Arab News runs a story from Agence France Presse reporting that 12 cases of MERS-CoV have been identified in the UAE. The number includes several Filipino paramedics working in the western part of the country.

The sudden up-tick in cases (which have included a death to a religious pilgrim returning to Malaysia and Filipino health workers returning home) has heightened the concern of the World Health Organization which is already monitoring the spread of the disease. It is of great concern for the Saudis, of course, because not only has the disease hit Saudi Arabia most significantly, but the country hosts the Haj, which will start in early October this year. Last year, the Saudi government sought to block would-be pilgrims who were aged or who had diseases that seemed to increase the likelihood of MERS infection. The disease, however, is now being reported to be affecting younger people in good health. That may lead to new restrictions on Haj visas.

UAE reports 12 new cases of MERS

ABU DHABI (AFP): Health authorities in the UAE have announced 12 new cases of infection by the MERS coronavirus, but insisted the patients would be cured within two weeks.

The health ministry said the cases were discovered during “routine checks” on people who had contact with infected individuals, according to a statement published by WAM state news agency.

Those infected by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome are kept in hospitals and “should be cured without a treatment within 10 to 14 days,” the statement said.

One of six Filipino paramedics diagnosed with the disease in the eastern city of Al-Ain died earlier this month.

The World Health Organization said Thursday that it has been informed of a total of 243 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection worldwide, including 93 deaths.


April:20:2014 - 07:07 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Following the tiff that saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar, the GCC has found a way to bring the states back together. The exact steps to be taken are — annoyingly — unreported. But all is well, we’re told by Saudi Gazette.

Gulf states heal rift

RIYADH — Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council brokered a consensus Thursday after a rift that saw Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar. During a meeting in Riyadh, GCC foreign ministers conducted a “comprehensive review of measures relating to foreign and security policies,” according to a statement from the Gulf group. “[Participants] agreed to adopt measures that ensure working at a group level and that policies of any individual state should not affect the interests, security or stability of any other member state and without affecting the sovereignty of any of its states,” the statement said. Last month, in an unprecedented split between Gulf Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, saying Doha had not implemented a GCC deal reached in Riyadh in November to avoid interfering in each other’s affairs.

The three countries, led by Saudi Arabia, accused Doha of interfering in the internal affairs of countries in the Gulf region by backing Islamist movements in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere. Qatar denied it interferes anywhere but vowed to stick to its foreign policy.


April:19:2014 - 08:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the US and head of the Kingdom’s intelligence agency has stepped down from his office. The reasons most cited in analytical pieces is that he’s retiring for health reasons. Some, however, see it as possibly signaling some change in Saudi policies on Iran and/or Syria. I think the health reasons more plausible.

Prince Bandar steps down from intelligence chief post
Replaced by his deputy, Lt. Gen. Yousif Bin Ali Al-Idrissi

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The chief of Saudi Arabia’s national intelligence agency, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, was relieved of his post “at his own request” on Tuesday, according to a royal decree published by the Saudi Press Agency.

The royal decree by King Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz appointed Prince Bandar’s deputy, Lt. Gen. Yousif Bin Ali Al-Idrissi, as the new head of intelligence on an interim basis.

Prince Bandar took over as chief of the Kingdom’s intelligence service in July 2012, after serving for several years as head of the Saudi National Security Council. The decree did not specify if he would continue in this role.

Prior to 2005, he spent more than two decades as ambassador to the US.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Relieved As Intelligence Chief

Bandar Resigns as Head of Saudi Intelligence


April:16:2014 - 08:51 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV runs analysis by Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE, on how alliances within and outside the Middle East are now taking place. The shifts are not yet tectonic, but might be considered fore-shocks, signaling that the potential for major changes in cooperative agreements — both formal and informal — is in process.

It’s clear that current alliances are under pressures that could, if left alone, lead to a reshaping. Reappraisals of national interests as well as partnerships are going on. Those countries that wish to play a role in the shaping of the future need to be aware of what’s happening and take steps to ensure that the map looks like what they want it to look like.

Shifting sands and shifting security alliances in the Gulf
Theodore Karasik

Changes are afoot in security alliances in the Near East. Egypt, Saudi, UAE and Jordan appear to be forming a new regional security group. At the same time, Qatar, Iran, and Turkey are establishing another alliance. The ramifications on the GCCs future are enormous as Oman may join the Qatar group. What can we expect from these new alliances? What are the impacts on Syria and the Iranian negotiations? Where will Western states, Russia, and China fit into the new regional security dynamic?

Will the Shanghai Cooperation Organization find itself expanding to the Gulf via Iran? Will there be more trouble ahead or will these alliances clash on the political level and through proxies?

The ties between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE signal a grouping that agrees on the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) as the major threat to their stability. Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco are likely to be part of this emerging security group to provide monarchal protection and stability across the region against the Muslim Brotherhood threat. Shuttle diplomatic and military missions are increasing between all states.


April:06:2014 - 07:07 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council is getting interested in just what affect the development of shale oil resources in various countries will have on the Saudi economy. That economy, based primarily on oil exports, is certain to be affected in some way, but to just what extent is worthy of study.

I’ve seen no one predicting that the price of oil will plummet as a result of new sources coming on line in the coming years, but new supplies will depress the prices. Just how much is the question. Some suggest future oil prices in the $70/bbl range; most others see the prices at under $100/bbl, but still in the $90/bbl range. Saudi Arabia can live with that, though it would of course prefer higher prices.

Shoura seeks study on shale oil impact

The Shoura Council has urged the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources to study the extent of shale oil’s impact on the Kingdom’s oil revenues.

The 150-member consultative body made this call while reviewing the ministry’s annual report.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter and depends greatly on oil revenues for its development and welfare projects. In February, it produced 9.849 million barrels per day of crude, up from 9.767 mbd in January.

The Shoura call comes two months after Minister Ali Al-Naimi met with International Energy Agency Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven to discuss the effects of growing US shale oil production on global oil prices.


April:02:2014 - 07:22 | Comments Off | Permalink

According to this story from Arab News, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has finally realized that extremists have hijacked Islam.

Their actions and the accordant publicity have presented the face of Islam to much of the world over the past 20 years. This is not a new aperçu and it’s highly distressing that it’s taken the OIC this long to acknowledge it.

Now, though, having acknowledge the fact, what is the OIC going to do about it? Constant railing about Israel isn’t going to defeat the extremism. In fact, it feeds it.

Extremists have hijacked Islam, says Madani
JEDDAH: HABIB SHAIKH

Extremist voices and groups have hijacked Islam and misappropriated the right to speak on its behalf, according to Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary General Iyad Ameen Madani.

In his address at the inaugural session of the 25th Session of the Arab Summit held in Kuwait recently, he stressed that in actual fact, Islam with its established values and aspirations and with its advocacy of justice, equality, concord, coexistence and mutuality, is totally unrelated to them and to their ideologies and what they call for.


April:02:2014 - 07:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

President Obama is undertaking his second visit to Riyadh during his two terms of office. Reporting on the substance of the visit will come out later today or tomorrow. At the moment, it’s all pre-visit chatter about expectation and setting the parameters of discussions with Saudis. I don’t expect anything earth shattering to come from the talks.

Al Arabiya TV had a brief pre-visit interview:

Obama defends not using military force in Syria

The White House held an informal press conference (“gaggle”) en route to Riyadh:

Press Gaggle:Press Secretary Jay Carney and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes en route Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The White House also provided a fact sheet on US-Saudi relations:

White House Facts on U.S.-Saudi Relationship

Reporting on Pres. Obama’s meeting with King Abdullah, Al Arabiya TV casts the visit as ‘fence-mending’:

Obama on Saudi visit meets with King Abdullah


March:29:2014 - 05:12 | Comments Off | Permalink

Gulf News from Dubai carries a story that explains how YouTube has become an alternative — and preferred — source of information for young Saudis. It reports that Google, which own YouTube, complies with government requests to shut down videos for which there is a valid legal reason, but that the Saudi government has been sparing in that regard. It notes, too, that YouTube has been offering support for new video channels produced in the region. Some of those channels are earning millions of dollars for their creators and producers. A new medium indeed.

Why Saudis are world’s biggest YouTube fans
People in Saudi Arabia watch more hours of YouTube content per capita
than anywhere else in the world

Simeon Kerr

Dubai: Google has launched a campaign to develop online videos in the fast-growing market of Saudi Arabia, where residents watch more hours of YouTube content per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Over the past year, time spent on YouTube in the conservative kingdom has increased fivefold, persuading Google to hold a seminar in the oil-rich kingdom to foster closer relationships with producers of Arabic-language web videos.

About 60 per cent of the 350 million people in the Arab world are younger than 25, with internet penetration in the region at about 70 million users — over 300 per cent growth in the last five years, according to numbers from UAE-based entrepreneurship research portal Sindibad Business. Internet penetration is expected to reach 150 million users by 2015.

Traditional media in Saudi Arabia, where more than half the population is younger than 35, is failing to engage youngsters who are turning to the internet for relevant drama, comedy, sports and news.

The same trend is sweeping the broader region, where 310m video views a day make the Middle East and north Africa the world’s second-highest online viewership after the US.

That has generated concern among some of the region’s states about the rise in political expression.


March:21:2014 - 08:31 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia is sending a preemptory message to Pres. Obama that he need not bother himself with trying to mediate the issues between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Pres. Obama, scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia later this month, is expected to discuss Iran’s nuclear issues, Syria, and Egypt. The squabble between GCC members, though, is something the Saudis believe can be handled regionally, without any assistance from Washington. Asharq Alawsat reports:

Saudi foreign minister: No US mediation over Qatar
Fahd Al-Ziyabi

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat— Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal told Asharq Al-Awsat that there was no American mediation to resolve the crisis with Qatar, following the recalling of the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain from Doha earlier this month.

This comes ahead of the scheduled visit to the region by US President Barack Obama at the end of March, with Saudi Arabia being one of the main stops of the tour.

Following a meeting in Riyadh with Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa on Monday, Prince Saud said there were no signs of a breakthrough in the crisis with Doha, and that the situation was unlikely to be resolved until the policies of “the state which caused the crisis” were revised, in reference to Qatar.

He added that recent events have shown the importance of cooperation and solidarity among the Gulf states, and that the idea of a closer Gulf union should not be dismissed.


March:18:2014 - 08:18 | Comments Off | Permalink

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.

Saudis, world community react to new Saudi terror 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.

Full text of Saudi Interior Ministry statement designating terrorist organizations

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.


March:08:2014 - 11:19 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Amir Taheri reviews Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson. The book demythologizes Lawrence of Arabia, noting what he actually did and did not do. There’s far less to the story than the myth (and David Lean’s 1962 film) lead one to believe.

The book also addresses, Taheri tells us, the facts behind two other famous myths, the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration.

The Deconstruction of a Hero
Amir Taheri

Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making
of the Modern Middle East

By Scott Anderson

The narrative goes something like this: The British sent one of their spies, T.E. Lawrence, to incite the Arabs to revolt against the Ottomans. Thus the British seized control of the Middle East, which they then carved into pieces in a deal with the French known as the Sykes–Picot Agreement. On the margins of the main events, the British also issued the Balfour Declaration, which gave Palestine to the Jews who created Israel.

The crucial point in that narrative is to obtain a proper understanding of its central personage: Lawrence.

If you thought you knew all you needed to know about “Lawrence of Arabia,” if only thanks to David Lean’s epic film, think again. Scott Anderson’s magisterial new book retells the story in a way that challenges some aspects of the Lawrence myth.


March:07:2014 - 08:48 | Comments Off | Permalink

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 declares MB a terrorist group

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.


March:07:2014 - 08:32 | Comments Off | Permalink
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