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.
Want to make something stop in Saudi Arabia? It’s easy… just call for a new study on something, even if it’s been studied to death before.
Saudi Gazette reports that a number of female academics are calling for a new study on the decision to permit sports and athletic programs in girls schools. While they grudging admit that health might be important, they seem to think it more important that Saudi girls learn to comport themselves as Saudi women, wrapping themselves in cultural and religious virtue, even if it does shorten their lives.
Inactivity by both men and women in Saudi Arabia has been identified as a major component of the country’s vast experience of diabetes. Even those who might choose to take part in exercise are prohibited from doing so.
It’s useful to recall that it’s not just a heavy-handed patriarchy that delays needed change in Saudi Arabia… there are plenty of Saudi women, too, who serve to obstruct, whether on matters as simple as exercise for girls in schools or women getting behind the driver’s wheel.
Ministry decision sparks new debate on women’s sports
Saudi Gazette report
DAMMAM — A number of female academics have said the Ministry of Education’s plans to introduce physical education at private schools for girls need exhaustive study as it is a sensitive issue.
While calling for suitable sports facilities to be provided, the academics stressed that taking such steps should be in line with religious and social norms and Saudi traditions, Al-Yaum daily said in a report.
Dr. Soad Al-Suwaid of Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh said schools’ top priority should be to prepare female students for married life and teach them how to take care of their children once they get married.
“This will undoubtedly reduce negative social phenomena such as divorce and drug abuse. Sports are important for everyone but some things are more important,” said Al-Suwaid, while adding that introducing sports will distract girls from their main task.
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.
Just Do It isn’t only a Nike advertising slogan. According to this opinion piece in Saudi Gazette, it’s what the government of Saudi Arabia needs to do when it comes to the issue of women’s driving.
As with many things in Saudi Arabia, Mahmoud Ahmed reminds us, Saudi society takes a long time to come to conclusions about change. And the funny thing is that they never actually reach conclusions until the government says, “do this.” Once the mandate has been issued, and after a bit of fussing, the new becomes accepted. There are actually few things in which Saudi society has been the driver of change — satellite TV is one that comes to mind. In most cases, it’s the government that says girls will be educated or that English will be taught in primary schools. Even the most mundane issues like girls’ sports programs in schools take a government boot to get people moving.
It’s time, Ahmed suggests, for the government to act. All the arguments pro and con have been hashed out over the years. Everyone understands them. But until the government authorizes the activity, it’s not going to happen. So, just do it for crying out loud!
Will society allow women to drive?
There’s a decided single-mindedness in Saudi society when it comes to making decisions on social issues— especially issues that concern women. Just procrastinate and the issue will fade away. Is it me, or is it really the case that when issues require a firm decision, we either take a long time deliberating or just don’t bother to consider them, allowing them to simmer. In either case, the manner in which we tackle issues is poor at best. In the first case, we are just delaying the inevitable and the second — pushing the decision off with the attitude that out of sight means out of mind — is just wishful thinking.
Among the many issues demanding a decision from society is that of women driving. It has been said that only society can decide whether women should drive, but the question is: How long will this take?
Saudi society is divided on many mundane issues, including teaching English at the elementary level (a necessity of the times), changing the weekend to Friday and Saturday instead of Thursday and Friday ( in line with global necessity), girls’ sports in school (a healthy option for society) and many others. So why should the issue of women driving be any different? The irony is that not that long ago, society was divided on the issue of women going to school. But once the decision was taken society accepted it with the naysayers realizing the necessity of education for both boys and girls. Now those who were once against the idea are used to it and the result is that there are many schools and universities for women in the Kingdom.
A Saudi imam is among those visiting Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp, as part of a Holocaust Awareness program, Arab News reports. I wish it could have been a few hundred. Holocaust denial is a problem among Saudis; they simply don’t believe it happened and are willing to accept any ‘proof’ that it didn’t no matter how bad or biased the source. Having clerics visit the site — as well as the various museums that describe Jewish life in Poland before the Nazi conquest and implementation of labor and death camps — would certainly help to open their eyes to a bit of history they might politically prefer not to know.
Interfaith harmony: Imams to visit Auschwitz
WARSAW: ARAB NEWS
A Saudi preacher is among 14 Muslim scholars from across the globe who will visit the former Nazi Auschwitz death camp in southern Poland next week as part of a Holocaust awareness and anti-genocide program, organizers said yesterday.
“This is an opportunity for imams who are influential in their communities to look at the Holocaust first hand and to go to Auschwitz, to see what that kind of hatred led to,” Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told AFP yesterday.
“It’s to make sure that civilization doesn’t fail again.”
Other visiting imams are from Bosnia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Palestine, Turkey and the US. They will also visit a new museum in the Polish capital Warsaw focusing on centuries of Jewish life before the Holocaust, John C. Taylor from the US State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom told AFP.
‘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.”
The horrific case of the family of a young man paralyzed in the course of a crime calling for his assailant to be equally paralyzed as a matter of justice has been resolved through the payment of SR 1 million in diyya, “blood money”. Saudi Gazette reports that a Saudi philanthropist has raised the funds demanded by the family and that the assailant will be released after having spent 10 years in jail for his crime.
Man facing eye-for-an-eye punishment to be freed soon
Saudi Gazette report
AL-AHSA — In a few days, Ali Al-Khwahir, a young man who spent 10 years in prison after stabbing his friend and paralyzing him, will be freed now that the SR1 million blood money has been paid to the victim thanks to philanthropists in Al-Ahsa.
Al-Khwahir’s act deprived Muhammad Al-Hazeem of mobility and the ability to have children. The blood money was paid in full to the victim after a group of philanthropists and businessmen in Al-Ahsa governorate came up with the amount.
Al-Khwahir’s mother has never stopped praying to Allah that her son will be released from prison. She did not know whether to be happy or cry after she learned that her son would be released very soon. She thanked Al-Hayat daily for publishing her son’s story.
Al-Hayat met Al-Khwahir inside the prison. He said: “I am born again. All this time in prison I’ve spent has been marked with hope sometimes and too much fear at other times. I told myself I would accept any fate Allah ordains.” He is planning to complete his college education despite the difficulties facing him as a person with a criminal record.
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 that two men who assisted “Al-Khobar Girl” in leaving Saudi Arabia before or after (stories differ) converting to Christianity have been sentenced. The Lebanese national was sentenced to six years in jail and 300 lashes; the Saudi who assisted in obtaining exit documents received a sentence of two years in jail and 200 lashes.
I have to assume that the Lebanese man was Christian. The Saudi man, more than likely was Muslim. The punishments given out do not appear to me to be related to apostasy or promoting apostasy, but rather for violations of Saudi travel regulations.
Lebanese guilty of brainwashing ‘Al-Khobar girl’
Saudi Gazette report
AL-KHOBAR — The Al-Khobar District Court found a Lebanese national and a Saudi guilty of brainwashing a Saudi woman to convert to Christianity and helping her leave the Kingdom with a false travel permit over a year ago, local media reported on Sunday.
The Lebanese man was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes while the Saudi was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes.
The July 2012 case created a stir in the Kingdom.
The woman, known only as “the Al-Khobar girl,” was granted refuge in Sweden where she lives under the protection of unspecified NGOs, according to local press reports.
She had appeared in a YouTube video last year in which she announced that she had chosen to convert to Christianity.
The Al-Khobar Administrative Court will pass judgment into the case of forgery, bribery and abuse of power involving a passport officer who allegedly falsified a travel permit for the woman so that she could exit the Kingdom.
A three-day, government sponsored symposium held in Saudi Arabia has concluded that the Arabic language needs protection from the onslaught of other languages. The language of the Quran is in danger of being diluted, if not lost, some participants hold.
According to this Saudi Gazette report, participants suggest that foreign workers be required to have competence in Arabic before being granted work visas. The level of Arabic required would vary according to the positions being held, though no specifics are given.
‘Make fluency in Arabic a condition for foreign workers’
Saeed Al-Khotani | Saudi Gazette
RIYADH — Two distinguished Gulf academics warned on Wednesday against the danger non-Arab speaking labor poses to the Arabic language and culture in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
They called for gradually making fluency in the language a requirement for any non-Arab labor wanting to work in these countries.
The call came in their research papers presented in a session on the influence of non-Arab labor on Arabic at the Coordinative Symposium of Universities and Institutions Concerned with Arabic Language in GCC Countries, which concluded on Thursday at the Riyadh InterContinental.
One of the academics, Latifa Al-Najjar, professor at the United Arab Emirates University, said the presence of non-Arab speaking labor in the GCC countries contributed, along with the use of colloquial Arabic in audio and video media, to the creation of a distorted Arabic language, negatively affecting the process of acquiring knowledge of standard Arabic.
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:
Arab News reports that the 61st group of graduates of Saudi Arabia’s terrorist rehabilitation program have been released back into society. This cadre, numbering 166, will continue to be monitored and to take part in programs to help reintegrate them into society. They will be offered help in job placement and, if the past is any indicator, even to get married in order to find a more stable life.
The program — Munasaha — has been largely successful, with a 20% recidivism rate, excellent by most standards of rehabilitation. Unfortunately, those who fall back into their extremist ways tend to be extremely dangerous. Improved monitoring can make a difference, but it’s not a real guarantee.
166 ‘reformed’ militants freed
RIYADH: GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN
Saudi Arabia released yesterday 166 former Al-Qaeda members and repentant militants after they underwent a long-term state-sponsored counseling program (Munasaha) aimed at reintegrating them into society, said Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, spokesman of the Ministry of Interior.
The rehabilitation program and release are designed to encourage the individuals to adopt the moderate path of Islam. A total of 104 former militants were released in Riyadh, Al-Turki said.
“A group of 62 members of the deviant group were released in Jeddah after they completed the counseling program at the Prince Mohammed Bin Naif Center for Counseling and Care,” said Al-Turki.
The ministry did not provide details of their past affiliations with the terrorist groups.
Al-Turki, contacted by Arab News, said there were no women in the groups that were released.