Al Arabiya TV reports that the new law regarding support for extremist groups is fully in action. An unnamed Saudi has been sentenced to eight years in prison for inciting protests, mocking the king, and criticizing security services. The criminalization of lèse-majesté is trouble, as is that of going to jail for criticizing a government institution. ‘Incitement to protest’ doesn’t sound like a very serious ‘crime’, unlike inciting to violence. And all over Twitter.
Yes, control over extremism needs to be done, but it needs to be done fairly and proportionately, not by overriding basic human rights.
A Saudi court on Sunday jailed an Islamist for eight years on charges of inciting protests, mocking the king and criticizing the country’s security services on Twitter, official news agency SPA reported.
The unidentified defendant was been convicted of inciting “families of those arrested for security reasons to protest by publishing Tweets and videos on YouTube,” justice ministry spokesman Fahd al-Bakran was quoted by SPA as saying.
Prosecutors also found the defendant guilty of “mocking” King Abdullah in addition to criticizing security services for arresting “promoters of extremists ideology.”
The court also banned the sentenced Saudi citizen from posting on social media or traveling for eight years.
While security forces have previously arrested the accused on similar charges, they were freed after pledging to refrain from such rhetoric again.
Another small step for woman…
The first all-female law firm has opened in Jeddah. What’s more, it includes the first female attorney to have presented a case before a Saud court.
First female law firm opened in Jeddah
Jeddah: FOUZIA KHAN
In what is being seen as a major boost for Saudi women seeking legal advice and help, Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran, the first Saudi woman lawyer who was issued license to practice law in the Kingdom, launched the first female law firm for the benefit of Saudi women on Wednesday.
Bayan Al-Zahran became the first Saudi woman lawyer when she appeared at the General Court in Jeddah for the first time in November last year to defend a client. She had been working for years as a legal consultant and had represented dozens of people in criminal and civil cases besides family disputes.
Al-Zahran told Arab News that the objective of her law firm is to fight for the rights of Saudi women and bring their problems before the court, since male lawyers in many cases couldn’t understand the problems and situations of a female plaintiff.
Saudi Arabia is moving forward in a full-court press to limit, restrain, and punish those promoting extremist forms of Islam, Asharq Alawsat reports. After the expiration of a two-week grace period, the government is acting on a broad front to enforce its decision to stop a number of groups it has identified as “terrorist organizations”. Among the groups are Al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi Hezbollah. Notably, the Houthi movement in Yemen is also declared a terrorist group. While only a handful of groups are currently listed (see below), the government says more groups will be named.
In the article, numerous Saudi officials charged with overseeing security and religious affairs are all stating their support and eagerness to get on board. The article also notes that several preachers have been arrested for violating the new law.
Riyadh and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Following Saudi Arabia’s official decision to designate a number of local and regional organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as terrorist groups, domestic and regional figures and analysts have moved to respond. Many local and regional figures have praised the decision, while also warning against potential future challenges.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Justice Minister Mohamed Issa affirmed the government’s duty to take all necessary legal measures to ensure domestic security and stability.
Issa praised the royal decree, which he said is based on protecting national security, adding that the recent escalation in the ideologies of such groups has been extremely harmful to public tranquility and the state has no choice but to seek to confront this.
The Saudi Justice Minister confirmed that the spread of these terrorist groups and their ideologies has harmed social cohesion in Saudi Arabia.
In another piece, Asharq Alawsat provides the text of the government’s statement, including a list of offenses and groups currently banned.
While designation of terrorist groups is useful, there are several elements of the statement that are troubling. The very first item on the list of offenses, for example, condemns those who promote “atheistic ideologies”. I’m not aware of any atheistic terrorist groups that are threatening Saudi Arabia at present.
The eighth item, “The pursuit of unsettling the social and national fabric, or the call for, participation in, or promotion of sit-ins, demonstrations, gatherings, collective statements, or any actions that touch the unity and stability of the Kingdom under any reason and in any form,” is also fraught with the potential for abuse. “The unity and stability of the Kingdom” is overbroad and open to interpretations that meet political ends at the expense of freedom of thought and expression. If it chose to do so, the government could make this to mean any criticism of the government, its members, or its actions. Calling for women to be given the right to drive could well fall under this rubric as, clearly, there are many in Saudi society who do not like the idea at all.
Given its past record of behavior toward Shi’ite groups, the government will have to be very careful that its designation of Shi’ite groups is not just another measure of abuse.
Saudi Arabia has formally declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization. Belonging to, supporting, or offering public sympathy toward the group is now against the law, Al Arabiya TV reports.
At the same time, the government has criminalized membership in or support of Hezbollah, as well as the al-Nusra Front and ISIS organizations now active in Syria.
Saudi Arabia blacklisted on Friday the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group among three other militant groups in the Middle East, Al Arabiya News Channel reported, citing a royal decree.
The Saudi terrorism list also includes the kingdom’s branch of the Shiite Hezbollah movement and the Syria-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front.
Hundreds of Saudi fighters are believed to have joined ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria. The Saudi authorities have extended a deadline for those fighters to return home.
The royal decree also criminalized taking membership in, supporting and sympathizing with any of those groups.
Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE, provides some analysis of why Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE decided to pull their ambassadors from Qatar yesterday. Among the reasons he cites are Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, its inability to rein in the firebrand cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Qatar’s machinations with Turkey to support the Brotherhood, and allegations that Qatar and Turkey are establishing spy networks in the GCC to report on anti-Brotherhood actions.
Gulf trio pull Qatar ambassadors – why now?
Dr. Theodore Karasik
Today, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. The statement from SPA stated that Qatar had not lived up to its agreements with the rest of the GCC states (from November 2013) regarding “among them and committing to principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other GCC countries and not supporting anyone who threatens the security and stability of GCC countries including organizations and individuals and not supporting the antagonistic media.” There are several significant reasons for this abrupt and sudden action.
First, Doha continues to support the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan). Ever since the ascension of Emir Tamim, and much to the chagrin of the rest of the GCC, the Qatari government is continuing to support all vestiges of the Ikhwan. Ikhwan institutions continue to function in Doha including associations and commercial entities.
Over at Asharq Alawsat, Abdulrahman al-Rashed offers his take on the issue. While less wide-ranging, he offers somewhat more depth.
In a surprise move and somewhat against the interest of Gulf Cooperation Council unity, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar. The reasons stated, according to this piece in Arab News based on news agency reports, is that Qatar is not getting with the program of toning down Islamic extremism in places like Syria. In particular, Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood runs counter to the policies of many of the GCC states. Also, by allowing people like the cleric Yusuf Qaradawi, resident in Qatar, to criticize the workings of individual state governments, Qatar is violating the rule about interfering in member states’ internal affairs.
While not stated, I suspect the chronic irritation of Qatar-backed Al-Jazeera TV is also a factor.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain said on Wednesday they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar because Doha had not implemented an agreement among Gulf Arab countries not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs.
The three Gulf Arab states followed what the local press described as a “stormy” late Tuesday meeting of foreign ministers from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh.
In a joint statement, the three states said GCC members had signed an agreement on Nov. 23 not to back “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals — via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media.”
Qatar had been a backer of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that is banned in most Gulf states.
Saudi Gazette front-pages a piece on a petition to the Shoura Council to end male guardianship in Saudi Arabia. A group of women have asked the Council to reevaluate the way in which Saudi women are constrained by having to seek male approval and authorization for actions that in any other country would be at the women’s own behest.
Women demand end to male guardianship
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — The system of male guardianship should end and the citizenship code amended so that Saudi women can grant citizenship to non-Saudi husbands and children, said a recent petition sent by 25 women activists to the Shoura Council on International Women’s Day (Mar. 8), Al-Hayat daily reported on Saturday.
In their letter, the activists, some of whom are university professors, called on the Council to take necessary measures to protect women’s rights and stop domestic violence against them.
Azizah Al-Yousif, one of the activists who signed the petition, said: “This petition renews our demands as women. We want our issues to be put on the top of the Council’s priority list.”
Thuraya Obaid and Lubna Al-Ansari, both Shoura Council members, promised to tackle most of the points raised in the petition, said Al-Yousif.
Arab News also covers the petition:
An interesting piece from Al Arabiya TV. Professor and media analyst Joe Khalil writes that the ubiquitous ‘man on the street’ interviews in the Arab world — the vox populi, may not quite be as ‘populi’ as one might expect.
He writes that increasingly, Arab media are being deft in finding the voices they want to hear from, the voices whose message they can assume. Rather than collecting the opinions of Arabs-at-large, they are focusing more on their own nationals — not necessarily a bad thing — but also picking them out in places where people of certain tendencies are likely to be found. You can be sure of getting a particular, narrow range of opinions if you’re pulling your interviewees out of a crowd of university students, just as you can be sure of getting different ones if you conduct your interviews as a country club or outside a religious establishment.
This practice — while hardly limited to Arab media — distorts the information we receive. Not only to media consumers tend to go to the media that will confirm or reconfirm their own preferences, Khalil notes, but by using only selected voices to stand for the ‘voice of the people’, the range of opinions narrows.
Since the 1990s, there has been a constant flurry of interest in investigating what Arabs think about, and how and what their likely collective actions might be. This trend of pulsing “Arab public opinion”- if it can be measured empirically – was strongly embedded in Western constructs of polling, understanding the public, the impact of media on audiences and some assumed shared principles of human behavior. Such trends have accelerated as an immediate policy response to the events of 9/11 and as a way of estimating Arab popular reactions about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the United States’ repeated case for “war on terror” and “democratization.” Similarly, a second major wave of interest in Arab public opinion emerged with a particular focus on discovering how and why young people, or Islamists, were mobilized in popular uprisings during the so-called “Arab Spring.”
The UAE’s Gulf News runs a report on the rise of Prince Mohammad Bin Naif, Minister of the Interior, as a replacement for Prince Bandar Bin Sultan as the point-man for Saudi efforts in Syria. Mohammad, who established the Saudi rehabilitation program for returned/captured jihadists, has been working to separate Syrian rebels battling the Al-Assad regime from the extremists who are also fighting, but for entirely different reasons. The mixing of the two groups has been a serious impediment to US efforts in Syria as the US is simply unwilling to provide support if it ends up in the wrong hands.
The article notes that among those looking at Saudi succession issues, Mohammad is rated as being very much in the game.
Riyadh (Reuters): Saudi Interior Minister Mohammad Bin Nayef, perhaps the most powerful younger prince in the ruling Al Saud family, is shaping Riyadh’s new emphasis on protecting the kingdom from a fresh wave of Islamist militancy inspired by the war in Syria.
The United States pulled out the stops for him when he visited Washington last week to prepare for President Barack Obama’s fence-mending trip to Riyadh next month.
Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Central Intelligence Agency chief John Brennan, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and National Security Agency director Keith Alexander all sat down with the 54-year-old, a veteran of Saudi Arabia’s fight against Al Qaida.
Prince Mohammad seems likely to be a central figure in the world’s top oil exporter for decades to come. Many Saudis say he is a strong candidate to become king one day.
“He’s now playing not only the role of Interior Minister, but also that of a senior diplomat and adviser to the king,” said Robert Jordan, US ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03.
Prince Mohammad, btw, escaped being killed by a suicide bomber back in 2009 who carried his bomb within his own body.
“The New Yorker” magazine’s online site runs an article about the consequences a Saudi woman is facing after writing about the meaning of beards in the Kingdom (“silly,” in her terms). The critique could have been applied to Pakistan as well, but the article focuses on Saudi Arabia.
It’s very clear that there are subtle and not-to-subtle messages being sent by beards — shape, length, color, as well as lack of a beard. The signalling is primarily used in a religious context to identify people who share the same beliefs. As the “New Yorker” writer notes, the beards of members of the Muslim Brotherhood differ from those of Salafis and the Al-Saud, including King Abdullah, wear them differently as well.
Messing around with religious signals can be risky because it’s seen as a challenge to one’s piety. And if there’s one thing the religiously conservatives hate — and fear — is that their piety be challenged. Sometimes, as here, the result is threats to one’s life and that of one’s family.
A Saudi Woman Is Threatened After Tweeting About Beards
The controversy began—as virtually all political and religious debate in Saudi Arabia does these days—with a provocative tweet. On January 18th, Souad al-Shammary, a liberal activist with more than a hundred thousand Twitter followers, tweeted her thoughts about the idea, popular among devout Saudis, that Muslim men should grow long beards in order to differentiate themselves from unbelievers. The notion was “silly,” Shammary wrote, pointing out that “Jews, priests, Communists and Marxists” have also been known to wear beards.
Shammary is the co-founder of a group that calls itself the Saudi Liberal Network, in a country where liberaliyeen—Saudis use the English word, giving it an Arabic plural—are so widely reviled that even prominent feminists and human-rights advocates shy away from the label. She has never been popular among Saudi conservatives. But her remarks about beards were met with an unusually violent reaction. Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani, a former imam at the Grand Mosque in Mecca (in 2008, when he became the first black man appointed to the post, some in the Kingdom dubbed him “the Saudi Obama”), announced that Shammary should be tried for insulting the Prophet, adding that he prayed for her to become blind and to lose the use of a hand.
In the past month, via Twitter, thousands of conservatives have echoed Kalbani’s remarks, attacking Shammary and calling for her to be put on trial. Some have gone a step further, accusing Shammary of apostasy, an offense that carries the death penalty under Sharia law. Last week, Shammary told an interviewer for the BBC World Service that she and her family had received so many threats that she had gone into hiding.
Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia is a massive consumer of electricity relative to many of its much more populous neighbors. And it’s getting to be a problem.
Most of the country’s electricity comes from burning petroleum — there’s no hydro power, very little coal power, and gas power is just starting to come on line. Solar power is still in the future, as are plans for nuclear power plants. The oil Saudi Arabia burns for itself — currently about four million barrels/day — is not available for export.
The article, based on economic reporting from the Arabic Al-Eqtisadiah, points to low efficiency equipment being one of the major sources of the problem, with air conditioning, one of the largest consumer uses, falling far behind international standards of efficiency.
Saudi individuals use on average nine times more electricity than their fellow Arab counterparts in Egypt, Algeria, Sudan and Morocco, according to a report published on Tuesday.
These countries have 185.6 million people, seven times more than Saudi Arabia. Egypt has a population of 79.39 million, Algeria 37.76 million, Sudan 36.43 million and Morocco 32.06 million. Saudi Arabia has a population of 28.4 million.
The report by the economic reporting unit of Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper stated that an individual in Saudi Arabia consumed on average 8,161 kilowatt an hour in 2011, compared to 951 kilowatt an hour by individuals in the four largest Arab countries.
A previous report by Al-Eqtisadiah stated that Saudi consumption of electricity rose by 3 percent in 2011 and 9 percent in 2012. The housing sector consumed 50 percent of the Kingdom’s total electricity production.
The energy sector is subsidized by the state, with the Kingdom using an estimated 4 million barrels of oil a day to power the country.
According to this Saudi Gazette article, there’s a move on to raise the minimum wage for laborers in Saudi Arabia to SR25 (US $6.67) per hour. Prior to the crackdown on illegal workers, wages ranged from a quarter to a half of that. Low wages have been responsible, at least in part, for keeping Saudis out of non-skilled jobs, so this increase just might provide inviting enough to bring them back into the market.
SR25 an hour wage for laborers proposed
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — A number of recruitment companies that will start operating in the next few months have suggested an hourly rate of SR25 as a suitable wage for workers, Makkah daily reported.
The companies agreed on this wage after conducting several studies on the most reasonable hourly fee for laborers.
Abdullah Redwan, chairman of the contractors’ committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the hourly wage was set based on market forces.
He said: “The early wage put forth before the crackdown campaign on residency violators started ranged from SR7 to SR10. “It was raised to SR25 when the amnesty period ended.”
This wage will be applied to laborers, especially those in construction sector.