The politically liberal magazine “The American Prospect” focuses this month’s issue on the Middle East. One article in particular caught my attention. The full text of the piece, unfortunately, is available only to subscribers. I’ve excerpted portions to give the general thrust of the piece.

For the most post, and particularly in its conclusions, I think the article is on-target. Where it goes off track is that it imputes far too much to the ‘evil Neo-Cons’. Completely missing from the article is the instant repudiation of the Muraviec attack on Saudi Arabia. I was in a very privileged position to see that repudiation as I was the Counselor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Riyadh at the time. The Muraviec briefing hit like a thunderbolt. The official denunciation of it, starting with that of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, was widespread and loud.

That said, it is nevertheless true that there are many Americans who hold an exceptionally jaundiced view of Saudi Arabia. While there is some legitimate cause for that, I find most of it to be either a projection of ‘if I were Saudi Arabia, this is what I would do’, or a case of dislike for Saudi Arabia, particularly coming from those in the US military who, having been assigned to Saudi Arabia at some point, simply did not like what they saw. In both cases, the opinions are coming perhaps from some experience, but not a lot of it, and very little understanding of the reality of Saudi Arabia.

I think the full text of this piece is worth hunting out, whether through a subscription, buying a copy of the current issue at a newsstand, or tracking it down at a library. It’s worth reading.

Riyadh Revisions

Steven Simon is Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Administration policy on Saudi Arabia has lurched from an excessive embrace of the regime to an ill-informed democracy campaign. How can the U.S. and the Saudis play a more constructive role?

IN JULY 2002, A RAND CORPORATION RESEARCH ANALYST named Laurent Murawiec gave a briefing on Saudi Arabia to the Defense Policy Board, a blue-ribbon group of former secretaries of defense, chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and an assortment of nongovernmental experts. The meeting was chaired by Richard Perle.

Murawiec was one of the itinerant peddlers of the national security world, an authority on everything and nothing. He was, however, at one with the zeitgeist. His PowerPoint presentation that day began with the conventional wisdom about the Arab world: Centuries of failure had driven Arabs to the depths of despair and the heights of envy; humiliated, with nothing to show for themselves since the golden age of medieval Islam, they had lashed out against the West.

He then focused on Saudi Arabia: The country’s rule, he said, had been usurped by Wahhabists whose mission in life was to draw blood from the West. “Saudi Arabia,” Murawiec explained, “is central to the self-destruction of the Arab world and the chief vector of the Arab crisis and its outwardly directed aggression. The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader. Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies; a daily outpouring of virulent hatred against the U.S. from Saudi media, ‘educational’ institutions, clerics, officials–Saudis tell us one thing in private, [but they] do the contrary in reality.”

Nevertheless, Murawiec said, the situation was not entirely hopeless. Although “the role assigned to the House of Saud [by the British] … has become obsolete–nefarious,” the Saudis’ position could be taken away. “There is an ‘Arabia,’” he assured his audience, “but it need not be ‘Saudi.’”

…MURAWIEC’S BIZARRE PERFORMANCE WAS IN FACT AN EXTREME expression of festering bipartisan discontent in Washington with Riyadh’s behavior as an unreliable ally. In February 1998, the United States sought to punish Saddam Hussein for impeding, then ejecting, United Nations arms inspectors. Large-scale air strikes were planned. At the last minute, or so it seemed to the State Department, the Saudis informed the Clinton administration that the air bases needed to execute the U.S. plan would not be made available. Regional public opinion about the damage inflicted on Iraqi civilians by UN sanctions, against the background of Israeli-Palestinian violence, had become too hot for the Saudis. The United States was forced to back off its threat to hit Iraq and stand aside as Kofi Annan worked out a face-saving deal with the Iraqi regime. A military divorce between Washington and Riyadh–already under way after the bombing of the U.S. Air Force housing complex in Khobar two years before–gained momentum.

Neoconservatives waiting to take power in Washington had concerns that went beyond the utility of Saudi Arabia as an aircraft carrier. Explaining the Saudis to a Congress naturally suspicious of an ally that didn’t share American values and seemed implacably opposed to Israel was difficult at best, and the neocons saw the House of Saud as doomed by the unholy bargain the ruling family was supposed to have struck with a xenophobic Wahhabist clergy. If the family tacked with the prevailing fundamentalist winds, it would grow even more untrustworthy and undependable; if it opposed the clerics, it would be overthrown by the very militants that had been dispatched from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan 10 years before to battle the Soviets. Either way, America’s investment in Saudi Arabia looked like it was going to tank. Given America’s dependence on Saudi oil, this was a dangerous situation, to say the least.

…Despite the sluggish pace of the reform process, and given the toxic jihadist propaganda permeating the region, there is little chance that the existing order will be swept away. Members of the middle class, even those now in their 20s and 30s, reject violent change. The clerics that had endorsed violence, the so-called “instigating sheikhs,” who explicitly endorsed violence recanted in 2003. And recent research shows that the “Iraq” generation of Saudi jihadists is more likely to frame its complaint as one against Christians and Jews, rather than its allegedly apostate rulers.

None of this signifies that Washington should take pressure off the Riyadh on counterterrorism, especially the control of unlicensed funds that support jihadist groups. Saudi Arabia has come a long way from the pre-9-11 breeding ground of the global jihad. The Saudis still need to ratchet back their funding of mosques and religious schools outside the kingdom.

Domestic political reform is secondary. The United States should be under no illusion that the Saudi ruling family will go much beyond existing concessions, especially in areas that concern Washington, like education and women’s rights. If educational reform could be sold as the key to job opportunities and not immunity to religious radicalism, it might be more feasible. Gender equality, however, will remain the third rail of Saudi politics.

Diplomatically, there are opportunities for a constructive Saudi role. The United States will continue to need Saudi cooperation in Lebanon. Revival of Riyadh’s 2002 peace initiative could prove valuable, too. On the other hand, the Saudis are not in a position to be helpful in the ongoing quest to block Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear fuel cycle. In Iraq, Saudi funding for large infrastructure projects could put Iraqis to work. But Riyadh is limited in its ability to forge a consensus among Sunni insurgents that might lead to the isolation of al-Qaeda and negotiations with the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

With the loss of fevered neocon dreams of taking the “Saudi” out of “Arabia,” and the return to realpolitik, the U.S.-Saudi relationship is a bit closer to where it should be. It is not, nor will it ever be, a “special relationship” grounded in shared values or common experience. Serious policy differences, especially over Israel and Iraq, are likely to persist. Political liberalization will remain important, though perhaps not decisive, when it comes to the longevity of House of Saud’s authority. As neoconservative rigidity has begun to give way to neorealism, a strong relationship with the kingdom is in America’s interest. And as Lord Palmerston said: “Nations have no permanent friends or allies; they only have permanent interests.”

May:31:2007 - 13:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

This article from The Los Angeles Times does a good job in catching how complicated US-Saudi relations can be.

Al Zawraa TV obnoxiously broadcasts videos of American troops being killed, often accompanied by laugh-tracks and ‘witty’ commentary. But, because it promotes Iraqi causes against the Al-Qaeda-linked militants, it falls into the ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ calculus that often dominates in the Middle East.

Some, of course, will cast this as an example of ‘Saudi perfidy’. As the article makes clear, though, the situation is a lot more complicated than that.

U.S., Saudis at odds over TV station
Al Zawraa shows images of attacks on American troops. But efforts to shut it down bump up against a Mideast ally
Paul Richter

WASHINGTON — Outraged by video footage of bloody attacks on American troops, U.S. officials have worked for about half a year to close down a satellite television station that promotes the cause of Iraq’s Sunni Arab insurgents to millions of viewers in the region.

Yet Al Zawraa is still beaming calls for violent resistance — thanks to one of America’s most important Mideast allies, Saudi Arabia.

U.S. and Iraqi troops chased Al Zawraa television’s staff out of Iraq last year, and this year Washington pressured the Egyptians and Europeans to stop bouncing the station’s signal from their satellites. But despite pleas from Washington, the Saudi government has declined to use its influence as a major stakeholder in the satellite company Arabsat to stop the transmissions, U.S. officials say.

The Saudi refusal offers insight to the often difficult relationship between Washington and Riyadh, the Saudi capital, and the increasingly precarious American position in the Mideast. U.S. officials acknowledge that virulently anti-American attitudes are considered normal in the region, partially explaining the Saudi stance.

…To many U.S. and Iraqi officials, the material is a source of anger and frustration. To the Saudis, the station represents a point of view they must acknowledge and tolerate, especially if Riyadh wants to realize its aspiration of being seen as the diplomatic leader of the Arab world, U.S. officials said.

In an Arab world aflame with anger at the United States, “you have to be opposed to the occupation if you are to be a player,” said one U.S. official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“To us, this looks like an outrage,” he said. “To them, looking at it from the regional perspective, it’s something they need to do…. This is a deep game they’re playing. But you could say there’s a method to their madness.”

…The Saudis have an additional reason to support the station: Al Zawraa shares the Saudi goal of persuading Iraq’s Sunni Arabs to turn against Al Qaeda.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, the largest Sunni Muslim insurgency group and the one Al Zawraa speaks for, had been aligned with the group Al Qaeda in Iraq. But this year the two organizations split, and Al Zawraa began accusing Al Qaeda of attacking members of the Islamic Army in Iraq, failing to protect Iraqi civilians and provoking fights with foreign countries that could lead to attacks on Iraq.

“From the Saudi side, support for Iraqi Sunnis trumps U.S. pressure,” said Lawrence Pintak, who heads the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism at the American University in Cairo. “For the Americans, Al Zawraa is an annoyance, but not worth jeopardizing Saudi support on the big picture.”

May:31:2007 - 11:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

I can certainly understand how this mistake happened, but it’s embarrassing nevertheless.

The Political Section of the US Embassy in Riyadh is pretty small: five or six people when fully staffed. With summer settling in in Riyadh, coupled with the rapid turnover in staff due to the one-year tours of duty now in place, there’s no one there to be on top of tracking continuity. I’d guess that there are no more than three people holding down the office.

All their attention is directed to what’s happening in the KSA, not at all with what’s going on in the US, unless an officer chances upon information. Perhaps the Embassy needs to be circulating its proposed guest lists around the different sections (like the FBI’s LEGATT office) rather than just sending them up to the Ambassador’s office. This assumes, of course, that the also-small LEGATT office would be on top of all domestic investigations and prosecutions, not necessarily a safe bet either.

U.S. invited Ore. terror suspect to dinner

PORTLAND, Ore. – The U.S. government has withdrawn a dinner invitation to Soliman al-Buthi, the former director of an Islamic charity in Oregon that authorities say helped fund al-Qaida.

A U.S. embassy political officer in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, invited al-Buthi to a dinner Saturday honoring the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, The Oregonian newspaper reported.

…In 2004, al-Buthi, 45, was designated a terrorist for his role in operating the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in the southern Oregon city of Ashland. The Ashland chapter of the charity was closed after al-Buthi and chapter founder Pete Seda were indicted on federal tax charges in 2005. Al-Buthi has denied any connection to terrorism.

Nelson said al-Buthi planned to attend the dinner but the lawyer advised him not to enter embassy grounds, which would make him subject to arrest. Otherwise, he was safe because the U.S. has no extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia.

…The embassy withdrew the invitation after The Oregonian questioned federal authorities in Washington about the matter.

“Al-Buthi was sent an invitation by mistake. The invitation has been withdrawn,” Dave Foley, spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

May:31:2007 - 11:05 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs this piece reporting on a study looking at the sources and methods of extremist Islamists in Saudi Arabia. The study seems to want to lay the responsibility at the feet of the Muslim Brotherhood, and I’m sure much of it does belong there. Saudi Arabia made a critical error in the 1950s and 1960s when it hired fundamentalists from, particularly, Egypt and Syria to become teachers in the new Saudi schools. These teachers-to-be were being persecuted by socialist and secularist governments for their fundamentalist beliefs and found a welcoming hand in already fundamentalist Saudi Arabia.

By simply accepting on faith that these refugees would be compatible with existing beliefs in the KSA, the government erred. It ended up with vipers in the nest as the teachers taught extremist views of Islam and the world.

The study seems to gloss over the impact these teachers have had. Far beyond the problems of curriculum, these extremists took advantage of xenophobic and intolerant views already existing within Saudi society and religious interpretation and both politicized and militarized them. Usefully, the study does report on how these teachers and their acolytes made use of what should have been simple activities like summer camps and field trips to promote extremism, largely out of the view of government and even parents.

Notably, the report only addresses Saudi ‘tolerance’ toward the four schools of Sunni Islam. What about the Shi’a? Where do they fit into the mosaic of Saudi Arabia? These questions, at least as far as the article goes, seem to go unanswered. Still, the article is worth reading.

Who’s to Blame:
Saudi Study on the Presence of Terrorism in Student Activities

Ali al Amri

Medina, Asharq Al-Awsat- A Saudi researcher specializing in extremist groups has recently revealed that at a certain point in time, student extracurricular activities, summer centers, Boys Scouts camps and student excursions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were exploited to spread deviant thought in society.

A study entitled “Terrorist and Violent Thought in Saudi Arabia: Sources, Causes for its Prevalence and its Solution” by Dr. Abdul Salam Bin Salim as-Suhaimi, associate professor in the Faculty of Shariah’s Department of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) at the Islamic University of Medina and member of the consultative committee in Medina, examines 19 topics that begin with moderation in Islam.

The study exonerates Saudi curriculums from extremist and terrorist thought and upholds the fundamentals of Ahl as-Sunnah wa’al-Jama’ah [literally the adherent to the Sunnah and the community], which refers to the followers of any of the major schools of Islamic thought within the Sunni sect of Islam.

Furthermore, Dr. as-Suhaimi explores the concept of takfir [Muslims denouncing other Muslims as disbelievers] and cites a wealth of sources, including classical references and contemporary sources, to illustrate his argument. The researcher blames the ideology of Islamist groups that have clandestine organizations and holds them directly responsible for the suffering in Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. Among these groups, he places the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) at the top of this list and includes all the trends within the organization: the Banna, Qutb and Sorrour approaches.

May:31:2007 - 10:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

Nearly a year after the suicides of two other Saudis at the US detention center at Guantanamo, another Saudi is reported to have killed himself. At present, his name is not being released to the media. This Reuters piece has a lot of comment from various attorneys, but little from US officials at the camp.

[UPDATE: AP has just posted this story offering more details: U.S.: Dead detainee was of high value]

Saudi prisoner kills self at Guantanamo, U.S. says
Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) – A Saudi Arabian prisoner died of an apparent suicide at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on Wednesday, the U.S. military said.

“The detainee was found unresponsive and not breathing in his cell by guards. The detainee was pronounced dead by a physician after all lifesaving measures had been exhausted,” the U.S. Southern Command in Miami said in a statement.

The military did not indicate how the prisoner died nor release his name.

He is the fourth detainee to die of apparent suicide at the detention camp, which opened in January 2002 and holds about 380 foreign terrorist suspects on the U.S. naval base in southeastern Cuba.

Three other prisoners — two Saudis and a Yemeni — hanged themselves with clothing and bedding in their cells last June and their deaths are still under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

May:30:2007 - 22:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Sayyed Wild Abah offers this critique of the fatwa, religious rulings offered by Islamic scholars to determine and decide how one is to behave in specific circumstances. He takes as his starting point the fatwa issued by a professor at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University a couple of weeks ago which, in seeking to solve the problems of men and women working together in the same offices, found an authoritative solution in hadith, the collection of reports on how the Prophet Mohammed behaved or what he said.

His solution—that men should breast feed from the women in the office, five times, and thus become part of the family relationship that excluded any sort of sexual behavior between them—was probably doctrinally correct. That didn’t stop the ridicule from rising at this verdict, however, as you can read in Bahraini blogger Mahmood’s post on the subject.

Abah points out that the problem is not just with this fatwa, but with the entire enterprise of the issuing of fatwas (fatawa). While scholars have certain scope of freedom in issuing a fatwa, the power is largely co-opted by state institutions. Those institutions are basically incapable of thinking ‘outside the box’ (though this one certainly did), instead falling back on only that that which can be backed up by the authority of a hadith (which this one also did). Those who issue fatawas are generally afraid to strike out in new directions by making use of ijtihad, or independent interpretations of the Quran.

The result is a form of ‘scholasticism‘, the Medieval method of learning and teaching that relied on logic, semantics, and philology but which, over time, became rigid and formalistic. Scholasticism was eventually replaced by more humanistic approaches to education that took new directions based on a growing understanding of human nature.

Abah writes that the solution to the problem can only be found in a radical reform of Islam itself. This article is definitely worth reading in its entirety.

The Dilemma Confronting Fatwa Institutions
Sayyed Wild Abah

Controversy escalated in Egypt’s religious circles over the fatwa [religious ruling] issued by one of the al Azhar scholars that stated upon women breastfeeding their adult male colleagues so as to offer a solution to the problem of ‘khulwa’ (situations where they would be alone in enclosed spaces such as in the work place).

The Egyptian arena roared with conflicting opinions on the issue, especially since it was one that has surpassed the scope of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) to occupy a position of utmost concern in the prominent Arab country; however it also had repercussions on other Arab countries.

It’s true that the fatwa is quite strange, in fact it has exceeded the limits of decency, and yet the al Azhar religious scholar [who proposed it] did not violate the context of the jurisprudential debate that is customarily employed in controversial or contentious matters.

May:30:2007 - 09:57 | Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Permalink

Khaleej Times runs this story about new cancer awareness programs being established in the KSA. I think the headline of the piece is a bit off target though. It’s not at all clear, based on what written here, whether there’s an actual increase in cancers or and increase in recognizing and reporting cancers.

Take a look, too, at this item, Cancer in the Kingdom, from the American Bedu blog.

Cancer incidence on rise in Saudi Arabia
Habib Shaikh

JEDDAH — Cancer is growing in Saudi Arabia with 7,000 new cases being reported each year and the figure will reach 30,000 in 15 years, according to one expert.

The presence of a large crowd at the cancer awareness programme organised by the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre (KFSHRC) in the city recently, reflected the growing concern among Saudis and expatriates about cancer, one of the world’s top killers.

On the occasion, Roche International announced a cancer research prize (SR100,000). Princess Aliaa bint Abdullah, chairperson of the Disabled Children’s Association’s Social Service Programme, inaugurated the event which saw leading oncologists in the Kingdom answering questions raised by the audience, mostly women.

Princess Aliaa commended the outstanding role being played by KFSHRC in enhancing cancer awareness and providing the most advanced diagnosis and treatment facilities to treat the disease.

She emphasised the need for providing better care and treatment to cancer patients. She announced the launch of a charitable society named Ayadeena Lakum‚ (Our Hands for You) to support patients suffering from cancer and other chronic diseases. The charity will soon open a cancer awareness centre in Jeddah.

May:30:2007 - 08:59 | Comments Off | Permalink

The debate over changing the Saudi weekend from Thursday-Friday to Friday-Saturday continues, as this Saudi Gazette piece points out. Earlier this week, Kuwait officially changed its weekend to Friday-Saturday, leaving the KSA and Oman as the only Gulf States holding on to the older schedule. The debate, which I noted in the two linked pieces above, has devolved into one of religion. Even though the current weekend schedule is less than 30 years old, some—including some in the Shoura Council—insist on seeing it as, somehow, a religious requirement.

For Saudi companies doing business internationally, a change in weekends could represent as much as a 25% increase in activity.

Kuwait’s move revives weekend switch Debate
Joe Avanceña

MOST businessmen feel that Saudi Arabia should switch its weekend to Friday-Saturday, following the recent move by Kuwait.

The Kingdom and Oman are the only two Gulf countries following the Thursday-Friday weekend. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and recently Kuwait switched to Friday-Saturday weekend.

“I am in favor of a Friday-Saturday weekend, not only because this is internationally practiced, but also of the big advantages this may bring to business,” said Sheikh Rashed Abdullah Al-Suwaiket, a board member of the Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EPCCI) and general manager of the Al-Suwaiket Group of Companies.

He said many businessmen like him would benefit from the Friday-Saturday weekend.

May:29:2007 - 20:09 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Saudi National Society for Human Rights has announced that it will publish a score card on how well the various government agencies do in responding to human rights inquiries. This is an important step in bring accountability to government and making it more responsive to citizen needs and demands. This Arab News article notes that the human rights body, in addition to a monthly newsletter, intends to make use of the Saudi media to educate Saudis about their rights and how they can seek redress when they are abridged or violated. I think this is an excellent start, but it’s only a start.

Cooperation From Govt Bodies Lacking: NSHR
Raid Qusti, Arab News

RIYADH, 30 May 2007 — In a move to encourage government bodies to cooperate with human rights organizations in Saudi Arabia, the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) announced yesterday that it would release another report. This report will specify the degree of cooperation each government body has shown to the society since its establishment.

Commenting on the cooperation of government bodies with the NSHR for its first report on the state of human rights in the country, released last week, Hussein Al-Shareef of the NSHR said it was unsatisfactory. “In general, the replies received by NSHR to its questions were not up to expectations.”

Al-Shareef divided the responses by government bodies into three categories: Those that responded quickly to the society’s requests; those that responded but left some questions unanswered; and those that did not respond at all.

May:29:2007 - 20:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Straits of Malacca, as the Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al Mandab, is a choke point when it comes to the shipment of oil. With increasing amounts of Saudi oil going to East Asian markets, it becomes increasingly important for that shipment to be done securely and expeditiously. According to this Agence France Press report carried in the Lebanese Daily Star, the Saudis have agreed to divert 20% of their shipments through the Straits to a new pipeline to be built in northern Malaysia.

The Malaysian government sees this as a way to develop the region, currently lagging behind the rest of the country. For the Saudis, not only is the pipeline a good investment opportunity, but it takes a number of ships out of the Straits, already congested with ships carrying out all manners of international carriage of goods. By doing so, the Saudis are assuring that their product will get through to their Asian customers, no matter what happens in the Straits.

The pipeline is expected to carry 2 mbd, with storage capacity for 60 million barrels by 2011. It is planned to expand to a capacity of 6 mbd, with storage for 180 million barrels later.

Saudi group agrees to provide oil for planned Malacca pipeline

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian, Indonesian and Saudi Arabian firms on Monday signed agreements for construction of a pipeline that aims to divert 20 percent of oil flowing through the strategic Malacca Strait, the project owner said. Malaysia’s Trans-Peninsula Petroleum said it signed an agreement with Malaysia’s Ranhill Engineers and Constructors and Indonesia’s PT Tripatra to build the pipeline at an estimated cost of $7 billion dollars over seven years.

Trans-Peninsula Petroleum, the owner and promoter of the project, said it signed separate memoranda of understanding with Bakrie and Brothers of Indonesia to supply pipes, while Al-Banader International Group of Saudi Arabia will provide the oil.

May:29:2007 - 08:06 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat provides a good summary of the 77-page report issued by the Saudi National Society of Human Rights. This report, the group’s first, covers the range of problems about which Saudis are complaining. It notes great weaknesses in the uniformity and transparency in the ways which government actors conduct their affairs, from ‘control’ agencies to the courts. It calls for greater accountability across the board, whether in dealing with women’s rights, the rights of prisoners, the rights of foreign workers, or simply dealing with domestic violence.

While the report calls for greater adherence to international human rights agreements by which the country is bound, it does not appear to note the differences between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which most of the world adheres, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, to which Saudi Arabia is a party. There are notable differences between those two documents. Even implementing the less expansive of the two, however, would be an improvement.

Saudi Human Rights Group Issues First Report
Turki Al-Saheil

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- the National Society for Human Rights [NSHR] in Saudi Arabia plans to tackle a number of issues for its next stage of activities including minorities, poverty, unemployment, and the environment. This week it issued its first report since its establishment in March 2004 on the human rights situation in the kingdom.

The report proposed setting up a court, council, or higher commission that specializes in deciding on cases that involve violations of Shariaa laws, the Basic Law of Governance, and the international agreements, which Riyadh has joined, provided that its decision or verdict should have the force of law in removing the effects of those violations.

The NSHR called on the Shura Council, as well as the concerned agencies, to pay attention to meeting the shortage of national laws in areas pertaining to human rights, adapting the existing laws to the international agreements that have been endorsed by the Kingdom in this respect, and removing any texts, which these laws may contain and which prejudice or violate any human right.

The NSHR asked for enhancing the independence of the judiciary, protecting judges from the interference and influence [of other people], calling to account the judges who fail to perform their duty, and taking all measures that reassure the citizens and[foreign] residents about this.

It emphasized the importance of continuing to develop the judiciary system, speeding up its restructuring, increasing the number of judges to tackle the phenomenon of delay in deciding on cases, activating the implementation of judicial laws, and developing judicial inspection.

May:29:2007 - 07:46 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Diana Mukkaled describes the way in which Arab media have had a difficult time in covering the fighting in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Most of the media have struggled to find objectivity, but inevitably, she says, the plight of the non-combatant has been lost in the telling. She particularly points to the way in which Al-Jazeera TV seems to have decided that the Islamist Fatah Al-Islam is the ‘good guy’, but neglects to mention the way they had built fortifications within the camps, that they were destroying humanitarian relief columns, and most basically that there were two sides to this story.

While Saudi Arabia and Qatar—the home of Al-Jazeera—don’t particularly like each other very much and rarely miss an opportunity to fire off gratuitous criticisms of the other, Mukkaled is not a Saudi. She is, however, very focused on the development of media in the Arab world. Here, she find a real problem in objectivity.

Al-Jazeera Defends Fatah al-Islam
Diana Mukkaled

On the fourth day after the outbreak of fighting in Nahr al Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, ‘Al-Jazeera’ started its evening bulletin by stating that the report about to be aired included exclusive footage from inside the Palestinian camp, which conveyed the magnitude of the killing and revealed the extent of “human suffering” experienced by its inhabitants.

The footage, which was aired after, showed images of Fatah al Islam fighters stationed in their positions and firing at targets that were clearly members of the Lebanese army.

The tape did not present any images that reflected the suffering of Palestinian civilians; instead, it showed the fighters hiding behind their arms while they chanted repeated phrases in overlapping voices, such as ‘idols’ and ‘infidels’. They were also seen exchanging information about the location of their ‘brothers’, their fellow comrades.

Once again, ‘Al-Jazeera’ channel displays no hesitation in playing the same role that it mastered in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, namely, the official spokesman of fundamentalist groups.

May:29:2007 - 07:29 | Comments Off | Permalink
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