Rasheed (Rasheed’s World) Abou-Alsamh has an article in The New York Times on ‘Qatif Girl’. He notes that the story has incensed human rights organizations both internationally and within Saudi Arabia. In his interviews with others, he also hears criticism of how the judges, legal scholars, are not competent to actually try cases. Worth reading the full article.

Saudi Rape Case Spurs Calls for Reform

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 30 — The case of a 20-year-old woman who was sentenced to be lashed after pressing charges against seven men who raped her and a male companion has provoked a rare and angry public debate in Saudi Arabia, leading to renewed calls for reform of the Saudi judicial system.

The woman, known here only as “the Qatif girl, ” was initially subjected to 90 lashes for being alone with a man to whom she was not married.

Her outspoken human rights lawyer appealed the sentence and brought down the wrath of the court, which doubled the woman’s sentence and stripped her lawyer of his license to practice.

The case is now being appealed to the Kingdom’s highest court. Human rights activists and legal observers said the treatment of the woman from Qatif, the man who was raped with her, and her lawyer, call into question the consistency of Saudi justice and make a mockery of the court system’s commitment to openness and fairness.

The Saudi system still operates without a codified legal system and uses a strict Wahabi interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, to hand down verdicts. Like all institutions in Saudi Arabia, the court system is subject to the absolute authority of the monarchy.

“The system has to be transformed from top to bottom,” said Ali Alyami, the executive director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. “Judges in Saudi Arabia have no more power than the princes want them to have.”

November:30:2007 - 18:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

Page one of The Washington Post‘s Style section carries this article concerning a dispute over the recent publication of Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil. The 1957 book was originally written by noted American novelist Wallace Stegner, at the behest (and pay) of ARAMCO, then the American-owned Arab-American Oil Company. There were disagreements at the time over just what story would be told. Stegner appears to have wanted to tell a heroic story—warts and all—of Americans coming to Saudi Arabia to produce oil. ARAMCO wanted something less heroic (because that could make Saudis look bad) and with fewer warts. Company-commissioned works are usually designed to put the company in the best possible light, after all.

Now, Stegner’s son and literary agent say that publishing the book is a breach of the contract the late novelist had with ARAMCO. The book’s publisher, Tim Barger of Selwa Press, says not. The article cites the foreward to the newly published book by former Washington Post writer Thomas Lippman, in which he explains the back-and-forth between Stegner and the company in their mutual quest to find a publishable book, acceptable to both parties.

Was This ‘Discovery!’ Meant to Be Found?
Wallace Stegner’s Camp Says Publisher’s Claim to Oil Industry Book Is Unethical
Bob Thompson

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner, who died in 1993, has a new book out this fall — but it’s one Stegner’s son and his literary agent say should never have seen the light of day.

“Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil” was published in September by the tiny, California-based Selwa Press. It resurrects a narrative history Stegner was hired to write, in the mid-1950s, by the Arabian American Oil Co., a consortium of American firms commonly known as Aramco.

A Selwa press release called the book “a lost classic.” But Carl Brandt, who was Stegner’s agent and who continues to represent the Stegner estate, said yesterday that the text published by Selwa was a company-edited version intended only for internal Aramco use and that its publication violated Stegner’s contract with Aramco.

November:30:2007 - 11:36 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Chicago Tribune runs this Bloomberg wire report on a female Saudi artist who has broken through in the art world. The article says that her success at an art auction has opened the door for other female artists in the country. Interesting.

UPDATE: A kind reader provides a link to the artist’s work.

Saudi artist breaks barriers for women
Massoud A. Derhally

Her father is chairman of National Commercial Bank, Saudi Arabia’s largest lender. She has a degree in business from Riyadh’s King Saud University. Now, Hanan Bahamdan is making her global mark — in art.

Her oil painting, “Mannci,” sold last month for more than three times its top estimate at Sotheby’s inaugural sale of modern and contemporary Arab and Iranian art, making Bahamdan the auction house’s first female Saudi artist. The somber-toned canvas of a working-class Egyptian man fetched about $75,000 at the London sale, compared with an estimate of $14,000 to $20,500.

The sale opens a path for Saudi Arabia’s female artists, who had been left out of a rush by collectors into Middle East works. Oil prices have tripled in four years, boosting the ranks of wealthy collectors in the region, while a decade-long boom in the global art market has enticed new investors.

“This is a first step, and many Saudi artists are exhilarated with the sale of my painting at Sotheby’s,” Bahamdan said in a telephone interview from Riyadh. “They say: ‘You’ve opened the door and opportunity for people to learn about us.’”

Christie’s International, the world’s biggest auction house, sold $15 million of contemporary works in Dubai on Oct. 31, led by a record $657,000, including commission, for Ahmed Mustapha’s “Qu’ranic Polyptych of Nine Panels.” Mustapha had held the previous record of $284,800, set at Christie’s first auction in the emirate in May 2006.

Bahamdan, 41, has been painting for 20 years and has held exhibitions in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. About 300 people attended her first exhibition in 1991 at her house in Riyadh, where she had 50 pictures on display. Later, she worked for two years in a studio in Egypt with Mohamed Sabry, one of the leaders of pastel painting in the country. She has also lived in Beirut and London.

November:30:2007 - 10:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (15) | Permalink

This Associated Press article, pointing to Saudi authorities heightened security before the annual Hajj is being picked up internationally. That Hajj has sometimes been used to make political points rather than religious ones. The 1979 takeover of Mecca’s Grand Mosque was the most daring in recent times.

Saudis on High Terror Alert Before Hajj

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s announcement of its largest anti-terror sweep ever was timed ahead of the Muslim Hajj as a warning to those who might be plotting attacks during the pilgrimage, a security official said Thursday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the arrests of more than 200 al-Qaida-linked militants was “a warning” to those who seek to abuse the December event to “disturb” the pilgrims and to “damage the image of a forgiving Islam.”

The kingdom said Wednesday it had arrested 208 suspected terrorists in six cells, including some who were planning to carry out attacks against oil installations in the country’s east, home to most Saudi petroleum reserves.

The announcement came less than three weeks before the Hajj, when more than 2 million Muslim pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia each year. The government usually steps up security during this period.

The Interior Ministry listed six separate arrests in its statement, including the capture of 18 suspects led by a non-Saudi missile expert who were allegedly “planning to smuggle eight missiles into the kingdom to carry out terrorist operations.”

… The kingdom, which is the birthplace of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, has been waging a heavy crackdown on the group’s militants since a 2003 wave of attacks on foreigners here.

The largest previous sweep by Saudi authorities was announced in April. It netted 172 militants, including pilots allegedly trained to carry out attacks on oil refineries using civilian planes.

The announcement indicated that al-Qaida and other Islamic extremists were still actively attempting to destabilize the monarchy, which holds a quarter of the world’s proven oil reserves.

November:30:2007 - 10:45 | Comments Off | Permalink

According to this Arab News report, the concept of blood money—a combination of compensation and retribution for the death of a family member—is getting out of control. It is becoming, more and more, simply a matter of vengeance. The article gives several recent examples in which families have demanded impossible sums to free those who have killed another, through accident or intent, resulting in serious financial troubles for other families and tribes. Interesting reading.

Abusing the Concept of Blood Money

ABHA, 30 November 2007 — Paying millions of riyals in blood money for getting amnesty has become a disturbing phenomenon for all people at all levels of society. Paying exorbitant blood money (diya) causes psychological and financial burdens on the killer’s family or tribe, according to a report in Al-Watan recently.

Mesfer Al-Meftah Al-Qahtani, a 60-year-old man, stayed for more than 10 years in prison due to his family’s inability to pay the blood money. Al-Qahtani had a fight with his nephew over a piece of a land when he claims he accidentally killed his kin. The family of the victim asked for SR6 million in diya as a condition for granting him amnesty, a sum his family couldn’t pay.

“The amount of money needed is very high,” said Saleh ibn Manea Al-Moenes, Al-Qahtani’s legal representative. “His family consists of his wife and seven kids. They live in poverty in a house made of clay.”

Al-Moenes mentioned that, according to the tribal customs, it isn’t easy for them to forgive. So they placed such exorbitant amounts of money to make it difficult for the killer’s family to pay.

November:30:2007 - 09:56 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports that Saudis are astonished that thieves are coming into the two holy cities, Mecca and Medina, with the intention to steal. They had apparently assumed that those holy places were immune to human behavior, including that of humans with bad intentions.

Study Reveals Startling Statistics About Thieves
Badea Abu Al-Naja, Arab News

MAKKAH, 30 November 2007 — A recent study concludes that nearly a fourth of pickpocket crimes in the two holy cities are committed by people who are in the cities solely for the purpose of stealing from pilgrims or are pilgrims themselves who are supplementing their trips by theft.

The report, entitled “The Psychological and Social Impact Pickpockets Have on Pilgrims,” was the result of research by Mahmoud Kasnawi of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Haj Research Institute with the aim of developing strategies to protect pilgrims from such crimes.

The study concluded that 17 percent of the pickpockets in and around the mosque complexes at Makkah and Madinah are there for the sole motive of stealing while 16.5 percent are the pilgrims themselves. The rest are opportunists that steal when the chances arise but aren’t pre-meditating these criminal acts.

November:30:2007 - 09:44 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs this piece on how Saudi clerics are now being targeted by extremists for their lack of sufficient religiosity. Even following a fundamentalist, Salafi strain of Islam is not enough. These complaints are not new—they were used during the 1979 siege of the Grand Mosque at Mecca and they’re a well-rehearsed part of the Bin Laden ideology—but now the extremists are taking action, as noted in yesterday’s arrests of militants in the Kingdom.

Having unleashed a tiger, the ulema are now having to ride it.

Saudi Arabia: Religious Establishment Under Threat
Ali Abdulkhaliq

Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Kingdom’s religious establishment is under threat with yesterday’s announcement of the arrest of six terror cells, one of which was particularly put together for that sole purpose, thus exposing the contradiction of their deviant ideology.

However, the latest terror cells are not the first in Saudi Arabia to target the kingdom’s religious establishment.

The murder of a judge; Sheikh Abdul Rahman Bin-Muhammad al-Suhaybani, in 2003 by three individuals persons advocating the takfiri ideology indicated that this view has existed for sometime.

From the onset, the terrorists called the Ulema in Saudi Arabia the “sultan’s ulema” in an effort to justify their criminal intentions.

Foremost of all was the fatwa [religious ruling] of Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh in 2001 in which he proscribed the killing of non-Muslims and residents in Muslim countries which followed threats by Osama Bin Laden, leader of Al-Qaeda organization, against the Americans and British residing in Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, the Saudi mufti’s recent warning to the youths against traveling abroad for the purpose” of jihad in the cause of Allah”, saying suspicious parties were trying to entrap them, pointing out that these (Jihad), “operations that had nothing to do with religion.”

November:29:2007 - 16:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi blogger Rasheed Abou-Alsamh (Rasheed’s World) has an article in The New York Times on the recent arrests in Saudi Arabia. In it, he quotes a ‘Western diplomat’ who says the arrests were the result of the Saudi authorities’ monitoring of jihadist websites.

Saudis Arrest 208 in a Sweep to Head Off Terrorist Attacks

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 28 — Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday that it had arrested 208 people across the country who were suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda and had been planning attacks on oil facilities in the Eastern Province and killings of clerics and security forces.

The Saudi Press Agency quoted a statement from the Interior Ministry that said the arrests had taken place over the past several months. The suspects had formed six cells, one of which plotted to attack a logistical oil facility, according to Gen. Mansour al-Turki, an Interior Ministry spokesman.

November:29:2007 - 11:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Washington Post‘s correspondent in Saudi Arabia files this report on the case of the ‘Qatif Girl’ and her attorney’s fight against the system. There’s nothing new in the article, but it fairly summarizes what’s happened to date.

Rights Advocate Fights Back
Faiza Saleh Ambah

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 28 — A human rights lawyer who has defended a gang-rape victim sentenced to jail time and lashes said Wednesday that he is suing the Justice Ministry for revoking his license and for defaming his client by accusing her of having an affair.

Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem’s license was suspended this month in the eastern town of Qatif, where his client was sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes on a morals charge after she and a male companion were kidnapped by seven men and raped.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement last week that the 20-year-old married woman had “confessed to having an affair with the man she was caught with.” The statement also said she was not fully clothed when she and her male companion were seized at knifepoint.

“The Justice Ministry’s accusing my client of adultery, without proof, is illegal. It is a crime, and they, better than anyone else, should know that,” Lahem said. “I am suing them to protect my client’s honor and because no one, including the Justice Ministry, should be above the law.”

The Saudi National Human Rights Association, a government-financed group, has requested an explanation for the revocation of Lahem’s license by the Qatif court.

“We are questioning the legality of them taking his permit,” said Saleh al-Khathlan, a member of the group. “We are hoping that this is not a reaction to his being so active in the field of human rights and his criticisms of the system, and that they’re not trying to punish him for being so outspoken.”

November:29:2007 - 10:50 | Comments Off | Permalink

Khaleej Times from the UAE runs this German Press Agency story on how Saudi women are pushing their own agendas. First, there’s this group who are working in a laundry. It’s important because doing laundry is the kind of job that many Saudis feel is ‘beneath their dignity’. Not for these women, who see an honest job as an opportunity to help with their families’ finances.

The piece also notes that for the first time a girls’ school has introduced physical education classes. Many Saudis, for unfathomable reasons, seem to feel that phys ed causes raging hormones or something. And dressing in skimpy gym clothes?! Simply scandalous, darling!

Saudi women are bucking the system in areas where they think it important. That’s just the way to effect reforms.

Fifty Saudi girls work in first women’s laundry

RIYADH (DPA)- In a first for Saudi Arabia, 50 women began working for a shop offering laundry for pilgrims in Mecca, media reports said on Thursday.

About 90 per cent of the workers in the first-of-its-kind shop are Saudis, local Okaz newspaper said.

Shop manager Mona Ba’arm told Okaz that the idea of the shop was inspired by a family business working in the hotel industry after they had sensed a pressing need for a women’s laundry.

No “masculine elements” are ever allowed to step in the store, Ba’arm said.

About 35 women supervise the washing process, 15 others work on administrative jobs and the rest deliver the service.

The female workers received intensive training for 90 days to operate advanced machines, Okaz reported.

In another first, a girls’ college pioneered the introduction of physical education classes for some of its female students for the first time in the history of the kingdom, al-Watan newspaper reported Wednesday, citing the college dean.

November:29:2007 - 10:13 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Washington Post runs an interesting article about documents released from the US National Archives from the presidency of Richard Nixon, some 40 years ago. According to the writer, Walter Pincus, the US took up an antipathetic stance toward the Palestinian Fatah movement under Yasser Arafat because it directly blamed it and him for the death of two American diplomats—Ambassador Cleo Noel and his Deputy George Moore—in Khartoum, Sudan.

Nixon warned Saudi King Faisal that the Palestinian action was intended to disrupt peace efforts. Faisal replied that Saudi Arabia was halting financial assistance to the PLO, though it would do so quietly in order to avoid public condemnation.

The article is worth reading.

1973 U.S. Cable on Mideast Mirrors Current Events
Memo, Among Newly Released Nixon-Era Documents,
Warns Saudi Monarch of Dangers From Fatah

Walter Pincus

A March 1973 State Department cable released yesterday by the National Archives recounts a promise by Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal that terrorist threats to U.S. interests could be resolved as soon as Washington pressed Israel to withdraw from territory it had seized.

The cable is one of 10,000 Nixon administration documents that were disclosed for the first time, including some related to terrorism and Middle East policymaking that illustrate how little has changed in more than 30 years.

On March 1, 1973, eight terrorists representing the Black September Organization, a Palestinian group with ties to Yasser Arafat and his Fatah political party, had seized the Saudi Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, during a reception for the departing U.S. deputy chief of mission.

Diplomats, including the U.S. and Saudi ambassadors, were taken hostage, and demands were made for the release of Palestinian guerrillas held in various countries, including Israel. In the end, the two U.S. diplomats and a Belgian diplomat were killed, after which the terrorists surrendered to Sudanese officials. Two were immediately released, and after a trial, the six others were turned over to Arafat’s organization.

The March 14 State Department cable describes a conversation in which then-U.S. Ambassador Nicholas G. Thacher warned the Saudi monarch of the danger to his country from Fatah, and passed along evidence that it was directly involved in the attack.

The New York Times runs an article on the documents focusing on other issues, as Israel’s nuclear weaponry and the Kurdish struggle against the Iraqi central government.

November:29:2007 - 09:38 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi journalist Abeer Mishkhas highlights the irony of Saudi Arabia celebrating ‘Eliminating Violence against Women Day’ while facing the inanities of the story of ‘Qatif Girl’. Ms Mishkhas is particularly upset by the allegations coming from the Ministry of Justice and various current and former judges about the woman’s behavior prior to the attack. These allegations provide no evidence and only dubious support. Ms Mishkhas is far from amused….

Violence Against Women Is Still a Problem
Abeer Mishkhas, abeermishkhas@arabnews.com

Last Sunday, along with the rest of the world, Saudi Arabia celebrated a day dedicated to Eliminating Violence Against Women. Newspapers carried articles and editorials on the importance of the day and TV naturally gave the day a lot of coverage. Aside from celebrations, speeches and good intentions, we need to remember that the problem of violence against women and children has not gone away; it is very much with us — in the Kingdom and everywhere else.

We cannot but see the irony of the day against the backdrop of the continuing coverage of the Qatif girl and how her story has turned from a clear case of rape to a bigger and wider one that at its core includes terrible violence.

The girl’s case which has attracted international attention, including comments from American presidential hopefuls, remains unresolved. We note a shift in public discourse concerning this case; it has effectively turned from a gang rape — in which the rapists were the perpetrators — to a case of seduction in which the girl is the seducer and guilty party. Some scholars have expressed their belief that the girl and her “partners” deserve the death penalty. Notice please the use of the word “partners.” The word “partner” usually suggests a voluntary link or association.

To take the discussion further, we must wonder about the description of the girl’s appearance which was in a statement from the Ministry of Justice. The statement says she threw her clothes aside. Can we accept such a statement? What exactly does it mean? We learn that this claim — that she threw her clothes aside — came from the rapists themselves. And of course the rapists would say anything as an excuse and when it becomes a case of her word against theirs, men’s words will naturally be believed.

November:29:2007 - 05:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink
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