In addition to making clear that military action in Yemen against Houthi rebels is an international effort, Saudi Arabia’s government is also trying to underline their view that this is a geo-political effort against Iranian expansionism, not a sectarian war. Asharq Alawsat reports on comments by the Ministry of Defense stating that the operation has closed off air re-supply from Iran to the Houthis.

Saudi-led airstrikes cut off Iranian supplies to Houthis

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi-led airstrikes against the Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi movement in Yemen have successfully cut off air supply lines to the movement from Tehran, Saudi Arabia’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday.

In his daily briefing on the progress of the air assaults—dubbed Operation Decisive Storm—Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Ahmed Bin Hassan Assiri told reporters the Houthis had used a recent deal signed between Yemen and Iran’s civil aviation authorities to gain military supplies from the Islamic Republic.

Yemen and Iran’s civil aviation authorities signed the agreement in late February, following the Houthi coup, to operate 14 direct flights between both countries, via state carrier Yemen Airways and Iranian private airliner Mahan Air.

Assiri said the Houthis had amassed a large amount of weapons and ammunition from Iran since the deal was signed, but that these supply lines had now been successfully cut off, with weapons storage facilities also targeted throughout the country.

The border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen had now also been secured, he said.


March:31:2015 - 07:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

In an op-ed at Al Arabiya TV, Khalf Al Habtoor reminds Iran that the Arab world can play the “support the oppressed!” game, too. He points to the Arab residents of Iran, particularly those in Khuzestan, formerly known as “Arabistan.” These Arabs, he claims, are being treated poorly, as second-class citizens at best. Might they not warrant increased attention and support by Arab states?

He draws parallels — without actually naming names — with the way Iran argues for support of the Houthis in Yemen and calls for Arab, particularly GCC, support for the independence of Arab-occupied portions of Iran.

Arab Ahwaz must be liberated from Iran
Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Whenever the Arab world is discussed, forgotten are the five million Arabs struggling to survive under the Persian yoke in an Arab region bordering Iraq and the Arabian Gulf, rich with oil and gas. Once an autonomous area, separated from Persia by the Zagros mountain range, under the governance of Sheikh Khazaal bin Jabber – whose family had ruled for over a century – it was grabbed by Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1925 with a nod and a wink from Britain eager to preserve its relationship with Iran due to its oil interests.

Formerly known as Arabistan, the Iranian occupiers wasted no time in changing the name of this new Iranian province to Khuzestan, rejected by its Arab residents even today. Arabs and Persians have little in common and as Sir Arnold Wilson, a British colonial administrator, once said: Arabistan is “a country as different from Persia as is Spain from Germany.”

Although Arabistan provides Iran with 80 percent of its oil requirements as well as half of its gas, its sons are exploited and oppressed; their human rights tramped upon, their very identity in danger of being obliterated. Iran’s policy of ethnic discrimination combined with its Persian resettlement endeavors has resulted in turning the Ahwazi Arabs into an economic and social underclass.


March:29:2015 - 08:32 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

As could be expected, Saudi media is heavy with reporting on the military intervention in Yemen that’s being led by Saudi Arabia. Reports focus on the international aspect of the operation, as shown in this infographic from Al Arabiya TV…

Infographic of countries taking part in Decisive Storm

The Al Arabiya TV story pre-dates the move of Yemen’s President Hadi’s move to Saudi Arabia from Aden, where he’d taken refuge after fleeing Sana’a.

Of interest is the deployment of Egyptian Navy assets who presumably will work in coordination with the Royal Saudi Navy to interdict possible Iranian attempts to supply Houthi forces. All GCC states, excepting Oman, which borders eastern Yemen, have committed aircraft to the operation. Morocco, Sudan, and Jordan have as well.

The name “Decisive Storm,” rather than the earlier “Determination Storm” seems to have been settled upon.

Your guide to ‘Operation Decisive Storm’

Dina al-Shibeeb, Al Arabiya News

Allies with their fighter jets on Thursday joined Saudi Arabia in its “Decisive Storm” military operation, targeting Houthi rebels who had vowed to dislodge President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi.

Al Arabiya News Channel reported that Saudi Arabia deployed 150,000 soldiers, 100 fighter jets and navy units in Yemen after Hadi pleaded with its Gulf ally for help against the Houthi rebels, who were advancing toward the southern city of Aden – where Hadi is based – to remove him from power in an attempted coup.

The Royal Saudi Air Force took control of Yemen’s airspace early Thursday, and destroyed four Houthi jets and its surface-to-air (SAM) missiles.

Reports also emerged that top Houthi leadership: Abdulkhaliq al-Houthi, Yousuf al-Madani, and Yousuf al-Fishi were killed and the head of the Revolutionary Committee for the Houthis, Mohammed Ali al-Hothi, was wounded.


March:27:2015 - 09:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that the expansion of the mataaf of the Grand Mosque in Mecca — the area in which pilgrims circumabulate the Kaaba — is nearly finished. Pilgrims will be able to walk around the Kaaba on three levels, greatly increasing the number who can partake in the ritual at the same time. The three levels will be finished by Ramadan, the report says, with only the roof needing completion. That will be done by next year.

Expanded mataaf to be ready for Haj
Khalid Al-Himaidi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

MAKKAH — The new mataaf (the circumambulation area) in the Grand Mosque will have a capacity to handle 105,000 pilgrims an hour, according to a senior official.

Sultan Al-Qurashi, General Director of Projects at the General Presidency of Grand Mosque and Prophet’s Mosque Affairs, said the expansion of the Grand Mosque project is in its third and final stage.

“Once the project finishes, pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque will be able to circumambulate around the Kaaba on three floors: the basement, ground floor and first floor. These three floors will be ready by Ramadan. We are also opening the roof which will be ready by the next Haj season,” said Al-Qurashi.


March:25:2015 - 09:40 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

An interesting op-ed in Saudi Gazette from Khaled Batarfi. He discusses Islamic banking, finance, etc. with Pr. Mohammed Al-Faisal and learns that while there are economic tools in use across the Islamic world, there is no underlying theory about an “Islamic economy.” Worth reading.

‘Islamic Economy is a baseless theory’
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

WHEN I asked Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal, the pioneer of Islamic Banking, about the concept, he explained: “What we have today is a baseless theory.

You can’t have a comprehensive economic theory devoid of social justice. The implied question here is: How can we build an economy to serve society?

“That is what I have been concentrating on lately, trying, without much success, to motivate economists and religious scholars to do due research,” the founder of Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal Award for Islamic Economy Research, complains.

“Some think Islamic Banking represent Islamic Economy. But we must realize the difference between a) the financial services and b) the general economic theories controlling them.

“I am not knowledgeable enough to conduct such research. Experts and scholars in economic and Islamic fields should gather to formulate a unified basis and set of principles defining the philosophies of Islamic Economy,” he recommends.


March:24:2015 - 08:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

The Saudi justice system, often decried as harsh and even barbaric, has its elements of mercy as well, a story in The New York Times reports.

A serious issue with the system is that it is erratic. The same crime, adjudged in different courts by different judges, can result in widely varying sentences. Much depends on the sensibilities and sensitivities of the sitting judge. Uncodified laws and the lack of a requirement to rely on legal precedent can result in wide disparities in results.

This is a factor taken into consideration by appeals courts and, ultimately, the King who can issue pardons.

But there are also mechanisms through which the harshest penalties can be avoided. The story reports on just such a case, involving a clear case of murder, in which the miscreant’s life was spared by the daughter of the victim.

If nothing else, the article does a good job of portraying the complexity of a system based on tradition, custom, and religious law.

Saudi Justice, Harsh but Able to Spare the Sword
BEN HUBBARD

BURAIDA, Saudi Arabia — The murder that almost cost Bandar al-Yehiya his head started with an old debt to a close friend.

Struggling to raise the cash, Mr. Yehiya invited the friend to his home and offered him a rifle as payment. But when the friend refused, Mr. Yehiya got angry and shot him in the chest, leaving him dead on the living room couch, the slain man’s brother, Faleh al-Homeidani, said.

Mr. Yehiya confessed to the murder, so under Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, he would face the punishment that has made Saudi justice notorious around the world: beheading in the public square.

But the execution never happened.

Saudi Arabia’s justice system is regularly condemned by human rights groups for violating due process, lacking transparency and applying punishments like beheading and amputation. Criticism has grown as Saudi cases have made news abroad: a liberal blogger caned for criticizing religious leaders; activists jailed for advocating reform; a woman held without charge for more than two months for driving a car.


March:23:2015 - 09:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

In many conservative Muslim states, men do not talk to women other than their relatives. They may not even shake hands with them. Foreign male diplomats are taught to wait to see if a woman extends her hand for a shake before extending their own. Female diplomats are taught to not even bother if the interlocutor is male.

Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh in which the writer — a Saudi woman — points out to the patent unfairness and illegality of the way government officials (and others) refuse to deal directly with women, insisting that only males enter their offices (or office buildings). Some refuse to speak with women even on the phone. Or how some doctors will speak only to males in discussing medical concerns of patients… even if the woman is the patient.

It’s truly a backward approach to life and one the Saudis are going to have to come to terms with if they’re not going to continue leaving themselves open to complaints and criticisms like those made by the Swedish Foreign Minister.

‘Sorry, I don’t talk to women’
Dr. Hatoon Ajwad Al-Fassi | Al-Riyadh

I added the word “sorry” to the title of this article even though government officials do not normally bother to use this word. I have previously written regarding how women are not allowed to enter government buildings and are forced to stand outside on the street. I now intend to discuss how government officials treat women once they manage to enter government offices.

I know of a woman who went to a hospital with her husband. The hospital’s management subsequently asked her to leave because women are not allowed to stay the night with their husbands. Only male family members can do so. This woman asked the consultant to keep her posted on her husband’s health. He, however, refused to speak to her in person or over the phone, and said he would only talk with male family members. He insisted on dealing with her like this even though what he was doing was against the rights of patients.

Another example is that of a mother who called her son’s school to ask how well he was doing. The teacher refused to talk to her and said he would only to talk to the child’s father. What if this woman were widowed or divorced?


March:20:2015 - 09:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

An interesting op-ed in Asharq Alawsat from former Editor-in-Chief Tariq Alhomayed. In it, he complains about how media (and others) use names to identify both individuals and groups. It’s a problem of long standing, not just in today’s contexts. Do you use the name the subject uses for self-identification or do you use something else, perhaps assigned for political or other reasons? Who gets to do the naming? And what of the consequences of name that carry emotional or political baggage?

He doesn’t really offer any good solutions, but identifying the fact that names are not just some neutral tag is useful. It might help journalists (and others) to think about names, but it doesn’t offer any useful argument or conclusions on how to deal with the conundrum.

Opinion: Abu Who?
Tariq Alhomayed

One can only be shocked and surprised by the way the Arab media has been reporting on terrorism and terrorists. Most recently we had the story of the Australian teenager Jake Bilardi, aged 18, who is believed to have carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq’s central city of Ramadi on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

What is shocking to me is that the majority of Arab media used this teen’s chosen kunya (an Arabic teknonymic naming convention) of Abu Abdullah Al-Australi (meaning “Father of Abdullah the Australian” in Arabic) in their reports, rather than describing him as what he actually was, namely “the terrorist Jake Bilardi.” Here we must ask ourselves: Is it so important for the media to respect the protocols and naming conventions of terrorists and terrorist groups? Must we ensure that the chosen name of a terrorist is used and repeated again and again until it becomes infamous?

Should we allow terrorists and terrorist groups to promote themselves in our media in this manner? Doesn’t the media have a duty to take a position on this issue? The media, by its very nature, is biased to one degree or another—regardless of claims to neutrality. So a killer must be described as a killer; a criminal as a criminal; and the same applies to a terrorist, even a teenage one.

Today, for example, we find some media outlets describing ISIS as the “Islamic State” or the “Islamic State group.” While other news outlets describe them in the same manner, but make sure to add the term “militant” or “radical” to the mix. But, by adding this description—or shall we say classification—do these latter media outlets inadvertently stumble into the realm of propaganda?

What about the media outlets or governments that insist on using the Arabic acronym of the group and call them “Daesh”? Is this better or worse, particularly when we know that ISIS itself does not approve of this name?


March:18:2015 - 08:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

People — including Saudis — complain that Saudi religious education is regressive, that it takes the most conservative approach possible. What’s worse, according to this Saudi Gazette report, is that it can’t even keep a consistent view of what is permissible and what is not. The report points out that government text books contradict themselves, sometimes from one page to the next, as with the question about whether or not photography is permissible.

Islamic curriculum ‘regressive’
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — Islamic teachings in schools constantly contradict themselves and do not address modern issues and societal advancement, Al-Hayat newspaper reported.

In one chapter of an Islamic book provided by the Ministry of Education, photography is a matter of dispute in Islam.

It is not clear whether it is halal (allowed in Islam) or haram (forbidden) because it depicts Allah’s creations but does not necessarily make the photographer act like he is a divine power by reenacting the creation of a living being, as some scholars claim.

The chapter says depicting animate objects such as people and animals in any way through drawing, sculpting or photography is forbidden but depicting inanimate objects such as trees and mountains is allowed.

However, on the next page the chapter states that depiction is forbidden and is among the worst of sins.


March:09:2015 - 07:42 | Comments Off | Permalink

Addressing the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Saudi government says it sees no reason to abolish the death penalty. The government claims that death sentences are reserved for only the most severe crimes and sentences must go through three levels of court approval before they’re implemented.

In reporting on the Saudi Press Agency story on the issue, Saudi Gazette makes no specific mention of Quranically-mandated death sentences. Nor does it address those “crimes” which most modern nations no longer acknowledge, such as “black magic” or apostasy.

Saudi Arabia rebuffs calls to abolish the death penalty
Saudi Gazette report

GENEVA – Saudi Arabia reiterated on Wednesday its commitment to hold fast to the Shariah principles in all walks of life especially in applying the law for death penalty, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Rebuffing calls for lifting the death penalty, Bandar Al-Aiban, president of the Human Rights Commission, said the Kingdom cannot forget the rights of the victims encroached by criminals while listening to calls for abrogation of capital punishment.

Al-Aiban made the remarks while addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“The Kingdom is keen to protect the rights of both the offenders and the victims. This is the underlying spirit while carrying out the penalty for criminals convicted of murder,” he said, while drawing attention to the fact that there are several other countries that apply the death penalty.

For its part, Arab News reports similarly, pointing out that Saudi law is a sovereign right accorded to all nations:

Shariah rule ‘sovereign Saudi right’


March:05:2015 - 07:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Fathers are expected to watch over their sons, a Saudi court ruled in sentencing a man to three years in jail for not reporting that his son had gone off to join a militant group that later attacked a government border installation, Arab News reports.

3-year jail term for not reporting missing son
JEDDAH: MD AL-SULAMI

A specialized criminal court has sentenced a Saudi man to three years and SR3,000 fine for not informing security authorities about his son’s whereabouts who later joined a militant group that opened fire against border guards in Wadeea, killing a two police officers.

The man had earlier given a written undertaking to authorities that he would take care of his son and prevent him from joining militants.

Police recovered prohibited material from the son’s computer. He was also accused of possessing unlicensed weapons.

The public prosecutor claimed that the militant joined the attack on border guards as a result of his father’s negligence in taking care of his son. The man was also accused of possessing a Belgian gun and Kalashnikov machine gun, 227 pieces of live ammunition.

The court issued its preliminary verdict to imprison the man for three years from the date of his detention, six months of which for committing cybercrime. The man’s son attacked the border guards in Sharourah, Najran, on Nov. 5, 2012.


March:02:2015 - 06:51 | Comments Off | Permalink

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
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