The Washington Post runs an analysis of human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. The piece notes that the Kingdom receives low marks on whatever metric is being used to measure liberty interests, including women’s rights, free speech, and religious freedom. The quandary is that most Saudis are not calling for changes in the way things work and, what’s more, it has been the government at the forefront of change and liberalization.
The US government, the article notes, is not eager to get involved in pushing for reform when there’s no popular support for reform. It would rather leave it to the Saudi government to implement changes at a pace acceptable to Saudi society.
The article also points to the question marks hanging over the changes in government following the ascension of King Salman, not noted as a reformer himself.
For almost 70 years, Saudi Arabia has been a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East. The relationship, which famously opened in a meeting on the Suez Canal between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first Saudi king, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, is based around shared concerns about regional security and crude oil supplies. It has proved remarkably durable, despite a rapidly changing world.
Over the past few months, however, something seems to have shifted. Americans and other Westerners seem to have grown more and more skeptical about the true nature of their ally. In particular, an unusual set of circumstances — including the fearsome rise of the Islamic State, the death of Saudi King Abdullah and renewed concerns about Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks — has led to a significant public debate about Saudi Arabia’s true values.
One particular source of concern has been the state of human rights in the country, highlighted by a spate of public executions and the high profile punishment of liberal blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” last year.
Arab News offers a piece explaining who the new Deputy Crown Prince — second in line to the throne — Prince Muhammed bin Naif is. The article gives a gloss on his involvement with the government and the various jobs he has held, as well as his role in Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism efforts. It does not mention that he has survived four assassination attempts.
Prince Mohammed’s appointment as deputy crown prince welcomed
RIYADH: MD RASOOLDEEN
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman appointed Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif as the second-in-line to the throne, according to a royal decree issued Friday.
Prince Mohammed will be the deputy crown prince in addition to his present portfolio as the minister of interior.
Prince Mohammed bin Naif was born in Jeddah on Aug. 30, 1959. The prince is the son of the late Crown Prince Naif.
During his primary, preparatory and secondary education, Prince Muhammed studied at the Capital Institute in Riyadh. Then he studied in the United States during the university stage. In 1401, he obtained the BA degree in political science from Lewis and Clark faculty in Portland. He attended a number of advanced military courses related to anti-terrorism in the Kingdom and abroad.
Al Arabiya TV provides a pictorial history of King Salman’s political engagement over the decades:
In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat (here reprinted by Al Arabiya TV), Abdulrahman Al-Rashed points to Saudi Arabia’s long struggle with religious extremism (for certain values of “extreme”). He notes that just 17 years after the founding of the country, Saudi leaders had to resort to violence to put down a revolt by the Ikhwan, the tribal group that had militarily supported the cause of the Al-Saud, but which had now become a problem when it challenged the government over its policies.
From the Brotherhood of Sabilla to ISIS
The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda and similar groups are not really states the sense we understand. They are an idea of extremism that unites those who subscribe to it and those who support it in different forms, either with bullets, dollars, words or emotions. There are extremists who may be against taking up weapons, but they agree with violent groups on the ultimate idea and goal, even if they differ on the means to use.
Unlike what’s common in political analysis, extremism and extremists have always represented a threat to the Saudi Arabia. But this truth gets lost in a sea of accusations and the whole image is blurred even to the most well-informed people on the Middle East and Saudi Arabia in particular. This false historical understanding of the friend and the foe is no longer limited to foreigners and Arab propagandists. This false understanding has entered Saudi Arabia itself where some believe it and other extremists promote it. I think extremism is the biggest enemy and is the biggest threat to Saudi Arabia. This is why it’s in our interest to systematically, institutionally and continuously fight it.
Writing in Arab News Saad Dosari finds himself in general agreement with the sentiments addressed by Abdulrahman Al-Rashed. Muslims need to take a serious look at how they’ve permitted terrorism in the name of Islam to grab hold and threaten individuals and groups around the world.
When words turn into bullets
What is more evil? To commit a crime or to back it through reasoning and justifications. I would argue that the crime itself is completed once the criminal act is over, you kill someone, he is dead, you blow up a checkpoint, the damage is done, it could lead to ramifications, but the act itself is already part of history. But when you reason and theorize any crime, you are actually preparing for a next wave of violence. You are keeping the evil concept of the crime alive, breeding more brutality and barbarity.
Last week, history repeated itself, another attack, new blood spilled, more lives lost in the name of Islam. Gunmen with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine in the heart of Paris, blindly wounding and killing whomever happened to be on their way.
After all these years of terrorism in the name of religion, it is pointless to defend Islam from the massacres committed under its banners…
…For us Muslims everywhere in the world, we need to stop and revisit our culture and traditions, to go back to the pristine teachings of Islam. This religion has been sent to the world with nothing but mercy, why some of us are depriving it of its holiest message?
Commenting on remarks made by publisher Rupert Murdoch, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed agrees that it is the responsibility of Muslims to act against the “jihadist cancer” that is infecting the body of Muslim societies. It is Al-Rashed, in an editorial for Asharq Alawsat, here picked up by Al Arabiya TV, who identifies these extremists as “fascists,” noting how their actions and beliefs mirror those used by the fascist states of the early 20th C. “Equivocation and silence” no longer cut it in dealing with the problem, he says.
Murdoch: Muslims bear responsibility for terrorism
Protests against recent terrorist attacks in France should have been held in Muslim capitals and not in Paris because Muslims stand accused in this case; embroiled in this crisis and expected to declare their innocence. The tale of extremism began in Muslim societies and it’s with their support and silence that extremism grew into terrorism which is harming people across the world. It’s of no value for the French people, who are the victims here, to take to the streets to condemn the recent crimes. What’s required here is for Muslim communities to disown the Paris crime and Islamic extremism in general.
Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch said on Twitter on Friday: “Maybe most Moslems [are] peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” In another tweet, he added: “Big jihadist danger looming everywhere from Philippines to Africa to Europe to US. Political correctness makes for denial and hypocrisy.”
In his op-ed for Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem argues that the terrorists of the world are winning because their targets are civilized and have a lower threshold of pain that they are willing to endure. They also have a lower threshold of pain they are willing to inflict.
Melhem provides a survey of asymmetric warfare across the ages. He points to the use of terror by the Assassins and equates Anwar al-Awlaki with the “Old Men of the Mountain” who directed terroristic groups in both Syria and Iran during the Middle Ages. Awlaki is able to cause action from beyond the grave, he notes.
A world in the shadows of terrorism
The terror attack on Charlie Hebdo, the worst on French soil in 50 years and the clashes it spawned, showed in bold relief how vulnerable are open democratic states to the diabolical machinations of a handful of trained killers. Paris, the political and cultural heart of France, a country of 66 million people, and a major world power with a nuclear arsenal, was neutralized for two days by four terrorists, according to preliminary reports.
Never have a few people, disrupted the lives of so many, with such low cost. In recent years, until the shocking rise of ISIS last summer, the literature on terrorism was dominated by the relatively new strain of terror threat cyber-attacks. Huge financial and significant human resources have been allocated to defend against this kind of terrorism that could cripple a modern economy, and to develop offensive cyber capabilities, particularly after major American corporations and key national security structures like the Pentagon have been subjected to successful hacking attacks. But conventional terror attacks, as we have seen recently in Canada, Australia and now France are as deadly and as crippling as ever.
A couple of days ago, the former head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Mecca said that there’s no religious obligation for Muslim women to cover their faces. Today, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti says that’s mistaken. He points to two verses from the Quran which he says do require covering.
Retract remarks and repent, Grand Mufti advises Al-Ghamdi
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH – Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Aal Alsheikh has asked Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ghamdi, former Makkah chief of Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia), to repent for his recent comments on niqab (face veil) which have created a lot of controversy in the country.
During a local program presented by Dr. Badriya Al-Bishr, a prominent Saudi media personality, Al-Ghamdi said women were not required to wear niqab (face veil). Al-Ghamdi was accompanied by his wife without a niqab.
Grand Mufti said there are Quranic verses that say hijab (head cover) is obligatory for each and every Muslim woman and that women should cover their faces, MBC.net reported. Alsheikh cited the following Quranic verses:
Arab News reports that a Saudi Special Criminal Court — a court designed to hear terrorism cases — has sentenced three of those responsible for the 2004 terrorist attack on a residential compounds in Riyadh and the Eastern Province. Victims of the attacks included British, Indian, Swedish, Egyptian, South African, Sri Lankan, and Filipino citizens, as well as Saudis.
3 sentenced to death for Riyadh, Alkhobar terror attacks
JEDDAH: MD AL-SULAMI
A special criminal court in Riyadh has sentenced to death three members of a terror cell for killing 20 people and injuring 35 others at the Oasis Residential compound in Alkhobar in the Eastern Province, and the Al-Mohayya complex in Riyadh in separate attacks. Five were each handed 30-year jail terms.
The victims of the terror attacks included BBC photographer Simon Cumbers. His colleague Frank Gardner was critically wounded and is now wheelchair-bound. There were also Saudi civilians and policemen among the victims.
The first defendant, N. Boqami, chief of Cell 86, said Al-Qaeda had assigned him and others to storm the Oasis complex in 2004. They had been told that US forces had kidnapped and detained several Sunni Iraqi women during the 2003 invasion.
However, he denied all other 27 charges against him, including storming into a facility of the APICORP and the Oasis compound carrying grenades, assault rifles and revolvers on May 29 and holding 45 hostages. The state contends that he was accompanied by Al-Qaeda members Turki Al-Motairi and Abdullah Al-Sobaie during the operation.
The conservative Washington Times has a peculiar bit of crystal ball gazing. Writer S. Rob Sobhani posits that Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, son of the current king, may be next in line for Saudi Arabia’s throne. This overlooks the fact that there are two senior princes already in line to assume the throne on the demise of King Abdullah: Crown Prince Salman and Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin, both sons of the founder.
While Pr. Miteb may very well have a future in Saudi politics, it’s not going to be any time soon, barring some cataclysm.
The Saudi prince who could be king
S. Rob Sobhani
Ever since President Franklin Roosevelt met with King Abdulaziz aboard the USS Quincy in 1945, Saudi Arabia has been one of America’s most steadfast allies. The visit by one of the grandsons of King Abdulaziz to Washington this month provides a historic moment for the United States to reach out to the next possible ruler of a country that is consequential on the world stage and of enormous strategic importance to the U.S.
Miteb bin Abdullah is the son of the current ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah. Prince Miteb was born in Riyadh and did his military training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, graduating as a lieutenant and rising through the ranks of the Saudi military. Beginning a military career in the early 1980s, he eventually was appointed commander of the Saudi National Guard in November 2010 — a position previously held by King Abdullah himself — and later appointed minister of the National Guard in May 2013. He currently is a member of the Saudi Council of Ministers, the Military Service Council and vice president of the Supreme Committee of the National Festival for Heritage and Culture — the Janadriyah. Prince Miteb’s resume of appointments demonstrates the high level of regard he holds with his father as a capable and influential member of the next generation of Saudi royal family leadership.
Yet Prince Miteb’s influence is not merely owing to the number of appointments he enjoys, but rather the actions he has taken over the past few years. These actions are grounded in four fundamental principles. The first is the importance of stability within the broader Middle East. Prince Miteb understands that stability in countries such as Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen or Egypt prevents subversive regional actors from gaining undue influence. For example, in 2011 he ordered the National Guard to intervene in Bahrain, thus preventing an American ally (Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet) from slipping away to Iranian influence and from creating further instability in the Persian Gulf.
Salman Aldossary, Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Alawsat, writes more on the fact that the Saudi government is condemning the attack on Shi’ite worshipers in the Eastern Province by Sunni extremists. It truly is noteworthy and a first of its kind.
Aldossary is a bit too sanguine about how inclusive the Saudi government has been toward its Shi’ite citizens, though. Certain — Shi’a — sections of the Eastern Province were put pretty far down the infrastructure development list. The Shi’ites have had problems getting permission to build new mosques while there seems to be no limit on Sunni ability to do so. Textbooks deprecated Shi’ism and its followers and taught only Sunni orthodoxy. There are still barriers facing Shi’ites in obtaining certain government jobs. In calling protests by the Shi’ite population “provocations by a foreign power,” the government has clouded the ability to distinguish legitimate protest from foreign interference: any protest is cast as Iran’s fingers in the pie.
This could be a start to significant change. It’s a significant act, but it needs to be followed up with more acts that show that the government truly intends to be inclusive.
The Crime that Changed the Face of Saudi Arabia
Last week, the winds of change blew with a vengeance in Saudi Arabia, when armed terrorists opened fire on visitors to a Shi’ite Husseiniyah (meeting house) in the Al-Ahsa province, killing eight people, among them three children. True, this is not the first time Saudi Arabia has witnessed a crime of this nature, where innocent civilians and children have lost their lives. In fact, it has seen even worse. But it is the first time such terrorist acts have played on the country’s dissonant sectarian chord in such an ugly and dangerous way, in an attempt to fan the flames of sedition and strife between its people. It is also the first time Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, and its entire Council of Religious Scholars, have come out in defense of Saudi Shi’ites in this way, and they were joined by all groups in society—unequivocally and without pretense.
It is not surprising for us in Saudi Arabia to witness Sunni members of the country’s security forces giving their lives in order to protect their fellow Shi’ite brothers. Nor is it surprising for us to witness the country’s interior minister traveling to the site of the attack to pay his respects to the families of those killed. The real surprise here, in my opinion, is that the forces seeking to incite sectarian hatred and strife between Saudis have not, on this occasion, succeeded in doing so among the vast majority of the population. This time, it was the love of Saudis for their country and their depth of feeling and sadness over the tragedy that befell their fellow citizens, that prevailed—and not the “sectarian project” that has been insidiously at work in the country for years. This time it failed miserably, and the attack in Al-Ahsa—whose perpetrators no doubt thought the incident would help further their cause—may well be the knockout punch that will end this sectarian project once and for all.
There is no denying that there are still transgressions being committed against some Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia; but we must of course make the distinction between transgressions sanctioned by the state and those committed by individuals, who no doubt think that through these actions they are upholding their “rights,” when in fact they are committing an affront to the law in a most blatant manner.
In his column for Arab News Mshari Al-Zaydi counts out the toll of terrorist attacks in the Arab world over the past week. He uses that count to excoriate Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs for not following its own rules in dealing with religious extremism in the mosques over which it claims control. With over 94,000 mosques in the country, it seems impossible for the authorities to monitor them in order to prevent extremist messages being fed to worshipers.
The column is a good example of how Saudi media relies on the readers’ understanding of issues in such a way that it can avoid actually stating facts or naming names. When he refers to the attack in Al-Ahsa, he means — but does not say — attacks on Shi’a taking part in Ashoura ceremonies. The reader is expected to know that a Husseiniya is a Shi’ite thing and that Al-Ahsa is one of the informal centers of the Shi’ite population. He does not say the attackers were Sunnis — the reader should know that, but won’t find that fact stated explicitly in media reports.
It is heartening, though, to see the Saudi religious establishment condemning sectarian violence, even if obliquely. This is something it should have been doing 50 years ago. It could not, however, because it supported the reasons, if not all of the tactics, and it became an informal government policy. Just another thing that was not stated bluntly, but simply understood. The country now gets to reap the results of what it had permitted to be sown.
A Week of Terrorist Attacks
In just one week, we have seen terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Iraq.
In Saudi Arabia, a group of militants attacked citizens in Al-Ahsa, killing and injuring a group of people who had gathered at a Shi’ite Husseiniya (meeting house). The gunmen, along with those who assisted this terrorist operation, were quickly pursued by Saudi security forces. One police officer and two soldiers?defenders of the nation—were killed in the subsequent counterterror response.
In Tunisia, we saw a new form of terrorism with gunmen targeting a bus transporting soldiers, resulting in the death of five.
In Egypt, there has been a series of explosions and attacks this week, not least an attack on a train that killed at least four people.
This is a summary of the events of just one week in our region. However, the most striking thing is that while terrorism is nothing new, the terrorist acts that we have seen this week have all been unprecedented in one form or another.
In Saudi Arabia, we witnessed an excellent response to the Ahsa crime from the state and the people. Saudi security forces, utilizing two decades of counterterror experience, did their duty competently while the media also played a crucial role. Saudi Arabia’s judiciary has also played an important role and we have noticed the stringent sentences that have been issued recently against terrorism-related crimes after years of deliberation.