Thursday, November 15, 2007

Saudi lawyer reports harassment after defending rape victim

from AFP (France)

Abdurrahman al-Lahem (Abdul Rahman al-Lahem), A Saudi lawyer and human rights activist, said that the court in the eastern town of Al-Qatif banned him from handling the rape case and confiscated his lawyer's licence because he challenged the verdict. Last year, the court in Al-Qatif sentenced six Saudi men accused of raping the woman to between one and five years in jail while sentencing the woman to 90 lashes. Lahem appealed the ruling at the Higher Judicial Council, which ordered a retrial. The court toughened the sentences against the six men to between two and nine years in prison in a new ruling on Wednesday. But it also sentenced the woman to six months in jail and 200 lashes ... The case has angered members of Saudi Arabia's minority Shiite community, to which the woman belongs. The accused are Sunnis, the dominant community in the Gulf country which applies a rigorous Islamic doctrine known as Wahhabism. He said the move might be due to his criticism of some judicial institutions, and "contradicts King Abdullah's quest to introduce reform, especially in the justice system."

Women drivers

by Arnold Beichman from The Washington Times (US: Washington DC)

Saudi Arabian newspaper Al Jazeera published an interesting cartoon June 12 with only two visible objects: an auto ignition key lying next to an unexploded hand grenade. What do you think the cartoon was suggesting in this 21st century? That allowing Arab women to drive automobiles would lead to untold disasters. Seventeen years ago this week a group of Saudi women protested a two-point fatwa, issued in the name of the highest Muslim clerics: (1) Women must not be allowed to drive cars. (2) Women caught driving should be punished. In a 2005 interview , Saudi King Abdullah said, "Someday women will be allowed to drive cars." That day hasn't arrived. Meanwhile, someone must chauffeur the wives and mothers around town. So foreign drivers are there to meet the demand. In Saudi Arabia there are more than a million foreign drivers about whose background little is known. The largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, has no restriction on women drivers that I know of.

Fugitive Islamic Courts chief condemns UN for 'neglecting' Somalia

from Garowe Online (Somalia)

"We will never falter in our struggle to free our country [Somalia] from the invading colonialist [Ethiopia]," Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys told London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Alawsat. Aweys accused the United Nations of "neglecting" the plight of the Somali people, saying the world body has refused to speak about the daily massacres being committed by the Ethiopian army in Somalia. "The situation in Somalia is far worse than in [the Sudanese region of] Darfur," said Aweys, who compared the disproportionate attention Darfur receives on the world stage to the silent suffering of the masses in Somalia ... Aweys is on the UN and U.S. list of suspects wanted for links to international terror groups, including al Qaeda. He fled Somalia after declaring "jihad" on Ethiopia last year and now resides in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. Hundreds of young men died last December fighting Aweys' "jihad," which ultimately led to humiliating defeat for the Islamic Courts militia.

Too bad UN members don't practise what they preach

by Steven Edwards from The National Post (Canada)

Belarus, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Sudan see no irony in the democratization of the world body's most powerful arm, the Security Council. Their abysmal records hint at how much free speech they tolerate from people at home. That the 15-member council needs an overhaul is not in dispute. It's the only UN organ with the power to discipline recalcitrant countries by imposing sanctions or even authorizing military force. But it is dominated by a cabal of five permanent veto-bearing members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. Winning election to one of the 10 non-permanent seats is the only way any state outside the Permanent Five (P-5 in UN shorthand) can get a voice on the council. Canada says enlargement would ensure better global representation, but opposes creating new permanent members ... Saudi Arabia's Saud Aljabri said the council needed "further democratic representation and diversity." If only they would practise what they preach. There is only a semblance of organized political opposition in Saudi Arabia, which is infamous for its many laws discriminating against women.

Panel: ‘Islamophobia’ charges are hijacking human rights

from Baptist Press (US: Tennessee)

The United Nations’ second World Conference on Racism will be focused on the fear of Islam. The panel convened in Washington to discuss the term or “Islamophobia” which is actively opposed by members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a group inside the U.N ... “As a Muslim, I can personally attest to the fact that ‘Islamophobia’ is not a myth,” said Fahad Nazer, a fellow at the Institute for Gulf Affairs. Nazer, however, also testified to the lack of public discourse in Saudi Arabia among those who are not of the dominant interpretation of Islam. “Islam is the prism through which everything is filtered in Saudi Arabia,” Nazer said. The mixture of religious doctrine with governmental establishments creates extreme limitations for religious minorities, which include non-Muslims, as well as Muslims who interpret the Koran differently than the Wahhabi sect. The panel’s concern was that laws against “Islamophobia” would be used to put up a “theological iron curtain,” preventing human rights organizations from advancing basic freedoms in Islamic states.

Algerian study finds blood relatives continue to marry at a high rate

by Mona Sadek from Magharebia (US Department of Defense)

Despite the potential health hazards, marriage between relatives remains popular in Algeria, where tradition has a very strong hold and the tribal system (al ârch) is being perpetuated ... A study published in September 2007 by the National Foundation for Health Promotion and Research Development (FOREM) identified malformations and genetic anomalies occurring among offspring of blood relatives at rates two to three times higher than normal. These include harelip, Duchene’s disease, haemophilia, heart disease, limb agenesis, Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis. The researchers also determined that Algeria has one of the highest consanguineous marriage rates in the world, with one Algerian in four married to a cousin - much higher than in Morocco or Spain. However, it is lower compared with several Arab countries such as Bahrain (39.40%), Saudi Arabia (50%), Kuwait (54%) or Jordan (55%). The study, the first of its kind in Algeria, surveyed 21 communes scattered over 12 wilayas in the country. Regions reporting the highest levels of consanguineous marriages are generally known for their conservatism.

Canada 'welcome' in OPEC, Saudis say

from The Calgary Herald (Canada)

Ali Al-Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, said yesterday: "If Canada decides on its own to join OPEC, what would we say? Of course it would be welcome." Although it has been rejected by Canadian officials, the prospect of joining the cartel is not as outrageous as it seems. During a summit here, OPEC will welcome back Ecuador, which withdrew in 1992, and Brazil is considering entry after a seven-billion-barrel discovery last week. After oilsands expansions come on line after 2010, Canada is expected to vault to third or fourth place in world oil production, the fastest-growing G8 nation when it comes to oil output. However, Mr. Al-Naimi also noted that Canada is one of the world's most costly oil producers. In Arabic, Mr. Al-Naimi said prices had to be at least $40 to $60 per barrel to justify development of the "sands of oil" in northern Alberta, reserves pegged as second only to Saudi Arabia's.

EDC to establish representation in the GCC

by Phil Taylor from EDC via CNW Group (Canada)

Export Development Canada (EDC) today announced it will establish permanent representation in Abu Dhabi to foster increased trade between Canada and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) and Yemen. The announcement came as Minister of International Trade David Emerson is in the UAE, leading a Canada-Arab Business Council trade mission to the region. "Canadian exports to the GCC have grown by 140% since 2001," said Minister Emerson. "As the region continues on its course of economic diversification, it's going to need an unshakeable foundation of transportation systems, power generation, environmental protection and urban planning. Canadian industries are widely recognized in these areas and are exceptional potential partners for such initiatives." More than 70 Canadian oil and gas companies are active in the GCC and Yemen, and more than 30 Canadian infrastructure and construction firms are active in the UAE alone. EDC is Canada's export credit agency, offering innovative commercial solutions to help Canadian exporters and investors expand their international business.