The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution (#2216) calling for all parties in Yemen — particularly the Houthis — to stop the violence and return to negotiations. It calls for an arms embargo and for the Houthis to relinquish all areas they have seized by force. It also placed sanctions on individuals seen as playing a negative role, including the son of the former Yemeni president. Russia abstained from the vote.
Also Imposes Sanctions on Key Figures in Militia Operations
Imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen, the Security Council today demanded that all parties in the embattled country, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threatened the political transition.
Adopting resolution 2216 (2015) by 14 affirmative votes to none against, with one abstention (Russian Federation), the Council also demanded that the Houthis, withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate Government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions.
Acting under chapter VII of Charter, the body also called upon the Houthis to refrain from any provocations or threats to neighbouring States, release the Minister for Defence, all political prisoners and individuals under house arrest or arbitrarily detained, and end the recruitment of children.
Imposing sanctions, including a general assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo, on Abdulmalik al-Houthi, who it called the Houthi leader, and Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, son of the president who stepped down in 2011, the resolution called upon all Yemeni parties to abide by the Gulf Cooperation Council and other initiatives and to resume the United Nations-brokered political transition.
King Salman wants to leave his mark on Saudi history, but he wants it to be a good mark. Reacting to a video showing Minister of Health Ahmed Khatib getting into a dawsha with a citizen complaining about health care, the King sacked the Minister. He’d been in office since January 28.
Al Arabiya TV has the story:
A recently leaked video involving a Saudi minister in a squabble has been a hot topic in the kingdom.
Health minister Ahmed Khatib was filmed having a heated argument with another citizen, in which he was shouting and making angry gestures.
He was later relieved of his duties in an order by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Friday, with Dr. Mohammed Ali al-Sheikh appointed Acting Health Minister of Saudi Arabia.
In the 27-second video, the former minister is seen loudly dismissing a visibly angry citizen who had come to speak to him about the state of a private hospital in Riyadh.
Saudi Gazette reprints an article from Economist that seeks to answer the question about why Saudis are such heavy consumers of and participants in social media. Various surveys show Saudis as being the most active on various social media platforms in relation to both population size and Internet connections.
The article notes that the lack of other social outlets is certainly a factor, but also that conservative Saudis — including clerics — find that the outreach possibilities are too good to ignore. While abuses of social media abound and there are recurrent calls to ban or control it, Saudis aren’t going to give up their access to the world and their soapboxes from which they can address it.
On MARCH 18th, at an Arab media get-together, Twitter announced that it will open an office in Dubai. Not before time. Smartphone growth has rocketed in the Gulf—by most counts the region has the highest penetration. WhatsApp and Facebook have become standard modes of communication. Nowhere is that more so than in Saudi Arabia. Several surveys in 2013 showed that the kingdom has the world’s highest percentage of people on Twitter relative to its number of internet users; and on YouTube too. Saudis also spend more hours online than their peers elsewhere. That might seem surprising for such a conservative country where the constitution is said to be taken directly from the Koran and where women are not permitted to drive. Why are Saudis such big fans of social media?
Outsiders often regard the 30m Saudis as far behind the rest of the world. The modern Saudi state was founded only in 1932, and then on the basis of an existing pact between the Al Saud family and the Wahhabist clerics, who peddle a particularly red-hot version of Islam. It is certainly a traditional place, especially around the capital Riyadh. But the country has also rapidly modernised since discovering its vast oil wealth. It has a GDP per capita of almost $26,000. Today thousands of its young people study abroad, speak English and are as globalised as their peers in other countries. Fully 75% of the population are under 30. They have grown up thinking it normal to go online to do everything from ordering a coffee to watching TV.
It is the wedding of these factors to Saudi Arabia’s social peculiarities that may account for its topping of the virtual rankings. Shopping malls are pretty much the only source of entertainment for young people, because the clerics dislike cinemas and bars. So mingling with friends on social media has obvious appeal, not least because it is illegal for unrelated men and women to fraternise in person. Facebook has become a way of picking up a date (previously, many young people would turn on Bluetooth and search for random connections nearby). Frustrated Saudis can also vent about the government anonymously on Twitter. But social media is not just used for getting up to naughty things. The country’s most popular Twitter account, with 11.4m followers, is that of Muhammad al-Arefe, a Saudi cleric—and not a particularly liberal one, either.
If Saudi Arabia’s opinions and policies can be garnered from its media, then the Saudis have all but abandoned Pres. Obama and his Middle Easter policies. Asharq Alawsat — sometimes known as “The Green Truth” as a nod to its line to Saudi policy makers — runs editorials from two former Editors-in-Chief that lambaste the President for his errant views brought forth in an interview with The New York Times‘s columnist Thomas Friedman.
From Tariq Alhomayed:
Obama is always wrong on the Middle East
In his interview with journalist Thomas Friedman this week, US President Barack Obama said that the threat to regional states, including Saudi Arabia, is not Iranian intervention, but rather “internal threats.” Can this be true?
The reality is that Obama has an incorrect view of the region, and this is something that has become increasingly clear since he took office. He is always wrong on our region, and has made the biggest mistakes here, and these mistakes have had major consequences.
Obama rushed to withdraw from Iraq, and now here we see him returning once again. He played down the Syrian revolution and Assad’s crimes. He talked about “red lines” but Assad has crossed each and every one of these, while Obama has done nothing. He played down the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) only to subsequently be forced to acknowledge the reality of the situation, although he still had enough time to blame his country’s intelligence services for failing to realize this earlier.
It is also interesting to note a recent Washington Post report that revealed the extent of ISIS’s connection with the former ruling Ba’athist regime in Iraq, and that many members of the group are ex-members of Saddam Hussein’s military. This is the same military that was controversially disbanded following the Iraq invasion. Washington has made many mistakes in Iraq, and Obama must bear some share of the responsibility for this.
From Abdulrahman Al-Rashed:
Contradictions in Obama’s Doctrine
I tried to ignore US President Barack Obama’s interview with the New York Times because I was sure it would be part of his propaganda campaign for the framework nuclear deal with Iran. Still, the interview’s impact cannot be ignored. Rather than calming the fears of those in the Gulf region, Obama has provoked many here.
Thomas Friedman, one of the Times’ most prominent writers who is extremely knowledgeable about the region’s affairs, interviewed the president. Perhaps this was why the nation’s leader was dragged into arguing his points, instead of justifying them.
What’s strange about the conversation was that Obama commended the Iranian regime, justifying its actions and implying a sense of guilt over what the US had done against Iran.
I don’t know what books the American president reads before he goes to bed or how he understands the events of the past three decades. Tehran’s mentality and practices are close to those of Al-Qaeda: religious, fascist and hostile towards anyone who opposes their ideology. Tehran’s understanding of the world considers others as either believers or infidels. It is Iran that was responsible for much of the violence in the region under the banner of religion—and this was around 15 years before Al-Qaeda even emerged.
The fact that so many unhinged fatwas make it into the public realm has led to a situation where satire is confused with reality.
Al Arabiya TV reports that an article appearing in a Moroccan satire paper alleging that Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti supports cannibalism as a way to show “togethernesss” needed a blunt denial from the Grand Mufti himself. Of course the Arab media isn’t the only one that mistakes satire with facts. Articles appearing in the American satirical paper The Onion are sometimes picked up by major media.
But when real life takes on bizarre aspects — be they in laws or fatwas — a little confusion is understandable. It’s just not very good journalism.
Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh has denied issuing a fatwa (religious edict) which allows a hungry man to eat his wife, or parts of her body, in the case of famine or if eating his wife would result in saving his own life.
Over the past few days, several pro-Iranian media outlets, such as the online portal of Al Allam news channel and Lebanon’s al-Jumohouria newspaper have carried the story without backing it with any evidence or specifying where or when such a fatwa has been issued.
The unsubstantiated fatwa attributed to the Grand Mufti claims that such sacrifice is the ultimate way of showing subordination and love to her husband as a “way for their two bodies to become one.”
Saudi Gazette/Okaz badly report a vote in Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council. The headline says that the Council voted against the appointment of women as ambassadors. Actually, the Council said that the nomination of ambassadors was outside its competence: it is up to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not the Council to make such nominations and appointments. It was within the Council’s remit, however, to deny Saudi diplomats a pay raise.
RIYADH – The Shoura Council on Tuesday rejected a proposal to appoint women in the post of ambassadors.
The foreign affairs committee at the council turned down the recommendation moved by a member Lubna Al-Ansari in this regard. She proposed that women shall be appointed in key positions in the Kingdom’s administrative, financial and technical fields as well as in diplomatic missions abroad.
The committee report noted that it is a policy matter that can be decided by the higher authorities. It also drew attention to the fact that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs enjoys jurisdiction to appoint women in key positions, including that of ambassador, and it will make appointments in key positions after taking into account of the qualifications and capabilities of the officials. The council also rejected another proposal to increase salary of diplomats and other officials working at Saudi missions abroad. — Okaz/Saudi Gazette
Writing at Asharq Alawsat, the paper’s Editor-in-Chief argues that the current conflict in Yemen is not sectarian, but geo-political and is focused on the Houthis as a rebellious group acting as a puppet of Iran. He distinguishes this from the situation in Iraq where sectarianism is very much at issue.
Houthis, not Shi’ites
Operation Decisive Storm, which is being backed by most countries across the world, is not a battle against the Shi’ites. Although this is certainly how the Houthis want to portray things, along with all other parties in their orbit, from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization forces and Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah to, of course, their common backer: Iran. However, in reality, this is not a war against the Shi’ites, but a war against a rebel group that is being sponsored by a state whose strategy is based on exporting sectarianism across the region. This same country is portraying itself as the “grand protector” of Shi’ites everywhere—politically and doctrinally—as if these Shi’ites don’t have homelands of their own that can protect them from the lies of the Persian state.
There is a cacophony of sectarian discourse being put forward by Tehran’s agents in the region. Can you believe that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah or Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi are complaining about sectarianism? We have even heard similar statements from commanders in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization forces. In other words, commanders of a military force that is formed along sectarian lines are now accusing others of sectarianism. I can only say that those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies for decades dealt with Zaydi former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in addition to supporting the Shi’ite religious authorities in Yemen, while Riyadh also enjoyed excellent ties with former Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad, who was an Alawite. Gulf states do not frame their relations with other states according to sectarian or religious identity, although this is clearly something that the mullahs’ regime in Tehran is doing. Gulf states have never targeted their Shi’ite citizens or dealt with them any differently, even if they are minorities. Rather, Gulf states have granted them the exact same rights as the rest of their citizens, as opposed to Iran which deals with its own Sunni community as second-class citizens, oppressing them and depriving them of their rights, and even preventing them from building houses of worship. Gulf states have never committed any violations against their own citizens, whatever their sectarian or doctrinal identity. The same cannot be said of the Shi’ite militias in Iraq and how they are dealing with the country’s Sunnis, and this is something that is happening in full view of the Baghdad government.
The Washington Post runs an analysis of Saudi Arabia’s assertive role in Yemen. It notes the way the Kingdom once supported the Shi’ite government of Imam Yahya Hamiduddin, but shifted gears following the Imam’s death. Now, the piece says, the Saudis and their coalition partners are seeking to restore peace in Yemen and thwart Iranian ambitions.
For Saudi Arabia, struggles in Yemen have deep roots
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — In the two weeks since Saudi Arabia launched a bombing campaign in Yemen, the kingdom has barely slowed the advance of Shiite rebels who appear to be digging in for a long fight.
But so far, Saudi commanders have projected no outward signs of concern that the campaign is falling short.
“We should not be impatient for the results,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad Asseri, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, cautioned on Friday.
Saudi Arabia’s determination is rooted in something deeper than overcoming insecurity on its borders and the fear that rival Iran could take advantage of it through perceived links to the insurgents. Saudi Arabia’s leaders — backed by its powerful Islamic religious establishment — also have taken on a special role as guardian of both its southern neighbor and the wider Arabian Peninsula.
“This is a blessing .?.?. but it also places a responsibility on all of us,” King Salman told a gathering of the nation’s political and armed forces elite at his Riyadh palace last week.
Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily newspaper Al Jazeera in which the writer argues that it’s time to end lashing as a criminal punishment in Saudi Arabia. Lashing is a discretionary punishment, he says, and is not required. Further, it goes against international agreements the Kingdom has signed concerning the use of physical punishment. Jail and fines are a sufficient remedy to the crimes for which floggings are used.
He argues, too, that it’s time for Shariah law to be codified.
Restrict discretionary punishment to imprisonment and fines
Muhammad Al-Asheikh | Al Jazeera
Muslim jurists have divided Shariah punishments into three types: Hudud, Qisas and Ta’zir. Hudud are those forms of punishment set by Almighty Allah and which must not be transgressed; Qisas are those that are carried out in retaliation for crimes and Ta’zir are those forms of punishment administered at the discretion of the judge for a crime for which no specific punishment has been ordained in the Holy Qur’an.
Muslim rulers grant judges the power to act in a legal capacity and the right to review discretionary rulings. If judicial rulings are in the interest of people and society, then the ruler will sanction them. If he feels that they are not severe enough or vice versa, then he has the authority to make changes.
Shariah focuses on the overall interests of society. The objective and purpose of legal rulings of any type is to allow justice to prevail and to enhance stability, security and peace.
Lashing as a discretionary form of punishment is left to the judge who will decide the number of lashes. There is an interesting principle within Shariah: “There can be no Ijtihad when an explicit text exists in the sources.”
Writing at The National Interest, Saudi analyst Fahad Nazer argues that a new, more assertive Saudi Arabia is developing under the leadership of the new King, Salman. While continuing to share many goals with the US, there are differences about how to achieve them and Saudi Arabia is willing and able to go in the manners it seems most likely to achieve those goals.
Almost immediately after the death of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia on January 22 and the ascension of his half-brother, Salman, to the throne, Saudis and Saudi-watchers in the West began speculating about the contours of Saudi domestic and foreign policy under the new king. While the first speech delivered by Salman within hours of becoming monarch stressed continuity, some seemed convinced that Saudi foreign policy in particular might experience an important shift under his watch. A mere two months after assuming the crown, it is becoming clear that King Salman has a different vision than did his predecessor Abdullah, and perhaps all those who came before him. Between restructuring some of the country’s most important political and economic institutions and launching an unprecedented, large-scale military operation in a neighboring country on the verge of a civil war, we could be witnessing the beginning of a completely new Saudi way of thinking. We could be on the verge of a Saudi perestroika.
The notion that Salman intends to forge his own unique legacy, gained credence a week into his reign, when he not only orchestrated one of the more significant cabinet reshuffles in recent history but also engineered a major overhaul of some of the kingdom’s advisory bodies. Royal decrees he issued eliminated twelve different political and economic advisory bodies. In their stead, he created two new bodies, one overseeing the Economy and Development, the other Political and Security Affairs. While some described the move as Salman’s attempt to consolidate power, others saw it as needed “streamlining” of an inflated bureaucracy.
While the cabinet reshuffle and bureaucratic restructuring was the talk of Saudi Arabia for days, the international community was more interested in gleaning clues about the direction Saudi foreign policy might take under Salman, especially at a time of widening violence in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
Apparently, the message being promoted by Amb. Al-Jubeir is not the one being heard within Saudi Arabia. Another story in today’s Arab News reports that Saudi intellectuals see Decisive Storm being very much an action taken against Iran.
Evil designs of Iranian regime should be exposed, say Saudi intellectuals
RIYADH: SHARIF M. TAHA
A number of Saudi intellectuals said Operation Decisive Storm is further proof that Saudi Arabia remains supportive of the Yemeni people.
The intellectuals, speaking to the local media, said the operation aims to support the legitimacy of Yemen which the Houthis tried to “kidnap,” and destabilize its security using arms and weapons.
Dr. Mahmoud Zaini, former member of the Makkah Literary Club, said the Yemeni campaign came to ward off dangers not only to Yemen but to the Gulf region as a whole, and whose leaders felt posed a direct threat to their security and stability.
The operation has stopped the situation in Yemen from deteriorating further and will accelerate the political process in the country as demonstrated by deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh who called for a political solution to the Yemeni crisis promising that he would not run for presidential elections, Zaini said.
Saudi Ambassador to the US Adel Al-Jubeir is making an effort to explain that Operation Decisive Storm — Saudi-led efforts in Yemen to roll back Houthi rebel advances — is not a proxy war with Iran. It is being waged, he insists, for the stability of Yemen and the region.
Operation Decisive Storm is for the protection of the Yemeni people and defense of their legitimate government and not a proxy war between the Kingdom and Iran, said Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Saudi ambassador to the US.
“This campaign is against a group supported by Iran and Hezbollah,” he said during a Meet the Press program on NBC News of America channel.
Al-Jubeir rejected claims that the operation was a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Asked about the possibility about Saudi Arabia and Iran coexisting in the Middle East, he said the Kingdom has faced many aggressions from the Iranian side, while there has been no aggression from the Kingdom against Iran.