Bird Flu Cases Found in Saudi Arabia
Arab News

RIYADH, 29 January 2006 — Saudi Arabia has culled 37 falcons after some of them tested positive to the H5 virus of the avian flu, the Agriculture Ministry said yesterday.

A ministry team inspecting falcons kept in a veterinary center in Riyadh, which takes care of the birds that are usually used for hunting, discovered the cases, Saudi Press Agency quoted the ministry statement as saying.

The Arab News front-pages this article. If true, it suggests that the country had great luck in not getting it intermingled with the 2.5 million pilgrims who were in the country for the recently completed Haj. I’d like to see more verification of the story though.

This will be very upsetting though, and not just to the poultry business (a big business in the Kingdom). I suspect that large numbers of the population will be avoiding poulty in the markets for quite some time. I’ll try to get to a market later today–perhaps tomorrow–and see what’s going on.

January:29:2006 - 07:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Saudi papers are utterly dominated by reaction to the publication, in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of a series of cartoons that many Muslims find offensive, even blasphemous.

In the Arab News, for example, we find:

OIC Demands Unqualified Danish Apology on the front page, with Dodging Boycott Call, Norway Voices Regret and Effect of Danish Boycott Patchy on Page 2.

An article from the Arabic daily Al-Watan, We Need More Than a Butter Boycott is translated and appears on Page 3.

Even the lead editorial, Irresponsible, takes up the subject. And then there’re the Letters to the Editor

The Saudi Gazette has a front-page banner, “Dump the Danes”, which sends readers to a Page 4 article, “Boycott of Danish Products Gain Force”.

I noted the anger caused by these cartoons back on Jan. 11, Thin Skin When It Comes to Religion and find nothing in the newest flurry to change my opinion.

What we have here are two different cultures, with different cultural values. The difference in those values is so complete that neither side can resolve the issue to the other’s satisfaction while preserving its own deeply-rooted values.

There are two issues involved here, religion and freedom of speech and thought.

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January:29:2006 - 02:43 | Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Permalink

King Assures India on Energy Needs
Raid Qusti & M. Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Arab News

NEW DELHI, 27 January 2006 — Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, who was the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade yesterday, was enthralled by the annual event that showcased the country’s military might and cultural diversity in an 85-minute extravaganza.

The Arab News continues its front-page coverage of King Abdullah’s travels in Asia. Earlier this week, it was all-China; now it’s all-India. The Kingdom is certainly making efforts to expand its economic and political ties beyond the West. In fact, these moves parallel those being made by the US gov’t, which has discovered India as its new best friend and China as both a marketer’s dream and a national security problem.

The Republic Day parade in New Delhi is quite something to see. It’s probably the closest thing outside the communist world to imitate the May Day parades in Moscow. Perhaps Beijing’s is bigger; perhaps Pyongyang’s more threatening.

The King’s travels, though, have messed up some of my appointments in the KSA as many of the top editors and journalists are traveling with the King. It does give me a chance, though, to meet with some of the others whom I only know through phone conversations and e-mails.

Tomorrow is packed with appointments in Jeddah, then I fly back to Riyadh in the evening. I’ve unfortunately picked up a nasty cold in the UK. That winter cold is now a summer cold in Jeddah’s 80F climate. Good thing that today is the local equivalent of Sunday and I can spend most of the day in bed.

More, later.

This article, though somewhat sycophantic in an inimitable Arab media way, gives a good overview of the Kingdom’s goals in China.

January:27:2006 - 08:54 | Comments Off | Permalink

I finally got myself back to Saudi Arabia last night, flying in on British Midlands (British Air no longer has a route) after a few days of meetings in London. A great flight for the passengers–only 50 or so of us on an Airbus–not so good for the airline.

I was very pleased with how easy immigration and customs went. Coming out of the hallways from the planes, into the Immigration hall, I was immediately hit by the sight of several hundred Indian/Bangladeshi workers queuing up to get in. Luckily, they were on several group contracts and were being dealt with through separate channels. There was a separate line for women, both Indonesian and Bangladeshi by their appearance.

The separate queue for GCC citizens was lightly occupied and moved quickly. My queue, for “others” wasn’t too long, perhaps a dozen people. When I got up to the head, the officer ran my passport through his scanner, copied some information from the screen to my entry form, and that was that.

Customs was even easier. While I wasn’t out to tempt fate, I did have some DVDs and books–not to mention my laptop and various accessories–with me. My suitcase and carryon went through an X-Ray machine, an officer took a look at the screen, and that was that… out in 30 minutes. I find that hard to do at Dulles or Miami, frankly.

There was greatly enhanced security visible during the ride into town, though.

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January:26:2006 - 11:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Clandestine Homecomings
Fares ibn Hazem • Al-Riyadh

It can be easy to predict the future by looking at numbers from the past, and to learn from them. The total number of Saudis that went to Iraq in 2003 and 2004 was about 2,500. What about 2005?

We must focus on the Saudis who aren’t killed or arrested in Iraq, the ones who return. Are they coming back home or are they coming back to create trouble?

This article, translated by Arab News from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh casts a note of concern about the potential of jihadis, beaten in Iraq, returning to Saudi Arabia to wreak mischief.

It focuses on the case of Badr Al-Subaie, to whom I alluded yesterday, who went off to wage jihad in Bosnia, returned to the Kingdom, was jailed for five years and then released. He went on to join the efforts of Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, taking part in terrorist acts, and was killed in a gunfight in 2004.

Take a look at the piece to see how some Saudis are dreading the possibility.

January:23:2006 - 17:20 | Comments Off | Permalink

Woman Breaks Law by Driving to Save Father
Arab News

YANBU, 23 January 2006 — A 19-year-old daughter saved her father by driving more than 25 kilometers in the desert, the Al-Madinah daily reported. The father was camping in the desert when he began suffering from heart pain. He called home for help. His daughter took her father in the car and drove at high speed for emergency treatment, saving his life by breaking the law against women driving — not to mention speeding.

I note the increasing frequency with which stories about Saudi women, driving in Saudi Arabia, are making their ways into the media. Not all are as up-beat as this one (though many are). A few weeks ago there was a story about a woman killed in an accident while she was driving.

The point of these articles, I believe, is to start making the fact of women’s driving an ordinary thing, something that is socially unobjectionable. There have already been many stories about how the ban on women’s driving has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with social values.

Those values are in need of a change as more and more women start working and as men take on more responsible jobs, jobs they can’t walk away from for an hour or two to drive women where they need to go.

January:23:2006 - 17:10 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Call to Destroy Uhud Cave Rejected
Yousuf Muhammad, Arab News

MADINAH, 23 January 2006 — The cave where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) took rest during the Battle of Uhud has become the subject of debate among scholars, some arguing for its destruction.

Madinah Governor Prince Abdul Aziz ibn Majed told Asharq Al-Awsat, the sister publication of Arab News, that he rejected the idea of destroying the site.

A committee was formed recently to discuss the matter after years of complaints over visitors that come to the cave to worship.

Some scholars have suggested simply fencing off the two-meter-wide entrance to the cave located about a kilometer from the ridge where archers were positioned during battles between followers of Islam and pagans. During the Battle of Uhud, the Prophet, who was wounded in the skirmish, took rest in this cave.

An issue that’s caught the attention of numerous readers is the friction between fundamentalist Muslims who seek to deter any manifestation of idolatry and those who believe that historical monuments (religious or otherwise) have intrinsic value.

This Arab News story shows that the issue is one that concerns Saudis, too.

Within the Salafist trends of Islam, there is concern that places associated with the life of the Prophet Mohammed–and other respected figures in Islam–not become places of worship simply because a good and holy person was associated with the place. This, they believe, is tantamount to shirk, or promoting a place or individual to the level of God, the only being worthy of worship.

Others see historic value that can be kept separate from idolatry, merely preserving a place because it was important in the history of mankind, of the Arabs, or even Islam.

The article unfortunately glosses over the fact that some Muslims–the Taleban–did destroy religious images and sites. Too, anyone who has toured the Middle East can readily see statues, reliefs, etc. that have been intentionally defaced. While this may not have been done explicitly to prevent idolatry, the defacing was done to meet a related command of not producing graven images. Representational art, particularly of living beings, is still seen by many conservatives as usurping the role of God as Creator, with the artist to be called upon, at Judgment Day, to bring his creations to life or face the fires of Hell.

In the case of the Uhud Cave, however, it seems that the historians are winning the battle.

January:23:2006 - 17:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s Accession to the WTO: Is a “Revolution” Brewing?
Middle East Policy Council Capitol Hill Conference Series on US Middle East Policy
Introduction by Ambassador Chas Freeman

The Saudi-US Relations Information Service (SUSRIS) has made available transcripts of the Middle East Policy Council’s recent conference on the subject of Saudi accession to the WTO. The panel was hosted by MEPC President Chas Freeman and included: William Clatanoff, Former Deputy U.S. Trade Representative for Labor; C. Christopher Parlin, Partner, Loeffler Tuggey Pauerstein Rosenthal, LLP; Robert Jordan, Former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Charles Kestenbaum, Former Regional Director, U.S. Dept. Of Commerce; and Jean-Francois Seznec, Adjunct Professor, Columbia University’s Middle East Institute.

Each of the speakers’ presentations, as well as a question-and-answer session following, is linked on the page with Amb. Freeman’s introduction. I recommend you take a look at it. Seznec’s comments about how petroleum offers distinct advantages within the Saudi economy are worth noting, as are more critical comments by Charlie Kastenbaum. Amb. Robert Jordan’s remarks on the process of getting the Saudis to accept the changes necessary for joining the WTO, as well as the expected benefits from the transparency that will be required, are certainly worth reading.

January:23:2006 - 05:18 | Comments Off | Permalink

Reeducation of Extremists in Saudi Arabia
By Y. Yehoshua

In its efforts against domestic terrorism, the Saudi regime is attempting to fight Islamist ideas such as tafkir (accusing other Muslims of apostasy) against the regime and its clerics. One method being used is “reeducation” of extremists.

Two large-scale projects using this approach are underway. The first is a counseling program, supported by the Saudi Interior Ministry, for outreach to Saudi security prisoners. The second is the Al-Sakinah Campaign for online dialogue with extremists, which is supported by the Saudi Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs.

This report will review these two projects.

1. The Counseling Program for Saudi Security Prisoners
2. The Al-Sakinah Campaign – Online Dialogue With Islamists to Counter Their Extremist Ideas

The Middle East Media Research Institute ( MEMRI) takes a look at the Saudi government’s efforts to re-educated extremists in an interesting analysis of the program. This piece cites reporting from the Saudi media over most of the last year. The effort led to the release of 400 detainees. The effect of the online dialogue remains unclear.

To my knowledge, there has been only one failure in the re-education program. That individual was later killed in a shoot-out. If there are other instances of recidivism, I’d appreciate being informed.

Do take a look at this piece, though. It shows that the Saudis do know how to deal with Saudi problems–at least some of them.

January:22:2006 - 12:35 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Neoconservatism: Why We Need It
Review by Amir Taheri

At a time that American “neoconservatives” are under almost daily attacks by a coalition of all those unhappy about the Bush presidency, one might think neo-conservatism is the last product anyone would want to market anywhere else.

And, yet, here we have one of the rising stars of British conservatism offering a whole book to propose precisely such a product.

It’s convenient–as I’m now in London–to find Amir Taheri reviewing a British book, Neoconservatism: Why We Need It, by Douglas Murray. Taheri clearly believes that Murray has correctly identified the issues:

Murray starts by suggesting that the classical political divisions based on notions of Right and Left are now outdated, at least in democratic societies, if only because there is a consensus on the basic rules of the political game and the general economic system of society. The blurring of the distinction between Right and Left, however, has not been entirely positive. For, it has also promoted a moral relativism, itself a child of multiculturalism, in which the very notions of good and evil are frowned upon as medieval relics.

Murray believes that good and evil do exist as distinct categories and could be readily identified by anyone in possession of a system of values. Thus the principal task of politics becomes the identification of good and evil as a prelude to the promotion of the former and the combating of the latter. Neo-conservatism, far from being a conspiracy by extremist right-wingers who wish to conquer and reshape the world, is a political vision based on a hierarchy of values. It was in gestation long before George W Bush entered the White House in 2001 and, as Murray asserts, will be a key player in the international politics long after he has retired…
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January:21:2006 - 05:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

A War Against Violence
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed

Whilst the Iraqi interior ministry and ministry of defense have been preoccupied with pursuing violent political and religious extremists, Iraq’s ministry of education had waged its own war upon disobedient teachers who are violent towards pupils. This battle is part of the war in Iraq against the culture of violence that spreads in Iraq that is linked to the claim that it is in the natural disposition of this nation to be violent and confrontational.

Iraq, like the rest of the Arab countries, is in the process of building a society and is not only focused upon the pursuing of criminals and terrorists. Establishing a society holds many challenges, the most prominent of which is that of education. This refers not only to the educating of students, but rather of governmental institutions as well as a society of teachers and parents.

The problem can be summarized through the barbarianism of some groups in society. Our Arab societies are experiencing a chaotic stage as they transform quickly from rural society to one of urbanism, a shift that entails compliance and conformity with rules and regulations. Our societies that have shifted from relying on wood as a source of energy to electricity and from camels to cars in a short space of time seeks to skip centuries of civilization, an act that is not easy to carry out.

An excellent op-ed from Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed appears in today’s Asharq Alawsat, the largest circulating Arabic language newspaper.

The piece, while ostensibly directed toward Iraq, is truly aimed at Arab societies–including Saudi Arabia’s. He notes that jumping hundreds of years of social progress is not easily accomplished within a generation or two, but that it must be accomplished.

In many ways Arab society has been violent, especially when it comes to power relationships. While much was managed through a more quiet patron/client relationship by offering or threatening to withhold favor, the threat of violence was always in the background. And in the case of classrooms, not necessarily in the background at all. This, he claims, is where changes are most important and most urgent. Do read the article as an important recognition of problems at the base of society that need resolution.

January:21:2006 - 05:40 | Comments Off | Permalink

Editorial: Shelter for All

The image of Saudi Arabia abroad is of a land teaming with wealth and opportunity — the “oil-rich desert Kingdom” as the international media insist on saying. Inside the Kingdom, it is a rather different picture. Yes, there is wealth and opportunity — and massive development — but there is also poverty. The slums of south Riyadh or south Jeddah are real and shocking. It is not expatriate laborers who live in such places; it is poor Saudis. They cannot afford anything better. Nor is poverty confined to places like Qarantina in Jeddah or Suwaidi in Riyadh. There is serious rural poverty as well; as elsewhere, it manifests itself in substandard, rundown accommodation.

For many years, Saudi poverty was a taboo subject, unspoken by those who saw it as shameful and who foolishly imagined that by ignoring it, it would go away. It was Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah who, as crown prince, broke the taboo. His unprecedented visit to the slums of Suwaidi just over three years ago brought poverty into the open and with it a determination address the issue.

Today, there is both good news and bad. According to the King Abdullah Charitable Housing Foundation, set up in the wake of the visit to provide accommodation for the poor, a million homes are needed. What makes that good news is that the problem is clearly now being assessed and quantified. The bad news is that it is an enormous mountain to climb. We must be thankful for the foundation’s plans to build 13,000 homes for the poor over the next few years — all extra homes are welcome — but the fact is they barely scratch the surface of the problem. At this rate it will take 100 years to meet the target.

When one hears the name “Saudi Arabia,” poverty isn’t usually the first thing to pop to one’s mind. That’s as it should be; compared to many countries, Saudi Arabia is not poor.

But as this Arab News article makes clear, there are poor Saudis. The issue was hidden, as were many other social problems, for years, for decades. This was largely due to the “shame factor”. Admitting that a problem existed implied that someone was not doing his job adequately. That implication is now seen as a given: bureaucrats–even senior ones–are human and they make human mistakes. By putting the issue in front of the people, however, at least the doors to discussion and solution are being opened.

January:20:2006 - 13:24 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink
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