Category : Saudi Arabia

(NYT) The English Voice of ISIS Comes Out of the Shadows

More than four years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation appealed to the public to help identify the narrator in one of the Islamic State’s best-known videos, showing captured Syrian soldiers digging their own graves and then being shot in the head.

Speaking fluent English with a North American accent, the man would go on to narrate countless other videos and radio broadcasts by the Islamic State, serving as the terrorist group’s faceless evangelist to Americans and other English speakers seeking to learn about its toxic ideology.

Now a 35-year-old Canadian citizen, who studied at a college in Toronto and once worked in information technology at a company contracted by IBM, says he is the anonymous narrator.

That man, Mohammed Khalifa captured in Syria last month by an American-backed militia, spoke in his first interview about being the voice of the 2014 video, known as “Flames of War.” He described himself as a rank-and-file employee of the Islamic State’s Ministry of Media, the unit responsible for publicizing such brutal footage as the beheading of the American journalist James Foley and the burning of a Jordanian pilot.

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Posted in Canada, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Violence

(BBC) Why a Saudi woman can be arrested for disobeying her father

Saudi Arabia drew international plaudits last year when it lifted a longstanding ban on women driving.

However, restrictions on women remain – most notably, the “male guardianship system”, a woman’s father, brother, husband or son has the authority to make critical decisions on her behalf.

These restrictions were highlighted in early January, when a young Saudi woman fleeing her family barricaded herself in a hotel room in Bangkok saying she feared imprisonment if she was sent back home.

A Saudi woman is required to obtain a male relative’s approval approval to apply for a passport, travel outside the country, study abroad on a government scholarship, get married, leave prison, or even exit a shelter for abuse victims.

“This is something that affects every Saudi woman and girl, from birth to death. They are essentially treated like minors,” the Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy told the BBC.

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Posted in Islam, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Women

(Globe+Mail) Sheema Khan–Women need to play a role in ‘restoring’ Saudi Islam

In a wide-ranging interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman (a.k.a. “MBS”) discussed, among other topics, the recent anti-corruption drive and liberalization of Saudi society. Call it a kinder, gentler form of authoritarianism – with a progressive touch. Notably, MBS refused to address his country’s interference in Lebanese politics or its unconscionable scorched-earth policy in Yemen.

Nonetheless, Mr. Friedman was effusive of MBS’s plans to veer Saudi Islam to a “moderate, balanced Islam that is open to the world and to all religions and all traditions and peoples.” The Prince calls it a “restoration” of the faith to its origins – namely the Prophetic period in the early 7th century. This has the potential to reverse the puritanical strain (Wahhabism) currently at the heart of Saudi society, where, for example, a woman is under male guardianship from cradle to grave.

The late Sunni scholar Abdul Halim Abu Shaqqa chronicled in his comprehensive study of the Koran and authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad, Muslim women were far more engaged in society during the Prophetic era. They had more rights and opportunities to build a vibrant society, in partnership with men, than many contemporary Muslim cultures (including Saudi Arabia).

Mr. Friedman believes this “restoration” project “would drive moderation across the Muslim world.” In fact, most of the Muslim world has soundly rejected Wahhabism. Yet, the deeply entrenched patriarchy of Saudi society finds parallels in many Muslim countries.

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Posted in Islam, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Women

(Guardian) Tension mounts in Lebanon as Saudi Arabia escalates power struggle with Iran

Now, more than at any point in modern history, Iran and Saudi Arabia are squared off against each other as a race to consolidate influence nears a climax from Sana’a to Beirut and the tens of thousands of miles in between.

The standoff is seeing new ground conquered, previously unimaginable alliances being mooted and the risk of a devastating clash between two foes whose calculations had long been that shadow wars through proxies were safer than facing up directly.

The shift in approach has been led from Riyadh, where a new regime determined to put Saudi Arabia on an entirely different footing domestically, is also trying to overhaul how the kingdom projects itself regionally – and globally.

The ambitious, unusually powerful, crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been given a mandate by his father, King Salman, to take on what the kingdom and its allies in the United Arab Emirates see as an Iranian takeover of essential corners of the Sunni Arab world.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Saudi Arabia

(Bloomberg) Forget Oil. Religion Is Big Business in Saudi Arabia

Read and listen to it all.

Posted in Economy, Islam, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia

(WSJ) Con Coughlin–Did Britain’s Parliament do a Muslim Brotherhood whitewash?

he governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have all outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror organization and want Whitehall to ban the Muslim Brotherhood’s ability to operate in Britain. These Arab countries insist that Muslim Brotherhood activists are taking advantage of Britain’s tolerant attitude toward Islamist groups to plot terror attacks in the Arab world, allegations that the Muslim Brotherhood denies, claiming that it is opposed to terrorism and violence. Pro-Western Arab states also still resent Britain and America’s involvement in supporting the removal of Mr. Mubarak, who had been a loyal ally of Western policy in the region, dating back at least to the First Gulf War.

The review’s failure to come out strongly against the Muslim Brotherhood is now causing the British government some major headaches. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have reportedly threatened to cancel lucrative trade deals with Britain in retaliation for the inquiry. Meanwhile, the British government has been heavily criticized by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs as well as highly vocal pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Britain, who claim the review failed to take into account the brutal repression Muslim Brotherhood supporters suffered at the hands of the Egyptian security authorities after President Sisi came to power.

The continuing controversy certainly serves as an indictment of Mr. Cameron’s ill-advised meddling in Egyptian politics. Like many supporters of the Arab Spring, he took at face value the Muslim Brotherhood’s claim to be a reforming and democratic party that would transform Egypt’s political landscape following the endemic corruption of the Mubarak regime.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Egypt, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Theology, UAE (United Arab Emirates), Violence

(Globe and Mail) Why ISIS' attacks in Saudi Arabia are a big deal

For one thing, the targets are too important to be left to just anyone. No one but the Islamic State (or possibly al-Qaeda) would dare attack the Prophet’s Mosque.

For another thing, only the Islamic State has the right kind of experienced personnel on the ground in Saudi Arabia. In the past four years, more than 3,000 young Saudi men have gone to fight with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Of them, about 700 have reportedly returned home to Saudi Arabia fully trained and willing to carry out such attacks as these.

Finally, it is the Islamic State that harbours the greatest contempt for Saudi Arabia.

Since the day, two years ago, on which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State, declared a caliphate in the parts of Iraq and Syria the group had conquered and occupied, he has wanted to overturn the House of Saud.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Middle East, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

(CT) Why Christianity Is Surging in the Heart of Islam

Sam Espada led friends in a chorus of “Happy Birthday” for his sombrero-wearing brother at a Mexican restaurant. After dinner, they saw the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

The five-story mall could have been anywhere in America, except that every storefront sign was in Arabic as well as English. The group was in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“This place is like Disneyland,” said Espada, a Christian from New Jersey. “But I don’t feel fully free. You can definitely tell you are living in a Muslim country.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Christology, Economy, Globalization, Islam, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Qatar, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Soteriology, Theology, UAE (United Arab Emirates)

(Tel.) Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: Saudi Arabia may go broke before the US oil industry buckles

If the oil futures market is correct, Saudi Arabia will start running into trouble within two years. It will be in existential crisis by the end of the decade.
The contract price of US crude oil for delivery in December 2020 is currently $62.05, implying a drastic change in the economic landscape for the Middle East and the petro-rentier states.
The Saudis took a huge gamble last November when they stopped supporting prices and opted instead to flood the market and drive out rivals, boosting their own output to 10.6m barrels a day (b/d) into the teeth of the downturn.
Bank of America says OPEC is now “effectively dissolved”. The cartel might as well shut down its offices in Vienna to save money.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Theology

(Telegraph) Ambrose Evans-Pritchard–Oil slump may deepen as US shale fights Opec to a standstill

The US shale industry has failed to crack as expected. North Sea oil drillers and high-cost producers off the coast of Africa are in dire straits, but America’s “flexi-frackers” remain largely unruffled.

One starts to glimpse the extraordinary possibility that the US oil industry could be the last one standing in a long and bitter price war for global market share, or may at least emerge as an energy superpower with greater political staying-power than Opec.

It is 10 months since the global crude market buckled, turning into a full-blown rout in November when Saudi Arabia abandoned its role as the oil world’s “Federal Reserve” and opted instead to drive out competitors.

If the purpose was to choke the US “tight oil” industry before it becomes an existential threat – and to choke solar power in the process – it risks going badly awry, though perhaps they had no choice. “There was a strong expectation that the US system would crash. It hasn’t,” said Atul Arya, from IHS.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Africa, America/U.S.A., Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Middle East, Politics in General, Saudi Arabia, South America, Theology, Venezuela

(NPR) Saudis Grow Increasing Critical Of The Campaign Against ISIS

…privately, the Saudi view is that the air campaign against ISIS, now more than six months old, is not working.

“Having simply these pinprick attacks on certain areas is not going to resolve the issue,” says Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief who also served as the ambassador to the U.S. from 2005-7.

An outspoken member of the royal family, Faisal, 70, no longer holds a senior post. But his views are considered to reflect the general thinking of the Saudi leadership.

He says the air strikes against ISIS are too limited and not well coordinated. In addition, he insists the coalition effort is undermined by politics in Europe and mistrust in the Middle East.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Islam, Middle East, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

(USA Today) Saudi’s new King Salman likely to stay the Muslim kingdom’s course

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who took the helm of the world’s last absolute monarchy Friday, faces turbulence at home and abroad but is unlikely to change the course set by his predecessors.

“We will continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment,” the king said in his first speech after succeeding his half-brother, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who died early Friday at the age of 90.

Salman, 79, was serving as defense minister when Saudi Arabia joined U.S.-led airstrikes against the Islamic State. During his tenure, Saudi forces in the south came under attack by Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Houthis, now the dominant military and political force in Yemen, are backed by Saudi Arabia’s main rival and greatest threat in the region ”” Iran.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Islam, Middle East, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia

(FT) Oil price fall threatens $1trillion worth of projects

The findings suggest the supply glut that has sent prices tumbling could soon vanish as the oil majors delay big-ticket production projects ”” the lifeblood of future petrol supplies, heating fuels and chemicals.

Brent, the international benchmark, has fallen more than 45 per cent since mid-June amid surging US shale production, strong supply from the Opec cartel and weak oil demand in Europe and Asia.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Middle East, Politics in General, Saudi Arabia, Theology

(Globe and Mail) The Saudi standoff: Oil-rich nation takes on world’s high-cost producers

In the high-stakes contest between the United States, the biggest shale oil producer, and Saudi Arabia, the biggest oil exporter, America has blinked first.

The OPEC refusal to cut production at its November meeting was widely seen as the declaration of a price war against booming U.S. shale oil producers, which had sent their country’s oil production soaring. Saudis had watched as their market share dropped precipitously in the world’s biggest oil-consuming nation, and they wanted to send a clear message across the global energy market that they weren’t about to back off.

Oil prices have been in freefall ever since. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, sank another 3 per cent Friday to $61.85 (U.S.) a barrel, while West Texas intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, dropped 3.6 per cent to $57.81, extending its slide from well over $100 a barrel in the summer.

If the global oil standoff pits the industry stalwart Saudi Arabia against the surging U.S. rival, other global players are coping with the pricing fallout, including Canada. Oil companies around the world are being forced to revisit their spending and production plans for 2015, and in the offices towers of downtown Calgary, those changes are already well under way.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Canada, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Middle East, Politics in General, Saudi Arabia

The Price of Oil Being used As A Weapon by the Saudis in the Sunni/Shia battle

By October, it was becoming clear to us and others that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Emirate allies could not afford to continue petro-pricing business as usual with sectarian wars exploding out of control, threatening the entire region.

In particular, they were infuriated that the Shia regime in Syria was being propped up by Iran and Russia. Moreover, Iran seemed to be getting closer to becoming a nuclear power with each month. Amid the chaos, the Islamic State terrorists had suddenly become a formidable challenge to the entire region, and they were getting increasing revenues from oil properties they had seized.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Iran, Islam, Middle East, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Terrorism, Theology

Yves Smith–Saudis Deploy the Oil Price Weapon Against Syria, Iran, Russia, and the US

…this is a classic case of predatory pricing: set your price low enough long enough to do real damage to competitors, and reduce their market share, not just immediately, but in the middle to long term.

Now admittedly some pet targets may not be hurt as badly as hoped. Russia will suffer more of an opportunity loss than an actual cost from the price reduction, since the ruble has fallen significantly against the dollar. The Saudis may hope to partially displace Russia as a supplier of oil to Europe (now roughly 1/3 of the total) but refineries would need to be retooled to refine the Saudi’s light crude, so it isn’t clear whether even what amounts to bargain prices will offset this cost (and readers point out that Russian crude may also produced a better mix of distillates for European use, since they are much heavier users of diesel fuel than the US).

But aside from the not-inconsiderable economic impact, the surprise Saudi step looks to be an even bigger geopolitical winner. The US and Riyadh have been at odds for over a year; the Saudis were particularly unhappy over the US failure to try to topple Assad last summer (you may recall the intensity of the Administration warmongering versus the dubious US interest; even Congress showed an unexpected amount of backbone and made its lack of support for Syrian adventurism clear). The Saudis have also long been less than happy with the US refusal to attack Iran (which is a rare case of the US acting as a responsible hegemon and curbing a putative ally with a bad case of blood lust). That unhappiness has ben compounded by the US now effectively helping the Assad regime and working in as distanced a manner as possible with Iran in targeting ISIS.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Globalization, Iran, Middle East, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Theology

(Bel. Telegraph) Saudi Arabia's proposal to destroy Prophet Mohammed’s tomb risks Muslim division

One of Islam’s most revered holy sites ”“ the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed ”“ could be destroyed and his body removed to an anonymous grave under plans which threaten to spark discord across the Muslim world.

The controversial proposals are part of a consultation document by a leading Saudi academic which has been circulated among the supervisors of al-Masjid al-Nabawi mosque in Medina, where the remains of the Prophet are housed under the Green Dome, visited by millions of pilgrims and venerated as Islam’s second-holiest site.

The formal custodian of the mosque is Saudi Arabia’s ageing monarch King Abdullah.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Islam, Middle East, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia

(WSJ) Nina Shea–President Obama and the Churches of Saudi Arabia

When President Obama visits Saudi Arabia next week, he will have an opportunity to follow through on his inspiring words at the Feb. 6. National Prayer Breakfast. There, he told thousands of Christian leaders that “the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose” is central to “human dignity,” and so “promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy.”

The freedom so central to human dignity is denied by the Kingdom. The State Department has long ranked Saudi Arabia among the world’s most religiously repressive governments, designating it a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act. Yet the Obama administration, like its predecessors, has not pressed Riyadh to respect religious freedom.

Saudi Arabia is the only state in the world to ban all churches and any other non-Muslim houses of worship. While Saudi nationals are all “officially” Muslim, some two to three million foreign Christians live in the kingdom, many for decades. They have no rights to practice their faith.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Foreign Relations, Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Office of the President, Other Faiths, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Theology

(WSJ) King Abdullah Warns of Dangers in 'Deviant Thought' of Religious Extremism

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah announced a $100 million gift for a U.N. counterterrorism center, declaring that religious extremism in the wake of the Arab Spring posed a greater danger to the Arab community at large “than the weapons of our visible enemies.”

The urgent tone of the king’s warning, in a statement Wednesday night marking the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, emphasized the continuing concerns by the world’s leading oil producer over security in the aftermath of revolutions that started in late 2010 elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

Saudi Arabia has arguably emerged from the popular uprisings as the region’s most influential political power, and as the most active opponent of Islamically oriented political movements and Islamically driven armed groups. Critics charge that the kingdom also often cracks down on rights activists at home, efforts the government has said are in the name of fighting terror.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia

([London] Times) Abdulateef al-Mulhim–Forget Israel. Arabs are their own worst enemy

I was recently struck by some photos and reports I saw on the al-Arabiya network, the most respected news outlet in the Middle East. There was a starving child in Yemen, a burnt-out ancient souk in Aleppo, Syria, car bombs in Iraq and destroyed buildings in Libya.

What links all these images is that the destruction and the atrocities were not perpetrated by an outside enemy. The starvation, the killings and the destruction in these Arab countries were carried out by the same hands that are supposed to protect and build the unity of these countries and safeguard their people. Who, therefore, is the real enemy of the Arab world?

Many Arabs would say it is Israel ”” their sworn enemy, an enemy whose existence they have never recognised. From 1948 to today there have been three full-scale wars and many confrontations. But what was the real cost of these wars to the Arab world and its people? The harder question that no Arab wants to ask is: what was the real cost of not recognising Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, healthcare and infrastructure instead of wars? But the very hardest question of all is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Africa, Egypt, History, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Middle East, Politics in General, Poverty, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle, UAE (United Arab Emirates), Violence

([London] Times) Amir Taheri–Religious schism could wreck the Arab Spring

The West often sees Islam as a monolith but in reality it is a patchwork of sects, schools and ways, not to mention some fully fledged religions wearing Islamic masks to avoid persecution. And as always in Islam, religious differences are a cover for political rivalries.

Involved in the schism are three camps. One consists of traditional Sunni Muslims who have just won a share of power in several countries, notably Egypt. The second camp is that of Salafis, Sunni Muslims who dream of reconquering “lost Islamic lands” such as Spain and parts of Russia and to revive the caliphate. In the third camp are Shia militants who hope to overthrow Sunni regimes and extend their influence in southern Asia, Africa and Latin America….

Iran, the leading Shia power, and Saudi Arabia, its Sunni rival, have been fighting sectarian proxy wars for years, notably in Pakistan, Iraq and Lebanon. Last year more than 5,000 people died in sectarian clashes in Pakistan. Under its neo-Ottoman leadership Turkey has abandoned the ringside to join the fray, notably in Libya and Syria. Now Egypt is also testing the waters….

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Asia, Egypt, Foreign Relations, History, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Other Faiths, Pakistan, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Violence

(Reuters) Saudi Arabia raises Arab light oil price to Asia

Saudi Arabia has raised the price of its flagship Arab Light crude oil for customers in Asia, who buy more than half its crude exports, by $1.25 a barrel for April….

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Asia, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Foreign Relations, Middle East, Politics in General, Saudi Arabia

(AFP) Ethiopian Christians face deportation from Saudi Arabia

Thirty-five Ethiopian Christians, 29 of them women, face deportation from Saudi Arabia for “illicit mingling” after police raided a private prayer gathering, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

The New York-based watchdog said the women were subjected to “unwarranted strip search,” while the men were beaten and insulted as “unbelievers”.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Africa, Ethiopia, Foreign Relations, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia

Ed Husain–Why I left Radical Islam

For five years, I became a fervent Islamist, moving up the ladder of increasingly radical organizations. All strands of this movement descend from the teachings of Banna. He fought against the British in Palestine, trained a paramilitary organization, and members of the movement killed Egypt’s prime minister in 1948. In response, the Egyptian state had Banna assassinated a few months later.

Yet I learned, through bitter experience, that Islamism is far from unitary or coherent. In the end, I quit what’s called “the Islamic movement” because I found it too controlling of my life ”” but also because I no longer wanted to be in a perpetual state of confrontation with the West. It took me several years of travel and study in the Middle East before my mind was free of Islamist influences. I remain a follower of Islam, the religion, but not of Islamism, the political ideology.

Because I was once a part of this movement ”” whose primary goal has been the creation of Islamic governments ”” and then established the world’s first counter-radical think tank, Quilliam, in London to oppose their ideology, I have been following the Arab uprisings with more than a passing interest.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Africa, Egypt, Foreign Relations, Islam, Libya, Middle East, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia

(Reuters) Key political risks to watch in Saudi Arabia

The world’s leading oil exporter Saudi Arabia faces rising tensions with regional rival Iran and turmoil in two neighbouring countries hit by the wave of Arab unrest this spring as it tackles changes at the top of its ruling family.

The death of Crown Prince Sultan in October led to conservative Interior Minister Prince Nayef’s promotion to King Abdullah’s heir only a week after the octogenarian monarch had his third back operation within a year.

The stability of Saudi Arabia is of global importance since the kingdom sits on more than a fifth of the world’s oil reserves, is a significant owner of dollar assets and acts as Middle East lynchpin of U.S. security policy.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Foreign Relations, Middle East, Politics in General, Saudi Arabia

(Washington Post) Iran behind alleged terrorist plot, U.S. says

U.S. officials on Tuesday said that they had foiled an elaborate terrorist plot backed by factions of the Iranian government aimed at assassinating the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

At a news conference, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said two Iranians have been charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism, among other charges. One of the suspects, an Iranian with U.S. citizenship, was arrested in New York last month; the other, an Iranian, remains at large.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Defense, National Security, Military, Foreign Relations, Iran, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism

Thomas Friedman–There is still big Trouble in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia

So Osama bin Laden was living in a specially built villa in Pakistan. I wonder where he got the money to buy it? Cashed in his Saudi 401(k)? A Pakistani subprime mortgage, perhaps? No. I suspect we will find that it all came from the same place most of Al Qaeda’s funds come from: some combination of private Saudi donations spent under the watchful eye of the Pakistani Army.

Why should we care? Because this is the heart of the matter; that’s why. It was both just and strategically vital that we killed Bin Laden, who inspired 9/11. I just wish it were as easy to eliminate the two bad bargains that really made that attack possible, funded it and provided the key plotters and foot soldiers who carried it out. We are talking about the ruling bargains in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which are alive and well.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Asia, Foreign Relations, Middle East, Pakistan, Politics in General, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism

The Economist Leader–Islam and the Arab revolutions

Islam is bound to play a larger role in government in the Arab world than elsewhere. Most Muslims do not believe in the separation of religion and state, as America and France do, and have not lost their enthusiasm for religion, as many “Christian Democrats” in Europe have. Muslim democracies such as Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia all have big Islamic parties.

But Islamic does not mean Islamist. Al-Qaeda in the past few years has lost ground in Arab hearts and minds. The jihadists are a small minority, widely hated by their milder co-religionists, not least for giving Islam a bad name across the world. Ideological battles between moderates and extremists within Islam are just as fierce as the animosity pitting Muslim, Christian and Jewish fundamentalists against each other. Younger Arabs, largely responsible for the upheavals, are better connected and attuned to the rest of the modern world than their conservative predecessors were.

Moreover, some Muslim countries are on the road to democracy, or already there.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Africa, Asia, Bahrain, Egypt, Islam, Jordan, Libya, Middle East, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia

(Guardian) Saudi Arabia prints 1.5m copies of religious edict banning protests

Saudi Arabia is printing 1.5m copies of an edict by religious scholars outlawing protests in the conservative kingdom as un-Islamic, the state news agency said.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and a major US ally, is an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate any form of public dissent.

It managed to stifle an attempt to stage a mass protest on 11 March with a large security presence on the streets.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia

(WSJ) Robert Kaplan–The Middle East Crisis Has Just Begun

Democracy is part of America’s very identity, and thus we benefit in a world of more democracies. But this is no reason to delude ourselves about grand historical schemes or to forget our wider interests. Precisely because so much of the Middle East is in upheaval, we must avoid entanglements and stay out of the domestic affairs of the region. We must keep our powder dry for crises ahead that might matter much more than those of today.

Our most important national-security resource is the time that our top policy makers can devote to a problem, so it is crucial to avoid distractions. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the fragility of Pakistan, Iran’s rush to nuclear power, a possible Israeli military response””these are all major challenges that have not gone away. This is to say nothing of rising Chinese naval power and Beijing’s ongoing attempt to Finlandize much of East Asia.

We should not kid ourselves. In foreign policy, all moral questions are really questions of power. We intervened twice in the Balkans in the 1990s only because Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic had no nuclear weapons and could not retaliate against us, unlike the Russians, whose destruction of Chechnya prompted no thought of intervention on our part (nor did ethnic cleansing elsewhere in the Caucasus, because it was in Russia’s sphere of influence). At present, helping the embattled Libyan rebels does not affect our interests, so we stand up for human rights there. But helping Bahrain’s embattled Shia, or Yemen’s antiregime protesters, would undermine key allies, so we do nothing as demonstrators are killed in the streets.

Of course, just because we can’t help everywhere does not mean we can’t help somewhere.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Africa, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Egypt, Foreign Relations, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Libya, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Syria