prince says he wants. MBS is betting he can mobilize these younger Saudis, hungry for a new kingdom, against the older princes. He’s hoping the religious establishment, too, will support a purge of the elite.

“He’s closing the circle of people who can feed at the trough,” said a Saudi political analyst contacted Sunday. “Instead of 10,000 stakeholders, there will now be just a few.”

The roster of those arrested includes billionaire tycoons, such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, head of Kingdom Holding Co. and one of the most prominent Saudi global investors; Saleh Kamal and Waleed al-Ibrahim, co-founders of Middle East Broadcasting Corp., the region’s first satellite channel; and Adel Fakieh, the minister of economy and planning, who until the putsch was one of MBS’s key lieutenants in developing his reform program.

MBS has now shattered the leadership circle of the previous king, Abdullah, who died in 2015. In addition to Prince Miteb, MBS arrested Prince Turki bin Abdullah, another prominent son and former governor of Riyadh province. Also arrested was Khaled al-Tuwaijri, who as chief of Abdullah’s royal court was a virtual prime minister. In June, MBS toppled the previous crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, clearing the way for him to eventually succeed his 81-year-old father, King Salman.

While accompanied by the rhetoric of reform, this weekend’s purge resembles the approach of authoritarian regimes such as China. President Xi Jinping has used a similar anti-corruption theme to replace a generation of party and military leaders and to alter the collective leadership style adopted by recent Chinese rulers.

MBS is emboldened by strong support from President Trump and his inner circle, who see him as a kindred disrupter of the status quo — at once a wealthy tycoon and a populist insurgent. It was probably no accident that last month, Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, made a personal visit to Riyadh. The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy.

MBS would probably be flattered to be described as a Saudi Trump. But Xi and his anti-corruption power play may be the real role model.

Twitter: @IgnatiusPost

Read more from David Ignatius’s archive, follow him on Twitter

Read more on this topic:

David Ignatius: A young prince is reimagining Saudi Arabia. Can he make his vision come true?

Jamal Khashoggi: Saudi Arabia’s crown prince wants to ‘crush extremists.’ But he’s punishing the wrong people.

The Post’s View: The ‘new’ Saudi Arabia is still a dungeon

Jamal Khashoggi: Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive. Now it’s unbearable.

The Post’s View: There’s reason to doubt Saudi Arabia’s charming new crown prince


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The Saudis’ Cruel Collective Punishment of Yemen
Posted on November 6, 2017, 7:09 AM Daniel Larison

Credit: Creative Commons/Felton Davis
A Houthi missile reached the Saudi capital of Riyadh over the weekend. The Saudi-led coalition is responding by tightening its existing blockade with the shutting of all Yemeni ports:

The Saudi-led coalition battling Shiite rebels in Yemen closed off the land, sea and air ports to the Arab world’s poorest country early Monday after a missile targeted Riyadh​

The coalition blockade was already starving the population and impeding the delivery of aid before now. Completely closing all of Yemen’s ports will magnify the country’s humanitarian crisis, which was already the worst in the world. The Saudi-led coalition’s reaction is excessive and a blatant violation of international law. It is a cruel example of collective punishment in response to a lone missile attack. Starvation and preventable disease will claim the lives of many innocent Yemeni civilians because of the coalition’s response.

U.S. law requires that our government halt military assistance to governments that prevent the delivery of U.S.-funded humanitarian aid. Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) has raised this point before in connection with the coalition’s refusal to permit the delivery of cranes to the port of Hodeidah. There is no question that completely shutting Yemen off from the outside world constitutes a hindrance to the delivery of aid. Our government’s support for the war has not been authorized by Congress and it also violates the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act. That support must end.

The missile attack and the Saudi response to it illustrate very well the stupidity of the war on Yemen. Saudi territory was not under attack when the intervention began two and a half years ago, and their capital certainly wasn’t threatened. After thirty months of relentlessly and indiscriminately bombing Yemen’s cities and towns, Riyadh itself is now coming under attack. The war on Yemen has devastated Saudi Arabia’s neighbor, but it has also worsened Saudi Arabia’s own security. Instead of recognizing that the coalition’s war has failed, the Saudis and their allies are compounding their earlier mistakes by intensifying a blockade that had already created major famine and cholera crises. Unable to prevail in their senseless war, the coalition chooses to tighten its grip on the throats of a vulnerable, impoverished population. The Saudi-led coalition has just made their indefensible war even more obnoxious and cruel.

The Saudi Purges
Posted on November 4, 2017, 8:49 PM Daniel Larison

The Saudi government arrested dozens of high-ranking figures including princes and current and former ministers in a massive purge under the direction of the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS):

Saudi Arabia announced the arrest on Saturday night of the prominent billionaire investor Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, plus at least 10 other princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers.​

These arrests are being presented as part of an “anti-corruption” campaign, but they are also unmistakably part of MBS’ ongoing consolidation of power before he ascends to the throne. They follow the crackdown on internal dissidents two months ago. All of this suggests that the crown prince does not feel all that secure in his position, and has been resorting to heavy-handed tactics to ensure that his succession proceeds without incident. Framing the arrests as an “anti-corruption” measure also helps to sell the crown prince as the “reformer” that his Western boosters want to pretend that he is.

The intensifying authoritarianism on display from the next Saudi king is cause for serious concern. The U.S. is now very closely and publicly aligned with him, and his repressive measures receive tacit support from Washington at the very least. That would be bad enough even if MBS were capable of delivering anything of value for the U.S., but instead he has proven to be completely inept in running the kingdom’s foreign policy. He has presided over a debacle in Yemen that is destroying that country and has been making the U.S. complicit in the Saudi-led coalition’s crimes. He has led Saudi Arabia and its allies into a pointless campaign against Qatar that has mainly succeeded in driving Qatar closer to Iran while demonstrating the weakness of the Saudi-led bloc. There is no reason to think that he will be any more capable or competent when it comes to ruling the kingdom when he takes over from his father. These purges are the work of an ailing king and an insecure and reckless crown prince, and they bode ill for the future stability of Saudi Arabia. That is one more reason why the U.S. should start disentangling itself from the noxious Saudi relationship as soon as possible.


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Apparently people discover things in the desert regularly. There's a lot of history there still waiting to be known.


Bernnie Federko

TRIBE Member
Saudi Arabia is accusing Iran of an 'act of war'

The escalation of tensions between the regional rivals comes after a missile was fired from Yemen toward the Saudi capital of Riyadh (it was intercepted). Saudi Arabia and Iran are currently fighting proxy wars in Yemen and Syria. Iran has denied the accusation. The Saudis also hosted a visit from Lebanon's prime minister Saad al-Hariri, who just quit. Hariri blamed Iran and the militant group Hezbollah in his resignation speech. The series of events also dovetail with Saudi Arabia's anti-corruption crackdown that's seen a number of princes arrested.


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Iran is the big propaganda play on Yemen - they are hardly involved. Saudi Arabia is really just in a grinding war against the Yemeni people - they just use Iran as a propaganda ploy to justify their cruelty against their neighbours. The Houthis launched that missile, not Iran.

Kind of like how American interventions in South America were justified based on "Russian influence"

And you know how russian it is in South America!
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Yes Trotsky was on the run - but the lie in these lies is that the socialist movements in these places were very much natural and organic reactions to a feudal society that ground the lower classes in these down for centuries. Kind of like how the royalty in France one day "reaped the whirlwind" right?

We don't really have much concept of feudalism in Canada but early Quebec had "seigneurs" and was the most northernmost vestiges of a feudal society in the Americas from 1600-1800.

America liked to suggest that indigenous socialism in Latin America was bolshevik socialism, because it suited their agenda in these places since beating out the socialists was usually good for Dole Fruit Company and the companies who wanted to pay nothing for labour and partner with the elites who came to run these countries in the colonial period.

Venezuela is probably the best place from which to view a today-world application of Cold War narratives in the region - Chavez fit the prototypes developed over the previous decades and it was easy as pie for the American foreign policy establishment to recycle everything they loved to say about Latin American socialism for the last few decades. And hey, he ran the country into the ground so for all these chattering nabobs the confirmation bias was irrestible.

Anyway, to me the Saudi line on Yemen feels a lot like the US line on Latin American Socialism: good excuse to lay over the use of force employed for the bottom line and the Great Game. Invoke a Big Enemy behind the Little Enemy - make the little guys seem more fearsome, get the people in your country to support your aggression in other countries therefore and imbue it with noble or heroic purpose.
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Yemen Faces Largest Famine in Decades Because of Saudi Blockade
Posted on November 8, 2017, 6:45 PM Daniel Larison

The U.N. warns that famine in Yemen will be the largest in decades if the Saudi-led coalition doesn’t lift its blockade of the country’s ports:

United Nations aid chief Mark Lowcock warned on Wednesday that if a Saudi-led military coalition did not allow humanitarian aid access to Yemen then it would cause “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims.”​

The scale and severity of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis have made it the worst in the world for years, but the crisis has not generated the outrage or a commensurate international response in all that time. Perhaps the huge numbers of potential victims of mass starvation will finally shock the world into paying attention to the effects of a war that has been mostly ignored. If not, there will be no excuse that the outside world didn’t know what was happening. Yemen’s plight has been impossible to miss for anyone willing to pay attention:

In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called for increased aid to Yemen, citing alarm at the latest U.N. report. ”No one will be able to say later, particularly with respect to Yemen, that they didn’t know what was happening.”​

The coalition’s closure of all ports in a cruel and illegal act of collective punishment is already making that crisis much worse, and if it is not ended immediately it will kill a huge number of innocent Yemenis. Seven million have been on the brink of starvation up until now, and the coalition’s action threatens to cause the unnecessary, preventable deaths of many of them in the near future. Millions more are malnourished and will be put at greater risk of starvation as well. The deliberate starving of Yemen’s population should be considered a crime against humanity, and any government that has participated in or supported the war up to this point should be considered an accomplice in that crime.

Bernnie Federko

TRIBE Member
Saudi Arabia ordered its citizens out of Lebanon

It's the latest movein the Saudis' proxy war with Iran, which backs the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri abruptly resigned last week and accused Iran of meddling in his country's affairs. Hariri departed for Saudi Arabia and has yet to return. Some members of Hariri's own party seem to believe he is being held against his will.

Here's professor Bessma Momani's take: "As Saudi Arabia ramps up its attempts to flex strength throughout the region by setting its sights on Lebanon, the Lebanese people will ultimately pay the price."
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Its not a proxy war with Iran - its a Holy War - and one that lets the House of Saud throw its weight around under the banner of Holy War and the Great Enemy, even if Iran is only tangentially connected.

Albeit the Hezbollah connection is a bit stronger, but also does a disservice to the Lebanese heritage and history of Hezbollah. To see them as a "creature of Iran" is to deny them agency.


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Saudi Arabia, Wellspring of Regional Instability

Now, also coincident with the purge, is a new Saudi move to politically destabilize Lebanon. The announcement by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri that he is resigning was patently managed by the Saudi regime. Saudi Arabia is where the Hariri family made its fortune, where Saad Hariri still holds citizenship, and where the resignation announcement was made. The apparent Saudi intention is to stir the Lebanese pot in a way that somehow would be disadvantageous to Hezbollah, which is a partner in the governing Lebanese coalition. But all the move has done so far is to make Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah look honest and perceptive in noting the Saudi role in the move, and to make him look reasonable in being the one who wants stability in coalition politics in Lebanon rather than seeking crisis and confrontation.

A major theme in MBS’s regional maneuvers is hostility toward Hezbollah’s ally Iran. An irony in this mess, given how “Iran’s destabilizing behavior” is a favorite theme of the forces hostile to Iran, is that the destabilization and the seeking of crisis and confrontation and even war are coming predominantly from MBS’s Saudi Arabia, with an assist from the Netanyahu government in Israel.

The contrived nature of the Saudi maneuver in Lebanon is illustrated by a statement from the Saudi minister for Gulf affairs. Using a chain of reasoning that with Hariri gone, there is “no more distinction between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government,” the minister proclaimed that Saudi Arabia will treat the Lebanese as “a government declaring war”. This is in response to a political crisis that Saudi Arabia intentionally initiated. There is no indication that Iran lifted a finger to bring about any of it.

The Trump administration is worse than oblivious to all this; it is stoking it. While the president tweets about which stock exchange should be used for an initial public offering of shares in Aramco, at least as important a figure is another princeling. That would be the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who reportedly has hit it off well with his fellow thirty-something MBS and visited the Saudi crown prince just days before the purge. This relationship is part of a mutual admiration society that also includes the United Arab Emirates’ de facto leader and Abu Dhabi crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, and the Emirati ambassador in Washington. With everyone swaying to the same tune of seeking confrontation with Iran, it is hard to gauge exactly how much each party is influencing the others. But if the current U.S. policies toward the Persian Gulf players continue, then the United States will be complicit in the increased regional instability that the young autocrat in Riyadh is bringing about.


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Interesting post on ZH, quoting Bloomberg:

The U.S. would buy oil from Saudi Arabia and provide the kingdom military aid and equipment. In return, the Saudis would plow billions of their petrodollar revenue back into Treasuries and finance America’s spending. It took several discreet follow-up meetings to iron out all the details, Parsky said. But at the end of months of negotiations, there remained one small, yet crucial, catch: King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud demanded the country’s Treasury purchases stay “strictly secret,” according to a diplomatic cable obtained by Bloomberg from the National Archives database.
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The Ineptitude of Iran Hawks
Posted on November 13, 2017, 8:30 AM Daniel Larison

Credit: Ninian Reid/Flickr
The New York Times reports on the latest developments in the Hariri story:

Mr. Hariri did not offer clear answers on why he had announced his resignation from Saudi Arabia rather than Lebanon. He also did not provide any new details on what he had described eight days earlier as a plot against his life. He looked pale and tired, with dark circles under his eyes, which often darted to the side, as if looking at someone else in the room.​

Those concerned that he may have been pressured or even detained by Saudi Arabia — including Lebanese officials, Western diplomats and some of Mr. Hariri’s political allies — were unlikely to be convinced by anything short of his return to Lebanon.

As Thanassis Cambanis points out in a useful article today, if Hariri had truly been free all along he would have already returned to Lebanon. If the Saudis didn’t want everyone to think that he was their prisoner, they couldn’t have done a worse job. At best, the Saudis have shown their would-be allies how treacherous and unreliable they can be, and that will make it harder for them to regain the influence they so thoughtlessly squandered over the last week.

Cambanis concludes:

Saudi Arabia’s plan to use him to strike against Iran will fail. Just look at how willfully it has misused and now destroyed its billion-dollar Lebanese asset. It’s a poor preview of things to come in the Saudi campaign against Iran.​

As I mentioned last week, the Saudis have unwittingly boosted Iranian influence or played into their hands at their own expense in every attempt to hurt Iran they have made. Just as our own Iran hawks have backed the policies that have done the most to increase Iranian influence in the region, Iran hawks in Riyadh have the same ability to blunder into helping their regional rival despite their worst intentions. Iran hawks are usually too inept to do much harm to their adversary, but they do manage to do a lot of harm to other countries along their misguided way.


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Yemen Is Being Strangled to Death
Posted on November 14, 2017, 2:41 PM Daniel Larison

The Saudi-led coalition bombed Sanaa’s international airport and rendered it unusable for humanitarian aid flights:

Air raids destroyed radio navigation station for aircraft, civil aviation authorities told SABA, which is controlled by the Houthis.

Air traffic in Sanaa’s airport is currently restricted to flights carrying humanitarian aid sent by the United Nations and other international organizations.​

Oxfam’s Scott Paul explains the implications of this attack:

If it wasn’t already obvious, the Saudi-led coalition has confirmed with this latest attack that they are deliberately trying to strangle the civilian population by depriving them of essential food and medicine. Despite reports that the coalition was willing to open some ports in areas they control, the U.N. said today that there is no evidence that any of the ports are being reopened:

The United Nations says there’s “no indication” a Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Shiite rebels is lifting its blockade of Yemeni airports and sea ports as it announced the previous day.​

Even if the coalition reopens some ports in other parts of the country, those other ports can’t take in as much as the main port at Hodeidah. Transporting goods overland from other ports will make food and medicine prohibitively costly for an already impoverished population. Nawal al-Maghafi detailed why this is the case:

If Hodeidah remains closed, it won’t matter if the coalition opens the others, because there will still be massive loss of life from starvation. Unless the blockade is lifted very soon, the Saudis and their allies will be the authors of the worst famine in decades, and they will have done it with Washington’s blessing


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House of Saud is following the Iraqi/Saddam model of US Client State behaviour, but with a longer leash:

The Saudis Are a Regional Menace
Posted on November 15, 2017, 5:55 AM Daniel Larison

Tensions are rising over the continued absence of the Lebanese Prime Minister from Lebanon:

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia had detained Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, the first time he had said so publicly, and called it an act of aggression against Lebanon.​

Saudi Arabia’s heavy-handed interference in Lebanon is just the most recent in a series of clumsy attempts to intimidate and bully other countries in the region. The campaign against Qatar that began earlier this year was a crude attempt to force their neighbor into abandoning its relatively independent foreign policy, and it predictably failed and inspired Qatar to be even less willing to fall in line. Two and a half years of cruelly pummeling and starving Yemen have created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, but the war has brought the coalition no closer to its goal of subduing that country and installing their preferred puppet government. Snatching Hariri has likewise blown up in their faces.

We are seeing a pattern of destabilizing, destructive behavior from the Saudis in the last few years that confirms that the kingdom is a regional menace and a threat to peace and stability. The U.S. has enabled or encouraged much of this behavior, and as long as the Saudis believe that they can act without suffering damage to the relationship with Washington they will likely continue to create new crises and headaches. It is long past time that the U.S. downgraded its noxious relationship with Riyadh for the sake of our interests and for the sake of the entire region
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Bernnie Federko

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War in Yemen at crossroads after killing of ex-president Saleh

The slim hope that the Yemeni war might soon end through peace negotiations utterly vanished on Monday when former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was assassinated by Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Yemen has been the site of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The killing of Yemen's former president, known for switching sides between world powers in his decades-long career, has raised the stakes in the impoverished country's civil war. We breakdown how and why in this explainer.

Law Professor Errol Mendes gives his take on what Canada can do in Yemen: "Because some of the great powers, such as the United States, are implicated in this proxy war due to their military assistance and geopolitical ambitions with either Iran or Saudi Arabia, there is a need for third countries, such as Canada, to play the role of mediator and engage in "track two" processes, perhaps outside the region. This could involve bringing together key leaders from all sides of the conflict to engage in proposals for de-escalation of the violence and bombing that allows for a meaningful humanitarian pause to permit access to critical food, medicine and humanitarian assistance."

Bernnie Federko

TRIBE Member
Canada could be an honest broker in Yemen

"With the killing of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Monday, Yemen – already the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world – is likely to see even more suffering. Mr. Saleh was killed by his former allies, the Iran-aided Houthi rebels. The full impact of the revenge that will exacted by Mr. Saleh's supporters and the Saudi-led international coalition against the rebels will result in many more civilian deaths, disease and starvation. ... There is no guarantee that the parties would agree to any mediator role for Canada in this desperate humanitarian crisis. But if this country wants to be worthy of a future seat on the UN Security Council, it is this type of offer Canada must engage in." – Errol Mendes, professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Ottawa


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I would think a true honest broker wouldn't have been selling arms to the aggressor nation and providing political cover for their aggression.

Canada can't be an honest broker here - someone is thinking too much about ancient history, Canada's role in the Suez crisis, and not too much about recent history - and Canada's willingness to arm and protect the House of Saud, as a lapdog on autopilot following American foreign policy cues.


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Also to use Yemen as an opportunity to pine for a Canadian role "setting things right" in far off, distressed places is not just myopic for ignoring our clear, corrosive role in that cruel war - but also something of an orientalist tradition at play.

If someone was worried about the region, honestly, and not solely navel gazing, wouldn't you wish for a regional player to step up and be that honest broker?

Why should Canada dream of being a saviour?

We can build nothing enduring there. Only the people there can do that.
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