Kingdom Denies Nuke Report

JEDDAH, 1 April 2006 — Saudi Arabia yesterday denied a German magazine report that it was working on a secret nuclear program with the help of Pakistani experts. The report “is totally unfounded,” a Defense Ministry spokesman told the Saudi Press Agency, adding that Riyadh “advocates imposing nuclear non-proliferation in the (Middle East) region.”

Pakistan also rejected the report.

“It is a fabricated story and motivated by vicious intentions,” Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.

The Saudi government, according to this Arab News article, is strongly denying a report in a German magazine (Cicero) that claims the Saudis are working on secret atomic weapons. Saudi Arabia has a long record of calling for a total ban on nuclear weapons in the Middle East–Iran and Israel included.

The Cicero report cites John Pike, as claiming that “Saudi bar codes” were found on half of Pakistani nuclear weapons”. That sounds absolutely senseless to me.

March:31:2006 - 18:53 | Comments Off | Permalink

This Ostrich-Like Attitude Is Not Doing Us Any Good
Lubna Hussain,

The usual introductions were being made around the restaurant table. An engineer working for a big oil company. A nurse working in the VIP section of a hospital. An IT consultant. When it came to my turn I quietly half-mumbled my name and confessed to doing a variety of things. I was hoping that the comment would fall upon deaf ears, but unfortunately it did not.

“You!” accused engineer. “You’re that journalist, aren’t you?”

This op-ed by Lubna Hussain, writing in the Arab News, is worth a look. In it she talks about Saudi social resistence to the airing of social and political problems in public venues. Realizing Saudi attitudes about this is helpful in understanding at least part of the reason why one doesn’t see mass demonstrations against the acts of extremist Islamists. The fear is that by acknowledging that something isn’t perfect leaves it open to much broader criticism that may be less well-founded.

Hussain also does a good job of describing Saudi fear of being called “imitator.” This ploy, used by those who insist on the status quo, assumes that change is being forced from the outside and is, somehow, not “authentic” to Saudi traditions. As the writer puts it:

If we can learn lessons from other countries in order to achieve such edification, then this does not necessarily imply a selling out of our principles. I wonder why it is that when it comes to imbibing the negative aspects of other countries, we are so enthusiastic, but when it comes to adopting their positive qualities we are so reluctant. Recognizing that we can progress without compromising our integrity is paramount if we are to preserve what really matters and purge what really doesn’t.

March:31:2006 - 16:08 | Comments Off | Permalink

Youth Lured by Misguided Zeal: Ahmad
Arab News

AL-GHAT, 31 March 2006 — Deputy Interior Minister Prince Ahmad lamented the fact that some of the youth are turning to terror are misguided and fighting Almighty Allah and his Messenger. Prince Ahmad was speaking to the press after attending a function to honor the winners of the Prince Khaled ibn Ahmad Al-Sudairi for academic excellence yesterday in Al-Ghat region.

Prince Ahmad’s comments came after Saudi security forces arrested 40 suspected terrorists in three different operations around the Kingdom in the past two weeks.

The rounding up of 40 suspected terrorists over the last two weeks is pretty noteworthy. Also to be noted is the government’s message that more attention needs to be paid to youth, left largely to their own designs, in order to keep them from radicalization. Worth reading.

March:31:2006 - 15:58 | Comments Off | Permalink

40 Terror Suspects Held in Sweep
Samir Al-Saadi, Arab News

JEDDAH, 30 March 2006 — Saudi security forces arrested 40 suspected terrorists in three different operations around the Kingdom in the past two weeks, the Interior Ministry announced yesterday. “It was not one operation but a series of operations aimed at tackling terror early on,” ministry spokesman Gen. Mansour Al-Turki told Arab News.

Those arrested are suspected members of Al-Qaeda terrorist cells, some of whom appear to have links to the Feb. 25 foiled attack on the Al-Abqaiq oil refinery in the Eastern Province. The ministry has not released the names of any of the detained suspects.

This Arab News story gives details on several operations to round up terrorist suspects.

March:30:2006 - 10:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

A Summit on Shaky Ground
Ghassan Al Imam

No longer is it a forlorn summit on a high mountain. More than sixty years of summits cut off from the incline. Sixty years of monotonous agendas to discuss invariable and traditional issues. Sixty years of decisions without execution. Sixty years of repetition and statements about solidarity and rejection which became acceptance, while the angry state settles, divides and humiliates the occupied un front of their nation.

Neither is the summit a summit nor are decisions resolutions. Neither is solidarity. Neither is the mountain a steadfast rock. The ongoing summit is a hurtful and stinging meeting on top of a burning Arab surface. The summit is being held on top of a fragile surface on the verge of crumbling so that the Arab participants find themselves sharing the fate of those on the decline.

This curious op-ed in Asharq Alawsat takes much the same sour view of the Arab League as did a piece yesterday. It’s even stronger in its view of the organization as a futile talk shop. Al-Imam concludes:

The Arab world is guilty of stabbing itself. After the fall of nationalist regimes, traditional and radical regimes in the 1970s handed over society to traditional religion. By feeding the popular and social imagination huge and continuous doses of teachings and rites, this institution, in turn, handed over this society which is forbidden from politics to politicized religious movements. These groups, devoid of culture and intellectual analysis, either borrowed the slogan “Islam is the solution” or adopted takfir and placed religion and the Arab world in a violent confrontation with the regime, society and the world at large.

This is how the Arab state system finds itself surrounded by several civil and religious conflicts internally, because of the social and national fabric have worn off. It is also under threat from the outside either from international interference under the pretext of democratic reform and the war on terror, or regionally from Israel and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In spite of this, Farouk al Sharaa tired in Khartoum to convince Arab leaders of the legitimacy of Iran ’s nuclear weapon. He justified this, and I plead with you not to laugh, by saying it was for peaceful ends!

The present and future of the Arab state system is under threat. With it, the security, safety and stability of Arab society is in danger. No need for despair with hope. If only the summit of decisions and words would become a meeting to reflect and plan for the present and the future! How narrow is the summit if it weren’t for hope!

March:30:2006 - 10:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab summit ends with usual support for Palestinians and Iraqis

KHARTOUM (AP) – Arab leaders concluded an annual summit Wednesday with their usual pledges of solidarity with Palestinians and Iraqis.
The two-day summit, devalued by the absence of several key heads of state, also backed host Sudan in its opposition to the deployment of U.N.-led peacekeepers in its troubled western Darfur region.

In a sign of apathy about the meetings, Saudi Arabia, next year’s chair country, declined to host the 2007 summit, saying it preferred that it be held in Egypt, home to the headquarters of the Arab League.

The annual meetings of the Arab League regularly tackle challenging regional issues but are often criticized for concluding with resolutions that are long on rhetoric but short on concrete action.

What’s most interesting about this article in today’s Asharq Alawsat is its tone. The piece seems to say that the Arab League has become an exhausted and futile body, barely worth the effort to maintain.

There’s a distinct tone that the AL isn’t living up to its potential, substituting cheap talk for action, and funking out of its responsibilities toward issues like Dafur and the return of Arab embassies to Iraq.

The piece is an Associated Press story, with no byline, so it’s not clear who’s written it. But by chosing to publish the story, the paper is supporting the analysis. Interesting…

March:29:2006 - 10:20 | Comments Off | Permalink

Riyadh Literary Scene at Center of Tolerance Debate
Ebtihal Mubarak, Arab News

JEDDAH, 29 March 2006 — The first two rows in the men’s half of the lecture hall were occupied by the anti-literature crowd.

Four Saudi writers, Abdu Khal, Hana Hijazi, Mansour Al-Ateeq and Hadil Al-Khedif, were participating in this last scheduled activity — a series of short story readings — of the 2006 Riyadh International Book Fair. A divider had been set up between not only the men and women lecturers, but also the audience. This wasn’t enough for this particular group of men.

After the reading, the men in the front rows asked the event’s emcee, the Saudi literary critic Hasan Al-Naami, to give them time to ask questions of the author.

Al-Naami responded by saying the schedule did not allow for taking questions from the audience. “It’s just a short story reading,” he told the audience. “Let’s just enjoy literature.”

Considering the several incidents that happened throughout the course of the book fair, Al-Naami politely asked the men to let this event happen without incident.

As I’d noted earlier this year, the Riyadh Book Fair provided an arena for confrontation between the conservatives who reject all change and those–including in this instance, writers–who believe it needs to be discussed.

This Arab News article takes the issue a bit farther. In it, various writers argue among themselves whether the fair should be broken up into smaller, regional affairs that take advantage of different attitudes in the regions or whether the intolerance should be met head on. Worth reading.

March:29:2006 - 06:15 | Comments Off | Permalink

‘Imams Have a Great Responsibility’
Raid Qusti & Ali Al-Zahrani, Arab News

RIYADH, 29 March 2006 — Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, an imam of the Grand Mosque, said on Sunday that authorities in the Kingdom should note all violations made by imams and preachers during their sermons in mosques.

“Imams and preachers have a great responsibility to society. They have a duty to guide people. The authorities should note violations they commit in order to guide them to what is correct according to Shariah,” he said.

The problem of imams and preachers who promote intolerance and violence is being attacked from a different quarter, according to this Arab News article.

It has been noted in the past–and frequently reported in the West–that some Saudi imams continue to preach lessons that support jihad and violence. The government has been involved in “re-education,” the reminding of imams of just what the Quran says and what it does not say. Because the government does not have watchers in every mosque in the country, the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca is asking citizens to pay attention to what it being said, and to report transgressions.

One might have wished for this to have come earlier–maybe even a few years ago–and for Al-Sudais himself to have been a bit more attentive to what he has said. But better late than never.

March:28:2006 - 23:06 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The Privatization of the Press and the National Carrier: Part One
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed

This newspaper is making a third of its shares available to the public in an initial public offering, while Saudia Airlines, is selling its shares on the open market. These developments are proof that we are entering a bold experiment; they also signal a shift in our conceptualization. Media and civil aviation are amongst several organizations previously considered very sensitive. At times, they have been nationally revered. Things are different nowadays. Their particularity renders them more appealing for buyers.

Recently, the Saudi Research and Marketing Group which owns Asharq al Awsat, and is considered one of the most influential media institutions in the eyes of the Arab public, decided to offer a third of its shares in an initial public offering. In the past, it would have been impossible to conceive of a media company being sold on the open market, where shareholders carry all the power. Not so long ago, no government could have imagined selling all or part of its national airline, which it considers as its symbol of national pride. Yet, here is the Saudi government joining other countries and announcing its intention to privatize Saudia Airlines, by selling shares to individuals on the local stock market. Do these acts herald the overthrow of old concepts after years of rejection?

This op-ed from Asharq Alawsat is interesting on several counts.

First, it explains why Arab News, one of the newspapers in the Saudi Research and Marketing Group stable has gone to paid-only access within Saudi Arabia. Saudi readers are capable of buying the paper daily from newsstands or by subscription. The web version is a direct competitor of the paper version. By ending that reader competition, it makes the paper itself more competitive in the marketplace. It also makes it more attractive to potential investors.

But opening the paper to public investors is only one step in the privatization march that the Saudis are now undertaking. Privatizing the national airline–even partially–starts a chain of events that is, in the long run, to the benefit of the government and citizens.

Privatized concerns need to be competitive. That means they cannot employ large numbers of workers who don’t really add to the bottom line. As a nationalized company, that is, as a branch of government, jobs tended to be handed out either through favoritism or simply as “employer of last resort,” neither of which served to ensure capability or quality in the workforce.

As a “government job,” these positions also drained money from the government coffers, without adding much if any value.

The Saudis announced last year that they were licensing a new company for domestic air travel. This would be in direct competition to Saudia. If Saudi were to survive no longer being a monopoly, then it will have to get its costs down and its quality up.

Saudia quality for international travel is, generally speaking, quite high. They are competitive in terms of service. But their fares are not. When I traveled to the Kingdom in January, Saudia was charging over $1,200 for round-trip travel between London and Riyadh. British Midlands was only charging around $800. Saudia still maintained an advantage in that it offered daily flights while BMI flew twice a week. That’s an artificial barrier to competition, however, and runs into WTO concerns.

This piece by Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed talks about the necessity for further privatization and is worth a look.

March:28:2006 - 11:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

Why Is There So Much Hate Inside Us?
Abdullah Al-Mutairi • Al-Watan

In the shop next to my house, there is a home delivery service which is run by an Indian. He is a good man, hardworking and devoted to his job. I talk to him whenever he delivers something to my house and he talks to me about the time he spent working in Abu Dhabi and of his dream to live in London.

Last week I asked him to deliver a newspaper to my house. When he delivered it to me, he asked me whether I wrote in it. I told him that I did and he asked me to write about why young Saudis hate foreign workers, particularly Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. He asked, “Why do they throw rocks at us when they see us in the street?” He said that in India they were taught to love others because that is the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). I was moved by his words and promised him that I would write on the subject.

This article, from the Arabic daily Al-Watan (translated and republished in Arab News) is written by a Saudi teacher who believes that his countrymen have a long way to go when dealing with “The Other.”

That issue is one that King Abdullah has made his own, through the series of National Dialogues bringing together Saudis of varied backgrounds. These Dialogues have addressed the matter of dealing with other Saudis, those of different religious beliefs and backgrounds. They have also addressed, in some aspects, dealing with non-Saudis. They have not addressed, in any great detail, the treatment of non-Saudis living and working in the country. The article makes it clear that that is overdue.

March:27:2006 - 09:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

Google Earth Raises Privacy, Security Issues
Essam Al-Ghalib, Arab News

JEDDAH, 27 March 2006 — When a permit was issued allowing motor-powered passenger gliders to fly during Jeddah’s annual summer festival, it came with strict instructions as to where flying was permitted. Only two places were designated — the Corniche with flights over the waters of the Red Sea and further inland, over the desert. At no point, were the gliders to fly over inhabited parts of the city.

“That’s so we don’t fly over people’s homes and palaces. This culture closely guards its privacy. Many would be unsettled by the thought of uninvited eyes prying from above,” the expatriate pilot of one of the craft told Arab News two summers ago.

Last summer, when Google launched Google Earth, concern grew over how much it allowed anyone with an Internet connection to view and download satellite and aerial images of the Earth from above for free…

In Saudi Arabia, privacy is a major social value. Practically every free-standing house has a 10-12 foot wall surrounding it. What happens outside the wall is public; what happens inside, though, is utterly private.

Google Earth–as well as any other satellite photo–has the threat of breaching that privacy, as this Arab News article makes clear. But if one goes to the Google Earth site and looks at Saudi Arabia, detailed pictures are unavailable. Past a certain level of zoom, everything just becomes a blurry mass. [Google Earth is a downloadable application that runs from your computer and its Internet link.]

The article quotes a Google spokeswoman as saying that this lack of detail is not the result of any request by the Saudi government, but simply because no more detailed photos are available. I find this plausible for two reasons. First, some countries do ask that certain areas of photos be degraded for security reasons and Google seems happy to comply. Second, even some areas in the US–not security related–lack high resolution coverage. My city in Florida is partially available in high resolution; other parts fail at about the same resolution as the Saudi photos.

I must admit that I’ve had fun tracking down all the individual buildings in which I’ve lived around the world. I was successful in most instances, with failures in Saudi Arabia and Syria–and a couple of places that no longer exist in their prior form.

March:27:2006 - 08:51 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia: Educating Imams on Tolerance
By Abdulaziz al Shemary

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue will organize short courses for imams throughout Saudi Arabia in order to spread a culture of dialogue and forgiveness, sources told Asharq al Awsat.

The courses will include lectures by senior ulema in Saudi Arabia, including the Saudi mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al Sheikh and members of the Senior Ulema Commission, aimed at advising imams to spread a culture of dialogue and accept divergent opinions, while shunning extremism.

This brief piece from Asharq Alawsat is interesting. Since most of the imams are, in fact, paid government salaries–though most also have other jobs–it’s not out of line for the government to insist that its policies on religious tolerance be promoted. Then Crown Prince (and now King) Abdullah instituted a series of “National Dialogues”. These seminars and discussions, held around the country, seek to bring issues normally discussed only in private into the realm of acceptable public discourse. The major themes have been recognition of “the other,” both within and outside of Islam, and tolerance of differences.

Now the government is insisting that the imams and khateebs (preachers of sermons) get with the program. The official policy of the Saudi government–and the Saudi interpreters of Islam–will be the promotion of tolerance and difference. While this might not seem to be a great example of freedom of thought, it is: there was no freedom to form or to hold differing opinions when those opinions were being simply shut out of the conversation. Now, at least, there is more space for those differences.

March:26:2006 - 13:30 | Comments Off | Permalink
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