Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Al Qaeda-linked Web sites number 5,600: researcher

by Ibtihal Hassan from Reuters

"Research shows there are more than 5,600 sites on the Internet promoting the ideology of al Qaeda," Khaled al-Faram told the Information Technology and National Security conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh. "There are some 900 news sites appearing every year, and despite the retreat of some media outlets specifically run by al Qaeda, extremist Web sites are constantly on the rise." ... This week the Saudi intelligence agency launched a Web site in an effort to open up to the public and change the negative perceptions of security services. People can send information anonymously to the site about any suspicious activity. "Mukhabarat" (intelligence) agencies are generally feared around the Arab world as tools of governments that abuse human rights. Saudi Arabian intelligence uses the name "Istikhbarat" partly to avoid the negative connotation of the traditional term.

Press Conference by the President

from the Office of the Press Secretary (US: Washington DC)

Q: On another issue of credibility in the Mideast, at the Annapolis summit, you used your influence to get Saudi Arabia to the table. But I wonder whether now you will use your influence to do something about the Saudi rape case that's gotten so much international attention. What goes through your mind when you hear about a 19-year-old Saudi women getting gang-raped by seven men and basically a Saudi court blames the victim and sentenced her to 200 lashes? You spoke to King Abdullah by telephone in the last couple of weeks. Did you press him on this case? If so, what did you say? And if not, are you giving him a pass?

THE PRESIDENT: My first thoughts were these: What happens if this happened to my daughter? How would I react? And I would have been -- I would have been -- I'd have been very emotional, of course. I'd have been angry at those who committed the crime, and I'd be angry at a state that didn't support the victim. And our opinions were expressed by Dana Perino from the podium and --

Q: But did you press King Abdullah about it, personally?

THE PRESIDENT: I talked to King Abdullah about the Middle Eastern peace. I don't remember if that subject came up.

Q: But if it's that important to you, why wouldn't you bring it -- at that level, bring it directly up to King Abdullah?

THE PRESIDENT: We'll have plenty of time. He knows our position loud and clear.

The right to remain silent

by Abeer Mishkhas from The Guardian (UK)

In Saudi Arabia it's understood that you can write in the papers about a sensitive issue until you are told not to, or until it appears too dangerous for the publication to go on. When it comes to official bodies, and especially the judiciary, you can only write in the most general terms. Even in editorials, writers have to be very careful about using strong language, or directly naming individuals and organizations. The Saudi ministry of justice has made it clear in a statement that the media is meddling in things that they do not fully understand, accusing them of inciting public anger and of being too emotional. This statement has put the lid on any further articles to come. Most Saudi newspapers have abstained from carrying any commentary on the [gang rape] case; it has become an untouchable subject. Only English newspapers published in the Kingdom can talk about it, albeit cautiously, perhaps because they have a limited audience and won't spark off any controversy. The coverage of the case has become formal and one sided, allowing the pro-verdict scholars, judges and officials an ample airing of their opinions. One judge has even launched a full frontal attack on the rape victim, saying that if it had been up to him, he would have issued a death sentence against her and her "partners," meaning the rapists themselves. Such opinions now have to go unchallenged.

Doctor Says Families Should Do More to Avert Suicides

by Arjuwan Lakkdawala from Arab News (Saudi Arabia)

Dr. Ibrahim Saig, internal medicine resident at Future Hospital in Jeddah, said the hospital receives about 120 suicide attempts annually. He says that larger hospitals have more cases, and that even smaller private and government clinics receive cases regularly. “Ninety percent of those who attempt suicide are females aged between 14 and 25,” said Saig ... “The high suicide rate as I’ve noted is not just in the expatriate community but among Saudis as well,” he said. In response to what he says is a persistent problem in Saudi Arabia, Saig co-founded an awareness-raising organization called No to Suicide in October. The club engages in outreach program at local college campuses and there are plans to take the cause to the Internet to spread awareness in other Muslim countries. Family pressure is a key factor behind many suicide attempts. N.G., a 30-year-old Saudi woman, said that it was family treatment that pushed her to attempt suicide. Even afterward, she said, the family berated her. “They accused me of bringing shame to them,” said N.G.

GCC Aims for Greater Integration

by Abu Zainab from Arab News (Saudi Arabia)

The Riyadh Summit had issued a resolution for conducting a joint study to assess the feasibility of GCC-member states developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Since the demand for power and desalinated water was increasing at a rapid rate in the region. “The situation in the region would top issues at the Summit. GCC leaders would also discuss the situation in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear program, the Middle East peace process and the developments in Sudan and Somalia,” GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al-Attiyah told reporters ... There were serious discussions among member countries on whether to ride out the tumbling US dollar or sever currency pegs. The UAE said it could consider revaluing after talks with other GCC members. “We will do that after consulting with GCC colleagues,” UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah ibn Zayed Al-Nahayan told reporters. A GCC official said the draft summit statement did not make any reference to the issue.

On the Middle East: An Interview with Gilbert Achcar

by Cihan Aksan and Jon Bailes from ZNet (US: Massachusetts)

Iran uses the Shiite card as a tool to expand its influence, but it is careful not to play it openly in a sectarian way as a counterforce to Sunnis. In that regard, there is a clear difference between the Iranian discourse, emphasising Islamic unity, and the ultra-sectarian Wahhabi discourse originating in the Saudi kingdom. To be sure, Wahhabis have always been very much anti-Shiite sectarians ideologically, but politically too, the Saudi and Jordanian monarchies are whipping up Sunni sectarian feelings against Iran because this is the only ideological weapon available to them in order to counter what Tehran is doing, since they can certainly not outbid Iran in anti-Western anti-Israeli statements due to their close links to the United States. They are trying to throw oil on the fire of sectarian tensions everywhere. The most recent major case is Lebanon, where there was no history of Shiite-Sunni friction, but in the last couple of years this has emerged prominently as a real danger and it is increasingly so very worryingly, fanned by depictions of Hezbollah as a mere Iranian puppet in order to discredit it.

Meeting the Global Energy Challenge

by Mohammed Al Qahtani from the Saudi-US Relations Information Service (US: Tennessee)

The strong bond between Saudi Aramco and American oilmen began in the 1930s when Damman well number 7 literally "gushered" in the oil business for Saudi Arabia. Since then, thousands of Americans have spent their careers working for Saudi Aramco, helping build the world's leading oil company. Saudi Aramco currently delivers 1.4 million barrels of crude oil to the United States every day. This represents about 15% of the total U.S. oil imports. In addition, Saudi Aramco has purchased billions worth of goods and services from American suppliers during the last decade alone. And it now has hundreds of contracts with U.S.-based companies. Saudi Aramco is also a partner through a wholly-owned subsidiary with Shell and Motiva Enterprises. We just last month announced a 325,000 barrels per day capacity expansion at its Port Arthur, Texas refinery. The expansion will increase the refinery's crude oil throughput capacity to a total of 600,000 barrels per day. This will make it the largest refinery in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world.

Global Banking Corporation announce strategic partnership

from AME Info (UAE)

Mark Hanson said: I look forward to speaking at the conference to highlight the investment opportunities in both the MENA region as well as Europe and also focus on the strategic way forward for both individual and institutional investors in a dynamic new era of Islamic investment banking.' Speaking on GBCORP's networking initiatives at the global level, Zain Al Shaker, Head of Corporate Communications, said: 'We aim to leverage on the presence of a cross section of the investment community from the across the region as well as Europe and South East Asia, to build GBCORP's profile as a global Sharia'a compliant Islamic Investment bank.' Global Banking Corporation commenced operations this June with an authorised capital base of $500m and combines diverse thinking and expert risk analysis. Based in Bahrain, GBCORP's experienced board of directors and management specialists provide their strategic input and thinking to help supply the world's demand for Islamic banking.