The Washington Post runs an article from the Associated Press, under a somewhat exaggerated headline, noting that the King Abdullah International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna is coming in for criticism.

The critics want the Center to condemn Saudi human rights abuses which include capital punishment, flogging, and jailing Saudi critics. Supporters say that Austria, Spain, the Vatican and others were well aware of the status of human and religious rights in Saudi Arabia before they signed on to support the Center. What’s more, human rights aren’t exactly the issue the Center was formed to address. It was set up to provide a venue where people of different religions could meet and discuss issues of religion as well as to create value by demonstrating that they could do that without calling each other pagans and apostates.

Saudi effort to promote open society abroad in tatters

VIENNA — Austria was enthusiastic when Saudi Arabia said it was ready to bankroll a center for religious and cultural understanding in Vienna — but two years after its launch, the desert kingdom’s foray into promoting a more open society abroad while continuing to repress rights at home is in tatters.

Its vice president, a former Austrian justice minister, has quit over comments interpreted as downplaying Saudi beheadings. And the center’s silence over the flogging of a Saudi blogger for criticizing Islam has drawn weekly street protests and condemnation from Austria’s chancellor — who said the nation “will not tolerate” the center’s refusal to repudiate Saudi human rights violations.

“I believe that the center needs to be done away with,” said demonstrator Norbert Brandl outside the turn of the century downtown palace housing KAICIID — the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. “Either that or it has to speak up against these unbelievable incidents.”


February:28:2015 - 06:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

According to an article in Arab News, King Salman is continuing the efforts of the late King Abdullah to encourage religious moderation and toleration. Speaking at an event sponsored by the Muslim World League, he decried those who “abuse Islam” and drive people from it.

King calls on Muslims to shun intolerance, extremism

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has called on Muslims to shun intolerance and extremism, work to unify their ranks and seek international cooperation.

King Salman made these comments during a reception at his palace in Riyadh for the scholars and experts who participated in the international counter-terrorism conference organized by the Muslim World League (MWL) in Makkah earlier this week.

King Salman also said that Saudi Arabia “is the land of Islam that implements the Shariah in all walks of life.” He said Saudi kings have been proud of having the title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. “We ask the Almighty to guide us so that we can serve our religion of tolerance.”

He said Islam is a religion of moderation. “We have to follow what is stated in the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and his followers. We should not alienate people. There are people who abuse Islam and drive people away from it. We beseech Allah to return them to their senses.”


February:27:2015 - 09:33 | Comments Off | Permalink

In an op-ed for Al-Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem, the station’s Washington bureau chief, offers a critique of Pres. Obama’s penchant for vague language when it comes to dealing with terrorism committed in the name of Islam. In seeking to avoid any possible offense with his language, the President and his administration end up using wishy-washy terms devoid of any actual meaning.

Arab and Muslim societies, Melhem writes, do have a problem and it’s one that’s largely self-created. Too many leaders have used religion as a tool of manipulation. Too many have created shadows on the wall to demonize the West. Too many have allowed absurd “religious” inspirations to deflect attention from very real problems created by those leaders.

Failing to acknowledge what the problem is — and it’s not a “lack of jobs,” contrary to what a State Dept. spokeswoman claimed from her pulpit — cannot lead to a solution to the problem. The main burden is on Arab and Muslim society and those who govern them. Pretending it is not will not and cannot lead to a solution.

Violent extremism vs Islamist extremism
Hisham Melhem

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”
Ludwig Wittgenstein

President Obama is a wordsmith. His relatively short political life has been chiseled and shaped by the possibilities and the limits of his language. He bursts on the national stage when he delivered a memorable keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In fact, he defined his campaigns and his presidency by few pivotal speeches that tried to explain his vision of America, domestic decisions, and how he sees the world. Obama the wordsmith struggled with his language the way Obama the president struggled with his decisions. And just as his leadership style and some of his decisions were characterized by tentativeness, excessive caution and deliberation, his language can also oscillate between that which is inspirational and that which is deliberately ambiguous, deceptive and downright Orwellian. His framing of the Syrian conflict and his claims that his options were the extremes of doing nothing or invade Syria are a case in point.


February:23:2015 - 06:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Arab News reports that the GCC is considering the issue of revising the subsidies governments provide for the purchase of fuels. Even though these states are all oil- and gas-producers, the level of subsidies is having negative effects on their economies. Not only do subsidies cost the countries, but they promote a sense of entitlement and devaluation of the resources such that waste proliferates.

Subsidies are not going to be just dropped, though. At most, there will be a reduction and a slight rise in the cost of fuels. Nobody is seeking angry citizens.

Expert says GCC mulls cut in fuel subsidy

In the wake of the World Bank’s appeals to emerging market countries, especially the states of the Middle East and North Africa, to end fuel subsidies, oil producing countries, including those of the GCC are actively thinking of such a move.

While they do not want to lift subsidies completely, the Gulf countries are contemplating partial amendment to the support, especially since the Kingdom’s oil prices are the lowest internationally.

Oil and energy experts say the decision to amend support lifting subsidies is currently being studied and its application is only a matter of time.


February:22:2015 - 09:05 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports on a meeting of the military chiefs of 22 countries now taking place in Riyadh. The purpose is to come up with a unified approach to dealing with ISIS. The article notes that Bahrain is now stepping in, sending aircraft to Jordan to support ongoing operations.

infographic: countries involved in anti-ISIS activities

Anti-IS coalition chalks out strategy in Riyadh
RIYADH: GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN

Military chiefs from more than 22 countries battling the Islamic State (IS) group began talks here Wednesday to assess the coalition’s current strategy and map out a plan to tackle other terrorist groups operating in the Middle East.

A formal reception was hosted for the military chiefs of the foreign countries at a local hotel on Wednesday night, a diplomatic source, who requested anonymity, said.

This led to an informal round of discussions, but the main talks are scheduled for Thursday, he said. This high-powered military meeting is significant because of the growing threat posed by IS.

The meeting also coincides with the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, which started in the US Wednesday.


February:19:2015 - 09:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

The American Interest blog runs a brief analysis about why Saudi Arabia is comfortable with — if not exactly thrilled about — today’s lower oil prices.

Why the Saudis Aren’t Cutting Production

With oil trading at less than half of what it was last June, plenty of market observers have been surprised by OPEC’s decision not to scale back output to set a floor to the price. One compelling reason is that the cartel’s largest member is well prepared to ride out this bear market. The EIA reports:

In addition to having the second-largest proved oil reserves—268 billion barrels, or 16%, of the world total in 2014, behind only Venezuela’s 298 billion barrels—Saudi Arabia has a massive sovereign wealth fund (SWF) that will enable it to weather lower oil prices. To maintain spending at the same level as in the past, Saudi Arabia would need to tap its SWF, which currently has $733 billion, or about 19 times its expected 2015 budget shortfall of $39 billion. Consequently, the short-term effect of lower oil prices on Saudi Arabia should be minimal. In contrast, OPEC’s decision to keep crude oil production near present levels, keeping supply high and prices low, has affected the budgets of members that lack Saudi Arabia’s financial reserves.


February:13:2015 - 11:39 | Comments Off | Permalink

Citing the deteriorating security situation in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, Saudi Arabia has decided to withdraw its diplomats. It is the first Arab country to do so, but other nations, including the US, UK, Germany, and Italy have already done so, Al Arabiya TV reports.

Saudi suspends embassy work in Yemen

Saudi Arabia, Germany and Italy have suspended operations and evacuated diplomatic staff at their embassies in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Friday.

“As result of deterioration in security and political conditions in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, the kingdom has suspended all embassy operations in Sanaa and evacuated its entire staff, who arrived safely in the kingdom,” State news agency SPA quoted a foreign ministry source as saying.

The kingdom is the first Arab country to evacuate embassy staff from Sanaa, after several Western governments, including the United States, shut their missions this week.

Meanwhile Germany and Italy are following suit and have pulled their staff from their embassies too.


February:13:2015 - 09:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Gulf Cooperation Council is not planning to address the change in government in Yemen with military force, Asharq Alawsat reports. Even though the Shi’ite Houthis (identified as a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia and others) has taken control of Yemen’s government, the GCC does not believe that military reaction is called for at this time.

GCC will not take military steps in Yemen: Gulf official

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has no plans to take military steps to safeguard its interests in neighboring Yemen following the Houthi takeover of power, a senior Gulf official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The oil-rich organization strongly condemned what it described as a “blatant coup” by the Houthi rebels against the legitimate government of outgoing president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, warning that it undermined the peaceful transition of power and showed a disregard toward national stability.

The Houthi movement has emerged as the de facto ruler of Yemen, forcing Hadi to resign and announcing a controversial “constitutional declaration” last week that dissolved parliament and tightened the Houthis’ grip on power.

The GCC has called on the UN Security Council to act swiftly to put an end to the coup before Yemen descends into further chaos.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a senior GCC official said that coordination among the six member states was underway to formulate a firm stance towards the situation in Yemen.

In an op-ed, Tariq Alhomayed calls for Arab troops to directly address the problem of ISIS. In the face of US reluctance to get involved on the ground, it’s up to Arabs to take the initiative.

We need Arab boots on the ground to defeat ISIS
Tariq Alhomayed

After the burning alive of Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz Al-Kasasbeh by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a strong response—international in nature, but Arab at its core—is needed, not as retaliation for this abominable crime, but to finally defeat ISIS and rein in the other evil forces wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, namely Bashar Al-Assad and Iran.

Months ago I wrote in this paper that the fight against ISIS was at heart a Sunni one, and I believe recent events now prove this to be true. There are a number of reasons as to why I conceive this as a Sunni battle. One is that the lack of a prominent Sunni presence fighting ISIS will leave the door open for Iran and sect-based militias to fill the vacuum in Syria and Iraq. This will seriously threaten the unity of these countries, helping Assad to turn Syria into a country of militias, or bringing about more Nuri Al-Maliki-style sectarian politics in Iraq—or a scenario in either country along the lines of the Houthi takeover of Yemen.

The international anti-ISIS coalition now needs to shift gear and put Arab boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq, bolstering these forces with aerial bombardment. This is the only way to contain and eventually destroy ISIS. Today we have before us a US president who has adopted a policy of “strategic patience” in dealing with a phenomenon like ISIS, a policy he plans to practice until the end of his term in 2016. I’m not bringing this up just to lambast Obama; the man has had more than his fair share of criticism recently. The point of mentioning all this is that our region simply does not have the luxury of Obama’s indolence. For this reason, a full-scale but balanced Arab military mobilization is needed right now.


February:12:2015 - 10:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that King Salman has condemned ISIS murder of a Jordanian pilot and two Japanese citizens as against the principles of Islam. The article notes the similar condemnation on the part of all GCC governments as well as Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the Islamic world’s oldest center of Islamic jurisprudence.

Brutal IS killing against Islamic principles: King
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier, condemned the gruesome killing of a Jordanian pilot by militants linked to the self-proclaimed Islamic State group.

In a cable of condolences to Jordan’s King Abdullah, King Salman on Wednesday called the burning alive of Maaz Al-Kassasbeh “inhuman and contrary to Islam.”

King Salman condemned the “odious crime” which he said was against all values of humanity.


February:05:2015 - 07:31 | Comments Off | Permalink

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) has a lengthy piece in which he talks about Saudi succession and the issues facing the new king. Not surprisingly, those issues are the same as faced the former king.

Cordesman gently slaps those who were expecting some sort of crisis in succession. The Saudis have been doing this for some time now; they know how to do it.

He points out numerous areas of reform where progress must continue if the Kingdom is to meet its challenges. He sees no reason why it cannot do so. He sees no major shifts in foreign policy, alliances, or cooperation with other nations, particularly when it comes to fighting terrorism.

Saudi Arabia’s Smooth Succession: The King is Dead, Long Live the King
Anthony Cordesman

Once again, Saudi Arabia has managed its succession without problems, delay, or any signs of serious divisions within the royal family. One of its most competent and impressive kings has died, but the Crown Prince – Prince Salman – officially became king virtually at the time King Abdullah’s death was announced. Moreover, Prince Muqrin immediately became the full Crown Prince, ensuring that one of the youngest sons of Ibn Saud would become king or de facto ruler if Prince Salman became incapacitated or died.

Within less than 24 hours, the new King also announced a whole list of new appointments that gave the next generation of princes more power and helped prepare for the succession after Prince Muqrin:


January:27:2015 - 08:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs a Reuters article previewing Pres. Obama’s visit to Riyadh to offer condolences on the death of King Abdullah and to meet with the new Saudi king. The article is given a misleading headline, I think. While there are indeed Republicans included in the President’s party, it’s more of collection of super-wonks of foreign policy. National Security Advisors, Secretaries of State, and high-level advisors to the President are all on the plane.

The article suggests that issues such as Iran, Syria, Yemen, and oil prices are likely subjects of conversation. I’d think so. And I’d throw ISIS into the mix.

Obama includes Republicans in big delegation to meet new Saudi King

New Delhi, Reuters—President Barack Obama will fly a 30-member delegation, including top officials and respected Republican foreign policy veterans, to Riyadh on Tuesday to meet Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman Bin Abdulaziz as the crisis in neighboring Yemen continues to boil.

The hastily scheduled trip to pay respects following the death last week of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz underscores a strengthening US-Saudi alliance that extends beyond oil interests to regional security.

Cutting short a three-day trip to India, Obama’s visit comes as Washington struggles with worsening strife in the Middle East and counts Saudi Arabia among its few steady partners in a campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants who have seized swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Obama is slated to arrive in Riyadh at 3:25 pm local time (12:25 pm GMT), and will leave around four hours later.

Following Abdullah’s death last Friday, Obama will try to get relations off to a smooth start with Salman, who takes power after a period of sometimes tense relations between Washington and Riyadh.

Arab News reports on the President’s arrival:

Obama arrives in Kingdom to meet King Salman


January:27:2015 - 07:57 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman, has made his first speech, pledging to follow the path of his predecessors. He also called for unity within the ranks of Islam, Asharq Alawsat reports.

The first changes in government have also been announced. The Royal Court sees several big changes, including the replacement of the Chief and Deputy Chief, and appoint his son, Mohammed, as Chief. He also named Mohammed as the new Minister of Defense. The new Chief will make further nominations for changes.

Mohammed Bin Naif has been named Deputy Crown Prince and Second Deputy Prime Minister. This is the first appointment of a grandson of the country’s founder to a position that put him in line for the throne.

King Salman calls for national unity, appoints new Crown and Deputy Crown Prince

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—New Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz has called for national unity and solidarity following the death of King Abdullah, moving quickly to appoint a new Crown Prince and Deputy Crown Prince. He pledged no change in the Kingdom’s direction, stressing that he will follow the “true approach” of his predecessors.

In his first speech as King, the new Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques said: “I am, God-willing, to carry out this great trust. We will continue, with God’s grace and strength, committed to the true approach which was followed by this state since its inception at the hands of the founder, King Abdulaziz, God’s mercy upon him, and at the hands of his sons after him, God’s mercy upon them.”

“The Arab and Islamic nation is in dire need today of unity and the maintenance of solidarity. We will continue in this country, that God has honored by choosing it as a platform for His message and as the direction Muslims must pray. Our march is to undertake everything possible to keep the unity of our ranks and the unity of word and in defense of our nation’s issues, guided by the teachings of our true Islamic religion which was favored by the Lord to us, the religion of peace, mercy and moderation,” he added.

The article reports that pledges of allegiance to the new king and his successors will take place tonight, following evening prayers in Riyadh.


January:23:2015 - 08:11 | Comments Off | Permalink
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