The American, non-partisan group, The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has recently concluded a symposium on Shi’ism as a new political power. The symposium was comprised of three sessions, each with a panel discussion followed by questions from the audience. Transcripts (unfortunately with frequent typographical errors and voids) are available at: The Emerging Shia Crescent Symposium.

The first session addresses the topic Understanding the Shi’a

The second, Is Shi’a Power Cause for Concern?

And the third, Implications for US Policy in the Middle East

There’s plenty of room for argument on particular points of view, but the discussions are worth the time it takes to read them. Strongly recommended.

July:31:2006 - 06:12 | Comments Off | Permalink

It’s Not Another World War One
By John Keegan

WARMINSTER, England Is the conflagration in the Middle East a repeat of the escalating global hostilities of almost a century ago? Newt Gingrich asserted as much soon after the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah erupted, saying “We’re in the early stages of what I would describe as the Third World War.”

John Keegan is one of the foremost military historians. In this article appearing in The Washington Post, he takes a look at the current political hyperbole that casts the crisis in Lebanon as World War III. It’s not even World War I, he says.

I think Keegan makes a serious error, though, in even supposing that Saudi Arabia could use “the oil weapon” as it did in 1973. Things have changed in the past 30 years. Among them is that the US is less dependent on Saudi oil and that the global economy is truly global. If Saudi Arabia were to turn off its oil supplies to the US, other sources—probably more expensive—would be found and no lasting harm done. If it closed the taps completely, Saudi Arabia would suffer as much, if not more, than an intended boycott’s targets. Saudi Arabia is fully enmeshed in the world economy; if one part of that economy is damaged, the entire system and all its members are damaged.

July:30:2006 - 06:20 | Comments Off | Permalink

Probation Meted Out in ‘Slavery’ Case

DENVER (AP) — A Saudi woman accused with her husband of keeping an Indonesian maid as a virtual slave was sentenced Friday to five years’ probation and ordered confined to her home until she leaves the country.

Sarah Khonaizan, 35, pleaded guilty in May to harboring an illegal immigrant. In exchange, prosecutors dropped charges of forced labor and document servitude.

The ugly side of some Saudis was on full display in Denver. Ms Khonaizan’s husband, Homaidan Al-Turki, was convicted last month on charges that included false imprisonment and unlawful sexual contact by use of force or intimidation. He is awaiting sentencing Aug. 31.

July:29:2006 - 10:34 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab Americans: In Search of Identity
By Mohammed Ali Salih

Lema Bashir, a Legal Advisor of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) says that it is much easier to spot second-generation Arabs in America than Arabs who have immigrated to the United States, however, “it is still a difficult task!” Lema made these comments last month during a debate on the identity of second generation Arabs in the United States that was held in Washington DC by the ADC. The debate also tackled the impact of identity crises upon individuals of various ethnicities, nationalities and religions living in the United States.

The debate is as old as the United States itself. The first book that addressed the issue was published in 1782 (six years after America’s independence) entitled ‘Letters from an American farmer’ by Herter Crevecoeur. In his book, the author asks, “Who is an American citizen?” He answers the question explaining, “An American citizen is he who abandoned the culture of his own country and mixed with other immigrants in the United States and adopted a new culture that would later result in the emergence of a new generation that would, someday, impose a fundamental change on the world.”

Like other immigrants, Arab Americans are divided into two groups, those who were born in the US and those who immigrated to America.

This feature article from Asharq Alawsat is interesting in the way it reports on young Arab Americans to an Arab audience. Worth taking a look at.

July:29:2006 - 10:20 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Saudi airline to recruit more women
By Ali Mutayr

Jeddah – Saudi Arabian airlines revealed on Wednesday it intends to recruit more women, in line with the government’s drive to increase job opportunities for Saudi women, while respecting religious customs.

Khalid al Melhem, the airline’s general manager, said new Saudi female recruits would progressively replace foreign workers such as flight attendants or workers in the electronic administration department.

After a meeting with the Board of Directors at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, al Melhem said, “A study is underway to identify the sectors which can provide jobs for women. It will also examine the feasibility of opening branches operated by women. In addition, cooperation with universities and educational institutes, in order to train female graduates is increasing.”

Asharq Alawsat runs this brief piece on how Saudi Arabian Airlines is looking to hire women. No word, here, about hiring women as pilots, though. Having Saudi women work as flight attendants, though, is a major sociological breakthrough. Up until now, that job was considered too far down the ladder of socially acceptable work. It requires, among other things, an unveiled face, a complete “no-no” to conservative men and women.

July:29:2006 - 10:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

Region in Crisis: US-Saudi Relations
A Conversation with F. Gregory Gause, III

SUSRIS: Thank you for taking time today to share your insight on US-Saudi relations and developments in the Kingdom related to the crisis in Lebanon. Let’s start with the position Saudi Arabia took in fixing responsibility for the crisis in the July 14 statement. What was your assessment of the public charges against Hizbollah and their backers?

Professor F. Gregory Gause: I think that the initial Saudi position was a reaction to the balance of power in the region – it was the same response in Jordan and Egypt, where they used almost the same language in Arabic about irresponsible adventures. They saw Hizbollah escalating a crisis and they thought that any kind of advantage that might accrue to Hizbollah, is an advantage to Iran. They all see the increase of Iranian power in the region as worrisome.

Their initial response was to indirectly condemn Hizbollah for escalating the crisis, of taking that first step, of going across the border and killing some Israeli soldiers and capturing two of them. They viewed the situation through the lens of a fear of rising Iranian power. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the phrase used by King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt after their bilateral meeting was exactly the same words used in the statement the Saudis issued at about the same time.

These three states appear to be coordinating their diplomacy, or at least they have a common view on where the region is going and the problems they face. That was interesting in that you have three Arab states — two of them with peace treaties with Israel, but one of them not — who, at a minimum, might be expected to at least either stay quiet or back the Arab side by saying that Arab civilians shouldn’t be attacked, and they did say that. But, for them to go beyond that politically and to criticize Hizbollah, even if indirectly was an interesting step.

I think it had a lot more to do with balance of power politics than any kind of Sunni-Shia ideological motives. There might have been some of that in it too, but I think it was primarily about Iranian power. It seems to me that was where they started. Where they ended up after, we’ve been at this now for 15-16 days — not just Saudi Arabia, but also Egypt and Jordan — is that the early signal of a willingness to take a diplomatic stand, to try to defang Hizbollah, to try to pull it back, is over because of the public reaction in the Arab world to the fighting.

The Saudi-US Relations Information Service (SUSRIS) has an interview with Gregory Gause, associate professor of political science at the University of Vermont, and director of the University’s Middle East Studies Program. He writes frequently on Saudi Arabia and I was pleased to have my office in Riyadh host his visit there several years ago.

Gause’s analysis of the current crisis in Lebanon is worth reading. He doesn’t see Hezbollah’s actions as Iran-instigated, for instance, but rather a unilateral act on that group’s part. Read it and see what you think.

July:29:2006 - 05:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Editorial: US Diplomacy

The US State Department has taken offense at the claim by Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon that Wednesday’s 15-nation emergency meeting in Rome on the situation in Lebanon had, by not demanding an immediate cease-fire, effectively gave Israel the green light to continue its attacks against Hezbollah. That conclusion is “outrageous” says the State Department.

It has good reason to be upset. But not because of the Israeli claim. The real reason for its unusual bitterness is because the evidently ungrateful ally it was trying to help as devious and manipulative has exposed the US, and the US does not like that.

This Arab News editorial makes it clear: the crisis in Lebanon is all the fault of the United States.

As this editorial was put together on Friday—the Jeddah equivalent of Sunday—I’m assuming that some sub-editor got the chance to play boss and let this piece of fantasy seep out. I don’t think Khaled Al-Maeena should be trusting his staff enough for him to go away on holiday. They get up to a lot of mischief.

July:28:2006 - 19:20 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Sundance, Saudi-Style
Cinemas are banned in Saudi Arabia, but the country’s first-ever film festival is a sign of progress.
By Robert Lacey,

ROBERT LACEY, author of “The Kingdom,” is writing a social history of Saudi Arabia in the last 30 years. [He is also the author of The Kingdom, published in 1981, which remains one of the better histories of the country.]

AMID THE GLOOMY news emerging from the Middle East, it is encouraging to report one item of cultural progress: the convening of Saudi Arabia’s first-ever film festival. This in Islam’s heartland, where cinemas do not officially exist.

Cannes it is not. Held in the austere exhibition galleries of Jeddah’s Science and Technology Center, the film festival lacks celebrities, red carpet, popping flashguns and, saddest of all, popcorn. On the evening I attended, a Friday night, half the lobby was occupied by the projectionist and the docents of the center saying their prayers. Following another hallowed Saudi tradition, the screening commenced 30 minutes late.

The Los Angeles Times runs a great article about the first Saudi film festival to be held in recent times. Lacey notes that attendance was light, but that the mere fact of holding the festival—as well as the themes of the films—was of significance. It’s a start…

July:28:2006 - 13:15 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

A Day in The Washington Post Newsroom
By Mohammed Ali Salih

Washington, Asharq Al Awsat – Four months after the request was made to ‘The Washington Post’, the prominent American paper finally agreed to host ‘Asharq Al Awsat’ in its newsroom for one day. Kate Carlyle, head of the Washington Post News Service, whose Arabic copyright is obtained by Asharq Al Awsat, apologized for the delay. Leonard Downie, “The Post’s” Executive Editor, had to approve the request and to choose someone to oversee the visit, she said. He asked Lexie Verdon, deputy assistant managing editor for continuous news, to show me around, and he kindly informed his staff of my visit and advised them to help introduce me to the newsroom.

Asharq Alawsat runs a feature story about the newsroom operations at The Washington Post. The story itself is of moderate interest, particularly in its comparisons of the image created through the film “All the President’s Men” some 30 years ago.

What’s fascinating—to me, anyway—are the questions being asked about newsroom responsibilities, editors’ trust in their reporters, and the general lack of reporters’ being fired. The questions were being published because the answers were so very different from the norm in Arab newsrooms.

If you’re interested in reading between the lines, this is a good article.

July:28:2006 - 11:12 | Comments Off | Permalink

What is this oversimplification, Sayyed?
Tariq Alhomayed

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah claimed that if it were not for the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier in Gaza, Palestinians would have fought one another. He also said that Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers was motivated by divine intervention, given that Israel was planning to attack Lebanon, thereby thwarting its plan!

What is this oversimplification, Sayyed?

Reality tells us that the Palestinians did not reach a consensus, that Fatah is not Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas is not Ismail Haniyeh, and that Palestine has not taken a single step forward. Reality tells us that after Khaled Meshaal was issuing statements from Damascus instead of Haniyeh, Nasrallah has become the spokesperson for the Palestinian cause!

An op-ed from Asharq Alawsat‘s Editor-in-Chief, Tariq Alhomayed. The paper is laying the principal blame for the Lebanon crisis—and the death of Lebanese civilians—at the feet of Hezbollah. Worth reading.

Also worth reading is the accompanying piece by the former Editor-in-Chief, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid:

The Chance of a Lifetime

Theoretically, Hezbollah has gained the battle, according to the offer presented by the US Secretary of State in Lebanon. However, Hezbollah prefers its weapons to the detainees in Israeli jails or the Shebaa Farms.

Condoleezza Rice arrived in Beirut and announced that she would do what no one else has done before, namely, to solve the root of the problem, not just the issue of a ceasefire.

In Beirut, Rice threw the biggest surprise of all. She informed the Lebanese government that she would fulfill all of Hezbollah’s demands. She agreed to release Lebanese detainees in Israel and return the Shebaa Farms, as well as to compel Israel to return occupied land during the ongoing war. She suggested an international force to protect the border be deployed, in order to separate the Lebanese from the Israelis and protect them from one another. She also demanded the government spread its authority over all Lebanese territories, which requires confiscating the weapons of all militias, including Hezbollah.

If the Lebanese were asked their opinion, the majority would have agreed to support the solution. It represents salvation for all the people of Lebanon and a happy ending to numerous conflicts. The alternative is for the war to continue at a lesser pace; it might last for years and perhaps reach the same solution: a ceasefire, the return of occupied land and a prisoner swap, but with even more death and destruction.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah rejected the offer outright and said it humiliated Lebanon. Can anyone tell me what is humiliating in the entire offer?

July:28:2006 - 10:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

The Cargnegie Endowment for International Peace has a range of materials about the Middle East and Middle Eastern issues.

Today, they’re announcing the opening of an Arabic language portal to a broad subset of their collection. While opinions—even among think tanks—can differ, what the Carnegie Endowment has to offer is certainly worth taking a look at.

Among the papers is this, by the Egyptian political scientist Amr Hamzawi: The Saudi Labyrinth: Evaluating the Current Political Opening (24-page PDF document).

The Arabic text can be found at:

المتاهة السعودية: تقويم الانفتاح السياسي الحالي
(19-page PDF document).

I think it’s worth bookmarking the sites. I’ll do so and report on what I find interesting.

July:27:2006 - 17:22 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi television appeal raises $29 million for Lebanon

RIYADH, (Reuters) – A Saudi television appeal has raised at least 108.8 million riyals ($29 million) for Lebanon, where Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas have been fighting for more than two weeks, the state media said on Thursday.

The money gathered during the day-long “telethon”, which lasted until the early hours of Thursday, included 10 million riyals from King Abdullah and 5 million riyals from Crown Prince Sultan, the state news agency SPA said.

Saudi Arabia said earlier this week it had placed $1 billion in Lebanon’s central bank, an effort to prop up the Lebanese pound, and given a separate donation of $500 million to help rebuild the battered country.

Asharq Alawsat carries this story about Saudi contributions toward the reconstruction of Lebanon and the relief of non-combatant Lebanese. Saudis on the whole see Lebanon favorably. It’s a place they like to go, at least those who can’t afford homes in Europe or the US. It’s the destination for shopping trips and summer vacations. It’s also where they send their kids to school. In fact, I’d say the Saudis view Lebanon more favorably than any other Arab country.

July:27:2006 - 09:52 | Comments Off | Permalink
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