Here’s an odd little piece from Saudi Gazette/Okaz. They report that an event held in Taif saw the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice engaged in fund raising. As an element of the Saudi government, they have no business soliciting money for whatever purpose: they have a budget.
It cannot be that the Haya needs to hold bake sales to continue its efforts to fight vice and promote virtue. Properly, they are being investigated.
Hai’a fundraiser in Taif under scrutiny
ABDUL HADI AL-RABI’I
TAIF: Authorities are investigating an unpublicized event held by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a) which was used to collect cash and other forms of donations, sources have said.
According to the sources, the event was ostensibly held to honor a number of individuals, with prominent figures and businessmen addressing themes such as supporting charity work and the work of the Hai’a.
The sources said that officials looking into alleged irregularities want to know why the collection of donations was added to the agenda at the last minute and not made public beforehand.
I find it odd that Arab News is giving its editorial page over to a writer I find more opinionated than informed. Be that as it may, we certainly get a lot of attitude on the WikiLeaks mess, basically of the ‘The US had it coming’ variety, laced with more than a little schadenfreude. I wonder if the tune might change when/if diplomatic cables from other countries start popping up on WikiLeaks? Say those from China or even Saudi Arabia?
Yes, the truth hurts
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a courageous man.
Some might say he is troublemaking or foolish. Since he released earlier caches of US military documents on Afghanistan and Iraq, he’s had to go underground for fear of reprisals. He regularly alters his appearance and camps out on friends’ sofas. Nobody knows for sure where he is now but there’s a suspicion that he’s traveling around the UK.
With the release of American diplomatic cables on Sunday evening, published by newspapers in the US, Britain, France, Germany and Spain, Assange has “target’ written on his back. Once again, Washington shies away from explaining itself in favor of shooting the messenger when the blame should go to those responsible for US national security. If America has failed to guard its own secrets, it deserves to be embarrassed.
Assange’s website and Twitter page has come under attack, US lawyers are attempting to take him to court as a spy, Peter King, a New York Republican Congressman wants WikiLeaks to be designated “a terrorist organization” that will open the door to assassination squads, and the Swedish appeals court has upheld an arrest warrant accusing Assange of rape that has been forwarded to Interpol.
But however the powers that be decide to punish Assange, the grim truth is out there and may irreparably damage State Department diplomacy for the foreseeable future.
Arab News also runs a piece that essentially re-runs agency reporting. Not at all oddly, the article downplays what the leaks had to say about Saudi Arabia.
Yes, US diplomacy will be damaged, but not irreparably. It will become more complicated as foreign leaders try to assess how vulnerable they might be to a future leak. I suspect, too, that candor in reporting by US embassies will be diminished for a while. It will remain a fact, though, that all embassies, of all nations, need to provide their leaders with the best available information. All will continue to do so, though they may be forced into new means of doing so.
The story of the day, maybe week, maybe month, is all about WikiLeaks. Through an as-yet-to-be-determined means, some 260,000 cables from the US State Department, ranging from Classified to Secret, were published by the WikiLeaks people. The cables, the majority of them frank assessments of situations in various countries, were reports by field officers in US Embassies to their headquarters in Washington as well as to numerous other, interested US agencies.
The problem with the leaks is that they expose what were private, in-house conversations. No one cares to have their private conversations, on any topic, made public. The double problem is that the cables often reported on additionally private conversations between different countries’ officials and US Embassy officials, including ambassadors. What a country’s leader or a minister may say in private is often at odds with his public pronouncements. Sometimes this is simple hypocrisy; often, it is that official sounding-out policy options. While these cables start with those conversations, they go through a filter before they’re turned into a reporting cable. That filter is the official ‘note taker’ who attends the meeting and take hand-written notes in order to write that cable. Recording devices are not used.
When a foreign official talks with someone from an embassy (any country’s embassy), he speaks with varying levels of frankness. He may be exercising his personal peeve with a situation or fellow official; he may be factually reporting on a situation; he may be mixing both for some advantage only he knows for sure. The person writing the cable (usually the reporting officer, edited by the principal officer at the meeting) has to do his own assessment of both what is said and why it is being said. The reports to Washington tend to be very frank, outspoken even, but are also not immune to the vagaries of the reporting officer.
International media and electronic, social media—though not Saudi official media so far—are reporting on things reported to have been said in meetings with Saudi officials. The issues reported so far include Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Other subjects are likely to be found.
For whatever reason, the WikiLeak-ed cables are not yet publicly accessible. A message reporting an overload on the servers is being shown when one tries to download the data. I’ll keep trying to download the files to see what’s there, though everyone else in the world is free to do so and apparently trying to do so right now—assuming they can access the site, that is.
Saudi officials, depending on just who they are, can be more or less frank in speaking with Embassy officers, depending on who they are. The Ambassador, for example, is likely to get a better exposition than a Third Secretary. Not always, though. Some officers have better relations with some officials than their job titles would suggest. Personal chemistry does play a role. On the whole, Saudis, tend to be more frank than many other countries’ officials. They don’t do a dance of the seven veils by speaking in obscure, hinting terms. That may count against them when materials are leaked without context. I suspect that at the least, a whole lot of US Foreign Service Officers will find themselves personal non grata, simply not wanted back in Saudi Arabia and other countries. I think, too, that frankness is going to take a serious hit, with foreign officials just choosing not to talk to the US with any level of candor. That’s a serious blow to international diplomacy.
I’ll point out that these cables would have been declassified, under US law, in 25 years’ time. The leak obviously moved that up. The 25-year period is intended to let history unroll a bit and to allow officials to retire or die. This premature leak does, in my view, represent more than simple embarrassment to the US and other governments. I think it does actually put the lives of some people—particularly sources—in grave danger. The leaks do not scrub identifying information, though some media reports do. Nor do the leaks protect ‘methods and means’, the ways in which information is collected. That compromises everyone involved and at the least will lead to expensive, time-consuming, and unprovenly effective changes.
Below are examples of reporting on cables involving Saudi Arabia pulled from different international media, primarily those to whom WikiLeaks sent the documents:
According to this Saudi Gazette piece, Saudi women are not sitting quietly while some allege they are acting ‘un-Islamically’. Nor is the effort to get Saudi women into the marketplace a ‘Western import’.
Yes, there’s a certain irony that the bulk of the piece is taken up in quoting a male–Saleh Kamel. But, Saudi Arabia, being Saudi Arabia, simply has to have male voices saying things in order for them to be heard.
JCCI women’s forum rejects claims of un-Islamic behavior
JEDDAH: The organizers of a local business forum for women entrepreneurs have rejected accusations that they are trying to introduce a Westernized and un-Islamic mode of doing business in the Kingdom.
Sheikh Saleh Bin Abdullah Kamel, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) and Maha Fetahi, President of the Khadija Bint Khowailid Forum, said that the forum is being organized and financed by loyal Saudi businessmen and not by any foreign party who wants to westernize Saudi society. The opening of the event is on Sunday night, with the sessions starting Monday.
They were addressing the media at a press conference held on Saturday at the JCCI headquarters.
They said the Khadija Bint Khowailid Center (KBKC) respects Islamic teachings which grant women the right to practice business.
Their response came after complaints were lodged about the JCCI’s alleged secrecy regarding the names of the sponsors.
On a not-completely-unrelated front, Arab News reports on an incident of vigilante justice that has more than a little poetic justice about it:
The story is about how a woman (granted, she’s Afghan) found a way to stop a would-be blackmailer. Her method, highly illegal, nonetheless scored a direct hit on the target.
Saudi Gazette reports that unnamed Saudi journalists were among the targets of the 19 Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s terror cells broken up by the Saudi government over the past eight months. The journalists are not amused…
Saudi media slams Al-Qaeda threats
NAIF MASRAHI & MAHA SAMI ABOULOLA
JEDDAH: Saudi journalists here believe that they have been targeted by Al-Qaeda because of their support of the government and their opposition to the terrorist organization.
Journalists were responding a day after the Ministry of Interior announced it had arrested 149 Al-Qaeda militants over the last eight months – 124 Saudis and 25 foreigners.
Over SR2.24 million was also seized. Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki told a news conference Friday that the suspects belonged to 19 Al-Qaeda cells and were planning to target government facilities, security officials and journalists in the Kingdom. He gave no names of targets.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz also give further details on the arrests and planning by those 19 groups:
Arab News, in its reporting, explains why journalists are being targetted:
Saudi Gazette and other media are carrying the Saudi Press Agency’s report on King Abdullah’s recovery from back surgery in New York. I’ve seen no date for his return to the Kingdom, but think it should be within the week.
RIYADH: King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, who recently underwent a successful back surgery in New York, is now able to walk on his own, said Prince Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior.
He was speaking at a reception given in the honor of Gen. Rustum Anaitov, Chief of National Security in Uzbekistan here Saturday night.
Prince Naif said, “We in the Kingdom are celebrating another Eid with the improvement of the King’s health.”
Tariq Alhomayed’s piece in Asharq Alawsat accurately portrays what’s now going on in Saudi Arabia: a civil war of ideas. While the state has largely managed to deal with things like terrorism (viz. the arrests over the past eight months of nearly 150 extremists of various stripes) and asserting some level of control over the issuance of fatawa, it has not addressed, at Alhomayed says, ‘the little issues’. Those ‘little issues’ are at the root of the problem and need to be sorted out.
On one side are those who seek to return the country to an idealized past. That past is partly mythological, partly aspirational, partly the result of thuggish attitudes toward controlling people and their behavior. On the other side are those who seek liberalization in order to confront the very real challenges represented by the facts of the 21st C., by an explosive growth in population who will require jobs, by a realization that individuals (including female individuals) cannot be totally subsumed by society and cultural values. A statement from the New Testament Book of Matthew certainly pertains: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” If this holds true for an individual, then it holds multiply true for a state. The forces within Saudi Arabia that seek to deligitimize the state in the quest of a ‘Golden Age’ that never was need to be constrained.
This is not to say that seeking to adhere to religious values is wrong. I do not believe it is and I have no problem with ‘Islamism’ writ large. I do have a problem with using the narrowest possible interpretations of Islam to constrain and repress a society, to actually condemn it to backwardness, to injustices, to fearful adherence to dictates based on the questionable recall of meritorious words and deeds.
The Ferocious Conflict in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry revealed that 19 terrorist cells were planning to carry out operations against institutions, foreign nationals, security figures, and even media figures within Saudi Arabia [before they were arrested by the security apparatus over the past 8 months]. This in an indication that the conflict that is taking place between the terrorists and the Saudi security forces is becoming more ferocious. The statement issued by the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry revealed that Al Qaeda is trying to undermine the security achievements made by Saudi Arabia by targeting easy or open targets, such as media figures and foreign nationals who – of course – do not receive special individual security protection, as this would be impossible.
Al Qaeda wants to achieve two goals; firstly, intimidating those who criticize it, namely the media, and secondly undermining the image of the security services and the successes it has achieved both domestically and externally. This is what is making this battle so difficult and ferocious. The problem in Saudi Arabia today is not in the security effort or its citizens’ cooperation with the security apparatus but rather in the ideological division that exists, and the implementation of laws that aim to dismantle the smaller parts of terrorism that contribute to the construction of the grand machinery of terrorism which Al Qaeda utilizes to polarize society, motivate and incite people, and raise funds.
Another interesting day of posts at Volokh.com, with the focus again on the interaction between US law and foreign (and Shariah) law. Prof. Volokh does a good job of explaining not only why US courts look to foreign courts and foreign law, but why they must do so in the interest of justice.
Tuesday, I blogged about a Massachusetts court’s decision not to honor a Lebanese Islamic court’s child custody order; I thought the Massachusetts decision was a sound application of religion-neutral Massachusetts law, under which foreign child custody orders dealing with Massachusetts resident children are honored only when they are entered based on standards that are close enough to the Massachusetts “best interests” test. One commenter, though, would have gone further:
What happens in Lebanon should stay in Lebanon. Okay, I admit a bit corny but Shira law does not belong in the U.S. as long as we have the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. We believe we are a nation free of religious influence (some may have valid arguements against this) and should remain as such. Granted, christianity had significant influence on our legal foundation but we don’t go to Bishops or Pastors for their input. Shira is strictly religious law and nothing else.
Others have made similar arguments, arguing against any American court consideration of foreign Islamic court rulings, and of Islamic law. I think those arguments are mistaken, and here’s why.
Every year, millions of people from other countries legally come to America, whether as citizens, permanent residents, temporary workers, students, tourists, or whatever else.
American law naturally wants to know certain things about them. Are they married? If they were married, are they divorced? Were the supposed adoptive children they’re bringing with them really adopted? How about the property they’re bringing with them — who really owns it? If they go back to their country of origin, and come back claiming that they divorced the spouses that are still living there, are they telling the truth?
The way that American law generally answers these questions is by looking at the law of the foreign country in which the actions initially took place, especially if the parties to those actions were citizens or residents of that country — for instance, the place where the marriage supposedly took place, where the supposed divorce or adoption decree was procured, or where the property was acquired. If the question is whether a marriage contracted in France between two French citizens is valid, you look to whether the law of France was properly complied with in entering into the marriage. If the question is whether two Taiwanese properly divorced in Taiwan, you look at the divorce decree from the Taiwanese court, and if there are questions about its validity or scope you consult Taiwanese law.
It really comes down to a face-specific question of what constitutes coercion, in the first case. Is it illegitimate coercion for a family to pressure a son or daughter to marry a specific person? If that’s the case, then just about any arranged marriage would be illegitimate. But that, of course, is not the case nor the view of US courts. There can be coercion, however, that exceeds reasonable bounds: “Marry him/her or the tribe/your father/your brother will kill you.” But is the threat of being cast out of the family enough to make a marriage illegally coerced? Of being disinherited? Good questions, but no ready answer. Repugnant, perhaps, but not clearly against the law.
On the issue of statutory rape, it’s a fact that women too young to be married in the US are, nonetheless, legally married under the laws of different countries. Does sex within that marriage, though nominally against US law and public policy, rise to the level of statutory rape (sex with someone so young that s/he is considered unable to give consent)? The post notes that generally, state laws exclude sex within a marriage from statutory rape laws. I think, however, on an argument based on public policy, a state may very well act if the minor bride is an 8- or 10-year-old.
And just to keep things international, I found this piece from the Canadian newspaper Globe & Mail. It appears that a court in British Columbia is wondering if Canadian laws prohibiting polygamy are a violation of the fundamental Charter of Rights & Freedoms, which protect religious practices from state interference. The religion at question here is not Islam. Rather, it is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as well as several secular organizations which support polyamorous relationships.
Arab News has an interesting editorial today. It argues that the role of government is limited, that’s it shouldn’t be in the business of handing out money to help private industry. If one didn’t know better, this could be mistaken for part of a Tea Party campaign! If you’re not willing to go that far, then this has to be seen at least as a call for allowing markets to function without government-imposed distortion of the marketplace.
It is not the government’s business to be funding the private sector to create jobs
The setbacks to the government’s Saudization policies this week led economic experts to call for more official support for the unemployed to find jobs. Among the proposals they put forward was increased aid to the small and medium enterprise sector (SME) to encourage them to create more jobs. It was also suggested that unemployed Saudis should be funded to start their own businesses.
This is all very worthy but it misses several important points. The first is that it is not the government’s business to be funding the private sector to create jobs. The business of government, any government is to create the circumstances in which the economy can grow and expand, with the inevitable increase in employment opportunities. Specific grants to encourage hiring and training new employees are a legitimate part of this mix but if the government is being pressed to actually underwrite private sector employment, it is effectively being asked to put new hirings onto the government pay roll.
The second point is that such officially encouraged employment is artificial. It will lead to under-employment of too many people, which at the very least will impact on the efficiency of local businesses as they seek to compete with international rivals in the Kingdom. Nor is it good for workers to feel that they have their jobs largely because of government subsidy. Successful companies the world over have employees who believe themselves valued, who feel that they are making a real contribution to the enterprise that employs them. They are therefore motivated and keen to do well.
However if it is not the government’s job to create employment so directly, it is its duty to frame new employment policies in such a way that they are workable. As we have pointed out before, with the airport smoking fine collections, the Saudization of taxi drivers, the vegetable and gold markets, new policies need to be thought through thoroughly before anyone tries to implement them. Therefore throwing cash at SMEs to hire more people is not the answer.
And then there is the final and arguably most important point, which is that the people who should be funding SME growth and therefore increased employment opportunities, are not doing so. In any efficient economy it is the job of the banks to support local businesses with advice and loans. But Saudi banks prefer to concentrate on big-ticket companies, with whom the management of large loans is easier and of course more profitable.
It’s a long-standing custom in the Arab world to fire guns into the air in celebration of various things like weddings, births, and returning from Haj. It is also a law of physics, that what goes up must come down. Put the two together and you have the result reported in this piece from Saudi Gazette/Okaz.
The practice isn’t just some tribal thing. I recall being in Syria when Rifaat Al-Asad, brother of the then-president, returned to the country in an attempted coup d’etat. When he entered the city, gunfire, including anti-aircraft barrages, light up the skies. And then the bullets and exploded shells came down…
While deaths from celebratory gunfire aren’t daily occurrences, there are a sufficient number of brides and innocent bystanders killed that the practice should be banned. Buy fire crackers or pyrotechnic illuminations instead; they’re far less dangerous.
Child killed by celebratory gunfire
ABDUL RAHMAN SHAR
JIZAN: A six-year-old boy died after being hit by a stray bullet fired in celebration in the town of Al-Haqu, police have said.
A police spokesman said that locals in the town 40km to the north of Jizan were celebrating the return of a pilgrim from Haj when the bullet lodged in the boy’s chest, killing him at the scene.
“The person who fired the weapon turned himself in to the authorities straight away,” the spokesman said.
Saudi Gazette reports that the Saudi Ministry of Education is revamping its student evaluation process. Rather than basing grades on final exams exclusively, schools will use continuous evaluation throughout the semester. This could reduce the amount students would have to memorize before exams, but it also gives both students and teachers a picture of how well a class is progressing before it becomes to late to fix problems. More work for teachers, certainly, but it might also make composing those exams a bit easier.
JEDDAH: There has been mixed reaction from students and teachers to the continuous evaluation method introduced by the Ministry of Education at elementary and intermediate schools in the Kingdom.
The new system will see students being evaluated on their performance throughout the year, instead of having the bulk of marks coming from mid-year or end-of-year examinations.
The new method has already been implemented for certain subjects.
There was a mixed reaction this week from teachers and students on the changes.
Asem Al-Ghamdi, an English teacher, said that the new system must ensure that knowledge is gained throughout the year. He supports it, as long as it is applied correctly and makes students work consistently.
Saeed Al-Ansari, a student, said he was happy with the new system because it meant that students would not be burdened with studying a huge amount of work at the end of the year.
Note to Saudi Gazette: This isn’t a change in curriculum—the content of a course or program—but in the process of evaluation of how well that content is learned and taught.
There’s a sizable contingent of the far-right in America who continue to believe—among other weird things—that Pres. Obama is a Muslim. His grandmother, who went to Saudi Arabia on Haj, is prayer that he convert to Islam, reports Arab News. That suggests rather strongly that he is not Muslim. But, as with fabricated issues such as his birth certificate, no accumulation of evidence to the contrary will suffice to change their minds.
RIYADH: The Kenyan grandmother of US President Barack Obama who was on Haj pilgrimage to Makkah has said that she prayed for the American leader to convert to Islam, a newspaper said on Thursday.
“I prayed for my grandson Barack to convert to Islam,” said Haja Sarah Omar, 88, in an interview with Al-Watan daily held in Jeddah after she had performed Haj.
The paper said that Haja Omar was in Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage along with her son, Obama’s uncle Saeed Hussein Obama, and four of her grandchildren as guests of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
Haja Omar told the newspaper that she could only discuss Haj matters and would not comment on Obama’s politics.