Friday, August 31, 2007

Where Bush went wrong, by Sharansky

by Gil Hoffman from The Jerusalem Times

Former minister Natan Sharansky, whose book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror has inspired US President George W. Bush, gives Bush a "C" grade for implementing his vision ... when the Iraq war became more complicated, the US State Department insisted on supporting loyal secular dictators such as Mubarak. "America was afraid that if they would fight corrupt dictators, the Muslim Brotherhood would come to power in the Middle East. When America starts speaking powerfully, democratic dissidents are strengthened. But when America makes dictators allies, the dissidents are weakened and Islamic fundamentalism is strengthened. That's why America should not support Mubarak or Saudi Arabia," the former Soviet dissident said. On the Saudi issue, Sharansky asked Rice what was moderate about the Saudi regime, she admitted that he had touched a weak point and from then on, she referred instead to 'responsible Middle Eastern countries.' But Sharansky said, "America has wanted for many years to make Saudi Arabia part of the solution in the Middle East, but if you believe in a link between security and democracy, it's not possible."

30 new schools to be built in Ghazni province

from The PakTribune

Officials said 30 new schools would be constructed in the restive Ghazni province by the end of the current year. Education Director Najibullah Kamran told Pajhwok Afghan News the schools would be built by the Education Ministry under the EQUIP Programme. The construction of 20 schools will be financed by the World Bank and the remaining 10 by the government of Saudi Arabia. Najibullah said the money would be spent by the education department.

The colonial mistake

by Ayman El-Amir from The Al-Ahram Weekly

When the former US president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had his historical meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Abdul- Aziz Ibn Saud aboard the SS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake of the Suez Canal in 1945, one of his requests to cement US-Saudi partnership was for the king to use his influence to facilitate the settlement of Jews in Palestine. The king's answer was, "Give the Jews and their descendants the choicest lands and homes of the Germans who had oppressed them." He refused to cooperate. Jihad was part of the doctrine of early Islam but Muslims were enjoined by the Quran to use it only to repel aggression or a threat of it, never to convert non-Muslims or colonise other countries ... Maverick fundamentalist concepts are rife among many Muslim groups today and they entail many acts of unjustified, un-Islamic violence. But many would agree that it originated in Afghanistan through the manipulation of Muslim religious instincts as a potent weapon for political purposes -- to drive the Soviet Union out of that illegally occupied country in the interests of the US ... What political Zionism and the colonial West have yet to grasp is that the nationalist struggle has gained indomitable momentum when it was injected with fundamentalist religious fervour. Whether it is battled as religious fundamentalism or terrorism, the end is certainly not in sight yet.

The Never-ending Story

by Mshari Al-Zaydi from Al-Awsat

Waziristan region remains to be a subject of controversy and confusion between Washington and Islamabad, and between General Musharraf and the Bush administration, as well as between some politicians in Washington including congressmen and senators. Matters escalated when Democratic candidate Barak Obama said that he would cut aid to Pakistan and send American units to destroy terrorist bases and havens. However, Musharraf enjoys Bush’s trust who considers him to be one of the most powerful presidents of the developing world. But some observers believe that Musharraf does not necessarily abide by Washington’s agenda and its demands. It’s true that fundamentalists are the enemies of Musharraf and his regime, evidence of which is the repeated assassination attempts on his life by al Qaeda in Pakistan. But the Pakistani army or the military institution has its own considerations regarding the neighboring India, which is its strategic enemy. According to a lengthy report in ‘Newsweek’ magazine, Pakistan does not want to risk losing its military option and the ally which it has created, namely, the Taliban, for a system that it does not fully trust in Kabul. Perhaps the obliteration of the Taliban would pave the way for a regime in Kabul that is hostile towards Islamabad.

Truth and Consequences

by David A. Harris from The Jewish Journall

Whether Democratic or Republican, United States leaders have reached the same conclusion: Turkey is of vital importance to U.S. geo-strategic interests, straddling as it does two continents, Europe and Asia, bordering key countries - from the former Soviet Union to Iran, Iraq and Syria - and serving as the southeastern flank of NATO. Each administration has essentially punted when asked about the Armenian question, seeking to discourage Congress from recognizing the events of 1915 as genocide, while arguing that a third-party parliamentary body isn't the right venue to settle a heated historical dispute ... In his 1993 book titled, Holocaust Denial, author Kenneth Stern noted: "That the Armenian genocide is now considered a topic for debate or as something to be discounted as old history does not bode well for those who would oppose Holocaust denial." He was right. Picture a day when a muscle-flexing Iran or Saudi Arabia seeks to make denial of the Holocaust a condition of doing business with other countries. Sound far-fetched? It shouldn't.

Blogger rejects call to compensate ex-detainees

by Habib Toumi from The Gulf News

Last week, Islamist MP Mohammad Khalid, representing Al Menbar (the offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood), said that he would lobby the parliament to put pressure on the government to offer 50,000 Bahraini dinars ($133,000 US) the former Guantanamo detainees financial compensation. He said that the Bahraini government should emulate the Saudi example. Saudi Arabia has pledged 10,000 Saudi riyals, a 300 riyal salary, a car and marriage assistance to its former detainees. But bloggers on Mahmoud Al Yousuf's blog said that Khalid who headed the popular committee to help free the prisoners should temper his enthusiasm. For the blogger, an adoption by the parliament of Khalid's suggestion "is as if they accept and even condone terrorism. It is tantamount to announcing to the world that terrorism pays."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Saudi Arabia Must Be Culturally Open, or It Will Turn into a Taliban State

by Sa'ud Al-Balawi from Al-Watan/MEMRI

"...Last Tuesday, Al-Watan reported that eight extremists had threatened to disrupt vocal concerts organized as part of the annual Jeddah festival, after trying to persuade the public not to enter the concert hall ... What do these people actually want? Do they doubt the extent of religious [commitment] in [Saudi] society? Or maybe they want the kind of religious [zeal] that would turn the Saudi society into a Taliban one - i.e. following the Taliban model of Islam, which completely discounts the individual by controlling his freedom of choice within the already limited range of choices available in that eastern Islamic country [Afghanistan]. Why do they want to compel others to act according to their [extremist] convictions? This is a controlling mentality, stemming from rigid views that do not tolerate either objections or challenge. [Worse still, such people] believe that they have the right to murder in the name of their ideas. It is this kind of extremism that has led to [the emergence of] terrorism, which has brought grief to both our people and our motherland."

Saudi Arabia continues ban on newspaper

by Andrew England from The Financial Times

There are “red lines” the press does not cross, including criticism of the royal family and religious issues, and self censorship is common. Many had hoped that after King Abdullah succeeded his brother two years ago there would be an increase in reform in the kingdom. Iyad Madani, the information minister has been considered by some as one of the more modernising cabinet members. However, reformers have criticised the pace of change and alluded to a struggle within the royal family, liberals and conservatives over the need for reform. “Now there is some pressure to narrow the margins of freedom,” said one advocate of reform. Al-Hayat is owned by Prince Khaled bin Sultan, the deputy defence minister and son of Crown Prince Sultan. The al-Hayat source said Prince Khaled bin Sultan was insisting that the paper is independent and should be able to write freely.

Don’t base definition of Islam on actions of a few extremists

by Rev. John Darlington from The America Muslim

Mohamoud Hamud serves the public as an “Islamic Religious Counselor” at Saint Marys Hospital. Like the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish chaplains in his office, he is gentle and compassionate in his mannerisms, respectful of others, but strong in his convictions. He reminded me that the Rochester Islamic Center Mosque is open every month on the last Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for dialogue with the people of Rochester, MN. Non-Muslims are encouraged to voice concerns or raise questions with the goal of eradicating negative stereotypes and bringing the community together. Hamud is quick to admit that there are Wahabi and other Arab Muslims who twist the intrinsic “Way” of the Qu’ran to conform to their own narrow and destructive purposes, just as there are Christians and Jews who do the same with their own Holy Book.

Move and Countermove: Ahmadinejad and Bush Duel

by George Friedman from Stratfor

At his press conference, Ahmadinejad reached out to the Saudis, saying Iran and Saudi Arabia together could fill the vacuum in Iraq and stabilize the country. The subtext was that not only does Iran not pose a threat to Saudi Arabia, it would be prepared to enhance Saudi power by giving it a substantial role in a post-U.S. Iraq. Iran is saying that Saudi Arabia does not need to defend itself against Iran, and it certainly does not need the United States to redeploy its forces along the Saudi-Iraqi border in order to defend itself ... Saudi Arabia is caught between a rock and a hard place and it knows it. But there might be the beginnings of a solution in Turkey. Ahmadinejad's offer of collaboration was directed toward regional powers other than Iran. That includes Turkey. Turkey stayed clear of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, refusing to let U.S. troops invade Iraq from there. However, Turkey has some important interests in how the war in Iraq ends. First, it does not want to see any sort of Kurdish state, fearing Kurdish secessionism in Turkey as well. Second, it has an interest in oil in northern Iraq. Both interests could be served by a Turkish occupation of northern Iraq, under the guise of stabilizing Iraq along with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Breaking The Cycle


The Western media has generally ignored what is really going on in Iraq. Rather than see what Iraqis, and U.S. troops are actually dealing with, an attempt by the Sunni Arab minority to win back power via a terror campaign, Western journalists and politicians ran with the "Western imperialism" angle. Very 19th century, but an illusion that even many Moslems in the region quickly discarded. The thousands of dead Moslems, victims of Islamic terrorists, horrified those closest to the carnage. Also getting little attention from the media was the dynamics of how Sunni Arab neighbors of Iraq (mainly Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) provided varying degrees of support for the terrorists. That support is waning, now that it's clear how reviled the terrorists are. Al Qaeda went to war in Iraq, and lost. Ask any Iraqi, or American soldier there. But that's not news back home.

Plan for Terror Screening of Aid Groups Cut Drastically

Walter Pincus from The Washington Post

The Bush administration has decided to sharply scale back its plan to screen U.S. foreign aid contractors around the globe for potential terrorism connections, deciding instead to begin with a pilot program involving aid recipients in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip before expanding it worldwide. An official of the U.S. Agency for International Development had earlier promised to defer the program, which initially was to have taken effect Monday The global screening program, initially described in a July 17 Federal Register notice, would have required that all nongovernmental organizations seeking funds from the agency provide detailed information about key personnel, including phone numbers, birth dates and e-mail addresses. That information was to have been reviewed by intelligence and law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, to ensure that there were no connections with individuals or groups associated with terrorism or threats to national security. It would have affected thousands of individuals in nonprofit groups, charities, religious organizations, colleges, universities and private corporations.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Saudi Arabia: The Islamist Cage

by Youssef Ibrahim from the New York Sun

By the late '90s, there were full-size mirror images of Saudi Arabia's stilted brand of Islam in Egypt, Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Chechnya, Bosnia, and Kosovo, as well as among Muslim communities in Europe, Australia, and America. More mirror images are in the making. the Saudis do little except rattle around within the cage of their own fundamentalism. This deep confusion is reflected throughout the ruling family, which contains both princes who are Westernized — in such vulgar aspects as drinking, womanizing, gambling, and wearing diamond-studded Rolex watches — and others who leave a mosque only to enter a charity that nurtures madrassas turning out little bin Ladens. Their schizophrenia is exemplified in such global personalities as Prince Al-Walid bin Talal, a multibillionaire businessman who simultaneously invests his billions in America while funding both the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is the American chapter of the jihadist Muslim Brotherhood. In the end, the Saudis are just rattling around in their cage. A society with no social project except to produce more Muslims, deeper Muslims, better Muslims, ends up as one that produces Muslim fanatics and terrorists. Now, with oil prices having moved north of $70 dollar a barrel, a lot more trouble will be coming our way out of the Saudi cage.

IB had warned Andhra police about an attack

by Josy Joseph from Daily News & Analysis India

Based on those inputs and the signature of the attacks, intelligence analysts believe that Mohammed Abdul Sahed, alias Shahid Bilal, a key contact for three major terrorist organisations, may have masterminded the attacks. Bilal, though known primarily as a Harkat-ul-Jehadi Islami (HuJI) operative, also has active contacts with both the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed. HuJI, which is based in Bangladesh, has an extensive network in Pakistan ... Saturday’s attacks, which follow the blasts at Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid, the explosions on the Samjhauta Express and the blasts in Malegaon, have reinforced the fear among analysts that “religious fanaticism of the highest order” has taken firm root in India. It may now be replacing the traditional terrorism of Kashmir. What the perpetrators of these attacks believe is that even Muslims who coexist with people from other communities are liable to be killed for not moving to an Islamic land or for not taking up jihad against the kafirs. This philosophy is very audible in the teachings of some fanatic Wahabi followers, including a preacher from Mumbai, and some publications of the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Roh gov't praised for dedicated diplomacy in hostage release

from Korean Overseas Information Service (KOIS)

A dramatic agreement on the release of 19 Korean aid workers held captive in Afghanistan is portrayed as something of a diplomatic coup by the Korean government, with President Roh Moo-hyun and his Cabinet ministers ... Despite lukewarm response from Bush and Karzai regarding the Korean hostage ordeal, Seoul officials and diplomats kept up efforts to persuade Washington to cooperate in the hostage release. Last Friday, Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon embarked on an eight-day tour of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates -- the three Middle Eastern countries believed to maintain strong relations with the Taliban. "The Korean negotiators faithfully contacted the Taliban captors and gave a sufficient explanation that swapping Korean hostages for Taliban prisoners, a key demand from the Taliban, is not within the authority of the Korean government. That strategy seems to have worked," Cheon said, announcing the hostage release agreement.

Saudi Arabia: Solidarity signs MOU with Ahad Insurance

from Mena Report

Sameer Al Wazzan and Saleh Al OmairSolidarity, one of the largest Takaful Companies in the world, signed a memorandum of understanding with Ahad Insurance Company, headquartered in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to establish an Insurance company, that complies with Islamic Sharia’h, with 400 million Saudi Riyals (some US#106 million) in paid up capital ... On his designation as the CEO of the new company, Mr. Saleh Al Omair said: “The idea of setting up an insurance company in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia came in response to the growing demand for insurance products that comply with Islamic Sharia’h. Solidarity and Ahad will offer family related insurance plans suitable for retirement, children's education wealth accumulation, mortgage protection and corporate saving schemes. In addition, they will offer protection solutions for individual and commercial lines including motor, medical, engineering, marine, property and others”.

Time to renegotiate contracts in support of our poor sisters

by M.S.Shah Jahan from the Sri Lanka Daily Mirror

The Indonesian Embassy had not been officially notified of the incident when it found out about the incident through her nationals in Aflaj. The two injured maids as well as the two bodies were brought to the Emergency Room of the General Hospital in Aflaj and transferred to Riyadh Medical Complex ... Tari Tarsim three weeks ago told the media that her employer’s 17-year-old son was the one who assaulted them, but speaking in a weak voice and broken Arabic she was unable to explain where the other members of the family, consisting of the father, mother and nine children, were when they were assaulted. It seems now that the son was not alone in assaulting the maids. Tari said while the son was beating her with his igal and was yelling at her that she “had the devil inside her” and that they “did witchcraft.” ... Since women who go abroad as unskilled workers are terribly vulnerable, India, announced it would impose tighter restrictions on the recruitment of house maids, beginning September 1st 2007. Is not it time for Lanka also to renegotiate contract terms more in support of our poor sisters?

Subprime crisis gives Opec dilemma

by Ed Crooks from The Financial Times

Back on August 14, officials warned in Opec’s monthly oil market report: “The more bearish economic trend which has materialised in recent weeks could negatively impact demand growth in the second half of the year.”Saudi Arabia, the “swing producer” with the only significant level of spare capacity in Opec, holds the whip hand, and it has so far said nothing in public about the forthcoming meeting. But if it agrees with the assessment of Abdalla El-Badri, Opec’s secretary-general, then for the rest of the year Opec’s official oil supply could be held steady – in practice, some countries may be pumping a little more – at a time when demand is still rising. And prices are likely to remain where they are as a result. Julian Lee of the Centre for Global Energy Studies says that for Opec, that would be a mistake. “What the world economy needs is a period of oil prices a bit lower than they are now. Opec would be sensible, from its own point of view as well as everyone else’s, to accept a period of $50 rather than $70 oil.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

U.S. Teams Up With Radical Islamic Group

from Judicial Watch

The Department of Justice is spending an undisclosed amount of U.S. taxpayer dollars to help sponsor and set up a booth at the annual gathering of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in Chicago. The group is firmly committed to spreading the radical form of Islam which is the driving force behind jihad.(Judicial Watch recently published a special report detailing the ISNA and other radical Islamic groups.) ISNA is also a co conspirator in a federal terrorist funding case involving the Dallas-based Holy Land Foundation, which financially supports and supplies Palestinian Hamas fighters. For government attorneys to team up with a group involved in a case their agency is prosecuting is at the very least a conflict of interest.

George Tenet's CIA

by Reuel Marc Gerecht from the American Enterprise Institute

It's a decent bet that the CIA and the Pentagon have, in the war on terror, probably already delivered at least $5 billion in goods, cash, and manpower to "allied" intelligence and internal-security services ... such liaison-building has the lifespan of a tsetse fly. Throughout At the Center of the Storm Tenet, Vice President Cheney, and other senior officials are having to visit the Middle East--usually Pakistan and Saudi Arabia--to fortify longstanding intelligence relationships, which Tenet sees as the cornerstone of national security. It's a very good bet that the French, Germans, and Italians have kicked out of their countries more clumsy (often misdirected) CIA officers than have the Saudis, the Pakistanis, and the Egyptians. It's also a very good bet that CIA goodies proffered to these countries are small compared with the support given to the Saudis, Pakistanis, and Egyptians. Yet the intelligence and political relationship that the United States has with the Europeans is vastly more reliable, even with the turbulence provoked by the Iraq war. Vice presidents don't have to fly off to Europe to ensure "allied" intelligence and security services act responsibly.

Violence in Pakistani tribal agency continues

from Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)

Violence continued in Pakistans troubled tribal region continued on Monday as militants agreed to release 19 kidnapped soldiers and an army officer on Tuesday. Militants attacked two security checkposts with rockets and small arms on the outskirts of North Waziristan tribal agencys main town of Miramshah, triggering gunbattle with troops that killed more than two militants and wounded at least one soldier, security officials told KUNA ... In Chakdara town of Dir district in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), police conducted a raid on a suspected hideout of an alleged Al-Qaeda linked Saudi militant and recovered huge cache of explosive material including four suicide jackets, police sources said. Media reports identified the suspect as Muhammad Yousuf. However, police sources could not confirm the identity of the suspect. Sources said the militants managed to flee before the raid.

Literalist vs nuanced 'tafsir'

by Mahmood Sanglay from The Brunei Times

My concern here is not with the violent extremism typically associated with the Wahhabi-Salafi tradition of Islam. It is with the perversion of one of the most attractive attributes of the divine writ ... "If we were to take every Qur'anic passage, statement or expression in its outward, literal sense and disregard the possibility of its being an allegory, a metaphor or a parable, we would be offending against the very spirit of the divine writ." This offence, committed by the Wahhabi-Salafi translations of the Qur'an is evident in two volumes vigorously marketed by the Saudis. The one is by al-Hilali and Muhsin Khan, published by Darussalam, Riyadh in 1997. The other is by four anonymous committees, published by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Endowments in 1989, who adapted the work of Abdullah Yusuf Ali after "revising and correcting" his translation ... Alas, the Wahhabis-Salafis are not much into light and colour when it comes to reading the Qur'an. They prefer black and white. The Wahhabi-Salafi no-nuance approach makes provision for only a superficial interpretation of the Qur'an.

The Great Divide

by Gal Luft and Anne Korin from The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC)

Whatever the disproportionate weight of Sunnis in the Muslim world as a whole, in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, Shi’ites comprise a 70% majority. As if by divine plan, 45% of the world’s proven oil reserves lie under territories inhabited by the “sons of Ali”. These territories include Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and (most important of all) the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, home to most of the kingdom’s giant oil fields and export terminals. For the Saudi royal family, the prospect of a Shi’ite uprising is a nightmare. Shi’ites make up roughly 15% of Saudi Arabia’s population of 25 million. Most Saudis, practitioners of the extremist Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, see these Shi’ites as heretics who should be treated as second-class citizens or, in the words of one cleric, as “more dangerous than Jews and Christians.” For their part, Saudi Shi’ites see themselves not only as an oppressed minority, but as an occupied one. They sit atop the country’s oil but enjoy none of its rewards, and their appetite for political power has been whetted by the Shi’ite revival in Iraq. To the alarm of the House of Saud, during the 2005 Saudi municipal elections, turnout in Shi’ite-dominated regions was twice as high as it was elsewhere.

Islamist cleric issues Iran warning

by Yaakov Lappin from Ynetnews

Sheikh Hamid al-Ali, based in Kuwait, is a leading Islamist ideologue, whose teachings are often posted on Islamist websites. He has been linked to al-Qaeda activities in the Gulf state, and is described by the US government as a "terrorist facilitator who has provided financial support for al-Qaeda affiliated groups seeking to commit acts of terrorism in Kuwait, Iraq, and elsewhere." Ali is also well known for lashing out against Shiites. In a statement posted on an al-Qaeda affiliated internet forum on Sunday, Ali cited western reports tracking Iran's nuclear program, and military expansion, before turning his attention to Iran's role in the region ... "The jihadi movement has to be aware of the reality of the size of Iran's influence, and must not allow Iran to exploit legitimate causes, as seen in Lebanon," he declared ... Professor Raymond Tanter, co-author of the recently published "What Makes Iran tick," said Sunni jihadis had cause to fear Iran, but told Ynetnews he doubted a full-scale war would erupt between al-Qaeda and Iran.

Monday, August 27, 2007

'Osama travels with large family'

by Chidanand Rajghatta from The Times of India

By Nassir Al-Bahri’s count, Osama had eight sons and six daughters when he left the man he calls ‘Sheikh’ six years ago. The three eldest sons are in Saudi Arabia, he says, but the others are in hiding with their father ... turf battles between CIA and the military, troubles in liaising with Pakistan, lack of specialist operatives on the ground, and the administration’s decision to do something more showy than mere cave searches in Afghanistan, led Washington into a quagmire in Iraq. The intensity faded and Osama was free to breathe. Bahri describes Osama as a calm person, very soft-spoken, much given to reciting verses from the Koran and from poetry, nearly all of it jehadi. The only thing that seems to really rile him up is mention of America. "I think from the very beginning of his childhood he hated America," he says. "I don’t know why. He won’t even drink a Pepsi." The Newsweek account reveals how despite being cut off from bin Laden for several years, Al Bahri remains an Al Qaeda supporter.

The money trail to militants

by Declan Walsh from The Mail & Guardian

Many militant donations are disguised as zakat, the annual Muslim charity tax, and channelled through a shadowy nexus of radical mosques, madaris (madrasas) and charities. In Pakistan zakat -- one of the five pillars of Islam -- is levied by the state. But in oil-rich Gulf States Muslims also send zakat abroad -- an estimated £50-million a year from Saudi Arabia. That money has helped fund an explosion of mosques and madaris in Pakistan; some also ends up in the coffers of militant groups. "There's a lot of people in the Gulf, particularly the rich merchant class, who feel a religious obligation to fund charities. They don't think too hard about where it goes," said Robert Baer, an ex-CIA agent and Middle East expert. The Saudi money is the most visible in North West Frontier Province. In Peshawar the number of madaris has increased from 13 in 1980 to more than 150 today, according to one study. One of the most recent is the £500 000 Jamia Asaria, a sprawling complex amid the green maize fields on the city outskirts.

US in ‘back to future’ mode

by David Ignatius from The Washington Post

The Bush Administration. beyond the daily temperature readings about the progress of the US troop surge in Baghdad, is making a subtle but important shift in its strategy for the Middle East – establishing containment of Iranian power in the region as a top American priority. A simple shorthand for this approach might be “back to the future,” for it is strikingly reminiscent of American strategy during the 1980s after the Iranian revolution. The cornerstone is a political-military alliance with the dominant Sunni Arab powers – especially Saudi Arabia ... “The message to Iran is, we’re still powerful, we protect our friends, we’re not going away,” explains a senior State Department official ... In “back to the future” mode, the name being mentioned these days is Ayad Allawi, a former Baathist who was interim prime minister and has strong support among Sunnis, even though he’s a secular Shi’ite. Allawi has bundles of money now to help buy political support, but it comes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, rather than the US The administration will continue to “turn up the heat” on Iran, says the State Department official.

Hoekstra: Iraq goal no longer should be democracy

by Kathy Barks Hoffman from Associated Press

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said he supported the goal of establishing a democracy when the Iraq war first started. But after visiting Iraq, he no longer thinks that is going to happen anytime soon, if it happens at all. "I've met with ... some of the Sunni tribal chiefs. ... They're not looking for a county commission to tell them what to do," he said. "They have a thousand years of experience of tribal culture that says, 'This is how we deliver services, keep security and stability in our neck of the woods. We're not necessarily looking for an overlay of this.'" ... Hoekstra said it's clear other Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are not going to step up and support Iraq's efforts to move toward democracy because it would cause internal problems in their own countries.

US helps Saudis train oil security force

from AFP

Saudi authorities have recruited around 5,000 members of the Facilities Security Force and plan to raise the number to 8,000-10,000 over the next two years as an interim target, the Nicosia-based Middle East Economic Survey said. The plan to set up a 35,000-strong force to guard oil and other vital installations was announced in July by Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz as the oil powerhouse continues to battle suspected Al-Qaeda militants ... The decision to recruit from outside the ranks of the existing armed forces and security services has necessarily slowed the process. Saudi Arabia already maintains a 75,000-strong army, an air force of 18,000, a navy of 15,500 and an air defence force of 16,000, according to MEES. These formal armed forces are on top of the 75,000-man National Guard, a tribal force loyal to the Al Saud ruling family.

Springtime in the desert

by Dana Moss from The Guardian

The very steps the kingdom needs to take to integrate women into economic life and create an environment tempting for foreign businesses are often the ones resisted most strenuously. Making the situation even trickier for King Abdullah and progressive princes is the overlap between those opposing reforms and the strict Wahhabi clergy who provide the House of Saud with the religious sanction necessary for its rule. Characteristic of such hostility from the religious elite is the reaction of the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh, to the mixing of men and women - conventional practice in international business terms. In 2004, after witnessing mingling during the Jeddah Economic Forum, he issued a furious reprimand: "I am pained by such shameful behaviour ... allowing women to mix with men is the root of every evil and catastrophe."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Faith-based school funding a justice issue

by Rev. Graham Scott from The Welland Tribune

There are two major problems with funding faith-based education. The first problem is the funding of Islamic schools, because Islam does not distinguish between church and state and so Sharia law prevails in many Islamic states.I believe that Premier Dalton McGuinty was right to disallow the introduction of Sharia law into Ontario family law. Moreover, I believe the Wahhabist school of Islam based in Saudi Arabia is dangerous for democracy. The Muwafaq (Blessed Relief) Foundation was named by the U.S. Treasury Department as "an al-Qaida front that receives funding from wealthy Saudi businessmen." Funding a Wahhabist Islamic school could breed home-grown terrorism in Ontario. But this problem can be solved by enacting regulations that no school which has received or receives any foreign funding may receive any Ontario funding, and that no school whose faith requires the replacement of the Canadian constitution by its own religious law may receive any Ontario funding.

'Special Report' Panel on Proposed Gas Tax Hike; Russia's Flexing Muscles

from Special Report With Brit Hume of FOX News

Fred Barnes, Executive Editor, Weekly Standard: What you said, though, about the country's are acting like — particularly the Arab countries, these third-world countries with great natural resources in oil and gas. So, what do they do? Do they develop their countries? Do they go into other areas and build other industries? No, they just sell their oil and gas and have a few rich people at the top, that certainly is Saudi Arabia, and that is it. And their countries are entirely dependent on these natural resources. And they do much better when the price is high. What are they pumping money into? The Russians — some of it is to buy — and this is a bit scary — utilities, and so on, in eastern European countries, public utilities. But they are also pumping all kinds of it into a military aircraft, which is not going to do them any good. That is like the Saudis, who now want $24 billion of dollars in military hardware from the U.S., most of which they probably do not need.

Saudi tribal chief urges opposition in security forces

from AFP

In a video posted on the internet, Emir Faisal bin Salman bin Sultan, the head of the Al-Ajman tribe urged backers within the Saudi security forces to join forces with the exiled Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA). He said he wanted to combat the "unemployment, crime, poverty, drug addiction and corruption" that had resulted from the Western-backed Saud family's absolute rule." His Al-Ajman tribe has about 300,000 members in the south of the oil-rich kingdom, and allies among the Beni Khaled, Mutir, Qahtan, Shammar and Wutayba tribes as well as confederations extending into neighbouring oil-producing states. Formed in London in 1996 following a breakaway with the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights, MIRA has long been a bogeyman of the Saudi regime.

Indonesians Protest Outside Saudi Embassy in Jakarta

by Rasheed Abou-Alsamh from Arab News

“We started this protest this morning with 100 participants, including all of the relatives of the four maids, outside the Saudi Embassy here,” said Wahyu Susilo of Migrant Care in an interview from Jakarta ... The Saudi authorities have still not released the bodies of the two deceased maids to the Indonesian Embassy in Riyadh, and have also not allowed the embassy official access to the two remaining survivors. “We want them to be under our custody, but our request has not been acted upon,” an Indonesian diplomat told Arab News in an interview this week. “We also still haven’t had access to the bodies of the two deceased domestic workers.” The relatives of the victims and activists have vowed to continue their protests outside the Saudi Embassy until all four victims return home. “The Saudi government must investigate thoroughly and the employer and his relatives involved in the incident brought to justice,” said Wahyu.

$2B stake in Countrywide may pay off

by Matt Krantz from USA TODAY

Investing in depressed financial institutions can be lucrative. Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal stepped up in 1991 when Citicorp was struggling from commercial real estate loans and invested $590 million. He got preferred shares that paid an 11% dividend. He also got the right to convert his preferred shares into common stock for $16 a share, 25% below the stock price at the time. Since then, Citigroup stock has rocketed 1,779%. Alwaleed bin Talal's stake now is unknown, though any stake of 5% or more must be reported.

Muslim groups slam NYPD terror report

by Jeremy Walsh from The Flushing Times Ledger

Shamsi Ali, deputy imam of the Jamaica Muslim Center in southeast Queens, said that "we need to do more and that's a positive. Yes, extremism within Muslim communities is there, and it is our responsibility to do every possible thing to handle it." But Ali disagreed that extremists are multiplying in the city's Muslim communities. "There are a handful of young people inclined to that 'Salafi,' or cultural view of Islam, but I don't think the things commonly occur in our community." ... Michael Jenkins, an analyst with the Rand Corporation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, reviewed the department's report. He said the model will help train analysts and police and enable prosecutors to decide "when the boundary between a bunch of guys sharing violent fantasies and a terrorist cell determined to go operational has been crossed." But both Ali and Azeem Khan, assistant secretary general of the Islamic Circle of North America, were concerned the report would do more to foster resentment and alienation among Muslims.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Guantanamo Bay victims may get $132,000

by Geoffrey Bew from The Gulf Daily News

FIVE Bahrainis released from Guantanamo Bay may each soon receive a 50,000 Bahraini Dinar grant (US $132,500) from the government. MP Mohammed Khalid said it is crucial the men receive compensation for the suffering and torture they were forced to endure in the US prison camp and so they are able to financially support their families ... Juma Al Dossary, who has dual Bahraini-Saudi nationality, was also among a group of 16 Saudis freed and transferred to Riyadh last month. "Look at what the government of Saudi Arabia has given Juma - a car, monthly allowance, help to find a job and to get married." Mr Khalid, from Al Menbar block, said he plans to lobby the proposal among other MPs in the coming weeks to drum up support for the idea.

U.S. wants Islamic charity figure held as flight risk

from The Associated Press

Chris Cardani, the assistant U.S. Attorney handling the case, argued that Pirouz Sedaghaty, a native of Iran and a U.S. citizen, promoted a radical version of Islam based in Saudi Arabia known as Wahabbism, making him a danger because he could incite radical followers to acts of violence. He noted that Sedaghaty had returned to the United States on a duplicate U.S. passport, and had not surrendered his Iranian passport until he appeared in court Wednesday ... But Sedaghaty's lawyer, Larry Matasar, said Sedaghaty has always been a moderate and had steered away from the fundamentalist version of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia .. Matasar also called an expert witness, As'ad AbuKhalil, a California State University professor who disputed the government's claim that Sedaghaty supported radical Islamic doctrine. AbuKhalil said Saudi wealth is used to promote Wahabbism worldwide by funding mosques and charities, and distributing a Saudi version of the Quran called the "nobel Quran" that has a more militant interpretation of its teachings.

Pakistan: the 'poor neighbour'

by William Dalrymple from the Mail & Guardian

Of the 162 million Pakistanis, 83 million adults of 15 years and above are illiterate. Among women the problem is worse still: 65% of all female adults are illiterate. The virtual collapse of government schooling has meant that many of the country's poorest people have no option but to place their children in the madrasa system, where they are guaranteed an ultra-conservative but free education, often subsidised by religious endowments provided by the Wahhabi Saudis. Altogether there are now an estimated 800,000 to one million students enrolled in Pakistan's madrasas. Though the link between the madrasas and al-Qaeda is often exaggerated, it is true that madrasa students have been closely involved in the rise of the Taliban and the growth of sectarian violence; it is also true that the education provided by many madrasas is often wholly inadequate to equip children for modern life in a civil society.

The president's options

by M B Naqvi from The News-International

There is a rising tide of Islamic extremism in Pakistan. The North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) is under serious threat. A new state appears to be rising, tentatively so far. The Islamic terrorists, the Taliban, are the same force battling the Nato forces in Afghanistan with the same ethnic characteristics. Ideologically and ethnically, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are Pushtoons who follow Pushtoonwali as well as an extremely austere Islam of the Wahabi or Salafi conception. This is a growing threat, not confined to NWFP ... The US has forced Musharraf to negotiate a deal with Benazir Bhutto's PPP. They are expected to provide a new political impetus to the American war on terror inside Pakistan. She and her party are supposed to be moderate Muslim modernist and adequately pragmatic (in the term's American usage). Can this idea succeed? It is more likely to boomerang and may actually force the pace of Talibanisation to become faster, thanks to its US provenance.

An Inside Look at France's Mosque Surveillance Program

by Pascale Combelles Siegel from The Jamestown Foundation

The Renseignements Généraux (RG), the French internal intelligence service, have been monitoring mosques, their clerics and their sermons since the mid-1990s. The section of the RG called Milieux Intégristes Violents (Violent Fundamentalist Environment) is in charge of monitoring and they have identified radical mosques in almost every corner of French territory, with the exception of four, predominantly rural, régions (Corse, Poitou-Charentes, Basse-Normandie and Limousin). Every Friday, sermons are collected through unidentified means, and they are centralized and analyzed. The RG use their analysis to determine which imams are preaching a radical Salafi brand of Islam, or if they are assisting terrorist activities by helping recruitment or granting material support to an operational network ... But Mosques do not constitute the only channel of religious radicalization in France. The internet, with numerous jihadi-friendly websites available in both Arabic and French, allows the dissemination of a radical Salafi discourse that preaches hatred of the West, rabid anti-Semitism and anti-French racism.

Blogging for democracy around the world

by Hamid Tehrani from Global Voices

In many ways, Saudi Arabia makes Iran seem very liberal. The Kingdom is a far more conservative place. Women can’t drive, work in shops, or drive. As a Westerner, it was virtually impossible for me to speak to Saudi women. But when it comes to the internet, the Saudis don’t imprison bloggers and censor lightly compared to the Islamic republic (my Guardian article expands on these points further.) I met a number of Saudi bloggers, including Saudi Jeans, who told me about the frustration of seeing their society moving so slowly towards political reform. The Iranian blogging scene is far more advanced than Saudi Arabia, and is far more integrated into society (though not in government bureaucracy, where the wheels move very slowly, indeed.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Legal Project

from the Middle East Forum

The Middle East Forum has established a Legal Project to protect researchers and analysts who work on the topics of terrorism, terrorist funding, and radical Islam. Researchers and analysts have been repeatedly targeted in legal actions ... such lawsuits are often predatory, filed without a serious expectation of winning, but undertaken as a means to bankrupt, distract, intimidate, and demoralize defendants. Plaintiffs seek less to prevail in the courtroom than to wear down researchers and analysts. Even when the latter win cases, they pay heavily in time, money, and spirit. As counterterrorism specialist Steven Emerson comments, "Legal action has become a mainstay of radical Islamist organizations seeking to intimidate and silence their critics." Islamists clearly hope, Douglas Farah notes, that researchers will "get tired of the cost and the hassle [of lawsuits] and simply shut up." We therefore must expect that Islamists will engage in future legal efforts along these lines. Indeed, the Islamic Society of North America and the Muslim Public Affairs Council have publicly stated that they are considering filing defamation lawsuits against critics.

Hamas Uses Local Merchants for ‘Money Laundering'

by Bassem Roomie from The Media Line

In the past, Hamas received funds through a banking system that channeled money into private accounts at local banks, which also maintained branches in the United Kingdom, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The use of local merchants began after the closure of the Rafah terminal, which left Hamas isolated and besieged in its coastal enclave ... Raising money through its charitable wing, Hamas, which runs a huge social-welfare network in the territories, receives an annual budget of $50 million, the sources estimated. Before the Gaza takeover, many Palestinians saw Hamas as a charitable organization that built schools and hospitals and stepped in where the corrupt P.A. had failed. Hamas receives financial assistance through its political offices, which are active in a number of Arab and Middle East countries, including Iran, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Using bank transfers, moneychangers, private money services and unofficial networks for the transfer of funds, has made it difficult for the P.A. and Arab states to trace and halt Hamas’ financial channels.

Islam's unholy alliance

by Cameron Stewart and Richard Kerbaj from The Australian

Senior Sunni female spiritual leader Aziza Abdel-Halim agrees, saying there is no reason overseas conflicts between the two sects should play out in Australia. But she says hardliners in both the Sunni and Shia sects in Australia try to undermine relations between their respective mainstream communities. So far they have been largely unsuccessful. Abdel-Halim, a former member of John Howard's Muslim Community Reference Group, says Sunnis who espouse the fundamentalist Wahhabi ideology - practised by the likes of Osama bin Laden - do not consider Shi'ites to be Muslims and thus treats them as non-believers. "In groups where people are influenced by Wahhabi thinking, you may hear condemnation of Shia," she says. "Because they are very narrow in their (religious) interpretation of everything."

Kingdom Urges Arabs to Close Ranks

from Arab News

Minister of Culture and Information Iyad Madani told the Saudi Press Agency that the Kingdom was making all possible efforts to serve the two Holy Mosques and making necessary arrangements to guarantee the comfort and safety. These efforts include the expansion of the pilgrims. These efforts include the expansion of the Mas’a (the pathway between Safa and Marwa) and the completion of the upper floors of the Jamrat, in addition to the general development of Makkah, Madinah and other holy sites ... The Cabinet decided to set up an independent government organization, The Saudi Exports Promotion Authority, to organize international fairs and undertake the management of the country’s nonoil exports. Other functions of the new body include increased involvement of Saudis in export-oriented activities and the promotion of a culture of exports in the Kingdom in collaboration with local and international training organizations, the minister said.

Gas station owners allege price fixing by Shell, Chevron

from The Associated Press

Nearly two dozen gas station owners in California sued Shell Oil Co., Chevron Corp. and Saudi Refining today, claiming the companies conspired to fix prices for 23,000 franchise owners nationwide. Similar to another lawsuit filed in 2004, the plaintiffs now say the venture violates a "rule of reason" governing antitrust matters. ... The lawsuit hinges on a marketing deal that, plaintiffs say, allowed former rivals to collude on prices starting in 1998, when Shell and Texaco Inc. formed Equilon Enterprises LLC to market gasoline in western states. They formed Motiva Enterprises LLC later that year for the eastern half of the country. Houston-based Saudi Refining also joined Motiva. Calls to Houston-based Shell, a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Saudi Refining, affiliated with the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia, were not immediately returned.

Aramco invites Ras Tanura bids

from The Gulf Daily News

Aramco aims for the plant to start up in early 2012 to supply rapidly growing domestic demand. Saudi Arabia's oil consumption rose 6.2 per cent last year to just over 2m barrels per day as record oil revenues fed economic expansion. KBR, a former unit of Halliburton, already has another project management contract at Ras Tanura for the nearby $20 billion-plus Ras Tanura petrochemical plant to be built by Aramco and US Dow Chemicals. That plant will be one of the largest of its kind in the world. Saudi Arabia has also signed deals worth $12bn for two new joint venture refineries, one with France's Total at Jubail and the other with US ConocoPhillips in Yanbu. Each plant will have 400,000 bpd capacity.

Mideast countries boost up nuclear development projects

by Yoav Stern from Haaretz

Several Arab countries in recent months have boosted their nuclear programs, in what experts believe is a response to Iran's aggressive drive to acquire nuclear weapons. All the countries concerned, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Lybia, claim that they aim to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes ... In a recent article in the International Herald Tribune, Joseph Cirincione, director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress, offered an alternative explanation. Cirincione and his Israeli associate, Uri Leventer, a graduate student at Harvard University, argued that the nuclear surge in the Middle East is due to the interests of global powers, competing to sell their nuclear technology. In their article, Cirincione and Leventer noted French President Nicolas Sarkozy's recent signing of a nuclear cooperation deal with Libya. Sarkozy later agreed to help the United Arab Emirates launch its own civilian nuclear program. Indicating that this could be just the beginning of a major sale and supply effort, Sarkozy declared that the West should trust Arab states with nuclear technology. The former military adviser to Congress went on to warn that "if the existing territorial, ethnic, and political disputes continue unresolved, this is a recipe for nuclear war."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Faith, charity and the money trail to Pakistan's Islamist militants

by Declan Walsh from The Guardian

Foreign money is fuelling the tide of Islamist violence washing across northern Pakistan, according to diplomats, analysts and money laundering experts. Pakistan's notoriously lax financial system helps them to move the money into the country. Donors in petrodollar-rich Gulf countries, the US and Europe send donations - anything from a few thousand dollars to several million, said Seth Jones of the Washington-based Rand Corporation. "Without significant funding from abroad, especially the Gulf states, we would be nowhere near the current level of Islamist militancy," he said. "We're talking about tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars."

Tensions Mounting in the Elbrus Region

from Kommersant

A bomb weighing 15 kg. was found on Friday in the Elbrus area of the republic in the woods near a base belonging to Kabardino-Balkaria State University. Containing nails and metal shavings, bomb specialists successfully defused it. The next day, a policeman was killed at the Tyrnyauz mining and processing plant when the guard post was fired on at about 1:00 a.m. Seconds after police reinforcements arrived, the bridge over the Baksan River leading to the plant was destroyed by a strong blast. That was the fourth attack on the police, resulting in the second death, in the area in the past month. Local law enforcement agencies say the wave of criminal activity is due to the efforts of underground Wahhabi group hiding in the woods. They are trying to create pressure as the republic prepares to celebrate the 450th anniversary of its unification with Russia and the republic's supreme court prepares to hear the case of 59 rebels who took part in the attack on Nalchik on October 13, 2005.

Saudi government urged to release reformists

from Agence France-Presse

The petition, a copy of which was obtained by Agence France-Presse in Dubai, was signed by 67 activists and sent to the justice ministry and advisory Shura council in Riyadh, as well as to two government-sanctioned human rights watchdogs. The petition said the reformists -- accused of funding terrorism -- had been held for longer than six months without a trial and that, under Saudi law, they should, therefore, be released ... Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that has taken tentative steps toward reform, including holding male-only elections in 2005 to pick half of the members of municipal councils. Writer Mohammed Bin Hudeijan Al Harbi said in April that three of the reformists being held had, themselves, signed a petition to King Abdullah, calling for the establishment of an Islam-based constitutional monarchy. The petition demanded the introduction of a parliament "elected by all adults, men and women" in oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

No candidates, so experts debate Iraq in Nevada

by Scott Sonner from The Associated Press

About 50 people turned out for the Republican forum in Reno sponsored by the Brookings Institution and UNR. But more noticeable was the absence of all four candidates who were invited --- former New York Mayor Rudi Guiliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Arizona Senator John McCain and Texas Congressman Ron Paul ... Fostering democracy around the world is in the best interest of U.S. national security but Bush's missteps in Iraq have created an "impossible tactical situation," said John Scire, an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Nevada who served 27 years in the military, including a combat tour in Vietnam, and is a graduate of the U.S. Army's Psychological Warfare Specialist School. He says Bush was right to get rid of Saddam Hussein but he failed to recognize that the closest U.S. allies in the region -- including Saudi Arabia -- all absolutely oppose democracy.


from the Yemen Times

According to the weekly newspaper, Media reports said on Monday that Saudi border guards at the Najran region on the Saudi-Yemeni border foiled an attempt to smuggle a consignment of weapons to the Kingdom. “The would-be smugglers, along with the consignment of weapons, fled back to Yemen,” the weekly paper quoted a Saudi official as saying. The Saudi Okadh paper reported that Assistant Commander of Border Guards positioned in Najran said the consignment contains 16 missiles, 16 armored covers, five anti-tank mines and 3,000 bullets of heavy machineguns. The military official added that the rear border guards and patrols recorded the suspicious movements of unidentified individuals and found quantities of explosives and ammunition hidden beneath rocks. The official went on to say that the traffickers fled the scene toward Yemen after they were prevented from trafficking the consignment into the Saudi territory.

Yemen to build nuclear plant for power generation

from Sana'a (dpa)

"Specialized international firms will build the strategic nuclear reactor that Yemen seeks to own for producing electricity," the official Saba news agency quoted Mustafa Bahran, Yemen's energy minister, as saying. An impoverished country located on the south-western tip of the Arabian peninsula, Yemen has a shortage in power production and its cities suffer from daily power outages. The entire power production capacity of the country's two main power plants is approximately 900 MW, which serves only about half of the population. In last October, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said his country was negotiating with US and Canadian firms to construct a nuclear power production plant in Yemen.

Sectarian Schools in Britain

by Dr. Norman Berdichevsky from the Global Politician

There are now more than 7,000 faith-based schools in Britain, the great majority run by the Church of England or the Catholic church, with a handful of Jewish schools and over the past twenty years more than 100 Muslim schools have been established, primarily in London and in the cities of the Northern Midlands where large numbers of Muslim immigrants settled ... Some of the still privately run independent Muslim schools are partially funded by Saudi Arabia and make use of Saudi texts (also used by Hamas in Gaza) that are blatantly biased on the Middle East conflict, anti-Semitic and reflect the ultra-conservative Wahhabi trend within Islam ... Since the terrorist attacks on the London Underground on July 7, however, Islamic schools have been criticized for their role in fostering social divisions or even worse alienating their pupils from the core values of British society. Some social scientists suggest that alienation from modern British culture might be a factor encouraging some to seek martyrdom as suicide bombers. This is strongly denied by Muhammad Mukadam, chairman of the Muslim schools' association who has called attention to the fact that none of the young men linked to the July 7 bombings had attended Muslim schools in Britain, though they might have done so elsewhere.

Monday, August 20, 2007

World Commission for Propagating Islam holds meeting

from the Ministry of Hajj (Saudi Arabia)

The board of directors of World Commission for Propagating Islam held its 4th meeting in Madinah today under the chairmanship of Secretary General of Muslim World League Dr. Abdullah bin Abdulmohsin Al-Turki. The meeting was attended by the Commission's Secretary General Dr. Yahya bin Ibrahim Al-Yahya and members of the board. In his speech, Dr. Al-Turki expressed his thanks to The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz for supporting the League, its commissions and the programs of propagating Islam and its moderate and just principles. On qualification of Muslim Imams and preachers, he called on them to select all universities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He expressed the League's readiness for organizing a conference to coordinate and accomplish joint projects in the field of propagating the principles of Islam.

Re: An Israeli in Kurdistan

by Michael Rubin from National Review

Fewer young people in Iraqi Kurdistan, for example, can point out (or are even aware) of Erbil's Jewish quarter. In the last year, many Jewish buildings in Kuysanjaq have fallen victim to the developers' bulldozer. And in Sulaymaniyah, the destruction of old building in the former Jewish area is a historian's nightmare. Memory is being erased. Second, as corruption among the major political parties increases in Iraqi Kurdistan, so too does Islamist influence. Erbil has grown steadily more conservative over the past five years. Many of the mosques in Erbil and Dahuk are built with the assistance of Saudi NGOs. WAMY and IIRO have active presences (even if the KDP keeps a close eye on both). On the PUK side, such sentiment permeates the region around Halabja around which there is still heavy Iranian penetration.

Distilling the Muslim World's First 20-Year-Old Whisky

by Padma Rao from Spiegel Online

At almost 150-years-old, the Murree Brewery in Pakistan is preparing to bring the Muslim world's first 20-year-old single malt whisky to the market ... Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and others, the Zoroastrians, known as "Parsi," make up Pakistan's tiny religious minority (3%) who are excluded from rigid anti-alcohol law and allowed to buy beer, wine and spirits from state-owned shops. Fundamentalist Islamic clerics and the stridently oppositional Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal coalition of religious parties help to ensure that the alcohol ban remains in place. They routinely hold up the latter Koran reference as ultimate proof of the Islamic ban on alcohol. But Pakistan's Western-educated elite and liberal army officers -- many of whom trained overseas -- would prefer to leave the Koran references open to interpretation. The tendency of upwardly mobile Muslims to occasionally enjoy a tipple is by no means restricted to Pakistan. "Britain's leading gin manufacturer told me that his biggest market is not the United States but the officially dry Saudi Arabia," says Bhandara. "Even in Pakistan, prohibition will not work -- it is just lip service to propriety."

Saudi should do more to stop maid abuse

from Reuters

Growing from a Bedouin desert society, Saudi Arabia has long needed expatriates as it uses its massive oil wealth to build cities and a modern economy. The Labour Ministry has acknowledged that there are problems with workers' rights, but the government often also says that Islamic law ensures protection for both Muslims and non-Muslims and reminds foreigners that they are guests in the country. "During visits to Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka in November and December, Human Rights Watch interviewed Sri Lankan domestic workers sentenced to prison and whipping in Saudi Arabia after their employers had raped and impregnated them," the report said. It said the government should scrap requirements for workers to get their employer's permission to leave the country or change jobs inside Saudi Arabia.

Arrests and accusations

by Jill Nelson from World Magazine

Egypt's once-vibrant Jewish community has dwindled over the decades into virtual nonexistence, and now Egypt's Coptic community—a blanket term that includes Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestants in the faith—are bearing the brunt of the nation's Islamist rulings ... United Copts of Great Britain Chairman Ibrahim Habib says this latest wave of Christian persecution is worsening each day and is part of a larger effort by Islamists to claim Egypt as their own: "You walk the streets of Cairo and you see people who are covered in Islamic dress—totally different from the secular Egypt we knew 40 to 50 years ago. The attitude of the people now is fundamentally Wahabi Islamic. They believe that apostates must be killed in accordance with Islamic Shariah law," Habib said. "The Copts have no future because of this persecution, 10% have already emigrated." Saudi Arabia, he adds, has been a major source of this extremism, preying on Egypt's poor.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Al Rajhi Bank to woo Arabs to buy homes in Malaysia

by David Tan from The Malaysia Star

Al Rajhi Bank's CEO Ahmed Rehman said the bank was confident of playing a role in attracting more Arabs to purchase properties in Malaysia. “We have 400 branches in Saudi Arabia serving over three million customers, from which I’m sure a percentage would be interested in owning a home in Malaysia,” he said .after the launch of Al Rajhi's first branch in Penang by Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon. Ahmed said the bank had developed new Islamic financial products with a Middle Eastern flavour for the retail and wholesale market in the country. “We are also embarking on designing made-in-Malaysia Islamic banking products and services that will contribute to Malaysia’s reputation as a trailblazer in Islamic banking,” he said.

Government given a week’s time to produce Sharif “deal” papers

by Nirupama Subramanian from The Hindu

The Supreme Court has given the Pakistan Government a week’s time to come up with “documents” it says it has to show that the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, left the country in 2000 on a written agreement with the Musharraf regime. Mr. Sharif has denied that he did a deal with President Pervez Musharraf to go into exile for 10 years ... The hearing was adjourned until August 23 when the Government must produce the document. The former Prime Minister and his family went to Saudi Arabia from Pakistan. President Musharraf has said publicly he agreed to end Mr. Sharif’s imprisonment on the intervention of the Saudi royal family, and that under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Sharif was not to re-enter politics or Pakistan for 10 years.

For God’s sake, let those Koreans go

by Hassan Al-Haifi from the Yemen Times

The current methodology employed by self declared Jihadists, has no precedence in the actions of many generations of Moslems since the time of the Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), who, as the Holy\Quran states "was sent as a mercy for all the Universes". In this context then, it would be viewed as being self-defeating, if improprieties such as the kidnapping of the 22 Korean hostages would be construed as being in service to their declared cause of liberating Afghanistan, not to mention such an act being totally incongruent with Moslem teachings ... For sure, the overwhelming majority of Moslems find no rationale in Islam or any other dogma for the kidnapping of foreign hostages, even if they are of a different faith, and would hope that the Taliban and all these so called Salafi persuasions would go back to studying Islam it its true and fundamental teachings and learn from the ways that the true faithful Salaf (i.e., early Moslem predecessors) truly conducted themselves in war and in peace, if they want to convince the world if their genuine affiliation with Islam, and of the justice of their struggle.

Self-made terrorists

by Sally Neighbour from The Australian

The intelligence division of the New York Police Department has traced the formation and development of Islamist terror cells in the US, Britain, Canada, Spain, The Netherlands and Australia. Their report, Radicalisation in the West: The Homegrown Threat, is the most comprehensive cross-national study of how terror cells form, develop, plan and execute large-scale attacks. The report's authors, Mitchell Silber and Arvin Bhatt, identify four stages in the process of radicalisation. The first is the "pre-radicalisation" phase, where an individual is often frustrated with his life or the politics of his home government and is looking for meaning in life ... The second stage is "self-identification", where the individual discovers Salafi-jihadist ideology, a Sunni revivalist movement which aims to create a "pure" Islamic society based on a literal reading of the Koran. Under this interpretation, complex disputes such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and Kashmir are simplified into a single global war between "believers and non-believers". "This powerful and simple 'one size fits all' philosophy resonates with the younger diaspora Muslim populations in the West who are often politically naive," Silber and Bhattwrite.

On the Cusp

by Sumit Ganguly from Newsweek

The particular features of the present Iranian regime aside, India needs to court Iran to counter the Pakistani-Saudi strategic nexus and their mutual coziness with Wahhabi Islamic zealots. Their closeness to the Wahhabi cult causes acute concern in New Delhi because India is also home to the second-largest Sunni population in the world, the vast majority of whom have not evinced any interest in the siren call of radical Islam. These strategic concerns alone make it imperative for India not to alienate any regime in Iran, however unpalatable ... India is hardly alone in pursuing a policy of such ruthless pragmatism. The United States, we should remember, chose to court the reprehensible (and murderous) regime of Chairman Mao in its attempt to contain and hobble the menace of Soviet power. More recently, it has had few, if any qualms of pursuing a robust commercial and military relationship with Saudi Arabia, a regime whose domestic arrangements can hardly be viewed as conforming with cherished American values. Nor has Saudi Arabia's mostly intransigent attitude toward Israel, a key American ally, significantly inhibited the U.S.-Saudi nexus.

Out of sight, out of mind

by Lucy Fielder from Al-Ahram Weekly

Fatah Al-Islam's origins and funding remain subject to speculation, and some say Lebanon's most powerful Sunni leader, Saad Hariri, funded the group with his Saudi backers, despite the earlier link with Syria. Some contend he has quietly armed Sunni elements to counterbalance the powerful Shia Hizbullah. Teacher Iman Al-Sheikh believes Saudi money has poured into Salafi institutions in Tebbaneh, Tripoli's most densely populated area where rubbish clogs the streets for want of public services and laundry and black Islamic flags flutter from balconies. She recently taught at a Saudi-funded Tripoli school, but left when she found its ideology ill-informed and extreme. Even science and maths were only taught according to what is found in the Quran, she says. Al-Sheikh wears the hijab, but objected to Christian colleagues having to. "In the past year or two there have been a lot of mosques, schools and centres set up in the north to teach people Salafi thought, which is basically Wahhabi thinking," says Ahmed Moussalli, an expert on radical Islam at the American University of Beirut. Most Islamists in northern Lebanon are peaceful, he stresses. "But some of them have been mobilised against the Shia. We do not know the numbers but I'm sure there are many more than we're seeing."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fear of foreigners

From the

Jeffrey Garten, a former dean of the Yale School of Management, argued in the Financial Times last week that dealing with sovereign wealth funds may require departures from “conventional liberal orthodoxy concerning global trade and investment flows”. According to Mr Garten: “These funds are going to have the ability to buy any global company, to create panic in markets if they move too precipitously, even to dwarf the political clout of international financial institutions. They can no longer be ignored.” ... On reciprocity, he argues that a sovereign wealth fund's freedom to invest abroad should be tied to the freedom enjoyed by foreign investors in the fund's home country. Not only that, but: “If a sovereign fund was established because of currency manipulation in the host country that led to excess reserve creation (China), or if it is the result of strident resource nationalism (Russia), or if it is due to monopolistic pricing practices (Saudi Arabia), then consultations should be initiated between the two governments to reduce these policy distortions.”

Protect the American Media? Whether They Deserve It or Not

by Andrew C. McCarthy from Human Events

Many terrorists (including fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers) are Saudis, and, besides oil, the Kingdom’s top export is the anti-Western Wahhabist ideology that is radicalizing young Muslims throughout the world, including in the United States, which is now dotted with madrassas backed by Saudi money. Toward that end, a few intrepid journalists and researchers, prominently including the Rachel Ehrenfeld, have scrutinized the available public record of Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz ... If Ehrenfeld’s U.S. suit survives, she would be able to complicate Mahfouz’s life immensely. Civil actions provide for liberal discovery by the parties. Mahfouz would be faced with a Hobson’s choice: Answer the suit and open his finances up to scrutiny; or default, which would (a) result in a judgment against him undermining his ability to operate in the United States, and (b) demonstrate to the world that, given the opportunity, he would not even try to refute the terror-financing claims made against him.

PCS Edventures! Provides Update on Saudi Education Initiative

by Market Wire

PCS Edventures!.com, Inc. today released an update on the status of the education initiative in Saudi Arabia. "We are honored to be considered as a potential participant in the initiative through PCS Middle East and its principal, Dr. Mohammed Yassir Refai, our independent Distributor ... In late March 2007, we were assured and relied upon Dr. Refai's statements that a contract or contracts were imminent, and consequently, we received a purchase order for the initial site licenses from PCS Middle East... More recently we asked Dr. Refai to confirm, with some specific documentation, the status of the project and PCS Middle East's involvement, but to date this information also has not been received ... We appreciate and remain respectful of the cultural differences and manner of doing business in Saudi Arabia as it may affect our involvement in the project. We are fully prepared to play a significant role in the initiative when it moves forward. Meanwhile, we will continue to seek information from Dr. Refai and others about the status and progress of the project, and if and when material developments occur, we will so inform our shareholders."

The Islam in Azerbaijan

by Liz Fuller and Badek Bakir from the Journal of Turkish Weekly (JTW)

Azerbaijani authorities disagree among themselves over the purported Wahhabi threat. State Committee for Work with Religious Structures head Orudjev was quoted by on February 21 as saying that Wahhabism does not pose a threat to Azerbaijan. But the National Security Ministry claims to have identified and "neutralized" several Wahhabi groups in recent years. And Sheikh ul Islam Pasha-zade was quoted by on July 12 as openly branding the congregation of the Abu-Bakr mosque as "Wahhabis" and as implicitly criticizing the Azerbaijani authorities for failing to crack down on them ... If the clan of incumbent President Ilham Aliyev continues to monopolize Azerbaijani politics, eclipsing the opposition, the gradual Islamization of politics over the next decade could become increasingly likely. Whether that process would duplicate the scenario of Iran in 1979 -- a resurgence of Shi'a extremism -- or of present day Iraq -- a struggle for power between Shi'a and Sunni groups -- or whether the various Islamic communities might make common cause to overthrow the country's leadership is impossible to predict at this juncture.

Kazakh Prosecutors Say Police Averted Terrorist Attacks

from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty & Interfax

Prosecutors in southern Kazakhstan said today that several potential terrorist attacks had been prevented in Shymkent ahead of President Nursultan Nazarbaev's visit to the region in April, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The regional prosecutor's office said an unnamed Islamic group had been planning to conduct widescale attacks that would result in the blowing up of the National Security Committee building in Shymkent. It says at least 13 members of the group have been arrested. The suspects were indentified as being members of the jihadist wing of the Salafi movement.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Maid ‘kept’ prisoner for 10 years

by the Gulf Times

A Sri Lankan housemaid in Saudi Arabia pleaded in a call to a newspaper to be rescued from her employer she says has kept her imprisoned for the past 10 years, the Saudi newspaper reported yesterday. The Arab News said it received the cry for help from Anista Marie, who left the coastal town of Chilaw in Sri Lanka a decade ago to work in a house in the Saudi capital, Riyad ... Marie said her employers beat her whenever she asked to return to Sri Lanka to see her four children or to be paid. The newspaper said the Sri Lankan embassy would contact Saudi officials about Marie’s case. Around 550,000 Sri Lankans live and work in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, many of them as domestic helpers or drivers. They are a key source of foreign currency for Sri Lanka.

The Pakistani president, one of those friends

by Shmuel Rosner from Haaretz

The Pakistani president is one of those friends who has to be repeatedly reminded of his friendship, just in case someone might get a different impression. Like the Russian president, the Saudi king and even the Iraqi prime minister - leaders whose actions do not always reflect the will to assist the White House ... The problem with Pakistan, as far as the administration is concerned, is not the hypocrisy of supporting, financially and politically, a dictator who is refusing to allow a democratic process. This is something the Americans can live with, as they have with their friends in Cairo or Jordan. The problem is that the dictator is no longer useful the way he used to be, and there is no appropriate replacement. Musharraf may have exhausted his usefulness, but for now, he is still necessary.

Saudi government official at heart of eavesdropping case

by Paul Elias from The Associated Press

Soliman al-Buthi is a prominent religious leader in Saudi Arabia, a father of three, and a ranking government official. He's also a terrorist, according to the United States and United Nations. His lawyers argue that much of the evidence against al-Buthi was misinterpreted by National Security Agency officials who eavesdropped on conversations between al-Buthi and his American attorneys ... Al-Buthi and his lawyers argue the terrorist label was wrongly applied to a man who has been investigated by authorities in Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the War on Terror, who found no merit to the claims. "My government knows me very well," he said. "I have been twice interrogated." Al-Buthi says the money ended up at a Chechnya charity for refugees rather than in the hands of terrorists.