France’s Macron Covers For Saudi Aggression

Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

France’s invitation to beleaguered Lebanese premier Saad Hariri for him and his family to spend “a few days in Paris” has been viewed as French President Emmanuel Macron stepping in with deft soft power to resolve tensions between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Less charitably, what Macron is really doing is giving cynical cover to the Saudi rulers for their extraordinary acts of aggression towards Lebanon and their violation of that country’s sovereignty.

Two of Hariri’s children were left in Saudi capital Riyadh while he visited France over the weekend. Were they being used as hostages by the Saudis to ensure that Hariri maintains the Saudi spin on events? Certainly, the arrangement raises suspicions, but the French president sought instead to affect a “normal” nothing-is-unusual appearance.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun last week publicly accused Saudi Arabia of holding Hariri in Riyadh against his will. Aoun said the Saudi rulers were violating international law by detaining Hariri and forcing his resignation as prime minister of Lebanon. Such acts were tantamount to aggression, said President Aoun.

Yet Macron has said nothing about Saudi interference. He has instead turned reality on its head by censuring Iran for regional “aggression” and thereby backing Saudi claims that Iran is supplying ballistic missiles to Yemen. Iran swiftly condemned Macron for “stoking regional tensions”.

Credit goes to President Aoun for speaking out plainly, telling it like it is and expressing what many Lebanese citizens and many other observers around the world have concluded. The whole debacle is an outrageous affront to Lebanon and international law by the Saudi rulers, when it is taken into consideration Hariri’s hasty summoning to Saudi capital Riyadh earlier this month, his subsequent televised resignation speech on Saudi TV, and his long-delayed sojourn in that country. What is even more despicable is that the Saudi interference in the sovereign affairs of Lebanon is threatening to re-ignite a civil war within the small Mediterranean country, and, possibly worse, a war across the region with Iran.

Hariri has claimed in a later media interview, held in Saudi Arabia, and in reported communications with family and friends who are back in Lebanon, that he was not under duress while staying in Saudi Arabia. That claim beggars belief given the bizarre circumstances of Hariri’s sudden departure and his protracted nearly two-week stay in Saudi Arabia.

In any case, the president of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, has concluded that something is badly amiss in the saga, and he has explicitly accused Saudi rulers of violating his country’s sovereignty.

Therefore, if there were any principle or adherence to international law, the actions of Saudi Arabia should be condemned categorically by the international community, the UN, the European Union and France in particular owing to its historic relations with Lebanon as the former colonial power before independence in 1943.

But no. What we have instead are either shameful silence from Washington, or mealy-mouthed statements from the EU. The EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini issued a vague statement warning against “foreign interference” in the affairs of Lebanon. What kind of cowardly circumlocution is that?

Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Hariri was, in effect, detained by Saudi Arabia and forced to tender his resignation from public office as a matter of ultimatum. It has been reliably reported that the Wahhabi Saudi rulers were exasperated with the Shia group Hezbollah being part of the coalition government in Beirut. Hariri is a Saudi-sponsored Sunni politician who is antagonistic to Hezbollah and by extension, Iran. But apparently, he was not sufficiently hostile, in the view of his Saudi backers. Hence, Hariri was summoned to Riyadh and ordered to resign on November 4. (The defeat of the Saudi-sponsored covert terror war in Syria no doubt was a factor too in the timing.)

France’s President Macron is playing a particularly slippery game of pandering and expedience towards the Saudi despots.

As the Washington Post’s WorldView briefing reported last week: “French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that it was important to dispel the implication that Hariri was a Saudi prisoner.”

The newspaper goes on to quote Macron saying rather vacuously: “We need to have leaders who are free to express themselves. It’s important that [Hariri] is able to advance the political process in his country in the coming days and weeks.”

The question should be asked: why is it important for Macron to “dispel the implication that Hariri was a Saudi prisoner”?

From virtually all accounts, including that of Lebanese President Michel Aoun whose view should surely be paramount here, that is exactly what Hariri was made by the Saudis – a prisoner.

Three days before his summoning to Riyadh and his scripted resignation speech on November 4 – in which Hariri claimed with incredible drama that he was in danger of an assassination plot by Hezbollah and its ally Iran – it was reported that Hariri was having dinner with the French culture minister in Beirut. During their meal, he received a phone call. His demeanor darkened, and immediately departed from the table for a flight to Riyadh. Without the company of aides, Hariri was met on his arrival by Saudi officials who took his mobile phone from him. He was not greeted by senior Saudi rulers like Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which would have been customary diplomatic protocol.

Everything about the next two weeks of Hariri’s stay in Saudi Arabia signals a de facto detention against his will. Admittedly, he made a brief flight to the United Arab Emirates during the time period, which was claimed by the Saudis to be proof of his free movement. The UAE rulers are closely aligned with the House of Saud, and besides Hariri was soon back in his Riyadh residence, from where he continued to tweet to friends that he was “fine”.

This is nothing but a sham. The stark facts are that Saudi Arabia has brazenly interfered in the internal affairs of Lebanon, trying to force its prime minister to step down. Furthermore, the Saudi rulers have accused Lebanon of “acts of war” by allegedly supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen; the Saudis have also ordered their nationals to leave Lebanon; and there are reports emerging of the Saudis now pushing to suspend Beirut from the Arab League. This is reckless incendiary behavior by the Saudi rulers.

Should we be surprised though? Saudi Arabia has shown absolute criminal disregard for international law over its bombing and genocidal blockade of Yemen, where humanitarian aid groups have warned that 50,000 children may die this year due to enforced deprivation from the nearly three-year American and British-backed Saudi war on Yemen.

The absolute Saudi monarchy has also gone on an internal rampage of arresting its own government ministers and other businessmen in an audacious power-grab under the guise of “an anti-corruption drive”. Moreover, Saudi rulers have been instrumental in organizing a legally dubious trade and diplomatic blockade of Qatar over trumped claims that the latter is a stooge for Iran and singularly supporting terrorists (this from the Saudis who have bankrolled terrorist proxies to overthrow the government in Syria.)

The criminality and rogue conduct of Saudi Arabia is legion and brazenly in your face.

That is why the so-called “international community”, the UN, Washington, the European Union, and France in particular are deserving of withering censure. Their mealy-mouthed muted statements on Saudi misconduct towards Lebanon are a disgrace. They are complicit in wanton lawlessness by their pandering to Saudi despots.

But France’s Emmanuel Macron has emerged as the prime disgrace. His invitation to Saad Hariri and his family to come to France is a cynical move to give cover to the Saudi despots. Tellingly, on the announcement of the invitation, Macron said that “it was not an offer of exile”. That’s Macron making it all sugary nice as pie.

On Friday, the day before Hariri arrived in Paris, Macron actually accused Iran of “aggression” and has called for sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile defense program. So, Macron, sneakily, is giving the Saudi narrative succor, and blaming Iran, instead of condemning Riyadh for its flagrant interference and aggression.

Again, by inviting Hariri to Paris, Macron is indulging the Saudi-Hariri charade that all is “normal” – when in reality the sordid shenanigans over the past two weeks amount to an outrageous and very grave violation of international law and of a neighboring country’s sovereignty by the Saudis.

With this kind of cynical “diplomacy”, Macron is showing that France is far from capable of having any leadership role or moral authority in the Middle East or the world.

Of course, France’s vested economic interests with the Saudi despots, from arms sales to energy and infrastructure projects, are central to Macron’s expedient calculations.

Macron’s ambitions of engendering some kind of renaissance of France as a global power are futile and nothing but sheer vanity. The cowardice of the French president in the face of Saudi aggression towards Lebanon shows that Macron and his pretensions of “global power” are a puff of cheap cosmetic powder.

New Gold-Backed Debit Card Launched In Partnership With Lloyds Bank & MasterCard

In recent years, there has been a major debate about the respective merits of gold versus Bitcoin, even though many, not all, gold bulls are also supporters of the latter. Gold advocates generally view favourably Bitcoin’s inherent characteristics of decentralisation, finite supply and ability to operate (so far) outside of the usual interference by western central banks. Having said that, the launch of Bitcoin futures on the CME in the coming weeks could lead to naked shorting of “paper Bitcoin” by any parties, including central banks and large commercial banks, who deem capping of the Bitcoin price necessary. As we discussed last week in "Financial Times: Sell Bitcoin Because The Market Is About To Become "Civilized", this could align Bitcoin with one of the major issues which has held the gold market hostage for years, time will tell.

While many gold investors remain entrenched in the view that gold will (eventually) prove to be the better store of value, one thing many would acknowledge is that Bitcoin is likely to evolve into a superior means of payment. However, that could be in the process of changing.

A fintech start up is partnering with some financial heavyweights to create a payments system backed by physical – not paper – gold. According to the Financial Times.

The world’s oldest currency is being brought into the digital age with the launch of a debit card and app that will allow people to pay for goods in gold.

 

Fintech group Glint has teamed up with Lloyds Banking Group in the UK and MasterCard to create an app that enables people to load credit in various currencies, which can then be used to buy a portion of a physical gold bar. Customers use the app at the checkout to select whether to pay in a currency or gold, before transacting with their MasterCard.

The development marks the first time people in the UK and overseas can own just a portion of a gold bar through an app, which can then be used in mobile and debit card-based payments. The app also allows people to send gold to peers in the form of a digital payment. Jason Cozens, Glint’s chief executive and co-founder, said: “Everyone is familiar with gold as one of society’s oldest means of exchange, its universal acceptance, its reliability, its history as a store of wealth and as a means of underpinning the value of ‘paper’ currencies. “Unlike paper currencies, gold can’t be wiped out, devalued or corrupted.”

If you’ve been watching carefully Glint (website is glintpay.com) has been working towards this moment for some time. The Crunch reported a capital raising in August this year, noting the impressive list of backers.

Glint, a stealthy London fintech startup that promises a new “global currency,” has raised £3.1 million from a plethora of individual backers in the financial services and asset management space, alongside early-stage investor Bray Capital.

They comprise Haruko Fukuda, former CEO of the World Gold Council and NED of Investec Bank; Oliver Bolitho, formerly Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management Asia; Hugh Sloane, co-founder of asset manager Sloane Robinson; and Lord Flight Of Worcester, formerly of Guinness Flight Global Asset Management.

Other supporters of the new app include the Tokyo Commodity Exchange, and NEC Capital Solutions, a technology integration company. The co-founder and COO of Glint, Ben Davies (right in the photo below), is well known to us for his media appearances – often lambasting manipulation of the gold price – and for running the precious metals investment fund, Hinde Capital. The CEO and co-founder, Jason Cozens, also has gold market experience, having set up “GoldMadeSimple.com, a website that allows investors to buy and store physical gold. Additionally, he set up two ecommerce and online marketing businesses.

In terms of how the service works, the FT reports.

Glint is working with Lloyds in the UK as the deposit holder for customers storing money on their app. When a customer decides to buy gold through the app, this is used to purchase part of a gold bar that is physically allocated in vaults in Switzerland. The app will initially be available in the UK and Europe from Monday before being rolled out in Asia and the US next year.

Mr Davies said the app helps to “democratise” gold by opening access to people who might not be able to afford to buy a whole bar, rather than the commodity being the “preserve of the wealthy”. He added: “The advent of electronic wallets and faster payments through technology means we’re able to use gold in the electronic payment system.

 

“We believe over next few decades people will need the ability to protect their money by owning gold and have the ability to spend it.

We doubt that we’ll have to wait two decades before the vast majority of people will need to protect the value of their money. It could be a matter of months, so Glint’s new service might prove timely. Here are some further thoughts from Davies in the FT article.

Glint’s new service is riding the wave of alternative payments, such as bitcoin, as more people seek payment methods that can store value in a way that differs from traditional currencies. Ben Davies, a co-founder of Glint, said: “We want to create a fairer form of money whereby we give you choice and control over how you protect your money in an era where central banks issue more currency, and so the value of your currency is falling.”

So, is the question gold, Bitcoin or both?