Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Lebanon majority backs army chief for president

by Rana Moussaoui from Middle East Online (UK)

Lebanon's Western-backed governing majority announced on Sunday that it would accept army chief General Michel Sleiman as a compromise candidate for the vacant presidency, clearing the way to an end to a year-old stand-off with the opposition ... The support for Sleiman from all sides -- albeit with some conditions -- finally raises the prospect of an end to Lebanon's protracted political crisis which has dragged on since six pro-Syrian ministers quit the cabinet in November last year. The standoff has been widely seen as a reflection of the broader conflict between the two sides' foreign sponsors -- the US and its main Arab ally Saudi Arabia in the case of the government and Syria and its regional ally Iran in the case of the opposition ... Sleiman, 59, has served as army chief since 1998. His original appointment came at a time when neighbouring Syria still dominated Lebanese affairs and some have accused him of being a Damascus ally. But through the year-long crisis gripping Lebanon he has remained neutral and repeatedly called on the army to keep out of politics.

Film documents plight of Saudi families

by Wael Mahdi from Arabian Business (UAE)

Abdullah Al-Hamoud, Chairman of the Saudi charity Awasser, said on Sunday that it had produced the first documentary in Saudi that discuses the life of troubled Saudi families living abroad. Awasser interviewed many of women who were abandoned by their Saudis husbands. The file expose the extreme poverty and very impoverished conditions the offspring of those Saudis ... In countries like Egypt, Syria and Morocco, where most of Saudi males prefer to spend their holidays, it is easy for Saudis to marry locals without firm marriage contracts, Al-Hamoud said. Most of these marriages are known as “Ourfi” marriages, which stands for acknowledged marriages. But even if a marriage is legal there might be another problem in that many Saudis do not want to bring their foreign wives to the kingdom, Al-Hamoud said. Awasser, which looks after the welfare of Saudi families abroad, has reaching out to the media lately for support to help 3,000 Saudi families living in poverty in places like Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and East Asia.

Preparing for a life in the service of others

by Dan McAloon from Catholic Outlook (Australia)

Andrew Bass, who is to be ordained a deacon in St Patrick's Cathedral on 7 December 2007, said that his journey to priesthood has been about discovering the constancy of Christ in a life that has seen him move through many countries and cultural experiences ... In retrospect, he sees this experience of being a Christian in an Arab country as a "transformative experience" in his Catholic faith life. In Saudi Arabia under Wahhabi law all Christian worship is banned. For the whole population, Muslim orthodoxy is enfiorced by the Muttawa or "religious police", which carry out the public punishments, including executions, of transgressors. "Despite the risks, my parents continued to practise their Catholicism. They refused to bow to an idea that they couldn't practise their faith." Mass would be celebrated secretly in the home under the guise of social gatherings. "Mass would occur at night. Many hands would see to the preparation, because nothing was simple. Even the bread would be brought to the priest from the Tupperware container where it had been concealed."

Moderate Muslims

by Lisa Schiffren from National Review Online (US: New York)

Like many who went to college in the 70s and 80s, I knew plenty of moderate Muslims back then. The Arab, Pakistani, and Turkish women I went to school with at Bryn Mawr were about as moderate as you could imagine. Some were secular and some were religious, and all were nationalists. But they all believed in science, democracy, economic reforms to help the poor, and more freedom and legal rights for women. Of all classes ... The notion that the Bush Administration had about Iraq, that it was such a well-educated, urbane society, with a real sense of commerce and an ability to adapt Western ways easily, came about because the dissidents and the progressives of the Arab world of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, had all been imbued with those values. The fundamentalist Wahabi infection that has spread, like the flu, changed all that. Even if we believe that only a relatively small percentage of Muslims are really fundies — they seem to hold the balance of power in their societies. Since it seems clear enough that we cannot change things for them, we are going to have to wait and watch as they sort it out themselves. It is hard to imagine that happening peacefully.

'All Arabs will prefer Islamic banking'

by Sugata Ghosh and Mayur Shetty from The Times News Network (India)

Hussein Hamid Hassan is considered as the father of Islamic finance. He received his PhD from the faculty of Sharia at the Al Azhar University in Cairo in 1965 and holds two degrees in law from the International Institute of Comparative Law, University of New York. He chairs the Sharia Supervisory Committee of many Islamic banks in the Middle East, and has advised several governments: "For the present circumstances I would [advise others to drop the dollar peg and shift to euro]. Why? because the dollar is coming down and why should I lose. Business is business. Everyone has a right to protect themselves. If after 25 years, things come back to where they were, we can move back. One should mitigate his risks. For any risk, it is compulsory that you mitigate for yourself. This is not religion. Religion does not prescribe what currency one should select. This means that fortunately, every country should look at its own interest ... Not everyone invests in Islamic banks. But every week and every day, conventional banks are converting into Islamic banks. This is happening gradually. I can guarantee that all Arabs will move and prefer only Islamic banks. This is my personal belief as I have my own analysis and research on this.

Shariah-compliant auto leasing getting popular

by Hina Mahgul Rind from The News (Pakistan)

Various banks are offering auto Ijarah (leasing) to more and more people who prefer Islamic financing for home and car financing to conventional banking system. Sohail Akram, manager at the Car Ijarah Department at Bank Al-Falah, explained that under Ijarah, the lessor (Muaj’ir) is the owner of the financed asset, and the lessee (Mustaj’ir) is given only usage rights. Akram explained that Ijarah is a form of borrowing intended to finance specific assets (plant & machinery, vehicles, or office equipment), the ownership of which remains with the lessor. Ijarah finance is intended for the financing of mainly long-term borrowing requirements between three and seven years. The News has learnt that now many banks have stopped giving auto loans due to the poor recovery rate.

Defensor joins Petron board

by Jess Diaz from The Philippine STAR (Philippines)

In case the public is wondering whatever happened to Mike Defensor, the controversial former chief of staff of President Arroyo, he has quietly joined the board of directors of Petron Corp. Sources told The STAR yesterday that Defensor must have been nominated to the Petron board by Malacañang since the government still owns 40% of the company, which is the biggest oil refiner in the country. Saudi oil giant Aramco owns another 40%, while small investors own the remaining 20%. Defensor, a former Quezon City congressman, was Mrs. Arroyo’s chief of staff before losing a Senate bid in last May’s elections. He was also former secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. He joins former budget secretary Emilia Boncodin in the Petron board. Boncodin had revealed that he was invited to the board by Nicasio Alcantara, who heads the government’s team in Petron. Alcantara, a close friend of Mrs. Arroyo, is company chairman. Chairmanship of Petron is reserved to a government representative, while the post of company president is given to an Aramco nominee. Membership in the Petron board is a lucrative job.

Saudi firm to build power plant in Iran

The "Saudi-based Zenel Company [Xenel Industries], which has long been interested in building the 1,200-megawat combined cycle power plant, has finally struck the deal with Iran's Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution Company," Iran's Deputy Energy Minister Mohammad Ahmadian announced Monday. The 500 million-euro contract reached under the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) agreement would enable the Saudi company to sell electricity generated by the power plant to Iran, once constructed, he explained. Construction works of the plant are expected to begin in the new Iranian year, starting March 2008 and is expected to be completed in two years time, the official concluded. To meet its rising water and electricity demand, Iran has embarked on extensive dam and power plant projects.