Here’s a strange little piece from Arab News. It seems that workers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca have lost parking spaces—reason unclear, except that their bosses found they could rent the parking spots to a company nearby—and are quite unhappy about it. I suspect this is one of the growing pains that accompany government getting out of the way of competing businesses as well as seeking to cut costs. The US government does not provide free parking for employees, except those at the very highest levels. Others have to pay the commercial parking rate, even if they park in a building wholly occupied by the government.

Grand Mosque staff threaten lawsuit over parking ban

MAKKAH: Hundreds of workers at the Grand Mosque are threatening to file a lawsuit against the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, the department that oversees the running of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, unless it provides them with parking facilities when they come to work.

The workers allege that the authorities have rented out a portion of its parking space to a private company.

“The presidency has not only prevented us from parking our cars in the parking lots that it has, but also rented a major portion of the lots for use by the company’s employees. The remaining portion is used by senior presidency officials,” one of the 200 workers told Arab News.


June:24:2008 - 08:41 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s pledge to increase oil production by 500,000 bpd has apparently had no effect on the oil markets. It’s reported that the markets had already taken the bump into consideration in their pricing. And so, the price of a barrel of oil continues to rise.

This AP article, widely published, cites political unrest in Nigeria and tensions between Iran and Israel as the prime motivators for the push on prices. That suggests that not the actual production levels, but fear for future production levels is at least one of the driving forces. The USG believes that production is too tight and calls for all of OPEC to increase production. That still seems a long term effort, however, as most of those countries—as well as non-OPEC countries—are close to maximum production already. Billions of dollars and nearly ten years’ time are going to be needed to push production up globally.

Take a look, too, at this piece from Christian Science Monitor by correspondent Caryle Murphy: Saudi Arabia to boost oil output. Will gas prices fall?

Oil rises despite Saudi output pledge
George Jahn

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — Oil prices rose Monday as traders shrugged off a pledge by Saudi Arabia to increase its production and focused on disruptions to Nigerian supply and heightened Middle East tensions.

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Saudi Arabia said Sunday it would produce more crude oil this year if the market needs it. The kingdom announced a 300,000 barrel per day production increase in May and said before the start of the meeting in Jeddah that it would add another 200,000 barrels per day in July, raising total daily output to 9.7 million barrels.

The announcement had already been factored into oil prices, analysts said.

“The meeting was mildly positive but it wouldn’t really deliver anything that would give a heavy correction in oil,” said Mark Pervan, a senior commodity strategist at the ANZ Bank in Melbourne, Australia. “They pledged production increases that the market thought was base case.”

Light, sweet crude for August delivery traded up $1.42 at $136.78 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by noon in Europe. On Friday, the contract rose $2.76 to settle at $135.36 a barrel.

Saudi Arabia’s pledge fell far short of U.S. hopes for a specific increase. The United States and other nations argue that oil production has not kept up with increasing demand, especially from China, India and the Middle East. But Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries say there is no shortage of oil and instead blame financial speculation and the falling U.S. dollar.

Analysts said the meeting helped provide some clarity as to the size of spare OPEC capacity available. Saudi Arabia said it is willing to invest to boost its spare oil production capacity above the current 12.5 million barrels per day planned for the end of 2009 — if the market requires it.


June:23:2008 - 08:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Looks like we’ll have a new Madrid Conference in our futures. The Saudi government announced that the first of its inter-religious dialogues is to be held in Madrid, Spain starting on July 16, both Saudi Gazette and Arab News report.

I’m pleased that the conference is being scheduled so quickly following the Islamic conference in Mecca. The timing suggests that King Abdullah sees this as an urgent matter—and it is. The meeting, to be headed by the Muslim World League, will bring together Christians, Jews, and Muslims of various sects. The announcements do not mention whether Israeli Jews will be invited, but as the conference is in Spain, I don’t think that will be the problem it might be had it been held in the KSA.

A bit troubling is that former Iranian PM Rafsanjani, who attended the Mecca conference, seems to want to extend the discussion to political issues like Palestine and Iraq. That’s a sure-fire way to derail the conference and drive it into the sand.

Inter-faith meet to be held in Spain

Global interfaith dialogue set for July 16 in Madrid


June:22:2008 - 11:57 | Comments Off | Permalink

The summit meeting called by Saudi Arabia to bring together oil producers and consumers is in swing in Jeddah. Newspapers around the world are reporting it and editorializing on it. Rather than trying to grab everything out there, I’ll point to two pieces, the first a Reuters report on the substance of the meeting—including a Saudi announcement that it may be able to bring an additional 2.5 mbd on line in excess of its stated 2009 goal of 12.5 mbd.

Saudi ready to pump more, unlikely to calm price

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, June 22 (Reuters) – Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia is ready to pump more for the rest of the year to try to calm record prices, even though the market has enough oil, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said on Sunday.

“I am convinced that the supply and demand balances and crude oil production levels are not the primary drivers of the current market situation and that markets are already well-supplied,” Naimi said in a speech.

“But … I also strongly believe that each of us must do what we can to alleviate these difficult conditions”.

Saudi Arabia has already said it will produce 9.7 million barrels per day in July, marking an increase in output of 550,000 bpd since May.

Naimi said the kingdom would pump at or above that level for the rest of the year if there was demand from its customers.

“For the remainder of this year, Saudi Arabia is prepared and willing to produce additional barrels of crude oil above and beyond the 9.7 million barrels per day which we plan to produce during the month of July,” Naimi told a meeting of oil producer and consumer countries in Jeddah.

For the longer term, Naimi said Saudi Arabia could increase its available capacity by an extra 2.5 million bpd above a current plan to reach 12.5 million bpd by the end of next year.

“We have identified a series of future crude oil mega-increments totalling another 2.5 million barrels per day of capacity that could be built if and when crude oil demand warrant their development,” Naimi said.

The Washington Post editorializes on the summit, pointing out that it is indeed in the Saudi long term interest to see oil prices come down. High prices are leading to changes in behavior, from the fact that Americans drove 30 billion fewer miles in the six months ending April 30, to the fact that new technology, like hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars, are now entering the market.

While the US (and others) complain about a shortage of supply, Saudi Arabia (and other oil producers) complain about artificial forces—speculation—driving up the price. Both are likely right; both problems need to be addressed.

The Saudi Spigot


June:22:2008 - 11:37 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

This Saudi Gazette is informative, but runs under a provocative and somewhat misleading headline. The Saudi women under discussion are under no more duress than most people having to cope with making a living. It’s simply a fact that Saudi women drive in rural areas. It’s been that way for at least 30 years and likely started soon after the first vehicles made their way to these regions. I admit to being amused that some of these women drivers have a gun sitting on the seat next to them. I suspect that if/when women start driving in the major cities, having a gun with them would immediately prevent a lot of the harassment cited as a reason to stop them from driving in the first place!

Women forced to drive in remote villages

SHAROURAH – Certain social and economic circumstances in some remote areas have forced women to drive cars ignoring the ban on such driving.

Carrying out life’s necessary chores using a car is a normal practice in many villages in Empty Quarter.
Women drive pick-up trucks to carry fodder and goods; some women even have been driving seen water tank trucks, Al-Madina reported on Friday. It is not surprising to find a woman driving a car with her firearm next to her to tackle any emergency situation.

Muhammad Omar, one of the natives of the region said. Women driving in the Empty Quarter is not frowned upon, Muhammad Omar, a resident here said. “It helps in finishing daily chores due to the absence of the family head or his disability,” he said.

In addition, it is easy to drive in open areas and deserts away from the crowding roads in the cities.

Women feel safer in the desert. Fehaid Ahmed said women driving in the desert areas is not a social taboo. He said officials have clarified several times that allowing women to drive cars depends upon the society itself. “It is the society that decides,” he said.

“In these remote areas the society has allowed women to drive to take care of their interests and those of their families especially when we know that she can safeguard herself under the Shariah rules. She does not drive into the cities or populated villages,” he said.


June:21:2008 - 10:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Iman Kurdi writes an interesting piece for Arab News comparing the cults that have arisen around Che Guevara and Usama Bin Laden. Both, she suggests, have become iconic for would-be revolutionaries who don’t bother to check the facts about those they idolize. Both went from anger at the status quo to hatred and murder, but some still find them worthy of adoration, at least to the extent of wearing T-shirts or hanging posters. Worth reading.

When anger turns to hate
Iman Kurdi | Ik511@hotmail.com

I have a confession to make: When I was 12 I thought Che Guevara was a brand of T-shirt, not just any brand of T-shirt mind you, but the coolest and most desirable brand, the kind only the hippest girls at school wore. And of course I wanted one.

Later I realized that Che Guevara was the man with the beret and the indomitable look in his eye whose picture appeared not just on the T-shirts but on posters, mugs and all kinds of other objects. So who was he? My parents fobbed me off with a vague and unflattering description. At school, all I got was that he was some kind of revolutionary, someone who fought for good against evil. A little reading revealed that he was from Argentina, had been a hero of the Cuban revolution and had died in Bolivia. This was all I needed to know. Here was a truly romantic figure: Good-looking, passionate, fought against injustice and died for his beliefs. In other words a hero.

Still, I didn’t buy the T-shirt.


June:21:2008 - 10:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

I think it’s interesting that Arab News reported on the problem the director general of the Islamic Saudi Academy is having as a result of his failure to report allegations of child abuse. The reporting both informs Saudi readers of the problems the school is having regarding its texts as well as pointing out that child abuse allegations are handled quite differently, by law, in other places.

Director of Saudi Academy arrested for failing to report alleged child abuse


June:21:2008 - 09:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

An interesting piece from the Saudi Gazette‘s weekly supplement “Diwaniya”. The writer points out that people need to slip the shackles of the past and look toward the future and what it possible, not what is forbidden. Worth reading.

Intellectuals scoff at ‘wardens of dead values
Shams Ali

STOP patronizing cultural institutions and leave it to the public to evaluate their activities, say Saudi intellectuals after a spate of bans recently hampered the activities of literary clubs in Al-Ahsa, Hail and Madina.

In one instance, the discussion of a novel was banned. In another, the screening of a film was stopped just because of its program music, creating turmoil at the club.

Even the internationally acclaimed Hindi film “Black” (directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali), based on the true story of Helen Keller, ran into opposition – though attempts to ban it failed.
Such attempts are patronizing and stem from an erroneous reading of reality, the intellectuals say.

Poet Mohammad Al-Ali attributed them to “the presence of wardens of dead values who have access to multiple channels, financing and support” and who are in conflict with those aspiring to create social awareness. This conflict will not end, unless awareness is raised throughout the society, he said.

But censorship is not an easy matter to reckon with since its criteria are varied and relative, according to critic Dr. Saad Al-Baze’i. He said that since culture has originally been about admissibility and not restriction – as in religion – it should be much more accommodating than religion.


June:20:2008 - 09:41 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Saudi government is interested in exploring the limits Saudi society places on freedom of expression. It has given the okay to a survey by the National Dialogue Center, Saudi Gazette reports, to delve the range of thoughts about what constitutes ‘dialogue’. In a society that manifests many ways of expressing intolerance, this is probably a good thing.

What concerns me, though, is an undercurrent that suggests that there’s a ‘right way’ to think and talk. A government definition of the ‘right way’ means there’s a government definition of the ‘wrong way’. That leads to thought control, not something Saudi Arabia needs.

Saudis do need to develop a sense of tolerance, not only to outsiders and non-Muslims, but to other Saudis as well. Sectarian disdain needs to be moderated, as much as ethnic, color, or tribal senses of
superiority. It is not, in fact, what your ancestors may have done, it’s what you do, daily, in your own life.

Center to test responsible freedom of expression

Riyadh – A new plan endorsed by the King Abdul Aziz National Dialogue Center aims to make the culture of dialogue and discussion a part of the national culture.

In order to achieve this aim the Center will launch an awareness campaign which will reach 45,000 citizens within six months. The purpose of the campaign will be to embed the concept and behavior of dialogue in Saudi society, and enable it to become part of the lifestyle of the society.

Three categories of people will be selected for the study. Each category will consist of 15,000 individuals and will include mosque Imams, elementary school teachers, university professors and parents.

Another goal is to promote and embed a national unity within the context of Islamic faith along with meaningful intellectual dialogue.

A further goal is to activate the institutions of the community to proliferate the culture of dialogue, tolerance and moderation.

This is in addition to enhancing responsible freedom of expression according to firm national and Shariah principles and spreading the concepts of national dialogue through cooperation with concerned institutions.


June:20:2008 - 09:38 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Today, the US Treasury named the entire Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation as a financial and material supporter of terrorism. This includes the organization’s headquarters in the Kingdom. I do think that yesterday’s comments by Saudi Minister of Interior, Pr Nayef, about cracking down on those funding terrorism is related. Likely, he got word that it was going to happen and tried to get out in front of the story before Treasury made its announcement.

Treasury Designates Al Haramain Islamic Foundation

Washington – The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (AHF) for having provided financial and material support to al Qaida, as well as a wide range of designated terrorists and terrorist organizations.

Today’s action targets the entirety of the AHF organization, including its headquarters in Saudi Arabia. Evidence demonstrates that the AHF organization was involved in providing financial and logistical support to the al Qaida network and other terrorist organizations designated by the United States and the United Nations.

Between 2002-2004, the United States designated thirteen AHF branch offices operating in Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Comoros Islands, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Netherlands, Pakistan, Somalia, Tanzania, and the United States.

Several of these branch offices have also been designated by the United Nations 1267 Committee based on evidence of their support for al Qaida. The United States and United Nations also designated in 2004 the former leader of AHF, Aqeel Abdelaziz Al-Aqil.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia joined the United States in designating several branch offices of AHF and, due to actions by Saudi authorities, AHF has largely been precluded from operating in its own name.

Despite these efforts, AHF leadership has attempted to reconstitute the operations of the organization, and parts of the organization have continued to operate.

Al Haramain Foundation was designated today under Executive Order 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing financial, technological, or material support to terrorists or acts of terrorism. Assets held by any office of the AHF organization under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with AHF.

For more information on the actions taken against Al Haramain Foundation, please visit the following link: http://www.treasury.gov/offices/enforcement/key-issues/protecting/charities_execorder_13224-a.shtml#ahbranches.


June:19:2008 - 16:05 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink

An interesting piece in ‘Foreign Affairs’ journal. The writer argues that the US government should not be looking to cultivate ‘moderate Muslims’. The reason is that no one—including Muslims—knows what a ‘moderate Muslim’ is. Some are moderate on some issues, while actively extreme on others. Does the USG engage them or not? Of course, US political pressures and pressure groups will be quick to leap at any support given to Muslim groups or individuals whose views do not align with their own. US politicians usually try to avoid walking into hot fire zones.

The Myth of Moderate Islam
Supporting moderation in all things Islamic may seem like a no-brainer, but woe betide the policymaker who tries to turn a plausible idea into a workable strategy
Steven A. Cook

Of all the cures commonly proposed for the many ailments afflicting the Middle East, there is one tonic nearly everyone seems to agree on: boosting moderate Islam.

It sounds eminently reasonable. If Islamic extremism is the problem, moderate Islam must be the solution. It follows that Western governments should therefore find ways to make the moderates more powerful and encourage the extremists to become more moderate. Allow Islamists to compete and accumulate power, the argument goes, and they will have little incentive to radicalize. Furthermore, assuming the mundane tasks of day-to-day governance will compel even the most extreme groups to focus more on filling potholes than on destroying the Great Satan.

But this belief is dead wrong. Not only is it impossible to agree on a working definition of the word “moderate,” but there is scant evidence that extremists really do moderate once they assume power….

The summation of the piece is excellent and explains why the US, a secular state, should not be trying to involve itself in dialogues that need to be resolved within a religion:

… Given the wildly different criteria for what constitutes “a moderate,” policymakers will run in circles trying to determine who is a moderate and worthy of support, and who is not. One person’s moderate is another person’s radical, and another person’s moderate is little more than a patsy of the West. A policy built on support for moderate Islam is only asking for trouble.

A smarter position is to avoid theological discussions altogether. As with all faiths, there will be heated debates between competing groups within Islam over the proper interpretation of sacred texts and the relationship between religion and politics. Yet because these arguments are so opaque to outsiders, policymakers should resist the urge to jump in. Given that moderation is in the eye of the beholder, Washington should not have an ideological litmus test for whom it wishes to engage. Rather, policymakers should focus on identifying those who can contribute pragmatic solutions to the many problems we confront in the region, “moderate” or not.


June:19:2008 - 10:19 | Comments & Trackbacks (17) | Permalink

Both The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times (both rather left-leaning, of course) get their feet in the electoral politics door today with commentaries pushing the idea of suing OPEC. The piece from NYT provides some legal thinking in how to get around the various court interpretations of international law that have prevented such suits in the past. The LAT piece calls for Congress to try again to get a bill authorizing such a suit passed. The last such effort ended in a veto.

I see these editorials as efforts to talk down policy suggestions by Republicans that the US actually increase its own oil production. And if it blackens the Republicans, it can only help the Democrats, right?

Sue OPEC

Sue OPEC

For some counterpoint, there’s a blog post by Jonathan Adler at the estimable Volokh Conspiracy:

Sue OPEC?


June:19:2008 - 09:47 | Comments Off | Permalink
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