Saudi media break with common practice by citing the name of a young Saudi believed to have left his education program in Australia to join a terrorist group in Syria or Iraq. Usually, Saudi media avoids naming names, but here — likely because of the family’s concern about their son — they do mention it. I think the article is intended, too, to alert other Saudi parents to the possibility of their children’s being suborned while abroad. What is notable, too, is the speed with which this story is being reported. The family sought assistance from the government of Australia just three days ago. This suggests that the Saudi government is on very high alert for wandering students studying abroad.

Brother fears missing Saudi student now Islamist militant

The Saudi student who “mysteriously” disappeared in Malaysia last month is believed to have joined one of the terrorist groups in Syria or Iraq, his brother told Al Arabiya.net.

Meshaal Suhaimi, who joined an English-language program in Sydney, Australia, last year, has been missing since Sep. 20. Suhaimi reportedly stopped attending his classes and left for Malaysia instead.

“He is young. And he is a conservative Muslim. He was definitely [indoctrinated],” said his brother, Mohammad Suhaimi. “We received pictures from one of his colleagues in Australia that prove that he is in a conflict zone.”

Saudi Gazette runs a similar story:

Saudi student missing in Australia may have joined extremist group


October:09:2014 - 07:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Al-Jazeera TV offers a useful interactive page that shows the types of assistance (humanitarian, military, or both) that are being provided to the coalition fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It has another graphic that shows which nations have taken part in air attacks on ISIS targets and where those targets are located.

Countries countering ISIL


October:07:2014 - 06:54 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Washington Post runs an Associated Press report noting that this year’s Haj was free of both Ebola and MERS. Saudi public health authorities took measures to reduce the risk, up to the point of barring pilgrims from certain West African countries from taking part in Haj and continuing their visa restrictions on the sick and elderly from all other countries. I think this has to be considered a public health success.

Hajj free of Ebola amid protective measures

MINA, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s acting health minister said Monday that this year’s hajj has been free of Ebola and other contagious diseases because of measures taken by the kingdom to protect more than 2 million pilgrims who took part in the annual Islamic pilgrimage.

The hajj, which lasts around five days, ends Monday. Pilgrims began leaving the desert tent city of Mina, where they were taking part in the ritual of the stoning of the devil, one of the last rites of the hajj. Many headed back to Mecca, ending the hajj as they started it by circling the cube-shaped Kaaba seven times.

There were concerns regarding Saudi Arabia’s readiness to ensure a healthy hajj for pilgrims after the kingdom became the epicenter for the potentially fatal Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. Several health workers and doctors died of that coronavirus in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, raising alarm about the safety of hospital.

Khaleej Times from the UAE runs a similar article based on a Reuters report. This report also acknowledges the heightened effort Saudi security personnel took to keep those without Haj permits out of the holy city.

Saudi Arabia happy with Haj free of Ebola, Mers


October:07:2014 - 06:43 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Writing at Al-Monitor, Bader al-Rashed, a Saudi commentator, points out how the government of Saudi Arabia seems to be trying to draw a line between the dominant interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia (frequently called “Wahhabism”) and the beliefs and actions of ISIS. There are efforts being made to identify ISIS as Kharajites, referring to the 7th C. group that supported a philosophy at odds with both Sunni and Shi’a interpretations of Islam and Islamic rule and was noted for its harsh implementation of takfirism.

This is all well and good, al-Rashed writes, but is complicated by the fact that ISIS is busy handing out books written by Mohammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, whose writing are at the core of Saudi religious belief and practice. Oops.

Over the past 10 years or so, the Saudi government has tried to back away from the most severe interpretations of Islam that it had largely acquiesced to following the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. It has managed to do so, to some extent. The government, though, has not been able to ‘convert’ all Saudis to a regime of tolerance. This is proved by its now having to arrest and imprison domestic extremists.

How Saudi Arabia is distancing itself from the Islamic State
Bader al-Rashed

Thirteen years after US President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism, the Middle East is no closer to victory. Instead, terrorism appears to have morphed into an even more dangerous beast in the form of the Islamic State (IS). Westerners, as expressed through the media, seem to be under the same impression as they were after Sept. 11, 2001 — namely, that the Sunni jihadist movement is linked to the Wahhabi brand of Islam emanating from Saudi Arabia. This has prompted renewed debate among Saudis about this supposed Wahhabist-jihadist connection.

After bombings in Riyadh by al-Qaeda in 2003, the relationship between terrorism and religious extremism was widely discussed in the kingdom, with the government establishing the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue that same year. During the dialogue’s second meeting, Extremism and Moderation … A Comprehensive Methodological Vision, it was agreed that religious programs in Saudi Arabia were the primary force behind the spread of extremism in society. As a result of the dialogue, school curricula, the religious curriculum in particular, were modified by the Ministry of Education. Doubts remained, however, that religious education had been sufficiently modified given that radical Islamists were believed to dominate the education sector in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is today taking seriously the allegations in the international media that it is the ideological root of the current jihadist groups. Some have sought to defend the country’s religious vision by trying to disassociate Sunni jihadist groups from their brand of Islam, instead castigating other groups, such as the Kharijites — an Islamic sect separate from Sunnis and Shiites that emerged from the first Islamic civil war in the seventh century between Ali Ibn Ali Talib and Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan following the killing of the third caliph, Uthman Ibn Affan.


October:02:2014 - 06:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV runs an interesting editorial by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE.

He points to the fact that ISIS can only be truly defeated if its ideology can be defeated. Military success against it, though assured, does not result in its end as it will just metastasize into a new form. He points to Saudi Arabia’s deradicalization program by name, but also notes that too many countries in the region accept the presence of extremist thought within their borders. There is currently insufficient effort being put toward teaching toleration of differences, human development, and good governance.

The intellectual battle against ISIS
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum

The global financial crisis taught the world how profoundly interdependent our economies have become. In today’s crisis of extremism, we must recognize that we are just as interdependent for our security, as is clear in the current struggle to defeat the ISIS.

If we are to prevent ISIS from teaching us this lesson the hard way, we must acknowledge that we cannot extinguish the fires of fanaticism by force alone. The world must unite behind a holistic drive to discredit the ideology that gives the extremists their power, and to restore hope and dignity to those whom they would recruit.

ISIS certainly can — and will — be defeated militarily by the international coalition that is now assembling and which the UAE is actively supporting. But military containment is only a partial solution. Lasting peace requires three bigger ingredients: winning the intellectual battle; upgrading weak governance; and grassroots human development.

Such a solution must begin with concerted international political will. Not a single politician in North America, Europe, Africa, or Asia can afford to ignore events in the Middle East. A globalized threat requires a globalized response. Everyone will feel the heat, because such flames know no borders; indeed, ISIS has recruited members of at least 80 nationalities.


September:29:2014 - 06:06 | Comments Off | Permalink

Over at Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem continues his critique of Arab society and politics, seeking to explain how the Arab world came to be in the situation in which it now finds itself.

He highlights the point that there is no longer any real freedom of thought in the region. Would-be intellectuals are forced into extreme positions if they wish to stay out of jail or to stay alive.

He sharply notes that while the actions of the “outsider” may prove a useful political excuse for the current state of the Arab world, it is far from an adequate excuse. He contrasts the political fortunes of Egypt and India, both becoming independent in the same year, and finds that the Egyptians — for Egyptian reasons — has fallen far behind. He further contrasts Egypt with S. Korea. Both countries had essentially similar demographics and economies in 1960, but now, Egypt has only one-eighth of S. Korea’s GDP per capita. These disparities are not accidents of faith nor are they the result of foreign oppression or interference. The stories Arabs have been telling themselves are no longer believable and populations are no longer buying into the mythology. But solving the problems can’t even start until people can start talking about them, start exploring alternatives, without having to worry whether they’ll be alive tomorrow.

Who brought the Arabs to this nadir?
Hisham Melhem

In recent weeks and months I tried in this space to critique an Arab political culture that continues to reproduce the values of patriarchy, mythmaking, conspiracy theories, sectarianism, autocracy and a political/cultural discourse that denies human agency and tolerates the persistence of the old order. The article in which I said that the ailing Arab body politic had created the ISIS cancer, and a subsequent article published in Politico Magazine generated a huge response and sparked debates on Twitter and the blogosphere.

The overwhelming response was positive, even though my analysis of Arab reality was bleak and my prognosis of the immediate future was negative. Yet, these articles were not a call for despair, far from it; they are a cris de Coeur for Arabs, particularly intellectuals, activists and opinion makers, to first recognize that they are in the main responsible for their tragic conditions, that they have to own their problems before they rely on their human agency to make the painful decisions needed to transcend their predicament. These articles should be viewed through the motto of the Italian Marxian philosopher Antonio Gramsci: “Pessimism of the spirit; optimism of the will.” Pessimism of the will, means that you see and analyze the world as it is not as you wish it to be, but for this pessimism not to be fatal, it should be underpinned by the optimism of the will, to face challenges, and overcome adversity by relying on human agency.


September:27:2014 - 07:57 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that Saudi Arabia is going to be involved in the manufacture of trains. The article isn’t clear whether this will be locomotives, train cars, or both, but sees a potential to employ 10K Saudis in making the equipment to support a GCC-wide rail network. The Saudis seem to be working to lay down a claim on building rail equipment, closing the door on regional competition. The article goes on to extoll the reasons why it makes sense for the Saudis to do so.

Plans on track to manufacture trains in Kingdom
Mohammad Al-Enezi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

DAMMAM – The Saudi Railways Organization (SRO) is planning to enter into partnerships with international companies to manufacture trains in the Kingdom.

The head of SRO, Mohammad Al-Suwaiket, said the purpose of seeking foreign partners is to benefit from their expertise in meeting the Kingdom’s need for trains.

The country’s long-term plan is to connect the governorates and cities with a rail network.

“These trains will also solve the country’s public transportation needs,” Al-Suwaiket said, explaining that he is currently considering inviting a number of international companies that have a proven global reputation in manufacturing trains to participate in setting up production facilities in the Kingdom.


September:25:2014 - 09:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi media are replete with articles about the fight against IS, Nusra Front, and others. Saudi Gazette quotes Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal’s explanation of why Saudi Arabia is involved and the importance to the Kingdom of taking part in an international coalition against it. Keeping Saudi society on-side is going to be an important objective of the government.

Why did Saudi Arabia join anti-IS air strikes in Syria?
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal stressed that his country will not hesitate to participate in any serious international effort seeking to mobilize and intensify action against terrorism wherever it occurs and whatever its motives.

This came in a speech delivered at the Global Counter Terrorism Forum in New York City on Tuesday as Saudi Arabia’s Air Forces participated in US-led bombing strikes against militants linked to the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria.

“We meet today as we are witnessing a concerted international effort to combat terrorism with active participation of the regional group and the United States to fight the most dangerous terrorist organization in the region inside the Syrian territories,” Prince Saud said.

He hoped that such an act will form the first nucleus of an international coalition to fight terrorism wherever it exists and whatever its justifications or reasons and without discrimination between sex, color or doctrine.

“We hope to continue this alliance for eliminating this scattered evil currently threatening the region and the world. Terrorism has distorted the image of Islam and Muslims,” he said.

Arab News reports that the son of the Minister of Defense was one of the pilots who flew in the raids. It notes that the pilots — who were named and shown in the media — have received death threats from IS supporters.

KSA throws full weight behind war on IS terror
RIYADH: Ghazanfar Ali Khan

The son of Crown Prince Salman, minister of defense, was among the eight Saudi airmen who took part in a US-led airstrike against Islamic State (IS) targets on Tuesday.

Prince Khaled bin Salman, a pilot, took part in the operations, sabq.org newspaper reported on Wednesday, much to the pride of his father, who expressed admiration at the team’s professionalism and bravery in standing up to the enemies of Islam.

A large number of Saudis, meanwhile, sent tweets praising the valor of Saudi pilots.

Saudi Arabia pledged stronger cooperation with the international community in combating terrorism.

“Saudi efforts will continue to eliminate terror outfits, including the IS,” said Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting.

And just to keep the testosterone levels in check, Arab News also reports that a female pilot led the UAE’s strike force in the raids:

Female UAE pilot ‘leads strikes’ on jihadists

Writing at The Wall St. Journal, Ahmed Al Omran — formerly known as “Saudi Jeans” — argues that Saudi participation in the raids shows that it is willing to take the risk of creating domestic unhappiness in the face of a far greater danger.

Participation in Syrian Airstrikes Reflects Saudi Fears


September:25:2014 - 09:17 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Arab News carries a story noting Saudi Arabia’s involvement in air raids against ISIS facilities in Syria. The story notes that Bahrain, the UAE, and Qatar also took part in the actions alongside the US. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal is extensively quoted on Saudi anti-terror efforts and calling for more states to join global anti-terrorism efforts.

KSA joins airstrikes to crush IS

Saudi Arabia’s air force participated in US-led bombing strikes against the so-called Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria on Tuesday as part of global efforts to eliminate terrorism, an official source said.

“The Saudi Royal Air Force participated in the military operations against IS in Syria, in support of the moderate Syrian opposition, and as part of the international coalition,” said the source. The coalition, he added, was formed to “eliminate terrorism, a deadly disease, and to support the brotherly Syrian people to restore security, unity and development in this devastated country.”

Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, meanwhile, told a New York forum that Saudi Arabia would be in the forefront of global efforts to defeat terrorists. “We’ll never hesitate to participate in such serious international anti-terror operations,” he said.

Prince Saud expressed the Kingdom’s hope that the present campaign against IS militants would serve as a nucleus for an international coalition to strike and root out terrorism all over the world.


September:24:2014 - 07:27 | Comments Off | Permalink

Long-time Middle East correspondent Chris Dickey writes at “The Daily Beast” website that the Royal Saudi Air Force was involved in last nights raids on ISIS facilities in Syria. It joined the US along with Jordanian, the Emirates, and the Bahraini air forces.

Arab Kings vs. ISIS Barbarians

…The air strikes over Syria, participated in directly by the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain, represent “the beginnings of a real Arab defense force,” the Saudi source said optimistically. Other Arab states, including Qatar and Kuwait, reportedly provided or facilitated logistical support.


September:23:2014 - 16:19 | Comments Off | Permalink

While this Reuters (carried in Asharq Alawsat) piece does not spell out what cooperation Saudi Arabia is giving the US in its attacks on ISIS and Nusra Front targets in Syria, whatever it is, it is sufficient to cause ISIS to blame the Saudi royal family. The article does note that the Saudis are allowing the US to train Iraqi military units within its borders.

US, Arab partners launch first strikes on ISIS in Syria

Washington and Beirut, Reuters—The United States launched air and missile strikes with Arab allies in Syria for the first time on Tuesday, killing dozens of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters and members of a separate Al-Qaeda-linked group, and widening its new war in the Middle East.

“I can confirm that US military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against [ISIS] terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.

US Central Command said Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had either participated or supported the strikes against ISIS targets.

US forces also launched strikes to “disrupt imminent attack” against US and Western interests by “seasoned Al-Qaeda veterans” who had established a safe haven in Syria, it said, apparently referring to attacks against a separate group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said at least 20 ISIS fighters were killed in strikes that hit at least 50 targets in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces in Syria’s east.

It said strikes had also targeted Al-Nusra Front, in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, killing at least 30 fighters and eight civilians. The Al-Nusra Front is Al-Qaeda’s official Syrian wing and ISIS’s rival.

The air attacks fulfill President Barack Obama’s pledge to strike in Syria against ISIS, a Sunni Muslim group that has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq, imposing a medieval interpretation of Islam, slaughtering prisoners and ordering Shi’ites and non-Muslims to convert or die.


September:23:2014 - 09:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette runs a brief piece noting that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has said they’ve identified 100 problematic imams (out of a total of 15,000 in the Kingdom) who exhibit extremist tendencies. These imams are being given a chance to get with the program of condemning extremism or find themselves out of work.

‘100 imams with extremist thoughts’

RIYADH — The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance has identified about 100 mosque imams out of 15,000 with extremist tendencies. He said the imams are currently being rehabilitated but will be dismissed if they do not repent, the ministry’s undersecretary for mosque affairs Tawfiq Al-Sudairy announced. He said the ministry is closely monitoring the performance of all imams and their Friday sermons. The undersecretary said following the terrorist attack against a police checkpoint in Sharoorah in Ramadan, the ministry asked all mosque imams to denounce the incident and to criticize any anti-Islamic ideologies. “The response of the imams was excellent. Those who did not implement the ministry’s instructions were given another opportunity to do so,” he said. Al-Sudairy warned that any imam who conveys any extremist ideas in his sermon would be sacked.


September:19:2014 - 08:39 | Comments Off | Permalink
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