Asharq Alawsat reports on a lecture given by former Saudi Ambassador to the US and UK, Pr Turki Al-Faisal at King Saud University in Riyadh. Interesting reading.

Prince Turki Al-Faisal Discusses Late King’s Political Prowess
Turki Al-Saheil

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- During a lecture on Saudi diplomacy in Riyadh, Prince Turki al Faisal, the former Saudi ambassador to the US, discussed the manner in which his father, the late King Faisal Bin Abdulaziz, dealt with the Egyptian President Jamal Abdul Nasser after disputes occurred between them.

Prince Turki told the audience how his father met the insults leveled against him by Jamal Abdul Nasser with silence after a disagreement had occurred between the two leaders.

He stated that a number of top officials, who were working with King Faisal Bin Abdulaziz, had advised the king to retaliate to Abdul Nasser’s insults.

According to the prince however, the Saudi king rejected their advice and explained that King Faisal’s approach was “wise” as he told his advisers, “If what he said is true, let us correct it, and if what he said is false, then everybody knows the truth.”

February:27:2008 - 10:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

Mamoun Fandy, currently at the British think-tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), has an interesting piece in Asharq Alawsat today. He’s pointing out how US support of Kosovars’ independence has Muslims (at least in Kosovo) praising the US while Christians are burning its flag—and trying to torch the embassy as well. This, he rightly points out, puts the lie to allegations that the US is at war with Islam. His main point is that while modern countries have allies and enemies, neither status is necessarily permanent: countries act in their interests as they see them at particular times, in particular ways. The US is not at war with Islam. It may or may not be at war or peace with particular Muslim states and particular Muslims. But that is subject to change.

The US Flag: Raised by Muslims, Burnt by Christians
Mamoun Fandy

The images of the Muslims in Kosovo raising the US flag, coupled with the scene of the Christian Serbs burning the US flag on the day the United States announced its support for the independence of Kosovo was an amazing sight. The Christian Serbs not only burned the flag, but they also tried to burn down the US embassy. On the other hand, the Muslim Albanians were demonstrating in the streets raising the flags of the “infidel” Americans.

This event does not please those who would like to simplify international politics, and reduce it into the US absolute hostility to the Muslims everywhere and at any time, and into the theory of the inevitable clash between all Muslims and the Christians in general. The fact is that international politics is governed by interests of countries and higher policies in which religion could be an effective factor, but not the only factor.

February:27:2008 - 10:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

Arab News runs a pretty strong condemnation of the recent move by Arab Ministers of Information to regulate the content of satellite TV. Osamal Al Sharif, of Media Arabia, lets loose, pointing out that the Arab League is a non-functional organization to begin with and that the Arab public is outraged at its attempt to control what they see and hear. A good read!

Callous Attempt to Control Satellite TV
Osama Al Sharif,

There were several things wrong with the document that Arab information ministers adopted a few weeks ago in Cairo with the aim of regulating the content of satellite TV and electronic media. The nonbinding document failed to recognize the fact that globalization and its technological manifestations had created a new reality where new media can no longer be regulated. Furthermore, the intervention by information ministers was anachronistic in nature; simply put, the state was no longer in control.

On the face of it the initiative carried many positive intentions. The Arab media space has become contaminated with fluffy and mediocre content. Of the 400 plus satellite stations that transmit to Arab countries there are tens of channels that encourage promiscuity and are alien to our culture. These stations trade in sexually implicit material and tend to get away with content that is traditionally prohibited to terrestrial providers.

But that is not all that the document attempted to regulate. The ministers approved clauses that would make it unlawful for stations to criticize heads of state or delve into issues that are characterized as controversial and politically challenging. It was only natural that public opinion across the Arab world saw the document as a way to muzzle free and open reporting by the likes of Al-Jazeera.

… Arab information ministers had struck a sensitive chord with audiences even if their intentions were sound. Yes the TV space must be regulated but only at country level. It is an impossible task to regulate satellite and electronic media by setting benchmarks. As expected, Arab public opinion was both critical and hostile. If anything, audiences across the board regarded satellite TV as a plus, compared with the dismal performance of terrestrial, often government-controlled stations.

At the same time it was almost impossible to set aside accusations that Arab officials were only interested in muzzling free speech in virtual space.

The Arab League has failed in so many critical endeavors that its latest initiative could only be seen as an attempt to serve short-term political objectives. In other words, the initiative lacked credibility and thus it was easily debunked by public opinion.

February:27:2008 - 03:41 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News follows up its original report on the case of a university professor alleging he was set up by the Saudi religious police into a compromising situation. The Commission claims that the professor’s attorney isn’t telling the whole truth. From this distance, it’s hard to tell whom to believe. Just do away with the Commission and all these headaches would disappear. Perhaps new one’s might take their place, but that would have to be better…

Virtue Commission Refutes Professor’s Entrapment Claims

MAKKAH, 27 February 2008 — The head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Makkah has hit back at claims that the commission conspired against a professor who was sentenced to jail for eight months and 180 lashes for being in a state of “khulwa” (seclusion) with an unrelated woman, Al-Madinah newspaper reported yesterday.

Ahmad Kasim Al-Ghamdi, head of the commission in Makkah, said the vice cops had received a number of complaints from several girls about the professor, adding that they had also recorded some of his phone calls and that he was arrested in a state of khulwa.

Al-Ghamdi said that the commission had presented all its evidence to the Board of Investigation and General Prosecution, which took the case to court.

He also said that claims made by Abdullah Al-Sanusi, the professor’s lawyer, to Al-Madinah newspaper that his client had been framed and that the commission had sent the girl to entrap the professor were incorrect.

Saudi Gazette offers its own take on the story: Rights Official Finds Fault with Commission, which offers, essentially, the professor’s lawyer’s side of the story.

February:26:2008 - 23:41 | Comments Off | Permalink

I was interviewed for this article for The Los Angeles Times about western universities assisting Saudi universities, even though Saudi Arabia has a wretched history in human rights. Unfortunately, I wasn’t asked if this assistance was worth while. It most certainly is, in my view, because exposure to other models—including exposure to females in professions like engineering—make a difference. By showing that women are utterly competent in what are deemed, socially, as ‘men’s professions’, American faculty to much to help their sister in Arabia. Then there’s the fact that competent engineers, hopefully the result of top-notch education programs, lead to a more competent economic system. Economic facts change social behavior faster than any tossing of heads in dismay at the status quo.

Cal Poly SLO’s Saudi proposal generates anger
College’s engineering program ignores
the country’s treatment of women, critics say

Steve Chawkins

If Cal Poly San Luis Obispo had wanted to start an engineering program for a university in someplace like Norway, the proposal probably would have sailed through without much comment either on campus or off.

But the school’s plan to start an engineering department in Saudi Arabia is a different story.

Some staffers and students contend that the university — which prides itself on the number of female engineers it graduates — should steer clear of a kingdom where women’s rights are restricted and a fledgling engineering program would be open only to men.

Other U.S. schools confront similar issues when it comes to establishing partnerships in the oil-rich kingdom.

“The hardest problem is who controls the curriculum,” said John Burgess, a former Foreign Service officer in Saudi Arabia, adding that Saudi education officials have insisted on an approach that many U.S. academics and even some Saudis believe is too heavy on religion and too light on technology and global trade.

“I’ve heard Saudis complain that when their tooth hurts, they want to see a dentist — not a Muslim dentist,” said Burgess, a blogger who focuses on Saudi Arabia.

February:26:2008 - 08:49 | Comments & Trackbacks (25) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs an interesting piece on how Islamic (Sharia) Courts have been operating in the UK for at least 26 years already. The article does not address the most interesting aspects of parallel court systems however: What happens when the two sources of law conflict? The writer notes that Sharia application has tended to be supplemental to civil law. But when they contradict each other?

Shariah Law in Britain: Alive and Well
Mohammed Al Shafey

London, Asharq Al-Awsat- For many years the Shariah Council in Tottenham, North London, was headed by Omar Bakri, the leader of the UK-based Islamist organization al Muhajiroun [disbanded in 2004] and the founder of the extremist group al Ghurabaa. Bakri left London for Beirut after the July 7 London bombings in 2005.

On a weekly basis, the council used to operate quietly, holding evening sessions that consider Khul’ divorce cases [whereby a couple can divorce against the husband’s will if all the wife’s financial rights are relinquished], in addition to regular divorce and inheritance cases. Most of the visitors of this court are adherents of the fundamentalist trend (Londonistan: pejorative term for trend), or are women seeking Khul’ divorce or ‘brothers’ who want to divorce their wives and marry other women under Shariah law and in accordance with the Sunnah practices.

The media was denied entry into the small courtroom, which also had other branches in local cities, such as Birmingham, Bradford and in Leyton, East London. However, what remains of these councils, evidence proves over 10 exist in Britain, only came into the spotlight after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, made a statement calling for an “accommodation” with parts of the Islamic legal code in Britain last month.

His words were met by anger and widespread condemnation and many politicians criticized his position, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. British law does not recognize the provisions of Shariah, which is why the government did not waste time to remind the Archbishop that civil law is what prevails in the country.

February:26:2008 - 08:24 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi doctors and hospitals are now required, by law, to report suspected cases of child abuse. Training courses are now being given to teach medical staffs to recognize it when they see it, as well as what their legal obligations are. This is indeed a step forward, reports Saudi Gazette.

Doctors must Report Child Abuse to help Improve Intervention
Suzan Zawawi

RIYADH – From cigarette burns, shaken baby syndrome to sexual abuse and neglect, the signs of child abuse and neglect were the main focus of the first day of the second Multidisciplinary Approach to Child Abuse and Neglect Training Course.

More than 150 participants – physicians, social workers, mental health professional, policemen, attorneys, and prosecutors – participated in the training course held by the National Family Safety Program.

Neglect is the most common type of child abuse worldwide, said US speaker Barbara Bonner, past president of (International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (IPSCAN).

“This is due to the rise in poverty and substance abuse,” she said.

There are no statistics on childhood abuse and neglect in the Kingdom. However, this will soon change with the establishment of the Child Protection Centers around the Kingdom.

February:25:2008 - 20:05 | Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Permalink

As if the Saudi religious police don’t earn enough enmity in ‘just doing their jobs’, here’s an allegation—reported in Arab News—about a group of Commission members setting up a professor (who happened to flunk a few of them in university courses). Just lovely.

From the outside, it certainly appears that the Commission is responsible for a considerable amount of vice on its own part, violating direct laws in reaching to sustain and expand its powers. Perhaps a little more virtue is called for…

Professor Jailed for ‘Khulwa’ Says Vice Cops Framed Him

MAKKAH, 26 February 2008 — The General Court of Makkah sentenced a famous local professor to eight months in jail and 180 lashes for being in a state of khulwa — a state of seclusion — with an unrelated woman.

Abdullah Al-Sanusi, the lawyer representing the professor, said that members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice had fabricated the case against his client to take revenge against him. He said a number of commission members were his client’s students and that the professor had fallen into an argument with them, during a lesson, on the importance of being kind to others.

Al-Sanusi said that some of the commission members had also failed in their final exams and had, therefore, developed enmity toward the professor.

The lawyer said that his client had received a phone call from a girl asking to meet him to discuss a problem, which she said could not be discussed over the phone.

The professor agreed to meet her at a coffee shop on condition that she brings her brother as a legal guardian. When the professor arrived at the coffee shop, he was surprised to find the girl alone. When asked about her brother, the girl said he had not come.

Soon a number of commission members surrounded the professor accusing him of being alone with the girl. The professor was handcuffed and handed into police custody.

The case was then passed to the Board of Investigation and General Prosecution, which did not press any charges, saying it had not seen any evidence of khulwa since the meeting took place in a public place.

During a later conversation, which was recorded by the professor, the girl admitted that the commission had sent her.

February:25:2008 - 19:57 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Here’s someting of note from Arab News on decisions taken and arguments heard at the Saudi Shoura Council.

The article states that the Shoura Council has endorsed the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) proposals for gender equality in the workplace after heated debate. It will now recommend that the government adopt those proposals and put them into law. I cannot find a text of those proposals (still looking!), but based on other documents at the ILO [e.g. Gender Equality Labor Standards], this seems like a step forward.

The article also notes contentious debate, and final approval of, the 1994 Arab Charter on Human Rights. This is markedly different from the 1981 Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights. Aside from the gratuitous insertion of ‘zionism’ as a form of racism, adoption of this charter would definitely improve the situation for many in Saudi Arabia. If nothing else, it also pushes the codification of law. Definitely worth reading, and following the above links.

Shoura Endorses ILO Proposal for Gender Equality

RIYADH, 26 February 2008 — The Shoura Council has endorsed a proposal by the International Labor Organization (ILO) providing absolute equality among men and women, Al-Watan newspaper reported yesterday.

The Shoura also endorsed the Arab Human Rights Charter as well as the national strategy for biological diversity, which was presented by the Health & Environmental Affairs Committee.

The Arabic daily said there was heated discussion among the Shoura members on the ILO proposal that calls for absolute equality among men and women. The Arab Human Rights Charter was also a subject of heated debate, it added.

The Shoura voted on the charter after Dr. Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim, chairman of the Committee for Islamic, Judicial and Human Rights Affairs, read his panel’s answer to the queries of members on the charter, but without reading its articles.

Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obaikan, a leading Islamic scholar and a member of the Shoura, had earlier ruled out the consultative body making any changes to the charter. He told Al-Watan that he had no reservations on any of the charter’s 53 articles.

February:25:2008 - 19:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

As one who worked in conveying government positions to various publics, I know that there’s nothing more frustrating than having some unnamed official appearing in print offering his ‘opinions’ that have little to do with either reality or policy. The Saudis have discovered this fact in the case of ‘Qatif Girl’ where various officials were happy to give their perspective on the issues, barely burdened with the need to be factual and happily conflicting with each other.

Now, reports Gulf News, that’s going to change. The Ministry of Justice is to have a single voice when it talks to the media. We may not like what we hear from that voice, but at least it presents the possibility of being authoritative.

Saudi ministry gets press spokesman
Mariam Al Hakeem

Riyadh: In what is seen as a move to silence voices criticising the ministry’s conflicting statements, the Saudi Ministry of Justice has announced that it is planning to appoint an official spokesman.

The ministry has come under attack from the media in regard to its handling of various cases under its jurisdiction. Saudi local newspaper columnists have repeatedly called for the appointment of a spokesman for the ministry.

These calls became louder after what observers say were conflicting statements by the ministry regarding last year’s notorious rape trial of a girl in the eastern part of the kingdom.

February:25:2008 - 10:43 | Comments Off | Permalink

The New York Times runs this piece on inflation in the Middle East, its causes and effects. Worth reading.

Rising Inflation Creates Unease in Middle East

AMMAN, Jordan — Even as it enriches Arab rulers, the recent oil-price boom is helping to fuel an extraordinary rise in the cost of food and other basic goods that is squeezing this region’s middle class and setting off strikes, demonstrations and occasional riots from Morocco to the Persian Gulf.

… In Saudi Arabia, where inflation had been virtually zero for a decade, it recently reached an official level of 6.5 percent, though unofficial estimates put it much higher. Public protests and boycotts have followed, and 19 prominent clerics posted an unusual statement on the Internet in December warning of a crisis that would cause “theft, cheating, armed robbery and resentment between rich and poor.”

The inflation has many causes, from rising global demand for commodities to the monetary constraints of currencies pegged to the weakening American dollar. But one cause is the skyrocketing price of oil itself, which has quadrupled since 2002. It is helping push many ordinary people toward poverty even as it stimulates a new surge of economic growth in the gulf.

February:25:2008 - 10:35 | Comments Off | Permalink

The UK’s The Observer, the Sunday version of The Guardian, carries this piece about how international news channels are seemingly ignoring the move by the Arab League to limit the topics open for discussion on broadcast media. The article notes that both the BBC and CNN, among others, are reticent to say anything about it, other than hoping that it does not limit news channels. Free speech is free speech, whether it be call-in programs, live discussions and roundtables, or straight news. The international media could all do a bit better in talking about this retrograde action by the Arab Ministers of Information.

Al-Jazeera squares up for a fight with Arab League
The news channel claims its freedom to report is threatened by a charter restricting the rights of broadcasters – but the Western media is keeping quiet on the issue, reports James Robinson

It is ‘one of the darkest days for press freedom in the Arab world’, according to Rageh Omaar, the respected BBC reporter who left to join Al-Jazeera, the world’s most controversial news channel. A document issued earlier this month by the Arab League, which could give its member states the power to close broadcasters who are critical of regimes in the region, marks a new low in the fragile relationship between the network and the governments it reports on.

Al-Jazeera is pilloried by many in the West for providing a platform for al-Qaeda, and regarded by some members of the Bush administration as apologists for terrorism. But the majority of its battles have been fought with authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, which have imprisoned its journalists and closed down some of its bureaux – and the broadcaster that was created to reflect the view from the ‘Arab street’ may be about to embark on its biggest fight yet.

The contents of the Arab League documents are startling, particularly to western observers who are accustomed to seeing the rights of free speech enshrined in law. Meeting in Cairo, the information ministers of the 22 member countries – with the exception of Qatar, the kingdom which funds al-Jazeera – signed a resolution calling on satellite broadcasters: ‘Not to offend the leaders or national and religious symbols’ of Arab countries, and authorising signatory countries to ‘withdraw, freeze or not renew the work permits of media which break the regulations’. It also stipulates that satellite channels ‘should not damage social harmony, national unity, public order or traditional values’.

… Rageh Omaar, who worked at the BBC before being hired as a senior correspondent at al-Jazeera English, is furious about the lack of support from fellow broadcasters.

‘I find it depressing the BBC and others aren’t saying anything and are sitting on their hands,’ Omaar says. ‘This is a test case. Every time an Arab journalist looks for support from western colleagues there is silence. Arab journalists are looking for the same kind of [solidarity] they showed when Alan Johnston was kidnapped.’

He insists that the charter should be treated seriously by news organisations. ‘The Arab League hasn’t got executive power but no one should doubt that the [Arab League] governments are serious about coming together and imposing this level of censorship collectively. It is one of the darkest days for press freedom in the Arab world.

‘I can’t remember a time when all the Arab League countries came together and issued a statement that is so backward-looking,’ Omaar says, arguing that the charter provides a clear indication of current thinking in the Middle East.

The Bahraini newspaper Al-Wasat had this piece earlier in the week: Al Wasat: “Regulating or suppressing Arab satellite broadcasting?”

February:24:2008 - 10:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (9) | Permalink
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