The Washington Post reports that Abdulrahman Alharbi, a Saudi student who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, is suing American conservative commentator Glenn Beck for defamation. Beck, a little crazy, somewhat bigoted, a rather conspiratorial in his thinking, claimed that Alharbi played a role in the bombing and was an “Al-Qaeda coordinator” behind it, the “money man”. The FBI thought differently, however, and saw Alharbi as an unlucky, but innocent victim of the bombs.
On a mid-April day last year, Glenn Beck was in a full lather. Less than one week had passed since a pair of bombs had exploded at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds more. The FBI had just identified the Tsarnaev brothers as primary suspects behind the attack. But to Beck, cloaked in a gray button-down and a sheen of indignation, this wasn’t enough.
In attendance at the marathon had been a 20-year-old Saudi Arabian student named Abdulrahman Alharbi. He was on a full ride to study at the nearby New England School of English. He’d been injured at the marathon, later questioned by police and ultimately cleared of wrongdoing.
Beck, however, had suspicions. The radio host urged the U.S. government to release information on Alharbi or Beck would “expose” him. “Let me send this message very clear,” said Beck, who left Fox News in 2011. ”We know who this Saudi national is…. We know who this man is and, listen to me carefully, we know he is a very bad, bad, bad man.”
A peculiar story in Saudi Gazette — which, following Saudi custom, names no names. The owner of a satellite TV channel is being charged with sedition after he admitted taking direction and money from the government of Qaddafi’s Libya to defame Saudi Arabia. Over the last ten years of Qaddafi’s reign, he was at loggerheads with Saudi Arabia and particularly with King Abdullah.
Providing the person’s name, or at least that of the TV channel would have been most helpful in understanding this piece.
Saudi admits receiving money to spread chaos
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — A Saudi who owns a satellite channel has admitted to a court that he received money to spread sedition in the Kingdom, Al-Hayat daily reported.
The prosecutor from the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution (BIP) has called for the strongest penalties against the defendant. He said the accused received $1.8 million from the now overthrown Gaddafi regime in Libya to incite public unrest in the Kingdom.
He claimed the defendant tried to link the Kingdom with terrorism and said Al-Qaeda was of Saudi origin.
The prosecutor said the accused received the money, claiming that it was for a Holy Qur’an contest, and has admitted to broadcasting controversial programs on his channel. The purpose of these programs was to educate the public of their rights, that the country was “kidnapped”, and that the Arab Spring helped people obtain their rights, said the prosecutor.
The prosecutor said that the programs were broadcasted under titles such as “Mental Terrorism”, “The Religious Establishment”, “Administrative Corruption”, “Slavery and Ignominy”, “The Kingdom and Terrorism” and “The Kidnapped Country”.
The prosecutor added the accused has claimed the country has insulted expatriates and deprived them of their rights, and that there is no other nation that deprives expatriates of their rights apart from Muslim countries.
The accused has admitted that he prepared and broadcasted these programs. The judge then asked the defendant to respond to these accusations, but he claimed the investigation procedures were not legal or valid.
He told the court that he felt remorse for his actions. He said that he explained this to the authorities in the Kingdom and he was allowed to return to the country because he was abroad when a warrant was issued for his arrest.
The defendant asked that his case be closed, claiming the time he spent in prison was enough punishment. The judge will announce final decision on the case in the next hearing scheduled next month.
Writing at pan-Arab Al-Hayat (here translated by Al Arabiya TV) Abdullah Hamidaddin goes after the ultra-facile ‘analysis’ of CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria, in my view, gets some things right in his global analyses. At other times, he gets them very wrong. His latest piece on Saudi Arabia and US-Saudi relations, alas, falls in the latter camp and Hamidaddin calls him on it.
Ranting or analyzing? Fareed Zakaria and Saudi foreign policy
Fareed Zakaria is a very influential media figure, but his understanding of the region is somewhat limited, and his approach to foreign policy analysis is quite immature. Both qualities featured in his recent Time Magazine article: “Zakaria: The Saudis Are Mad? Tough! Why we shouldn’t care that the world’s most irresponsible country is displeased at the U.S.”
Criticizing the foreign policies of any State is absolutely necessary. The one who benefits most is the target of the critique. But it is one thing to offer political critique and another to offer political ranting; which is what Zakaria did in his article. But the problem is not his rant, rather, the problem is that it would be taken as a serious political analysis. Saudi Arabia is stereotyped. And as a result people are allowed to think about it in certain ways, regardless of the facts. Worse still, people are allowed to analyze it nonsensically and still be taken seriously. This is a fundamental problem. If the logic which Zakaria used in his article was applied in an analysis of German or Russian foreign policy, it would become a laughing matter. But applying that logic to Saudi Arabia made it a political analysis.
He starts by saying: “America’s Middle East policies are failing, we are told, and the best evidence is that Saudi Arabia is furious.” And then he sarcastically says: “Surely the last measure of American foreign policy should be how it is received by the House of Saud.”
Arab News reports on the story making its way through Saudi-bashing forums about how Saudia — the national airline of Saudi Arabia — allegedly discriminates against Jews by not allowing them to transit the country on route to further destinations. As the Saudi Arabian Airlines spokesman reports, this is not a matter of religious discrimination. Jews can indeed transit the country, or enter it for that matter. Israelis however, no matter their religion, can not. This is because Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations. Airlines do not carry passengers to a destination in which they cannot receive permission to enter, plain and simple.
The attempted ‘gotcha’ on the part of a New York politician fails because he neglected basic international law. Or, perhaps it succeeded in the eyes of those he’s trying to court through ignorance.
Saudia rejects ‘discrimination’ allegation
JEDDAH: JASSIM ABUZAID
Khaled Al-Molhem, director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines, has rejected allegations that his airline discriminated against nationalities but emphasized that it would uphold the sovereign rights of countries.
“We don’t discriminate against passengers on the basis of nationality and religion,” Al-Watan Arabic daily quoted Al-Molhem as saying while commenting on US media reports that Saudia did not allow an Israeli to board its flight.
“Diplomatic relations and political exchange are basic requirements for a person to enter a country,” the Saudia chief said indicating that Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Al-Molhem made it clear: “We cannot accept a passenger if his country does not have political relations with Saudi Arabia because it would be impossible for him to enter the country.”
Saudi Arabs in the US operate under the cloud of 9/11, when 15 Saudi nationals were involved in the attacks. Eleven years is not sufficient to erase memories, nor, sadly, to raise the shadow of suspicion.
Early reports following the bombing of the Boston Marathon finish line were intensely focused on a Saudi student, Abdul Rahman Al-Harbi, who was under police protection at a local hospital. There were reports that he had been tackled by a bystander for ‘behaving suspiciously’ by running away, but running away from a bomb scene strikes me as not only pretty normal behavior, but pretty wise behavior as well.
Authorities in Boston stated yesterday that Al-Harbi was not a perpetrator of the bombing, but was just one of the nearly 180 victims. A student in the Boston area, he did what many tens of thousands people did: take advantage of the local Patriots’ Day holiday and attend the famous Boston Marathon. He got caught in the explosion and the chaos that ensued.
The Washington Post runs an article — mining deeply in Saudi blogger Ahmed Al-Omran’s writings — that tells of other Saudis caught in the mess, including a young woman who nearly lost a leg to injuries.
You’ve probably already heard about the 20-something Saudi study-abroad student who, though he’s not a suspect, was interviewed by police after being injured in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing and who volunteered to let police search his apartment.
But you may not know about the second Saudi citizen hurt in the blast, a young woman who was also studying in Boston and who, according to Al Arabiya, almost lost her leg. The report, citing a friend of the young woman, says her wounds were so severe that surgeons considered amputating the leg but ultimately were able to save it. A Saudi embassy official, speaking to CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoon, confirmed the woman had been injured, adding that she had been at the race with her husband and child.
There are about 1,000 Saudi citizens studying in Boston, according to a Saudi cultural attache in the United States. Others were also caught in the chaos of the attack, just as terrified as anyone else. A Saudi student named Omar Moathen, headed to meet a friend at mile 26 of the marathon route when the bomb went off, later recounted being corralled into a crowded hotel to wait as police swept for other explosives. His account, translated into English by Saudi blogger Ahmed Al Omran, was like so many others that day. He was confused and feared for his nearby friends, for the children no one could seem to comfort and for himself. He tried to call a friend, waited anxiously and prayed.
Arab News runs an interview with Shatha Jameel Lutfi, another student who found herself in the wrong place:
The UAE’s Gulf News has an interview with Ali Eissa Al-Harbi, Abdul Rahman’s father. He is not well-pleased with the way in which some portions of the US media leaped to conclusions about his son.
Presently, there are no suspects for the bombing in Boston. That makes people uncomfortable as human beings don’t like voids in their mental pictures of the world. If something happens, the effects are apparent, but they want to know the cause. Without a clear cause, they will use their imaginations — perhaps rooted to the slightest bit of information — to fill in the blanks. Because a stem of terrorism in the name of Islam was allowed to grow in Saudi Arabia (Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 attackers, the perpetrators of the various bombings and attacks within Saudi Arabia and across the region) the mention of “Saudi” in any crime report leads to the conclusion, erroneous as it may be, that the event must be laid at the feet of Saudis and Saudi Arabia.
Most Americans don’t have any idea of the battle the Kingdom has been conducting since 2003. That’s not a failure of public relations or inactivity on the part of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, it’s that ideas that play against stereotypes are not really perceived. It’s far easier to believe the narrative that has been formed by history and further fanned by anti-Muslim and anti-Saudi sources.
It’d be great if it were otherwise, but unfortunately it is not. Saudis will have to bear the burden put upon them by certain of those who came before them. At least for a while.
Asharq Alawsat reports that the Saudi government, through the Ministry of Justice, has denied that a court had sentenced a man to be paralyzed in retribution for his having paralyzed another in a criminal attack. The Ministry statement goes on to note that the judge in the case had actually rejected that punishment.
It’s entirely possible that the Saudi media that broke this story got it wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. Unfortunately, it’s also possible that the government of Saudi Arabia, once it realized the outrage the story provoked, exerted its influence to get the punishment changed. That it took five days for the denial to come out suggests the latter. It wouldn’t be the first time for that, either.
What the story does suggest, though, is that there’s still a lot of reforming of the legal system to be done. Laws that were transparent, uniform, and codified would prevent stories like this from gaining any ground.
Saudi Arabia Denies Paralysis Sentence
Ministry of justice dismisses press reports of retributive justice as false
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice has officially denied press reports claiming that a judge sentenced a young Saudi man to be surgically paralyzed.
The accused was allegedly given a retributive sentence in the Eastern Province town of Al-Ahsa for stabbing another man and paralyzing him from the waist down, provoking an international outcry.
Local press reports garnered a significant international response, and the story was widely reported in the Western and global media, including the BBC and CNN.
Governments, including those of the US and UK, and human rights campaigners also expressed their concern. Amnesty International appealed to the Saudi government not to carry out the sentence.
On its official Twitter feed on Monday, the Ministry of Justice asserted it would “like to announce that this is utterly incorrect, and in fact the judicial ruling was contrary to that. The judge had shied away from demanding this punishment.”
A local Saudi newspaper previously reported that Ali Al-Khawahir, who was convicted 10 years ago of stabbing his best friend (Al-Khawahir was 14 at the time), would be paralyzed if he could not pay his victim the SAR 1 million (USD 270,000) in compensation, which he had been ordered to pay by the court. Another Saudi newspaper quoted Khawahir’s mother as saying that “we don’t have even a tenth of this sum.”
Following its official denial, the Saudi Ministry of Justice went on to call upon media outlets and groups that lobby for human rights to “verify” their information.
The ministry declined to disclose any further details of Khawahir’s sentence.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV reports on a fatwa — possibly issued last year — that calls for baby girls to be veiled. The cleric claims that this would somehow prevent child molestation. Social media and other Saudi clerics have not been kind to the Sheikh, calling his opinion outrageous. Others seek his punishment for the way his fatwa denigrates Islam. I can’t argue with that; he serves to feed anti-Saudi and anti-Muslim audiences with further evidence that there’s something intrinsically wrong with Islam if it must cloak its infants in order to protect them.
“Burkas for babies”: Saudi cleric’s new fatwa causes controversy
Mohammad Alyousei | Al Arabiya
A Saudi cleric has called for all female babies to be fully covered by wearing the face veil, commonly known as the burka, citing reports of little girls being sexually molested.
In a TV interview on the Islamic Al-Majd TV, which seems to date back to mid-last year, Sheikh Abdullah Daoud, stressed that wearing the veil will protect baby girls. The Sheikh tried to back his assertion with claims of sexual molestation against babies in the kingdom, quoting unnamed medical and security sources.
Recently picked up on social media, sheikh Dauod’s statement prompted wide condemnation from his fellow Saudis on Twitter. Some tweeps called for the Sheikh to be held accountable because his ruling denigrates Islam and breaches individual privacy.
There’s a saying in Italian, Se non è vero, è ben trovato, that is understood across most cultures. The lesson it seeks to impart, however, is not well appreciated. The saying, translated, is “Even if it’s not true, it’s a good story”. That is, the story confirms the biases of the hearer and speaker alike.
Such is the case with the ‘news story’ that alleged a Saudi cleric, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Arifi, had issued a fatwa in late December authorizing Sunni fighters in the Syrian civil war to rape non-Sunni Muslim women. [Actually, the issue was short-term marriages, not rape, but whatever...] The story confirmed the dreads of several noted Islamophobes, but also caught up some usually reputable media outlets like Alternet.
The story was later revealed to be a piece of propaganda put out by the Iranian PressTV.com in an attempt to malign Saudi Arabia and Sunni Islam in general. Alternet published a retraction that reflections on the point that if you don’t know a subject, any malign comment is believable. It therefore helps to have some understanding of subject before you go spouting off about it, or even repeating rumors.
The apparently fabricated story of a Saudi cleric issuing a fatwa condoning gang rapes in Syria is an object lesson in the pitfalls of breakneck online journalism.
Editor’s note: On January 2, AlterNet was one of several outlets that published what turned out to be an article based on a false report. We apologize to our readers for the error.
On January 2, the story of a Saudi sheikh issuing a fatwa that condoned “intercourse marriage” or gang rape in Syria exploded over the Internet.
According to various sources, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Arifi stated that foreign fighters in Syria had the right to engage in short-term marriages to satisfy their sexual desires and boost their determination to fight against the Assad regime. Syrian girls and women from age 14 upward were considered fair game and apparently secured their own place in heaven if they participated in these “intercourse marriages.”
There are other moral lessons to be learned from this failure, of course. As Alternet points out, the rush to break news stories — or at least to not be left in the dust — ends up with reporters and writers using less caution than they should.
Another is that the sources of news stories must be considered. Any news story with a negative view of Sunni Islam coming out of PressTV needs to be taken warily. Similarly, stories coming from Sunni (or Christian, or Jewish) sources need to be held at arms length when they comment negatively about Iran or Shi’ism. Just because these sources say it is so, doesn’t make it so. Readers must be aware of their own prejudices and biases so that they don’t fall into the trap of believing stories that are “just too good to check”.
Saudi Arabia has no minimum age for marriage. This fact leads to several unhappy outcomes. First, young girls, as young as eight, are sometimes married off by their parents. Their agreement usually involves a hefty payment by the would-be husband, often decades (if not a generation) older than the bride. Various reports, including by Saudi researchers, have found that marriage is not something for small children to undertake for reasons of both psychological and physical health. Then too, child marriage is extremely objectionable to most societies across the world. That Saudi Arabia permits it to continue provides grounds for Saudi-bashing.
Now, Saudi media report, the Ministry of Justice is preparing to announce a minimum age for marriage. The Ministry is not yet prepared to say just what that age is as it is still under discussion.
The major problem facing the Ministry is that child marriage has a long tradition in the region and is not forbidden by Islam. People can point to Islamic history and see that even Mohammed, in a very different time, married Aisha at a young age – various reports say she was 8, 9, or 13.
The fact that something is not forbidden by religion, though, does not mean that it cannot be forbidden by the state. Slavery, too, is permitted within Islam (as it is, textually, within Christianity and Judaism). But societies around the world, including Saudi Arabia in the 1960s, have banned slavery. Not only do attitudes change over time, but circumstances do as well. While child marriage may have made sense when societies were small and under constant threat of annihilation, they no longer do. Saudi society is now mostly urban, tribes and tribal identities are less important, society knows more about the psychology and physiology for young women. Too, the institution of marriage in Saudi Arabia is under great pressure already, with a large proportion of them ending in divorce. Permitting another negative factor to be introduced does nothing to resolve those problems.
While no age is yet stated, I expect it will be set at 13. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were 16, but doubt that Saudi Arabia will go as high as 18, though many of its neighbors have. Saudis go for compromise and consensus and 13 strikes me as the number most likely to find that consensus. This does not mean that that age is fixed forever, though. Once the fact that law can operate in setting a limit, that limit can be later changed. As Saudi society continues to change, as Saudi women continue to be educated and employed, there will be fewer parents who believe that their financial salvation rests in the bodies of their daughters.
Age of consent for marriage of Saudi girls soon
DAMMAM: ARAB NEWS
The Justice Ministry will soon make an announcement to establish the age of consent for Saudi women to marry, local daily Al-Madinah reported yesterday quoting an official source at the ministry.
Director of the Department of Marriage at the ministry Muhammad Al-Babtain said a decision on the issue would soon be announced following the agreement of departments in the ministry involved on deciding on an age of consent.
“The project was discussed by a number of government departments concerned. The ministry deemed it appropriate to decide a certain age for the marriage of the underage girls taking into account its social and psychological aspects,” he said.
Al-Babtain declined to reveal the age of consent for marriage, but said the issue was still being discussed.
He said fixing an age for the marriage of young girls is commensurate with Shariah rules and the culture of the society. “Underage marriages are permissible under Islamic law,” he explained.
Al-Babtain pointed out the ministry had prepared a Shariah-based study that confirmed that marrying young girls was not against Shariah rules.
Saudi Arabia’s reputation as a place unfriendly to human rights is taking a toll on businesses, a front-page story in Saudi Gazette reports. Saudi employers simply do not have the legal right to hold the passports of their employers. Not only is this behavior forbidden under international human rights law, but it is forbidden under Saudi law as well.
Employers who hold onto the passports of their workers or their workers’ families do so in the belief that this will prevent the employee from leaving. It doesn’t work that way, though. Bad employers will find that their employees will leave when they find a better opportunity and can figure out how to get around the bureaucratic red tape. Or, they’ll just flee. Depriving employees of their rights is not how an employer builds loyalty.
Laws that are not obeyed and laws that are not enforced are a problem. Both lead to a lessening of respect for government. In this case, they also lead to a lessening of respect for Saudi businesses and Saudi Arabia as a whole by providing yet another opportunity for ‘Saudi-bashing’.
RIYADH – Saudi employers are breaking the Kingdom’s laws by holding the passports of their foreign employees, said Fadhl Abu Al-Ainain, an economist.
Al-Ainain was quoted Monday in a section of the Arabic press as saying that the law is ignored by some employers and not enforced by government agencies. This has resulted in unnecessary litigation with various international organizations.
As a consequence, some international human rights and labor organizations accuse the Kingdom of condoning and abetting human trafficking, he added.
Al-Ainain said certain business owners are giving the Kingdom a bad name internationally with this type of illegal behavior.
Asharq Alawsat‘s Salman Aldossary writes that the 9/11 attacks, which involved 15 Saudi nationals, had a profound affect on Saudi Arabia. It took time – Aldossary says months, but years is more accurate – but both the Saudi government and Saudi society awoke to the dangers they had helped create. I’ve argued that the ‘help’ was mostly through inactivity, intellectual laziness, and a willingness to extend trust too far. I’ll stick with that now.
Nevertheless, when Saudi Arabia awoke, it did move decisively. Its war against Al-Qaeda was successful in driving the group out of the Kingdom, though at some cost to individuals in both civilian life and the security sector. Through the actions of Crown Prince and then King Abdullah, hardline xenophobia and religious intolerance were halted and a new culture of dialogue was started. Serious government attention was paid to social issues and the media’s leash was slackened.
The article notes that relations with the US have greatly improved since the days following the attack. This is the result of the efforts on the part of both the US and Saudi governments, working to ease the tensions and improve their own images with the other’s citizens.
These changes could have and should have happened without the deaths of thousands to pay the price. That is not how history unfolded, though. We should be grateful that the changes have happened.
Saudi Arabia: A decade on after 9/11
Between the American insistence on portraying it as a modern holocaust, and the insistence of others on clinging to conspiracy theories, the world has experienced a frightening decade following the infamous 9/11 attacks. During this time the world has seen two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being killed and wounded. This is not to mention the financial cost of the war, estimated at $3 trillion, which has harmed the US economy and in turn affected the global economy. Although Saudi Arabia was one of the countries that was most affected by these attacks – as 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens – it has also, relatively speaking, suffered the least losses. Indeed these losses have today been transformed into gains.
Saudi society required long months to comprehend the extent of this disaster that a group of its citizens were accused of perpetrating, whilst the confession [martyrdom videos] of the hijackers failed to assist those who are trying to promote conspiracy theories. It was only natural that the shocking participation of 15 Saudi citizens in this terrorist operation would place Saudi Arabia in a vulnerable position, and this led to clear hostility towards Saudi Arabia in many countries, particularly the US, which even reached the point of some US parties calling for the bombing of Mecca!
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia announced that it was reducing its oil production by 800K barrels per day. According to this Reuters report carried in Asharq Alawsat, the Saudis claim that there is an oversupply in the market and they don’t see demand growing over the next few months. (OPEC will be looking at production/pricing figures again in June.) According to the Saudis and many economists, the current high prices are all the result of market forces. The market forces aren’t exactly about oil, but about oil as a place to invest money. Currently, with the US dollar weak and not many new places to put investment money, investors are looking for sureties. Right now, that’s gold and oil. They aren’t investing in oil because they need it, but because sometime down the road, others will need it and will pay for it.
There’s a certain amount of amusement to be found in how various audiences are parsing the Saudi reduction. Most of what I’ve seen looks at it as a purely economic affair. Others see it as a way for Saudi Arabia to pay for the tens of billions of dollars it is dedicated to social programs within the Kingdom. Certain sectors of investors see it as proof that ‘peak oil’ has been reached. There is a paranoid fringe, though, that chooses to see this as an indirect attack by the Saudis on the American economy. With gasoline prices in the US nearing historic highs, they figure that somebody is out to hurt them and it might as well be the Saudis…
KUWAIT (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s oil minister said on Sunday the kingdom had slashed output by 800,000 barrels per day in March due to oversupply, sending the strongest signal yet that OPEC will not act to quell soaring prices.
Consumers have urged the exporters’ group to pump more crude to put a cap on oil, which surged to more than $127 a barrel this month, its highest level in 2 1/2 years amid unrest in North Africa and the Middle East.
Oil Ministers from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates echoed Saudi Arabia’s Ali al-Naimi’s concerns about oversupply and said rocketing crude prices were out of the hands of OPEC, which next meets in June.
“The market is overbalanced … Our production in February was 9.125 million barrels per day (bpd), in March it was 8.292 million bpd. In April we don’t know yet, probably a little higher than March. The reason I gave you these numbers is to show you that the market is oversupplied,” Naimi told reporters.