Protest Call Goes Unanswered
Mazen Mahdi, Arab News

MANAMA, 1 January 2005 — A call by the London-based Saudi dissident, Dr. Saad Al-Faqih, to stage a protest against the Saudi government in Bahrain following Friday prayers went unanswered yesterday, as leading Bahraini Muslim figures condemned the call and described it as un-Islamic.

Bahraini authorities had stepped up security around Al-Fatih Grand Mosque as a precautionary measure with close to 100 policemen in riot gear stationed around the mosque following the protest call.

Faqih’s Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) keeps searching for validation in its attempt to impose Sharia law as the basis for Islamic societies around the world. His call for protests in Saudi Arabia a couple of weeks ago went unheeded. He’s struck out again in Bahrain.

December:31:2004 - 23:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Two Explosions Hit Riyadh
Raid Qusti, Arab News

Security forces surround the Interior Ministry building after the explosions on Wednesday. (SPA)

RIYADH, 30 December 2004 — Seven terrorists were killed in a gunbattle after the stillness of the night in the capital was shattered when two car bombs exploded yesterday spreading alarm all over the city.

Shortly after the two explosions, security forces raided a villa in Al-Tawo’un District in the north of the capital where they received information that terrorists were holding a Western hostage.

A gunbattle took place after the villa was raided and seven terrorists hiding inside were killed. At approximately 8.30 p.m., a loud explosion was heard in downtown Riyadh, near the area surrounding the Ministry of Interior.

The blast was so powerful that it caused buildings located two kilometers away to shake. The explosion was also heard all the way in the Diplomatic Quarter 10 kilometers away, as people phoned Arab News to say that the windows in their buildings shook from the impact of the blast. Security sources told Arab News that a car bomb was detonated at the entrance of a tunnel adjacent to the Ministry of Interior from the east side.

The source said that there were no terror suspects in the car and that it was detonated by remote control.

Saudi Arabian Television showed a large presence of security forces near the Ministry of Interior building. The powerful blast caused slight damage to the surrounding gate, as well as nearby shops whose windows were shattered.

“I was in my living room watching television on my sofa when I heard the loud blast. It shattered the windows of my house and threw me off balance,” said one eyewitness whose house was only 200 meters away from the blast.

“When I came down to the street to see what was going on, I noticed that there were huge plumes of smoke coming from the direction of the Ministry of Interior,” he added.

Dozens of police cars, ambulances, special forces units, were immediately deployed to the area and security forces sealed off the entire area surrounding the Ministry of Interior all the way down Al-Ma’athar road.

Police used live rounds to disperse curious onlookers who gathered on small hilltops near the area.

Half an hour after the first explosion, another loud explosion was heard in Al-Sulai district. This time the target was the Special Forces Training Building.

According to security sources, the bomb was detonated in a GMC truck. It was not known whether it was a suicide attack or whether it was also detonated by remote control.

According to the head of the Saudi Red Crescent Society Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Suwailim, only a handful of people were injured.

“The number of injured people was between four and five and they were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment. None of the injuries was major,” he said on Saudi Arabian Television.

The spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, Brig. Gen. Mansoor Al-Turki said that the number of explosions was two and not three, as was reported by some media networks.

Till the time of going to press there were no suspects arrested as helicopters were hovering at a low altitude over the districts of Al-Olaya, Al-Ma’athar, and central down town looking for suspects.

So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, even though fingers are being pointed at Al-Qaeda or its sympathizers in the Kingdom. This is the second major attack on a government building since the special security forces and traffic department building was attacked on April 21.

A suicide bomber driving a truck detonated a bomb near the protective barrier, which caused the building to rip in half, killing four people and injuring 148, including 38 expatriates.

Even though the Kingdom has being hitting hard on terrorists since May 12, 2003, a number of small terror cells still exist in Riyadh, Bureidah, and in small towns.

Earlier this month, five militants stormed the US Consulate in Jeddah and killed four of its foreign workers in an apparent attempt to drive Westerners out of Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy here revised its warden message asking US citizens living in Saudi Arabia to be more alert.

And the terrorists strike back…

At least this time, those killed seem limited to the terrorists only.

There’s additional reporting at Associated Press, and Reuters. The Washington Post report is here. Al-Jazeera TV reports as well.

Neal MacFarquhar–generally an excellent reporter on the Middle East–reports for the The New York Times. Neal points out that the Saudi authorities see these attacks as a sign of the weakening of Al-Qaeda in the kingdom as they become more and more desperate.

UPDATE: The Saudi-US Relations Organization has this collection of articles.

December:30:2004 - 00:26 | Comments Off | Permalink

Terrorist Arrested in Jeddah After Shootout
Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, Arab News

JEDDAH, 30 December 2004 — Security forces arrested a suspected member of a deviant group here yesterday, the Interior Ministry said.

It was referring to suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists who have killed more than 100 people and wounded hundreds more since launching a wave of bombing and shooting attacks in May 2003.

The man arrested in Jeddah was wounded “while resisting security forces and attempting to flee,” the ministry said.

The Saudi war against terror, on the domestic front, continues. This story from Arab News tells about a shoot-out and the subsequent capture of a suspected Al-Qaeda member in Jeddah, site of the attack on the US Consulate earlier this month.

December:30:2004 - 00:24 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Saudi-American Forum has recently circulated a letter from a woman who is an active service member of the US military, who has served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her letter to her congressional representative explains why she believes that Americans–including members of Congress–are making bad decisions based on bad information. She notes how she believes that maintaining a good US-Saudi relationship is critical to the United States.

Her letter, written in response to the proposed “Saudi Arabia Accountability Act” (which has sponsors in both houses of Congress) is certainly worth reading. It’s also worth emulating her example by writing to your representatives if you believe this proposed act needs to be fixed.

December:22:2004 - 00:42 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

44% in poll OK limits on rights of Muslims
By William Kates, Associated Press

ITHACA, N.Y. — Nearly half of all Americans surveyed said they think the US government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, according to a nationwide poll.

Newspapers generally have a difficult time dealing with statistics. They look at a press release about a poll and, after a cursory glance at the data, write an abstract of an abstract. They find the “news hook” that will make a strong headline, but don’t actually have to match that up with what the data says.

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy–a weblog run by law professors–Orin Kerr of George Washington University Law School points out how the “meaning” of the poll is actually the conclusion of the pollsters, not supported by the data:

What Do 44% of Americans Believe?:Newspapers and websites around the world are reporting what purport to be the results of a Cornell University poll on attitudes of Americans towards Muslims in the United States. The newspapers and websites are reporting that 44% of Americans say that they want to curtail the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Here is the summary from the Associated Press:

Nearly half of all Americans surveyed said they think the US government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, according to a nationwide poll.
. . .
The survey indicated that 44 percent of those surveyed said they favored at least some restrictions on the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Forty-eight percent said liberties should not be restricted.

These are extremely disturbing figures that will be accepted by hundreds of millions or even billions of people around the world. But there is something important that the press reports overlook: the 44% of people polled did not actually say that they wanted to curtail the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Rather, 44% of peple reported views that the Cornell University pollsters themselves categorize as being support for the curtailment of the civil liberties of Muslim Americans.

I found the report on the poll here. It turns out that the pollsters asked people to agree or disagree with four statements:

1) Muslim civic and volunteer organizations should be infiltrated by undercover law enforcement agents to keep watch on their activities and fundraising.
2) U.S. government agencies should profile citizens as potential threats based on being Muslim or having Middle Eastern heritage.
3) Mosques should be closely monitored and surveilled by U.S. law enforcement agencies.
4) All Muslim Americans should be required to register their whereabouts with the federal government.
For each of these statements, between 20 and 30 percent of the subjects agreed; most disagreed. Overall, the study reports, 29% of the subjects agreed with 2 or more of these statements, and 15% agreed with one of them.

(Some of these numbers don’t quite add up, I think, but see page 6 of the report for the figures.)

I don’t want to be nitpicky, but am I right in thinking that a certain amount of spin is involved in how this poll is being reported? The pollsters made a judgment call that if you agree with any one of these statements, you are in favor of curtailing the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Thus, the pollsters are claiming, and advocacy groups such as CAIR are trumpeting, that 44% of Americans are in favor of curtailing the civil liberties of Muslims.

But is that really what the poll shows? Most of the questions are quite vague, and use lots of buzzwords. Take the statement: “Muslim civic and volunteer organizations should be infiltrated by undercover law enforcement agents to keep watch on their activities and fundraising.” There have been many press reports of Muslim civil and volunteer organizations being used as fronts for terrorist financing schemes. If you believe these reports are probably true, or just may be true, you might reasonably want the FBI to investigate the organizations. You would then answer that you agree with the statement. Does that really mean you want to curtail the civil liberties of Muslims

Of course, this is not to say that the poll results are heartening. In particular, it is very disturbing that 29% of Americans would agree that “All Muslim Americans should be required to register their whereabouts with the federal government.” I can imagine less damning explanations for this figure, but it is on the whole quite troubling. Nonetheless, the press reports around the world suggesting that 44% of Americans want to curtail civil liberties of Muslim Americans would appear to be at least misleading.?

December:19:2004 - 07:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (17) | Permalink

Editorial: Iraqi Media

In just over a month Iraqis are due to vote on their future. Parties have begun campaigning to attract voters to their positions. At the same time, the enemies of the democratic process have stepped up their campaign of murder and intimidation in order to keep Iraqis away from the ballot boxes.

This is a good unsigned editorial from Arab News about the importance of a free media in Iraq. While it does take the US government to task for heavy handed dealings with some media–particularly Al Jazeera–it saves its anger for those who shut down independent voices through intimidation and violence. It doesn’t ask for a “fair and balanced” media, as long as the different voices are clearly identified. If viewers understand the agenda behind the broadcaster or newspaper, they can act accordingly. But permitting only oine voice is not a step toward democracy.

December:18:2004 - 22:29 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Editorial: Diplomatic Phenomenon

Washington’s support for Israel is a diplomatic phenomenon. Successive US administrations have armed, financed and trained their Middle Eastern ally’s armed forces, regularly fed them key electronic intelligence while throwing an all-embracing protective diplomatic arm around the country. In return, Israel has meddled in the US political process, killed 34 US citizens when it attacked the spy ship the USS Liberty in international waters in 1967, routinely ignored even the mildest US requests and perhaps worst of all, regularly spied upon its faithful sponsor.

This unsigned Arab News editorial scratches it head over the US-Israel relationship. It points out a number of issues which, had they involved any other country than Israel (the editorial claims), would have resulted in a serious break in relations. By listing all the negatives–some of which are valid, some of which are still speculative–and not listing the positives of the relationship, the editorial tells only half the story.

December:17:2004 - 22:43 | Comments Off | Permalink

Three Terror Suspects Arrested

JEDDAH, 18 December 2004 — Police arrested three men wanted in connection with terror links as they tried to enter Taif city, 80 kilometers to the east of Jeddah. The men riding two cars were nabbed at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the city.

A security source was quoted by Al-Jazirah newspaper as saying they arrested three “important figures” but the source declined to say whether the men figured in the Ministry of Interior’s list of the 26 most wanted terrorists. The three were spotted late Wednesday night trying to enter Taif. Police followed the cars and arrested the men at a checkpoint mounted at one of the city entrances.

December:17:2004 - 22:40 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudis Brave Odds to Register for Jobs
Abdul Wahab Bashir, Arab News

JEDDAH, 18 December 2004 — Unemployed Saudi youth braved cold weather, rain and rough terrain in remote areas and rushed to register their names at special centers set up all over the Kingdom for job seekers.
The process started two days ago and will last for sometime in a move that could serve as an indication of the qualifications of the applicants and the types of jobs they seek.

The Saudi government is setting ambitious goals for the employment of Saudis. They need them. They need to find between 150,000-200,000 jobs annually for young Saudis entering the workplace–and that’s only counting the men. This article reports that the government is doing both a needs and a skills assessment around the country, looking at what matches up and what doesn’t. Interesting article for the scope of the project.

December:17:2004 - 22:40 | Comments Off | Permalink

New Exams Development Project Nears Completion
Maha Akeel, Arab News

JEDDAH, 18 December 2004 — The administration for the final exams development project at the Ministry of Education is completing the project ahead of its implementation. At a weeklong workshop in Jeddah, the supervisors of the project trained school principals and teachers from selected boys’ and girls’ schools from all over the Kingdom on the new types of exam questions that will be introduced gradually to all final exams.

As a major part of its educational reform program, the Saudis are making a massive change in pedagogical methods, moving from memorization and exams that seek nothing but accurate recollection of texts and lectures, to a more analytical and critical classroom. This requires the creation of an entirely new sort of examination, which this article discusses.

December:17:2004 - 22:37 | Comments Off | Permalink

Congressional Leader Invites Shoura Council to US Sessions
By Maha Sami Aboulola–The Saudi Gazette

Saudi and American officials appear to be on the road to strengthening their bilateral relationship despite the recent terrorist events that targeted not only the United States and Westerners in the Kingdom, but also Saudis.

US Congressman and Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (Republican-Illinois) has taken a step toward strengthening the relationship by inviting members of the Shoura Council to visit the US and attend some Congressional sessions…

He said that the Speaker of the House in Congress has praised Saudi Arabia s efforts in combating terrorism and highlighted the importance of partnership in the international efforts to combat it since Sept. 11, 2001….

This invitation is a measure of the changes in the authority of the Saudi Shoura (Consultative) Council. Previously, the Council, because it was appointed, not elected, was seen as suspect by the US Congress. Congress would have no formal dealings with them and did not see them as an entirely legitimate parliamentary system. While it is certainly not elected, it nevertheless behaves as a system of popular representation. Earlier this year, the International Parliamentary Union welcomed the Shoura Council into the organization. This may have provided the bona fides that the American Congress was seeking.

Saudis see the Shoura Council as a transitional device. It was first put into operation in 1993, with 60 members. In 1997, that was expanded to 90 members, and in 2001 to 120 members. Further expansion to 220 members is under discussion. The expanded membership takes in representatives of a wider range of popular interests. It is believed that after Saudis get used to electing government officers (as in the municipal elections) at least part of the Shoura Council membership will be elected, thus making it a “real” parliament. No women have yet been appointed to the Council, though there are ancillary “women’s committees” with women taking part.

December:17:2004 - 12:34 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Call for Demonstrations Falls on Deaf Ears

JEDDAH, 17 December 2004 — A call by London-based dissident, Saad Al-Faqih, to his followers to stage anti-government demonstrations across the Kingdom fell on deaf ears yesterday.

This has been a strange matter. A Saudi exiled dissident–not particularly well favored by the Saudis or the US–called for mass demonstrations in Saudi Arabia today, protesting the ruling family. Al-Faqih, founder of Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) is based in London, to which he exiled himself after being released from Saudi jail for his anti-regime activities following the 1991 Gulf War. His organization claims to be for more freedom within an Islamic context–minus the Al-Saud–but is suspected of having a much more Islamist orientation. The US State Dept. responded to a congressional query a few months ago about the group from which Al-Faqih split his MIRA organization, the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), also based in London.

Speaking of Al-Faqih, the report said,

A June 2001 review of the book Holier than Thou: Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Opposition, published in 2000 by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, cites the book’s author as attributing the al-Faqih/al-Masari split to “…al-Masari['s] involvement with extremist Islamist groups from other countries” and states that “Al-Faqih…sought to depict a more reasonable image than did the CDLR” (Wrampelmeier Jun 2001).

The U.S. Department of State representative interviewed by the RIC said that “it is unclear if the CDLR maintains further contact with the founding members [of CDLR] who remained in Saudi Arabia. Sa’ad al-Faqih’s MIRA claims to now represent these members” (U.S. DOS/INR 15 Jun 2004).

The book review also cites the book’s author as stating: “In Arabic and English publications, the CDLR concentrated on alleged corruption within the royal family and failings of the establishment ulema [experts in Sharia law]. The CDLR did not espouse violence against the regime but hinted that violence might occur if its demands were not met” (Wrampelmeier Jun 2001).

The review also cites the book’s author as stating: “Muhammad al-Masari, a Western-educated former physics lecturer at King Saud University…, courted the Western press and sought to convey the image of the CDLR as a human-rights organization and as enlightened reformers. In making his group attractive to Western media, al-Masari hoped to enlist sympathy for the CDLR in Europe and the United States and thereby generate Western pressure on the Saudi leadership to accommodate the radicals’ demands. [T]hese demands were not made out of a commitment to democratic values. Instead, the radicals were demanding that the Al Saud [Saudi royal family] share power with the ulema, that they apply Islamic law more strictly, and that they adopt ‘Islamic’ views on foreign policy” (Wrampelmeier Jun 2001).

On 4 May 2004, the TIMES (London) reported that the attack several days prior on an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia in which five Westerners were killed was carried out by former CDLR member Mustafa Abdel-Qader Abed al-Ansari, his brother, and two nephews— all of whom, including al-Ansari, were killed by Saudi security forces following the attack (Booth 4 May 2004). Soon after the attack, Agence France Presse quoted a Saudi government official as stating: “Al-Ansari ‘…last left [Saudi Arabia] (around 10 years ago), …joined one Saad al-Faqih and one Mohammad al-Massaari…, and worked with them in their suspicious committee’ ” (AFP 4 May 2004). The article states this is “a reference to the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR) formed by the two men [al-Faqih and al-Masari] in 1993″ (AFP 4 May 2004). The article goes further to say that “[t]he [Saudi] interior ministry did not explicitly accuse exiled dissidents of being behind the attack in the industrial Red Sea city, which sent shockwaves through the Western expatriate community in the oil-rich kingdom, [b]ut it marked a departure from Riyadh’s customary more general references to a ‘deviant group’ behind a series of terror strikes which began a year ago with the bombing of three residential compounds in the Saudi capital” (AFP 4 May 2004). The same article reports al-Faqih’s denial of any MIRA involvement in the attack (AFP 4 May 2004).

The press release from a March 2004 BBC radio interview with al-Masari indicates al-Masari told the BBC interviewer that assassinating British Prime Minister Tony Blair would be “legitimate” since Prime Minister Blair commands the British army, which is currently deployed in Iraq. The press release also states that “[i]n the wake of 9/11 Al Massari confirmed he had helped Osama Bin Laden establish an office in London in 1994″ and that al-Masari uses the CDLR web-site “to justify violent attacks” (BBC 7 Mar 2004).

Not all “reform” goes in the directions one might expect.

I find it interesting, too, that Iran was on the airwaves promoting Al-Faqih’s call for protests. I’ve not noted any great Iranian governmental demand for democratic freedoms inside Iran of late, so why are they pushing for it in Saudi Arabia?

I’m certain it has more to do with the power politics about who controls the Arabian/Persian Gulf. This is a struggle that’s been in progress since the 1950s, with the Shah and King Faisal frequently at logger heads about oil pricing, territorial claims, and military power. While the Iranian government would be happy to see the end of Al-Saud reign, it’s much happier having a Saudi Arab carry its water to do so.

December:17:2004 - 00:57 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink
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