Bush Delays Action Against Saudi Arabia
BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has postponed punishing Saudi Arabia for restricting religious freedom, giving the U.S. ally six more months to show it has made progress in its treatment of religious minorities.

One year ago, the State Department declared that religious freedom was absent in the Arab kingdom. Under U.S. law, the Bush administration could have imposed sanctions such as trade restrictions — as it has done with some other countries.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice notified Congress last week that she had authorized a 180-day waiver of action against Saudi Arabia “in order to allow additional time for the continuation of discussions leading to progress on important religious freedom issues.”

Rice raised the issue last week in a meeting in Washington with the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, and stressed the importance of continuing to work on it, said State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper…

The delay on Saudi Arabia coincided with a just-ended public diplomacy venture by Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes designed to promote democracy in Muslim countries.

Stopping in Saudi Arabia, Hughes praised leaders of the kingdom for their counterterrorism work.

The religious freedom commission, in a statement, said real progress was absent in Saudi Arabia on religious conditions and that the U.S. government should use the 180 days to achieve real progress.

Otherwise, the commission said, licenses should not be issued for exports to Saudi Arabia of technology that could be used in military programs and Saudi officials responsible for religious freedom violations should not be permitted to visit the United States….

The US government appears to be continuing to keep pressure on Saudi Arabia, in reference to its record on religious freedom, without bringing out the hammers. It’s important that Secretary of State Rice discussed the matter with her Saudi counterpart. It’ll be more important to see what the Saudi government can accomplish in the next six months.

[NOTE: Links to news service stories degrade rapidly. If the headlined link disappears, you might try here.]

September:30:2005 - 19:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

[UPDATE: 09/30/05The American State Department has issued a transcript of Under Secretary Hughes' briefing of the media traveling with her from Riyadh to Ankara. It provides an interesting look at how Hughes viewed her interaction with the Saudis. Compare and contrast, but I think you'll see that this was a useful trip. That's why I'm bumping this story up to the top again.]

Karen Hughes’ Mission: Accomplished … or Not
Ebtihal Mubarak & Summer Islam, Arab News

JEDDAH, 29 September 2005 — The mission of Ambassador Karen P. Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and Public Affairs at the US Department of State, in Jeddah was completed on Tuesday. The purpose of the visit was to improve the US government’s ruined image, especially in the Middle East.

Her visit to Jeddah which lasted approximately 24 hours was full of meetings. The American delegation which consisted of both diplomats and media persons had its initial encounter with Saudis at the home of the prominent Saudi scholar, Dr. Sami Angawi. Each Tuesday he hosts a meeting — known in Arabic as “makiya” — at which issues of interest and concern are discussed. The weekly makiya was, in this case, moved to Monday in order to accommodate the visiting Americans.

The “makiya” was full of Saudi men and women representing varying professions, regions and ages. The cultural attaché at the US Consulate in Jeddah told the crowd to speak their minds as Hughes is not merely an American official but also a close friend of the president whom he trusts and listens to.

Under Secretary of State Hughes’ first visit to Saudi Arabia received generally warm reviews, though the writers of this Arab News article seem to believe that Hughes actually expected to change opinions on her first visit to the region. Far from it, this visit was very much Hughes’ first attempt to gain first-hand experience about the region and its people. It is unfortunate, though, that her schedule only permitted a series of brief, one-hour, calls on a variety of groups.

The New York Times also reported on this visit. It, too, saw the effort as generally positive. [Thanks to Jane Novak of Armies of Liberation for the link.]

September:30:2005 - 09:52 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

On September 23, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal addressed the Council on Foreign Relations.

In his speech, and the answers he provided to questions afterwards, he emphasized that Saudi Arabia is serious in seeking to end to role of terrorism around the world, and to find a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli problems. It’s worth reading the speech and exchange. (Transcript provided by the Saudi-US Relations Information Service.)

The Fight Against Extremism and the Search for Peace

Among several points I found interesting was the Foreign Minister’s answer to a question about the revision of Saudi textbooks and education system:

Question: Prince Saud, three years ago I think our country had a number of analysts saying that the problem of terrorism was based in the faults of education and there was a number of demands published that there be a thoroughgoing reform of the Saudi educational system. Can you address that, because you said you had taken a personal — made a personal review of the curriculum. And if I recall correctly, you said 85 percent was unexceptionable, 10 percent depended on the quality of the teacher, 5 percent was filled — was hateful and had to be changed. Could you comment on what’s happened over the past two or three years in terms of reform in the school system?

PRINCE FAISAL: You have a good memory. The correction in the curriculum is not only in the books alone. We have gone through a whole program of going into the educational system from top to bottom, from schools, teachers, books, and we have taken everything out of them that does not call for cooperation, coexistence, and knowing the people of the world and working together for a better world.

I have not just — I’m not just answering this with words. I know that Senator Specter has been following that closely in the Senate and he has hearings about it, so I wrote him — and I hope he can read Arabic — all the books of the schools to see for himself what has happened to the books.

But this — and I say this frankly — it is not just the books. It is the teachers. And here you are worrying about the books; there we are worrying more about the teachers. We want every teacher to be somebody who is teaching the proper things that the children in their formative years are being taught. We have cleansed our schools of those who have been misusing their position as role models for the students, and we have prevented all the extracurricular activities that they used to carry out with the schoolchildren. So the reform has been to go over the whole education system and not just the books. But the books you can get a copy of them from Arlen Specter, if you want.

In 2002, my office at the American Embassy in Riyadh, responded to a Congressional tasking by obtaining copies of all Saudi textbooks in use in the kingdom and sending them back to Washington for analysis. The results of that–as reflected in Pr. Saud’s statistical remarks–are well known. While my successors have not been asked to send the new texts, the Saudi government has done it on its own. I look forward to a new report from Congress on whether or not adequate and appropriate changes have been made. While my Saudi contacts tell me that they have been made, nothing short of a Congressional report will dispell popular doubts.

More important than the texts, though, is the fact of insufficiently supervised teachers who abuse their positions to promote their individual, ideosyncratic views to students. Al-Faisal states that this issue–which was of very much concern to Saudi parents–has been dealt with.

Take the time to read the entire piece–and follow the hyperlinks. It’s worth reading.

September:29:2005 - 13:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

A Different Path After 9/11
Mona Eltahawy

CAIRO – Osama Bin Laden did the Muslim world a favor.

Yes, I am serious. And no, I am not a Muslim militant who is celebrating an imagined victory against Dar al-Harb.

Bin Laden and his terrorist cohorts did us a favour because they shook us free of the defensiveness and denial that for decades had overshadowed an essential conversation about our religion and what had become of it.

That was not their goal of course. They assumed the sight of the twin towers collapsing would spur other jihadis to outdo or at least match their bloodletting. Some have tried. But a young Muslim man I met here recently convinced me that 9/11 had set others on a different course altogether.

With an exceptionally provocative lead-in, Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian writing for Asharq Alawsat tell the story of a young man who set out to defeat the myth that Bin Laden was an American invention to divide the Islamic world. The op-ed is worth reading in its entirety.

Ms. Eltahawy makes it clear that she’s not applauding Bin Laden, but only finding the silver lining to a particularly black cloud. She has serious complaints about US policies–both foreign and domestic–resulting from 9/11, but notes that by kicking the Islamic world out of its lethargic focus on the past, good might come from disaster.

September:27:2005 - 10:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia: 121 Guantanamo Detainees to be Released to Saudi Authorities
By Turki Al-Saheil — Asharq Alawsat

Riyadh–Saudi citizens detained at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay will soon be released and handed over to the Saudi authorities, as talks between US officials and their counterparts in the Kingdom reach the final stages, Asharq al Awsat has learned.

Ahmad Mazhar, head of a team of lawyers hoping to return the detainees to Riyadh told Asharq al Awsat his country had taken large steps towards ensuring its 121 detainees are handed back. He hoped US/Saudi discussions would conclude after the last details are agreed on and indicated that the Saudi government had been in constant contact with Washington since learning Saudi men were being held at the military base in Cuba.

Meanwhile, the US government and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) discussed how to end the hunger strike started by a number of detainees, mostly from countries of the Persian Gulf , on the 8th August, in protest at their continued incarceration without trial.

According to this brief report from the Arabic-language daily Asharq Alawsat, the US is in discussion with Saudi Arabia–as it has been with several other Arab countries–to find the terms under which Saudi detainees at Guantanamo will be released. Not only is there the question of ensuring that they not be abused (under Western understandings of the term), but also that they will be satisfactorily controlled upon their return to their own countries.

September:24:2005 - 19:43 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Saudi Militants in Iraq: Assessment and Kingdom’s Response

According to a new report (22-pages in PDF format) from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Saudis are not particularly numerous among the “insurgents” in Iraq. The report claims that they comprise only 12% of the 3,000 or so foreign fighters in Iraq.

As for the question of the composition and the size of the foreign volunteers in the Iraqi insurgency, the study estimates that there are 3,000 fighters. Those fighters come from all around the Arab and Islamic worlds. The largest component of these fighters come from Algeria (600 or 20%), followed by Syria (550 or 18%), Yemen (500 or 17%), Sudan (450 or 15%), Saudi Arabia (350 or 12%), Egypt (400 or 5%), and other countries (150 or 5%).

The Saudi involvement in the Iraqi insurgency is overestimated, but does have an impact that goes beyond the number of insurgents involved: “Unlike the foreign fighters from poor countries such as Yemen and Egypt, Saudis entering Iraq often bring in money to support the cause, arriving with personal funds between $10,000-$15,000. Saudis are the most sought after militants; not only because of their cash contributions, but also because of the media attention their deaths as “martyrs” bring to the cause. This is a powerful recruiting tool. Because of the wealth of Saudi Arabia, and its well developed press, there also tends to be much more coverage of Saudi deaths in Iraq than of those from poorer countries.” On the question of motivation and public support, the report asserts “If one talks about the sources of broader public support for the insurgency, Sunni nationalism seems to be the strongest contributing factor fueling the unrest.”

Clearly, the presence of any Saudis fighting in Iraq is problematic. The report says that the Saudi government is actively seeking to stop the travel of young Saudis, though. » Continue Reading

September:23:2005 - 22:36 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Women Take Up Jobs as Cleaners
Maha Al-Nowaisser, Arab News

JEDDAH, 24 September 2005 — The cleaning profession in the Kingdom is no longer the domain of foreigners, as Saudi women are now working as cleaners in hospitals in the Al-Ahsa province.

Hospitals and big companies in Al-Ahsa have reported that large numbers of Saudi women are applying for jobs as cleaners, Al-Madinah newspaper reported.

Al-Ahsa hospitals recently started to hire Saudi women to work as cleaners and to look after old and handicapped patients.

As I’ve noted before, Saudi women are far more realistic in their view of life than a large number of Saudi men. This Arab News article points to women in the Eastern Province taking jobs that most Saudi males would avoid like the plague: room cleaning.

Part of the situation, though, might be that this is taking place in the Eastern Province, where the majority of the country’s Shi’a live. The Shi’a have a very different attitude toward manual labor than do the Sunnis of the Nejd. The Shi’a made up the majority of the workforce for ARAMCO in its early days–until the 1980s, in fact. They did everything from digging ditches to putting up housing; many learned to work oil production and a few rose to managerial level.

In any event, this should serve as a strong source of shame for the young men who turn up their noses at any job that might cause them to break into a sweat. Honest labor, most of the world agrees, is just that.

September:23:2005 - 20:16 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Interpol Asked to Trace 18 Saudi Suspects
Samir Al-Saadi, Arab News

JEDDAH, 24 September 2005 — Saudi Arabia has passed onto the Interpol the names of 18 of its most wanted terror suspects and asked it to trace them, a senior security official said.

Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, official spokesman of the Interior Ministry, said the ministry had published the list of wanted terror suspects outside the Kingdom. “It’s an alert to all countries that these men are wanted by the Saudi government for security reasons and also a notice to the ports of those countries to arrest them upon identification and hand them over to Saudi authorities,” said Al-Turki.

“This is not new. Details of individuals wanted for security reasons are passed onto the Interpol,” he pointed out.

Maj. Gen. Ali Al-Obaishi, a senior Saudi security official said in Berlin that the suspects, many believed to be living outside Saudi Arabia, were notified to Interpol last week.

I’m a bit surprised that this action is only being taken now. I’d have thought it would be nearly automatic that the names of the country’s most-wanted terrorist suspects would have been sent to Interpol with a request for action. Better late than never, I suppose.

September:23:2005 - 20:07 | Comments Off | Permalink

For the first time in its history, Saudi Arabia has declared its national day to be a national holiday. Up until now, it was simply a date on the calendar on which diplomats offered congratulations to the Saudi government. There were no parties, no celebrations, no day off from work. King Abdullah, however, has announced that Saturday will be a day off for all. [Saudi National Day is Sept. 23, which is a Friday, part of the normal weekend; the holiday will be shifted to the next working day.]

According to the Arab News, in an op-ed written by its Editor-in-Chief Khaled Al-Maeena,

It is the first time that this event is being publicly celebrated across the land in the form of a nationwide holiday. But what does National Day actually mean to the citizens of Saudi Arabia? Is it merely a day of fun and merriment or a day for something deeper and more symbolic?

In my estimation it should be viewed as an opportunity for introspection as we not only look back at the different stages of nation-building, consolidation and achievement but also look forward to the future and all the concomitant challenges that lie ahead of us. The ability to face these in the coming years will be far tougher and more diverse than we can imagine. However, we have to rise to the occasion and meet them headlong.

While some decry nationalism, I believe it an important stage through which all countries must go–and are still going. We don’t know yet what might supercede it, but for now, it makes the most sense for most countries.

September:22:2005 - 22:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

While it is certain to cause consternation in some, the American government–including the judiciary system–has recently acted in several ways that will improve the climate between the US and Saudi Arabia.

First, Bush included the country among those being granted waivers of sanctions that might have been imposed on Saudi Arabia for its deficient record on trafficking in persons. In a report entitled, Bush Waives Sanctions on Kingdom, the Arab News reports:

President George Bush on Wednesday waived sanctions against Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Ecuador, all of which the United States had earlier criticized as among the offenders in permitting human trafficking.

Despite periodic differences, Saudi Arabia and the United States have a tight alliance built on economic and military cooperation, and Riyadh is viewed as Washington’s closest Arab ally in the war on terrorism. The presidential determination was issued as a memorandum to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

A US Administration official told reporters that the sanctions were also waived against Kuwait and Saudi Arabia because it is in the US interest to continue democracy programs and security cooperation on the war on terrorism…

According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia did not vote for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.

Saudi Arabia’s stated reservations to the Universal Declaration were that its call for freedom of religion violated the precepts of Islam and that the human rights guaranteed by the Islamic law surpassed those secured by the Universal Declaration.

These two arguments were later repeated to explain Saudi refusal to sign most other human rights documents, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The only other pertinent international treaties that Saudi Arabia has adhered to are the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and thirteen (of more than 170) conventions of the International Labor Organization.

In June, the State Department in its annual report on human trafficking downgraded Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to the lowest level of compliance in efforts to fight human trafficking. The Gulf allies had provided logistical support for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and have oil resources important for the United States.

At that time, the State Department listed 14 countries as failing to adequately address trafficking problems, subjecting them all to possible sanctions if they did not crack down.

Of those 14, Bush concluded that Bolivia, Jamaica, Qatar, Sudan, Togo and the United Arab Emirates had made enough improvements to avoid any cut in US aid or, in the case of countries that get no American financial assistance, the barring of their officials from cultural and educational events, said Darla Jordan, a State Department spokeswoman.

On the legal side, the paper also reports Saudi Charity, Individuals Get Immunity

The Saudi High Commission for Relief was granted immunity yesterday from litigation in three lawsuits stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

US District Judge Richard Casey found that Interior Minister Prince Naif and Riyadh Governor Prince Salman, president of the High Commission, were not personally liable since they were acting as agents of the Saudi government.

This decision, like the one Judge Casey made earlier this year, does not address issues of culpability, but rather the matter of jurisdiction.

September:22:2005 - 21:54 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat newspaper, the largest circulating Arabic language daily, has several articles that attempt to turn the focus away from the individual terrorists operating in Iraq to those who recruit and facilitate them.

Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, former Editor-in-Chief of the paper and now General Manager of Al-Arabiya TV, has an article in today’s issue, What’s in a Number. In it, he notes that the Saudis are feeling a bit relieved that “only” 300 young Saudis have been active in Iraq. They thought there might have been as many as 2,000.

On a political level, however, one hundred fighters are enough to wreck havoc in any society as al Qaeda members and supporters are willing to die and wage a covert guerilla war and not one that can be located and neutralized. They seek refuge in civilian areas, surrounded by women and children, and hide their weapons in mosques; they dress the same as others and are indistinguishable from the rest of the population.

Three hundred is a significant number is we are to include those who were thwarted en route to Iraq and those killed in the ever-escalating number of terrorist attacks around the country. In order to understand the implication of this figure, we need to first consider how these Saudi youths were recruited, as well others from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan and other Arab countries sucked into a cycle of violence…

But the real problem, he says, is how these youths get started:

Preachers of hate and supporters of extremist political views, mixed with religious elements, are usually accompanied by younger men seeking jihad (holy struggle) and wanting to obey God by bombing mosques, religious establishments, and military installations. How are we to penalize the actors but allow the instigators to walk of free and continue molding other extremists? How can we blame our youth for the crimes they commit after hearing of occupiers and infidels and promised a place in paradise?

If justice were to prevail, fighters will be recognized as mere foot soldiers and the ideologues, preachers, financiers and lawyers held responsible fort heir actions. The danger from the terrorist leadership is evident in the escalating number of attacks in Iraq and the continued brainwashing of young Arab men. If our young men are successfully mobilized to fight, as they were in Afghanistan, two decades, ago, and in Kashmir and Chechnya, these fighters will return to their home countries and apply the only skills they know.

Mshari Al-Zaydi, a Saudi journalist who focuses on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, has an article, Who Burnt Ahmed. In it, he takes a look at the young Saudi, Ahmed Al-Shaye, who survived an explosion in a fuel truck he was given to drive. While Al-Shaye admits to becoming a terrorist, he denies accepting the role of a suicide bomber. He claims that he was asked to drive the vehicle to a location where he was to be met by someone. Once there, however, the truck exploded around him. He survived with 70% of his body covered with burns. Al-Zaydi comments:

It was sad and quite tragic to see pictures of Ahmed Al-Shaye, on Al Majd, Islamic television station earlier this week.

Al-Shaye is young man who grew up in an ordinary Saudi family, and therefore it is hard to believe why he drove a container full of fuel and explosives with the intention of destroying the Jordanian embassy in Iraq last December…

Al-Zaydi continues, asking again,

Who entraps these young men? Is it the media who deceived Al-Shaye, through the images it portrays? Or is it the preacher who wonders between us like a hidden disease with epidemic proportions, promising the holy struggle against crusades while calling for the Islamic Jihad, which captures these young men?

Who manipulates these naive innocent emotions through political means? Is it a state, a regime or a party, which believes in the fundamentalism adopted by Al-Qaeda?

Is this evidence not sufficient for the Arab media, including some Saudi audio and visual media, to stop the instigation of terrorism and provocation; forging stories about the reality in Iraq? Is it not time to have a sense of responsibility so that no other Ahmed Al-Shaye will be burnt and no other Al-Fahiqi will fall between the gaps?

There are some writers and newspapers who feed this revolutionary feeling implicitly and cunningly. You can read many columns that constantly revolve around terrorist instigations and hatred. Then someone will ask, how do these appear among us?

These attitudes only serve as seeds in the field of narrow mindedness and fanaticism. They interpret all political events as a war between the Cross and Zionism on one side and Islam on the other.

But what if the son of one of these writers or journalists sacrificed his life, and was burnt alive or was arrested in Jordan? Would they continue to repeat such provoking calls or write articles flowing with the spirit of Bin Laden?

In all honesty how many of those who play with fire really are burned like Al-Shaye? This is the question we need to ask ourselves when we consider what our younger generations are reading and watching today – how many more Ahmed’s are there out there?

Tariq Alhomayed, the current Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Alawsat believes he has some answers. In his op-ed, They Are All Drugged:

I felt compelled to respond to news, published on our front page, that a teenager was forced against his will to bomb a Shi’a mosque in Iraq. The attack failed as the young man fled the scene; he later admitted to being forced to carry out this mission after being kidnapped, badly beaten and drugged by terrorists. A US military report confirmed his version of events.

He was not the only one; all terrorists are heavily sedated. They are drugged by a media, which gives credence to false stories, written according to its author’s mood, added to fabricate pictures and selected from an angle that serve the interest of terrorist groups, be it former Baath party members or Islamic extremists.

Truly, they have been drugged by speeches made in mosques, promises of beautiful virgins in paradise and statements signed by those with no knowledge of jihad except empty words and slogans. They have been tricked by leaders who continue to call for a definition of terrorism at a time when it is urgent to define resistance!

The murder of thousands of innocent civilians and soldiers in Iraq is terrorism. so is the case in Saudi Arabia.

Do read the linked articles. It’s clear that at least one major Arabic news medium understands what the issues truly are.

September:22:2005 - 14:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (16) | Permalink

Women and Shariah Courts
Dr. Abdullah Maraa ibn Mahfouz, Al-Eqtisadiah

Saudi women at present find it very difficult to get their rights in the Shariah courts. The problem is not with the Shariah. It is rather with the operational and bureaucratic regulations of the courts that stand in the way of women’s getting justice. In this context, demands are being made to modernize the Saudi legal system.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz ibn Gharmallah Al-Ghamdi, a researcher in Shariah, puts various aspects related to this modernization in a brief and candid manner. The scholars and legal experts are studying the needs and the methods for codifying the religious law. Some of the experts favor modernization, pointing out that it would help bring uniformity to the verdicts of different judges. On the other hand, there are religious scholars who oppose the view that, during the age of the Prophet, peace be upon him, his companions and their successors, people used to get justice in the most desired way.

A codified religious law will also make it impossible for the judiciary to make fair judgments on individual issues as judges would be compelled to issue verdicts based on recorded precedents. Some experts among the religious scholars also fear that the attempts to modernize the legal system may cause some judges who lack proper training to confuse man-made laws with those of the Shariah.

Here’s an interesting article from the Arabic daily, Al-Eqtisadiah (“The Economy,” a sister-publication of Arab News).

The writer highlights some of the problems confronting the issue of legal reform. Social values and the ability to “fine-tune” verdicts to fit the exact circumstances of a legal issue all speak to continuing the traditional practice of Shariah courts. But there are also unjustices that result, particularly when it comes to issues involving women, as he points out. The article is worth reading in its entirety.

September:16:2005 - 09:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink
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