Category : 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

Kingdom, Greeting Gulf Soldiers, Is Seen as New Front on Sunni-Shiite Divide

The tiny Island of Bahrain could become a battleground for regional influence between two historical rivals””with Saudi Arabia backing Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy, and Iran supporting the Shiite opposition.

A coalition of about 2,000 soldiers deployed by Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states, part of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, rolled into Bahrain’s capital Monday to help restore order and save a government challenged by an opposition seeking an end to the monarchy. It was the first time Gulf countries deployed troops to an Arab nation to settle an internal dispute.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Asia, Bahrain, Defense, National Security, Military, Foreign Relations, Iran, Middle East, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia

Thomas Friedman on Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Beyond–This Is Just the Start

Future historians will long puzzle over how the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, in protest over the confiscation of his fruit stand, managed to trigger popular uprisings across the Arab/Muslim world. We know the big causes ”” tyranny, rising food prices, youth unemployment and social media. But since being in Egypt, I’ve been putting together my own back-of-the-envelope guess list of what I’d call the “not-so-obvious forces” that fed this mass revolt. Here it is….

THE BEIJING OLYMPICS China and Egypt were both great civilizations subjected to imperialism and were both dirt poor back in the 1950s, with China even poorer than Egypt, Edward Goldberg, who teaches business strategy, wrote in The Globalist. But, today, China has built the world’s second-largest economy, and Egypt is still living on foreign aid. What do you think young Egyptians thought when they watched the dazzling opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics? China’s Olympics were another wake-up call ”” “in a way that America or the West could never be” ”” telling young Egyptians that something was very wrong with their country, argued Goldberg….

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Social Networking, Africa, Asia, Bahrain, Blogging & the Internet, China, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Egypt, Foreign Relations, Israel, Libya, Middle East, Politics in General, Saudi Arabia, Science & Technology, Sports, Tunisia

(NY Times) Arab Unrest Propels Iran as Saudi Influence Declines

The popular revolts shaking the Arab world have begun to shift the balance of power in the region, bolstering Iran’s position while weakening and unnerving its rival, Saudi Arabia, regional experts said.

While it is far too soon to write the final chapter on the uprisings’ impact, Iran has already benefited from the ouster or undermining of Arab leaders who were its strong adversaries and has begun to project its growing influence, the analysts said. This week Iran sent two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since its revolution in 1979, and Egypt’s new military leaders allowed them to pass.

Saudi Arabia, an American ally and a Sunni nation that jousts with Shiite Iran for regional influence, has been shaken. King Abdullah on Wednesday signaled his concern by announcing a $10 billion increase in welfare spending to help young people marry, buy homes and open businesses, a gesture seen as trying to head off the kind of unrest that fueled protests around the region.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, --Social Networking, Africa, Blogging & the Internet, Egypt, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Iran, Islam, Libya, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Science & Technology, Violence

(CSM) Walter Rodgers–Crusades redux: Will Jerusalem soon be surrounded by hostile Islamists?

The other night I found myself dreaming, drifting simultaneously through two parallel worlds, 800 years apart.

In the first vision, I was on the ramparts of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in July 1187. News came in from Galilee that the Crusader Armies had been decimated by the overwhelming Muslim forces of the great Sultan Saladin at the Battle of Hattin. Jerusalem, already an island in an angry, surging Muslim sea, was about to be totally engulfed.

My second dream was in the same place, but I was witnessing a 21st-century Islamic encirclement of modern-day Israel. This second trance was apparently shared by some Israeli columnists who openly fear Egypt’s chaotic regime could be followed by an extremist Islamic government, reinforcing that nightmare Crusader scenario of encirclement.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Middle East, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Syria

(NY Times) New Look for Mecca: Gargantuan and Gaudy

It is an architectural absurdity. Just south of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Muslim world’s holiest site, a kitsch rendition of London’s Big Ben is nearing completion. Called the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, it will be one of the tallest buildings in the world, the centerpiece of a complex that is housing a gargantuan shopping mall, an 800-room hotel and a prayer hall for several thousand people. Its muscular form, an unabashed knockoff of the original, blown up to a grotesque scale, will be decorated with Arabic inscriptions and topped by a crescent-shape spire in what feels like a cynical nod to Islam’s architectural past. To make room for it, the Saudi government bulldozed an 18th-century Ottoman fortress and the hill it stood on.

The tower is just one of many construction projects in the very center of Mecca, from train lines to numerous luxury high-rises and hotels and a huge expansion of the Grand Mosque. The historic core of Mecca is being reshaped in ways that many here find appalling, sparking unusually heated criticism of the authoritarian Saudi government.

“It is the commercialization of the house of God,” said Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect who founded a research center that studies urban planning issues surrounding the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and has been one of the development’s most vocal critics. “The closer to the mosque, the more expensive the apartments. In the most expensive towers, you can pay millions” for a 25-year leasing agreement, he said. “If you can see the mosque, you pay triple.”

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

BBC–Wikileaks: Saudis 'chief funders of Sunni militants'

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned last year in a leaked classified memo that donors in Saudi Arabia were the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”.

She said it was “an ongoing challenge” to persuade Saudi officials to treat such activity as a strategic priority.

The groups funded include al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, she added.

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

President Obama Says Explosives Were U.S.-Bound

Two packages containing explosive devices originating in Yemen and bound for two places of Jewish worship in Chicago set off a global terror alert on Friday. One package was found at a FedEx facility in Dubai, and another was found early Friday morning at an airport in Britain, sparking a day of dramatic precautionary activity in the United States.

Speaking at the White House Friday afternoon, President Obama called the packages a “credible terrorist threat against our country,” and confirmed that they “did apparently contain” explosives. Earlier reports had said that the device found in Britain did not.

The wide-scale alert spread to the United States on Friday morning, when officials isolated two cargo planes at airports in Newark and Philadelphia and searched them for packages originating in Yemen, and New York police searched a delivery truck in Brooklyn. None of the shipments reaching the United States from Yemen were found to contain explosives.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Asia, Defense, National Security, Military, England / UK, Middle East, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Yemen

CSM: In Saudi Arabia, a landmark welcome of a Christian scholar

In a country that endorses Islam as the official religion, bans conversion to other religions, and punishes Christian proselytizing by death, Saudi Arabia’s recent welcome of an American Christian scholar is a landmark.

Leonard Swidler, a professor of Roman Catholic thought and interreligious dialogue at Philadelphia’s Temple University, is the first such scholar invited to exchange views with faculty at Al Imam Muhammed bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh ”“ the citadel of Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative brand of Islam.

Dr. Swidler’s visit in late June underscores a shift toward greater openness in some official Saudi religious institutions, which previously had been leery of contact with outsiders of different faiths.

“Maybe it’s not exciting for some people, but it’s a very big change in Saudi Arabia,” says Fahad al-Alhomoudi, a faculty member at Al Imam who helped arrange Swidler’s visit.

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

Preaching Moderate Islam and Becoming a TV Star

As Ahmad al-Shugairi took the stage, dressed in a flowing white gown and headdress, he clutched a microphone and told his audience that he had no religious training or titles: “I am not a sheik.”

But over the next two hours, he worked the crowd as masterfully as any preacher, drawing rounds of uproarious laughter and, as he recalled the Prophet Muhammad’s death, silent tears. He spoke against sectarianism. He made pleas for women to be treated as equals. He talked about his own life ”” his seven wild years in California, his divorce, his children ”” and gently satirized Arab mores.

When he finished, the packed concert hall erupted in a wild standing ovation. Members of his entourage soon bundled him through the thick crowd of admirers to a back door, where they rushed through the darkness to a waiting car.

“Elvis has left the building,” Mr. Shugairi joked, in English, as he relaxed into his seat.

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

'David vs. Goliath': City Takes On BAE Systems

The British government was also investigating the deal. That probe had gotten so far as to gain access to Swiss bank accounts. But then the investigation was shut down. According to British court documents, Saudi Arabia threatened to kill another fighter plane deal with BAE that was being negotiated at the time. The Saudis also threatened to end their close intelligence and diplomatic relationship with the British government.

The Saudi threat to call off intelligence cooperation was taken very seriously. As the former director of Britain’s Serious Fraud Office testified, the Saudi ambassador to the U.K. put it to him this way: “British lives on British streets were at risk.”

My goodness. Listen to or read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, England / UK, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Saudi Arabia