The Saudi-US Relations Organization has a useful page of links to news stories and updates about King Fahd and his health. You might want to check it out.
Schiavo Case: To Die or Not to Die…
Faisal Sanai, email@example.com
Death is a natural consequence of birth and this concept is inherent to our existential philosophy. That death is inevitable and has its own predetermined timing is central to the belief of all major religions. Certainly, death is less complex than one would first think. And yet, death, wherever it occurs, has the potential to provoke controversy.
This is a good article, written by a Saudi physician, about the questions that revolve around the end of life.
Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is pretty clear when it comes to questions about the taking of life. But it has the same ambiguities when it comes to the question of life sustained artificially. Saudi society–as most Islamic societies–is opening the debate that needs to be held to resolve the issues.
If you’re interested in how another society and religion is looking at this issue, I recommend you read the whole piece.
Scholars Frustrate Extremists on Women Driving Issue
Saad Al-Matrafi, Arab News
JEDDAH, 31 May 2005 â€” A number of extremists have expressed their frustration at the reaction of some scholars to the matter of women driving which was ruled out at the Shoura Council Session last week.
The reaction of the scholars, which frustrated their followers, was of two kinds. Some of the scholars, such as Naser Al-Omar and Safar Al-Hawali, kept quiet and did not comment on the issue. Others, such as Salman Al-Oudah and Abdul Mohsin Al-Obaikan, said there were no religious objections to women driving but that the community was not yet ready for it. The scholars agreed that if women were allowed to drive at present, it might lead to situations which would result in behavior which violated religious laws.
The question of Saudi women’s driving is not a dead issue. This article from the Arab News suggests that there’s a lot of in-fighting going on in the country, with those who interpret their religion narrowly having to put up a rear guard action. They’re being challenged by religious scholars of equal merit.
Do read the whole article; it’s fascinating!
RIYADH, 28 May 2005 â€” Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd was admitted to hospital yesterday for medical tests, a Royal Court announcement said.
â€œKing Fahd entered King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh this evening to undergo some medical examinations,â€ said the announcement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.
This is the lead article in today’s Arab News, and goes out of its way to refute some media claims that a “state of emergency” had been declared in the country, or that the Saudi Arabian National Guard had cancelled all leave orders.
I’ve no special knowledge of the King’s condition. He is known to be in poor health–diabetes, a heart condition, his stroke in the mid-90s–but leads a pretty stress-free life now. Flu or pneumonia (press reports vary) is not a simple matter for the elderly, though, no matter their underlying health.
There’s been some speculation, too, that were the King to die some sort of power-struggle would suddenly erupt in the kingdom. That’s highly unlikely.
The history of succession in Saudi Arabia, in clear distinction from some of its neighbors, has traditionally been orderly. Following the abdication of King Saud in the 1960s, Faisal became king. Following his assassination in 1975, Khaled, then Crown Prince, rose to the throne. Fahd took over following Khaled death. Abdullah, as Crown Prince, would certainly become king.
There could be some discussion about the naming of a new Crown Prince. While Prince Sultan is currently Deputy Prime Minister, it is not assured that he would be elevated to Crown Prince. It’s quite likely that he would be, but not required. The Al-Saud could very well take advantage of a bad situation to name a younger member of the family to be next in line.
Kuwaiti Women: Participants in Nation-Building
Mohamad Alrumaihi, firstname.lastname@example.org
At long last Kuwaiti women have achieved their political rights. Yet they do not appear to be sure they would be permitted to become meaningful partners in their countryâ€™s march without more struggle. The first hurdle the Kuwaiti women have to surmount in their bid to win full political rights after the National Assemblyâ€™s decision to grant electoral rights to them, undoubtedly, is the clause that stipulates that their participation should be in line with the provisions of the Islamic law.
In the past I’ve noted how the Saudi media uses examples of foreign political development–particularly in Gulf states–as a mirror held up to Saudi society. This piece, from a Kuwait academic, is an example.
The piece is not flawless. In fact, several of the writer’s “facts” don’t bear close scrutiny. For example, there remains a problem of slavery in several Arab countries, including Sudan and Mauritania. And non-Muslims residing in Muslim countries do not always share the same set of rights as Muslims–Shari’a law actually limits them.
But these don’t change the thrust of the article: Muslim Arab women are taking up the mantle of political power throughout the region, to the betterment of their societies.
Notes on the Saudi Lifestyle
Dr. Khalid Al-Seghayer, email@example.com
â€œEvery society in the world has its own distinctive lifestyle, and Saudi Arabian society is no exception.â€ This was the first statement I made in answering a Western fellow who queried me about how things were done in Saudi Arabia. I continued, â€œI am not going to dwell on the numerous good characteristics Saudi citizens possess. I will rather spell out some unpleasant aspects of our lifestyle, hoping to raise the awareness of my own people to our failings.â€
At this point, I would like to emphasize that these negative features of our lifestyle are not exclusive, but they are the most noticeable ones.
This is a good human interest piece, offering a Saudi view of Saudi shortcomings.
Procrastination, Whinging, Refusing to Accept Responsibility… these, among others, certainly are correct, at least as correct as stereotypes permit. I’d add another: the automatic assumption that, if one doesn’t agree with you, you must be either a) morally degenerate, or b) being intentionally hardheaded and acting to thwart your aspirations.
And while the author doesn’t provide a list of positive stereotypes, they exist as well.
Among them you’d have to include personal generosity in every regard, friendliness (at least once the initial ice is broken), terrific sense of humor, straight-talking.
Islam Can Vote, if We Let It
By SAAD EDDIN IBRAHIM
CAIRO: IN last month’s Saudi Arabian municipal elections, the nation’s first experiment in real democracy, many were worried because Islamic activists dominated their secular rivals. Indeed, we have seen a similar trend in Turkey, Morocco and Iraq in the last few years; and we can expect it in the coming Lebanese, Palestinian and Egyptian elections. Yet, while this Islamic trend can no longer be ignored, neither should it be a source of panic to Western policy makers and pundits.
Based on my 30 years of empirical investigation into these parties – including my observations of fellow inmates during the 14 months I spent in an Egyptian prison – I can testify to a significant evolution on the part of political Islam. In fact, I believe we may be witnessing the emergence of Muslim parties that are truly democratic, akin to the Christian Democrats in Western Europe after World War II.
To understand this evolution, one must look at how the Islamists rose to such prominence. Autocratic regimes in the Middle East have for decades allowed little public space to those who would build civil societies; no freedom of speech, assembly or association. The only space for people to congregate without harassment by the secret police was the mosque. Thus, unwittingly, the autocrats contributed to the growth of the theocrats, who became their mirror images.
I missed this New York Times op-ed, but now want to call your attention to it.
Saad Eddin Ibrahim seems to be on the same page as Khaled Batarfi, whose article, “Who Won the Elections” was noted earlier this month.
The point to both articles is that the election of conservative Muslims to office is not a bad thing in itself. Once elected, they have to produce: stirring rhetoric may get you elected, but it won’t keep you in office.
The admittedly small steps several Arab states are taking are important. They provide a platform around which individuals can rally voters. But that platform puts them in public view. Unlike purely appointed government officials, the elected ones can be and will be held responsible for their political successes or failures.
Hurry to read the NYT piece before it slides into the pay-to-view archives.
[Thanks to Greg Djerejian of Belgravia Dispatch for the link.]
Misusing Knowledge in a Time of Terror
Manuel L. Quezon III, firstname.lastname@example.org
The ancients believed that Christians destroyed the great library of Alexandria. Christians to this day heap calumny on the conqueror of Egypt who, during the invasion in the 7th century, is claimed to have said of the books in the library, â€œthey will either contradict the Qurâ€™an, in which case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are superfluous.â€ However, some scholars assert that the Emperor Theodosius decreed the destruction of pagan temples in Alexandria in 391, and that Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria zealously complied with the decree, demolishing the Mithreum, the Serapeum, and the Mouseion (ancestor of todayâ€™s museums), of which the Serapeum certainly contained a portion of the famed library. Today, of course, the library has been refounded as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a hugely ambitious (and praiseworthy) project of the Egyptian government.
This is an interesting Arab News opinion piece on the power of books. With a brief survey of history, the writer notes how various peoples have faced the challenge of books and information. Well worth reading the whole thing.
There are a couple of very strong pieces in today’s Arab News. They warrant the time it will take for you to read them.
Both are very critical of the US. The first, an Arab News editorial, picks up Amnesty International’s new report that condemns the US as a gross violator of human rights. I note that the Arab News is far uses far less vitupertude than AI does.
I disagree with this editorial on several points, but it makes a cogent argument, one that is understood and shared by many Saudis.
Editorial: Amnestyâ€™s Message
26 May 2005
What has been made outstandingly clear in Amnesty Internationalâ€™s latest report into human rights abuses throughout the world is that terror cannot be fought with terror. It points out that despite the US-led crackdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq and despite the Russian crackdown in Chechnya, armed groups have continued to carry out appalling acts of violence. Indeed, because of the injustices inherent in these heavy-handed responses, the terrorists have probably been strengthened, rather than weakened.
The second piece, by Reem Al-Faisal, is considerable stronger:
Why Do Americans Hate Muslims?
Reem Al-Faisal, Arab News
A few weeks ago an American I met at a friends house asked a much repeated query, â€œWhy do you the Muslims hate the Americans?â€ To which I answered in the same way as all the preceding instances in which this question was posed to me: â€œWe donâ€™t hate the Americans, we might disagree with a certain US policy and dislike recent American actions in the Muslim world but we surely donâ€™t hate the American people.â€
The American who interrogated me was clearly not convinced with my answer and secretly I wasnâ€™t either. The truth is that at present the Muslims hate America and now, they hate not only its policymakers but most of the American people since they have proven recently without a shadow of doubt that they agree with their elite by voting back into office, by a comfortable majority, the Bush administration inspite of itâ€™s obvious record of lies and abuse of power. The Americans can never claim from now on that they didnâ€™t know that there where no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They canâ€™t claim that they didnâ€™t know torture wasnâ€™t widespread in American prisons, from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, and the thousands of other secret detention centers. They surely canâ€™t claim not to know of this entire episode in which thousands have lost their lives and much more have seen their homes and lands destroyed as a result of the American military and its leaders who donâ€™t hesitate in using the massive destructive power of the US on defenseless civilians.
Reem Al-Faisal is not a stupid person. She both a talented photographer and writer; a Saudi woman with a first-class, Western education. Clearly, she also feels what she describes as injustices to the core of her being. Clearly, I think she’s wrong on almost every count in this piece.
I’m not highlighting this piece because I think it makes a particularly meritorious argument, but instead because of where it’s coming from. Al-Faisal is not a fundamentalist zealot. She’s a strong backer of women’s rights. She’s an active proponent for liberalization of Saudi society–though she’s not the most liberal. She’s well-enough educated to understand the major currents of history, philosophy, and religion.
Normally, one would expect her to be applauding the actions the US is taking in bringing–or even forcing–democracy in the region.
But she is not. I think this is due to the gradual accretion of slights, insults, offenses, and misunderstandings (sometimes witting) of what’s going on in the Middle East.
Every time a US soldier steps outside the rules of war or even rules of engagement, an insult is given. Perhaps it was merely an accident that happened, but it still has a result. The victims and families of victims of a traffic accident don’t instantly say, “Oh, well, could have happened to anyone,” particularly when deaths are involved.
Every time a US Congressman says, “We support peace in the Middle East, unless it displeases Israel.”; Every time a US government employee is charged with passing classified information to Israel, the US claim toward being an honest broker is damaged.
Every time some bright spark figures that the way to “break the back of the insurgents” is to violate international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war–by flauting pictures of Saddam in his underwear–the reputation of the US as an honorable people and country is damaged.
Yes, I know that all of these things are against US policy. I know that the US government has promised investigation and prosecution of wrongdoers. I know, too, that the US government has done exactly that. I know, too, that there’s very little more that the government could or should do.
But every one of these actions creates a reaction. Making corrections, admissions of guilt can mitigate the justifiable anger that’s the result of the actions, but not always and not always completely. They keep adding up, at least to Reem Al-Faisal, to a tipping point that creates an enemy where there should not be one.
Should Women Be Allowed to Drive? An Ideological Battle
Raid Qusti, email@example.com
History will always give space to the courageous and rebellious. Should women be allowed to drive in this country one day, some credit should be given to the man who is now being fiercely attacked in the Saudi media and in cyberspace for raising the issue in the Shoura Council. A week after Dr. Muhammad Al-Zulfa told the press that he intended to present to the Shoura Council a paper with 18 points for discussion concerning women driving in the Kingdom, the attacks on him have not stopped.
Raid Qusti’s opinion piece is a good one, well worth reading. He clearly describes the tug-of-war going on in Saudi society between those who would protect women by proscribing their freedom and those who would protect women by extending them.
The series of meetings US President George W. Bush is holding with leaders from the Muslim world this week have, according to Washington analysts, one overriding aim: To neutralize Muslim anger at America. Among the leaders Bush is meeting are Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine.
It definitely is a commendable step in the sense that it represents a recognition of a reality: The war on terror cannot be won by bomber fleets or bunker busters. It can be won only when the regionâ€™s hearts and minds are convinced of the rightness of American policies and actions.
However, Washington makes a mistake if it thinks that Muslim feelings are hurt because their leaders are received at the White House instead of the family ranch. Another point it misses is that it is not Muslim leaders who are angry but Muslim people.
There’s a lot to disagree with in this Arab News editorial–like the assumption that the US (along with nearly all other Western countries) didn’t really believe that Iraq had WMDs or that torture is “systematic” at Guantanamo. But there are also some good points.
These issues have to be addressed honestly. It is not meetings that will change the perception, but honest admissions of past mistakes and a demonstrated willingness to address the problems America has helped to create. Palestine is the key issue, the key to Muslim minds. It needs to be addressed honestly. That will also mean confronting the private agendas that underpin many US policies in the region. One cannot claim to be an honest broker while swearing that he is committed to protecting the interests of one side while not objecting to the other side getting justice only if it does not harm the interest of oneâ€™s favorite, as Sen. Gordon Smith did a few days ago. Bush needs to understand that defending America does not mean attacking everyone else. By defending the rights of the Palestinians, as well as those of the Israelis, he is defending America and defending all decent Muslims who abhor the terrorists who claim to act in their name.
Govt Agencies Urged to Open Up for Media
Javid Hassan, Arab News
RIYADH, 24 May 2005 â€” The Saudi Association for Media and Communications (SAMC) has stressed the need for institutional reforms in the Kingdom in terms of news management. The aim is to address media concerns for access to legitimate information.
â€œGovernment departments have a tendency to withhold information while their websites display old news. This makes it difficult for the English media especially to be accurate and up-to-date in its reporting,â€ Dr. Ali Shewel Al-Garni, president of SAMC, told Arab News.
He said the government should seriously consider having an official spokesman in each ministry. This would facilitate access to news. â€œIt would be highly desirable if we had an official spokesman who gave information on cabinet meetings to the media,â€ Dr. Al-Garni said.
Saudis–as much as Americans–want more transparency in Saudi government operations. Due largely to traditional approaches toward information (i.e., “I’ll tell you what I think you should know”) the average Saudi is often in the dark about what the government is doing. Having a spokesperson at each ministry isn’t a solution in itself, however. That spokesperson needs to be able to talk about what’s actually going on, not just parrrot the ambitions of the minister. But any effort that tries to keep the public informed is at least a good start.