Friday, December 21, 2007

Germany Charges Moroccan Man with Terror Links to al Qaeda

Deutsche Welle (Germany)

German prosecutors in Karlsruhe announced charges on Thursday, Dec 20, against a Moroccan man for allegedly assisting terror groups and planning to open a terrorist training camp in Sudan. The suspect has been identified as Abdel Ali M. He was extradited from Sweden in May and officially charged on Nov. 18 but details of the case were not released until Dec. 20. "The accused is believed to have been involved in the recruitment of fighters from Morocco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and smuggled them into Iraq to aid Al-Qaeda of Mesopotamia," the federal prosecutor's office said in a statement. He is also believed to have helped five Muslim radicals start a "terrorist organisation" in Sudan with the aim of waging an Al-Qaeda-inspired guerrilla war, the federal prosecutor's office here said in a statement. The 25-year-old is the third man to be arrested in the plot. He is allegedly an accomplice of another man in German custody known as Redouane E.H., a 37-year-old German of Moroccan descent who has been on trial since July.

Interior Ministry Warns of Radicalization of Muslims

der Spiegel, AFP, AP, DDP, DGS

A new study released by Germany's Interior Ministry on Tuesday found about 40% of Muslims surveyed had a "fundamentalist orientation," which the authors defined as a strongly religious worldview and moral values. The authors saw a potential threat in a small minority with Islamist leanings: Around 6% of those surveyed were classified as having "violent tendencies," while 14% of respondents had "anti-democratic" tendencies. However, the authors concluded that the vast majority of Muslims in Germany reject religiously motivated terrorism and violence: Some 92% of respondents agreed with the statement that terrorist acts in the name of Islam were a serious sin and an insult to Allah ... In the introduction to the report, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble writes that the study leads to the "worrying conclusion that a serious potential for Islamist radicalization has developed in Germany." According to Schäuble, the lack of integration of immigrants into German society is leading to a "fundamental religious orientation." The survey found that more than half of the respondents felt themselves excluded from German society and felt they were treated as foreigners. Around 20% had experienced some form of racism within the last 12 months ... According to a 2006 report by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which monitors Islamist activity in the country, there are currently around 32,000 Islamists in Germany who pose a potential security threat. That figure represents slightly more than 1% of the around 3 million Muslims who live in the country.

German Church leaders ask Turkey to build church in Tarsus

Catholic World News (US: Virginia)

In an interview with the magazine Cicero, Cardinal Karl Lehman, the president of the German bishops' conference, mentioned the appeal. He disclosed that Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne had introduced the petition to Turkish Prime Minister Recip Erdogan, with support from the Christian Democratic Union. Cardinal Lehmann told Cicero that Islamic countries should be pressed to allow greater religious freedom for their Christian minorities. "While it's possible to build a mosque taller than St. Peter's in Rome," he pointed out, "I'd be arrested for celebrating Holy Mass in Saudi Arabia."

Split among mullahs weakens religious parties

Saeed Shah, The Globe and Mail (Canada)

The mullahs shocked Pakistan and the rest of the world when they scooped nearly a fifth of the seats in the national parliament and formed the government of the Frontier Province. Maulana Rahman became the official leader of the opposition. Before 2002, the mullahs in Pakistan had never managed to translate their rabble-rousing into votes. But in that election, the religious parties rode on a wave of anti-Americanism stemming from the war launched in Afghanistan the previous year, taking 12% of the vote nationally. Once in power, they are alleged to have looked the other way while extremists gained in strength in the Frontier, culminating in an armed takeover of the region's Swat valley by militants this autumn - only recently reversed by deployment of the Pakistan army there. "If they [the Islamists] come to power again, you might as well forget about this province," said Mehmood Shah, a political analyst and former senior civil servant in the Frontier. "It will get Talibanized." What happens in the Frontier is no parochial issue. Hawkish commentators fear that it could break away from Pakistan, providing a haven for extremists from around the world and a base for Taliban fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Liberal and pro-U.S.? Who knew?

Scott Galupo. The Washington Times (US: Washington DC)

After a trip to the Pakistani-Afghan frontier, where he sees firsthand the casualties of the Soviets' wanton violence, Charlie Wilson is moved to action. Against the inertia of Washington's intelligence and diplomatic bureaucracy, he and Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) secretly funnel defense appropriations into arming Afghan mujahideen freedom fighters against the Russians. A decade after the 1979 invasion, the Soviets retreat from the equivalent of their Vietnam — and there's nary an American fingerprint on the Stinger missiles that brought down their helicopters, thanks to the canny back-channel machinations of Wilson and Avrakotos, who enlist the help of the Israeli, Egyptian, Pakistani and Saudi governments in smuggling ordnance to the mujahideen. It's true that Messrs. Nichols, Sorkin and Hanks attempt, so to speak, to have their anti-communism and eat it, too. For the same reasons that war shouldn't be left to generals, they imply, anti-communism shouldn't be left to Republicans — particularly religion-addled ones like Joanne Herring (played here by an inert Julia Roberts) the ultraconservative Houston socialite who urges Wilson to take on the freedom fighters' cause ... "Charlie Wilson's War" is unabashedly pro-American. Not in a Lee Greenwood-anthem sort of way, but pro-American nonetheless. Its protagonists, whatever their peccadilloes, are on the right side of history. Did the U.S. drop the ball in the aftermath of the Soviet-Afghan war? It's an arguable assertion, and it hardly constitutes the heart of the movie.

Scoping Out the Saudis: Are They With Us or Against Us?

Neal Sher, The Jewish Exponent (US: Pennsylvania)

While the Bush administration will in no way hold Saudi feet to the fire, some on Capitol Hill are fed up. Enter U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who have introduced the Saudi Arabia Accountability Act of 2007 in their respective chambers. The White House and State Department, of course, will never endorse this initiative, trotting out the disingenuous mantra that the Saudis are needed in our fight against the bad guys. Never mind that the kingdom and their U.S. hired guns assure us that the Saudis will stand shoulder to shoulder with us -- the empirical evidence proves the contrary ... Odds are the legislation will die on the vine, never making it out of committee. Similar legislation has gone nowhere, even when there was the hardest of evidence proving that the Saudi government was paying the families of suicide murderers and directly supporting Hamas ... This time, only the Zionist Organization of America has endorsed and will lobby for the Saudi accountability measure. Unfortunately, it probably will be virtually alone in this fight. Some battles must be fought because it is simply the right thing to do. Taking the Saudis to task for being the hub of terrorism is one of those instances. Jewish organizations would do well to remember that it was a losing battle -- over the sale of AWACS to the Saudis 25 years ago -- that for all practical purposes put it on the map. Unless and until sinister activities engaged in, tolerated and effectively endorsed by Saudi Arabia are challenged head on, the war on terror is not much more than an exercise of putting our heads in the sand.

Be the moderate you're looking for

Kareem Elbayar, Common Ground News Service (US: Washington DC)

In a 7 December op-ed in The New York Times, Ayaan Hirsi Ali asked where the moderate Muslims were, and concluded that the very notion of a moderate Muslim majority was "wishful thinking". Moderate Muslims are all around us, from the attorney and husband of the rape victim from Saudi Arabia, both of whom expressed revulsion and shame at the decision made by Saudi Arabian courts; to the delegation of British Muslims who travelled to Sudan and worked with Sudanese MP Ghazi Suleiman to secure the "teddy bear" teacher's release. It seems that Ali would like me and my co-religionists to go about our lives constantly marching around the streets apologizing for the acts of zealots – but I will not do so, for I bear no more responsibility for these acts than she does ... It seems that in our modern age of sound bites and one-liners, strident if uninformed criticism will always outperform calm and reasoned debate. If Ali is serious about supporting tolerance among Muslims, perhaps she should spend less time penning distracting and misleading screeds against Islam and more time reaching out to groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslims for Progressive Values, Al-Fatiha, and Sisters in Islam. The only way to prevent the "clash of civilisations" from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy is to build bridges between our communities. Promoting a black-and-white caricature of reality serves no one – least of all the tolerant Muslims Ali can't seem to find anywhere she looks.

The Middle East's 20 Richest People

Devon Pendleton, Forbes (US: New York)

Sky-high oil prices are good news for the region's 20 richest billionaires, who hail from six countries, made their money in nine industries and were worth $123 billion in March when we last locked in net worths, up about 10% from the previous year ... Interestingly, only one in the top 20, Mohammed Al Amoudi, actually makes his fortune from oil; the rest are merely beneficiaries from all the oil money sloshing through the region. That is especially true in Saudi Arabia, home to 25 % of the world's oil reserves and seven members of our top 20. Their wealthiest citizen, and also the region's richest, is prominent: Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud ranked 13th in the world in March, then worth $20.3 billion. In July, the prince took public his Kingdom Holding Co., a conglomerate of banking, media, real estate and hotel investments, raising $2.3 billion. He still has a substantial stake in U.S. financial giant Citigroup. Another Saudi investor, Maan Al-Sanea, made news in April when he disclosed a 3.1% stake in HSBC. The announcement propelled the former air force pilot -- and, until then, low-profile businessman -- into the limelight, and helped boost his fortune, which we estimated at $7.5 billion in March, to at least $10 billion ... Saudi Arabia's Al Rajhi family, whose eponymous bank manages the wealth of everyday Saudis, is perhaps the region's oldest banking family. Worth a collective $15.9 billion, the four aging Al Rajhi brothers (two of whom rank in the top 20) have controlled the bank since it began in the 1940s as a desert trading post.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Saudis biggest group of al Qaeda Iraq fighters: study

Kristin Roberts, Eric Beech, Reuters (UK)

Most al Qaeda fighters in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia and Libya and many are university-aged students, said a study released on Wednesday by researchers at the U.S. Army's West Point military academy. The study was based on 606 personnel records collected by al Qaeda in Iraq and captured by coalition troops in October. It includes data on fighters who entered Iraq, largely through Syria, between August 2006 and August 2007. The researchers at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center found that 41% of the fighters were Saudi nationals. Libyan nationals accounted for the second largest group entering Iraq in that time period with about 19% of the total ... "The apparent surge in Libyan recruits traveling to Iraq may be linked (to) the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group's increasingly cooperative relationship with al-Qa'ida, which culminated in the LIFG officially joining al-Qa'ida on November 3, 2007," wrote authors Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman ... "The incitement of a new generation of jihadis to join the fight in Iraq, or plan operations elsewhere, is one of the most worrisome aspects of the ongoing fight in Iraq," they wrote. "The United States should not confuse gains against al-Qa'ida's Iraqi franchises as fundamental blows against the organization outside of Iraq. So long as al-Qa'ida is able to attract hundreds of young men to join its ranks, it will remain a serious threat to global security."

Radio Mullah vs Gandhara Buddha

Caroline Watson, Asia Times (Hong Kong)

The Swat Valley was famed for its peace, serenity and beauty. But, today, its public image is dominated by another imposing figure. With a taste for the theatric and an eye on his own supremacy, Maulana Fazlullah is holding Swat in an ever-increasing grip ... A beacon of Gandhara heritage, the Buddha of Jehanabad is the only remaining Buddha of its size and quality carved into the rock in the area. Standing at 23 feet, the 7th-century statue is considered the most important carving of its kind. It is unique, the most complete and priceless remains of Gandhara. Recently, the Buddha of Jehanabad come into conflict with another famous personality of the region: the cleric-turned-militant who has led the campaign in the Swat Valley, Maulana Fazlullah - the "Radio Mullah". The Buddha of Jehanabad lost. The statue suffered two attacks by militants led by Maulana Fazlullah. The second attack succeeded in seriously defacing it after explosives were detonated on the Buddha's face. Quiet outrage has been expressed by a few. Others have grown numb to such acts, for they have happened before: this was a copycat attack, mimicking the destruction in 2001 of Afghanistan's Bamyian Buddhas.

Stand By Steyn

Robert Spencer, Human Events (US: Washington DC)

The Canadian Human Rights Commission and the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal have begun proceedings against Mark Steyn, author of America Alone. They are responding to complaints from the Canadian Islamic Congress about an excerpt from the book that was published in the Canadian journal Maclean’s. “The article,” the CIC claims, “subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt,” and was “flagrantly Islamophobic.” ... It was not Steyn who said that “Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor,” and that “the conquest this time will not be by the sword but by preaching and ideology.” That was Al-Jazeera’s Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi, who is widely hailed as a moderate reformer in the West. Did Steyn say that Muslims “will control the land of the Vatican; we will control Rome and introduce Islam in it”? Nope. That one comes from a Saudi Sheikh, Muhammad bin Abd Al-Rahman Al-‘Arifi, imam of the mosque of King Fahd Defense Academy. The Canadian Human Rights Commission is putting itself in the peculiar position of penalizing those non-Muslims who report on such statements, as if it is somehow an act encouraging “hatred and contempt” to reveal the unpleasant reality that comprises mainstream Islamic rhetoric today.

Gulf arms: Complex motives

Dr Dominic Moran, Spero News (US: Texas)

While Saudis-Iranian tensions are playing out in both the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, the main theater of potential confrontation remains Iraq and the waters of the Gulf itself. "There is a war by proxy going on in Iraq between Saudi-backed groups and Iranian-backed groups. That obviously colors the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran," said Chatham House's Dr Gareth Stansfield. Iran appears increasingly concerned at the progressive Gulf military build-up. Ahmadinejad offered an economic and security alliance with the states at Doha – an offer welcomed by Qatari officials, though the Saudis made no official response ... Nevertheless, Stansfield believes "A very real security liaison is going on regarding the wider security of the Gulf region and, not necessarily a relationship, but more a balance of power is emerging between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and recognition of each other's interests." ... Stanfield believes, "There has been much more of a realization of the level of interaction Iran has with the Gulf states." This "suggests that one of the ways they [Gulf states] may look at regional security is through some sort of regional security network - but they have to bring Iran into it rather than having something opposing it."

Friendlier hands across the Gulf

The Economist (UK)

On the same day on which a new American National Intelligence Estimate overturned previous assertions that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons, President Ahmadinejad made a first-ever appearance as a guest at the annual summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), a body created in 1981 largely with the goal of containing revolutionary Iran. Soon after the summit meeting, Saudi Arabia, the biggest by far of the GCC's six member states and long the most hostile to Iran, invited Mr Ahmadinejad to take part in the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca ... However much they dislike Iran's mullahs, Gulf Arabs dislike more the idea of getting caught up in a war between Iran and America. In recent months they have not been especially happy with their erstwhile American ally, despite the Bush administration's belated effort to address Arab concerns over Palestine and to disentangle itself from Iraq ... Cross-Gulf trade is growing fast. Bahrain itself recently signed a deal to import Iranian natural gas. And this link pales by comparison with the flourishing trade between Iran and Dubai, the most mercantile of the seven emirates that make up the UAE.

The Powers of Petrocracy

Fouad Ajami, U.S. News & World Report (US: Washington DC)

The great democratic wave of the last quarter century has bypassed the oil lands. The oil lands are distributive states. Wealth comes to the rulers, they dispose of it, they distribute it to cronies, they punish and overwhelm their would-be challengers at home, and they use it to sustain adventures abroad way beyond the limits of their societies ... In Saudi Arabia, an antimodernist cultural and religious ban on women driving cars persists because, at the very least, oil grants that society waiver from the imperatives of economic rationality. Younger, more educated people agitate against this ban, but the caravan proceeds, as a desert expression might put it. Over the past five years, the Saudi kingdom took in more that $800 billion of oil wealth: The arguments of modernity and economic rationality can be swept aside. Saudi Arabia today is the largest consumer, per capita, of energy, exceeding the United States. In that desert realm, oil consumption is an annual 33 barrels per person, versus 26 barrels per person in the United States. Liberty can wait—the need for air conditioning is more pressing.

Opec income to swell by $75bn

Emirates Business 24/7 (UAE)

From a record $506bn in 2006, Opec’s oil export earnings are forecast to surge to nearly $536bn this year and gain a staggering $75bn to hit an all-time high of nearly $611bn in 2008, according to estimates by the London-based Centre for Global Energy Studies (CGES). Saudi Arabia, the world’s oil powerhouse, netted nearly a third of Opec’s income in 2007, while the UAE emerged as the second largest earner although its crude production was far lower than Iran’s output. “This year, Opec is expected to achieve its highest oil export revenues in nominal terms because crude prices are heading for their highest average and production is still high,” said Leo Drollas, deputy director of CGES, which is owned by former Saudi oil minister, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Al Yamani. A breakdown showed Saudi Arabia’s income is expected to climb from $165bn in 2006 to $170bn in 2007 and a record $190bn in 2008.

Saudi firm eyes Islamic debt to fund $2.9 bln project

Reuters (UK)

Saudi Arabia's Jabal Omar Development Co. awarded Binladin, the country's largest contractor, and Saudi Oger, owned by the family of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, the contract to build a $2.9 billion project in Mecca. In addition to a prayer area accommodating 65,000 people, the development will have 39 buildings including hotels, residences and retail facilities. Jabal Omar raised $537 million by selling a 30% stake in a November initial public offering (IPO) that valued the company at around $1.79 billion. The remaining 70% of the company is held by the owners of a 23 hectare (56.8 acre) plot of land in Mecca near the Grand Mosque. The cost of land in Mecca, Islam's holiest city, has surged, with land selling for as much $50,000 per square metre, according to government statistics. That compares with $14,522 per square metre in London and $24,900 per square metre in Monaco, according to the Global Property Guide.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Inside the war

Joshua Sinai, The Washington Times (US: Washington DC)

"The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack" is a remarkably insightful and revealing look at how U.S. counterterrorism agencies and their top players conducted America's attacks on al Qaeda and its affiliates prior to and following September 11 ... Art Cummings, the FBI's Counterterrorism Division's deputy assistant director, explains that many of these operatives are not "religious fanatics," although "Islamic extremism was a factor. But a lot of these guys were young and adventure-seeking. A lot of them were pressured by their families to go check that box: They wanted the jihadi badge of honor." As a Saudi detainee at Guantanamo, who had gone to Afghanistan to fight, told Mr. Cummings, "I think about humanity, the ummah — the Islamic community that follows Mohammed. I'm coming here for you, to fight the broader cause, for Islam." There now exists a new variety of terrorist operatives, who Mr. Cummings describes as a combination of home-grown wannabes, "inspired by bin Laden rather than controlled by him," and professional terrorists. The former type is particularly worrisome because while they may not be as sophisticated as al Qaeda's seasoned operatives, to Mr. Cummings, they are "becoming more common," and therefore "exceedingly dangerous because they're willing to give up their personal safety and personal freedoms to go overseas to a foreign place, with people that are going to teach them how to become a terrorist, essentially. It's this convergence of capability and willingness that cause the person to be unbelievably dangerous."

A place of prayer or violence?

Abi Daruvalla, Expatica (Netherlands)

The El Tawheed mosque was bought about five years ago with a EUR 1.5 million loan from the Saudi Arabian charity Al Haramain, which has since been put on the United Nation's blacklist of organisations with al-Qaeda links. Amsterdam mayor said on Dutch TV that a report by the national security service (AIVD) into activities at the El Tawheed mosque - published earlier this year - had concluded there was nothing to gain by closing down the controversial mosque ... In fact, the El Tawheed mosque is mentioned on several occasions in the 2004 report by the Dutch security services into the influence of the radical Salafitism (sometimes also called Wahhabism) movement in the Netherlands. "The Netherlands has a number of mosque foundations with an outspoken Salafitist character. They have emerged from missions and financing from Saudi Arabia. The mosques involved are Stichting El Tawheed in Amsterdam..." The report concluded that the AIVD did not have evidence that mosques in Holland openly propagated jihad. But it did say that this form of orthodox Islam was very attractive to Muslim communities in the West, especially to young Muslims to whom it seemed to offer a simple solution for their identity problems.

Savage vs. CAIR: The battle over free speech

Cinnamon Stillwell, The San Francisco Chronicle (US: California)

CAIR expressed concern over a number of statements made by Savage on his Oct. 29 program that the group felt were anti-Muslim in nature. In response, CAIR, along with the newly formed Hate Hurts America Community and Interfaith Coalition, has attempted to mount a boycott aimed at advertisers on Savage's show. According to a Dec. 3 CAIR press release, a growing list of companies, including AutoZone, Citrix, TrustedID, JC Penney, OfficeMax, Wal-Mart, and AT&T, have joined the boycott. But rather than taking CAIR's boycott lying down, Savage is fighting back, in court .... The list of abhorrent statements made by CAIR officials, not to mention unethical tactics, ties to terrorism and Saudi funding, is so long that criticism can no longer be avoided by deflecting blame. Savage's lawsuit details a number of instances in which CAIR officials publicly supported terrorism, acted as apologists for or distorted facts around terrorist acts, and admitted to an Islamist agenda to dominate America. If experience is any indication, Savage's lawsuit may very well end up being settled out of court, as its unlikely CAIR will wish to call attention to these unsavory details. Such was the case when CAIR tried to sue Andrew Whitehead, the founder of the organization Anti-CAIR, in 2005 for libel.

MAS Freedom Welcomes Saudi King’s Pardon of ‘Qatif Girl’ But Reiterates the Need for Change

Aishah Schwartz, The American Muslim (US)

The Muslim American Society (MAS) Freedom Executive Director, Mahdi Bray, who previously proclaimed the sentencing as a “gross and cruel miscarriage of true justice”, today added, “While the pardon in the ‘Qatif Girl’ case is, indeed, good news, particularly on this, the first day of Hajj, the fact remains that a pardon does not overturn the verdict - which means that Judges within the Kingdom remain undeterred from making the same ruling in similar cases. “The fact that this story received international media attention does not mean that the next victim will be so lucky. Clearly, from a human rights standpoint, we must continue to press for real change - judicial change - before the Qatif Girl case becomes cold. Unless real change is seen as a result of this pardon, it is nothing more than eye-candy for the media. “Equally important, and not to be forgotten, is the fact that human rights activist and attorney for the rape victim, Abdul-Rahman Al-Lahem, had his license to practice law suspended in defending his client - yet another gross miscarriage of justice that remains to be rectified,” Bray concluded.

Press praise, blogger anger over Saudi rape girl pardon

Agence France-Presse (France)

The royal pardon was "fresh proof of the wisdom and mercy of the father of the nation," wrote Al-Watan newspaper's columnist Abdullah al-Almi. "It is a victory for justice... and for the defense of human rights and an affirmation of female dignity." Several newspapers gave prominent coverage to comments by the victim's husband hailing the "noble gesture" of the king ... But reaction on websites dedicated to carrying uncensored commentary on the kingdom's affairs was far more critical. "This is a flagrant US interference in our internal affairs," said one anonymous blogger on the site Another blogger who gave his name as Abdullah Zaqil said: "The state should have shown more confidence in the judiciary. "The internationalization of this case has had negative repercussions that only a fool or a hypocrite could ignore or pretend to ignore." A third blogger, signing in as Abu Lujain Ibrahim, asked: "Was this woman pardoned in accordance with Islamic law or as a result of foreign pressure? Are we the masters of our own policies or are they controlled by the foreign media?"

Iraq Press Roundup

Hiba Dawood, UPI

The Association of Muslim Scholars'Al Basaer newspaper said Tuesday it is important to analyze the declaration of intent between the United States and Iraq, which it called a declaration of bad intentions. The Saudi-based paper said any misuse of the law for the benefit of the occupiers, whether by the Security Council or others, will not deceive the people of Iraq who are against the occupation. It said that when the occupiers deal with the saying "Those who are not with me, are against me," they drive people to be against them ... "Two groups are present in the Iraqi street: one that refuses the occupation with the help of the tribesmen and the other group that is represented by a gathering of those involved in the crippled political process and unable to even serve the occupiers' interests." It also said that the White House was protecting those "seated on their chairs," revealing the absence of Iraqi sovereignty. "Those who can't protect themselves are illegible to sign a security agreement ... The Iraqi people won't approve it because it marginalizes the will of the people," it said.

‘Mahram Not Reachable’ Keeps Them Worried

Syed Faisal Ali, Arab News (Saudi Arabia)

One of the preconditions for a woman, regardless of her age, to perform Haj is that she be accompanied by her mahram (a male relative such as a father, son, brother or husband). However, every year, many women come from distant countries to perform Haj without mahram. They pay hefty sums to their travel agents to arrange a “mahram”. This practice is prevalent in many parts of the globe but is especially common in South Asian countries. The “arranged mahram” then abandons the woman halfway through Haj and thus she finds herself in trouble and difficulties ... One Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia website says: “Women traveling without mahram and wishing to perform Haj with a group, must be over 45 years of age. The leader of the group must be recognized by an Islamic association and his wife must accompany the group on the same journey and the group must not have less than five women.” It further says that women under the age of 45 must be accompanied by a mahram and provide a certificate from the authority concerned. The mahram should not be younger than 15. It is the responsibility of female Haj applicants to specify clearly the legitimate mahram accompanying them on the application form. Islamic scholars generally try to persuade women not to come for Haj without a proper mahram.

India's Brokers plan Shari'ah funds

Priya Nadkarni, Business Standard (India)

A slew of Indian brokerages including Mangal Keshav and Parsoli Corporation, which have recently sold equity to Gulf-based investors, are raising money through Shari’ah funds for investments in Indian stock markets. The Indian markets will witness a strong flow of petro-dollars in 2008, following up on the stake buys by several Gulf-based financial institutions this year ... “The potential in the Gulf countries is tremendous. Hardly any money has come into India till now. This, coupled with the fact that there are more Shari’ah compliant companies in India compared with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia, makes India an attractive destination,” said Zafar Sareshwala, chief executive officer, Parsoli Corporation ... BankMuscat also has plans to raise a $250 million Shari’ah-compliant India-specific fund. An executive from BankMuscat had said that the money would be raised primarily from Oman and Dubai. “Having started operations in Saudi Arabia, we will also look at the possibility of raising money from this market,” he said. The new fund would be managed by Mangal Keshav.

Clinton Library Got Funds From Abroad

John Solomon, Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, Washington Post

The royal family of Saudi Arabia gave the Clinton facility in Little Rock about $10 million, roughly the same amount it gave toward the presidential library of George H.W. Bush, according to people directly familiar with the contributions ... In addition, a handful of Middle Eastern business executives and officials also gave at least $1 million each, according to the interviews. They include Saudi businessmen Abdullah al-Dabbagh, Nasser al-Rashid and Walid Juffali, as well as Issam Fares, a U.S. citizen who previously served as deputy prime minister of Lebanon ... Bush's large foreign donors include Kuwait, Japan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The family of Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi ambassador to the United States, contributed $1 million or more. Carter's donors include the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Kenyan Citizens To Be Subjected To Sharia?

International Christian Concern (US: Washington DC)

The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the front runner in the upcoming election in Kenya, Mr. Raila Odinga, has promised to deliver Sharia to Kenyan Muslims as a quid pro quo if the Muslim vote is delivered to his camp and he is elected President ... ICC has learned that there are actually two versions of the MOU and the version released to the public is very different from the actual, privately signed version that ICC has obtained. The secret version of the MOU promises that upon winning the election, Odinga will “within 6 months, re-write the Constitution of Kenya to recognize Shariah as the only true law sanctioned by the Holy Quran for Muslim declared regions.” ... ICC’s regional manager for Africa, Darara Gubo, said “This agreement made with Muslim leaders undermines the secular nature of Kenya and opens a Pandora’s box of chaos and conflict similar to what happened in Nigeria and Sudan.” He further noted that “this is not a stand-alone incident; rather, it is part of strategy to Islamize Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa, through the introduction of Sharia law.”

Interview: Somali insurgency to intensify - Islamist leader

Katie Nguyen, Reuters (UK)

In his first comments to Reuters since going into hiding a year ago, Muktar Ali Robow said al-Shabab (the military wing of Somalia's Islamist movement) had killed nearly 500 Ethiopian soldiers and would fight until foreign troops left the Horn of Africa country. "We are now planning to launch the most enormous attacks on the government and Ethiopian main positions. We will allow no foreign forces in our land. In the past days the infidel troops of Ethiopians along with their puppets and al-Shawab al-Mujahideen have fought heavily in Mogadishu. We have raided the enemies' military bases showering them with mortar shells," he said, referring to his "Movement of Young Mujahideen" faction ... Also known as "Abu Mansoor", Robow was the Islamic Courts' deputy defence secretary before the movement that ruled Mogadishu and most of south Somalia for six months was ousted by allied Somali-Ethiopian forces in the New Year. His al-Shabab has since spearheaded an Iraq-style insurgency, waging near-daily roadside bombings, grenade attacks and shootings against government and Ethiopian positions ... The Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) had run widely despised warlords, who enjoyed U.S. backing, out of Mogadishu in June 2006 with decisive victories.

Negotiations start for French reporter in Somalia

Abdiqani Hassan, B Hull, G Obulutsa, A Yusuf, K Weir, Reuters (UK)

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) condemned the kidnapping of Gwen Le Gouil in Somalia's northern Puntland region on Sunday, saying it underscored the precarious nature of journalism there. Deputy Bari region governor Yusuf Mumin Bidde told reporters that the Puntland administration would not allow the kidnappers to extort a ransom. Somali kidnappers are known to treat their captives well and almost never kill them, viewing them as an investment on which they expect a return in the form of ransom ... A colleague of Le Gouil's in Nairobi from their small TV company Cargocult Production, Jean Laurent confirmed Le Gouil was in Somalia working on a piece for the Franco-German TV network Arte Television. NUSOJ said the story was about human trafficking of African migrants to Saudi Arabia through Yemen. Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ secretary general, said that the kidnappers fired at Puntland troops who tried to secure Le Gouil's release on Sunday night. Known for its relative stability in a country plagued by lawlessness, semi-autonomous Puntland has become increasingly associated with kidnappings, hijackings and piracy.

U.S. weighs plan to help Egypt block arms smuggling to Gaza

Barak Ravid, Haaretz (Israel)

Egyptian defense sources told Agence France-Presse on Sunday that they had uncovered two weapons-smuggling tunnels that had apparently been used in the past, but did not find any weapons in them. The report said that Egyptian forces are destroying the tunnels, but did not mention any arrests having been made. On a related issue, Israel lodged a protest with the U.S. last week, over what it termed Egyptian and Saudi aid to Hamas in allowing Palestinian pilgrims to leave Gaza to participate in the hajj to Mecca. Senior Foreign Ministry officials met with one of Rice's deputies, David Welch, and told him that Israel does not understand why the Egyptians enabled the pilgrims to leave, which helped Hamas and weakened PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Terror study honoured

Mohammed Al a'Ali, Gulf Daily News (Bahrain)

A Bahraini woman is gaining global recognition for her research on the recruitment of Al Qaeda militants in Saudi Arabia. Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Manama branch co-ordinator Hadyah Fathalla has already given lectures to Australian federal police on the topic and has more invitations lined up. She travelled to Riyadh to interview Al Qaeda sympathisers on whom she based her research. The research is due to be published soon and Ms Fathalla said she could not discuss the contents of her report until then. She told the GDN that she selected Saudi Arabia as a study case for her war studies programme. "When I went to do my research, I thought like others that it was just few people who sympathised with Al Qaeda," she said. "But I discovered it was more than just that, and there is more to the story ... The lectures I have given to the police in Australia are encouraging and show there are people out there who are interested in what I am offering." Ms Fathalla was formerly the assistant head of political affairs at the US Embassy in Bahrain.

Frustrated Saudi youth take a shine to YouTube

Ibtihal Hassan, Paul Casciato, Reuters (UK)

Much of the material involves cars, an obsession among affluent youth who cannot go to cinemas, mix with unrelated women or even enter some shopping malls because of Islamic prohibitions by the authorities and religious scholars ... Saudi journalist Susan Al-Zawawi even found herself on YouTube after she took part in a Dutch documentary program on Saudi women. "I wanted to show how normal Saudis live, in a simple house with no house maids," she says. The clip showing the inside of her home proved popular, receiving 158,000 hits and 640 comments ... "Today, young net users want to bypass the traditional media. Like any young generation around the world, they are looking for a wider audience, so they turn to YouTube and other file sharing sites," said journalist Khalid Batarfi. YouTube is also proving to be an outlet for political material. Footage of a prison officer beating prisoners appeared on Web sites this year, prompting condemnation from New York-based Human Rights Watch. Saudi dissidents writing on satirical, opposition sites such as Arab Times often refer to footage of public figures posted on YouTube.

US-Saudi Relations: Never More Important

Patrick Ryan, Saudi-US Relations Information Service (US: Tennessee)

Ambassador Mark Johnson (ret.): There is another segment of the society that we did not see, had no contact with and, at least for me, I am less well aware of it. It is the traditional conservative religious elements of the Kingdom. They are said to be powerful and I believe that to be true. We’ve been told that the King has to keep a kind of synchronized distance just far enough ahead of the people -- not too far ahead certainly not behind. When you ask me to talk about the rape case, I think the American response has actually been beneficial. I think the Saudis might deny that, but President Bush’s comments along the lines of “What if it was my daughter?” puts it in a value system that the Saudis respect -- the family ... Frankly, I don’t think it is unhelpful to have that kind of reaction the President gave. I think that can ultimately be beneficial even though countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt with their human rights problems would ever admit it. Nevertheless it gives the reformers some hope that we are paying attention and this is of concern. That said, there remains this group in Saudi society and outside observers who are a whole lot smarter than I, and who have called it the “Impenetrable Kingdom.” You know, I am beginning to realize why they say that.

Why Rudy?

David Frum, National Review Online (US: New York)

If a president is to be an effective leader against terrorism, he (or she) must do more than express that hostility Ramesh talks about.

  1. He (or she) must decide that fighting terrorism really is his or her top foreign-policy priority - even when it conflicts with other things the government wants to do.

  2. He (or she) must appoint (and support) people who will enforce that decision on the bureaucracy.

  3. He (or she) must institute mechanisms to ascertain and confirm that the bureaucracy is following his decision.

  4. He (or she) must hold government accountable when it fails to follow.

Sounds easy, right? But incredibly difficult to do. The internal bureaucratic obstacles to effective war-fighting are severe, and they have repeatedly defeated President Bush. There are bureaucracies that will say, yes we must fight terror - but of course we must also support and sustain our allies in Saudi Arabia. There are secret bureaucracies that insist that unless you follow exactly our advice, we will leak against you and inflict horrible political damage. There are bureaucracies that will say, right behind you Mr. President, but of course we must also consider important oil leasing contracts. And there are bureaucracies that say, certainly, certainly - but we must engage the states that support terror, not confront them. It will take more than declared "hostility" to terror to manage such bureaucracies effectively. It will take skill and cunning in the management of refractory government agencies.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mortars rock Mogadishu as death toll rises to 19


Somali government forces and their Ethiopian allies fought Islamist insurgents in Mogadishu for a second day on Friday. A government official said the Islamist rebels had joined forces with thousands of foreign jihadists. At least 19 people have been killed by violence in the past 24 hours, including a mortar strike on the capital's busy Bakara Market that left mutilated bodies piled in pools of blood. Many Somalis say the insurgents -- remnants of a hardline sharia court groups chased out of the city a year ago -- have become increasingly confident in recent months while an interim government has been hobbled by infighting. "Foreign Islamist elements from Afghanistan, Chechnya and some Arab nations have arrived (in October and November). There are around 4,500 foreign terrorists in the country," said Sheikh Qasim Ibrahim Nur, a director at the Security Ministry. "Eighty percent of the country is at risk, and I can say terrorist activities in Somalia are at their maximum level."

Nigerian Church Struggles to Survive in Muslim-run State

Obed Minchakpu, Christian News Today (US: Ohio)

Barrister Haruna Isa Dederi, Kano state information commissioner, declined to comment on the onslaught on Rev. Zoaka’s church by the government and other Islamic agents. A Christian source in Nigeria told Compass that persecution “is becoming high” in all 44 local government areas of the state. “It is a dream of every single local government area in the state to wipe away Christians and Christianity,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons. “All the traditional rulers who are used by the government to execute sharia [Islamic law] in all the areas are Muslims with the same mission. Shedding of blood of Christians and destruction of their worship places are among the atrocities that are used to achieve this grand plan.”

Putin Opens Mecca Path for Muslims

Michael Schwirtz, The New York Times (US: New York)

The government is nevertheless concerned that its citizens could be exposed to extremist forms of Islam while on the hajj, and some analysts, including Evgeny Y. Satanovskiy, president of the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies in Moscow, say that government assistance to the pilgrims belies attempts to track their activities.“We know that Saudi Arabia invests in the propaganda of the Saudi Arabian-style Islam, the Wahhabi-style/ Islam, much more than the whole Soviet Union for the whole Soviet history spent on the propaganda of the Communist ideology,” Mr. Satanovskiy said. Most Muslims — with the exception of some extremists in the North Caucasus — are highly integrated into Russian soci\iety, and many government officials and Muslim leaders worry that an influx of more conservative or even radical Islamic beliefs from places like Saudi Arabia could whip up discord. The Russian press has reported recently that many security service personnel are among this year’s pilgrims, evidence, some say, of a government effort to supervise Russian citizens while they are in Saudi Arabia. Officials and hajj organizers have denied that this is the case.

Obama: Saudi Arabia fosters human rights violations

Jason Clayworth, The Des Moines Register (US: Iowa)

Barack Obama pointed to a situation in which a 19-year-old gang rape victim in the country was sentenced last year to 90 lashes for meeting with an unrelated man. “The human rights record sometimes in Saudi Arabia is not one that we should align ourselves with.” Obama told the audience that such close ties with Middle East countries is “mortgaging some of our future” because it has weakened the value of the U.S. dollar as well as helping to finance terrorist activities. “We can’t keep on sending billions of dollars every single month to Saudi Arabia because, number one, that money is often finding its way into activities that are contrary to our long-term interest,” Obama said. “There’s no doubt that some of the financing of terrorism as come from these areas.”

Why Black American Muslims Don’t Stand For Justice - Part 5

Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, The American Muslim

After twenty years of the immigrants’ controlling the Islamic agenda in America, by the year 2000 Blackamericans had clearly taken the “back seat” when it came to community issues. Having taken up this knotty and controversial question of why “Blackamerican Muslims don’t stand for justice”, we’ve learned that one of the most important factors in our failure to develop and maintain a community activist, social justice tradition has been the overwhelming dominance and influence of the immigrant Muslim community ... One popular salafi speaker - who is Blackamerican - even wrote a series in which he told his followers that - AS A RELIGIOUS POINT - the Arabs are Superior to the rest of the Ummah. He mentioned in this series that one of his teachers threatened that anyone who disbelieved in this noxious doctrine would be classified as a ‘deviant’. And the others under him readily accepted this without question despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary in Islam. It is no wonder we began to hear Blacks in the community say of Blackamerican Muslims that we have gotten off the back of the bus to get on the back of the camel. It was precisely this kind of indoctrination that passed as teaching that only exacerbated the inferiority complex that Blackamericans already had.

A Return to Tradition

Jay Tolson, U.S. News & World Report (US: Washington DC)

The state of traditionalism in Islam is more difficult to capture. On one hand, more young Muslims are embracing outward symbols of their devotion—women wearing head scarves, men growing beards. Many are also more observant of the duties of the faith, whether saying the five daily prayers or fasting during Ramadan. But it is hard to say whether all of this signals a return to traditional Islam or the embrace of a highly puritanical reformist Islam associated with Wahhabi and Salafist teachings—teachings that many Islamic scholars find contrary to the deeper traditions of the faith. Indeed, Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, and some Islamic scholars in America argue that an informed understanding of sharia (Islamic law) is the best antidote to extremism and fundamentalism. The uncertainty, of course, is whether their views will find a wider following among contemporary Muslims.

One Last Thing | America's oil obsession may need a gas tax

Jonathan Last, The Philadelphia Inquirer (US: Pennsylvania)

On the most general level, oil is the reason America must care about the Middle East. If we didn't need oil, then America could treat the Middle East with the same sort of neglect we do Africa. (Not to say such neglect would be morally justifiable, only that it would be logistically feasible. Our neglect of Darfur and Rwanda, while reprehensible, hasn't caused us any tangible harm.) Instead, we are invested in a troublesome, hostile region and worse, we are funding "friends" who are enemies in deed. We call Saudi Arabia a friend, but its aims pose at least as much of a long-term threat as those of Saddam's Iraq and the mullahs' (not Ahmadinejad's) Iran. The money we spend on oil flows into Saudi coffers and then off to various Wahhabi radicals. To take just one example, Saudi money feeds the Wahhabi proselytization that has turned Europe into a cultural powder keg. The most pernicious effect of our Middle Eastern oil addiction is that it retards the region's political development, keeping it mired in despotism and instability. Oil revenues in Gulf states make taxation there largely unnecessary.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Newsnight branded 'libellous and perverse'

Chris Tryhorn, Guardian Unlimited (UK)

Last night Newsnight broadcast a 17-minute investigation into some of the evidence used for Policy Exchange's report The Hijacking of British Islam, published in October. This was followed by a heated interview between presenter Jeremy Paxman and the thinktank's research director, Dean Godson, a former chief leader writer for the Daily Telegraph. The Newsnight report included forensic analysis of five out of 25 receipts allegedly recording the sale of extremist literature to a number of British mosques. It featured a forensic expert who cast doubt on the integrity of the receipts by highlighting the alleged use of inkjet printing and handwriting similarities between receipts supposedly from different mosques. Earlier today Newsnight's editor, Peter Barron, defended Newsnight's journalism on a BBC blog ... "I had a brief and inconclusive conference call with Policy Exchange and one of the researchers on the day we planned to run the original report [in October]," he wrote. "When we started to investigate the discrepancies, Richard Watson asked to speak to the researchers who gathered the material but was told that wasn't possible." ... Policy Exchange defended its original report strongly in today's statement. "The substance of the report is unaffected by Newsnight's allegations about a small minority of the receipts," and that it had "acted in good faith", voluntarily handing receipts to Newsnight.

My son’s deed dishonoured me: said the Kamikaze’s father

Ghania kamraoui, Ech-Chorouk (Algeria)

Sharzef Mouloud the father of Sharef Al Arbi, the real name of the kamikaze who carried out the attack on the constitutional council, staunchly denounced the barbarous act that his son perpetrated on innocent civilians that led to the death of dozens. He said that he couldn’t imagine one day that his son would carry out such heinous deeds, especially that he had benefited from the "Mercy" law initiated by the Algerian authorities in April 2006. in addition to that his son passed the Baccalaureate exams while which enabled him to pursue his studies and graduate from the university. According to his father, Sharef al Arbi was a quite young man he has always avoided to fuss with his brothers and sisters; he helped in feeding the family members through the distribution of medicines here in Algiers. He further added that his son went two times to Saudi Arabia for religious purposes the first time, he accompanied his aunt whereas the second time he went alone. He brought with him stuffs to sell as everybody does here.

Iraq Press Roundup

Hiba Dawood, UPI

The Saudi-based Al Basaer newspaper [see heading "The Uncovered Lie"] said Thursday it wasn't surprising that President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced an "agreement" that "obliges" the United States to "help" Iraq and provide economic, political and military assistance ... The paper said the oil and gas law and this agreement are the goals and results of the invasion of Iraq, a plan the United States adopted before it imposed sanctions. "According to the agreement, military bases will be set up in Iraq to keep the U.S. domination," it said. The editorial said that taking Iraq out of Israel's "circle" of enemies is another goal that was achieved as a result of accomplishing the oil and gas laws and signing the agreement that allows the United States to keep its bases in Iraq. It said if this was to be translated, it would mean a series of construction and demolition procedures -- demolishing the Iraqi military institutes, and instead build sectarian forces that are unable to secure themselves, which makes them in constant need of the U.S support. "The political parties the occupiers set up and the militias that are supported are all means of achieving the U.S. goals," the paper said. The paper, run by the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, concluded that the matter should have been resolved via a referendum.

A State Department Official Praises Saudis on Terror

Eli Lake, The New York Sun (US: NY)

A Saudi Arabian re-education program that treats terrorists as victims of a misguided ideology and not criminals to be warehoused for life in a cell is winning praise from America's top ambassador for counterterrorism, Dell Dailey ... But according to two American intelligence officials who have reviewed these contracts, the agreement carefully makes no mention of jihad outside of Saudi Arabia. Ambassador Dailey yesterday said, "I can't say specifically if in the program they are allowed to go off and do jihad in other countries." He later said that if he found this to be the case, he would ask the Saudis to reform the program he had praised ... The director of the Gulf and Energy Policy program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Simon Henderson, yesterday said, "The Saudi rehabilitation process is really being judged at the moment by what the Saudis say about it, and I personally look for a more neutral assessment. I remain to be convinced that the Saudi program is the best model for combating jihadists. Saudi Arabia has had a long tradition of exporting its radicals. Think Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia. It has also happened in Iraq. Has the tradition really ended? And has this program cured the problem? I am not yet convinced."

Do We Need Someone to Watch Over Us?

Abeer Mishkhas, Arab News (Saudi Arabia)

In a recent case reported in Arab News, two girls, aged 13 and 11, are said to have been sexually assaulted by their brother. They were taken to hospital where they remained for 11 days without being checked by the doctors to confirm the assault. The story goes on to say that one of the reasons the doctors did not check was because permission was required from either a judge or the legal guardian of the two girls who, in this case, is an alcoholic father. So what happened next? Nothing ... What I really want to know is why every woman in Saudi Arabia need to have a legal guardian? I understand the necessity to have some sort of a guardian for underaged girls and boys, although this right must be subject to some kind of control and certainly should not be absolute. The way things are in the Kingdom, the legal guardian owns his ward; his ward can do nothing without his approval or permission. If we leave childhood and move on to adulthood, the system remains the same. The guardian is able to exercise the same absolute rights and powers and no matter how old or educated the woman is, she has to have a man who is responsible for her. After all, according to Saudi thought, a woman with no guardian is a problem just waiting to happen.

Human rights: Chad, women's rights in Saudi Arabia, Japan's wartime sex slaves

European Parliament (France)

In a resolution on women's rights in Saudi Arabia, Parliament calls for the Saudi government to improve the lot of women in the kingdom, who it says "continue to face many forms of discrimination in private and in public life, are frequently victims of sexual violence and often face enormous obstacles in the criminal justice system" - even though Saudi Arabia has signed up to a range of international human rights conventions. Among the demands made in today's resolution, Parliament "insists that the Saudi Arabian Government take further steps aimed at lifting restrictions on women's rights, including women's free movement, on the driving prohibition, on their employment opportunities, on their legal personality and on their representation in judicial processes, eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in private and public life and promote their participation in the economic, social and political spheres."

Rudy: All Business

Michael Weisskopf, Massimo Calabresi, TIME (US: NY)

The security firm within Giuliani Partners (GP) has provided advice and training in counterterrorism to the government of Qatar, an emirate on the Persian Gulf, though Qatar's Interior Minister, Sheik Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani, is a controversial figure whom several former U.S. officials have suspected of protecting major al-Qaeda suspects. The head of GP's security arm, Pat D'Amuro, says the firm is helping protect American service members and private citizens in Qatar. Of al-Thani, he says, "We've never met him; we've never dealt with him. Our contract is not with him. He's not involved at all." Bracewell & Giuliani, a Houston-based legal and lobbying firm he joined as a name partner in 2005, represents Saudi Aramco, the Saudi national oil company. Thus far, Giuliani has refused to divulge a client list or many details of his work for either GP or Bracewell & Giuliani, and he has maintained his ownership stake in both companies as he continues his run for the White House. Ed Rogers, White House political director under the first President Bush, says the Giuliani campaign has to do better at handling his business situation "to keep it from becoming a real issue and something that may drive votes."

The Risks of Sovereign Funds

David Wessel, The Wall Street Journal (US: NY)

The chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Christopher Cox, warned in a speech earlier this month, "For America to address one problem -- the special concerns that arise from government ownership of business -- with another one -- betraying our commitment to open markets -- would only result in more government interference in our own markets." No wonder U.S. officials are pleading with SWFs to subscribe to some sort of code of conduct. The second worry is that the SWFs is that they might not be in it just for the money. "The fundamental question presented by state-owned public companies and sovereign-wealth funds," Mr. Cox said, "does not so much concern the advisability of foreign ownership, but rather of government ownership." (Mr. Cox's concerns extend beyond SWFs. Eight of the 20 largest publicly traded companies in the world are state-controlled, he observed.) ... "The logic of the capitalist system," former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers has said, "depends on shareholders causing companies to act so as to maximize the value of their asserts. It is far from obvious that this will over time be the only motivation of governments as shareholders." ... The third worry is klutziness. When really big investors make really big mistakes, the consequences rarely fall only on the investors. The world economy is shuddering from the mistake that very large, sophisticated investors and lenders made in buying securities linked to mortgages.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mom reunites with daughter spirited away nearly 14 years ago

by Sara Jean Green from The Seattle Times (US: Washington)

The airport reunion Tuesday afternoon was the first time Ginger Mayes had seen her daughter in nearly 14 years, since the day her ex-husband spirited Zarminah, her older sister and younger brother away to Saudi Arabia ... "I never had freedom there. I've been wearing that black thing for 14 years ... and I just want to walk without the abaya," Zarminah said, referring to the traditional garment Saudi women must wear in public in accordance with Islamic laws of modesty. "I will respect Islam, but I don't have to cover up." According to the U.S. Department of Justice, family members abduct more than 200,000 American children each year, though it's unclear how many are taken overseas. And while more than 60 countries are parties to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction — which gives parents a legal mechanism to reunite with their children — Turkey is the only Muslim country to participate.

Pakistani Canadian kills daughter for not wearing hijab

from Indo-Asian News Service (India)

Sixteen-year-old Aqsa Parvez was strangulated by her father Muhammad Parvez in their home in the suburb of Mississauga, police said ... Aqsa's classmates at the local Applewood Heights Secondary School said the girl had problems with her family for some time as she refused to wear the hijab, the headdress worn by Muslim women in some countries ... The incident has shocked modern Muslims across Canada. Toronto-based Sonia Ahmed, who runs the Miss World Pakistan and grooms Pakistani-origin girls for Miss Bikini and other pageants, said angrily: "The hijab was never a part of Pakistani dress. It is an Arab imposition. This should be banned all over North America. This killer father will now think that he has done the 'right thing', and he can now go to heaven and claim his 70 virgins. Hang him." For various reasons, she said, Pakistanis don't want to blend with Indians "whose culture is all dance and song. So they end up with the Arab immigrants. Hence this Arab culture and hijab among Pakistanis". "But we Pakistanis are South Asians and the South Asian culture is different. Zia-ul Haq started the hijabisation of Pakistan when started his Islamisation drive. He invited Arab Wahabi scholars who married Pakistani women and started the hijab tradition."

Dr. J CAIRs - A jihad against jihad

by Kathryn Jean Lopez from National Review Online (US: New York)

Dr Zuhdi Jasser: In the recent past, with the domination of dictatorships in the Muslim world today, often the only venue for any political discourse became the mosques. So it is not surprising that political Islam has especially flourished in the past century under the despotic regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran to name a few. This is why the removal of these despotic regimes is so central to the deconstruction of political Islam. One cannot happen without the other. Along the same vein, many Muslims simply don’t have the understanding of Islamic theology and jurisprudence, and especially Koranic Arabic, in order to defeat the Islamists. The central nucleus of success of the Western enlightenment was education and infectious discovery. This desire to question authority with knowledge and thirst for freedom has yet to re-infect the Muslim mind en masse in over 500 years. Thus the intellectual voices of anti-Islamism are going to be less common. But with support they will awaken and triumph.

Fair election not possible

by G Parthasarathy from The Daily Pioneer (India)

Mr Musharraf will count on the Americans declaring that though not "perfect", the election was "fair". Saudi Arabia has also entered the political scene to ensure that the Americans can hedge their bets. The Saudis, who are traditionally revered in Pakistan, earned the wrath of Pakistanis at large when they unabashedly collaborated with Mr Musharraf to have Mr Sharif exiled to Saudi Arabia when he returned to Pakistan. Shortly after the British announced that Mr Sharif should be allowed to participate in the poll, the Saudis insisted that he should enjoy a level playing field with Ms Bhutto in the election. King Abdullah made an aircraft available for Mr Sharif to return and bullet proof cars for him to travel within Pakistan for electioneering. The Saudi Ambassador is the only individual granted permission to meet sacked Chief Justice Chaudhry. Thus, should Mr Sharif do unexpectedly well in the coming election, the Saudis can always ensure he plays ball in the "war on terrorism".

Saudi sends envoy to Qatar, signalling thaw in ties

by Andrew Hammond from Reuters

The apparent rapprochement has raised concern among observers that the Arab network, the most popular in the region and one of the few to cover news seen as critical of Saudi Arabia, is toning down its coverage of Saudi affairs. Saudi Arabia, the Arab world's leading political and economic power, withdrew its ambassador to Doha in 2002 partly in protest over Jazeera shows on Saudi politics. Riyadh was also angered by Qatar's independent role in the Gulf, establishing ties with Israel and offering Washington military facilities ... Jazeera has been a thorn in the side of Arab governments because it covers sensitive issues generally avoided by state media, who omit news that would offend the Saudi government. The kingdom owns or influences most of the Arab media, and Jazeera has been seen as one of the few voices outside the grip of Saudi control. The channel gave prominent coverage to accusations of corruption reported in the British press in 2007 involving a Saudi royal and the billion-dollar "al-Yamamah" oil-for-arms sales. Since then it has said little about women who protested against the indefinite detention of their husbands, arrest of pro-democracy activists, or a rape victim sentenced to lashes.

Rich Countries Funding Big Banks

by Robert Lenzer from Forbes (US: New York)

This global flow of funds is growing by $1 trillion a year, thanks in part to $90 a barrel oil and Chinese exports. Such a radical reversal in the flow of funds is bound to be controversial. When their assets are added to those of central banks stuffed with petrodollars, these new investment phenomena are truly the fastest-growing institutionalized wealth in the world ... But, while they may be coming under more intense scrutiny, sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) should not be seen as a nefarious influence in global markets. They run the gamut from government investment funds, state-owned companies and central banks to wealthy individuals like members of the Saudi royal family and even private companies owned by Arab potentates. One reason they are controversial, as Diana Farrell of McKinsey, the consulting giant, pointed out the other day at the Council on Foreign Relations, is they are "a challenge to the Anglo-Saxon model." What this means is that these investors are not as transparent as giant private equity firms, public pension funds or mutual funds around the globe. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, for example, does not reveal the holdings in its portfolio to the public. I challenge you to understand what the Saudi central bank owns. All the more reason why SWFs must act responsibly.

Saudi Arabia's economic liberalization

by Erlend Paasche from ISN Security Watch (Switzerland)

Dr Steffen Hertog of Princeton University, an expert on Saudi Arabia, takes a more cautious stance, stressing the need to differentiate between different aspects of the economy when discussing the relative success of Saudi economic reforms ... However one chooses to assess the success of Saudi economic liberalization, the country's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) last year is an important breakthrough, propelling the Saudi state into international economic competition and expanding its market for petrochemical exports. Dr F Gregory Gause of the University of Vermont, another expert on Saudi Arabia, said joining the WTO should help the kingdom improve financial transparency, but may not have a broad enough impact on shadowy practices. "[I]t is so hard to get real data [on corruption]. The anecdotal data is that there have been efforts from the top to curb the more egregious corrupt behavior. But there is a whole range of behaviors by politically connected Saudis in the economic realm that those who live in more transparent economies would consider corrupt. I doubt they are going to change."

Annapolis: The morning after

by Adel Safty from The Gulf News (UAE)

As delegates at the Annapolis meeting listened politely, Bush repeated his support for the Israeli position. He called on Israel to evacuate the "illegal West Bank settlement outposts" sidestepping the fact that all West Bank colonies - not just the outposts - are illegal. Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal elegantly expressed the Arab position on another core issue: the right of return of the Palestinian refugees: "I mean, here's an issue where people not from Palestine come to Palestine, occupied land in Palestine that happened to have people living there, and now they want to consider these people illegal in a purely Jewish homeland. Why?" Prince Saud said. "If you come to a neighbourhood by your choice, you have to live with the people in the neighbourhood."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Saudis Seek Sniper ATP Supplementation for F-15S

from Defense Industry Daily (US: Vermont)

On December 7, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced Saudi Arabia's request for 40 of Lockheed Martin's AN/AAQ-33 SNIPER Advanced Targeting Pods, which would replace the older LANTIRN twin-pod systems installed on Saudi F-15S Strike Eagles. Sniper ATP pods significantly enhance an aircraft's strike capability by adding stabilized long-range laser tracking and targeting illumination, high performance day/night surveillance, GPS targeting capabilities, and even some air-air target detection and tracking abilities to aircraft using them ... To date, Sniper ATPs have been ordered by the USAF and by Belgium, Britain (Harriers only), Canada, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, and Singapore. The estimated contract value would be $220 million with Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Company in Dallas, TX being the prime contractor ... Most DSCA announcements attract little attention, but Saudi sales are face some political hurdles in Congress these days, where opposition to sales of JDAM GPS-guided smart bombs to Saudi Arabia is rising.

Malaysian Indians

by Sam Rajappa from The Statesman (India)

Many of Malaysia's Indian origin Muslims, in fact, have adopted the Wahabi form of Islam and merged with the Malays. They are known as Mamaks. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who was in power from 1981 to 2003, wrote in his book titled Islam and the Muslim Ummah: “Today Islam has become different from the religion of peace and tolerance that was brought by Prophet Muhammad,” and that “Islam has become a rigid, intolerant and seemingly an unjust religion to the faithful and to others because of the fanaticism and misplaced orthodoxy of people with vested interest.” ... The present Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, makes no bones about Islam being the official religion of Malaysia and Bhumiputra the state policy. For Muslims, marriage, divorce and property are governed by Sharia courts. They are prohibited from converting to any other religion. But what is disturbing to India is news emanating from Malaysia in recent times. A Hindu was forcibly given a Muslim burial amidst protests by his family. A child was snatched from its Hindu mother for refusing to bring it up as a Muslim. Just before last Dipavali, the Sharia Department of the Malaysian government issued instructions to Muslims not to greet Hindus on the occasion of the festival of lights.

Israel Settlement Move Against Annapolis: Saud

by Javid Hassan from Arab News (Saudi Arabia)

Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal blasted the Israeli government’s decision to expand settlements in East Jerusalem. He said it was contrary to the principles of the Annapolis Peace Conference and added that the Kingdom took part in the conference only after being assured that such settlements would stop. Referring to the upcoming donors’ conference, the foreign minister stressed the Kingdom’s position that the aid should be extended to all Palestinian territories without exception. Furthermore, Israel should help overcome all obstacles that stand in the way of the Palestinian people, alleviate their sufferings, and “most importantly, lift all blockades imposed by Israel and (help secure the) release of all Palestinian financial entitlements with Israel.” The Kingdom said “normalization” of ties with Israel would only come with a final peace settlement that includes the return of all occupied Arab land. The foreign minister called on the Palestinian government led by the Fatah faction and Islamist opposition group Hamas to set aside their differences.

South Hero Librarian Travels to Saudi Arabia

by Sharon Hayes from The Vermont Islander (US: Vermont)

I and 23 other U.S. educators’ won grants to travel to Saudi Arabia. Sponsored by The Institute of International Education and Aramco, the aim was to break down stereotypes and better our appreciation for the country. We met highly educated men and women who spoke impeccable English. They were the crème de la crème. We did not meet poor Saudis. The maids and waiters were from Pakistan, the Philippines and other countries ... As a woman, I could not venture from either of my hotels without a male escort. Saudi women may not drive, nor vote, and require their husband's permission to work or travel. Amr Khashoggi, chairman and CEO of the Amkest Group, chairman of the International Relations Committee, and an active member of the national Committee of International Trade who spoke to us during our Jeddah visit, said, "Women in my country get a raw deal." ... Khashoggi shared his fears about Saudi children becoming terrorists. With a "youth quake" occurring in Saudi – 50% of the population younger than 20 years old – he emphasized the importance of providing education and creating jobs for this sector of Saudis ... I did not speak with a single Saudi who supported Israel. Many Saudis do not understand why the United States supports Israel. For some, the vitriol would flow at its mere mention. One educator who has developed a series of E-Learning courses told me that "Israeli soldiers kill children." When I countered, "Sir, in the issue of fairness, there is violence on both sides," to his credit he did concur. "Yes, you are correct." ... I ended up leaving Saudi with more questions than answers. I’m not sure that it’s possible to unravel the truths of any country in 10 days.

A Rape Case in Saudi Arabia Explodes into International Headlines

by Patricia Meehan Vásquez from The Women's International Perspective (US: California)

Qatif is a center of the very large Shia minority in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, near where I lived for almost eight years. Most Saudis practice the Wahhabi interpretation of Sunni Islam. Back then, I often saw women, both Westerners and non-Saudi Arabs, pulled off the streets and hauled to jail for wearing “immodest” clothing that did not completely hide all but their faces. On one of my first ordinary shopping trips, I stood next to a Saudi woman as she was grabbed by the religious police and dragged off to the police station (she had just spanked her badly misbehaving son of about five). Her arrest was at the urging of the shop owner whose fragile merchandise was being pulled off his shelves and smashed on the floor. I learned the lesson quickly: in Saudi, you never humiliate a male, even if he is your own spoiled child! Thieves’ hands were occasionally lopped off in the public square on Fridays, the day of rest, and Scandinavian stewardesses showing their blonde hair while shopping in the souk (market) were unceremoniously escorted to the square where their tresses were hacked off publicly so all could witness the Wahhabi version of Islamic justice.

Teddy bear peer attacks fellow Muslims for 'victim culture' and failing to condemn terrorism

from The Daily Mail (UK)

In her first major speech, Conservative peer Baroness Warsi also attacked Labour's idea of multiculturalism, which she said had become a "doctrine of separate identity". Different groups were encouraged to feel that identity "requires the expression of difference to the point of hostility", she said. Lady Warsi, who helped secure the release of teddy-bear row teacher Gillian Gibbons after she was jailed in Sudan, insisted that Muslims had a responsibility not to confuse social expectations with genuine religious requirements, she said. For instance, a Muslim woman should be free to wear a veil in her private life if she chose to do so but also to wear any other dress she felt appropriate ... And she attacked "hardliners and hotheads who claim to speak for British Muslims", highlighting their claims that it was un-Islamic to vote or for women to have access to schools and jobs. She said Muslims had an "added responsibility" to tackle extremism because it was "claimed in the name of Islam". She warned of the barriers created by multiculturalism and said the Tories would "reverse the failed state multicultural approach" and ensure sufficient English language teaching for all new arrivals and proper teaching of English history for all children.

Melbourne mother investigated over Somali jihadi links

from The Australian (Australia)

The allegations are contained in an official statement given to the Australian Federal Police in relation to its investigation into Somali community figures suspected of encouraging dozens of young men to return to their homeland and join Islamic jihad ... The mother allegedly told a small gathering of Muslim women in Melbourne that she supported Islamic jihad and was a follower of the hardline Wahabi form of Islam. "We are Wahabi," the mother is quoted as saying in the sworn statement seen by The Australian and given by a Somali community member to the AFP in August. Asked at the gathering whether it was bad to be a Wahabi, she replied: "No, we are soldiers of Osama bin Laden. We take orders from him. If he tells us to go somewhere, we go." The mother rejected the claims against her and denied she was an extremist or an advocate for terrorism ... This comes after revelations last week that the AFP had widened its investigation into Somali community figures over suspicions they are encouraging dozens of young men to return to their homeland to join Islamic jihadis. It was also revealed that a second Somali Australian, Hossein Hashi Farah, was suspected by federal agents to have returned to Somalia six months ago to fight with Islamic jihadis.

Al-Qaeda Group Says It Carried Out Algeria Suicide Bomb Attacks

by Ed Johnson and Ahmed Rouaba from Bloomberg (US: New York)

The first blast in Algiers occurred at 9:40 a.m. local time yesterday and struck the Constitutional Council building, killing as many as 50 - mostly students - and injuring dozens of others. Less than 10 minutes later, the offices of the UN Development Program and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees were hit, killing 12 people, according to hospital officials. UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said at least 11 personnel were among the dead. Algeria's Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni said the attacks were carried out by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which changed its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in January. The Maghreb is the Arabic name for the North African countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia ... "They are beginning to target Westerners and Western interests in Algeria more aggressively," Haim Malka, deputy Middle East program director for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an interview. "They would argue that Western nations are supporting repressive regimes in North Africa and that Western business interests are stealing the region's natural resources." Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups using parts of North Africa to "gain sanctuary, recruit, indoctrinate, train, equip, transit and mount operations," U.S. Army General are Bantz J. Craddock, supreme allied commander in Europe, said in March.