When will Saudi women achieve equality with Saudi men? Not anytime soon, I’m afraid. Saudi Gazette reports that the Grand Mufti has waded into the fray calling those who would see them as equal ‘decadent and immoral’. Women, he seems to say, are too silly to be taken seriously and men must be kind in their condescension of them. But never, no never, should men and women be allowed to work side-by-side in the workplace.

This would be a laughable attitude except that it isn’t. This is coming from the highest religious leader in the country, a man who is considered to know more about what God wants than the common man. He even draws a government salary to espouse his views.

Sorry, Saudi women… the clock measuring your progress just got set back a century or two.

Mufti slams advocates of free mixing of sexes
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The advocates of intermingling between men and women at the workplace want decadence and immoral behavior to spread among Muslims, said Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Alsheikh.

Giving his Friday sermon at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh, he said such mixing poses a great danger to society and women in particular.

The Grand Mufti also stressed the importance of not taking divorce lightly, warning men against making hastened decisions in issuing concerning their family life.

He said that women can lead their husbands to divorcing them when they do not adhere to rules of modesty and that men must help their wives, protect their rights and be patient with them.

“Islam has taught men not to focus on their wives’ follies and to forgive their mistakes. They must look at their wives’ virtues and positive attitudes,” the mufti said.

December:08:2013 - 11:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

The state of the judiciary in Saudi Arabia is problematic. While the country has undertaken a program of massive legal reform, training and re-training judges, and working to codify laws, individual judges remain an issue.

Saudi Gazette/Okaz front-page an article about a handful of judges who are being relieved of their positions and one who will be facing trial. Their actions range from sending out inappropriate Tweets to financial corruption.

Judges sacked for corruption, absence, lack of discipline
Adnan Al-Shabrawi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Judicial authorities are completing procedures to relieve four judges from their posts for corruption and discipline-related reasons.

Okaz/Saudi Gazette learned that one of the judges was accused of financial corruption and is still detained in a Riyadh prison.

Another judge was relieved from his post for remaining absent from work for a whole year while the remaining two were dismissed for disciplinary reasons such as inappropriate tweeting, even though they were repeatedly warned.

The judge accused of financial corruption, identified as F.Y., is expected to stand trial within the next few weeks before a disciplinary committee.

He will also be tried before the Supreme Judicial Council and will be able to defend himself.

November:18:2013 - 08:53 | Comments Off | Permalink

Abdulrahman al-Rashed offers commentary on the current idea that Saudi Arabia will obtain nuclear weapons from Pakistan if Iran produces its own.

He notes that Iran cannot claim self-defense as a motive for nuclear weapons acquisition, but Saudi Arabia most certainly can. Iranian weapons directly threaten the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia will either have to obtain its own or have treaties with partners whom it can trust to reply to a nuclear attack on the Kingdom. Given that Saudi Arabia does not trust the US to act in the Saudi interest these days, that strongly implies that Saudi Arabia will acquire its own bombs.

Saudi Arabia’s nuclear bomb
Abdulrahman al-Rashed

There has been recent talk of Saudi Arabia’s supposed determination to buy a nuclear bomb from Pakistan. Firstly, is this even possible in light of the international agreements signed by both countries forbidding the owner of a nuclear weapon to transfer or sell it? This question is especially pertinent as Saudi Arabia is not allowed to manufacture such a weapon for military purposes. Secondly, would such nuclear weapon add any value to Saudi Arabia’s defense systems?

After buying Chinese missiles and after news of the secret deal was leaked, it was said that Saudi Arabia might use these missiles to carry nuclear warheads. However, in 1988 the kingdom signed a treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons technology. Saudi Arabia now abides to that treaty, along with 190 other countries. There have always been stories and skeptical media campaigns stating that Saudi Arabia intends to become a nuclear power. Such stories were supported by claims made by an employee who defected from the Saudi embassy in New York. He said that Saudi Arabia is building a nuclear bomb to support Iraq. Before that, a U.S. intelligence analyst had said that Saudi Arabia supported Pakistan’s nuclear project with an investment of $2 billion.

November:16:2013 - 08:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

Marc Lynch, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University has a good piece in Foreign Policy magazine.

In it he notes the cynical, political use to which sectarian differences are used as a matter of identify politics rather than actual, theological differences. It’s worth a read.

The thrust of his piece is about the often-contrived conflict between Sunni and Shi’a populations. He mentions the tensions between Muslims and Christian Copts in Egypt. He might have expanded it to include the visceral, but unfounded hatred of Jews. Or, for that matter, the sense of some American fundamentalist Christians that Islam is the problem.

The Entrepreneurs of Cynical Sectarianism

A group of Syrian-Americans arrived at an academic conference at Lehigh University last week in Bashar al-Assad T-shirts and draped in Syrian flags adorned with Assad’s face. They repeatedly heckled and interrupted speakers, and one told an opposition figure that he deserved a bullet in the head. When a speaker showed a slide picturing dead Syrian children, they burst into loud applause. When another speaker cynically predicted that Bashar would win a 2014 presidential vote, they cheered. In the final session, they aggressively interrupted and denounced a Lebanese journalist, with one ultimately throwing his shoe at the stage. The panel degenerated into a screaming match, until police arrived to clear the room.

This spectacle might seem notable in that it unfolded at an American university, but otherwise it would pass for an alarmingly normal day at the office in today’s toxically polarized Middle East. Such intense mutual hostility, irreconcilable narratives, and public denunciations are typical of any number of highly polarized political arenas across the region. A similar scene between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s military coup is all too easily imagined — just add bullets. That’s why the disproportionate focus on sectarian conflict as the defining feature of the emerging Middle East seems dangerously misplaced. Sunni-Shiite tensions are only one manifestation of how a number of deeper trends have come together in recent years to give frightening new power to identity politics writ large.

November:14:2013 - 12:44 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs an interview with Denise Spellberg, author of the new book Thomas Jefferson’s Quran: Islam and the Founders. The book takes a look at how the founders of the American republic viewed Islam and how those views colored the writing of the US Constitution and state laws.

The author notes that 18th C. Americans generally shared the negative attitudes of their European contemporaries, but that exception men were far-seeing in certain regards, though seemingly blind in others.

The book certainly looks interesting.

Islam at the Birth of America
Mohammad Ali Salih

Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Denise A. Spellberg is an American scholar of Islamic history. She is an associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas and holds a PhD from Columbia University. She is also the author of Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past, which looks at the portrayal of Aisha in Islamic tradition.

Spellberg is perhaps best known in the media for the controversy that surrounded the Sherry Jones novel, The Jewel of Medina. Spellberg sharply criticized the novel from a historical perspective, informing publisher Random House that the book might result in violence by radical Muslims.

In her latest book, she looks at the impact that Islam, in particular a copy of the Qur’an owned by Thomas Jefferson, had on the birth of the US Constitution and the concept of religious freedom during the infancy of the United States of America.

Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders is published by Knopf Publishing Group and was released in October 2013.

November:13:2013 - 09:17 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Even in a country as tradition-bound as Saudi Arabia, change happens.

Turky Al-Dakheel, writing for the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh (here translated by Saudi Gazette), records several instances in which things that were once seen as too new, too modern, too likely to cause social discord have been incorporated — even embraced — by their erstwhile critics.

Schools, schools for girls, radio, TV, satellite TV, even social media were once excoriated as imported occasions of sin. Not only were people upset by them, but people died protesting (and protecting) the innovations.

As much as one might wish it, cultures and societies do not remain static. Change is inevitable. The only question, really, is how that change is managed.

Society and forbidding
Turky Al-Dakheel | Al-Riyadh

A long time ago, news about banning satellite dishes was the debate of the season. Satellite dishes caused a social crisis at that time. Many flyers that explain the danger of satellite dishes were distributed. They linked satellite dishes with immorality. A Number of extremists bought guns to fire at satellite dishes installed on rooftops. There were many cases in cities around the Kingdom where satellite dishes were fired. If you browse the Internet and search using the words danger of satellite dishes, you will observe the unnecessary fear we used to live in. Nowadays, those who were warning people on the threat of satellite dishes have their own private channels.

Those who do not own channels have a special program on an Islamic satellite channel, or in a Lebanese channel that talks about fashion and music. All of the sudden, the intimidation from these satellite channels vanished. After we got used to satellite channels, another crisis appeared. Mobile phones and Bluetooth were the new debate. Many people were warned from carrying mobile phones with cameras and Bluetooth. People used to set up checkpoints to search for mobile phones with cameras. Nowadays, some Imams are reading their Friday sermon from their iPad’s, other use special Quran applications to lead worshipers in Tarweeh prayer. All of the sudden, the threat of mobile phones with cameras is gone and is now socially accepted.

November:02:2013 - 08:17 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV runs an interesting op-ed on the place of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — the ‘religious police’ — in modern Saudi Arabia. It is all the more interesting because the piece, a blunt look at the Commission, is appearing in a Saudi publication.

The writer, Abdullah Hamidaddin, is noted for his critical thinking about Islam. What he writes is not always to the taste of many Saudis, particularly the religiously conservative among them. He has been condemned and threatened with legal process for expressing his views.

In the piece, Hamidaddin reviews the history of ‘promoting virtue and preventing vice’ in the Islamic world and its development into an institution. He says that focusing on the behavior of the Commission, good or bad, is not a sufficient way of looking at it. Instead, it is important to see its place in both government (it is a government agency) and in society. While the organization may have played a useful role in channeling zealots into relatively harmless jobs in the past, they now seem to be seeking authority above that of the state. While a policeman might be an agent of the state, the religious policeman is an agent of God.

Just how the agent is to know the will of God is an interesting question, one that approaches blasphemy, in fact. With no overarching religious hierarchy to determine orthodoxy, there’s too much room for individual interpretation to take on moral force that far exceeds the human remit.

God’s modern agents: the Saudi religious police
Abdullah Hamidaddin

It was Saudi National Day. Many of the people in the street were euphoric. All of the religious zealots were outraged. The former were celebrating, relaxing, going wild and having a good time. The latter were watching the Will of God being challenged, virtue being transgressed, grave sin being committed. In such a situation things had to happen. Most zealots in Saudi Arabia have no formal authority so they simply watched in anger and dismay. But there are about 4000 of those who are employees in a government institution whose mandate is to fight sin. They work in The Committee for Promotion of Virtue and The Prevention of Vice. In Saudi Arabia it is called “the committee” while popular foreign media calls them “the religious police.” All of the committee’s members were aware that the government has makes an exception as to what is publicly allowed on National Day. They knew that they should not take action against the “sins” committed on that day. But self-control is not a quality zealots are known for, particularly in the presence of those defying God Almighty’s Will. So there were a number of cases where they harassed celebrators. But all of those were over shadowed by the tragic death of two citizens. We do not know all the details yet. But we do know that there was a car chase between the committee and another car. And that the committee’s car rammed the other one which lost control and went off a bridge. One driver was immediately killed. The second died later in hospital. They were brothers.

The word “Luckily” does not seem appropriate in such a situation. Luck failed the two brothers. Yet for the sake of justice “luckily” someone had videoed the chase and the wrecked car on his mobile phone. He uploaded it to YouTube and it went viral. Public outrage followed. After a brief attempt to deny any relation to it, the committee resorted to attacking the character of drivers. They were drunk it was claimed. Later tests would show no traces of alcohol or narcotics in either of the bothers’ blood. Eventually the story got too big for them to cover, and they promised a “fair” investigation.

October:04:2013 - 08:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

According to a website dedicated to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Aal ash-Shaikh has repeated his 2012 call for the banning of all Christian churches in the Arabian Peninsula. Basing his belief, apparently, on a hadith that has the Prophet Mohammed declaring that no two different faiths can exist in Arabia, the Grand Mufti wants to purge the region of any but Muslim places of worship.

Never mind that the hadith the Grand Mufti relies upon is contradicted by the text of the Quran or by millennia of Islamic practice. He wants what he wants, though why he chose this moment to reiterate his intolerance is puzzling.

Saudi Mufti again calls for destruction of all churches on Arabian Peninsula

Riyadh, September 30, 2013: Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Abdulaziz Bin Abdullah has once again called for the destruction of all Churches on the Arabian Peninsula.

Bin Abdullah, head of the Ulema Council and the Standing Committee on Fatwas, made this statement after a presentation by the Kuwaiti parliamentarian Osama Al-Munawer of the bill that bans construction of new non-Muslim religious buildings in Kuwait.

The Mufti stated that, according to Islamic law, all churches in the region must be demolished; i.e., Islam is the only legal religion here. The words of Muhammad that “there cannot be two religions on the Arabian peninsula” the head of the Sunni always interprets in favor of Islam.

October:02:2013 - 08:53 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Writing in Saudi-owned Asharq Alawsat, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed revisits the 1993 Oslo Accord. He finds that current regional understanding of the agreement and its failure are a matter of historic revisionism created to serve the goals of particular countries and groups, all of which used the Palestinians as pawns to further their own interests.

Opinion: The Oslo Accords and Historical Revisionism
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed

The majority of those who have written about the Oslo Accords—whose 20th anniversary went largely unacknowledged last week—are of the view that the agreement is dead, but not yet buried.

They are justified in their view that the agreement has been dead for a long time, but they are wrong to blame its failure entirely on Israel’s actions. There are many saboteurs of the Oslo Accords including: Saddam Hussein, Hafez Al-Assad, his successor Bashar Al-Assad, Muammar Gaddafi, Iran’s mullahs, and finally Hezbollah, the group that, for decades, has deceptively presented itself to the Arabs as the primary force of resistance against Israel.

The agreement itself was not a dismal failure, but rather a milestone in acknowledging the 50 year struggle of the Palestinians. It also validated the pressure exerted by the international community in supporting the rights of the Palestinians, or so it was thought. Israel was obligated to accept the agreement, which caused uproar among the Israeli public who judged the signing a treacherous act that empowered the Palestinians. Two years later, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in punishment for signing the agreement with late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

For Assad and the Iranians it was vital to sabotage the agreement, which they orchestrated indirectly through their Palestinian agents. Palestine, for them, is the goose that lays the golden egg: a conflict in the region that grants them legitimacy. What is Assad’s raison d’être either in Syria or the Arab world? What is Hezbollah’s raison d’être? And what is Hezbollah’s justification for taking over the Lebanese state with their arms? The universal excuse used by all of these actors to vindicate their actions is the defence of the Palestinian Cause.

Even before Oslo, these actors wrestled with the late Arafat and attempted to eradicate him both as a person and as a cause because he refused to be their pawn. They even pitted Palestinian opposition against him, like Ahmad Jibril and Abu Nidal.

September:19:2013 - 07:10 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

After years of sometimes acrimonious debate and discussion, the Saudi Ministry of Education has finally ordered girls schools — both state and private — to incorporate Physical Education as part of the curriculum. Now, it’s a matter of finding, or training, teachers and coaches to lead the classes safely. In a country that has denied women the opportunity to take part in physical education and sports, this is not a small matter.

Even minimal exercise, though, is more than was was previously available.

Include PE, girls’ schools told
Saudi Gazette report

Riyadh – Minister of Education Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah has instructed all Directorates of Education in the Kingdom to include physical education (PE) classes in the weekly school schedule for female students, an Arabic language daily newspaper reported on Saturday.

Ministry spokesman Mohammad Al-Dekhaini said that these instructions are in concurrence with Islamic teachings that allow women to practice sports with certain conditions.

He said that the minister, who issued these instructions out of his concern for the health of girls students, asked private schools to prepare suitable and properly equipped areas for this purpose. These sports activities should take into consideration the students’ age. Students are also to wear suitable sports wear that covers their bodies.

September:15:2013 - 08:33 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Yesterday, the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, saw several events that unfortunately played upon American perceptions of Islam and Muslims.

The first was the so-called ‘Million Muslim March’ in Washington, DC. Organized by a group called American-Muslim Political Action Committee (AMPAC), the group drew only a few hundred participants. It did, however, draw thousands of others — including fundamentalist Christians — in counter protest. AMPAC has not helped its public image in the US by seemingly joining cause with the “9/11 Truthers“, questioning whether Al-Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The group’s principal figure, MD Rabbi Alam, has not endeared himself generally due to his anti-Semitism, either. The group does not have wide support among the American Muslim community, whether on individual or organizational levels. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), currently the largest US Muslim group (or so it claims) repudiated the March according to Al Arabiya TV.

On the other side of the crazy coin, the Rev. Terry Jones planned to burn 2,998 Qurans — one for each of the deaths on 9/11. Instead, he found himself arrested in Pasco Co., Florida on numerous charges, including the felony charge of transporting fuel on state roads and openly carrying a firearm. County police had met with Jones beforehand to assure him that they would support his freedom of speech, but they would not overlook any violations of the law. Apparently, he did not believe them. Unhappily for me, as a result of the arrest, Jones is thinking of moving his mission from Pasco Co. to Manatee Co., just a few miles from me.

September:12:2013 - 07:42 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

A very interesting article from Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV today, suggesting that poor public relations efforts on the part of the Saudi and Qatari governments has led to a lack of general enthusiasm for taking action against Syria.

The article reports that the governments have spend billions of dollars in supporting the Free Syrian Army — just which factions they have supported is unreported — with little to show for it. Instead of arms, might those government have been more successful if they had lobbied both the publics and the legislatures of Western countries?

PR is a two-edged sword, as the article points out. Lobbying by the government of Kuwait in 1990-91 may have swayed a lot of public opinion, but when the lobbying efforts were exposed, many thought (and still think) that they were underhanded and less than honest. This has affected both the utility of this sort of PR campaign and damages the credibility of those who use it and those who end up agreeing with the message.

Nevertheless, more than 100K dead and over 2 million refugees ought to be a compelling story… as Stalin reputedly said, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

As things stand today, the US is preparing to take some sort of punitive action against Syria. The GCC and the Arab League are all in agreement that some sort of action is necessary. Other Western governments aren’t completely convinced and some have decided against it. The UN, through its Secretary General, are against it. And Russia? Russia is being ambiguous. It’s against it, but given irrefutable proof of Syrian government use of chemical weapons, might support a US attack.

Buying arms vs. ‘selling’ the strike: Do Gulf states need more PR on Syria?
Eman El-Shenawi – Al Arabiya

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have reportedly plugged billions of dollars in arms over the course of the Syrian conflict, emerging as the main foreign powers bankrolling the revolt.

But amid the West’s hesitation this week over launching a military strike to punish Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, indicators suggest the Gulf states have been shooting blanks.

Analysts now believe a portion of Gulf finances could have been better spent on a global anti-Assad/ pro-intervention public relations (PR) campaign.

Could such a PR drive have led us to see a different result in British parliament last week and more decisive moves on the Syrian conflict from the White House?

“If a Saudi-Qatari PR campaign had been running much earlier, say since six months ago, and had been well-executed, then yes,” Mudassar Ahmed, a political media analyst and chief executive of London-based PR agency Unitas, told Al Arabiya English on Tuesday.

September:04:2013 - 06:38 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
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