The UK’s The Telegraph newspaper runs an interview with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense. It’s certain wide-ranging and the reforms mentioned, if brought to fruition, would represent a major change in the country. For the better.
Revealed: Saudi Arabia’s manifesto for change in the face of rumours of coup plots
In rare public statement, advisers to all-powerful Prince Mohammed bin Salman tell Telegraph of plans for opening up country’s economy and society
Richard Spencer, Middle East Editor
Saudi Arabia has issued a manifesto for change in the face of rumours of coup plots and international pressure, ranging from economic reform to the role of women and allowing human rights groups into the country.
At a time when the country’s internal politics are under more scrutiny than at any time for decades, close advisers to the new King Salman and his powerful son have taken the unprecedented step of outlining a detailed programme of its future government to The Telegraph.
It amounts to a Thatcherite programme of budget cuts, increasing the role of the private sector, and reforms to the way the kingdom is governed.
It obliquely acknowledges that radical changes in the royal family since the king acceded to the throne in January, including the sidelining of a generation of older princes and the former heir to the throne, have met with opposition. There have been claims outside the country that disgruntled princes are attempting to mount a coup to replace the king with one of his brothers.
But the statement of principles shown to the Telegraph says that the way the country has been run since its founding a century ago must give way to “youth”. “These resolute and decisive changes may have annoyed some people but it does not amount to a crisis,” it says.
Saudi media are all highlighting a report from the Associated Press about the interception of an Iranian dhow in the Indian Ocean that was carrying arms ostensibly intended for Houthi rebels in Yemen. The report says the interception was accomplished by the “Arab coalition,” but does not specify exactly which country’s or countries’ navy was involved.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: The Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen’s Shiite rebels said Wednesday that it has foiled an attempt by Iran to smuggle missiles and other weapons to the rebels aboard a fishing boat bound for Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies fear that Iran is actively providing aid to the rebels, known as Houthis, as a way to gain a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula. Iran acknowledges providing political support to the rebels but denies arming them directly.
The weapons seizure took place early afternoon on Saturday, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) southeast of the Omani port of Salalah, according to a coalition statement carried by the SPA.
The ship was carrying 18 pieces of one type of anti-tank missile and 54 of another, as well as launchers and other equipment, according to the coalition. Fourteen crew members aboard the ship have been arrested, including the captain, identified as Bakhsh Jakal.
In the ping-pong of American legal process, Saudi Arabia has been dropped from a suit by 9/11 victims’ families by an American court. The Associated Press runs the following account, noting that the decision will again be appealed.
Judge drops Saudi Arabia from Sept. 11 lawsuit
LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Saudi Arabia was dismissed Tuesday as a defendant in lawsuits brought by the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks by a judge who said lawyers had failed to show sufficient evidence linking the country to the attacks.
U.S. District Judge George Daniels said in a written ruling that lawyers for the plaintiffs had failed to show facts sufficient to overcome Saudi Arabia’s sovereign immunity. He also dismissed as a defendant the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia & Herzegovina on the grounds that the charity is an instrument of Saudi Arabia and thus covered as well by sovereign immunity.
The judge wrote that evidence would have to show that Saudi Arabia or its officials took actions to support the terrorist plot. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia.
Al Arabiya TV reports that Saudi authorities have broken an ISIS cell operating out of Riyadh and Dammam. Among those killed in the raids was one among the “most-wanted” terrorists in the country. This cell is believed responsible for the attack on a mosque in Abha last month that killed several security/military personnel.
The Saudi Interior Ministry announced Monday it has intercepted an ISIS cell during four simultaneous operations in the Saudi capital Riyadh and the eastern city of Dammam, Al Arabiya News Channel reported on Monday.
During the operations, two ISIS members were killed and three others were arrested.
The ministry confirmed that the cell was linked to the suicide bomber behind the Abha mosque attack that took place in August.
The government of Saudi Arabia is taking grave exception to Iran’s criticisms of how it handles Haj, Arab News reports. It widely quotes Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir bluntly telling Iran to stop trying to make political hay out of the recent tragedy.
NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia firmly rejected Iran’s criticism of its handling of the Haj pilgrimage Saturday after Tehran demanded an inquiry into the Mina stampede.
“I believe the Iranians should know better than to play politics with a tragedy that has befallen people who were performing their most sacred religious duty,” Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said, according to AFP.
Al-Jubeir, delivering remarks along US Secretary of State John Kerry, insisted that Saudi Arabia was on top of the situation.
“The Kingdom has had a long history of spending tremendous resources to care for the pilgrimage to ensure that the pilgrims who come there have a successful pilgrimage,” he said.
“And we will reveal the facts when they emerge. And we will not hold anything back. If mistakes were made, who made them will be held accountable,” Al-Jubeir said.
Saudi media, typified by this Saudi Gazette report, are suggesting that a group of Iranian pilgrims eager to reach Mina to complete their Haj, ignored their scheduled travel and ended up causing the stampede that has killed over 700 people.
‘Violation of rules by Iranian pilgrims caused stampede’
Saudi Gazette report
MINA — Violation of the pilgrims’ grouping regulations by some 300 Iranian pilgrims resulted in the stampede in Mina which killed 769 Hajis and injured 934, Asharq Al-Awsat daily reported on Saturday quoting an official of the Tawafa Establishment for the Iranian Pilgrims.
The official, who requested anonymity, said the violation of rules by this group of Iranian pilgrims started from their very first movement from Muzdalifah on Thursday morning to Jamarat to perform the first day’s stoning ritual. They were clearly instructed to go to their tents from Muzdalifah instead of moving to Jamarat with their baggage. They had been instructed to take rest in their tents and wait for the time allotted for them to perform their stoning ritual.
Moreover, these pilgrims moved back to their tents from Jamarat through Street 204 in the opposite direction of pilgrims’ movement, the official said. The flow of pilgrims from two opposite directions resulted in the overcrowding and the stampede ensued, the official said.
According to sources, there are cameras installed in the tunnels leading to Jamarat and it will be obvious from the visuals that the Iranian pilgrims committed violations with regard to their movement to Jamarat.
Iran, meanwhile, blames Saudi government “incompetence”:
According to an analysis by Al Arabiya TV, over the period 1915-2015, fully 20% of the world’s 59.5 million refugees have come from the Arab world. While world wars, droughts, and famines have been drivers behind the displacement of people around the globe, for the Arab world, the push has come primarily from failed governments and actions they’ve brought upon themselves.
1915-2015: 1 in 5 displaced people come from the Arab world
Rajia Aboulkheir | Al Arabiya News
A photograph of a dead Syrian Kurdish boy who drowned in the Mediterranean and washed ashore on the Turkish coast shook the world earlier this month – and personalized the collective tragedy of many Middle Eastern refugees.
Aylan Kurdi, whose death has become the central image of the ongoing refugee crisis, was trying to flee Syria but instead became the latest example showing how the Arab world has been an important producer of the world’s 59.5 million forcibly displaced people over the past 100 years.
According to calculations by Al Arabiya News – based on U.N. figures – the Arab world has produced nearly 12.3 million refugees during the past 100 years.
The number remained of refugees around the world remained unclear until 1951 and the creation of the Geneva Convention hosted by the UNHCR, making the precise figure of Arab immigrants during the first and second World Wars sharply disputed.
Pushing back against media reports that Saudi Arabia (and the other GCC countries) aren’t doing enough to help Syrian refugees, the Saudi Press Agency is claiming (and Saudi media are repeating) the claim that the KSA has, in fact, received 2.5 million Syrians since the start of the Syrian crisis. The piece notes that the Saudis aren’t treating them as “refugees” per se by placing them in camps, but has elected to merge them into the general expat community. The Saudis have also provided assistance to countries where refugees have fled, have donated millions of dollars toward relief efforts, as well as provided direct humanitarian relief.
Saudi Arabia has received around 2.5 million Syrians since the start of the conflict in their country, an official source in the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has revealed, elaborating that the Kingdom has adopted a policy not to treat these Syrians as refugees, or place them in refugee camps “in order to ensure their dignity and safety.”
Speaking to the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the MoFA official explained that Saudi Arabia initially did not “intend to speak about its efforts to support Syrian brothers and sisters, during their distress, as it has, since the beginning of the problem,” adding that “Saudi Arabia dealt with the situation from a religious and humane perspective, and did not wish to boast about its efforts or attempt to gain media coverage.”
Insofar as Saudi media reporting goes, King Salman’s visit to Washington and meeting with Pres. Obama went swimmingly. Both countries are to build on their generations of friendship and cooperation. Both countries have similar views on the major issues. Asharq Alawsat‘s report is typical:
Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States remain as strong as ever and are entering a new stage, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz said in a statement as he wrapped up his historic visit to Washington late on Saturday.
During the visit, his first to the US since acceding to the Saudi throne, King Salman met with US President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss the fight against terrorism, the crises in Yemen and Syria, and the Iran nuclear deal.
“The meetings which we held, especially regarding our new strategic alliance for the 21st century, will contribute, God willing, to deepening these relations and strengthening them, and in boosting our cooperation in order to benefit both our friendly countries and peoples,” King Salman said.
“I wish to reiterate our strategic and historic relations which were formed during the historic meeting between King Abdulaziz Al Saud and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, and which since then have been further developed in a number of areas.”
King Salman headed to Tangiers in Morocco following his departure from Washington on Saturday evening, and was seen off at the airport by a number of US officials.
During the visit King Salman met with Saudi university students currently enrolled in the US, as well as Saudi journalists, writers, and academics residing in the country.
Following the meeting with King Salman, President Obama agreed to speed up the delivery of US weapons to the Kingdom to shore up defenses against potential threats by Iran—part of promises made by the president to Gulf countries in May, before the announcement of the Iran nuclear deal in July.
Asharq Alawsat also editorializes on the visit, pointing out that while Saudi Arabia is no longer dependent upon the US for its security, it appreciates it and anticipates that it will continue into the future.
A piece in Saudi Gazette shows that the 21st C. is popping up in Saudi Arabia in a way that’s causing some discomfort.
Saudi citizens are secretly recording their interactions with officials. When the official oversteps the bounds of propriety, the videos of the interactions pop up on YouTube and other social media. This, to the dismay of the officials, results in social media firestorms and, often, the firing of the official.
It’s a major change from the past where what officials did was what officials did, no questions asked. If it came down to a matter of “he said X and the other he said Y,” whichever was the official was taken as the fact of the matter. Video recordings take this argument out of the equation.
But recording without permission is against the law. Those doing the recording could be legally punished for violating that law. Only the weight of social pressure protects them.
Even in countries like the US where recording officials in the performance of their official duties is protected by law, not everyone agrees. Officials, including police officers, can be very unhappy with the fact that their actions are recorded and can serve to challenge their own versions of what happened. Nor have all officials come to understand that the recordings are, in fact, protected by law.
Technology can be disruptive and omnipresent cameras and an Internet upon which to effortlessly publish the resulting images is proving very disruptive.
Filming officials, ethical or not?
Two recent incidents have sparked a public debate, yet again, on whether the act of filming officials secretly while at work or abusing their positions is ethical or not. In the debate, the fact that the act is done in stealth is the only arguing point against secretly filming officials to reveal their wrongdoing, while many others believe that the act is justifiable.
The two incidents showed officials acting high-handedly when citizens were merely seeking answers to their questions. In the first incident, an official in the education department was filmed kicking a parent out of his office after verbally abusing him. The clip, which was widely circulated on social media and YouTube, showed the official shouting at the parent, before virtually kicking him out of his office. As a result, the Education Ministry fired the education official in the Northern Borders area for his arrogant behavior.
International media have been taking a swipe at the nations of the GCC (read: rich Arab oil states) for not doing enough for Syrian refugees. Saudi media have picked up on it and are suggesting that more can be done, but that the GCC isn’t going to provide complete relief.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed, in a piece for Arab News (though the article isn’t yet posted on that papers website, it’s available from Al Arabiya TV), argues that the Gulf states are doing a lot already. They’re throwing tons of money at various relief efforts and agencies. They’re not keen to take in tens of thousands of refugees, though.
Al-Rashed points out that Syrians represent the third largest foreign group in Saudi Arabia. But they’re there as workers. The Saudis have lifted some bars by, for example, allowing Syrian workers to bring their families to the KSA. So, at least some would-be refugees are finding safe haven in Saudi Arabia.
The GCC countries are already filled with foreigners, nearly all invited in on work visas. But work visas can be cancelled and the workers sent home. That’s not the case with refugees. Unless and until the situation in Syria improves to the point where they are able to and want to return, they’re going to be in Saudi Arabia for a long time. Based on the way Syrians handled Palestinian refugees, that could be for generations. This is a problem that none of the Gulf states wish to bring upon themselves.
The Gulf and Syrian refugees
The crisis of refugees – Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis and others – is everyone’s responsibility amid the international community’s failure to support them. No one, including Gulf countries, have an excuse to not support them. Arab Gulf countries have been recently criticized about this, but some critics have aims that are completely irrelevant to the humanitarian side of it.
Gulf countries must of course accommodate more people and grant more care to Arabs and Africans fleeing wars in their countries. However, it is important to look at the entire picture, not just rely on people who seek to serve their own interests, or reporters who only know part of the truth.
A big percentage of the funds spent by international organizations and received by governments who host refugees, such as Lebanon and Jordan, come from Gulf countries. The latter are thus one of the major funders of about 3 million Syrian and Yemeni refugees in different countries.
Arab News provides a concise history of Saudi students studying in the US. Starting with a handful of students on scholarship in the 1940s and 1950s, the number now exceeds 125,000, male and female students. This year, a record 10,491 new students will be arriving.
Saudi Arabia and the United States have enjoyed a fruitful relationship for over eight decades. This has been driven by shared interests and a vision of the late King Abdul Aziz to ensure that the Kingdom has wide and beneficial relations with the entire world, without prejudicing deep-held values and principles based on Islam.
With the discovery of oil, the Kingdom used its newfound economic status to ensure rapid development on all fronts. Apart from a massive focus on upgrading its infrastructure, there was a particular focus on the education and training of its citizens on the secular and religious fronts. This was based on the recognition that people are the true wealth of the nation.
Under the guidance of the late King Abdul Aziz, there were various institutions of learning set up in the Kingdom, with top educators brought in from other Arab countries. In addition, in 1927, Saudi citizens were granted scholarships to study in other Arab countries. It was only later that the king expanded the scholarship program to include the top universities in Europe and the United States.