Brookings Institutes’ Spring 2008 issue of Wasington Quarterly has an analysis of Saudi Arabia as the ‘third front’ in Al-Qaeda’s war, after Afghanistan and Iraq. Interestingly, the report notes that there are have about 12 recidivists from 2,000 who have passed through the Saudi ‘re-education’ program for extremists apprehended in the country or released from Guantanamo. That’s a 0.6% failure rate.

The whole piece is worth downloading and reading.

You can download the full 14-page PDF report.

Al Qaeda’s Third Front: Saudi Arabia
Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
Bilal Y. Saab, Senior Research Assistant, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy

Osama bin Laden had ambitious plans to follow up the attacks of September 11, 2001. He and his top aides expected that an invasion of Afghanistan would follow their “Manhattan Raid” and welcomed it as a chance to ensnare the United States in what they hoped would become a bloody quagmire. Washington’s invasion of Iraq in early 2003 offered bin Laden more than he could ever wish for: the chance of a second U.S. quagmire. Bin Laden also had a third front in mind: his own homeland in Saudi Arabia, where he would wage a terrorist campaign with the intention of driving the United States and its British allies out of Islam’s holy land and of toppling the “apostate” Saudi monarchy.

The war in Saudi Arabia is being waged over the biggest stakes of all: control over Islam’s holy cities and oil wealth. Yet, having withdrawn most of its forces from Saudi Arabia in August 2003 after al Qaeda began its war, the United States remains on the margins. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia is waging an aggressive counterattack. How has bin Laden implemented his vision thus far, and how effective has Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorist campaign been in stopping him? Has the U.S. military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia had any effect on bin Laden’s plan for Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East? What effect has the war had on Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, especially toward its U.S. alliance?

February:29:2008 - 17:36 | Comments & Trackbacks (10) | Permalink

Arab Media & Society catches this item from the Saudi Arabic-language website Elaph.

Elaph: “Saudi writer challenges censorship…”

Elaph, an independent Saudi owned news website, wrote on February 26: “In Saudi Arabia, when a column written by any writer or journalist is blocked by the editor in chief, then the options facing that writer are very limited: either he dumps the column in the garbage can and starts writing another one, or he enters into a useless argument with the editor in chief to alleviate his concerns and convince him to publish the column, though these arguments often fail.

But the Saudi writer Abdullah Bakhit discovered yesterday a new method: to challenge the editor in chief of the Saudi Al-Jazeera newspaper, as he wrote in his column yesterday that the published article is the same as the one blocked by the editor in chief a while ago but that he rewrote it. The writer called on his readers who want to compare the two articles to send him an email or letter and that is what happened, as dozens of readers contacted him hoping to play the role of referee between him and the editor in chief.

“The writer Abdullah Bin Bakhit announced to Elaph: “in this column, I was hoping to achieve three goals and this is what happened. I sent a message to the censorship and censors that states in general that they can be bypassed easily through decreasing the psychological impact of the article so that it can pass unobstructed. The second goal: I delivered the information that I wanted to spread. The third: that I succeeded in creating a new method to communicate with the readers.”

February:29:2008 - 09:23 | Comments Off | Permalink

One way to deal with a deficient education system is to educate students outside it. That, reports this Khaleej Times article, is just what some Saudis are deciding to do in promoting foreign education for the country’s youth. It’s not the most efficient way of dealing with the problem, but it resolves another problem: getting Saudis educated.

Saudi encourages students to go abroad for studies
Habib Shaikh

SAUDI Arabia is developing the Kingdom’s higher education system and also encouraging Saudi students to go abroad for studies in various fields. This is among the positive changes taking place in higher education in recent years with the moral and material support of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

It is noteworthy that not only does the Kingdom encourage education in the country but in other countries as well. Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) has agreed to provide a loan of $25 million for an education project in Tianshui City, northwest China’s Gansu province. According to Yousef Al Bassam, director general of SDF, the amount will be used to build classrooms, laboratories, libraries, gymnasiums and student apartments for three schools in Tianshui.

China began cooperation with the SFD in 2002. So far, the SFD has provided preferential loans totaling $122 million for five education projects in China. More than 3,000 students, both boys and girls, from Jeddah, left last month to study in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Hungary and Holland as part of the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme, which is in its third year. Nearly 300 Saudi students are to join Italian universities shortly, according to Mayor of Milan Letizia Moratti, who was on an official visit to Riyadh recently. Of the total, about half will go to Milan, which has emerged as a premier destination for international students.

Moratti said that under an agreement between the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (Sagia)) and a top oncology institute in Milan, Saudi Arabia would also acquire ‘a world-class facility’ in the form of a biomedical institute. More than 80 Saudi students are studying in six Korean universities.

February:29:2008 - 09:19 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat reports on a new move to develop and sell ‘smart homes’ in Saudi Arabia. The extreme climate, and Saudi lifestyle, make huge demands on energy, so finding ways to maximize the efficient use of that energy is in everyone’s interest. I suspect that a lot of the work will be done by Indian engineers.

Smart Homes in Saudi Arabia
Manal Homeidan

Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Saudi market is preparing to invest 150 million [sic 'billion' is intended] Saudi Riyals (US $40.2 billion) over the next few years into the shift towards “smart homes”, a widely used term to describe buildings distinguished by one central system that entails various internal networks that synchronize and communicate with each other in order to facilitate daily tasks.

Recent studies regarding the real estate market indicated that the Gulf countries in general and Saudi Arabia in particular are likely to be the most advanced with respect to [establishing] smart homes as a result of the level of constructional development in this region. Throughout the course of this year, steps will be taken in the kingdom and other Gulf countries towards this project. The United Arab Emirates last year announced that it would launch smart homes in Dubai.

In September 2007, Asharq Al-Awsat published a report in which Khaled Abdul Karim, executive manager of the Abdul Karim Holdings group and a member of the Saudi Chamber of Commerce in Sharqiya, Saudi Arabia, affirmed that his company had agreed to carry out an experimental phase in which buildings would be connected with optical fibre lines that would allow companies and houses to create an electronic environment and facilitate communication. The experimental stages were expected to begin during the first quarter of 2008 in selected parts of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. At that time, Abdul Karim stated that the experimental stage would last for one year in Riyadh and would be conducted in conjunction with the China-based Hawawi Company that signed a contract with the Saudi Telecommunications Company. These contracts are estimated at 1.5 billion Saudi Riyals (US $402,360 million) in the three regions and Abdul Karim stated that approximately 150 billion Saudi Riyals ($40.2 billion) is to be spent on smart homes.

February:29:2008 - 08:21 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News has this interesting piece about a problem coming to light in Saudi Arabia: the children born of Saudi fathers and their abandoned foreign girlfriends or wives abroad. The article says there are hundreds of similar cases in which children reap no benefit of their patrimony and their fathers appear to be simply escaping any and all responsibility for them. One Saudi quoted calls for these men to be ‘named and shamed’ in the Saudi media.

Going to the Heart of Lovechildren Matter
Razan Baker, Arab News

JEDDAH, 29 February 2008 — A Saudi man, who abandoned his 14-year-old daughter from a foreign wife, continues to live in denial about her existence in spite of efforts to reunite the family. The story of the girl, known as Salma (not her real name), was reported in a previous Arab News report detailing the work of Najeeb Al-Zamil, a Saudi columnist and social activist, who helps abandoned Saudi lovechildren in foreign countries.

Al-Zamil told Arab News how the girl was abandoned at the age of seven and was forced to leave school early, and work at a bar and as a model featuring in low budget advertisements. She was nicknamed the queen of advertisements and her experience of life had left her bitter about men, Saudi Arabia and Islam.

Following the report, Al-Zamil received hundreds of e-mails from abandoned Saudi children and members of the public wanting to help them. “What amazed me about Salma’s case is that people from every part of the Kingdom wanted to help her regardless of their beliefs. No one asked if she was white or black, Sunni, Shiite or Sufi, which tribe she was from and whether she was from the Eastern Province or the Western Province,” said Al-Zamil.

February:28:2008 - 19:20 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

And an already messy case just keeps getting messier!

Sanusi Denies Representing Professor Jailed for Khulwa
Badea Abu Al-Naja, Arab News

MAKKAH, 29 February 2008 — The professor, who was sentenced to eight years in jail and 180 lashes for being in a state of khulwa (seclusion) with an unrelated woman, has a bad reputation of unbecoming behavior and that requests were made to remove him from his post as a lecturer at a local university, informed sources told Arab News yesterday.

Meanwhile, lawyer Abdullah Al-Sanusi said he did not represent the professor and denied giving statements to the press.

The head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Makkah, has hit back again at claims that commission members had conspired against the professor.

Referring to news reports that cited Al-Sanusi representing the professor, Ahmed Kasim Al-Ghamdi, head of the commission in Makkah, said that the lawyer had denied giving statements to the media and did not represent the professor, as reported by several newspapers.

Al-Sanusi confirmed Al-Ghamdi’s assertions to Arab News saying that he had not spoken to the press on the issue. He added that he had never represented the professor, who was in fact represented by a lawyer who works for his office.

… A reliable source told Arab News that the professor had previously been arrested a number of times in the company of unrelated women. In 2006, he was arrested after picking up one of his students in a luxury car. When commission members questioned the couple, the professor claimed that he did not know the girl and was just offering her a ride.

Investigations proved that the girl was the professor’s student. The girl’s mobile phone also contained several flirtatious text messages sent by the professor.

The professor was again arrested in the same year with a married woman in her 30s. The arrest followed a complaint by the woman that the professor was harassing her by repeatedly telephoning her.

The woman had initially telephoned the professor to speak about a problem she was experiencing with her daughter. However, the professor began speaking indecent and asked to meet her in a restaurant to discuss the problem. The woman accepted and informed the commission members who arrested the man.

On arrest the professor’s mobile phone included several indecent text messages that he had sent to the lady in question and other young women. The professor is reported to have admitted wrongdoing and signed a confession.

Other sources told Arab News that the professor has a bad reputation and that a number of parents had complained about his behavior and asked he be removed from work.

February:28:2008 - 19:12 | Comments Off | Permalink

Economist has this tidbit—and a useful map—on how various countries try to control social networking websites.

Blocked YouTube

WHAT you see—or rather, what you don’t see—on the internet may be determined by your government. The attitude of officialdom varies when it comes to filtering content of a social nature. In many places agreements are set with service providers to block nasty stuff such as child pornography. In a few countries intervention is stronger, up to the level of pervasive censorship. This week Pakistan’s block on YouTube accidentally caused an international outage for that website. Iran and Saudi Arabia have also prevented their citizens from accessing the video-sharing site.

February:28:2008 - 09:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

Interesting piece in Economist. I wouldn’t expect much, but even a little on this front would be welcome.

In search of dialogue
How to get Muslims and Jews talking?

IN JUST about every dialogue between the great religions of the world there are points of striking commonality and points of sharp contrast. Both extremes are almost certain to come up whenever Muslims and Jews get together and try talking theology.

This week saw the latest such attempt at an exchange of ideas, as an open letter from leading Muslim scholars to the Jewish community was unveiled in Cambridge, Britain. It follows a somewhat similar initiative that was launched last October, when 138 leading Muslims wrote to the leaders of the Christian world, proposing a formal dialogue based on the commandments of Jesus to love God and one another. The original letter was entitled “A Common Word between Us and You”. At first the Vatican reacted coolly, but Pope Benedict XVI eventually agreed to receive some of the signatories.

… In recent years, theological differences between Muslims and Jews have been complicated (putting it mildly) by geopolitical ones, as both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and their respective supporters around the world) present their case in ever more explicitly religious terms. However far they are from Jerusalem, Muslims and Jews find their diametrically opposing views of the Middle Eastern conflict get in the way of their attempts to discuss more universal themes, such as revelation or morality.

February:28:2008 - 08:44 | Comments Off | Permalink

While it’s great that the Saudi government is acting to hire more judges, as reported in this Arab News story, it’s not enough to simply hire university graduates. Which universities and what intellectual qualifications the individuals bring with them is also important. As the government of Washington, DC discovered to its dismay when it hired hundreds of new police officers a few years ago, it quality, not quantity that counts—more than a handful of the new officers were themselves criminals.

Saudi Arabia needs wise and compassionate judges, not just a judge who thinks he recalls a hadith that might have something to say about the case in front of him. There needs to be a school, or at least a course of law, for these new judges.

Justice Ministry to Hire 2,000 New Judges

JEDDAH, 28 February 2008 — The Ministry of Justice will appoint 2,000 university graduates as judges to fill a shortage in the Kingdom’s courts, a newspaper reported yesterday.

“The ministry will select the most qualified graduates to enroll in the judiciary sector,” a ministry source told Al-Madinah newspaper, adding that the graduates would operate in the new appeal courts, which are scheduled to open in two years time as part of a project to develop the Kingdom’s judiciary.

The source said the ministry would advertise the positions in the next few days. The Ministry of Justice is currently reviewing new locations for four cassation courts, which are to be built in Madinah, Al-Jouf, Qassim and Abha. The proposed courts are part of 14 new cassation courts to be built across the Kingdom.

February:27:2008 - 23:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette continues its coverage of the story of the Saudi professor who alleges he was set up by the religious police after he flunked several of their members. The article notes that, according to the professor, this isn’t the first time he’d faced entrapment.

Prof. Presents his Defense

JEDDAH – The saga of the academic who was sentenced by a Makkah court to eight months in prison and 180 lashes for illegal seclusion with a girl took a new turn Wednesday with a local paper publishing a detailed account of his defense. The academic, a professor of Psychology, in his account to Al-Madina Arabic daily, persisted with his charge that staffers of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice had framed him.

He claimed that he was the victim of a plot engineered by the staffers in revenge for issues he had raised with them during a 2006 training course.

Sheikh Ahamd Gassem Al-Ghamdi, Chief of the Commission’s branch in Makkah, has denied his staff’s involvement in any plot to implicate the professor.

But the professor, in repeating the charge, told Al-Madina that he had managed to extricate himself from a similar plot engineered by the Commission’s staffers some time ago.

The professor told the paper that he had seven pieces of circumstantial evidence that would prove his innocence. Besides, he said, he has another piece of evidence that would upset the entire course of the investigations but this he would reveal only when the time comes.

Also published is the text of the letter allegedly sent from the woman to entrap the professor:

The Woman’s Alleged Letter Pleading for Help

JEDDAH – This is the letter that was allegedly sent in a sealed envelope to the professor through a messenger. It was published by the Arabic daily Al-Madina. To His Excellency Dr. ……..

After greetings

I am writing my problem to you hoping to find a solution for it.

Sir, I am a married woman aged 24. I am married to a businessman and I have a girl child who is the light of my dark life.

My marriage was a traditional one; thus I didn’t see my husband or talk to him until the marriage, which took place in haste.

But after the marriage I discovered that he was not the man I had dreamt of, nor did he have the qualities I was looking for. I didn’t find in him a warm heart that I was dreaming of, who would be close to me or lend an ear to my pains. In addition, he frequently travels abroad because of the nature of his business. How this made me feel miserable and sad. This has created a huge vacuum in my broken heart. This is why I go out a lot, roaming the markets and amusement parks and attending all wedding parties.

I made a lot of spontaneous friendships and became addictted to chatting on the phone in order to fill the vacuum caused by my husband’s absences. I am suffering from pain in my ears due excessive use of the mobile phone, which compounds my pains.

Despite all my suffering, I am still missing the warm company of my husband, which consoles me and takes me away from my illusions. He never ever enquires about my pains, delusions or even about the family affairs.

This made me suspect that my husband has dubious relations and affairs with other women. I sat with him several times to find a solution to this peculiar situation but all my attempts were in vain.

Sir, I want you to guide me in order to save my life from destruction.

With all my due respect and appreciation.


February:27:2008 - 22:42 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

This article from Arab News suggests that the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is becoming existential. As the Commission comes under increased public pressure, it is fighting back. In doing so, argues Abeer Mishkhas, they are stretching the meaning of words (in particular, khulwa) so far that it makes any sense. Rather than ‘men and women being in a secluded state’—where, horror of horrors, they might get into mischief—the religious police are not interpreting the word to mean ‘men and women together, anywhere, without a proper guardian’. This, she says, is simply segregation and has no place in a rational world.

Commission Waging a Battle for Territory
Abeer Mishkhas,

An academic in Makkah has been sentenced to eight months in prison and 180 lashes. The crime? He was found sitting in café with a girl who was unrelated to him. Therefore, he was to be punished for being alone with the girl in what the court called “khulwa”. This case comes straight after that of the businesswoman who was arrested for having coffee with a colleague in a café in Riyadh. These are not the only stories of the kind. Nor will they be the last. But, as it happens, they have been reported widely in the local and international press.

The circumstances around those two incidents are almost similar: Two people were arrested in a public place and charged with violating the law by being together in an enclosed place, which implied immoral behavior.

February:27:2008 - 22:36 | Comments Off | Permalink

This story from the Associated Press is making its rounds. It reports on how the British security forces interrupted a 2003 Libyan plot to kill King Abdullah—then Crown Prince. At least one of those involved, Adburahman Alamoudi, was sentenced to jail in the US.

The case of Alamoudi’s involvement in the plot is well-known, thanks to court records. The role of British anti-terror forces, however, is a new detail.

UK: Money Seized for Plot to Kill Prince

British police seized hundreds of thousands of dollars allegedly meant to finance a plot to kill the Saudi crown prince in 2003, a top counterterrorism officer said Wednesday.

Officers caught a man as he tried to smuggle more than $330,000 in cash through Heathrow Airport on a flight from the United States to Syria in August 2003, said Detective Superintendent Mark Holmes, head of Britain’s National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit.

Holmes said police confiscated the money but freed the man, later identified as naturalized American citizen Abdurahman Alamoudi, a Muslim activist.

They said they later learned he intended to give the cash to Saudi dissidents to help fund plans to kill Crown Prince Abdullah, who became the Saudi king in August 2005.

“We suspect this was going to be used to facilitate the murder of Crown Prince Abdullah,” Holmes said, not elaborating on details of how the assassination would be carried out.

After the initial discovery of cash, British investigators found another $70,000 that Alamoudi allegedly gave to an individual in London. Police said the individual didn’t know what the money was intended for.

February:27:2008 - 19:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
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