Alternate History is a form of fiction in which some past event happened differently than it did, leading to various types of changes in the present. Usually, the stories (or films or games) are based on one critical event or factor.

Al Arabiya TV reports on one thing which, had it happened, would have lead to considerable changes and remarkable ones at that.

During WWI, a Russian Jewish doctor, M.L. Rothstein, proposed to the British government, that he raise a force of 120,000 Jewish troops who would, with assistance from the Triple Entente powers, wrestle Hasa from the Ottoman Turks, then allied with the Triple Alliance.

Hasa, of course, is in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It was, at the time of the proposal, actually part of Saudi lands. King Abdulaziz had seized it from Turkish control in 1913. The Eastern Province, of course, is where most of Saudi Arabia’s natural wealth is to be found.

Lord Balfour — author of the notorious Balfour Declaration that was one of the origins of contemporary Israel — turned down the offer.

A Jewish state in Saudi Arabia? New British document reveals 1917 idea
Kamal Kobeisi | Al Arabiya News

A Jewish state in Saudi Arabia? One Paris-based Russian Jew threw this unorthodox proposal on the table in 1917, according to a recently revealed official British document.

The strategy, which proposed an army of 120,000 Jewish soldiers invading the Gulf, was one man’s solution to carve out land for a Jewish homeland.

Only two months before the Balfour Declaration was dated, a man named Dr. M. L Rothstein tried to sway then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to create a Jewish state in modern day Saudi Arabia.

April:07:2014 - 06:22 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that there are discussions going on in Saudi Arabia about taking the necessary steps to convert the Consultative (Shoura) Council into a fully-fledged parliament.

Changes would have to be made in both how people join the Council and in its ultimate role.

Currently, all members of the Shoura Council are appointed. It should be possible to start electing at least some members through popular vote. Similarly, the Council now serves only to advise the government; it’s recommendations do not carry the force of law. That, too, could be changed, starting with limited areas of authority if necessary for government comfort.

The proposed changes are feasible. Their implementation can be done in a measured and incremental fashion.

Greater Shoura reforms sought
Experts say council should be given more powers

Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — A number of prominent Saudi figures have called for introducing more reforms in the Shoura Council, including the gradual transformation of the council into an elected body.

While appreciating the achievements made so far by the council, they also underlined the need for making amendments in the 23-year-old Shoura Law to give it additional powers so that it can work more effectively, according to a report in Al-Riyadh Arabic daily.

People pin great hope on the council, which has a number of committees to tackle various issues concerning the Saudi public. The members of the council include scholars, academics and legal experts and they represent people from all walks of life.

There has been an increased demand for amending the Shoura Law to make the body’s decisions binding on the executive. Under the current system, the council’s decisions are simply recommendations and proposals submitted for the consideration of the executive authorities.

April:06:2014 - 07:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV runs analysis by Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE, on how alliances within and outside the Middle East are now taking place. The shifts are not yet tectonic, but might be considered fore-shocks, signaling that the potential for major changes in cooperative agreements — both formal and informal — is in process.

It’s clear that current alliances are under pressures that could, if left alone, lead to a reshaping. Reappraisals of national interests as well as partnerships are going on. Those countries that wish to play a role in the shaping of the future need to be aware of what’s happening and take steps to ensure that the map looks like what they want it to look like.

Shifting sands and shifting security alliances in the Gulf
Theodore Karasik

Changes are afoot in security alliances in the Near East. Egypt, Saudi, UAE and Jordan appear to be forming a new regional security group. At the same time, Qatar, Iran, and Turkey are establishing another alliance. The ramifications on the GCCs future are enormous as Oman may join the Qatar group. What can we expect from these new alliances? What are the impacts on Syria and the Iranian negotiations? Where will Western states, Russia, and China fit into the new regional security dynamic?

Will the Shanghai Cooperation Organization find itself expanding to the Gulf via Iran? Will there be more trouble ahead or will these alliances clash on the political level and through proxies?

The ties between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE signal a grouping that agrees on the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) as the major threat to their stability. Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco are likely to be part of this emerging security group to provide monarchal protection and stability across the region against the Muslim Brotherhood threat. Shuttle diplomatic and military missions are increasing between all states.

April:06:2014 - 07:07 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News publishes another uninformative article reporting that 18 people have been sentenced to jail, fines and travel restrictions following their conviction for an assortment of terroristic crimes. No names are published and the crimes for which they were convicted are reported only in general terms. These range from weapons procurement to smuggling people across borders to terrorism financing.

18 terrorists sentenced to 104 years in jail

A special court in Riyadh has sentenced 18 terrorists to a collective 104 years in jail for various subversive and illegal activities including attempts to smuggle missiles into the Kingdom from Yemen.

They received sentences ranging from two months to 27 years. One of the convicts was jailed for 13 years, local media reported Friday.

April:05:2014 - 08:55 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette translates an article from the Arabic Al-Jazira daily in which the writer notes that according to Saudi Arabia’s Passport Department, there is no law or regulation that requires Saudi women to have their guardian’s permission to travel outside the country. Instead, “it’s left to the discretion of the passport officer.”

So, in addition to the ‘guardianship’ set-up where women are supposed to be represented by male relatives in certain formal situations, they also have to face self-appointed, unrelated guardians. This, the writer notes, is peculiar.

She notes, too, that while there is no law prohibiting Saudi women from driving, there are all sorts of extra-legal prohibitions on it. It is time, she says, for Saudi women to be treated like adults.

Can a Saudi woman travel without her guardian’s permission?
Rogaia Soliman Al-Huwairini | Al-Jazirah

The spokesman of the Passports Department (Jawazat) recently dropped a bombshell. He said in a recent statement that there are no written instructions which prevent Saudi women from traveling without the written consent of their male guardians. He added, moreover, that the only existing regulations are those that prevent people under 21, regardless of their nationality, from traveling abroad without the approval of their parents.

The spokesman explained that preventing Saudi women from traveling abroad is left to the discretion of the passport officer at the point of departure from the Kingdom. The officer will evaluate the woman’s appearance and age before deciding whether or not to allow her to travel. Therefore, each Saudi woman now has two male guardians: one is their normal guardian (father, husband, brother or son) and the second is the passport officer.

April:05:2014 - 08:45 | Comments Off | Permalink

Mohammed Qutb, younger brother of Sayyid Qutb — an early and important member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt — has died in Jeddah at the age of 95.

Following his brother’s execution in Egypt for plotting an assassination attempt on Nasser, Mohammed, who was also implicated in the plot, moved to Saudi Arabia after being released from prison. While in the Kingdom, he wrote books at taught at Um Al-Qura and King Abdulaziz Universities. He was considered a leader in modern Islamic apologetics.

Muhammad Qutb dies in Jeddah

JEDDAH – Renowned Egyptian Islamic scholar and thinker Muhammad Qutb passed away on Friday in Jeddah. He was 95. Qutb died at Jeddah International Medical Center and his body will be buried in Jeddah on Saturday, according to reports.

Qutb was born in the Egyptian village of Musha near Asyut in 1919. He was the author of about 35 books, and that included Islam: The Misunderstood Religion, The Future is for Islam, Ignorance of the Twentieth Century, Studies in Human Psychology, Man Between the Material World and Islam, The Concept of Islam and Our Understanding of It, and Islam and the Crisis of the Modern World. He was the winner of King Faisal International Prize in 1988.

April:05:2014 - 08:34 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Riyadh Municipality has broken ground for its metro rail system, Al Arabiya TV reports. The system, with 176km of rails, is not expected to tempt Saudis away from their cars, but it might reduce some traffic congestion. It will, assuming the lines are laid out correctly, provide transportation for low-income residents. The article does not note whether there will be train cars designated for women only, but that’s most likely to occur.

Saudi Arabia begins construction of multi-billion dollar metro project

Saudi Arabia has begun construction work on its long awaited first metro rail system in the capital Riyadh.

The multi-billion project will involve six rail lines extending 176 kilometers and carrying electric, driverless trains, in what Saudi officials project to be the world’s largest public transport system.

Prince Khalid bin Bandar, the Riyadh emir, attended a groundbreaking ceremony in the capital on Thursday to mark the first day of construction work.

…Saudi Arabia awarded $22.5 billion in contracts to three foreign-led consortia for the design and construction of the system.

April:05:2014 - 08:24 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi women are arguing for a larger role in soccer, Saudi Gazette reports. Instead of being stuck on the sidelines in positions like sports medicine, they want to be on the pitch, kicking the ball around.

There are already a few, very low key women’s football clubs, but women want more, including recognition that they, too, can be athletes. While they would love to get the kind of support men’s football does, they’d be happy if they can first just obtain the ability to participate and compete.

Eying a goal — Saudi young women dream of playing football
Saudi Gazette report

THE appointment of Arwa Mutabagani to the Board of Directors of the Saudi Equestrian Federation (SEF) has encouraged Saudi sportswomen to try and enter other sports federations in the Kingdom. One of the sports on top of the list is the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF). Experts say if women can penetrate the male-dominated body that administers the country’s club competitions and national teams, official permits to play football and setting up sports facilities for women will soon follow, Al-Madinah daily reported.

Currently, women are allowed to participate in the secondary committees of the federation such as sports medicine, ethics and information and statistics committees, but they have no presence in the primary committees of the federation. Female sports journalist Hana Allouni said the lack of a female presence in the basic committees shows that women are not familiar with the rules and regulations of football.

She also pointed out the importance of Saudi sportswomen’s presence under the General Presidency for Youth Welfare (GPYW) in affiliated committees concerned with women’s sports or Women’s Sports Administration.

April:04:2014 - 08:23 | Comments Off | Permalink

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.

Glenn Beck sued for defamation after calling victim
of Boston Marathon bombings the ‘money man’ behind attack
Terrence McCoy

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.”

April:03:2014 - 07:50 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Washington Post runs a piece from the Associated Press about how artists are nudging the redlines in Saudi Arabia. Often working with quiet support from the ruling family, they comment on society and religion in ways that speak to people, even if their art ends up being banned in the Kingdom. Whether it’s the debate about preservation or modernity, the limits put upon women by social strictures, or even about how religion can be used as a trap, the artists are speaking up and out.

Saudi artists cautiously push against redlines

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — When Ahmed Mater visited Mecca in 2010 something felt off. Dozens of cranes were eating away at the mosque to make way for a larger complex surrounding the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure to which observant Muslims pray toward five times a day that also draws millions of pilgrims annually from around the world.

The changes were irrevocably transforming the city’s landscape. So Mater, a practicing physician and modern artist, took pictures. He titled his project “Desert of Pharan” in a nod to Mecca’s ancient name.

The kingdom’s modern art scene has become a platform for Saudi artists to voice their frustration about the country’s most sensitive issues without coming into friction with the country’s rulers, reaching the public in new ways and allowing individual points of view in a country where dominant ultraconservative norms have long prevailed.

April:03:2014 - 07:40 | Comments Off | Permalink

In response to Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning population, the government plans to establish three new universities, Arab News reports. One will combine several branches of King Abdulaziz University to form a new Jeddah University. Others will be established, also by consolidating other university branches, in Bisha and Hafr Al-Batin. Ten more universities are planned to be set up over the next five years. This would bring the number of universities in the country to 38.

KSA to set up 3 new universities

Giving another boost to the Kingdom’s higher education, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has ordered the establishment of three new universities in Jeddah, Bisha and Hafr Al-Baten. It brings the total number of public universities in the Kingdom to 28.

Higher Education Minister Khaled Al-Anqari said King Abdulaziz University’s branches in north Jeddah as well as the colleges in Khulais and Kamil would be brought together under the new Jeddah University, which will have a total of 18 colleges and institutes.

April:03:2014 - 07:29 | Comments Off | Permalink

The 2014 Winter Olympics are over, but the 2016 Summer Olympics are just around the corner. The International Olympics Committee head is in Riyadh, working with the Presidency of Youth Welfare and reminding them that they’ve time to line up a team of female athletes. Saudi Gazette reports:

IOC supports increase of Saudi female participation in Olympics

RIYADH — IOC President Thomas Bach offered his support Wednesday for increasing the participation of female athletes from Saudi Arabia in the Olympics.

Bach held talks in Riyadh with Prince Nawaf Bin Faisal Bin Fahd, President of Youth Welfare.

The International Olympic Committee said the two discussed a strategy for sports development in the Kingdom through 2020.

“President Bach promised full support for the plan, which also included proposals to increase women’s participation in the Olympic Games and in sport in general,” the IOC said in a statement.

After prolonged negotiations with the IOC, Saudi Arabia sent women to the Olympics for the first time in 2012, with two female athletes competing at the London Games.

April:03:2014 - 07:18 | Comments Off | Permalink
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