There’s a strange report over at the Aafaq website about an attempted coup’s being thwarted in Saudi Arabia at this link (Arabic site).

I don’t find Aafaq to be particularly accurate in its reports, so I’m not quite ready to buy into this one. I’ll wait for other sources to report the same, but this story is out there.

I’ve seen no other reports than this (and a couple of Arab blogs that translated the report into English). An example:

Failed Military Coup in Saudi Arabia

Saudi security source told Aafaq newssite that Saudi military officers and member s of the National Guards tried to thwart a military coup to overthrow army officers loyal to the current Saudi king Abdullah.

The source said that Major Ahmed Maiad Zahrani, a National Guard officer in the Riyadh backed by a Saudi prince in the royal family has recruited approximately 150 officers of National Guards, arrested later for further questioning and charged with conspiracy.

The plan was to overthrow the Saudi National Guards leader, who is loyal to king Abdullah and to prevent the selection of other member of the family as crown prince after the death of recent crown prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz [who is seriously sick].

August:31:2008 - 13:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

I see it as a good sign that Arab News is carrying this Associate Press report about outrage in the Pakistani Parliament when one of its members chose to support ‘honor killings’. Three’s obviously a message here for Saudis, some of whom have rather strange ideas about ‘honor’. There is no honor in ‘honor killings’ whatsoever. There is no religious authority for them, there is no moral authority: there is only barbarity.

Pak lawmaker defend ‘honor killings’ of five
Robin McDowell I AP

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani lawmaker defended a decision by southwestern tribesmen to bury five women alive because they wanted to choose their own husbands, telling stunned members of Parliament this week to spare him their outrage.

“These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them,” Israr Ullah Zehri, who represents Balochistan province, said yesterday. “Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid.”

The women, three of whom were teenagers, were first shot and then thrown into a ditch. They were still breathing as their bodies were covered with rocks and mud, according to media reports and human rights activists, who said their only “crime” was that they wished to marry men of their own choosing. Zehri told a packed and flabbergasted Parliament on Friday that Baloch tribal traditions helped stop obscenity and then asked fellow lawmakers not to make a big fuss about it.

Many stood up in protest, saying the executions were “barbaric”. They demanded that the discussions continue tomorrow. But some lawmakers said it was an internal matter of the deeply conservative province.

August:31:2008 - 13:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (158) | Permalink

The better to prevent moral wanderings, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice are asking the Saudi government to remove its blocking of pornographic websites. This is so they can understand the problem, of course.

In a weird way, it makes some sense, but the discordance between the protectors of moral values (just ask them) and their desire to view porn sites does reach a certain level of humor. The office responsible for site blocking isn’t quite convinced, either. This piece from Gulf News has the details. [Thanks to Essam for the pointer.]

Religious police demand access to blocked websites
Miriam Al-Hakeem

Riyadh: A number of members of the religious police (the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) have urged the Chairman of the Saudi Shura Council, Dr Saleh Bin Humaid, to enable them to have access to blocked websites to monitor immoral practices by visitors of these sites.

In an open meeting held by Dr Bin Humaid at the headquarters of the Commission in Makkah last night they justified this unexpected request by arguing that there are some male and female youngsters who exploit blocked websites to get involved in negative practices away from the eyes of the Saudi authorities.

“Since members of the Commission have no access to these blocked websites, such immoral practices cannot be pursued and put an end to,” they said.

August:31:2008 - 12:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Here’s a fascinating piece from Saudi Gazette. It reports on efforts to create an energy grid that encompasses Europe and much of the Middle East, from North Africa to the Gulf. This region, in addition to the various oil fields, is also an area that receives intense solar radiation. That radiation can be captured and converted into power; that power can be transmitted to other areas. The article notes that 0.4% of the radiation falling on the area would meet all of Europe’s energy demands.

The article reports that the Saudis are very interested in this proposal. Definitely worth reading!

Kingdom positioned to become solar power

RIYADH – In the wake of the first Gulf War, the US Army assessed Saudi Arabia’s solar energy resource potential in a classified effort to determine how oil fires had affected the region.
The results were clear and surprising. In addition to being a vast petroleum repository, the Kingdom was also the heart of the most potentially productive region on the planet for harvesting power from the sun

Sitting in the center of the so-called Sun Belt, the Kingdom is part of a vast, rainless region reaching from the western edge of North Africa to the eastern edge of Central Asia that boasts the best solar energy resources on Earth. With the cost of oil skyrocketing, this belt is attracting the attention of a growing number of European leaders, who are embracing an ambitious proposal to harvest this solar energy for their nations.

The developed world again turns to the less developed countries in hopes of powering their economies.

The Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation, or TREC, is the brainchild of a consortium led by the controversial Club of Rome and includes influential members like the German Aerospace Bureau and several universities in Europe and the Middle East.

TREC is spearheading an initiative to build a so-called transmission supergrid by concentrating solar thermal power plants, wind turbines and long distance power lines to supply energy to Europe.

The proposed power plants would simultaneously provide energy to seawater desalination plants in the Middle East and North Africa.

August:30:2008 - 11:43 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Interesting piece in Saudi Gazette, translated from its Arabic sister-paper Okaz. Universities and Saudi government offices are now requiring women to have individual ID cards. But someone forgot to notify the Department of Civil Affairs, responsible for producing such IDs. The result is a pile-up at the Department as hundreds of women all seek the ID cards they need. The article also notes that traditions of cultural conservatism are playing their own role in the havoc.

Female students, workers clamor for ID cards
Aisha Al-Fifi

RIYADH – Saudi students and working women are thronging to the Civil Affairs Department here after universities and governmental facilities made it compulsory for them have a national identity card.

The department, however, has only 29 employees who found it impossible to serve at least 600 applicants who turned up on Wednesday. Bigger crowds are expected on Saturday when the work week resumes.

Hind Khaled who thought there would not be a rush for the ID card during the ongoing summer vacation for universities and schools, said she managed to get her card only after a week of submitting her application, though delivery was supposed to be made on the same day or the next at the latest. Amnah Aseeri, another applicant, said she has been waiting for two weeks to change her identification from a family card to a personal ID card.

However, delay is not the only problem. One applicant, who identified herself only as Reem, said her father had refused to accompany her since he was against her submitting her photo for the card. Hence she had to bring along a friend to attest to her identity. Reem said she submitted her application along with her photo. She hoped that the media would do more to educate parents about the need and requirements for women to have their own ID cards.

As a passing note, I’d like to let readers know that I’m not asleep at the switch here. There just hasn’t been much of interest in Saudi papers or in other papers reporting on Saudi Arabia of late. I suspect that with Ramadan just around the corner, there’s going to be even less of general interest to report. I’m not slacking, though. Right now I’m reading a couple of books that I’ll be reviewing soon.

August:30:2008 - 11:33 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

I’ve written a review of Arabian Knight, a biography of William A. Eddy, who played a crucial role in many events that shaped American history and politics particularly as they pertain to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East in general. Soldier, spy, diplomat, businessman, academic: Eddy combined all of these effectively. He, more than any other individual, was responsible for the shape of today’s US-Saudi relations. Thomas Lippman, author of Inside the Mirage, has done an excellent job of capturing the life of a man whose life could/should span many lengthy books.

August:28:2008 - 11:39 | Comments Off | Permalink

Here’s an excellent piece from Lebanon’s Daily Star, commenting on how no one, no matter his religion, has a right to expect he will never be offended. As reader ‘rather dashing’ points out in a comment below, and the writer of this piece agrees, the proper reply to offensive speech is more speech, not stifling it. Even more, violence is never the right response.

The writer of this piece, Shahed Amanullah, offers a suggestion with which I fully concur: If you find yourself being easily offended, grow a thicker skin.

Muslims or not, no one has an absolute right to be offended
Shahed Amanullah

Back in 1989, when the publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” sparked a new phenomenon of protests from Muslims – particularly by those in the West – I was a student body senator at the University of California at Berkeley, where the Free Speech Movement was born in the 1960s. Two bookstores were firebombed – apparently in retaliation for the book, though without any claims of responsibility.

Along with several other Muslim students, I appeared on local television to denounce the bombings and state our belief that while Muslims could understandably be offended, no one had the right to impose censorship or intimidate others with threats to their safety or property.

That situation put us in the unique position of being targets of abuse by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, who either painted us as whitewashing a desire to impose our beliefs on others (this from the public in general) or apologizing for a legitimate Muslim rage, regardless of whether it had crossed the line into violence (this from fellow Muslims). It was a paradox that has repeated itself many times in the 20 years since, most recently with the Danish cartoons and the violent reactions that some Muslims around the world had to them.

August:28:2008 - 10:49 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Lebanon’s Daily Star has an interesting opinion piece by Rami Khouri pointing out how the Arab Gulf States are an active experiment in sociology and politics. He cautions, though, that there is risk of the Gulf States moving away from the other Arab states due both to greatly increased oil incomes and innovative politics. In any event, he notes, the backwaters of the Ottoman Empire are now dynamic engines of change, for better or worse. Worth reading.

The Gulf states, change you can invest in
Rami G. Khouri

In the world of nation-states, the small Arab emirates and states of the Gulf region have been peculiar beasts since their birth in the middle of the last century in the wake of the retreating British. Their transformation into wealthy, glittering, bustling city-states, in a matter of decades in some cases, has been impressive and perhaps unprecedented in the entire history of human civilization. The Gulf city-state sheikhdoms remain largely unstudied, though. Their chosen course of breakneck speed, foreign-manned socio-economic development and growth, and their unique brand of overnight nationalism anchored in cities that barely existed decades ago, are qualities deserve analysis in their own right and also for what they might teach us about other Arab countries.

A century ago, sheikhdoms like Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and a few others were tiny fishing ports, smuggler depots, imperial fuelling stations, or Bedouin encampments. They had miniscule and often nomadic populations, without urban traditions or distinct national identities. Today, they are mostly independent states and some are global financial powerhouses, yet they remain incongruous.

August:28:2008 - 10:38 | Comments Off | Permalink

One way to make sure people pay for their utilities is to have them pay up front, before they receive the benefit of those utilities. According to the UAE’s Gulf News, that’s what the Saudi Electric Company has decided to do. While this is certainly to the company’s benefit, it does seem to put more control over power usage into the hands of the consumer. Because prepaid electricity cards can be purchased at a wide variety of shops, it also makes it easier to ensure that the power stays on. No longer will it be necessary to try and find someone at the power company to reconnect homes that have been shut off for non-payment as non-payment should become a thing of the past.

Saudis to get prepaid electricity cards
Miriam Al-Hakeem

Riyadh: The Saudi Electricity Company will introduce prepaid electricity cards in about six months, Engineer Ali Al Barak, Executive President of the company, said.

These cards will replace the current electricity billing system, Asharq Al Awsat daily quoted him as saying.

Al Barak said the main reason for this step is to enable power consumers to rationalise consumption.

With prepaid cards they will see exactly how much power they consume.

August:28:2008 - 10:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Khaleej Times from Dubai carries this Reuters story. The piece notes that many believe that the government is using anti-terror measures to quash pro-democracy efforts. It also hints that ‘pro-democracy’ is not necessarily a move toward liberalization as religious factions—likely to win elections—are conservative. ‘Reform’ is not a one-way ratchet toward freedom; it can also be used to move things backwards.

Again, the lack of transparency is what confounds the issues. Human rights activists are not necessarily looking to move things backwards, after all. Lumping them with radicals might make it easier for the government to control them, but it does nothing to help anyone—Saudi or not—to understand what’s truly going on.

Saudi activists want end to arrests of reformers

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi intellectuals have called on the government to end arrests of and restrictions imposed on pro-reform and human rights activists in the conservative Islamic monarchy.

The appeal, made this week to the official Human Rights Commission, lists the detention since February 2007 of nine political activists, the arrest in May of well-known reformer Matruk al-Faleh and Interior Ministry bans on travel abroad that prevent blacklisted Saudis from leaving the country for years.

“The government provides you with the power …to monitor and ensure that governmental institutions abide by the law,” said a statement delivered to the commission and sent to Reuters on Wednesday in the name of 38 public figures, including some former detainees who are prevented from foreign travel.

The statement also referred to hundreds of “forgotten ones” who languish in Saudi jails without trial.

“Illegal arrests persist against Saudi citizens, especially against those who express their opinions in peaceful and civilised ways … the detainees are entitled to a fair trial, which Saudi law grants them,” it said.

There was no immediate comment by Saudi officials on the appeal.

August:28:2008 - 10:16 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The Saudi Arabic daily Okaz (translated by Arab News) runs this opinion piece on why the Saudi teams failed to win any medals in Beijing. Saudi competitors are just not ready for this level of competition. There’s not enough money being put into sports, other than football, there’s not a serious sports press, there’s not enough work being done to actually have a chance of winning.

Not mentioned is the lack of any Saudi woman taking part in any competition, either…. From the start, the Saudis have cut their chances of winning medals in half.

Beijing bust a wake-up call
Khaled Hamad Al-Sulaiman I Okaz

THOSE who criticize the Saudi failure in Beijing are exaggerating. Did they ever expect us to compete against the rest of the world for gold, silver or even bronze?

Competition requires certain elements and a foundation, which at present we simply do not have. Needless to say, our sporting reality is an open book. Any observer can read failure on its very first page.

We were pinning hope on some individual skills in athletics and equestrian, but instead of apologizing for the failure of his federation, the head of the athletics and equestrian federations threatened his critics with hell upon his return from China.

The star riders could not find horses to mount, so they exchanged the few they had among themselves. The most famous of them was unable to participate in the Olympics because he did not have a horse.

If we had used just a little of the money we spend on team sports — which specialize in failure — to buy a qualified horse, we might have won a medal and saved face.

Our sporting position needs radical changes. This is a demand we make after each failure. The legitimate demand will go into oblivion when we forget our failure in a certain competition.

August:27:2008 - 09:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Arab News editorializes against child marriages, condemning them and calling for the government to issue new laws to prevent them. It also calls for a more widespread effort to educate people, particularly in rural areas, about their harmful effects. This is an issue I think the Saudi government will be pretty quick to act upon. It has the religious backing it needs to take strong and quick action.

Editorial: Young girls as commodities

THERE have been several cases reported recently of young girls, some as young as seven or eight, being married off by their parents to men in their 50s, 60s or even older. In some instances, parents are literally selling their daughters to older men purely for financial reasons —- to settle debts or to gain a substantial dowry for their own use.

The practice is repugnant. Young girls are being treated as potential sex slaves, commodities to be bought and sold at whim to satisfy the lusts of old men. It has to be stopped. The Grand Mufti has spoken against it and so too has the Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC). Only this week, the head of the commission, Turki Al-Sudairi, called on the Saudi authorities to put an end to these marriages.

August:27:2008 - 09:33 | Comments Off | Permalink
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