Back in March, the Saudi government announced the arrest of eighteen individuals who were spying for Iran. Today, according to Arab News, another ten have been arrested in the same or a related case.
Ten more arrested in Iranian espionage case
RIYADH: Ghazanfar Ali Khan
An official spokesman from the Saudi government has confirmed the arrest of 10 people involved in an Iranian espionage cell who were allegedly associated with the same spy network that was dismantled in March of this year by Saudi security officials.
A security spokesman confirmed that the latest cell had eight Saudis, one Lebanese and one Turkish national.
“Initial investigations carried out by authorities led to the detention of 10 others for involvement in espionage activity,” TV news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported citing sources from the Interior Ministry yesterday.
An earlier confession made by suspects arrested by the Kingdom in March also reinforced evidence.
The US State Department has issued its annual report on religious freedom as experienced around the world. As is sadly usual, Saudi Arabia does not fare well and remains a “country of particular concern”, as it has been since 2004. The country report on Saudi Arabia can be found HERE. There is nothing particularly new here. The same violations of the rights of Saudi Shi’ites, discrimination toward non-Muslim foreign workers, and the absolute lack of freedom to practice religions other than Islam continue. Only the names of those arrested, threatened, or deported have changed over the years.
The global report draws attention to the rise of religious discrimination around the world, including that aimed at Muslims. It points to particular problems with laws that punish apostasy and the impunity with which people act in various countries when governments condone — or at least take no action against — religious discrimination.
Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose…we also remember that religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe. This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our world cannot know lasting peace. President Barack Obama
Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Congress took a momentous step in support of religious freedom when it passed the International Religious Freedom Act, establishing within the Executive Branch the position of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. With this measure, the U.S. government made a bold statement on behalf of those who were oppressed, those who were persecuted, and those who were unable to live their lives at the most basic level, for the simple exercise of their faith. Whether it be a single deity, or multiple deities, or no deities at all, freedom to believe–including the freedom not to believe–is a universal human right.
Freedom of religion and belief and the right to worship as one chooses fulfill a deep and abiding human need. The search for this freedom led the Pilgrims to flee Europe for America’s shores centuries ago, and is enshrined in our own Constitution. But it is by no means exclusively an American right. All states are committed to freedom of thought, conscience and belief in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been the touchstone and the global standard for the protection of human rights around the world since 1948.
The right to religious freedom is inherent in every human being. Unfortunately, this right was challenged in myriad ways in 2012. One of the basic elements of the International Religious Freedom Act is the requirement that the Department of State publish an annual report on the status of religious freedom in countries around the world, and the record of governments in protecting–or not protecting–this universal right.
An interesting discussion of why it’s unlikely that Saudi Arabia will acquire nuclear weapons appears on the Al Arabiya TV website. Middle East analyst Naser al-Tamimi notes the many reasons why, under current and near-future circumstances, it would be unwise for the Saudi government to go down the path of nuclear arms. While everyone understands that developing its own nuclear weaponry would be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, the idea that the Saudis could simply buy such weapons from Pakistan or China are also flawed. The Saudis have better options available, including relying on a US security umbrella or — definitely not a first-choice option — a security promise from Pakistan.
The Saudis will go nuclear insofar as electricity generation through nuclear power plants. That is a program that is already underway. But it is a vastly longer path to even try to divert or augment power generation to the development of atomic bombs. Saudi Arabia — not the most transparent country on Earth — is still too transparent to hide that sort of adventure.
Clear or nuclear: Will Saudi Arabia get the bomb?
Dr. Naser al-Tamimi
As the impasse over Tehran’s nuclear program worsens, those most likely to be directly affected by an Iranian bomb are showing greater alarm. While the media fixates on Israel and its possible reaction, other regional players have no less at stake.
Despite Riyadh’s long-held advocacy of making the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, there has been much speculation in the past few years about the possibility of its acquiring, or developing, nuclear weapons should Tehran obtain the bomb.
In the words of Saudi King Abdullah: “If Iran developed nuclear weapons (…) everyone in the region would do the same,” a sentiment echoed by Prince Turki al-Faisal, former head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate.
‘Islamist’ is a term used as a shorthand way of referring to Muslim extremists. The term never really had a great deal of accuracy, but now it has even less. Writing at Al Arabiya, Adbulrahman al-Rashed points to the difficulties Islamist groups and governments are having with other Islamist groups. If the one is to be called ‘extremist’, then the other must be ‘extreme extremist’.
The situation has come about in both Tunisia and Egypt where the perennial “I’m more Muslim than you!” campaigns are in full throat. Governments are discovering that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing and as a result are cracking down on groups they view as taking things too far, into the realm of terrorism. How they behave will have an effect on how willing other governments — including Saudi Arabia’s — will be to give them financial or political support.
Islamists vs. Islamists in the Arab world
“If you are fools, try stopping us,” is the title of a campaign led by an extremist Islamist group in Tunisia. By fools, the group is referring to the Islamic Ennahda party and its government.
The paradox is that Ennahda Islamists doubted the presence of terrorist groups. They condemn the prevention of preaching campaigns and charity activities under the excuse that they are Islamic acts. But history repeats itself. The Islamist Ennahda government is currently the one setting the prohibitions.
What is prohibited today is the Ansar al-Sharia group. Its members are being deterred with the removal of tents that were set up for spreading their religious campaigns and distributing the Salafi movement’s leaflets.
The interior ministry has prohibited “all organizations, people or political parties from carrying out preaching activities in public places without a having a prior permit.”
Ansar al-Sharia described Ennahda leaders, like Sheikh Ghanouchi, as “tyrants dressed with the guise of Islam.” The group also warningly said: “[We] remind you that our youths who displayed heroism in defending Islam in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia and the Levant will never hesitate to make sacrifices for the sake of their religion in the land of Kairouan in Tunisia.”
Rather than the price of oil rising unrelentingly on the back of shrinking supplies, the discovery and exploitation of new oil sources in the US and elsewhere is having quite another effect. The BBC reports that this new oil will shift the balance of power around the world.
A steeper-than-expected rise in US shale oil reserves is about to change the global balance of power between new and existing producers, a report says.
Over the next five years, the US will account for a third of new oil supplies, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The US will change from the world’s leading importer of oil to a net exporter.
Demand for oil from Middle-East oil producers is set to slow as a result.
Saudi ARAMCO takes a somewhat more sanguine view, as reported in Al Arabiya. I think this is correct, too, at least for Saudi Arabia. Over the past decade, Saudi oil markets have shifted more toward China and the rest of Asia, areas that are undergoing explosive growth and rising demand. The Saudis, though, may find themselves in fiercer competition with other states that will now become oil-exporters rather than importers. I think this will affect the OPEC ‘hawks’, those that argue for — and structurally depend on — high oil prices.
Of course, even the new producers and exporters are going to want certain prices. They will need them, actually, because ‘fracking’ and other new technologies aren’t cheap and will never meet the current low lifting prices found in the Arab Gulf States. Saudi Arabia will likely do well simply through its own economic factors, though perhaps not as well as in a world of scarce oil supplies.
Saudi Arabia embraces U.S. shale production
Al Arabiya -
Saudi Arabia welcomes and encourages U.S. shale production rates, chief executive of Saudi Aramco told the Financial Times.
Khalid al-Falih, head of the kingdom’s national oil company, said the production revolution will reassure consumers about the reliability of oil supplies, and help ease fears about excessive reliance on the Middle East, reported the newspaper.
“Oil is going to be the fuel of choice, in terms of its overall performance, for an extended period of time, and we need to manage it, we need to invest in it,” said al-Falih.
According to the Financial Times, the shale oil boom has raised U.S. crude production by almost 50 percent since 2008, but Saudi Aramco –the holder of the world’s largest conventional oil reserves—believes that the U.S. production will not take away its market in the long term.
Thomas Hegghammer, of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, offers a look back at the May, 2003 bombings of three residential compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He cites ten lessons that have been learned as a result of that bombing, ranging from the limited ability of terrorist groups to destabilize a country to the effectiveness of narrowly-targeted responses to terrorism. The Asharq Alawsat article is worth reading in full.
The Riyadh Compound Bombings: Ten Years, and Ten Lessons, Later
Stanford, Asharq Al-Awsat—Ten years ago yesterday, the Saudi capital, Riyadh, was rocked by three near-simultaneous suicide bombings at housing compounds for expatriates. Over 30 people died and 160 were injured in what was, and remains, the deadliest terrorist attack in the kingdom’s history. The bombing came as a shock to most Saudis and robbed the country of its relative innocence as far as internal violence was concerned. After decades of calm, Saudi Arabia suddenly became the scene of a dramatic and protracted terrorist campaign that would claim many victims and worry many an oil investor before Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was finally crushed in 2006.
It is hard to overestimate the political impact of the Riyadh bombings. These caused a major shift in Saudi attitudes toward Islamist extremism and a complete overhaul of the Saudi internal security apparatus. The terrorism campaign—and the Saudi response to it—also did much to change Western perceptions of Saudi society, many of which, in retrospect, were biased and flawed. Finally, the campaign backfired against Al-Qaeda, leading to its demise as an organization in the kingdom. In short, the learning curve was steep for everyone involved. Specifically, the experience taught us ten important things about terrorism and Saudi Arabia.
First, we learned that terrorist campaigns need not have deep, structural causes. In the summer of 2003, many observers attributed the violence to a fundamental malaise in Saudi society, derived from some combination of economic sclerosis, lack of political participation, and religious indoctrination. However, as I showed in my book, Jihad in Saudi Arabia, the causes were mostly exogenous: the terrorists had radicalized and trained abroad, and the timing was dictated by events in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Like many terrorist campaigns, this one was the result of developments within an organization.
Saudi Gazette reports on the arrests of a Saudi national and three men from the UAE, as well as several Tanzanians alleged to be involved in the bombing of a new Catholic cathedral in the city of Arusha, in northern Tanzania. Initial reports had pointed to four Saudis. Both Saudi and Emirati embassies have been in contact with the detainees.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but news reports suggest that it may have been in retaliation for military actions taken in neighboring Kenya against Islamic militants.
ARUSHA, Tanzania — Tanzania has arrested three Emirati men and a Saudi national over a deadly church bombing, officials said Wednesday, clarifying earlier reports they were all from Saudi Arabia.
Five Tanzanians have also been arrested following the Sunday attack on a packed church in the northern city of Arusha that killed three people.
“There are three nationals of the United Arab Emirates and a Saudi… they were arrested while trying to cross the border” into Kenya, Arusha’s governor Magesa Mulongo told AFP.
None of those arrested have been charged yet, he added.
“Investigations are continuing. They are only suspects at this time. They can be released or brought to trial, it will depend on the results of the investigations.”
Also from Saudi Gazette:
Arab News provides its own coverage:
The British tabloid Daily Mail is reporting that the government of Saudi Arabia gave explicit warnings to the US government that it should be cautious about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two brothers accused of executing the Boston Marathon bombings. The US Department of Homeland Security is reported to have denied ever having received such warnings.
I don’t find the Daily Mail the most credible of newspapers and The American Media Institute, listed as one of the authors of the piece, is not particularly known for its coverage of foreign affairs or security issues. It is focused on US First Amendment issues involving free speech. Nor has it issued a press release in the past two years, according to its website.
I’d like to see a lot more confirmation of this before I give it any credence.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent a written warning about accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012, long before pressure-cooker blasts killed three and injured hundreds, according to a senior Saudi government official with direct knowledge of the document.
The Saudi warning, the official told MailOnline, was separate from the multiple red flags raised by Russian intelligence in 2011, and was based on human intelligence developed independently in Yemen.
Citing security concerns, the Saudi government also denied an entry visa to the elder Tsarnaev brother in December 2011, when he hoped to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the source said. Tsarnaev’s plans to visit Saudi Arabia have not been previously disclosed.
Writing at Asharq Alawsat, Abdullah Al-Otaibi takes a look at what he sees as a new trend within Salafism in Saudi Arabia. The trend, he says, is actually a movement to go back in history where religion, science, and politics were an organic unity, rather than warring parties. He points to Mu’tazila, the 8th-10th C. school of theology that reigned during the height of the Ummayad and Abassid eras.
Al-Otaibi points to four discrete paths by which the disparate interests of groups like the secularist and the traditionalists can be reforged. It’s an interesting concept.
Saudi Arabia: Secular or Political Salafism?
Among the various ideological interpretations of Islamic religious texts, there has always been one reading that offers a vision similar to that of modern secularism. That reading corresponds with the modern secular view of religion and the state—the relationship between spiritual and temporal affairs. The two are markedly similar in their conclusions about how this impacts on power and society, not to mention political and religious institutions.
Some Arab intellectuals are of the view that Mu’tazila, an Islamic schools of theology based on reason and rational thought, represents a historical example of Islamic rationalism. Some of these intellectuals have even sought to extract “humanism” from the margins of Mu’tazila, using it as a tool to promote an ideological vision.
“Secular Salafism” is an expression that may appear contradictory or even shocking at first glance. However, it is simply traditional Salafism, which does not exploit religion for political purposes in spite of its hardline fiqh (ideological orientation). A clear example is the Sunni interpretation of Shari’a-compliant political action. Today, this philosophy can be seen in the Salafi discourses that have avoided Islamist activism.
There is a traditional Salafi attitude towards the doctrine of obedience to the ruler, which shows how many Salafists approach politics. To them, the ruler is a politician, not a jurist, and he must be most concerned with public interests and affairs of state; his decisions are therefore binding on the populace. One of the most famous traditional Salafi interpretations of this issue was that of Mohammed Ibrahim Shaqra, a disciple of Sheikh Muhammad Nasiruddin Al-Albani, who said that the phrase “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” was an eminently wise maxim for our time.
Asharq Alawsat runs a story on a recent poll that shows young Arabs remain mostly optimistic about the future. Those in countries currently torn by political strife, clearly enough, are less sanguine. The ability to get a job and the rising cost of living are the two factors that most worry the poll participants.
London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Despite widespread economic problems and political instability, the youth of the Arab world are still optimistic about the future, according to the results of a new poll.
The annual Arab Youth Survey, conducted by the Dubai-based ASDA’A Burson–Marsteller public relations consulting firm, involved 3,000 interviews of Arabs aged 18-24 across 15 countries.
According to the firm, the survey revealed that most young Arabs still feel positively about their future prospects, although the events of the previous two years have brought the region’s many economic and political problems into sharp relief.
The survey said that on average, 74% of the respondents agreed with the statement that “our best days are ahead of us.”
However, the survey also revealed a split in attitudes between citizens of Gulf states and those of North Africa and the Levant, with the latter less happy about the direction their countries were going in.
Within the Gulf, the number of respondents who said they were satisfied with the direction of their country of residence ranged from 88% in the United Arab Emirates to 77% in Saudi Arabia.
However, the average for non-Gulf countries was below fifty percent. In Lebanon, the figure was 37%, with 42% in Tunisia and 43% in Libya.
Writing in Saudi Arabia’s Arab News, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim wonders whether Muslims are the best exponents of Islam, whether to non-Muslims or even to themselves. If one is to practice what one preaches, Muslims, he says, are doing it wrong. They are an abject failure when it comes to protecting Islam and, in fact, are its greatest enemies.
While the Muslim world gets upset when a lone (and loony) American Christian preacher burns a copy of the Quran, who is decrying the burning of thousands of Qurans in Muslim-on-Muslim violence within the Muslim world? Who is showing intolerance and Islamophobia when sectarian violence is killing thousands of Muslims within Muslim countries? Who is showing respect for knowledge and education when 14-year-old girls are attacked for wanting to go to school?
These are all excellent questions. It’s a pity there are so few good answers.
Do Muslims really understand Islam?
The total number of the Muslim population is around 1.6 billion or about 25 percent of the world population. Generally speaking, most of the Arab population is
Muslims, but not every Muslim is an Arab. For example, Pakistan and Bangladesh are not Arab countries, but they have more Muslims than all 22 Arab countries combined.
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Muslim population is growing at a steady pace in many non-Muslim countries especially in the US and Europe. All it takes to be a Muslim is to announce that there is no God, but Allah (SWT) and Muhammad (peace be upon him) is his messenger.
So, if the number of Muslims is on the rise, then why do Muslims feel insecure and threatened and why Muslims always think the others are after them at a time when there are more Muslims being killed by Muslims than there are Muslims killed by non-Muslims? And is a Muslim killed by non-Muslim considered a bigger crime than if he is killed by a Muslim?
Asharq Alawsat reports that officials have arrested 10K people trying to illegally cross Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen over the past three weeks. The majority of them are coming from Yemen and parts of East Africa.
I think this speaks both to the conditions in the countries they are leaving and their expectation of conditions in the Kingdom. Given the unemployment already existing in Saudi Arabia, coupled with recent moves to push foreign workers out, I’m not sure these would-be immigrants would find any better conditions were they to successfully cross the border.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Abdullah Nassar, a media spokesman for the security committee formed in Saudi Arabia’s Asir province, revealed that security authorities in the region have arrested around 10,000 people entering the country illegally—the majority of whom are Africans and Yemenis—within the last 3 weeks. The committee released the relevant statistics yesterday.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone yesterday, Nassar said, “Regular security operations in general, and especially those since the start of March, have resulted in the arrest of more than 10,000 individuals violating various laws, but the figures released yesterday are confined to intruders who tried to enter the country illegally.”