Saudi policeman shot dead in Mecca

RIYADH, (AFP) – Two gunmen shot and killed a policeman patrolling in the Islamic holy city of Mecca overnight, witnesses said.

The incident took place in an area of the city, in western Saudi Arabia, where more than 1.5 million Muslim faithful were gathered to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The two assailants opened fire on a police patrol which had flagged down their car for a routine check. One of the two officers in an all-terrain vehicle was shot in the head, the witnesses said.

The pan-Arab Asharq Alawsat runs this Agence France Presse story today. I’m not finding any other reports at present.

October:30:2005 - 14:05 | Comments Off | Permalink

Thousands of Students Prep for US Study
Huda Al-Shayeb, Arab News

JEDDDAH, 30 October 2005 — As thousands of young Saudis get ready to study in the United States on government scholarships, Eastern Province community groups are organizing programs to help them and their families prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.

A great deal of effort to compile a detailed database about the traveling students, and lectures and seminars about life in the United States have been organized.

This Arab News article is interesting on several counts. The first is the most obvious: students and their parents have concerns about being in the US. The general suspicion is that Arabs–and particularly Saudis–are harassed in America. True to some extent, but mostly exaggerated.

Second is a general concern about living in and dealing with a poorly-understood culture. As much as American culture is spread through global media, those aspects most widely disseminated do not bring comfort to traditional Arab families. The American culture portrayed through media like MTV, VH1, and the various movie channels is accurate to a point, but misrepresents the complete picture of Americans, their customs and values. Most Americans do not believe that their culture is fairly or adequately represented by TV programming, though they do not argue that what they see does exist.

Third, and perhaps most important, is that among the places the programs are being held are Tarut and Hasa, both centers of Shi’a population in the Eastern Province. If nothing else, it appears that the government is taking seriously it attempts to better integrate the Shi’a into mainstream Saudi society. It’s overdue, but welcome.

October:30:2005 - 11:38 | Comments Off | Permalink

Counseling for Deviants Is Working: Naif
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH, 30 October 2005 — Interior Minister Prince Naif yesterday confirmed plans to release some detainees held for security reasons after they repented and, after following a counseling program, decided to return to the right path.

This article–the substance of which is sure to annoy some Americans–reports that the Saudis are using a combination of tactics to stop terrorism within the country. The “counseling program” is describe

“A number of prominent scholars, intellectuals, social scientists and psychiatrists are taking part in the program. They meet the detainees to convince them of the danger of their deviant thoughts in order to return them to the true Islamic path,” the minister said. Abdul Mohsen Al-Obaikan, a member of the Shoura Council, who has actively taken part in the counseling program, recently disclosed the government’s plan to release some of the detainees, who repented of their wrongdoings.

“Experts involved in the counseling program have realized its effectiveness in changing the mind of the detainees and observed improvement in their behavior, desire to accept advice and return to the right path,” Prince Naif said, adding that families of the released detainees would be asked to give them proper attention.

The piece also notes that those arrested for planning terrorists attacks are not being released, but will be facing trial soon.

The Saudis are using their own cultural tools to cut the roots of terrorism within the country by working to convince transgressors that they are wrong and that they can’t succeed. This is a tactic used in dealing with common crimes, as an alternative to prison, and generally seems to work. Whether or not it will work when it comes to ideologically based terror remains to be seen. Recidivism will show that it isn’t working, of course, but that has not been the case so far.

October:30:2005 - 11:26 | Comments Off | Permalink

Editorial: WTO Membership

That the Kingdom is on the threshold of full membership in the World Trade Organization demands a look at what it would mean for country and our economy. The conclusion Friday of 12 years of long and complex negotiations will lead to formal acceptance of the Kingdom’s membership application by the WTO General Council when it meets on Nov. 11.

This is a good Arab News editorial. It tells what WTO membership will mean for the kingdom, including the fact that some companies–those agile enough to navigate change–will succeed while others will lose. It puts the major burden of change on mid-level management, who will have to adapt to new ways of doing things. The status quo will no longer serve. Do read the whole piece.

October:30:2005 - 11:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

Iraq: Not Missing the Big Picture
Amir Taheri

At last! After months spent on a roller coaster of expectations, Iraq has a new constitution, the first democratic one in its 80-year old history as a nation-state. Fears that a massive “no” from Arab Sunnis in the Oct. 15 referendum might kill the proposed draft, vanished Tuesday when the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) announced the final results showing that almost 79 percent of those who voted approved the draft while just over 21 percent said no.

“The referendum showed that the Sunnis are now part of the political process,” Salim Abdullah, a leader of the largely Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, told us hours after the results were announced. “We have rejected the option of violence in favor of political action.”

Amir Taheri has another excellent op-ed in the Arab News today. It doesn’t break any major news–though the quotations from Iraqis he provides are interesting–but the fact that it’s appearing in a major Saudi paper is important. He’s telling Saudis (and not for the first time) that what’s going on in Iraq is good. It’s good for Iraqis and it’s good for the Saudis because it’s good for the region. Read the whole thing.

October:28:2005 - 20:48 | Comments Off | Permalink

WTO Members Approve Saudi Accession
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Khalil Hanware & Maha Akeel, Arab News

JEDDAH, 29 October 2005 — Major trading nations yesterday approved Saudi Arabia’s accession to the World Trade Organization during a key meeting in Geneva as WTO chief Pascal Lamy called the decision historic.

Commerce and Industry Minister Hashem Yamani, who led the Saudi negotiating team, called it “a victory for the principles and objectives of the multilateral trading system.” Saudi economists applauded the WTO accession as “an important milestone” in the Kingdom’s history.

With Saudi petroleum exports what they are, one might expect the country’s economy to be fully globalized. Not yet. But it’s getting closer, as this Arab News article points out.

It has taken years, but now Saudi Arabia is on the brink of accession to the WTO, waiting only for the formal endorsements scheduled for November 11.

Membership in the WTO is important to Saudi Arabia’s hopes and plans to expand its economy and move away from a single source for its revenue. By opening the country businesses to competition–both foreign and domestic–the country seeks to reap the benefits of globalization. Competition is expected to both drive down prices and to create jobs as new businesses compete. Gone will be the sole-licensees, the quasi-monopolies in products as far ranging as automobiles and foodstuffs.

The article continues:

WTO accession will boost foreign investment in the Kingdom, providing funds for diversification of the largely oil-based economy, and bring new export opportunities for Saudi firms, especially in the petrochemical industry. Investment has already become less cumbersome and fewer sectors are restricted to local businesses, Samba Financial Group economist John Sfakianakis said in a report on the Kingdom’s economic policies.

“Adherence to international property rights has improved and the liberalization of the insurance market is improving,” he said. Insurance was the focus of long bargaining by Saudi envoys with the European Union and the United States.

The talks have dragged on partly because of domestic fears that WTO free trading rules would limit Saudi Arabia’s right to restrict imports of goods prohibited under Islam, including pork, alcohol and pornography.

Further, it took years for the United States and some others to accept that Saudi Arabia was sufficiently open economically to join. On the insurance issue, EU and Saudi officials held eleventh hour talks this week to finalize an accord.

The article also provides an interesting step-by-step detailing of the different measures involved in the country’s bid for membership. It’s a good piece, worth reading.

October:28:2005 - 20:36 | Comments Off | Permalink

A regular reader of Crossroads Arabia asked me, in a comment to an earlier post, to comment on an article appearing in the Jewish Telgraphic Agency (JTA) on-line newsletter. I looked at the piece and saw that it was one of a four-part series on Middle Eastern studies in American schools. A reply in a comment would not suffice to answer the questions the series raises, so I’m writing this post about it.

The JTA, as part of its mission statement, says that, JTA is an international news service that provides up-to-the-minute reports, analysis pieces and features on events and issues of concern to the Jewish people. That’s fine. But it certainly suggests a particular point of view.

“Point of view” is very much at the heart of the matter. The fact is that the JTA does not like the direction now being taken in American schools in teaching about the Middle East, Islam, and most particularly, Israel. It admits that academics—Arab-Americans as well as non-Arab-Americans—have been particularly successful of late in getting a particular point of view into the curricula of American schools, from grade schools through universities. That these efforts in curriculum development are being paid for—at least in part—through American tax dollars is an affront and they want it stopped.

In the meantime, they’re willing to have books banned because they are too dangerous to permit children (or teachers!) to read.
» Continue Reading

October:28:2005 - 15:10 | Comments & Trackbacks (12) | Permalink

Editorial: Contrived Fury

It was certainly undiplomatic of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to call for Israel to be “wiped off the map” at a conference on Zionism in Tehran. But the wave of Western fury, with countries such as Canada, France, the UK and Spain hauling in the Iranian ambassador and protesting, looks contrived.

The Arab News comes up with a truly obnoxious editorial today. It not only seeks to elide facts by burying them in a shifting timeframe, but also willfully misses the point entirely.

Western states’ fury at the comments by the Iranian president was well deserved. They are deserved because no one in the West accepts the idea that any other nations should be “wiped off the map.” That other countries’ officials criticize Israel is hardly the same as wishing its extinction.

Certainly, Western concerns about Iran’s intentions concerning atomic weapons comes into play. A non-nuclear state making threats can be taken less seriously than a nuclear-armed state, for obvious reasons. To pretend otherwise is exactly that: to pretend.

Bad show from the editorial writers this time around, I’m afraid…

October:27:2005 - 20:59 | Comments Off | Permalink

A Censorship Devoid of All Logic and Reason
Lubna Hussain,

Ah yes! Back to the murky ill-defined and logic-defying world of the censor. Last week, I had cogitated over the rationale behind the blacking out of certain startlingly offensive words that have whole institutions quaking in their shoes. Terrible assaults on our national vocabulary cleverly disguised in the subterfuge of innocent instruments such as “violin”, “piano” and, wait for it, the combination of these subversive slights, “music”! If it weren’t for our glorious heroes brandishing their board markers we would surely be morally corrupted by such socially seditious terms that would have us engaging in all sorts of humming and other types of tuneless behaviors.

Following up on her article of last week noted here, Lubna Hussain continues her exploration of the depths of stupidity involved in censorhip in the kingdom. She lets loose pretty freely and amusingly. Read the whole piece.

October:27:2005 - 20:51 | Comments Off | Permalink

Editorial: The Voice of Iraq

ALL interested parties will try to extract the message that most suits them from the overwhelming endorsement of the new Iraqi Constitution which was announced yesterday by the UN officials supervising the vote. However, regardless of any spin, the plain fact is that first the interim parliamentary elections and now the constitutional referendum have taken place, despite dire predictions that the men of violence would sabotage the process. The stage is now set for final parliamentary elections in early December at which point Iraq will have, on paper at least, completed its rapid transformation from a single-party dictatorship to a pluralist democracy.

This Arab News editorial see a major step having been taken in the Iraqis’ voting to endorse the new constitution. Despite the inability of terrorists and “insurgents” to disrupt the voting–bombing journalists before the final vote was announced seems the best they could manage–Iraqis voted in large numbers, including the Sunnis. It’s an interesting analysis, and one welcome from an Arab paper.

October:25:2005 - 22:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

Petromin to Be Merged With Saudi Aramco
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH, 25 October 2005 — The Council of Ministers yesterday abrogated the General Organization of Petroleum and Minerals (Petromin) and merged its properties with Saudi Aramco.

Saudi government reorganization continues with the winding up of the ministry dealing with petroleum. I suspect this won’t help the unemployment situation as ministries are generally overstaffed, while Aramco runs a pretty tight ship.

In reporting on a Council of Ministers meeting the Arab News continues with new about WTO accession:

The Cabinet meeting, chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, also approved the documents related to Saudi Arabia’s accession to the World Trade Organization and authorized the Commerce and Industry Minister Dr. Hashem Yamani to sign them.

It now seems as though Saudi Arabia will be joining the WTO in December. This, on the other hand, ought to spell improvements for the job market as it will introduce considerably more competition into the economy and provide new opportunities for small businesses.

October:24:2005 - 21:41 | Comments Off | Permalink

I Wasn’t Prevented From Traveling, Says Rania Al-Baz
Arab News

JEDDAH, 25 October 2005 — A few weeks ago, the French news agency Agence France Presse published a report saying that Saudi authorities had prevented the TV broadcaster Rania Al-Baz from leaving the country. The article said that she had traveled — very circuitously — by truck from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province to Bahrain and from there she had gone to Dubai where she boarded a flight to Paris. The story said that the authorities in Riyadh provided no official justification for not allowing the journalist to leave the country.

Sayidaty magazine, a sister publication of Arab News, contacted Al-Baz in France and asked her why she had been prevented from traveling and why she had hidden in a truck and gone to via Bahrain over King Fahd Causeway.

She answered, “First of all, I did not leave the country secretly like a runaway or a criminal. I left legally and officially. In fact, I was not prevented from leaving Saudi Arabia but at the airport in Jeddah on my way to Paris, one of the passport employees took my passport and my ticket and began asking me all kinds of questions. I became worried that one of my enemies was trying to delay me until the plane had taken off. By the time I got my ticket and passport, the plane had indeed taken off. I went back home and wrote a letter to Prince Muhammad ibn Naif at the Interior Ministry explaining what had happened. I then went to Bahrain and from there to Dubai and to Paris.”

In a story that’s beginning to look as though it has more plot twists than Schaharazad’s best, the saga of Rania Al-Baz has further developments. As posted earlier this month, it was reported that she fled Saudi Arabia. This followed her recovery from a savage beating by her then-husband two years ago, and a subsequent divorce.

I’m not sure what to make of this, actually, so I’ll leave it at that.

October:24:2005 - 21:34 | Comments Off | Permalink
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