Showing a stunning ignorance of Saudi Arabia and its foreign policies, The Washington Post offers up this editorial in its Sunday “Outlook” section:
The Limits of Bad Policy
The Bush administration relearns the fact that Saudi Arabia is not a ‘moderate’ state
SEVERAL MONTHS ago the Bush administration abruptly embraced a new strategy in the Middle East based on aligning “mainstream” Sunni Arab states against Iran and its “extremist” allies, coupled with a renewal of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Last week it began to run up against the predictable limits of that poorly conceived policy. At an Arab summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia orchestrated the reissuance of a five-year-old initiative offering Israel normal relations if it retreated to its 1967 borders and settled with its neighbors, but the Saudis refused either to amend the plan or to embrace the idea of participating in direct negotiations with Israel. Meanwhile, Saudi King Abdullah delivered a speech that condemned the “illegitimate foreign occupation of Iraq” — a direct rebuff of the Bush administration’s attempt to obtain full Arab recognition and support for the Shiite-led government in Baghdad….
The Washington Post has a strange definition of ‘ally’. In fact, the meaning the proffer fits more comfortably as the definition of the word ‘puppet’. Many in the Arab and Islamic world see the Kingdom as just that, but that view is far from the facts. Its contrary is also untrue. Saudi Arabia—as all nations—aligns itself with other countries when it is in its interest to do so. On many issues, that means that Saudi and US policies can move in more or less parallel directions. Developing the oil fields of the KSA served both countries’ goals: cheap oil for the US and income for the Saudis. Keeping the USSR contained worked for both as the US wanted to keep communism confined while the Saudis wanted to keep the godlessness that was part of communism confined. Both wanted the USSR out of Afghanistan; both wanted a balance of power in the Gulf, though they differed on just how to define that balance.
Here and now, with the Saudis objecting to the way the US has conducted its operations in Iraq—and having cautioned against going into Iraq in the first place—Washington has no actual right (other than political expediency) to object to the Saudi objection. Similarly, both the US and the KSA do not particularly want to see Iran spreading its influence beyond its borders and neither wants a nuclear-armed Iran. But just how to do that is a question and the methodology is not necessarily a shared one. Saudi Arabia, sited less than five minutes’ flying time from Iran, has a somewhat sharper view of the issues than does the US, some thousands of miles away. Saudi and US views diverge in important ways over the issue of Palestine, though both share the same goal of ending the violence once and for all. But requiring the KSA to march in lockstep with US policy is asking more than the US asks of its closest allies. Just when is it that British troops are scheduled to leave Iraq? Are we now breaking relations or calling to ‘rein in’ the British? Of course not.
Finally, a Public Park to Call Their Own
Hasan Hatrash, Arab News
JEDDAH, 1 April 2007 â€” It took a newspaper to raise awareness about the lack of public recreational space in the poorer parts of Jeddah. One person read that newspaper article and made the dream come true by donating funds to build such a place for low-income residents of a south Jeddah district.
As a result of an effort that brought together a basketball coach, a wealthy donor, a nongovernmental advocacy group and municipal officials, Prince Faisal ibn Abdullah ibn Muhammad and Jeddah Mayor Adel Fakieh inaugurated last night the multimillion-riyal Faisalâ€™s Sports Park.
Fakieh later said: â€œThe municipality has identified 400 such sites in various parts of Jeddah and he hoped that the people of Jeddah will cooperate in helping create more such parks.â€
The story of how a public park in Jeddah was built began when Omar Abdulsalam, an American basketball trainer, broached the subject of building basketball courts in undeveloped land in a drive to give youngsters wholesome recreational venues….
This is a pretty interesting piece. It demonstrates that individual public diplomacy has a place in international relations. It’s also a good example of what else can be done than to build a mosque to show one’s devotion to one’s fellow man. As others have noted, there’s a tendency in contemporary Islam to show one’s piety by building a mosque or donating the funds to do so. As a result, many neighborhoods have several mosques within a few block of each other resulting in a lot of poorly-attended mosques. Donating funds to civic projects avoids this problem as well as develops a greater sense of civic obligation. That’s something that’s not very highly developed in most of the Middle East.
Vice Cops Arrest Drug Dealer and Pimps in Makkah Raids
Badea Abu Al-Naja, Arab News
MAKKAH, 1 April 2007 â€” A drug dealer and a gang of pimps were arrested by members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in two separate incidents that took place in the city recently.
Following a tip-off about a Saudi drug dealer in his 40s, who would all sell alcohol and bring prostitutes to his home, commission members covertly maintained a surveillance operation of the manâ€™s home documenting cars belonging to customers, who would come to buy drugs.
The tip-off proved true and, although the drug-dealer had set up cameras at his home to inform him of potential police raids, commission members successfully raided the manâ€™s house, where he was found drunk. â€œWe managed to confiscate around one and a half kilos of hashish, five bottles of alcohol, SR7,530 of drug money and an abundance of pornography movies,â€ said a commission member, who preferred to remain anonymous….
This isn’t exactly the public image the Saudis would like to portray of Mecca the Munificent, birthplace of the Prophet. But the city is populated by human beings, with human weaknesses. I think it rather noteworthy that the Saudi media (here Arab News) is reporting it even though it damages that image.
â€˜Khamis Girlâ€™ Expected to Walk Free Soon
Ebtihal Mubarak & Hayat Al-Ghamdi, Arab News
JEDDAH/ABHA, 1 April 2007 â€” The long story of the 32-year-old woman who became famous as â€œthe Khamis Girlâ€ after having been sentenced to death for murder may soon come to an end, according to a close relative who spoke to Arab News yesterday on phone on condition of anonymity.
The story began eight years ago when the housewife from Khamis Mushayt, 30 km east of Abha, was imprisoned as a suspect in the murder of a man who was not related to her. The verdict was not announced until June 28, 2004, when she was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
After the verdict was announced, several attempts were made to reach an agreement with the slain manâ€™s family.
But last weekend, according to the relative, the slain manâ€™s family went to Riyadh and willingly relinquished their right to demand the womanâ€™s execution after meeting members of the royal family….
This long-running story has been a staple of the Saudi media. According to this Arab News piece, it may finally be reaching a resolution as the victim’s family is offering its personal amnesty by dropping their insistence on her execution. Lex talionis, ‘an eye for an eye’ justice, is very much alive in the Gulf States. As the story notes, however, it is not absolutely certain that the family has offered its amnesty, though that is the word on the street.
JEDDAH, 1 April 2007 â€” Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah told Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during their talks in Riyadh on March 4 that he should not underestimate the US military threat to Iran, according to Newsweek.
The magazine quoted Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal as saying in an interview that the king said Tehran should take the threat of a possible US military strike on Iran over its nuclear enrichment program seriously.
In the interview, Prince Saud quoted the king as saying: â€œWhy do you want to take a chance on that and harm your country? What is the rush? Why do you have to do it (enrich uranium) this year and not next year or the year after? Or five years from now? What is the real rush in it?â€
The king â€œspeaks to everybody frankly,â€ Saud said, adding that Abdullah told Ahmadinejad: â€œYouâ€™re interfering in Arab affairs,â€ a reference to Iranâ€™s alleged interference in the affairs of other Middle East countries.
Ahmadinejad listened, then denied any interference. â€œBut we said, â€˜Whether you deny it or not, this is creating bad feelings for Iran and we think you should stop,â€™â€ Saud told Newsweek….
This story, linked here to Arab News is appearing on the various wire services. It’s pretty clear that Saudi Arabia wants to make its concerns about Iran public, perhaps as a counterpoint to its perceived slight of the US through calling the US presence in Iraq ‘illegal foreign occupation’. It’s also clear, though, that the Kingdom is not best pleased with Iran’s conduct, calling its actions over the British sailors and marines a ‘catastrophe’.
It’s been my experience in the Middle East that Saudi Arabia is the country most likely to say exactly what it means, forgoing the misdirection and beating around the bush that typifies the foreign relations of certain other countries. Sometimes the Saudis can be opaque, or simply not answer a question. But when they answer, they usually say just what they mean. This may be one of the factors that made relations between the Saudis (well, Nejdis) and the Texans and Oklahomans who were the first real American contacts with the Saudis, due to the oil business, so easy.
RIYADH (AFP) — A 110-year old Saudi man has taken a second wife because his first 85-year-old wife no longer satisfies his needs, the daily Arab News said on Friday.
The report did not explain why the man considered his current wife to be unfulfilling, but it did point out that his new spouse is only 30 years old.
Under Islamic law, men are allowed to have as many as four wives, as long as they can support them and provide for them equally.
A 70-year-old son of the unnamed man, from the southern city of Baha, said his father was in good health and that his family was thrilled at the news of the latest nuptials.
Saudi Fashion Loosens Amid Tight Cultural Restrictions
HALA ABU KHATWA
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, March 30, 2007 â€” The black traditional abbaya that covers Saudi women from head to toe is getting a touch of color and a touch of femininity â€” bold moves in this conservative culture.
At one of Riyadh’s lavish malls a wide range of abbaya styles can be seen, with women now straying, if only slightly, from the traditional all-black style. One Saudi woman had her abbaya’s sleeves and veil trimmed with leopard print, and another’s had a colorful flower print lining. The most common abbayas among younger women had colored beaded drawings on the back.
The robes no longer fasten all the way to the ground, and they get tighter around the waistline, revealing slightly the shape of the women’s figures.
A few years ago, religious police would raid abbaya shops to seize and burn any that were not plain black. This practice changed when King Abdullah came to power in 2005, but few other societal changes followed….
The American TV network ABC carries this piece on their website. The innovation in abbaya design has been creeping in across Saudi Arabia, more visible in the more cosmopolitan cities like Jeddah, but also being seen in conservative Riyadh. Whether the religious police have given up trying to enforce a more dour image for the country, have been told to lay off, or simply haven’t noticed the changes is open to question.
This piece also reports on the more general restrictions that Saudi women face in their lives, from travel to marriage. It’s not an exercise in Saudi-bashing, but a recitation of the facts.
BEIJING, 31 March 2007 â€” Sinopec, ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco yesterday held an inauguration ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to mark the formal government approval of contracts and granting of business licenses for their two joint ventures in Fujian province â€” Fujian Refining & Petrochemical Company Limited and Sinopec SenMei (Fujian) Petroleum Company Limited.
The two joint ventures, with a total investment of about $5 billion, are the first fully integrated refining, petrochemicals and fuels marketing project with foreign participation in China….
Sixty percent of Saudi Arabia’s oil goes to Asia, with China the main buyer. The US derives about 15% of its total oil imports from the KSA according to 2005 statistics. That means that China is a far more important customer for the Saudis than the US. It is not unreasonable to find that the Kingdom will be signing major contracts with their major customer, though American firms take part in these joint ventures as this Arab News piece reports.
Flexing Their Muscles
Calling the U.S. occupation of Iraq ‘illegitimate’ was just the latest volley in Saudi Arabia’s war of independence from Washington. A conversation with the Saudi foreign minister
By Christopher Dickey
March 29, 2007 – When Saudi Arabiaâ€™s King Abdullah opened the Arab Summit in Riyadh this week, speaking about Iraq as a land where â€œblood flows between brothers in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation and hateful sectarianism,â€ he offended many policymakers in Washington. But the statement was only one signal among many that, in the face of explosive conflicts that the Bush administration has caused or failed to contain, the king is out to assert Saudi Arabiaâ€™s role as an independent leader in the region. The goalsâ€”to stabilize Iraq, build an Arab-Israeli peace and contain the growing influence of Iranâ€”are the same as Washingtonâ€™s. But the means to those ends are very different. In an exclusive interview, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal sat down with NEWSWEEKâ€™s Christopher Dickey to trace the dramatic changes in his countryâ€™s policy over the last year. Excerpts:
Chris Dickey, Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor for Newsweek Magazine (who also blogs when time permits at The Shadowland Journal) has this exclusive interview with Saudi Foreign Minister Pr. Saud Al-Faisal. The focus of the interview is the recently concluded Arab Summit in Riyadh, but also addresses specifically issues such as Palestinian unity, Lebanon, and Iran’s role in the region, including its nuclear ambitions.
I don’t know if an expanded version of this interview will find its way into print, but these excerpts are certainly worth reading.
[Disclosure: I've worked with Dickey in the past in my role as a Public Affairs Officer for the United States.]
The Myth of Male Guardianship
Tariq A. Al-Maeena, email@example.com
As best as I can understand it, the male guardianship in Islam was meant to protect and preserve the honor, integrity and the legitimate rights of womenfolk. But watch how this responsibility is exercised in certain segments of our society and you get an entirely different picture.
Recently, I came to know of a welfare house in need of certain household items to alleviate the suffering of the residents. This particular welfare resident housed over 20 women whose ages ranged between 27 and 55. Among the items much needed were air-conditioners to stave away the summer heat, a freezer to store perishable foodstuff given by charitable individuals, a washing machine to clean the few items of clothing these women possessed, among their other needs.
As I came to know of the pitiful conditions of some of these women, I wondered how is it possible that we are a rich nation and still some of our own people are plunged into such regrettable circumstances….
Writing in Arab News, Tariq Al-Maeena notes that if Saudi men are presumed to be the guardians of Saudi women, they’re doing a pretty poor job of it. He cites the cases of various women in a single shelter to demonstrate that at least for some Saudi men, there’s far more pompous talk than civilized behavior. Worth reading.
Dubai, 28 March (AKI) – Growing numbers of Muslims in the West are seeking guidance on ethical issues arising from advances in medical science and the demands by hospitals for advance information on treatment, organ donation and therapy in the case of incapacity, according to Islamic bioethics expert Professor Abdulaziz Sachedina. “The issues of ‘living wills’ – setting out clearly what medical treatment you do or do not want – is still a taboo” Sachedina told Adnkronos International (AKI) in a phone interview from Dubai.
“What makes it difficult is that these living wills or other indications on organ donation derive from the concept of individual autonomy which is very strong in the West, whereas in Islam there is much more emphasis on thinking collectively” said Sachedina, an Islamic studies professor at the University of Virginia (US) who has just completed a new book on Islamic Bioethics.
The Koran makes clear reference to the importance of leaving a proper will and testament and, according to Sachedina, advanced directives or living wills are therefore a continuation of this tradition.
However, Sachedina, who has held workshops for Muslims in the US on living wills and other bioethical issues, warns that “one cannot give any directives contradicting teachings of Islam. For example if any Muslim wrote ‘I wish to be cremated’ that would be null and void, as it is not allowed in Islam”.
But despite it being endorsed in Islamic teaching many people still feel uncomfortable with planning for medical emergencies.
… “Muslims living in say Canada or the US, are growing accustomed to working through the religious implications of medical science and technology, in many Muslim nations, take Jordan or Iran, there are still taboos that make people feel very uncomfortable tackling these questions” Sachedina added.
In developing countries especially “people do not even know that they can make such advance directives about health care. It is important that Muslims start thinking about this because now days it becomes difficult for health care providers and even for the family to know what to do in some sitations” Sachedina added.
Euthanasia, which is the focus of heated debate in many Western nations, is less of an issue for Muslims, Sachedina contends. “Already within Islam a sort of passive or soft euthanasia is possible because if I am kept alive against my will and it is causing more harm than any cure then I have the right to put an end to this” he said.
This piece is being distributed by the Italian news agency AKI. It takes a good look at one of the many vexing issues that are now starting to confront the Islamic world and is worth reading. I think that AKI makes a mistake in using the word ‘euthanasia’ in the last paragraph, however. What is being discussed is not assisted death, but the withholding of medical treatment, at the patient’s direction, in terminal cases. ‘Euthanasia’ implies a more active role in helping one die and that presents an entirely different moral and ethical argument.
Saudi Arabia’s peacemaking efforts may not be sustained
The gathering of Arab heads of state in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, is aimed, according to the hosts, at restoring Arab solidarity in the face of immediate political threats facing the region, as well as long-term economic and developmental challenges. To this end King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz has revived the Arab-Israeli peace plan that first saw the light at the Beirut summit in 2002 (and has languished in obscurity ever since) and has applied himself, with varying results, to settling internecine conflicts in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. He has also placed education and the need to invest in research and development high up on the summit’s agenda.
… Saudi Arabia has chalked up some successes. The most significant has been to nip the Palestinian civil war in the bud, an initiative that has seen the formation of a new government comprising ministers from the antagonistic Hamas and Fatah factions as well as a number of well-regarded independents. Saudi Arabia has also devoted considerable attention to Iran, although as yet with little concrete results to show for these efforts. Another work in progress is Lebanon, represented at the Riyadh summit by two distinct delegations, one headed by the prime minister, Fouad Siniora, the other by the president, Emile Lahoud. Saudi Arabia almost certainly shares the conviction of the EU and the US that Syria is playing a major role in prolonging the Lebanese political crisis (a purely internal Lebanese affair, according to Damascus). However, Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, was greeted cordially by King Abdullah on his arrival in Riyadh, having declared in several recent interviews with Saudi and other Gulf newspapers his great esteem for the Saudi monarch. This was as close to an apology as Mr Assad was prepared to get for his remarks last August describing the leaders of certain Arab states as “half men”â€”widely assumed to include Saudi Arabia.
… Israel and the US have been pressing for the plan to be changed so as to allow for more flexibility on the territorial and refugee questions. However, Saudi Arabia has maintained that the plan must remain essentially the same. The summit is expected to announce the formation of a quartet of Arab states to follow up the planâ€”mirroring the road map quartet of the US, the EU, the UN and Russia. It is likely to be made up of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE. Syria has indicated that it is prepared to go along with this, although its foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, has questioned the need for Arab states that have yet to sign treaties with Israel to offer recognition of the Jewish state in advance of a comprehensive settlement. Syria’s priority at the conference will be to ensure that any statement on Lebanon takes into account the views of the opposition as well as those of the Siniora government. There could be heated exchanges on this matter. Syria will also be concerned to tone down any hostile references towards its chief regional ally, Iran.
The UK-based Economist newspaper (that’s its own preferred identification) has this article on the Riyadh Summit. The full text of the article is available only to subscribers, but I believe I’ve abstracted the gist.