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 & Trackbacks (0) | 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 & Trackbacks (0) | 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 & Trackbacks (0) | 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 & Trackbacks (0) | 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 & Trackbacks (0) | 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

Over the past several years, relations between Saudi Arabia and the US have become strained. The Saudis have not appreciated the American approach toward dealing with Iran, nor did they think much of the weak response from Washington to the atrocities committed by the Syrian government. The Saudis made their displeasure clear.

Now, argues Fahd Nazer in an article for “Foreign Affairs,” things may be getting back to normal. The catalyst is ISIS and the threat it represents to not just Saudi Arabia, but to the region as a whole. Recognizing a common enemy, however, is not sufficient to form new bonds or to reinforce older ones. The actions taken by both the US and Saudi Arabia will be watched closely by the other. Walking the walk is more important than talking the talk.

Making Amends in Saudi Arabia
Fahd Nazer

The United States and Saudi Arabia — one, the world’s preeminent liberal democracy; the other, a conservative monarchy that declares the Koran to be its constitution — have never been the most natural allies. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the relationship has had its ups and downs. It reached an apex in 1991, when Saudis fought alongside U.S. troops to reverse Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait, only to hit a nadir a decade later, when 15 Saudis participated in the devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington organized by al Qaeda. Since then, the Saudi government has become more suspicious of U.S. foreign policy, bristling at the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the encouragement of pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring, and the ongoing attempt to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.

But the sudden rise of the brutal militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State) could change all that. Riyadh and Washington have both recognized that ISIS poses a serious threat to Middle Eastern security and stability. By working together against the group, they might shore up the region — and their relationship. But much will depend on the Obama administration’s ability to articulate a clear long-term strategy for the Middle East — and specifically for the two countries where ISIS rose to prominence.


September:17:2014 - 09:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia, with its GCC neighbors, is pushing economic diversification with some success. Arab News reports on a study showing that the GCC is increasing intra-GCC trade and, by building new rail networks, port facilities, and airport infrastructure, are aligned to see the diversification grow.

chart Saudi economic diversification

Kingdom’s diversification aims to increase intra-regional trade

Although Saudi Arabia is the Middle East’s largest goods exporter, accounting for a third of total goods exported in 2013, only 5.3 percent of these were destined for other nations within the region, according to a new report by ICAEW.

According to Economic Insight: Middle East Q3, 2014, the GCC nations are leading the region’s current rail and aviation investment boom as they race to encourage more cross-border trade and address increasing congestion issues in the face of rampant population growth and rapidly-developing tourism markets.

Saudi Arabia is leading the charge with investment plans worth $45 billion in a bid to boost freight and passenger capacity, followed by Qatar and the UAE with investment plans worth $37 billion and $22 billion respectively.

The planned GCC Railway, a 2,177 km project, which will link the networks of the six GCC countries, represents the most ambitious aspect of the region’s railway infrastructure plans. With the Middle East set to become one of the world’s most important aviation centers, expansion of airports in all the major GCC cities has also become a priority.

Along with diversification of the national economy, economic conditions for individual Saudis also seem set to improve. Arab News reports:

Saudi salaries likely to grow 5.4% in 2015


September:15:2014 - 06:49 | Comments Off | Permalink

Over at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Anthony Cordesman offers a critique of Pres. Obama’s announced policies concerning ISIS. As Cordesman says, while there’s much in accord with what he has suggested in the past, it is not risk-free. Those risks must be understood.

The “Best Game in Town” – Five Key Risks of the President’s Strategy
Anthony Cordesman

It may seem unusual to criticize a strategy you have both suggested and endorse, and it is important to stress from the outset that President Obama has almost certainly chosen a strategy that is the “best game in town” — if he fully implements it, gives it the necessary resources, and sustains it over time. The President has had to choose a strategy based on the “rules of the game” in the United States, in Iraq, in Syria, and allied states. They are rules that place major constraints on what the United States can do.

The Limited Choices That Shape the “Best Game” in Town

The United States had no choice other than to depend on regional allies for ground forces, training, bases, improvements in unity and governance, efforts to limit the Islamic State’s funding and its volunteers, and efforts to highlight its lack of religious legitimacy and horrifying departures from Islam.


September:12:2014 - 09:15 | Comments Off | Permalink

With the Jeddah coordinating meeting finished in Jeddah, there is a common concern about ISIS and its future in the region. As Asharq Alawsat reports, the US is looking for partners who will play an active role in trying to contain and destroy the extremist group and, so far, it is meeting with some success. Regional states face peril from the group and agree that something must be done about it. This is spelled out in the communique issued following the conference.

What is not spelled out is exactly what each country is to do. All are reluctant to put “boots on the ground” for a variety of their own political reasons.

U.S.-Arab states coordinate action on ISIS

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a series of meetings with his Arab counterparts in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Thursday to coordination military and other forms of action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

A joint -Arab communique said the countries agreed, as appropriate, to join in “many aspects” of the military campaign against ISIS.

Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates agreed to “do their share” in the fight against ISIS.

The 10 countries pledged to stop the flow of funds and fighters to ISIS and help rebuild affected communities.

The meetings came hours after President Barack Obama unveiled his strategy to counter the militant group, which has occupied swathes of land in Iraq and Syria.

Asharq Alawsat reports on some of the reasons for Arab hesitation, or at least the lack of full-blooded eagerness to get militarily involved in dealing with ISIS. It also notes Turkey’s reluctance in the face of its nationals being held hostage in Iraq:

Wary Arabs join U.S.-campaign against ISIS

A significant problem seems to be that large parts of their populations approve of the group’s ends while remaining silent about their means. Once again, the intolerance taught in regional schools, madrassas, and mosques is rearing its head and threatening the stability of regimes and the region.


September:12:2014 - 08:46 | Comments Off | Permalink
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