No Tears for Homaidan Al-Turki
Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, Arab News

JEDDAH, 1 December 2006 — The controversy over the case of Saudi national Homaidan Al-Turki, who was sentenced to 27 years in jail in Colorado on Aug. 31 for abusing and enslaving his Indonesian maid, re-emerged after the recent visit of Colorado Attorney General John Suthers to Riyadh where he explained the sentence to officials and family members of Al-Turki.

American commentators in newspapers and on blogs were outraged that an American official had to fly to Saudi Arabia to explain why Al-Turki had been found guilty and sentenced to jail time.

“Wouldn’t it have made more sense to dispatch Suthers to ask the questions? … Suthers, elected by the people of Colorado, is here to enforce laws, not explain them. He shouldn’t even be asked,” wrote columnist David Harsanyi in the Denver Post on Nov. 23…

According to Suthers in a television interview with the Denver affiliate of CBS News, a brother of Al-Turki told him in Riyadh that the family could not understand how a US jury could give credibility to the testimony of an Indonesian maid.

That, in my mind, points to the heart of the whole uproar in Saudi Arabia about Al-Turki’s case: How could anyone take the word of a mere female (and a maid at that!), over the word of a supposedly religious, male Saudi? It seems that unfortunately the most basic tenets of justice and human rights escape a significant portion of our population.

This piece by Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, appearing in Arab News, is the first mention of the Colorado Attorney General’s visit to Saudi Arabia that I’ve found in the Saudi media. As Rasheed points out, the AG could have provided a lot of useful information to Saudis. It’s really a pity that he couldn’t get a more public audience, but at least he got an important one.

The stereotypical view of Saudis as ‘arrogant’ exists for a reason, even if it doesn’t represent the attitudes of all, or even most Saudis. The ones it does represent, though, truly do have an attitude problem that places them in some sort of superior place in the universe. I hope to see more Saudi media coverage of the facts of the case, not just hastily reached conclusions.


November:30:2006 - 23:37 | Comments Off | Permalink

The latest poll of US attitudes toward several foreign countries—including Saudi Arabia—are gradually warming, according to this poll from Quinnipiac University.

Over the past few months, American liking of Saudi Arabia inched upward from 38.2% to 40.4%. This is, of course, far below general approval ratings in the 60%-70% range prior to 9/11.

I think that if Saudi Arabia can be seen to be playing a constructive role in both Iraq and on the Palestinian issue, ratings could again get above the 50% level.


November:30:2006 - 10:50 | Comments Off | Permalink

Security group: Start Saudi Plan talks
HERB KEINON

Two days after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he looked favorably on certain aspects of the 2002 Saudi peace initiative, the Council for Peace and Security, an organization made up of former security officials and diplomats, said Israel should enter into a dialogue with the moderate Arab world on the basis of this plan.

The Saudi plan, adopted at the Arab Summit in Beirut in March 2002, called on Arab states to “normalize relations” with Israel in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state following an Israeli withdrawal to the Green Line and a just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194. This resolution called on Israel to allow the return of Palestinian refugees and compensate those who don’t want to do so.

The council, which issued a position paper Wednesday making various recommendations on the diplomatic front, said that Israel should consider entering into a dialogue with the Arab Quartet (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persia Gulf countries) on the basis of the Saudi initiative, making clear that it welcomed the initiative, was willing to accept some of its elements and talk about others, and wanted to invite the Arab Quartet to contribute to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon.

The position paper said that strengthening the moderate countries in the region, through steps such as a dialogue over the Saudi plan, was one way to stop the “Iranian momentum” in the region.

The Israeli paper Jerusalem Post carries this article noting support for the peace plan for the region first suggested by then-Crown Prince Abdullah in 2002. Implementing the plan will require all parties to “swallow poison” as David Perlmutter and I argued in our op-ed in Asharq Alawsat. But it can be done. In fact, it is the best available means of ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Separately, The Washington Post in an editorial appearing today, notes:

Mr. Olmert took care to describe the Arab peace initiative led by Saudi Arabia, which calls for the normalization of relations with Israel as part of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, as in part “positive”– the first kind words an Israeli leader has had for the plan since it was proposed in 2002.


November:30:2006 - 10:19 | Comments Off | Permalink

Middle East politics: Saudi stirring

COUNTRY BRIEFING

FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT

Saudi Arabia is prepared to back Iraqi Sunni insurgents, establish new Sunni militia brigades and pump more oil to lower prices in the cause of preventing an Iranian-backed Shia bid to seize control of Iraq in the wake of a pull-out of US forces. That, at least, is the view of Nawaf Obaid, a security consultant to the Saudi government, as laid out in an opinion article in the Washington Post. The article states that the opinions are those of Mr Obaid alone and do not reflect official Saudi policy. Nevertheless, it is clear that Mr Obaid has considerable access to senior Saudi government figures, and that similar views may indeed be expressed in private by the kingdom’s rulers.

This stark warning of how Saudi Arabia might react were the US “prematurely” to withdraw a significant number of its troops from Iraq came as President George W Bush was heading for Amman for talks with the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, who has come in for criticism from parts of the US administration for a supposed lack of resolution in tackling the problem of Shia militias. Washington’s appreciation of the importance of Saudi Arabia’s view was reflected in the visit to Riyadh by Dick Cheney, the vice-president, four days ahead of Mr Bush’s arrival in the region….

The potentially important role that Saudi Arabia could play in Iraq has also been alluded to by both the US and Iran, although in rather different terms to those of Mr Obaid. A US National Security Council document leaked in its entirety to the New York Times suggests that Saudi Arabia should be urged to use its influence to “move the Sunni populations in Iraq out of violence into politics” and “to cut off any public or private funding provided to the insurgents”. Similarly, Al-Hayat, an independent Arabic daily, quoted Iranian sources as saying during the visit of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, to Tehran, that Iran considers that a solution to the crisis in Iraq cannot be achieved without the active involvement of Saudi Arabia.

These views from Washington and Tehran suggest that the US and Iran concur that Saudi Arabia is already the source of some support for Sunni insurgents in Iraq, even if this is not officially sanctioned by the Saudi government. At the same time, it is clear that Saudi Arabia and the US both blame the Maliki government for allowing Iranian-backed Shia militias to bolster their strength over the past few months, both through taking control of geographical areas and through infiltrating ministries and the security forces…

Mr Obaid referred in his article to “a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region”. The context for any such shift towards a more assertive regional policy on the part of Saudi Arabia is the growth in Iran’s power over the past three years. Iran’s allies in the region—the main Iraqi Shia parties, Syria, Lebanon’s Hizbullah and the Palestinian Islamist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad—have all advanced their political causes, although generally at considerable cost. Iran itself has made notable progress towards developing an indigenous nuclear fuel industry, giving it the potential to break Israel’s monopoly on nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has made clear that it is ready to respect Iran’s right to safeguard its national security, but not if this extends to undermining the position of Saudi Arabia’s own allies in the region and to compromising Saudi efforts to promote long-term security through an equitable settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The message for Mr Bush as he reappraises his Iraq policy in light of the upcoming Baker-Hamilton study group report is that Saudi Arabia is ready to take steps to confront Iraq’s Shia militias, Iran and Hizbullah if the US and the Maliki government fail to do so.

The Intelligence Unit of the British Economist provides its analysis of the op-ed by Nawaf Obeid that appeared in yesterday’s Washington Post.


November:30:2006 - 10:06 | Comments Off | Permalink

More Muslims Gaining Political Ground
Although Md. Delegate-Elect Doesn’t Trumpet Faith, His Win Signals New Surge
Michelle Boorstein

Since Gaithersburg software engineer Saqib Ali was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates this month, he has been flooded with calls and e-mails from across the country asking: How’d you do it?

The calls come from American Muslims like Ali, who, longtime political watchers and Muslim activists in the area say, is the first Muslim elected to a statewide — or districtwide — office in Maryland, Virginia or the District.

Although the 31-year-old made little of his faith during the campaign — in fact, he bucked those who said he should put it on his campaign literature — he is part of a concerted march of Muslims into civic and political life. His campaign was part of a push that began after Sept. 11, 2001, with worries about civil liberties and immigration policy and has blossomed this year.

This article from The Washington Post notes that for the first time, American Muslims are entering the political battle ground. They are entering, not only for elective office, but also in their support for different candidates. Interestingly, the article notices that more than international affairs, their concerns seem more focused on domestic affairs.


November:30:2006 - 09:12 | Comments Off | Permalink

Punishing Saudis for Marrying Foreigners Is Absurd
Abeer Mishkhas, abeermishkhas@arabnews.com

THERE ARE many ways of dealing with problems. Some require laws while others need only awareness, but in Saudi Arabia it seems the easiest way out is to ban the problem from happening. Needless to say, banning never works but it still remains our favorite solution.

Three years ago there was a campaign to dissuade Saudis from marrying non-Saudis. The campaign aimed at enlightening people about the negative aspects of going outside the Kingdom’s borders and choosing a partner. The study deservedly earned the disdain of many at the time. It failed to solve anything that its proponents saw as problems nor did it reduce the number of Saudis who wanted to marry non-Saudis.

This week, I was shocked to see an interview with an official in a local paper. He was speaking about this very issue and the interview began with a denial that the numbers of Saudis marrying foreign women/men had reached “alarming” levels. The official stated that the ministry had put in place measures and guidelines to limit the “negative and harmful aspects of such marriages.”

The interviewer then asked what would be done if someone took the step of actually marrying a non-Saudi without taking official permission. Following are the measures:

* Disciplinary action against the Saudi;

* Not allowing the marriage to be registered as legal in the Kingdom;

* Not granting an entrance visa to the foreigner — either wife or husband — and if the wife or husband are already in the Kingdom, then their residency is terminated.

Heavy measures indeed! One would think that whoever was punished so harshly was a serious and hardened criminal. In truth, he or she is simply someone who tried to live his or her life within his or her rights as a human being.

Some years ago, facing the fact that for a variety of reasons—financial, cultural, religious, pure happenstance—Saudis were marrying foreigners in large numbers, the Saudi government reacted by prohibiting the marriage of Saudis to non-Saudis. It sure looked like an attempt to establish some sort of ‘racial purity’, an anathema to nearly all in the west. It clearly annoyed some Saudis, too, and not just because their own rights were being limited.

Abeer Mishkhas, writing in Arab News has this piece that makes her view of the matter perfectly clear. If you’d like to read a nice piece of justifiable anger, then click on the link and read the whole thing!


November:30:2006 - 01:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (129) | Permalink

‘Rigid Interpretation of Religion Hampers Women’s Progress’
Javid Hassan, Arab News

RIYADH, 30 November 2006 — Rigid religious interpretations by a segment of Saudi society and the lack of implementation of policy regarding the rights of women were identified as main hurdles to the progress of women in the Kingdom, who make up only 6.1 percent of the national work force.

This message rang out loud and clear at the concluding session of the United Nations Development Program’s seminar titled, the “Role of the Media in Human Development.” The feelings of anguish and despair among Saudi women were expressed forcefully through two prize-winning paintings that were on display at the venue of the seminar.

Arab News carries this wrap-up of a UNDP seminar on media and women’s development. Several of the participants noted that it is rigid interpretation of religion that presents the greatest barrier toward great freedom for women. Another noted that the issue is not women’s freedom, but women’s rights, as guaranteed by the Quran. Worth reading.


November:30:2006 - 00:05 | Comments Off | Permalink

Editorial: End of an Era?

ARE the new voices coming out of Washington correct in saying that the American era in the Middle East is over? Are the last ounces of American regional influence really draining away in the bloody chaos of Iraq, the jagged instability of Palestinians and the possible re-disintegration of Lebanon?

An article by the former Bush aide, Richard Haass, in the influential Foreign Affairs Journal reflects a growing conviction that the world’s most powerful nation has become powerless in the Middle East. It was far more than rhetoric when President Bush categorized Iran as part of the Axis of Evil. He reflected a visceral American dislike of the Tehran regime that was born of the 1979 hostage taking of 42 US diplomats in the revolution that overthrew the US-backed Shah. US anger at this outrage was compounded by the humiliation of the bungled rescue attempt during the Americans’ 444 days as hostages. Yet in destroying both the Taleban and Saddam regimes, Bush removed Iran’s two implacable foes and left Tehran free to pursue a foreign policy that has proved devastating to US initiatives in the region.

This Arab News editorial is interesting on several counts. The first thing that caught my eye was a glimmer of recognition that if the US withdraws from the Middle East, it will be up to the Arabs to fix things. Given the track record of the past 50 years, that’s not an entirely sanguine proposition, as the tone of the opening paragraph seems to acknowledge.

Next, I notice a complete lack of irony on the part of the writer. Arab governments may well have counseled against the US leading a coalition into Iraq. Many certainly did. But did they do anything to explain the complex situation to their citizenry through their own media? Well, no they didn’t, actually. Instead, in the name of some limited freedom of expression, they allowed their media to carry one-sided stories, cleverly selected from anti-Bush media, primarily British, but also American, to frame the entire range of issues. Instead of denouncing—frequently and publicly—overt acts of terrorism until those terrorist acts hit home, Arab governments and media played a passive role in permitting Iraq to get out of hand.

Certain governments—including Saudi Arabia’s—did come out strongly criticizing Hezbollah for its ‘adventurism’ in Lebanon and Israel. But that went out of favor when Israel ended up killing Lebanese civilians in large numbers. It didn’t change the facts about Hezbollah, of course, but a ‘more natural’ enemy appeared and immediately took the brunt of public and governmental criticism.

The crocodile tears of lament in the closing paragraph are really pretty insulting. Where was the Arab News when it was its turn to deal with complicated issues? Instead, if found comfort in the ‘analysis’ of anti-colonialist and Euro-Leftist commentators. Black and white works so much better in the printing house; trying to get just the right shade of gray is too difficult.


November:29:2006 - 23:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

‘Strategic Plan for Higher Education’
Samir Al-Saadi, Arab News

SAKAKA, 30 November 2006 — Minister of Higher Education Khaled Al-Anqari said at the Sixth National Dialogue Forum yesterday that his ministry had set up a strategic plan to develop higher education and upgrade the standards of education.

Anqari added that the government has approved SR8 billion for higher education projects this year.

Anqari said: “We understand that a large number of people have suffered, but people have to realize that it is due to a large number of reasons. One of the reasons was that a large number of degrees are fake.”

Recalling a past incident he said: “We found a female doctor working at a local hospital with a phony medical certificate.”

Anqari continued: “We found out that a number of universities were charging Saudi students much more fees than other foreign students studying in the same university. We decided to take a stand of disapproval toward such universities.”

Arab News continues its coverage of the Sixth National Dialogue, whose topic is education.

The article consists of numerous ideas being tossed out by participants in their three-minute presentations, along with Ministry of Higher Education responses. Some of the comments seem more germane than others, however. It’s worth taking a look to see what these Saudis think needs to be done to fix the broken education system in Saudi Arabia.


November:29:2006 - 23:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Stepping Into Iraq
Saudi Arabia Will Protect Sunnis if the U.S. Leaves
Nawaf Obaid

In February 2003, a month before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, warned President Bush that he would be “solving one problem and creating five more” if he removed Saddam Hussein by force. Had Bush heeded his advice, Iraq would not now be on the brink of full-blown civil war and disintegration.

One hopes he won’t make the same mistake again by ignoring the counsel of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who said in a speech last month that “since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited.” If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.

Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region.

Because King Abdullah has been working to minimize sectarian tensions in Iraq and reconcile Sunni and Shiite communities, because he gave President Bush his word that he wouldn’t meddle in Iraq (and because it would be impossible to ensure that Saudi-funded militias wouldn’t attack U.S. troops), these requests have all been refused. They will, however, be heeded if American troops begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq…

There is reason to believe that the Bush administration, despite domestic pressure, will heed Saudi Arabia’s advice. Vice President Cheney’s visit to Riyadh last week to discuss the situation (there were no other stops on his marathon journey) underlines the preeminence of Saudi Arabia in the region and its importance to U.S. strategy in Iraq. But if a phased troop withdrawal does begin, the violence will escalate dramatically.

In this case, remaining on the sidelines would be unacceptable to Saudi Arabia. To turn a blind eye to the massacre of Iraqi Sunnis would be to abandon the principles upon which the kingdom was founded. It would undermine Saudi Arabia’s credibility in the Sunni world and would be a capitulation to Iran’s militarist actions in the region.

To be sure, Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks — it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse.

Nawaf Obeid, Managing Director of the Saudi National Security Assessment Project in Riyadh and an adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who often co-authors pieces with Anthony Cordesman, offers his opinion in this op-ed appearing in The Washington Post.

Obeid does not speak for the Saudi government, but his opinions are finely attuned to governmental thinking. His conclusion is that if the US withdraws from Iraq prematurely and a full-blown civil war results, Saudi Arabia will be forced to step in to protect itself and its interests. The threat of a regional war is very real; the consequences are dramatic.


November:29:2006 - 11:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Arab regimes lack will for reform: analysts

AMMAN (AFP) – Arab and G8 foreign ministers gather on Thursday in Jordan to promote a US-sponsored reform initiative amid concern from analysts that Arab regimes still lack the will for change.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will attend the two-day Forum for the Future on the shores of the Dead Sea, along with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.

Jordan has invited 56 countries and organisations to attend the third annual forum, after Morocco and Bahrain, since Washington launched the Broader Middle East and North Africa initiative at a G8 summit in 2004.

“Arab regimes are not particularly willing to institute reforms because they don’t want to give up power,” Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group told AFP.

“They are afraid that if they give up a little they will have to give up everything,” he said.

For Fares Braizat of the Centre of Strategic Studies of the University of Jordan, the problem lies in the fact that Arab populations hungry for reform are not pressing their governments enough for change.

“Opinion polls across several Arab countries show a great deal of support for democracy. When asked their political preference, an overwhelming majority of people choose the democratic system,” said the veteran pollster.

But it stops there, he said, because “Arab states are the largest employers in their respective societies” and large swathes of the populations depend on them for jobs, subsidies and business contracts.

Dubai’s Khaleej Times carries this piece on efforts to create democratic governance in the Middle East.

I think there’s real tension between those seeking quick reforms resulting in ‘democracy’ and those seeking first to instill the ground for democratic governance before the outward trappings like elections.

There is a ‘clash of civilizations’ going on within the Middle East today, but it’s an internal one. Centuries of traditional patron/client politics have created certain expectations, defined ‘how politics work’ in the region. This includes things like wasta, the strong influence of who you are and who you know over what you do. It is, almost by definition, non-transparent as it relies on individual deals of mutual support between the patron and the client, conducted in secrecy, based on any number of relationships from marriage to bribery.

Attitudes are changing, particularly among those not able to benefit from the traditional systems. But for those who do benefit by it, there’s heated rejection of reform. Far more than just putting up the hallmarks of democracy, it’s important to change the mindsets, to show how a reformed system, though it might be detrimental to some now, will be of overall benefit to many later. As with any sale, though, it’s hard to make the case that a loss now is a gain in the future. But it’s a sale that needs to be made. Governments that resist it will find themselves further and further out of step, not with the US or ‘the West’, but with history.


November:29:2006 - 11:07 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia politics: Tailspin?

COUNTRY BRIEFING

FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT

At a Saudi investment conference in London in September, the UK ambassador to the kingdom, Sherrard Cowper-Coles, spoke in glowing terms about the deal to supply the Royal Saudi Air Force with 72 Eurofighter Typhoons (manufactured by a venture owned by the German/Spanish EADS, the UK’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Alenia). The British envoy said that the project would mark a qualitative step forward for Saudi Arabia’s own nascent aerospace industry, as it would involve a considerable contribution from local suppliers. He also observed that it represented excellent value-for-money for Saudi Arabia, and that the payments structure would be simple and transparent, as all transactions would be handled directly by the Saudi Ministry of Finance–in contrast to the elaborate structure set up for the earlier al-Yamamah deals.

In the three months since that conference, there have been few obvious signs of progress with this massive deal, which was covered in a Memorandum of Understanding reached in late 2005. In late November, several articles appeared in the UK press suggesting that there was a major potential hitch, owing to the persistence of the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in investigating possible irregularities in the previous al-Yamamah programme, dating back to 1985, which involved the supply of 120 Tornado aircraft, as well as trainer jets and three minehunter vessels.

BAE Systems has acknowledged that the Eurofighter deal is facing a delay, but has denied reports that contract negotiations have been suspended.

The Saudi government is said to have been particularly concerned at reports that the SFO was seeking to force disclosure of confidential Swiss bank accounts as part of its efforts to establish whether an improper payments were made as part of these deals. BAE Systems has stated that it is continuing to co-operate with the inquiry and maintains that it has done nothing wrong.

However, the ongoing investigation is clearly a complicating factor for the new deal. Saudi Arabia is said to have revived its interest in a proposal from France for the supply of a smaller number of Rafale aircraft, manufactured by Dassault Aviation, as either an alternative to or a complement to the Eurofighter deal.

The Economist Intelligence Unit offers an analysis of the reports of Saudi anger and threats to cancel a major arms deal with the UK. At the link, the report argues that a complete cancellation is unlikely as thousands of Saudi jobs are also at stake and that significant infrastructure developed in Saudi Arabia would become defunct were the Eurofighter deal scrapped. Interesting reading.


November:29:2006 - 10:55 | Comments Off | Permalink
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