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

Saudi Gazette runs a story noting that most Saudi university graduates — male and female — are earning degrees in fields that do not lead to jobs.

Some see this as a problem. If your goal is employment or your concern is employment figures, this could clearly be seen as a problem.

It overlooks another facet of education, though: the rounded, developed individual.

Certainly, there are fields of study that are dead-ends for all but a few. There are also majors that lead to fields already glutted with earlier graduates. While this isn’t particularly new, the current unemployment figures around the world do suggest that, if the point is employment, then people should not be flocking into these majors and schools should probably be reducing the number of classes they offer in them.

This is not a Saudi-only problem or issue. American universities turn out graduates in field for which there are no jobs, or only low-paying jobs. It’s hard to say, though, that they’re worthless for the individual student. It can only be said that they don’t lead to employment.

63% Saudis enrolled in majors unsuitable for market
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — A majority of young Saudi men and women in colleges study subjects which are not in demand in the labor market, an economist was quoted as saying in a section of the Arabic press here on Saturday.

It is important that high school graduates focus on technical and vocational training, especially in light of the fact that 90 percent of those who signed up for Hafiz Unemployment Aid Program hold degrees with specializations unsuitable for the market, Dr. John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Saudi-Fransi Bank, told Al-Hayat.

Some 46 percent or 290,000 of the Kingdom’s unemployed youth hold bachelor’s degrees. The percentage of unemployed women with bachelor’s degrees stands at 88. Hafiz program has 320,000 applicants in its database.


September:28:2014 - 09:05 | 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

Today, Saudi Arabia celebrates its 84th year as an independent, unitary state. The government has done a pretty good job in developing a sense of nationalism and that is encouraged by pieces such as this one from Saudi Gazette encouraging the public to wear green and white to show their pride in the country.

Go Green on National Day
Nisma Rafiq | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Today, Saudi Arabia will mark its 84th National Day. And it will be celebrated with solidarity, love, pride and passion. As cities across the country are adorned with national flags, green and white banners, streamers and balloons, this is the day that you can “go green” too.

So, how are you planning to wear and carry green this National Day? Green is an eye-catching color, gets attention, but it is not easy to flaunt green and look fashionable at the same time.

Dressing up in green doesn’t mean that you start walking around like a ripe tree. Here, we have made a short list of ideas to help you celebrate the National Day with style.


September:23:2014 - 10:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Writing in the Arabic daily Okaz, Khalf Al-Harbe comments on a video clip that has been racing around Saudi Arabia for the past week or so. It shows a teacher tearing pages out of a text book — and instructing his students to do likewise. The photos are of female children. The teacher finds these morally reprehensible and tries to teach his male students likewise.

This, Al-Harbe argues, is how terrorists are made. They are taught to hate, to disrespect others, to take violent actions to ensure that “the good” is served. Al-Harbe goes on to note that the teacher — whom the government sincerely wishes to have a talk with — was also taught this kind of intolerance and extremist thought. As bad as this single teacher is, he is hardly alone in his extremism: it’s widespread in Saudi classrooms. And it needs to be stopped.

The making of a terrorist
Khalaf Al-Harbe | Okaz

I would be exaggerating if I say I was surprised by the video clip showing a teacher tearing a school textbook in front of his students because it contained pictures of girls. He also ordered his students to do the same.

Such behavior has been going on behind school walls for many years. The only new thing the teacher has come up with is that he filmed his action and posted it on social media.

Many other teachers must have done worse stuff than this, but they are too clever to make it acceptible for people to watch. The Ministry of Education promised to hunt down the teacher and punish him.

This shocking video may help us understand the roots of terrorism. The young man, who suddenly decides to commit a terrorist act, will not be doing that on a whim or just because his mastermind asked him to blow himself up.

The issue is not that simple. The arrival at the point of exploding oneself and the other innocent people needs a lot of effort make his mind frame that of a terrorist.


September:23:2014 - 10:10 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

In yet another semi-coherent piece of media reporting, Saudi Gazette/Okaz report on a series of terrorism trials in Saudi Arabia. According to the story, a terror cell — termed “one of the country’s largest — had been broken up (no date given). Some 60 members (no names given) have been sentenced in the course of several trials. Seven have received the death sentence.

Given the speed at which Saudi law grinds and the reported targets, it does not appear that any of these cases involve ISIS, but instead refer to earlier group actions, likely Al-Qaeda-related, that took place several years ago.

Seven terrorists sentenced to death
Mansour Al-Shehri | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

RIYADH — Seven Saudi men have been sentenced to death for their role in one of the Kingdom’s largest terror cells, which consisted of 94 persons and aimed to target oil facilities and assassinate security officers, scholars, senior officials and journalists.

The Special Criminal Court in Riyadh awarded death penalty to three terror suspects on Monday and four others on Sunday. Forty suspects were sentenced to prison terms. On Monday, the court sentenced 20 suspects to prison terms ranging from five to 25 years, in addition to a travel ban. All the convicts are Saudis. The convicts can appeal the verdict within 30 days, the Saudi Press Agency reported. The charges against the convicts included kidnapping and killing a foreigner, armed confrontation with the security forces, embracing deviant ideology, joining Al-Qaeda, disobedience of the ruler, making explosives, and receiving training in the use of weapons.

On Sunday, the court jailed as many as 20 suspects for between two and 23 years for a variety of crimes ranging from joining a terror cell, providing shelter for terrorists to embracing a takfiri ideology (labeling others as infidels).

The four sentenced to death were convicted of various crimes.


September:23:2014 - 10:02 | 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 reports that Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University — Saudi Arabia’s leading university for the teaching of Islamic sciences, is purging its bookshelves of materials that promote extremism. Further, it is refusing to accept research into extremist ideologies and attendance at conferences and the like organized by extremist groups.

As always, the devil is in the details and Saudi media rarely provide details. No names of authors or titles of books are given.

Saudi Arabia also lacks freedom of speech — censorship is pervasive — so actual scholarship is being limited. Academic freedom of professors is equally being denied. This, though, is pretty much the norm for the country. Believing it is facing an existential threat from extremism, it is perhaps wise for the government and university to take these steps, but it comes with a cost, too. Imperfect knowledge does not usually lead to good conclusions.

University removes books with deviant ideologies
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — Imam Muhammad Bin Saud University here has begun reviewing the books in its library to eliminate books that spew deviant and extremist ideologies, Makkah daily reported.

The university has set up a special committee to go through all books listed in the library and take improper ones off of shelves so that students do not read them, a source said.

The books and references that contain certain religious content or security issues will also be eliminated and destroyed. The source said the university is keen to ensure that all the books in the library do not have any ideas that encourage extremism and factionalism.

The university has banned the registration of any research dealing with a personality or a society that has any form of ties with extremist groups and organizations unless the research criticizes these groups. Students are not allowed to summarize any audio or written files about extremist groups and persons or distribute them to other members of the university community.


September:21:2014 - 08:29 | Comments Off | Permalink

Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that should — if at all possible — be undertaken at least once in a Muslim’s life, has taken on mystic attributes. Arab News reports that the Saudi government is growing concerned over the number of people coming to Mecca in very poor health and under the impression that to die during Haj is to assure one’s arrival in Heaven. This is a myth the government says.

It’s also a problem. Not only can the diseased transmit diseases, but they greatly tax an already burdened health system. They don’t make things better for other pilgrims, either. The government is urging Islamic scholars around the world to emphasize that only the physically fit should undertake Haj.

Sick pilgrims coming with wish to die in KSA criticized
JEDDAH: IRFAN MOHAMMED

Saudi Arabia has expressed concern over the increasing number of pilgrims arriving with chronic or serious health problems. Such pilgrims are posing a health hazard for others and also putting pressure on the health facilities in the holy cities.

“Haj is mandatory for Muslims if they are physically and financially able,” said Abdallah Al-Asiri, the deputy minister for preventive health. “However, many pilgrims are ignoring the stipulation, which is a matter of concern.”

Speaking to Arab News, he said many Muslims in different parts of the world strongly believe that death during Haj or in holy cities would give them a place in heaven. This belief is making them hide their health problems as they arrive with determination to undertake the pilgrimage.

“Unfortunately, many pilgrims believe that their sickness could result in their death during the pilgrimage, which can give them a place in heaven,” he said.


September:20:2014 - 09:01 | Comments Off | Permalink
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