Not to turn this blog into the Rachel Bronson fan club (well, I don’t know if she has one, actually), but the Saudi US Relations Information Service runs an interview with Dr. Bronson. It covers some of the same ground as her book, but also some new territory.

Much of the new material is the result of Bronson’s visit to the country to take part in the Jeddah Economic Forum. She finds real change (although not major change) taking place. She also notes that women are truly excited about their future in the country. Also noteworthy is her interpretation of Saudi views on China, Iraq, and Iran. Do read the interview.


April:30:2006 - 19:31 | Comments Off | Permalink

Ministering to the Upwardly Mobile Muslim

The New York Times‘s “Sunday Magazine” has an excellent piece on Amr Khaled, about whom I wrote a few weeks ago. Khaled has combined his beliefs about Islam with a more American style of preaching to the masses, via recorded sermons and regular broadcasts over Saudi-owned Iqra satellite TV channel. The article describes some of the personal appearances he makes in Europe and Egypt. It suggests, too, that he’ll soon be coming to the US.

That’s a good thing, according to an anonymous State Dept. official who said:

he hoped someone within the department would be able to meet with Khaled when he came to the United States. Khaled’s message, he said, is “very much in sync with what we want to say to the Muslim world, which is that we have no problem with Islam and no problem with conservative Islam. We have a problem with criminality called terrorism.”

Islam, even conservative Islam, need not be an enemy. But it is critical that there be more high-profile preachers who can tell that to Islamic audiences, as well as convince them that violence and terror are not the answer.


April:30:2006 - 15:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s unseen reform
Bridget Kendall

Saudi Arabia is mainly viewed by others as a traditionally conservative society, particularly in its attitudes towards women. But, below the surface change is happening, even if reformers are wary of moving too quickly in case they face a traditionalist backlash.

We were in Bubbles cafe on the waterfront in Jeddah, the mixed section, where men and women are allowed in together.

There were five young Saudi women, some students, some working, one about to be wed in an arranged marriage.

This is the introduction to a good piece by Bridget Kendall, a BBC correspondent currently in Saudi Arabia. (I first met her when she was covering the US.) The article is worth reading on several counts. First, it points out that Saudi women are intent on setting their own priorities for reform, not just parrotting the West. Second, that they are proud of their own culture and find it hypocritical that Westerners find it perfectly all right for the people of some countries–like Bhutan–to dress in their native dress, but somehow it’s “oppression” when Saudi women do the same thing.

Finally, the women’s comments about the pace of reform is worth noting. They consider the 1991 episode of women’s driving to make a political point an enormous set-back for women’s issues. By getting right in the face of traditionalists, they created a battle in which they lacked sufficient allies to prevail. As a result, the screws turned tighter and made any sort of reform all the harder.

Kendall repeats the frequent error of seeing Saudi Arabia as an absolute monarchy. It is not. While the King certainly has broad powers, he does not have sufficient power to turn the country 180° on any issue: he requires his own allies, in sufficient numbers and from a sufficiently broad cross-section of society, to get a reform accepted.

Otherwise, though, this is a well-done piece, worth a few minutes of your time.


April:30:2006 - 13:38 | Comments Off | Permalink

Security Court in 6-Months

IN six months’ time a state security court will be formed to look into the cases of suspected militants believed to be involved in terror attacks.

Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Bin Nasser Al-Obikan, a Judiciary Advisor at the Ministry of Justice and a member of the Shoura Council, said in an interview with Okaz published on Wednesday the perpetrators of terror attacks which targeted three residential complexes in eastern Riyadh on May 12, 2003, will be tried by a state security court that will be formed especially for this purpose.

He said the judicial panel, which will consist of five to seven judges, will be appointed by a royal decree after being named jointly by the ministries of Interior and Justice. He added that in addition to this, two political and security advisers will be appointed to join the panel.

The court’s venue will be Riyadh.

Obikan stressed that the court’s verdicts will be final and irrevocable because “the judges are highly qualified and have a long record in the field.”

Sheikh Al-Obeikan (here transliterated as “Obikan”) is a busy man! This Saudi Gazette article has him expounding on the creation of a court specifically designed to deal with terrorism cases, both formalizing the process and taking it out of Sharia courts and undefined state institutions. It will be interesting to see how this court develops and whether or not its activities will be transparent and publicly reported.


April:30:2006 - 08:25 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Codification of Islamic Sharia
Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al Obeikan

Some Islamic religious scholars lack the capacity to be tolerant as they always opt for the extreme and cannot accept moderation. They usually respond to any moderate attempts in a harsh way despite that Sharia (Islamic Law) allows them to accept and excuse those with conflicting opinions…

What is the difference between the books of jurisprudence and the codification of the rules? We know that books of jurisprudence contain rules directly or indirectly taken from Quran and Sunnah to make it easier to teach students and to facilitate legislation. Codification and the books of jurisprudence are the same.

Thanks to Almighty God, our courts apply Sharia law. However, there are several rules and varied opinions as some verses in the Quran and Sunnah can be interpreted in many ways. In addition, the human mind is limited, which may cause conflict between opinions. It is for this reason that codification is necessary. It would contribute to establishing justice. It will facilitate a judge’s work and relieve him of conducting difficult research in the books of jurisprudence. We are living in times that require rapid verdicts in accumulating cases. This process will be speeded up by codification. Codification would also be useful to end the serious matter of conflicting verdicts that sometimes occur within the same case and in the same city, perhaps even in the same court or that are issued by the same judge.

This is a pretty remarkable article from Asharq Alawsat, written by a noted Saudi Islamic scholar. What he is asking for, in fact, is an organized look at how Sharia law is interpreted, on a global level. This is, actually, an attempt to define an orthodoxy for Sharia, something that has not existed for centuries–if ever. I wonder whether truly international participation might not bring some surprises for the conservatives?


April:30:2006 - 06:35 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s plan to stop suicide attacks
Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor of The Times, in Riyadh

Three years after targets in Saudi Arabia were hit by a series of suicide bomb attacks, the country has responded by investing heavily in anti-terrorist training, acquiring equipment and expertise from abroad, and a re-indoctrination campaign among suspected militants.

An interesting article from The Times of London. It talks about not only Saudi use of closed-circuit TV monitoring, but also Saudi “re-education campaigns”. The extent of video surveillance is noteworthy as the Saudi government seeks to emulate the British.


April:29:2006 - 14:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

Fears of Intelligence Penetration of the GIMF
By Stephen Ulph

The fallout from the arrests of Saudi mujahideen following the Abqaiq attack and the suspicions of penetration of the al-Hesbah forum by intelligence agents (Terrorism Focus, April 11) continues to concern the jihadi forum participants. Under the present state of heightened alarm, the latest organization to come under scrutiny is none other than the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), a source of much of the materials detailing the operations, statements and policies of al-Qaeda.

Fascinating article on terrorist attacks through the use of media and internet video, as well as counter-attacks by the Saudi government in this article from the Jamestown Foundation’s “Global Terrorism Analysis” website. Definitely worth reading.


April:29:2006 - 10:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

Bin Laden’s Speech…More Danger Ahead
Tariq Alhomayed

What is new about Bin Laden’s rhetoric in his most recent tape? The most interesting aspect of it from my perspective is that the speech involves everybody. The west observed a clear threat to their wellbeing as the leader of Al-Qaeda made no distinction between western governments and their people. Furthermore, the speech placed Hamas in a difficult position as Bin Laden defended it. He also involved himself in the Darfur crisis as Al-Qaeda feeds off any crisis, even if it was created by us with no western involvement.

The examples given in Bin Laden’s speech are further proof that he has a weak understanding of history and is a poor political player. Nevertheless, Bin Laden has proven himself a master of incitement. From this angle, the most dangerous part of his speech was clear as he referred to combating Arab liberal intellects who he described as “the mockers of Islam.” This part of the speech, paradoxically, was not discussed by either media in the west or Middle East.

Tariq Alhomayed, Editor in Chief of Asharq Alawsat, has a good opinion piece here. He notes that Bin Laden, in his latest tape, makes clear his complete rejection of any form of modernity, Western or even Muslim. Worth reading.


April:28:2006 - 07:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

‘Spinsterhood’
Maha Al-Hujailan, Al-Watan

The word “spinster” is considered an offensive term by many Saudi girls. It implies that young girls have a date beyond which they have expired. This expiry date is related to the young girl’s physical characteristics which must be made use of in order to get her married. The word is also used to exert pressure on girls to marry; in theory, girls do not want to be called spinsters.

Our society and others use the word in order to describe unmarried females negatively. In different regions of the country, especially in the north, our ancestors called a girl who had never married “a girl of the house.” It’s a more delicate and considerate description of an unmarried woman whatever her age. It is clear from the term in Arabic that she has never left her parents’ house for any other. This description indicates her social status but it doesn’t include any reference to her age or the reason why she has not married.

Maha Al-Hujailan has a very interesting piece on how Saudis view “spinsters” (also known as “girls of the house”) and how social attitudes need some adjustment. The article, originally appearing in the Arabic daily Al-Watan was translated by Arab News.

If you’re interested in social attitudes toward women and marriage in Saudi Arabia, do take a look at this piece.


April:27:2006 - 06:05 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Portrait of a Suicide Bomber
By Osama Al-Essa

Jerusalem, Asharq Al-Awsat- Following the recent suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, the family of a young Palestinian who blew himself up stated that the young man was a university student looking for work to pay his tuition fees, opening the door once again to the discussion of the link between economic status in Palestinian territories and suicide operations. Despite that many Western and Israeli studies have tried to find a connection between violence and suicide bombings, it may be indirectly saying that the answer to the Israeli -Palestinian conflict depends on the rebuilding of the economy only, that does not correspond with a just political solution. Reality proves that this is not the case, as most young Palestinians who have executed suicide operations belonged to the upper middle class or even the bourgeoisie. In search of analyzing the economic, social and educational factors of those young people, Asharq Al Awsat looks at the cases of fifteen suicide bombers. It also met with several families of some suicide bombers who have carried out their operations since 2000 to better comprehend the economic conditions of these youngsters.

Interesting results of the research showed that economic hardship was not the motive behind most suicide bombers as the majority of the bombers belonged to relatively affluent families. Some of the bombers however did suffer financially. The majority of those who carried out such attacks were pursuing higher education and came from stable families. This indicates that it is difficult to link poverty and suicide-operations, as reality is far more complex. Asharq Al-Awsat interviews the families of some Palestinian suicide bombers and looks at the economic situations in Gaza City.

Asharq Alawsat has an interesting piece reporting on new studies of suicide bombers in the Arab-Israeli conflict and their backgrounds. The link between suicide bombing and economic status–i.e., that those who see no plausible economic future for themselves more easily become bombers–has been challenged over the last year. This lack of linkage seems to be confirmed. More interestingly, family backgrounds and “degree of religiosity” seem not to present a clear linkage either. Some appear to come from secular/leftist backgrounds. Most of the bombers seem to come from middle-class or above families, to be relatively successful in their personal lives, but driven to act out of revenge for specific Israeli actions against specific individuals.

I don’t know that I buy the complete analysis–there are other factors unaccounted for in what’s reported–but it’s though provoking.


April:26:2006 - 15:59 | Comments Off | Permalink

More Saudi Women Seek Employment, Says Educationist
Lulwa Shalhoub, Arab News

JEDDAH, 26 April 2006 — According to the dean of the Dar Al-Hekma College, more than ever before women are looking to try something new: employment.

“There is a noticeable growth in women job seekers,” said Suhair Al-Qurashi, dean of the Jeddah-based women’s college. “Now that the Kingdom has joined the World Trade Organization, the challenges are stronger. There is more of a need now for women to have new jobs different from what has been afforded them,” the dean added, pointing out that most of the 4.9 percent of employed Saudi women hold jobs in the government sector.

Interesting article about Saudi women’s desire to get into the workplace. Worth reading.


April:26:2006 - 14:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

US Embassy Warns of Fax Hoax
Javid Hassan, Arab News

RIYADH, 26 April 2006 — The US Embassy has advised residents of the Kingdom that a widely circulating fax letter, allegedly from “the American Tax Commission,” seeking detailed personal and business financial data, such as bank account numbers, is an apparent hoax, a so-called “phishing” scam, to commit identity theft.

Andrew Mitchell, press and information attaché at the US Embassy, pointed out that, for one thing, the name of the federal department in charge of tax collection is the Internal Revenue Service.

Mitchell told Arab News that neither the US government nor any bona fide financial institution requests such personal or financial data via unsolicited email, fax, phone or mail.

“The embassy strongly recommends that any individual receiving such an unsolicited request for personal data not respond. If the request seems to come from an institution with which the recipient does business, the recipient may wish to contact the institution directly for confirmation via a known number or address. Never respond directly to an address or number contained in an unsolicited communication,” Mitchell said.

A new wrinkle in “phishing” expeditions! This scam attempts to make use of Saudi (and other’s) concerns about terrorist financing. With many Saudis owning property–both real estate and investments–in the US, they could well be worried that the US gov’t is looking into their situations. The attempt is blatantly fraudulent, if you know enough about the American governmental system. At least the US Embassy is being pro-active in getting the message out…


April:26:2006 - 11:24 | Comments Off | Permalink
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