In a move that caught most Saudi-watchers on the hop, King Salman has implemented a major shake-up in government.

Prince Muqrin, the former Crown Prince and the youngest son of the country’s founder, is reported to have asked to be relieved of his position. He is replaced by former Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, who also accedes to the position of Deputy Prime Minister. A new Deputy Crown Prince is named: Pr. Mohammed bin Salman, son of the King and Minister of Defense. He will keep his Defense portfolio.

Long-serving Minister of Foreign Affairs Saud Al-Faisal finally gets to retire and take care of his health. He is being replaced by current Saudi Ambassador to the US, Adel Al-Jubeir. This is the first time a non-Al-Saud has held the position in modern times.

Arab News reports on the shuffle and covers the major changes:

King Salman names Mohammed bin Naif as new Crown Prince

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman named Mohammed bin Naif as Crown Prince on Wednesday in a Royal Decree.

King Salman made a number of major changes across a number of government positions including that of Crown Prince Muqrin who was relieved of his position, upon his request.

The Royal Decree also named Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman as the Deputy Crown Prince, second in line to the Saudi throne.

Other changes saw veteran Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal stepping down from his post for health reasons but continuing as a cabinet minister as well as becoming a special adviser to the king.

Saudi Gazette has a more comprehensive list of changes, including those in the Ministries of Health and Labor:

Muhammad Bin Naif new crown prince, Muhammad Bin Salman becomes new deputy crown prince

Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV has an early analytical piece, quoting Khalil Jahshan, the executive director for the Arab Centre of Washington, calling the changes “a political earthquake.”

Saudi king replaces crown prince in cabinet reshuffle

I find it gratifying that in replacing the Crown Prince, King Salman acted through the Allegiance Council. This serves to solidify the Council’s role in dealing with future succession issues.


April:29:2015 - 05:56 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

The fact that so many unhinged fatwas make it into the public realm has led to a situation where satire is confused with reality.

Al Arabiya TV reports that an article appearing in a Moroccan satire paper alleging that Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti supports cannibalism as a way to show “togethernesss” needed a blunt denial from the Grand Mufti himself. Of course the Arab media isn’t the only one that mistakes satire with facts. Articles appearing in the American satirical paper The Onion are sometimes picked up by major media.

But when real life takes on bizarre aspects — be they in laws or fatwas — a little confusion is understandable. It’s just not very good journalism.

Saudi Grand Mufti DENIES fatwa allowing men to eat wives

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh has denied issuing a fatwa (religious edict) which allows a hungry man to eat his wife, or parts of her body, in the case of famine or if eating his wife would result in saving his own life.

Over the past few days, several pro-Iranian media outlets, such as the online portal of Al Allam news channel and Lebanon’s al-Jumohouria newspaper have carried the story without backing it with any evidence or specifying where or when such a fatwa has been issued.

The unsubstantiated fatwa attributed to the Grand Mufti claims that such sacrifice is the ultimate way of showing subordination and love to her husband as a “way for their two bodies to become one.”


April:10:2015 - 08:40 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

An interesting op-ed in Asharq Alawsat from former Editor-in-Chief Tariq Alhomayed. In it, he complains about how media (and others) use names to identify both individuals and groups. It’s a problem of long standing, not just in today’s contexts. Do you use the name the subject uses for self-identification or do you use something else, perhaps assigned for political or other reasons? Who gets to do the naming? And what of the consequences of name that carry emotional or political baggage?

He doesn’t really offer any good solutions, but identifying the fact that names are not just some neutral tag is useful. It might help journalists (and others) to think about names, but it doesn’t offer any useful argument or conclusions on how to deal with the conundrum.

Opinion: Abu Who?
Tariq Alhomayed

One can only be shocked and surprised by the way the Arab media has been reporting on terrorism and terrorists. Most recently we had the story of the Australian teenager Jake Bilardi, aged 18, who is believed to have carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq’s central city of Ramadi on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

What is shocking to me is that the majority of Arab media used this teen’s chosen kunya (an Arabic teknonymic naming convention) of Abu Abdullah Al-Australi (meaning “Father of Abdullah the Australian” in Arabic) in their reports, rather than describing him as what he actually was, namely “the terrorist Jake Bilardi.” Here we must ask ourselves: Is it so important for the media to respect the protocols and naming conventions of terrorists and terrorist groups? Must we ensure that the chosen name of a terrorist is used and repeated again and again until it becomes infamous?

Should we allow terrorists and terrorist groups to promote themselves in our media in this manner? Doesn’t the media have a duty to take a position on this issue? The media, by its very nature, is biased to one degree or another—regardless of claims to neutrality. So a killer must be described as a killer; a criminal as a criminal; and the same applies to a terrorist, even a teenage one.

Today, for example, we find some media outlets describing ISIS as the “Islamic State” or the “Islamic State group.” While other news outlets describe them in the same manner, but make sure to add the term “militant” or “radical” to the mix. But, by adding this description—or shall we say classification—do these latter media outlets inadvertently stumble into the realm of propaganda?

What about the media outlets or governments that insist on using the Arabic acronym of the group and call them “Daesh”? Is this better or worse, particularly when we know that ISIS itself does not approve of this name?


March:18:2015 - 08:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

In an article written for The Jordan Times, and here reprinted by Al Arabiya TV, Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab notes that certain world leaders are all for free speech, at least while they’re abroad. At home, though, not so much. Speech is still censored in much of the Arab world, if not directly by government, then indirectly (through, for example, the withhold of subsidies or government subscriptions), or by the drawing of ‘red lines’ beyond which journalists self-censor.

World leaders walked for freedom of speech but bar it at home
Daoud Kuttab

Social media activists have filled cyberspace with comments and arguments justifying the presence of this or that leader at the gathering held in Paris in support of the people of France after the brutal killing, in two separate attacks on journalists, cartoonists, policemen and everyday shoppers in a Jewish supermarket.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was attacked for going to Paris while avoiding Gaza. Arab leaders were criticized for attending the French demonstration while not working to protect freedom of expression in their countries.

Arab leaders have many considerations, of course, when they make decisions such as last week’s. When a superpower like France calls for worldwide support, it is incumbent on world leaders to show solidarity by participating.


January:16:2015 - 07:32 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat reports on a conference at Al-Azhar in Cairo at which leading Sunni scholars are dancing around how to denounce ISIS without using ISIS’ tactics. One of the hallmarks of ISIS philosophy — along with sheer brutality — is the way it is quick to declare certain Muslims to not be Muslims, takfirism.

So, instead of declaring ISIS to be a group of apostates, the organization has decided that “very bad Muslims” will have to do.

Egypt’s Al-Azhar stops short of declaring ISIS apostates

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the country’s leading Sunni religious institute, has issued a statement formally rejecting the labeling of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters as apostates.

Takfirism, the practice of one Muslim declaring another to be an apostate, is controversial within Islam. While this is something that is actively practiced by Islamist groups like ISIS, it is generally rejected by adherents of mainstream interpretations of Islam.

“Al-Azhar rejects the takfirism of ISIS . . . Because takfirism cannot be applied to any believer, regardless of his sins,” Al-Azhar said in a statement in response to comments made by the Mufti of Nigeria during last week’s counter-terrorism conference in Cairo.

During the conference, Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb called for joint Islamic efforts to combat ISIS. “Division, strife and polarization are the main tactics extremists are using to divide the Islamic nation,” Tayeb said. He stressed that ISIS militants are acting “under the guise of this holy religion and have given themselves the name ‘Islamic State’ in an attempt to export their false Islam.”

The Mufti of Nigeria Sheikh Ibrahim Saleh Al-Hussaini later issued similar comments during the counter-terrorism conference, saying ISIS are promoting a “false” Islam.


December:13:2014 - 11:21 | Comments Off | Permalink

While being proactive can be a good thing, it’s usually better to be proactive about real things.

Arab News reports that three Saudi government agencies are engaged in dealing with a new social danger — digital drugs. Digital drugs are said to be types of music that stimulate the brain in the same manner as actual drugs. The problem is, there’s no scientific evidence whatsoever to support that claim.

A similar concern erupted in Lebanon a few days ago, likely spurring the Saudi reaction. The issue also arose in the US, at least four years ago.

We do know that music can affect mood. We’ve known that for a long time, so much so that William Congreave’s line about “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast” is a commonplace. But there’s a big difference between being affected by music and being turned into a drug-crazed zombie addicted to tunes.

KSA alert to danger of ‘digital drugs’
ARAB NEWS

Three government agencies have united to tackle what is known as “digital drugs” — a type of sound-based drug that has recently spread via audio files across the Internet.

The National Commission for Drug Control, the Directorate General for Drug Control, and the Communications Authority are exploring measures to prevent the arrival of these “sound drugs” to the Kingdom. Abdullah Al-Sharif, secretary-general of the National Commission for Drug Control, said: “The three parties have held urgent meetings to study this type of drug.”

The commission also commissioned consultants to study the possibility of this new drug being accessible in the Kingdom, and officials have confirmed that no cases have yet been recorded. The type of drug is not new and has been mostly used in America and Europe, he said.


November:03:2014 - 08:34 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Al-Jazeera TV offers a useful interactive page that shows the types of assistance (humanitarian, military, or both) that are being provided to the coalition fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It has another graphic that shows which nations have taken part in air attacks on ISIS targets and where those targets are located.

Countries countering ISIL


October:07:2014 - 06:54 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing at Al-Monitor, Bader al-Rashed, a Saudi commentator, points out how the government of Saudi Arabia seems to be trying to draw a line between the dominant interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia (frequently called “Wahhabism”) and the beliefs and actions of ISIS. There are efforts being made to identify ISIS as Kharajites, referring to the 7th C. group that supported a philosophy at odds with both Sunni and Shi’a interpretations of Islam and Islamic rule and was noted for its harsh implementation of takfirism.

This is all well and good, al-Rashed writes, but is complicated by the fact that ISIS is busy handing out books written by Mohammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, whose writing are at the core of Saudi religious belief and practice. Oops.

Over the past 10 years or so, the Saudi government has tried to back away from the most severe interpretations of Islam that it had largely acquiesced to following the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. It has managed to do so, to some extent. The government, though, has not been able to ‘convert’ all Saudis to a regime of tolerance. This is proved by its now having to arrest and imprison domestic extremists.

How Saudi Arabia is distancing itself from the Islamic State
Bader al-Rashed

Thirteen years after US President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism, the Middle East is no closer to victory. Instead, terrorism appears to have morphed into an even more dangerous beast in the form of the Islamic State (IS). Westerners, as expressed through the media, seem to be under the same impression as they were after Sept. 11, 2001 — namely, that the Sunni jihadist movement is linked to the Wahhabi brand of Islam emanating from Saudi Arabia. This has prompted renewed debate among Saudis about this supposed Wahhabist-jihadist connection.

After bombings in Riyadh by al-Qaeda in 2003, the relationship between terrorism and religious extremism was widely discussed in the kingdom, with the government establishing the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue that same year. During the dialogue’s second meeting, Extremism and Moderation … A Comprehensive Methodological Vision, it was agreed that religious programs in Saudi Arabia were the primary force behind the spread of extremism in society. As a result of the dialogue, school curricula, the religious curriculum in particular, were modified by the Ministry of Education. Doubts remained, however, that religious education had been sufficiently modified given that radical Islamists were believed to dominate the education sector in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is today taking seriously the allegations in the international media that it is the ideological root of the current jihadist groups. Some have sought to defend the country’s religious vision by trying to disassociate Sunni jihadist groups from their brand of Islam, instead castigating other groups, such as the Kharijites — an Islamic sect separate from Sunnis and Shiites that emerged from the first Islamic civil war in the seventh century between Ali Ibn Ali Talib and Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan following the killing of the third caliph, Uthman Ibn Affan.


October:02:2014 - 06:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Al-Jazeera TV reports that Saudi Arabia has sent $1 billion to Lebanon to aid in its fight against extremists in the eastern part of the country. This is in addition to financing a $3 billion purchase of arms from France.

Saudis give $1bn to Lebanon amid fighting
Saudi Arabia sends military aid to help Lebanon’s fight against “terrorism”, ex-prime minister Saad Hariri says

Saudi Arabia has given Lebanon’s military $1bn to help its fight against self-declared jihadist fighters on the Syrian border.

The Saudi gift came as Lebanon army’s chief urged France to speed up promised weapons supplies and amid reports that a group of Muslim religious leaders were trying to mediate an end to the fighting.

After fighting in the eastern area on Tuesday, where troops have been clashing with the fighters since Saturday, ambulances entered the town of Arsal amid reports of a temporary truce.

Earlier, three out of 20 police officers detained by the fighters were released, according to police sources, reportedly as part of negotiations for a ceasefire.


August:06:2014 - 07:01 | Comments Off | Permalink

According to Debka, the Israel-oriented news source of dubious reliability, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt have colluded to create the current situation in Gaza. The Debka piece, behind a paywall at its own site, has been picked up by several other media, here the UK-based Middle East Monitor

Saudi, Egypt and Israel work together in Gaza attack

The war on Gaza is planned and orchestrated by Israel, Saudi and Egypt, a report by DEBKA-Net-Weekly said yesterday.

“Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, Egyptian President Fatah Al-Sisi and Netanyahu… [are] in constant communication on the war’s progress and confers on its next steps. Our sources reveal daily conferences, and sometimes more, between King Abdullah and President Sisi over a secure phone line,” the newsletter said.

DEBKA, thought to have close ties with Israeli intelligence agencies, said the world leaders go to great lengths to ensure their alliance remains undiscovered “given the political and religious sensitivities of their relationship”. Fearful of having even their secure lines intercepted, they prefer to send secret missions to visit each other and discuss the ongoing conflict.

“Israel keeps a special plane parked at Cairo’s military airport ready to lift off whenever top-secret messages between Sisi and Netanyahu need to be delivered by hand. The distance between Cairo and Tel Aviv is covered in less than an hour and a half,” DEBKA explained.

The report, which was also used in some British reporting, drew a prompt denial from the Saudi Ambassador in London, according to Saudi Gazette:

Kingdom: Reports on Israeli ties ‘baseless lies’


July:27:2014 - 05:28 | Comments Off | Permalink

According to a report in the UAE’s Gulf News, the number of Saudi women employed in the private sector has doubled over the past year to reach 400K. This is explosive growth compared to the 48K figure that pertained in 2009 and a ten-fold increase since 2004.

Various measures have led to this result including increased salaries for teachers and the banning of male employees in lingerie shops. There’s still a lot of work to be done to increase the number of Saudis in jobs, both male and female, but this is an impressive mark.

Number of Saudi women employed in private sector doubles
Habib Toumi – Bureau Chief

Manama: The number of Saudi women employed in the private sector almost doubled in one year to reach 400,000 last year, an official report has indicated.

The meteoric rise from 48,406 women in 2009 to 100,000 in 2011 and 200,000 in 2012 is a clear indication of the success of the ambitious drive by the authorities to find employment opportunities for women in the conservative society that has strongly resisted allowing women to take up jobs in the private sector.

According to the report prepared by the labour ministry, the opening up of opportunities for women to work in the industrial and commercial sectors, as well in shops, has contributed massively to the high employment figures, local daily Al Eqtisadiya reported on Monday.


July:26:2014 - 07:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs an interview with former US Ambassador Mark Hambly. Hambly, who had a reputation as one of the best “Arabists” in the State Dept., ran the Regional Media Center in London during and following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the interview, he explains why the Center was established in London.

The Center, in fact, was an expansion of the program I established in 1996-97 while I was the Information Officer at the embassy. I hired the first Arab support personnel for that office because it was abundantly clear that the pan-Arab media based in London — both print and satellite broadcast — was critically important and needed full-time attention. My job was to deal with the British media, a more than full-time job itself, but I was able to convince Washington that the Arabic media needed to be addressed as well. With the Iraq war, this became even more obvious, so the new Center was created. I was in Riyadh by then.

Mark Gregory Hambley: Coverage of the Arab–Israeli conflict
is biased on both sides

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Thanks to the presence of a number of pan-Arab newspapers and media outlets (including Asharq Al-Awsat) in London, for the last decade the US Embassy in the city has played host to one of the State Department’s Regional Media Hubs which aims to conduct ‘public diplomacy’ in the Arab World, engage with Arab and Iranian journalists, and monitor the Arab media.

Mark Gregory Hambley—a former US ambassador to Qatar and Lebanon—was appointed its first director when it was set up in 2003, after a decades-long career as a diplomat in the Middle East. Since retiring from the State Department in 2005, he has acted as an occasional advisor and consultant to the US government. Asharq Al-Awsat recently spoke to Ambassador Hambley about his time as director of the Hub and American efforts to engage with Arab media over the past ten years.


July:22:2014 - 08:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink
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