Monday, May 14, 2007

Russia and the Arabs: A historic comeback?

From Matein Khalid at the Khaleej Times (UAE)

The House of Saud has its own strategic rationale for its diplomatic equations with Moscow. Saudi Arabia fears an American defeat in Iraq and a precipitate withdrawal from its regional military commitments under a Democratic President in 2008, leaving Gulf geopolitics to the mercy of a resurgent Shia Iran ... Just as Soviet patronage enabled Nasser, Saddam, Sadat and Assad to extract concessions from Washington and petrodollars from the Gulf, so a Russian role in broking a peace settlement in Palestine or Iraq is in the best interest of a House of Saud sceptical about over-reliance on Washington ... As in Ukraine and Georgia, Putin hopes to use oil and gas as the new weapon of Russian foreign policy and regional influence. Hence his offer to help Saudi Arabia with nuclear plants, arms sales to most Arab and GCC states, Lukoil and Rosneft’s role in King Abdullah’s Saudi gas initiative.

Who Really Cares About Iraq?

From Alon Ben-Meir at the American Chronicle

Saudi Arabia, terrified of Iran’s growing regional influence and the potential of Sunni-Shiite regional conflict, wants to stem the Shiite tide at all cost. The Saudis do not want to be engulfed should the civil war escalate beyond Iraqi borders. Fearing for their very existence, the Saudis seek to empower the Sunni Iraqis in order to decrease the threat of a Shiite-perpetrated genocide, which, from their perspective, is far more plausible once the Americans leave.

Rise of anti-U.S. Saudi prince worries U.S. intelligence


U.S. government sources said the intelligence community has briefed the Bush administration and key members of Congress on what they termed disturbing developments in the Saudi kingdom, the world's leading oil supplier. The sources said King Abdullah has been grooming for succession an anti-American prince [Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz] who could align Saudi Arabia with either Iran or Al Qaida.

The meaning of freedom

From The Economist

In almost every other part of the Muslim world, controversy over female headgear is growing. Turkey and Tunisia are at one end of the Muslim spectrum; both ban female civil servants, as well as students in state schools, from covering their hair. One Turkish judge was nearly assassinated after decreeing that teachers could not wear scarves even on their way to work. But in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the rules go the other way. No woman may appear in public with more than face and hands exposed. Not even that was allowed in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, which mandated the burqa, the most extreme form of female covering. In today's Iraq, meanwhile, a big fissure in the Sunni resistance movement pits al-Qaeda-minded thugs who want women to wear gloves and the niqab (which differs from the burqa only in having slits for the eyes) and milder sorts who allow the simpler hijab, which covers hair and neck.

Jihad deja vu

From William Dalrymple at the LA Times

The tracts of the Christian missionaries in India during the 1840s and 1850s reinforced Muslim fears -- at the same time, the existence of such "Wahhabi conspiracies" to resist the Christians strengthened the conviction of the evangelicals. The reaction to this steady crescendo of insensitivity came in 1857 with the Great Mutiny ... there is a direct link between the jihadis of 1857 and those we face today. The reaction of some of the Islamic scholars after 1857 was to reject the West in favor of a return to pure Islamic roots. A Wahhabi-like madrasa was founded at Deoband in India that went back to Koranic basics. One hundred and forty years later, the movement has spread, and it was out of Deobandi madrasas in Pakistan that the Taliban emerged to create the most retrograde Islamic regime in modern history, a regime that in turn provided the crucible out of which emerged Al Qaeda.

Arab history spat highlights Sunni-Shi'ite rift

From Andrew Hammond of Reuters Life!

Regarding themselves as more rational, Sunnis view Shi'ite ideas as diluting the power of the Koran as the word of God through virtual deification of rulers and jurists. But Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi -- a long-time foe of the Saudi rulers -- implied that descendants of the Prophet have more right to lead than the Saudi royal family, which rules in alliance with clerics from the puritanical Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam ... Reflecting the Saudi government's anger over the fate of Sunnis in Shi'ite-dominated Iraq, Wahhabi clerics have issued a number of visceral fatwas in recent months condemning Shi'ism ... says anthropologist Saad al-Sowayan. "The dispute between Libya and Saudi Arabia isn't new ... But it's unfortunate that political disputes are treated in a religious context."

Sectarian conflict looms over Pakistan, says study

From Khalid Hasan of the Daily Times (Pakistan)

Khaled Ahmed, contributing editor at Daily Times writes, “Pakistanis invariably blame Saudi Arabia and Iran for the violence since they funded and trained the partisans of this war. They are aware that Pakistan was subjected to someone else’s ‘relocated’ war. Much of the internal dynamic of this war remains hidden from public view ... The Afghan mujahideen government was set up in Peshawar in 1989, but, under Saudi pressure, the Shia militias were not given representation in it. The rise of the Taliban in 1996, quickly recognised by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, was in a way a reversal of Iran at Saudi hands in the final count. The Taliban were recruited from the Deobandi and Wahhabi outfits, which were historically anti-Shia.

Forum: Islam will modernize

From the Washington Times

But unfortunately the Ottoman Islamic modernization ended with the demise of the empire in the First World War. From its ruins, what we now call the Middle East arose -- with a doomed legacy: All post-Ottoman states, except Turkey and Saudi Arabia, were colonized by European powers, a phenomenon that would soon breed anti-colonialism and anti-Westernism throughout the entire region. And the two exceptions went in totally opposite directions: The fanatic Wahhabi sect -- which had been the bete noire of the Ottomans and their reforms -- dominated Saudi Arabia, and Turkey became a secular republic.