the harder they fall.
Arab News reports that the flag flying from the world’s tallest flagpole, located in Jeddah, took a tumble in the face of a sandstorm.
The giant Saudi flag hoisted onto the world’s tallest flagpole was brought down by powerful winds amid a sandstorm in Jeddah on Friday afternoon.
Pictures of the flag that was ripped off the pole were posted on social media by passersby. The flagpole, however, did not seem to be damaged.
Hoisted on Sept. 23, 2014, during the country’s 84th National Day, the flag is 49.5 meters long, 33 meters wide, 1,635 square meters and weighs 570 kilograms.
The 170-meter-high flagpole is located at the 26,000-square-meter King Abdullah Square on the intersection of Andalus Road and King Abdullah Road in Jeddah.
The conservative Washington Times has a peculiar bit of crystal ball gazing. Writer S. Rob Sobhani posits that Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, son of the current king, may be next in line for Saudi Arabia’s throne. This overlooks the fact that there are two senior princes already in line to assume the throne on the demise of King Abdullah: Crown Prince Salman and Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin, both sons of the founder.
While Pr. Miteb may very well have a future in Saudi politics, it’s not going to be any time soon, barring some cataclysm.
The Saudi prince who could be king
S. Rob Sobhani
Ever since President Franklin Roosevelt met with King Abdulaziz aboard the USS Quincy in 1945, Saudi Arabia has been one of America’s most steadfast allies. The visit by one of the grandsons of King Abdulaziz to Washington this month provides a historic moment for the United States to reach out to the next possible ruler of a country that is consequential on the world stage and of enormous strategic importance to the U.S.
Miteb bin Abdullah is the son of the current ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah. Prince Miteb was born in Riyadh and did his military training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, graduating as a lieutenant and rising through the ranks of the Saudi military. Beginning a military career in the early 1980s, he eventually was appointed commander of the Saudi National Guard in November 2010 — a position previously held by King Abdullah himself — and later appointed minister of the National Guard in May 2013. He currently is a member of the Saudi Council of Ministers, the Military Service Council and vice president of the Supreme Committee of the National Festival for Heritage and Culture — the Janadriyah. Prince Miteb’s resume of appointments demonstrates the high level of regard he holds with his father as a capable and influential member of the next generation of Saudi royal family leadership.
Yet Prince Miteb’s influence is not merely owing to the number of appointments he enjoys, but rather the actions he has taken over the past few years. These actions are grounded in four fundamental principles. The first is the importance of stability within the broader Middle East. Prince Miteb understands that stability in countries such as Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen or Egypt prevents subversive regional actors from gaining undue influence. For example, in 2011 he ordered the National Guard to intervene in Bahrain, thus preventing an American ally (Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet) from slipping away to Iranian influence and from creating further instability in the Persian Gulf.
Arab News reports on a major change in Saudi Arabia’s policy on the right of foreign mothers of Saudi children to live and work in the Kingdom, regardless of their marital status. The women need only prove that they are the mothers of children born within a registered marriage. This done, they will receive five-year iqamas — residency permits — and will be allowed to work and will have access to government services.
Until now, a Saudi divorced from a foreign wife could prevent her from visiting the country simply by withholding his consent.
Foreign mothers of Saudi children can now apply for permanent residency without having sponsors and regardless of whether they are married, divorced or widowed.
The Passports Department has begun receiving applications to grant them residency, said Col. Ahmed Al-Luhaidan, media spokesman of the department. He said that the women also do not need to have employers.
However, they must prove they were legally married to citizens and gave birth to their children. The Passport Department will submit these applications to the General Directorate in Riyadh to issue free iqamas, or residency permits, for a period of five years.
Al-Luhaidan said the various branches of the Passport Department would soon be capable of handling requests.
The Cabinet had previously approved permanent residency for foreign mothers of Saudi children, with all fees covered by the state.
They are allowed to work in the private sector and counted toward Saudization quotas, and treated as Saudis in terms of access to public universities and treatment at public hospitals.
Throughout its long history in Saudi Arabia, few have criticized ARAMCO of sitting on its thumbs while the world sped past it. Asharq Alawsat reports that Saudi-ARAMCO is setting up a new Asian subsidiary in Beijing, a recognition that China will be a major importer of Saudi oil into the future. Currently, China imports 19% of its oil from Saudi Arabia.
The article notes, too, how ARAMCO is getting more deeply involved and invested in the US oil market, not as a supplier to US demand, but as a partner in US oil production.
Al-Khobar, Asharq Al-Awsat—After years of operating in Asia through its offices in Hong Kong and South Korea, Saudi Aramco, the Kingdom’s state-owned oil company, is opening a brand new Asian subsidiary, Aramco Asia, setting up shop in the Chinese capital, Beijing.
Structured as a holding company, Aramco Asia will run all its Saudi parent company’s operations in an areas stretching from India in the west to Australia and New Zealand in the east.
According to sources familiar with the plans who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, the new company will be headed by Ibrahim Al-Buainain, who previously served at Aramco’s offices in Hong Kong and South Korea and headed Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures (SAEV).
SAEV acquired a number of SMEs in the energy sector in the US and elsewhere in a bid to gain more control over international supply chains, especially to the US and Europe.
Saudi analyst Fahad Nazer’s commentary on the attack on Shi’ite worshipers in Al-Ahsa runs in “The Hill,” an online news site aimed at US Capitol Hill. He points out not only the swift response by Saudi security personnel, but the widespread condemnation of the attack on the minority Shi’a population. From the highest levels of government to the man-on-the-street, the attack was seen as an atrocity.
He notes, too, that the Saudi government is taking efforts to reach out to the Shi’a community though those activities are not spelled out in the article.
A ruthlessly executed, deliberately timed attack by masked gunmen against a Shia religious center in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province earlier this month has caused some observers to maintain that it portends the spillover into the kingdom of the sectarian violence that has devastated both Syria and Iraq. There is little doubt that this unprecedented attack could have long-term repercussions for Sunni-Shia relations inside Saudi Arabia as well as far-reaching ramifications for the international community’s efforts against global terrorism. However, the Saudi public’s revulsion at the attack and widespread calls for “unity” from both Sunnis and Shia, in addition to the government’s quick actions and unequivocal rhetoric may actually usher in a new, more positive chapter in the Kingdom’s long-strained Sunni-Shia relations.
Nevertheless, it is clear that in the coming weeks and months, the Saudi government will have to utilize every tool at its disposal and rely on its long experience in the field of counterterrorism to prevent a repeat of this type of sectarian violence, while taking conciliatory measures towards its Shia citizens – as it has done already – to forestall a serious rupture in its often tenuous relations with them.
The attack against a Husseiniya – a Shia religious community center – in the Shia-majority governorship of Al Ahsa in Eastern Saudi Arabia has both shocked and repulsed Saudis for its brazenness, brutality and clear intent to foment sectarian strife.
Not only did the perpetrators pick the eve of the holiest Shia religious observance of Ashura, which commemorates the seventh century “martyrdom” of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein – marking the beginning of the still extant “schism” between Sunnis and Shia – they also displayed the ruthlessness that has become the hallmark of Al Qaeda and its offshoots. Several of those killed and injured were in fact children.
Cinemas may see a renaissance in Saudi Arabia, Arab News reports. A committee of four government agencies — including the all-important Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — is said to have signed off on a decision to permit cinemas to reopen in the Kingdom.
Exactly how they will be regulated is not addressed in the article. The article does, however, credit the success of the Saudi film “Wadjda” as playing an important role in coming to the decision.
The green light has been given for establishing cinema houses in Saudi Arabia, following the reported agreement of four government entities.
A source said relevant authorities assigned to take this decision include the Ministry of Interior, the Supreme Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), the General Commission for Audiovisual Media, and the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia).
He said the SCTA and the audiovisual commission have a direct interest in the matter, while the other two are concerned with consultations and coordination.
The first people who introduced cinema to Saudi Arabia were foreigners working in Aramco (now Saudi Aramco), during the 1930s; in the 1990s they became available to Saudis at their sports clubs.
Back in 2009, floods swept through Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-most populous city. Over 120 were killed, nearly 11,000 homes destroyed, and an equal number of vehicles washed away.
Only now are the Saudi courts coming to verdicts on those found responsible for a variety of crimes that led to the disastrous effects of flash flooding that should have been anticipated.
5 years after Jeddah flood, ex-official imprisoned for 7 years
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — A former chairman of rainwater committee at Jeddah Municipality has been sent to the Briman prison five years after the 2009 flood case trials.
He has been convicted of bribery and abuse of power, Al-Hayat daily reported.
The Jeddah Administrative Court sentenced him to seven years imprisonment and a fine of SR 1 million, informed sources told the daily.
These new developments came after the Makkah Region Appeals Court ratified the verdicts issued by the Jeddah Administrative Court.
Four other defendants, one of them a former sports club president, were handed down varying sentences.
The club president was given three years of imprisonment and a fine of SR200,000 for giving a municipality official a kickback.
Recent changes in Saudi law have enabled the government to do more monitoring of social media and to crack down on what it doesn’t like. Most of the criticism of these changes have come from those seeing them as attacks on liberalism.
Now, Saudi Gazette/Okaz report, the government is extending its monitoring to clerics, many of whom are actually on the Saudi government payroll. And this time, they’re looking for examples of religious extremism, the antithesis of liberalism.
This monitoring is still an affront to the idea of freedom of speech and thought, but at least it’s starting to be applied to all sides of the issues, not just one.
Social media activities of imams monitored
Abdulmohsen Alharthy | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
RIYADH — The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call, and Guidance monitors the social media activities of all of its sheikhs, imams and official preachers, according to its deputy minister.
Tawfiq Bin Abdulaziz Al-Sudairy said there is an entire committee responsible for monitoring the social media activities of all of its employees, representatives and partner associations.
The job of the monitoring committee is to guide the general public and correct any false statements posted online.
The deputy minister also said the ministry is working on a unified structure for all Saudi Islamic online forums to eliminate extremist posts and opinions and offer Islam as a balanced and facilitated religion to the general public.
He said: “The ministry is currently studying the potential of the Internet as a platform for call and guidance and encourages everyone to share their religious knowledge online.”
Salman Aldossary, Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Alawsat, writes more on the fact that the Saudi government is condemning the attack on Shi’ite worshipers in the Eastern Province by Sunni extremists. It truly is noteworthy and a first of its kind.
Aldossary is a bit too sanguine about how inclusive the Saudi government has been toward its Shi’ite citizens, though. Certain — Shi’a — sections of the Eastern Province were put pretty far down the infrastructure development list. The Shi’ites have had problems getting permission to build new mosques while there seems to be no limit on Sunni ability to do so. Textbooks deprecated Shi’ism and its followers and taught only Sunni orthodoxy. There are still barriers facing Shi’ites in obtaining certain government jobs. In calling protests by the Shi’ite population “provocations by a foreign power,” the government has clouded the ability to distinguish legitimate protest from foreign interference: any protest is cast as Iran’s fingers in the pie.
This could be a start to significant change. It’s a significant act, but it needs to be followed up with more acts that show that the government truly intends to be inclusive.
The Crime that Changed the Face of Saudi Arabia
Last week, the winds of change blew with a vengeance in Saudi Arabia, when armed terrorists opened fire on visitors to a Shi’ite Husseiniyah (meeting house) in the Al-Ahsa province, killing eight people, among them three children. True, this is not the first time Saudi Arabia has witnessed a crime of this nature, where innocent civilians and children have lost their lives. In fact, it has seen even worse. But it is the first time such terrorist acts have played on the country’s dissonant sectarian chord in such an ugly and dangerous way, in an attempt to fan the flames of sedition and strife between its people. It is also the first time Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, and its entire Council of Religious Scholars, have come out in defense of Saudi Shi’ites in this way, and they were joined by all groups in society—unequivocally and without pretense.
It is not surprising for us in Saudi Arabia to witness Sunni members of the country’s security forces giving their lives in order to protect their fellow Shi’ite brothers. Nor is it surprising for us to witness the country’s interior minister traveling to the site of the attack to pay his respects to the families of those killed. The real surprise here, in my opinion, is that the forces seeking to incite sectarian hatred and strife between Saudis have not, on this occasion, succeeded in doing so among the vast majority of the population. This time, it was the love of Saudis for their country and their depth of feeling and sadness over the tragedy that befell their fellow citizens, that prevailed—and not the “sectarian project” that has been insidiously at work in the country for years. This time it failed miserably, and the attack in Al-Ahsa—whose perpetrators no doubt thought the incident would help further their cause—may well be the knockout punch that will end this sectarian project once and for all.
There is no denying that there are still transgressions being committed against some Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia; but we must of course make the distinction between transgressions sanctioned by the state and those committed by individuals, who no doubt think that through these actions they are upholding their “rights,” when in fact they are committing an affront to the law in a most blatant manner.
Saudi Gazette reports that the Associated Press release last week that suggested that Saudi Arabia was about to permit some women to drive was erroneous. The country’s Shoura Council — reported to have been discussing the issue — denies that it had recommended changes in the country’s prevailing practice.
The regulations the AP article reported are very much in line with what people expect to happen, but apparently the report is premature at best. The AP reporter, Ali Al-Shihri, has been reliable, but it seems he got burned by his source on this story. It’s entirely possible that his source was trying to create new facts on the ground. Or to make sure they never happened.
Shoura denies reports on women driving
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — Shoura Council spokesman Dr. Muhammad Al-Muhana denied reports published by foreign news agencies on Friday that the Council has approved women driving.
The Shoura Council has not issued any decisions regarding women driving, Al-Madina Arabic daily quoted Dr. Al-Muhana as saying on Saturday.
The Associated Press quoted a Shoura Council member without identifying him or her that the Council made the recommendations in a closed session held in the past month. Under the said recommendations, only women over 30 would be allowed to drive and they would need permission from a male relative — usually a husband or father, but lacking those, a brother or son. They would be allowed to drive from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday through Wednesday and noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.
The said conditions also require that a woman driver wear modestly and no make-up, the official was quoted as saying by the news agency. Within cities, they can drive without a male relative in the car, but outside of cities, a male is required to be present.
In his column for Arab News Mshari Al-Zaydi counts out the toll of terrorist attacks in the Arab world over the past week. He uses that count to excoriate Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs for not following its own rules in dealing with religious extremism in the mosques over which it claims control. With over 94,000 mosques in the country, it seems impossible for the authorities to monitor them in order to prevent extremist messages being fed to worshipers.
The column is a good example of how Saudi media relies on the readers’ understanding of issues in such a way that it can avoid actually stating facts or naming names. When he refers to the attack in Al-Ahsa, he means — but does not say — attacks on Shi’a taking part in Ashoura ceremonies. The reader is expected to know that a Husseiniya is a Shi’ite thing and that Al-Ahsa is one of the informal centers of the Shi’ite population. He does not say the attackers were Sunnis — the reader should know that, but won’t find that fact stated explicitly in media reports.
It is heartening, though, to see the Saudi religious establishment condemning sectarian violence, even if obliquely. This is something it should have been doing 50 years ago. It could not, however, because it supported the reasons, if not all of the tactics, and it became an informal government policy. Just another thing that was not stated bluntly, but simply understood. The country now gets to reap the results of what it had permitted to be sown.
A Week of Terrorist Attacks
In just one week, we have seen terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Iraq.
In Saudi Arabia, a group of militants attacked citizens in Al-Ahsa, killing and injuring a group of people who had gathered at a Shi’ite Husseiniya (meeting house). The gunmen, along with those who assisted this terrorist operation, were quickly pursued by Saudi security forces. One police officer and two soldiers?defenders of the nation—were killed in the subsequent counterterror response.
In Tunisia, we saw a new form of terrorism with gunmen targeting a bus transporting soldiers, resulting in the death of five.
In Egypt, there has been a series of explosions and attacks this week, not least an attack on a train that killed at least four people.
This is a summary of the events of just one week in our region. However, the most striking thing is that while terrorism is nothing new, the terrorist acts that we have seen this week have all been unprecedented in one form or another.
In Saudi Arabia, we witnessed an excellent response to the Ahsa crime from the state and the people. Saudi security forces, utilizing two decades of counterterror experience, did their duty competently while the media also played a crucial role. Saudi Arabia’s judiciary has also played an important role and we have noticed the stringent sentences that have been issued recently against terrorism-related crimes after years of deliberation.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed again has an interesting piece at Asharq Alawsat. He points out that it is fatuous to say, in effect, “Let the extremists on our team beat up on the extremists for the other team” when it comes to matters of religion. He notes, too, that Shi’ite extremism tends to be controlled by a certain state while Sunni extremism is chaotic, completely outside the reins of control a state sponsor might impose. Worse, Sunni extremism seems to have a way of coming back to bite the states that permit it to have its way.
The real issue, though, is that the commingling of religion and state is always fraught with danger. Religion is not bound by logic and reason because it deals with matters of faith. Matters of faith are simply not accessible through reason alone and rational argument too often runs into impenetrable walls.
Sunni extremism vs. Shiite extremism
The only argument that I have heard in response to what I wrote two days ago about the dangers of extremism – which is still spreading despite the huge magnitude of the chronological events – is why would we seek to contain extremists in our community while there are extremists of all nationalities and religious doctrines out there?
Some were even more pronounced when discussing this issue with me. They told me that overriding Sunni extremism would help countries like Iran, which is supporting its brand of Shiite extremism everywhere!
Firstly, this whole notion is wrong because extremism is dangerous foremost to the community that creates and hosts it. Secondly, those who think that there is an unquestionable state of extremism and that is safer to accept it lest it devastate them – or those who say that maybe it’s better to employ extremism the way Iran and the Syrian regime have used it – will find out the true cost only later.