Here’s an interesting piece from The New York Times about an art project that is sure to raise a controversy, particularly among those who like to raise controversies…
‘Personal Meditations’ on the Koran
THE last time that the artist Sandow Birk found himself concerned about responses from Muslims was in 2006. He was developing a film using puppets, inspired by his illustrations for a three-volume English-language version of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” when riots broke out over the Danish newspaper cartoons representing Muhammad.
Abu Dhabi’s The National takes a look at blogging in the Arab world. It focuses primarily on the Gulf States, naturally, with particular emphasis on the United Arab Emirates. It touches, though, on Saudi blogging as well as that addressing the Palestinian/Israeli crises. Definitely worth a look.
One of the interesting observations of the piece is that if you judge solely by blogging, pan-Arabism is a non-issue. Arab bloggers write mostly about their own lives in their own countries, not about regional politics.
Blogosphere of influence
The internet has thrown up a lot of ugly coinages since it emerged 20 years ago, but for sheer gruesomeness, few can rival the colloquial name for online diaries, the “blog”. “Blogosphere”, admittedly, runs it a tight race and its other derivatives – blogger”, “vlog” (a blog on video) and so forth – aren’t much better. Yet the thing itself is a marvel: a literary form and public medium unrivalled in history for flexibility and ease of access. User-friendly writing platforms such as WordPress and Blogspot have made pundits out of everyone with an internet connection and two thoughts to rub together, a fact that has changed the shape of news media, political discourse, academic research and a good deal else. The rise of the blogger was a watershed moment in the internet age. And yet… “blog”.
Lucky Arabic speakers, then, who get all the medium’s reverberating power and not too much of its naffness. Online diaries are known in Arabic by the rather graceful word moudawanat, and you can expect to hear a lot more about them as the moudawanosphere continues its rapid expansion. A recent study undertaken by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University identified 35,000 Arabic-language blogs, plus several thousand more in a mixture of Arabic and other languages. Bloggers from across the Arabic-speaking world offer anecdotal evidence for the explosion in blogging’s popularity over the past few years. “When I started five years ago we were like a bunch of 10 or 15 people blogging from Saudi Arabia about Saudi Arabia,” one interviewee told me. “Today we have more than 10,000 Saudi blogs, so it’s quite different now.”
Arabian Business publishes a list of the 50 richest Saudis. It doesn’t tell us how it derived the list, however, and commenters at the site question its accuracy.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz provide more information about the man who attacked Pr. Muhammad bin Nayef last week, identifying him as a Saudi national: Abdullah Hassan Tali’ Asiri. The news story gives details of his past, noting that he was on the list of the 85 ‘most wanted’, and explaining how he came to be at the Prince’s home.
Suicide bomber named
RIYADH – The Ministry of Interior confirmed Monday the identity of the suicide bomber who tried to assassinate Prince Muhammed Bin Naif, Assistant Minister of Interior for Security Affairs, Thursday as 23-year-old Abdullah Hassan Tali’ Asiri.
The ministry said Asiri was on its list of 85 most wanted militants.
Asiri died in the attack. The Prince suffered slight injuries.
Asiri was reportedly recruited to Al-Qaeda by his brother Ibrahim, known by the alias “Abu Saleh” and also on the list. They entered Yemeni territory together two years ago to join up with members of the terrorist organization. Ibrahim had previously served time in prison but was released.
Arab News reports Minister of Interior Prince Nayef says that the assassination attempt will not change the Saudi counter-terrorism approach:
Attack won’t change policy: Naif
Samir Al-Saadi & Muhammad Al-Humaidan | Arab News
JEDDAH: Second Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Prince Naif has emphasized that the Kingdom’s policy of enticing “repentant” extremists will not change in reaction to the recent assassination attempt on his son — Assistant Interior Minister for Security Affairs Muhammad bin Naif — by a man pretending to surrender.
Prince Muhammad was lightly wounded in the attack by an explosive device on the suicide bomber believed detonated with his mobile phone.
“The security efforts and strategy that the country is following for reform will not change,” said Prince Naif, while addressing a gathering at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) early Sunday morning. “This incident will not change this policy by which we open the door for those who repent.”
Nor, according to Saudi Gazette, will it alter the Saudi terrorist rehabilitation program:
Qatar’s The Peninsula runs an AFP article citing Al-Qaeda sources saying the would-be killer evaded Saudi security:
Mshari Al-Zaydi has a piece worth reading in Asharq Alawsat. He argues that the recent arrest of 44 Saudis from professional backgrounds shows that economic pressures and social deprivation are not, in themselves, adequate explanations for why people become terrorists. Nor is the lack of democracy a sufficient explanation. While these can turn out dissatisfied individuals likely to turn to anti-social and anti-government actions, more is required before they actually do so.
In the case of Middle Eastern and Islamic-inspired terror, the most dangerous causes are emotional, ideological, and religious. When perceived principles are deemed more important than anything else, the door to non-rational solutions—terrorism—is flung open. Whether it is avenging historic slights or seeking to reinstate ‘golden ages’ (which actually never existed), ideas overcome reality and laws based on reality no longer bind.
Just before Ramadan, the Saudi security body revealed that it had discovered a network that supports and funds terrorism, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Interior.
What’s different in this case, in comparison to the discovery and detainment of other cells in the past, is that the Interior Ministry’s statement focused on the high academic qualifications obtained by the detainees, their experiences and mature ages, and this is evident in the positions they held. The statement mentioned that some of those suspects abused the trust that had been placed in them.
However, in my opinion, the most important issue that the statement tried to highlight was that those suspects did not only encourage and support [terrorism] but are in a more advanced stage of violent activity by religious groups; a stage in which there is experience and high-level qualifications. Some of them work as lecturers, some are established employees and others are businessmen. In other words, they are unlike the zealous young people who we used to watch read out their wills just before embarking on suicide operations – young people overwhelmed by religious zeal who would brandish their machine guns or hand grenades with passion.
The significance of all of this is the invalidation of the belief that terrorism is merely an expression of the frustration of deprived and poor young people. Even though this belief is not completely erroneous or far removed from the truth, this link, between terrorism and poverty and political despotism, is incorrect and misleading when presented as the perfect explanation for the existence of terrorism in Islamic societies.
The UAE’s The National reports that the suicide bomber who attempted to kill the Saudi Deputy Minister of the Interior came from Yemen. It is not clear whether he was a Saudi national who had gone to Yemen to escape security searches or, perhaps, might be of Yemeni nationality.
Suicide bomber was from Yemen
Wael Mahdi, Foreign Correspondent
JEDDAH // The suicide bomber who targeted Saudi Arabia’s deputy interior minister Prince Mohammed Bin Naif on Thursday had been based in an area of Yemen known to be a base for many al Qa’eda militants, Yemen’s foreign ministry said yesterday.
The fact that a militant was able to get into Saudi Arabia so easily and target a high-ranking politician and prince has added to fears in Riyadh that the current unrest in Yemen could pose problems in the conservative Gulf kingdom.
UPDATE: From this Saudi Gazette/Okaz report, I gather that the attacker was indeed a Saudi, though one who was recruited and trained in Yemen. The report also states that the would-be assassin had the bomb within his body, which in part explains that the explosion had limited effect, outside of him:
Saudi Gazette compiles news agency stories on a report from the World Health Organization saying that the swine flu virus seems to have mutated. It has changed its attack, now going straight to the lungs rather than causing a general malaise that eventually reaches them. This is pushing more patients into hospitals, taxing them and national health systems in general. Further, the flu is moving faster than earlier flus and hitting healthy young adults harder. The report states that up to 40% of those dying from the flu do not have pre-existing health problems.
While the first vaccines are now making their way out of laboratories, there is concern that sufficient doses will not be available in time to offer protection to most of the world’s population by the onset of annual ‘flu season’, nor in time for the Haj.
WASHINGTON – Doctors are reporting a severe form of swine flu that goes straight to the lungs, causing severe illness in otherwise healthy young people and requiring expensive hospital treatment, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday.
Some countries are reporting that as many as 15 percent of patients infected with the new H1N1 pandemic virus need hospital care, further straining already overburdened healthcare systems, WHO said in an update on the pandemic.
“During the winter season in the southern hemisphere, several countries have viewed the need for intensive care as the greatest burden on health services,” it said.
“Preparedness measures need to anticipate this increased demand on intensive care units, which could be overwhelmed by a sudden surge in the number of severe cases.”
United Press International (UPI) is running this story about how disquiet in Yemen is worrying the Saudi government. With its own extremist problems, Saudi Arabia does not need or want Yemen’s problems crossing over the lengthy border. Yemen is facing armed confrontations against factions in the south which, until 1990, formed a separate country, South Yemen or Aden. In the north, there is great unrest—again, often resolved through the force of arms—with the Zaidi Shi’ite population at serious odds with the government over the distribution of resources as well as theological differences that translate into politics. The article, I think, makes too much of the ‘Saudi fear of Shi’ite rebellion’. This is a trope that the media love to toss around, but the Zaidis are very different from the Shi’ites of the Eastern Province and are not viewed terribly sympathetically by them.
What is of real concern to the Saudis is the presence of Al-Qaeda in Yemen. After taking a drubbing from Saudi security forces, the group ‘Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’ has stated that it was moving its headquarters to Yemen. With a government taxed from all sides, there is room for such a group to exist, perhaps even flourish. And with a long border in difficult terrain between the countries, infiltration is a valid worry. Long before nations arose in the region, there was trade and travel across what are now borders. Despite Saudi efforts to fence off or otherwise monitor the border, it is still a favored route for smuggling of people, consumer goods, and arms.
SANAA, Yemen, Aug. 27 (UPI) — As fighting escalates in Yemen between the army and Shiite rebels in the northwestern mountains along the border with Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is becoming increasingly alarmed that Iran is arming the insurgents and that its unruly southern neighbor is in danger of sliding out of control.
The Saudis fear that the Yemeni government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh will be overwhelmed by the 5-year-old rebellion and other crises gripping the impoverished Arab state that lies at the southwestern tip of the Arabian peninsula.
The rebellion is centered on Saada province, which borders Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil producer, but is spreading southward.
The Shiite tribesmen, followers of the Zaidi sect, want to revive the Islamic imamate that ruled for 1,000 years before being toppled by Sunnis in 1962.
For a closer look at Yemen, I suggest you go over to Armies of Liberation, where Jane Novak keeps on top of the issues and the people.
UPDATE: You might also be interested in this Reuters piece that links the attack on Pr. Muhammad with Al-Qaeda in Yemen:
Saudi Gazette reports on an earthquake, apparently unrelated to those that have been affecting the area around Al-Ais since May, that shook the ground west of Madinah. The earthquake, which measured a 5.1 on the Richter Scale, was of moderate size, but definitely big enough to be noticed.
The entire western part of Saudi Arabia is seismic terrain. Caught between the Red Sea Rift and an area inland which seems to be a zone of geologic spreading, it has been subject to seismic events over the centuries. As little seismic activity has occurred in the past hundred years, though, most people living in the region don’t realize the history of the ground beneath their feet. They’re being reminded of that history now.
Authorities on alert after quake west of Madina
Ali Al-Harbi and Ayman Al-Saydalani
MADINA – The west of the Madina region was once again struck by earth tremors Thursday, this time with a quake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale.
The tremors, which also affected the east of Yanbu, were said by authorities to be unrelated to those which have been for many months menacing the region of Al-Eis.
These tremors forced the evacuation of thousands of people due to the hazards posed by unsafe housing premises.
Thursday’s quake was pinpointed at 98 km to the west of Madina, 65 km to the east of Yanbu and 48 km north of Badr.
Arab News runs a piece reporting on popular reaction to the assassination attempt on Pr. Muhammad bin Nayef, Deputy Minister of the Interior. To put it succinctly, they are not amused.
No one, of course, applauds that attack, but they do seem to outdo each other in condemning it. From students to clerics, all see the attack as ‘un-Islamic’ and treacherous.
People shocked, outraged
JEDDAH/RIYADH/ALKHOBAR: Shock, disgust and dismay are the responses from people across the Kingdom to the Thursday-night assassination attempt on Prince Muhammad bin Naif, assistant interior minister for security affairs.
Compounding people’s disdain for the attack was the fact that it occurred less than 100 km from Makkah during the holy month of Ramadan.
Minister of Justice Muhammad Al-Eissa thanked Allah for keeping Prince Muhammad safe from the terror attack, while Muslim World League (MWL) Secretary-General Abdullah Al-Turki congratulated Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, Crown Prince Sultan and Second Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Prince Naif on Prince Muhammad’s narrow escape. The MWL secretariat condemned the terror attack as a deceptive act.
Members of the public, however, were more vociferous in their reactions. “This is against everything that Islam teaches us. Our religion teaches us to be benevolent; it teaches us not to resort to violence. This is forbidden and absolutely unjustified,” said Lama Al-Sharif, a Jeddah-based student of international relations. “Yes, there is frustration among a section of people regarding our foreign policy, but what happened on Thursday night is deplorable and utterly un-Islamic.”
In its coverage of the story, Saudi Gazette notes that the attacker, whose name is still being withheld, was among the list of 85 ‘most wanted’ terrorist suspects. He had promised to turn himself in to the Prince and said that further suspects would follow his actions (assuming they went well). Instead, he detonated a bomb he carried on his person, blowing himself apart, but inflicting only a minor wound on the Prince. Other reports say the bomb was contained in a cell phone, which would necessarily have limited it explosive force.
Prince declares new resolve to fight terror
JEDDAH – The explosion that killed the suicide-attacker attempting to assassinate Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, Deputy Minister of Interior for Security Affairs, at his home Thursday night, took place only one meter away from the Prince, sources told Okaz newspaper Friday.
The attacker had contacted authorities to hand himself in personally to the Prince only one day before the incident, and the surrender at Prince Muhammad’s home in Obhur, north Jeddah, would, the attacker claimed, precede further numbers of wanted persons handing themselves over to the Saudi authorities.
The explosion of a device hidden on the attacker’s body left bystanders faced with a “horrific scene” as his head, legs and hands were all blown apart, while the Prince suffered only minor injuries to his left hand.
Huffington Post is running this AP story of the suicide bombing assassination attempt against Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, Deputy Minister of the Interior. The Prince was injured, but later released from the hospital. The report is credited back to the Saudi Press Agency, but I cannot find it on the SPA’s website. The site appears to have been shut down for the night (at midnight, Saudi time), but I’ll look for it and further coverage.
UPDATE: Other coverage will appear at the bottom of this post
The article makes it sound as though the attempt was made during the Prince’s majlis, but as this is Ramadan, I suspect it was actually during an Iftar gathering to break the fast.
Saudi Suicide Bombing: Senior Prince Injured
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A suicide bomber lightly wounded a senior prince largely credited for Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism campaign when he blew himself up just before going into a gathering of well-wishers for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the state news agency said Friday.
It was the first known assassination attempt against a member of the royal family since Saudi Arabia began its crackdown on al-Qaida affiliated militants eight years ago following the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States.
The militant who attacked the assistant interior minister, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, late Thursday at the Ramadan gathering in Jiddah had previously expressed his intention to give himself up to the official, the Saudi Press Agency quoted the royal court as saying.
It is customary for senior members of the royal family to hold regular open gatherings where citizens can air grievances, seek settlement of financial or other disputes or offer congratulations.
Upon hearing news of the attack, King Abdullah swiftly headed to hospital, according to the agency. It said the prince, who is the son of Interior Minister Prince Nayef, was discharged from the hospital and nobody else was seriously injured.
Here’s another version of the AP report as run by FOX News. This version makes clear that it was a Ramadan event.
The Wall St. Journal:
AP runs a follow up story, reporting that the Prince is resolved to continue the fight against terrorism:
Al-Arabiya TV quotes Jamal Koshoggi, Editor of Al-Watan, saying that the incident shows that Al-Qaeda is pushing to take over power in the Kingdom, not urging reform:
The New York Times‘s report indicates that the bomb was contained within a cell phone, which would explain the low level of casualties:
Saudi Jeans reports, complete with a video clip from Al-Arabiya TV, showing the Prince with King Abdullah:
Arab News reports on the latest deaths in Saudi Arabia attributed to swine flu. The article notes that the majority of those who have contracted the flu have had histories of chronic diseases.
JEDDAH: The Ministry of Health on Thursday announced the death of three Saudis suffering from swine flu, bringing the total number of deaths caused by H1N1 virus in the Kingdom to 19.
The ministry did not disclose the names of the new swine flu victims nor their ages. According to a previous statement issued by the ministry, hospitals in the Kingdom have treated about 2,000 cases of swine flu since May 27, adding that 95 percent of them have fully recovered. “Most swine flu fatalities in the Kingdom were patients with a history of chronic chest and lung diseases,” said Dr. Khaled Mirghalani, spokesman of the ministry.