Saudi Arabia is making its negative stance toward IS and other extremist groups clear. In Arab News, there’s a report about the sentencing of a cleric who preached support as well as provided monetary support for jihadists. He received a five-year jail sentence and travel ban.

Preacher imprisoned for praising IS

Riyadh’s special criminal court has sentenced a Saudi preacher to five years in prison for praising and supporting terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), during an Eid sermon at a local mosque in Riyadh in August 2013.

The defendant was also slapped with a five-year travel ban. The defendant was convicted of using Friday sermons to provoke and encourage dissidence, while glorifying terrorist groups and extremist ideas propagated by Al-Qaeda terrorists.

He was also convicted of financially supporting terrorism with more than SR1 million and harboring wanted terrorists. The defendant had previously received a letter from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs ordering him to stop delivering sermons at the mosque.

Saudi Gazette reports on the disquiet following the discovery of pro-ISIS graffiti on the walls of schools in eastern Riyadh. The article suggests that this is vandalism, but also that there is concern that the group’s appeal to young men is something to watch.

IS slogan found on school walls in Riyadh
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The residents of Al-Naseem neighborhood, east Riyadh, were shocked when they saw the slogans of Islamic State (IS) on the walls of some schools, Al-Hayat daily reported.

A number of residents who spoke on condition of anonymity said they suspect that a group of young men were behind it.

The young men did not look religious but used to stay up till late on the streets near the schools, the residents said.

Sulaiman Al-Battah, sociologist, blamed social media for publishing inaccurate news reports and deviant ideas.


September:01:2014 - 06:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Makkah reporting that over 200,000 Saudis have obtained American citizenship (the time period involved is not stated). The numbers come to light as the Internal Revenue Service tries to track down 30,000 who have defaulted on their taxes.

The article notes that Saudi Arabia does not acknowledge dual-citizenship except in extraordinary circumstances. One has to choose to either be Saudi or to be some other nationality. Choosing another nationality (by going through whatever country’s nationalization process) means that one loses Saudi citizenship and all accompanying rights and privileges.

I suspect that most of these Saudi-Americans are actually people who were born in the US. The US grants citizenship automatically to any who are born in the US, with some exceptions, like diplomats. In the Middle East, but also in other places, it’s not at all uncommon for people to seek a second nationality if for no other reason than to have a place to go if things should go badly at home. At the very least, one does not end up a stateless refugee.

Contrary to the writer’s fears, though, I don’t think that the Saudi scholarship program is generating masses of new Saudi-Americans. Except, of course, for those who deliver babies while they’re studying in the US.

Why do so many Saudis become US citizens?
Abdullah Al-Tuwairgi | Makkah daily

There are more than 200,000 Saudis who have become US citizens and most of them still maintain their Saudi citizenship. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the US pursues some of these people for failing to pay taxes as American citizens. About 30,000 Saudis, who are tax defaulters, are in the Kingdom and it seems that they are not serious about settling their tax obligations. Normally, no US citizen can evade paying taxes.

What concerns me is the large number of Saudis who have US citizenship. The Kingdom does not recognize dual nationality, but Saudi law allows a citizen to hold the citizenship of another country in exceptional situations but only with the permission of the Council of Ministers. If a Saudi becomes a citizen of another country, the Kingdom will cancel his Saudi citizenship and all of his rights and privileges as a citizen. When I was a foreign scholarship student in the US in the late 1980s, I noticed that most Arabs who acquired US citizenship were from countries where the political and economic conditions were poor. During those days, only a limited number of Saudis and citizens from other Gulf states applied for US citizenship, and this was usually due to their emotional attachment to the US.


August:29:2014 - 08:09 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

An interesting paper (5-page PDF) on how ISIS, Al-Qaeda and its spin-offs, and other extremist groups make use of social media to promote their messages and to recruit new members. The report is from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.

Transcending Organization: Individuals and “The Islamic State”

BACKGROUND
The innovative ways that foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq are leveraging social media and mobile apps to recruit aspirational supporters in the West reveal what is actually a paradigm shift occurring within the global jihadist movement, away from the organization-centric model advanced by Al-Qaida, to a movement unhindered by organizational structures. Counterterrorism policy and practice must rethink the way it approaches countering online radicalization.


August:28:2014 - 06:28 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

An article in Arab News points to the lamentable waste of energy — particularly electricity — by Saudis. While Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s top energy producers, it is also one of its top consumers. Saudis are using as much natural gas as they are producing, the piece says. It is also using petroleum at a higher-than-sustainable rate. Most of the energy used is in the form of electricity to run desalination plants, domestic use, and industrial use. Transportation and industry use petroleum and its byproducts. According to the article, Saudis use, per capita, the equivalent of 40 barrels of oil per year.

Solar energy production is needed to help fill the demand, as well as finding new sources from which to import natural gas.

Energy waste costs local economy SR135bn annually
JUBAIL: SULTAN AL-SUGHAI

Although the Kingdom has the largest oil reserves in the world and occupies the fifth place in terms of natural gas reserves, yet according to a report by oil specialist the Kingdom faces many challenges as a result of a number of different factors, including its need to meet the requirements of development.

Oil and gas being non-renewable resources, the Kingdom requires the ideal utilization of these resources to diversify the economic base, provide new sources of income and achieve sustainable progression.

According to the report issued by the Kuwaiti Diplomatic Center, the Kingdom’s annual rate of energy consumption exceeded 5 percent while the economic growth rate reached 4 percent.

The total of energy consumption accumulated to what equals 3.8 million oil barrels per day considering the apparent disparity in consumption rates during different seasons of the year.

Statistics show that rate of consumption will reach 8.4 million oil barrels if the issue is not dealt with properly.


August:28:2014 - 05:56 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on a new regional survey conducted by a Singapore-based social media agency. The report indicates that Saudi Arabia is fully wired (or wireless) and connected. Interestingly, the data suggest that Saudis own 1.9 cell phones each.

Graphic showing Saudi use of digital media

The Kingdom’s population lives online

Singapore-based social media agency, We Are Social’s (http://wearesocial.sg) report, “Digital Landscape: Middle East, North Africa and Turkey” offers an in-depth review of statistics of importance to understand the social, digital and mobile landscape in the region in 2014. The 20 countries covered include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The report begins with a review of global and regional statistics and then drills down to the individual country data. Saudi Gazette presents here the data for the Kingdom. To review the full report and compare how all the countries stack up, go to: http://www.slideshare.net/wearesocialsg/social-digital-mobile-in-the-middle-east-north-africa-turkey/download


August:27:2014 - 08:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Young Saudis are changing their expectations about work, Al Arabiya TV reports. Rather than waiting around for high-status/low-productivity jobs in the public sector, they are now looking at and taking jobs in the service sector. They are bucking this (recent) historical social disdain for these jobs because they realize that any moral job that pays a salary is a respectable job and that earning a salary is much better than not earning a salary. Saudi males are starting to catch up with the women, who have had far more pragmatic ideas about work.

Young Saudis challenging past work trends

A large number of young Saudis have joined jobs that were considered beneath them in the past and are proving that such negative traditions and norms are not an obstacle to their ambitions.

It has become normal to see young Saudis working in men’s fashion shops, restaurants and coffee shops, serving customers to acquire the experience and work culture that will allow them to achieve higher goals.

These Saudis are reflected in the recent data released by the Ministry of Labor that showed the number of Saudis working in the private sector has reached 1.47 million in 2013, representing a 332.2 percent increase from 2012.

This increase was also helped by the ministry’s Saudization efforts and the security campaigns that were conducted against illegal workers, Al-Hayat daily reported.


August:27:2014 - 07:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia has arrested eight men who had been working to recruit young Saudis to join up with ISIS, Al Arabiya TV reports. It might well serve the Saudi government if, when they are tried, it relax its rules about not naming names and fully publicize its efforts to eradicate extremism within the country.

Saudi Arabia busts cell of ISIS recruiters

The Saudi interior ministry said Tuesday it detained eight individuals for trying to recruit youth into “extremist groups abroad.” Al Arabiya News channel that the recruits were for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“Security authorities conducted on Monday an operation that led to the arrest of eight citizens who were involved in recruiting youth to join extremist groups abroad,” an interior ministry statement carried by the country’s Saudi Press Agency said.

Saudi Arabia has taken a tough stance against militant groups in the kingdom and has made arrests of cells with links to extremist elements in different Arab countries.

Asharq Alawsat reports that similar arrests have been made in Jordan:

Jordanian authorities arrest ISIS, Nusra Front suspects


August:27:2014 - 07:38 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

A piece in the Arabic daily Okaz — here translated by its sister paper Saudi Gazette — calls attention to the widely disparate verdicts given out by Saudi courts. Three crimes, ranging from ‘celebrating Valentine’s Day’ to child rape, with support for terrorism in between, led to sentences ranging from one to 15 years, but not as you might expect, given the severity of the crimes.

This is nonsense, the writer says. Worse than the injustice meted out to the perpetrators, it calls the entire legal system into disrepute. The problem was supposed to be addressed starting 12 years ago, when the Council of Ministers called for documenting cases and verdicts and to make them known across the land. It hasn’t happened, clearly. And until it is done and until uniformity is required across the courts, the parody of law will just continue.

Confusing court rulings
Mishal Al-Sudairy | Okaz

I LEAVE it to the discretion of the reader to make their own mind up about three court verdicts issued by judges in different areas of the Kingdom.

These rulings, in my mind, amount to nothing more than black comedy.

The first judge was in Buraidah, Qassim province. He sentenced three young men who celebrated Valentine’s Day to prison terms from eight to 15 years. He also ruled that each of them be given 800 lashes.

The second judge was in Riyadh. He sentenced four defendants from four to 34 months in prison and banned them from traveling abroad after they served their prison terms. They were convicted of issuing forged passports to Saudi citizens to enable them to go out and join the fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The third judge was in Taif. He sentenced an Afghan expatriate to one year in prison, fined him SR1,000 and gave him 50 lashes. The man was convicted of dragging children out of their homes to sodomize them. He was also filming them.


August:26:2014 - 08:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that members of Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council — the quasi-parliament — are dissatisfied with their lack of political power. The issue at hand is the Saudi budget. The Council is permitted to review it, but cannot make changes; at most, it can offer recommendations.

This is insufficient, several members say. The Council needs to be able to supervise and to legislate.

They are, indeed, correct, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

Shoura members dismiss budget debate as pointless
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — A number of Shoura Council members have objected to calls by some of their colleagues to discuss the general budget before it is approved by the government.

They told Al-Watan newspaper that it was pointless to present the general budget to the council since it has no powers to make amendments.

Abdullah Al-Shuwaihat, one of the members, said rather than focusing on the issue of tabling the general budget, the focus should be on giving the council more powers to enable it to perform its legislative and supervisory role.

He said he regretted the council has no powers to be a real parliament representing the people and supervising the performance of executive bodies.


August:26:2014 - 08:09 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Jamal Khashoggi has an interesting article translated on today’s Al Arabiya TV website and in Arabic at Al-Hayat newspaper. He takes a look at ISIS and sees it as a “third-generation” takfirist/salfist movement. He sees its origins in Egypt of the 1990s. I’d put it earlier, if not with the 1979 takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, then at least in the 1980s, with the conflict between Muslim Brotherhood associates and the Syrian government in Hama. There, the Syrian government succeeded in (bloodily) suppressing the group. This time around, it’s not being terribly successful.

Khashoggi is right in pointing out that you don’t fix a problem or cure a disease until you have a correct diagnosis and understand the cause. There is far too much refusing to look for, look at, or otherwise identify the causes, but they are known. Treating the symptoms may make things look or feel better for a time, but that does not solve the problem. Nor do $100 million dollar donations to talk about the problem.

How can we defeat ISIS if we don’t understand it?
Jamal Khashoggi

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been digging its own grave, just as it has irrationally led many to their graves. It did not disappoint all those who followed its rise and predicted the inevitability of its end, as it carried the seeds of its own destruction within itself.

Last year, I published an article entitled “What history teaches us about Syria’s extremists.” At the time, ISIS was emerging in Syria and rebelling against those involved in the revolution. It was like an uninvited guest. I wrote about a story that took place in the Indian continent in the 18th century; the story of a young fighter who became the Emir of Peshawar after the success of the Islamist corrective movement to liberate the city from the rule of the “Maharajah” in just two months.

After the imposition of hardline provisions by the new emir on the tribal population of the region, they rebelled against him and brought back the Sikhs and their army to rule again. They did not rebel against the emir alone but against the whole movement, and its spiritual leader.


August:25:2014 - 10:47 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is crying “Foul!” over a video clip that has been appearing on various social media sites. The clip purports to show a member of the Commission uttering threats against blackmailers and homosexuals while presenting himself as a member of the vice police. His is not a part of the Commission but an imposter, authorities say, and they are determined to find out who he is and to punish him.

It is not terribly difficult to make fake news. Some allege that “Pallywood” is a manifestation of this, but we have all seen mock news articles. Unfortunately, some of these get taken up by reputable media — with less than wonderful fact-checking — and become part of “what we all know.”

The Saudi Gazette article here quotes a Shoura Council member as saying that social media sites should not be shut down as they are not the problem. The problem is with those who would abuse it.

Haia distances itself from viral video
Saudi Gazette report

DAMMAM — The Presidency for the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Haia) said the man who recently appeared in a video clip beside one of the Haia’s vehicles and launched a wave of threats against homosexuals and those who blackmail young women is not one of its personnel.

The Haia described the man as an impostor, Al-Hayat daily said.

The Haia, through its spokesman Turki Al-Shelayyil, also said it will investigate and punish the person who arranged for the man to shoot video clips next to the Haia’s vehicle. If he is convicted of impersonation, he will be imprisoned for 10 years or be fined or both.

The video clip elicited a response from the commission’s presidency as it contained words and insinuations that violate the regulations and policies of the Haia, specifically the principle of “promoting virtue and preventing vice”.

In the video, a man whose appearance indicates that he is a Haia member stands next to a vehicle belonging to the commission. He subsequently makes numerous threats, something that prompted the commission to find out his true identity so appropriate action can be taken against him.


August:24:2014 - 09:28 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs an interesting piece from the Associated Press on how a campaign of the war with IS is taking place in social media. Social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube are taking down the graphic images of the murder of American journalist James Foley. The platforms do not wish to be engaged — or to be used — as part of IS’s propaganda.

This raises issue itself, however. Not only is there a form of self-censorship going on (not that that is all bad), but publicizing that you will not publicize something is, in fact, publicizing it.

The article notes that IS is far more sophisticated in its use of media than were the Taliban in Afghanistan, who had a visceral dislike of media, particularly electronic media. The current group, perhaps aided by volunteers from the technologically-advanced West, are taking the conflict to new and wider levels.

Social media pushes back at militant propaganda

Beirut, AP—The extremists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have turned their social media into a theater of horror, broadcasting a stream of battles, bombings and beheadings to a global audience.

The strategy is aimed at terrorizing opponents at home and winning recruits abroad. But there are increasing signs of pushback—both from companies swiftly censoring objectionable content and users determined not to let it go viral.

Public disgust with the group’s callous propaganda tactics was evident following their posting of the beheading video of American journalist James Foley—footage that spread rapidly when it appeared online late Tuesday.

The slickly edited video begins with scenes of Obama explaining his decision to order airstrikes in Iraq, before switching to Foley in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in the desert, a black-clad ISIS fighter by his side.

The fighter who beheads Foley is then seen holding another US journalist, Steven Sotloff, threatening to kill him next. “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” he says.

By Wednesday, many social media users were urging each other not to post the video as a form of protest.

Phillip Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher who tracks the social media activity of jihadists, has noted a modest but noteworthy rise in the speed with which rogue accounts are being removed from Twitter and terror-supporting pages are being pulled from Facebook.

“It’s happening,” he said. “I can tell you first-hand because I look at this stuff every day.”


August:24:2014 - 09:07 | Comments Off | Permalink
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