According to an analysis by Al Arabiya TV, over the period 1915-2015, fully 20% of the world’s 59.5 million refugees have come from the Arab world. While world wars, droughts, and famines have been drivers behind the displacement of people around the globe, for the Arab world, the push has come primarily from failed governments and actions they’ve brought upon themselves.

1915-2015: 1 in 5 displaced people come from the Arab world
Rajia Aboulkheir | Al Arabiya News

A photograph of a dead Syrian Kurdish boy who drowned in the Mediterranean and washed ashore on the Turkish coast shook the world earlier this month – and personalized the collective tragedy of many Middle Eastern refugees.

Aylan Kurdi, whose death has become the central image of the ongoing refugee crisis, was trying to flee Syria but instead became the latest example showing how the Arab world has been an important producer of the world’s 59.5 million forcibly displaced people over the past 100 years.

According to calculations by Al Arabiya News – based on U.N. figures – the Arab world has produced nearly 12.3 million refugees during the past 100 years.

The number remained of refugees around the world remained unclear until 1951 and the creation of the Geneva Convention hosted by the UNHCR, making the precise figure of Arab immigrants during the first and second World Wars sharply disputed.

September:15:2015 - 08:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

While H.A. Hellyer’s article focuses on conspiracy theories running wild in Egypt, they’re not restricted to that country. Many of them are showing up from one end of the Arab and Muslim world to the other. [Of course, Western countries are not immune, either.] It must be confusing to groups like ISIS, however, to learn that they are the product of at least 10 different countries’ efforts to do… who knows what?

A Jewish Sisi, masonic MB? Egypt’s crazy conspiracy theories are no joke
H.A. Hellyer

Bizarrely, it would appear some quarters believe that a man of ‘Jewish origin’, who was seeking to implement a ‘Zionist plan’ to divide Egypt, now inhabits the presidency.

Elsewhere, people are talking about the Muslim Brotherhood as a ‘masonic group that aims to bring a new religion into Egypt’ – something inexplicable, but an idea gaining great currency.

There are great ironies to such theories on the one hand – and disquieting consequences on the other.

September:14:2015 - 09:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

All Saudi media are reporting on the collapse of a construction crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Major renovation and expansion work is underway at the mosque. The collapse is currently being blamed on high winds and torrential rains. Al Arabiya TV accompanies its report with videos of the storm and the collapse of the crane. The weather certainly looks close enough to a hurricane that structural damage could be anticipated.

More than 100 killed in Makkah crane collapse

More than 100 people have been killed and scores more wounded in Makkah’s Grand Mosque after a crane collapsed on Friday, Al Arabiya News Channel reported citing the Saudi Civil Defense authority.

It is believed the crane collapsed in high winds and severe rainfall.

Saudi Gazette reports that the rains were exceptionally heavy:

Heaviest rain in decades lashes Makkah

September:12:2015 - 07:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Pushing back against media reports that Saudi Arabia (and the other GCC countries) aren’t doing enough to help Syrian refugees, the Saudi Press Agency is claiming (and Saudi media are repeating) the claim that the KSA has, in fact, received 2.5 million Syrians since the start of the Syrian crisis. The piece notes that the Saudis aren’t treating them as “refugees” per se by placing them in camps, but has elected to merge them into the general expat community. The Saudis have also provided assistance to countries where refugees have fled, have donated millions of dollars toward relief efforts, as well as provided direct humanitarian relief.

Saudi official: We received 2.5 mln Syrians

Saudi Arabia has received around 2.5 million Syrians since the start of the conflict in their country, an official source in the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has revealed, elaborating that the Kingdom has adopted a policy not to treat these Syrians as refugees, or place them in refugee camps “in order to ensure their dignity and safety.”

Speaking to the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the MoFA official explained that Saudi Arabia initially did not “intend to speak about its efforts to support Syrian brothers and sisters, during their distress, as it has, since the beginning of the problem,” adding that “Saudi Arabia dealt with the situation from a religious and humane perspective, and did not wish to boast about its efforts or attempt to gain media coverage.”

September:12:2015 - 07:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

I’m going to be doing a bit of traveling to get together with a group of old friends. I won’t be posting anything new until the weekend. See you then!

September:08:2015 - 08:25 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Insofar as Saudi media reporting goes, King Salman’s visit to Washington and meeting with Pres. Obama went swimmingly. Both countries are to build on their generations of friendship and cooperation. Both countries have similar views on the major issues. Asharq Alawsat‘s report is typical:

King Salman hails Saudi Arabia’s “21st century alliance” with US

Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States remain as strong as ever and are entering a new stage, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz said in a statement as he wrapped up his historic visit to Washington late on Saturday.

During the visit, his first to the US since acceding to the Saudi throne, King Salman met with US President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss the fight against terrorism, the crises in Yemen and Syria, and the Iran nuclear deal.

“The meetings which we held, especially regarding our new strategic alliance for the 21st century, will contribute, God willing, to deepening these relations and strengthening them, and in boosting our cooperation in order to benefit both our friendly countries and peoples,” King Salman said.

“I wish to reiterate our strategic and historic relations which were formed during the historic meeting between King Abdulaziz Al Saud and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, and which since then have been further developed in a number of areas.”

King Salman headed to Tangiers in Morocco following his departure from Washington on Saturday evening, and was seen off at the airport by a number of US officials.

During the visit King Salman met with Saudi university students currently enrolled in the US, as well as Saudi journalists, writers, and academics residing in the country.

Following the meeting with King Salman, President Obama agreed to speed up the delivery of US weapons to the Kingdom to shore up defenses against potential threats by Iran—part of promises made by the president to Gulf countries in May, before the announcement of the Iran nuclear deal in July.

Asharq Alawsat also editorializes on the visit, pointing out that while Saudi Arabia is no longer dependent upon the US for its security, it appreciates it and anticipates that it will continue into the future.

September:08:2015 - 08:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

A piece in Saudi Gazette shows that the 21st C. is popping up in Saudi Arabia in a way that’s causing some discomfort.

Saudi citizens are secretly recording their interactions with officials. When the official oversteps the bounds of propriety, the videos of the interactions pop up on YouTube and other social media. This, to the dismay of the officials, results in social media firestorms and, often, the firing of the official.

It’s a major change from the past where what officials did was what officials did, no questions asked. If it came down to a matter of “he said X and the other he said Y,” whichever was the official was taken as the fact of the matter. Video recordings take this argument out of the equation.

But recording without permission is against the law. Those doing the recording could be legally punished for violating that law. Only the weight of social pressure protects them.

Even in countries like the US where recording officials in the performance of their official duties is protected by law, not everyone agrees. Officials, including police officers, can be very unhappy with the fact that their actions are recorded and can serve to challenge their own versions of what happened. Nor have all officials come to understand that the recordings are, in fact, protected by law.

Technology can be disruptive and omnipresent cameras and an Internet upon which to effortlessly publish the resulting images is proving very disruptive.

Filming officials, ethical or not?
Mahmoud Ahmad

Two recent incidents have sparked a public debate, yet again, on whether the act of filming officials secretly while at work or abusing their positions is ethical or not. In the debate, the fact that the act is done in stealth is the only arguing point against secretly filming officials to reveal their wrongdoing, while many others believe that the act is justifiable.

The two incidents showed officials acting high-handedly when citizens were merely seeking answers to their questions. In the first incident, an official in the education department was filmed kicking a parent out of his office after verbally abusing him. The clip, which was widely circulated on social media and YouTube, showed the official shouting at the parent, before virtually kicking him out of his office. As a result, the Education Ministry fired the education official in the Northern Borders area for his arrogant behavior.

September:07:2015 - 08:28 | Comments Off | Permalink

International media have been taking a swipe at the nations of the GCC (read: rich Arab oil states) for not doing enough for Syrian refugees. Saudi media have picked up on it and are suggesting that more can be done, but that the GCC isn’t going to provide complete relief.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed, in a piece for Arab News (though the article isn’t yet posted on that papers website, it’s available from Al Arabiya TV), argues that the Gulf states are doing a lot already. They’re throwing tons of money at various relief efforts and agencies. They’re not keen to take in tens of thousands of refugees, though.

Al-Rashed points out that Syrians represent the third largest foreign group in Saudi Arabia. But they’re there as workers. The Saudis have lifted some bars by, for example, allowing Syrian workers to bring their families to the KSA. So, at least some would-be refugees are finding safe haven in Saudi Arabia.

The GCC countries are already filled with foreigners, nearly all invited in on work visas. But work visas can be cancelled and the workers sent home. That’s not the case with refugees. Unless and until the situation in Syria improves to the point where they are able to and want to return, they’re going to be in Saudi Arabia for a long time. Based on the way Syrians handled Palestinian refugees, that could be for generations. This is a problem that none of the Gulf states wish to bring upon themselves.

The Gulf and Syrian refugees
Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The crisis of refugees – Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis and others – is everyone’s responsibility amid the international community’s failure to support them. No one, including Gulf countries, have an excuse to not support them. Arab Gulf countries have been recently criticized about this, but some critics have aims that are completely irrelevant to the humanitarian side of it.

Gulf countries must of course accommodate more people and grant more care to Arabs and Africans fleeing wars in their countries. However, it is important to look at the entire picture, not just rely on people who seek to serve their own interests, or reporters who only know part of the truth.

A big percentage of the funds spent by international organizations and received by governments who host refugees, such as Lebanon and Jordan, come from Gulf countries. The latter are thus one of the major funders of about 3 million Syrian and Yemeni refugees in different countries.

September:07:2015 - 08:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

During his visit to Washington, Saudi King Salman extended the government’s foreign scholarship program to include all Saudis studying in the US. This includes those who had started their studies privately, paying their own tuition and costs. While these students number only in the thousands, I’m sure they (and their parents) will enjoy being relieved of the costs.

All Saudi students in U.S. included in king’s scholarship program

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz has awarded all Saudi students in the United States with scholarships, the kingdom’s official press agency reported on Sunday.

The students will be included in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Program for Foreign Scholarships.

Last month, 30 Saudi students celebrated their successful completion of a leadership training program at Harvard University.

In 2014, the number of Saudi students in the United States reached 111,000, according to the Department of Commerce.

September:06:2015 - 06:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News provides a concise history of Saudi students studying in the US. Starting with a handful of students on scholarship in the 1940s and 1950s, the number now exceeds 125,000, male and female students. This year, a record 10,491 new students will be arriving.

Rapid rise of Saudi students in America

Saudi Arabia and the United States have enjoyed a fruitful relationship for over eight decades. This has been driven by shared interests and a vision of the late King Abdul Aziz to ensure that the Kingdom has wide and beneficial relations with the entire world, without prejudicing deep-held values and principles based on Islam.

With the discovery of oil, the Kingdom used its newfound economic status to ensure rapid development on all fronts. Apart from a massive focus on upgrading its infrastructure, there was a particular focus on the education and training of its citizens on the secular and religious fronts. This was based on the recognition that people are the true wealth of the nation.

Under the guidance of the late King Abdul Aziz, there were various institutions of learning set up in the Kingdom, with top educators brought in from other Arab countries. In addition, in 1927, Saudi citizens were granted scholarships to study in other Arab countries. It was only later that the king expanded the scholarship program to include the top universities in Europe and the United States.

September:04:2015 - 05:43 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi media are all projecting what they expect to occur in the meeting between Saudi King Salman and Pres. Obama that is to take place later today. Typical is this piece from Al Arabiya TV. Iran, of course, is the foremost issue, with the plan to address Iran’s nuclear aspirations take pride of place.

Both sides want good relations to continue between them. Both sides have different views about regional stability. I’m sure that neither party is going to be leaving the meeting believing they’ve converted the other.

King Salman’s Washington visit: What are the regional implications?
Sigurd Neubauer | Special to Al Arabiya News

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss regional security, including the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached between Iran and world powers over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program.

More specifically, the leaders will discuss “steps to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last Thursday. As well as “ways to further strengthen the bilateral relationship, including our joint security and counterterrorism efforts.”

While the upcoming meeting will be the king’s first to Washington since ascending the throne in January, it comes at a time when Saudi Arabia faces an increasingly unstable neighborhood with conflicts in Yemen and Iraq encroaching on its territory.

Going into the meeting, both leaders are vested in ensuring its ultimate success, although for different reasons: For President Obama, who faces a nearly unified Republican Congress committed to opposing the JCPOA, almost at any cost, reassuring his guest that the agreement will contribute to a safer and more stable Middle East will be essential for his goal to turn the tide against his domestic opponents.

September:04:2015 - 05:33 | Comments Off | Permalink

Ahmed Omran — known to long-term readers as “Saudi Jeans” and now a correspondent for The Wall St. Journal — used a tweet to nudge Uber and Careem — the alternative taxi services — to provide free transportation for women to the polls. Saudi women have complained that it’s proving difficult for them to even register to vote in the municipal elections as (quelle surprise!) they’re not allowed to drive. Not all Saudi women have drivers, either. Nor are they all rich enough to spend money on taxis. Stepping up to provide free rides is extremely helpful, not to mention its being good PR for the companies.

We will take care of their rides if they take care of their rights!

JEDDAH: Prompted by a tweet from journalist Ahmed Omran, new-generation car booking services Uber and Careem have decided to offer free rides to women wishing to vote in the upcoming municipal elections.

The elections, which will be held in December, are the first allowing Saudi women to both run as candidates and vote.

Careem, which operates in 18 cities in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, decided it would take up Omran’s idea, reported Al-Arabiya.

“The idea to tweet about this came after a female friend of mine complained that she can’t register to vote because she doesn’t have a driver, and she wondered if the government would reimburse her if she used one of these apps,” said Omran, Wall Street Journal’s Saudi correspondent.

September:02:2015 - 06:53 | Comments Off | Permalink
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