[UPDATE 12/01/05: Asharq Alawsat reports on the speech in an analytical article that's actually based on what Bush said, rather than what the writer of the Arab News editorial below imagined he said.]

Editorial: Changing Tone

THE Bush administration, impaled on a hook of its own making, is beginning to turn uncomfortably as the US public loses faith in the Iraq operation and fellow Republican politicians facing midterm elections in 11 months are starting to lose faith in its leadership. The president sought to defend himself yesterday with an attacking speech at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis but his tone is changing.

Gone was the implication embedded in all the administration’s previous rhetoric that those who doubted Washington’s Iraq mission were unpatriotic, were undermining US troops and were playing into the hands of America’s enemies. Instead while still insisting that the administration would see the job through, Bush spoke of troop reductions next year. He is still counting on a successful outcome to this month’s general election and the effective training of sufficient Iraqi police and army personnel to shoulder the burden of the insurgency.

I fear the Arab News has bought in to many of the canards being offered to dispute the war in Iraq. It’s believing the rhetoric that it, itself, purveys by suggesting that Bush is saying anything different from what he’s been saying since before the war even began. This is not to say that the war has continued in a way that was predicted by the White House and Pentagon; it clearly has not.

Here’s President Bush, on Sept. 12, 2002 (thanks to Outside the Beltway):

In 1991, Security Council Resolution 688 demanded that the Iraqi regime cease at once the repression of its own people, including the systematic repression of minorities — which the Council said, threatened international peace and security in the region. This demand goes ignored. Last year, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights found that Iraq continues to commit extremely grave violations of human rights, and that the regime’s repression is all pervasive. Tens of thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, summary execution, and torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation, mutilation, and rape. Wives are tortured in front of their husbands, children in the presence of their parents — and all of these horrors concealed from the world by the apparatus of a totalitarian state.
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November:30:2005 - 22:08 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi women score twice in first run at polls

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) — Two Saudi businesswomen swept to a suprise victory in chamber of commerce elections on Wednesday in the first polls in which women stood as candidates in the conservative Muslim kingdom.

“I’m happy, but I’m still under shock,” Lama Al Suleiman, one of the two winners, told AFP.

She was summing up the feelings of many election activists and watchers who had expected, at best, one woman to be elected to the board of directors of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“It’s a big leap for Saudi women, an answer to what people want,” said Suleiman, a 39-year-old mother of four.

Suleiman and fellow female winner Nashwa Taher ran on a list of heavyweight business people and industrialists which clinched the 12 board seats up for grabs.

With only 100 women among the some 3,880 chamber members who cast ballots, the pair’s victory was effectively handed to them by men.

This article, from the Khaleej Times in the United Arab Emirates, reports on the significant success two Saudi women have had in winning election to the Board of Directors of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Their election is properly seen as a major step forward in legitimizing the place of women in both business and politics.

As this Chicago Tribune article points out, though, voting turnout among femaled members of the JCCI was amazingly low. This means, of course, that Saudi men were voting the women into their positions. It’s only a small step, but it’s an important one. It will play a role in getting women involved in the next municipal elections as well.

November:30:2005 - 11:40 | Comments Off | Permalink

[UPDATE 12/04/05: According to an in depth report on this series, Asharq Alawsat states that this program was broadcast on Saudi TV Channel 1. I can only conclude that the program was orginally broadcast on Al-Arabiya, then retransmitted by Channel 1. Sorry for the confusion. ]

[Correction: The Saudi station broadcasting this series is not Saudi Channel 1, as I wrote in this and the earlier piece. Rather, it is Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya, a satellite channel broadcast out of Dubai. Happily, is has a far wider audience than Channel 1]

Repentant Terrorists Confess on TV
Riyadh, 30 Nov. (AKI) – Saudi state television has broadcast the first programme in a series dedicated to terrorism and al-Qaeda’s recruitment techniques. ‘Jihad Experiences, the Deceit’, broadcast on Tuesday night, featured the testimonies of three repentant terrorists who reveal how al-Qaeda recruits young people and convinces them to blow themselves up in the name of Islam.

The first programme showed the testimonies of former terrorists Ziyad Asfan, Abdullah Khuja and Walid Khan. They revealed that there are four main phases in al-Qaeda’s recruitment of young Muslims: brainwashing, the actual recruitment, the departure for the Jihad or holy war, and the repentance which then leads them to change their minds.

Saudi TV also spoke to religious experts who explain how al-Qaeda’s reasoning differs from Islamic Sharia law. They also explained the social and emotional situations that lead these young people to fall into the terror group’s trap, the fact that the recruiters use their passion and predisposition to extremism, as well as their desire to change the world through quick, radical solutions.

Following up on yesterday’s report, the Italian news agency AKI gives details of the first of a five-part series being broadcast on Saudi TV, documenting the process by which young jihadis are recruited. It’s an interesting series. Read the whole article.

November:30:2005 - 11:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

Bombing Al-Jazeera
Mshari Al-Zaydi

“What really scares me is that their role as victims may just suit the Muslims.” I like this statement by the Swiss intellectual of Egyptian origin Tariq Ramadan, at a time when I see this immense rush by many Arabs to believe that Al-Jazeera Channel in Doha was really going to be bombed by the Americans. This belief comes not only from those whom we call the Arab street, or the general public, or in the language of past times, the rabble, but from people who have status and an important position, particularly in the media and the press sector.

The rumors, ginned up in British tabloids, that Pres. Bush planned to destroy the headquarters of Al-Jazeera TV are quashed in this Asharq Alawsat article by Mshari Al-Zaydi. Al-Zaydi, a Saudi expert on Islamic movements and fundamentalism, points out how ridiculous this allegation is on its face:

Let us review the issue that Mr. Al-Khazen believes is the truth: Bush was going to raid Doha, the capital of Qatar, the country that hosts the largest US military base in the region, the country from which the strategic battle against Iraq was waged, the country that held news conferences and gave media briefings on a daily basis during the day to day events of the war that toppled Saddam, the Gulf country that has warm relations with Israel, and the country that does not hide its vibrant relations with the United States. What else should we add?

This article goes in for some serious taking of names, noting the various Arabic media “heroes” who very much have feet of clay, specifically citing the slimy Mohammed Haykal who deluded generations of Egyptians, among others. It also notes that many in Iraq see Al-Jazeera as part of the problem, not the solution. Citing an IPSOS poll on Iraqi TV viewing patterns, he says that after a (nameless) Iraqi station, comes the Saudi Al-Arabiya channel; Al-Jazeera falls in sixth place. Al-Arabiya has, in fact, been attacked and bombed by “insurgents”.

Al-Zaydi sees Al-Jazeera as a mixed bag. It has demonstrably done good things for Arabic media, pushing the boundaries on what is considered “reportable” and bringing a certain degree of professionalism to the task. But it has also fallen down in its own professionalism, becoming a mouthpiece for fundamentalists and easily slipping into a populist “anti-Bush is good enough” attitude toward reporting.

This is a good article, though many of the names of journalists he cites will be unknown to most American readers. Do take a look at it.

November:30:2005 - 11:15 | Comments Off | Permalink

Kingdom Signs SR512 Million Contract for Railroad Project
Javid Hassan, Arab News

RIYADH, 30 November 2005 — Minister of Finance Dr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf signed here yesterday a contract for over SR512 million ($136.8 million) with a consortium of multinational companies led by the Louis Berger Group of the US to do the complete design and construction of a 2,400 km freight and mineral transportation project linking Al-Jalamid and Al-Zabira in the north to Riyadh, with another line branching off to Ras Az-Zour in the Eastern Province.

Making use of new oil revenues, the Saudi government is extending infrastructure. The new rail lines are expected to create 75,000 jobs and to link mineral-rich areas in the north of the country to the ports in the east. Currently, there is only one rail line in the country, connecting Riyadh and Dammam, by way of Hofuf. An earlier line, linking Damascus to Mecca, was destroyed in WWI by Lawrence and his Arab Legion.

November:29:2005 - 23:15 | Comments Off | Permalink

TV Becomes New Weapon in Fight on Terror

Riyadh, 29 Nov. (AKI) – A television series on terrorism, aimed at dissuading young Saudis from following in the footsteps of many of their contemporaries and joining the Jihad (holy war), is to be broadcast on Saudi Arabia’s main state-run television channel on Tuesday night. “Attempting the Jihad…the deceit” will be broadcast immediately after the news, according to the Saudi Press Agency, and is a five part documentary series which it is hoped will stem the flow of young Saudi men going to Iraq.

The special documentary will tell the stories of several young Saudis who left for Iraq to fight alongside the Jordanian leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Their testimonies will reveal the secrets and methods used to cross the border between the two countries and contact the mujahadeen. The documentary is also said to feature the testimonies of several young men who managed to reach Afghanistan and who will explain the recruitment and brainwashing techniques used by al-Qaeda.

According to this wire story from the Italian news agency AKI, the Saudi government is using it own medium of terrestrial TV to address the problem of terrorism and recruitment for jihad. It’d be better if they could get this on a satellite channel, as most Saudis do not, in fact, watch Channel 1 due to its lack of meaningful content. But it’s a step in the right direction. Also needed is better control over the imams who do get airtime on the satellite channels. They are often at odds with government anti-terror, anti-jihad policy, as MEMRI is happy to point out. Do read the whole piece, though.

November:29:2005 - 12:09 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Women Leads Human Rights Delegation on First International Trip
By Omar El Okeily

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat— The first delegation of the Saudi National Human Rights Association (SNHRA) left for Denmark earlier today under the leadership of Dr. Lubna al-Ansari, head of the Association’s Planning and Development department, on a visit to the human rights center based there.

The visit aims at establishing technical cooperation between the SNHRA and the center, and benefiting from the Danish center’s expertise to improve the SNHRA’s performance.

The delegation comprises of Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Annad, head of the Culture and Publishing committee; Dr. Hasan al-Sharif, supervisor of the SNHRA’s branch in the Western Region; and Dr. Bahijah Baha Izzi, member of the SNHRA’s family committee.

The head of the delegation told Asharq al-Awsat, “We will begin the first steps of cooperation with the Human Rights center in Denmark, despite the cultural differences between us. However the mechanisms for dealing with human rights are the same everywhere and these matters do not differ.”

Asked whether she is the first woman to lead a Saudi delegation abroad, she said laughing, “There is no difference between men and women in these matters.

This is a good start for the quasi-governmental human rights organization.

November:29:2005 - 11:54 | Comments Off | Permalink

More Saudi Women Take to Nursing
Javid Hassan, Arab News

RIYADH, 29 November 2005 — Some 80 young Saudi girls have enrolled for the new graduate nursing program developed at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center here, according to Dr. Thelma van der Merwe, head of the Saudization and Diploma Program at KFSH&RC.

The import of this article is buried in its last line:

Asked about the social stigma associated with Saudi women entering the nursing profession, she said they were gradually overcoming the problem.

“Overcoming the problem” is a huge social change. Traditionally–and the Saudis are nothing if not traditional–nursing was a profession gravely shunned by Saudi (and other Arab) women. The job requires dealing with unpleasant things concerning the body. Usually, only foreigners would work as nurses in the KSA. Even in “socially liberal” societies like Syria, nursing was something only orphans might go into, for lack of any better prospects.

That Saudi women are now entering this profession is a major jump into responsible social behavior. And again, it will shame Saudi men who are too “delicate” to do things with their hands.

November:28:2005 - 20:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Kingdom on the Move
Roger Harrison | Arab News

If you thought the ground never moved for you, you are wrong; it does — and in the case of Saudi Arabia about two centimeters a year in a generally north easterly direction, rotating counter-clockwise about a theoretical point located in the eastern Mediterranean sea. The whole of Saudi Arabia is slowly colliding with, and sliding under, Iran which is being pushed toward the Himalayas.

According to the seismologists, Saudi Arabia and Iran are in for a clash. Of course, the seismology timescale puts this millions of years in the future…

This Arab News article is interesting to those who follow the development of geological sciences. It also has a bearing on the history of the country. A volcano in the mid-13th C., for instance, nearly destroyed the city of Medina. The geological structure of the country also explains both the abundance of petroleum and its richness in minerals. Many are now beginning to see the gold of the “Queen of Sheba” as having come from a region southeast of Mecca, a region that has archeological evidence of paleolithic goldmining. Geologically speaking, Saudi Arabia is a pretty interesting place.

Saudi Arabia is being pushed northeastward by a deep rift in the Red Sea, a continuation of the African Rift Valley. In consequence, the Persian/Arabian Gulf is gradually becoming shallower–it’s already among the shallowest seas. While the consequences of this are distant, the structures themselves are fascinating. One of the available pleasures while I was living there was the ability to travel to interesting places. All you needed was a good map (!), a four-wheel drive vehicle (preferably several in convoy), lots of gas and water, and the determination to do it.

November:28:2005 - 12:08 | Comments Off | Permalink

Between Terrorism and Religious Extremism
Shibley Telhamy

Let me say at the outset that the gravest threat to the United States today is neither Islamic groups nor Islamic fundamentalism as such. The central threat facing the United States of America is the threat of catastrophic terror by al-Qaeda and its allies. The nature of this threat justifies the allocation of significant resources to counter the threat and defeat al-Qaeda and its allies. But we must be very careful in identifying who the core enemy is and not waste resources and energies on strategies that do not confront the primary threat, and worse yet, could backfire.

First, while we must oppose all terrorism, and we have many local enemies in various parts of the world, most such enemies do not pose the kind of catastrophic threat that al-Qaeda and , and thus do not warrant the kind of resources that could take away from our effort to directly confront the primary threat.

Second, although religious extremism is something most of us would oppose, we have to be very careful not to jump to the conclusion that the threat to the United States stems from religious extremism as such. We have extremists all over the world, as we do in our own country, but most of them do not seek to cause catastrophic harm to us and most do not have the capacity or the support to do so even if they wanted to.

This is the introduction of Shibley Telhamy’s testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. I think he correctly notes that religion–even extremist interpretations–are not the real problem. They are a problem in that they help provide the philosophical grounds for extremist acts, but in themselves they are not those act. Read the whole transcript of his testimony (PDF format).

November:28:2005 - 01:40 | Comments Off | Permalink

Making Millions from Murder

Riyadh, 24 Nov. (AKI) – Pardoning killers has become big business in Saudi Arabia, the Al-Watan newspaper reports. Families are making millions in exchange for ‘forgiving’ the murderers of their relatives, with more than 40 million Saudi riyals (more than 10 million dollars) being paid out to pardon eight people last year alone. Now, the Saudi newspaper says, the Majlis-e-Shoura consultative council is being urged to intervene and introduce new laws to regulate the payment of blood money and stop the practice from becoming a form of extortion which bankrupts low and middle income families.

“Profit is now the motive of forgiveness,” the newspaper writes. “It is called blood money, and the families of some victims are cashing in, demanding sums beyond the reach of all but the very rich.”

One tribal leader, Hamed al-Wadie, told Al-Watan that the problem stemmed from a lack of awareness and a weakness in faith. Paying out millions to pardon a killer is too much, he said, saying rules and regulations were needed to govern such cases.

Here’s a strange piece from the Italian wire service Adnkronosinternational, about how blood money, the restitution paid by killers in order to avoid capital punishment, has become “big business” for some.

In theory, the granting of clemency by the family of a murder victim is intended to be an act of mercy, with a heavenly reward. The Shari’a law is generally lex talionis, an eye-for-an-eye proposition. But it provides an opportunity to spare the life of a murderer, placing it in the hands of the victim’s family. In addition to the moral good of waiving the right to have a killer put to death, the practice has traditionally involved the payment of “blood money,” an arbitrarily set, but usually modest sum.

This practice seems to have changed recently, however, as more and more families are seeking large sums, at least in a Saudi context. These sums are not amazing by many Americans’ standards, but neither are they settled by a court or a jury; only the family of the victim decides what the victim’s life was worth.

This is clearly another area where transparency in law would prove socially beneficial. The intent of the law is not to enrich the victims, but to compensate them. It also stresses the “enrichment” will come in the next world.

November:25:2005 - 10:43 | Comments Off | Permalink

Withdrawal from Iraq ? Here Is the Timetable
Amir Taheri

In the circles opposed to the toppling of Saddam Hussein one word is making the rounds these days: timetable.

Having failed to stop the war that liberated Iraq, and with their hopes of the insurgents marching triumphant into Baghdad dashed, they are now focusing on one issue: the withdrawal of the US-led coalition forces. Some want this to happen immediately, while others are prepared to grant a few weeks or months.

Those Democrat politicians in Washington, who had backed the war with as much enthusiasm as George W Bush, are now using the issue of withdrawal as a means of distancing themselves from their initial positions. The Arab reactionaries who shuddered at the thought of a despot being toppled by foreign intervention are now clinging to the withdrawal slogan in the hope of sabotaging the process of democratisation in Iraq. In Europe, professional anti-Americans of all ilks are trying to cover their political nakedness with the “ withdrawal” fig leaf.

The truth, however, is that a timetable has been in place from the first day of the war that ended the Ba’athist tyranny in 2003. In that timetable the coalition’s military presence in Iraq is, as it should be, linked to the programme for the nation’s political reconstruction. In other words the coalition forces are in Iraq to accomplish a precise political task and not to provide the United States or any other foreign power with a forward base in the Middle East.

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, the largest circulating Arabic language daily in the world, columnist Amir Taheri lays it out pretty clearly. Progress is being made in Iraq, at a pace set by the Iraqi people and their ability to develop new political processes. The deadlines they have set for themselves to make various political steps have largely been met. And they have held for themselves the ability to order foreign troops out of the country, at any time.

As Taheri puts it:

What matters, however, is that it is up to the people of Iraq and its coalition allies to decide the moment an the modalities of the withdrawal It is a judgment that no outsider could make .. Those who opposed the liberation and those who have done all they could to undo it have no moral right to join that debate.

November:25:2005 - 10:26 | Comments Off | Permalink
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