Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What’s the Big Deal?

What’s the Big Deal?
Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The Bush-Maliki agreement for a potentially long-term US troop presence in Iraq has come under harsh criticism, and justifiably so. Where was the need of the deal, signed Monday, when Washington has nothing to negotiate with Baghdad, the obvious small guy in this pact.
The US should have realized that it will have to be in Iraq for the long haul as the Iraq invasion was not a picnic and certainly not a Nicaragua-style vacation. Skeptics also believe that the US meant to stay in Iraq for years in order to fry a much bigger fish than Saddam Hussein and his so-called weapons of mass destruction.
There's far too much under Iraq to pass up, the growing threat of Iran and the urgent need to protect Israel from Syria. Turkey's refusal to let the US use its territory as a springboard into Iraq was a clear sign that the US needed to look for other alternatives.
The Americans will stay in Iraq not just because they have to, but because they can. Dhafir Al-Ani, a Sunni lawmaker associated with the National Concord Front, the main Sunni political faction in the Iraqi parliament, summed it up best when he said that the agreement was signed between non-equal parties. Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki knows full well that he isn't in much of a position to negotiate, because he doesn't have a reliable security apparatus to keep the country away from militancy.
This is a very binding agreement. The Americans can leave if they want to, but won't. The Iraqis want the Americans to leave, but they can't let them leave. The only thing left to haggle over, then, is where in Iraq the US base(s) will be established?
Those calling for the US to set a timetable for the withdrawal of its forces from Iraq should realize that such a demand is simply pointless. They want a timetable in the hope that it will be measured in months rather than decades. But they fail to see the signs that this was never meant to happen.
This is all very counterproductive, even if it means lucrative chunks of business for the likes of Halliburton. The fact is that the Americans will never be welcome in Iraq for any length of time, not when they continue to act as if they own the country. Perhaps in a way, they do, now that they have made their deal with Maliki. Everything else is a matter of appearances, and the vicious cycle of violence - now in what might be a temporary lull - is set to go on for sometime to come.

Saudi Students Abroad and Challenges they Face

Tuesday, 27 November 2007
By Sabria S Jawhar

SINCE arriving in the United Kingdom two months ago for my studies at Newcastle University I have had the opportunity to meet many different people from around the world who have the same ambitions that I do: To get the most out of my Ph.D program and all that I can from British culture and return home to give my countrymen the benefit of what I have learned. In my circle of friends and colleagues I am fortunate to know the British, of course, but also Americans, Canadians, Colombians, Egyptians, Libyans, Kuwaitis, Bahrainis and a young woman from Luxembourg.
I am amazed and pleased with the number of Saudis on campus and in my own program. And as Saudis we are acutely aware of how we are portrayed in the media and perceived by our peers on campus.
Although all of our classmates, professors and university staff are polite and gracious, if not very friendly when talking to us, in a way we feel as if we occasionally have to explain ourselves.
The tragedy of the "Qatif Girl," the Saudis' anticipated role in the Israel-Palestinian peace conference this week at Annapolis and King Abdullah's visit to London earlier this month has put Saudi Arabia in the headlines quite a bit.
I took an informal sampling of Saudis on campus about their observation of Western perceptions and the West's perceptions of them as well. I found Saudis hopeful, encouraged and they consider their stay in this country a pleasure.
I also found an underlying sense of anxiety, mostly about how we are perceived by Western media. And that causes perhaps the most concern about my colleagues.
"The media move according to a perceived agenda to achieve their political goals regardless of the credibility of what they say," said Sultan Al-Amri, a student at Newcastle University and chairman of the Saudi Club and the Saudi Association of Newcastle.
"But, unfortunately, the Arabic media are still unable to portray the real picture to the West in order to correct their misconception."
It was particularly evident during King Abdullah's visit, which was marked by some discord over alleged human rights abuses, including Vince Cable, leader of the opposition party, the Liberal Democrats. Cable boycotted the visit claiming that Saudi Arabia's human rights record, specifically its death penalty laws, its anti-terrorism efforts and women's rights needed improvement.
Al-Amri observed the media coverage does not reflect British attitudes towards Saudis. He noted that Saudis have generally been free of stereotyping.
"The good and deeply rooted relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom can never be reflected in a way better than having 7,000 Saudi students receiving their education at UK universities without any kind of harassment," Al-Amri said.
"They (the British government) have international experience in dealing with different people from different countries since the time of the Great British empire, which is reflected in the way British people deal with minorities among them."
Ali Al-Qahtani, a doctorate student at Northumbria University, said it saddens him that "Western countries look at Islam as if it's a religion of terror," and blames Western journalists. He said Muslim students need to educate non-Muslims.
"The media are the only window through which they can have an idea about Muslims and their culture," Al-Qanti said.
"However, those studying abroad have a role to play about changing the picture of Islam and Muslims by representing the true Islamic values."
Manal Al-Hakami, who is studying for her master's degree at Newcastle University, said the difference between reality and media perception is evident in the way the British government treats Arab and Muslim students. She noted the British government is quick and efficient in issuing visas for Saudi students.
"It's a reflection on the good relationship between the two countries in the way Saudis are dealt with by British government officials and university employees, as Saudis don't face discrimination or ill-treatment, even in the classroom."
Like Al-Qahtani, she wants to see Saudi students should increase their participation in social activities in a way that it best represents Islamic values.
Naif Al-Sharif, a doctorate student at Newcastle University, said he has seen some discrimination.
"Sometimes Saudi students face harassment from the British because they correlate between terrorism and Saudi people," he said. "However, not all of the people think about that, at least the people in the street don't."
While Saudi university students are concerned about the Kingdom's image abroad, their worries are somewhat closer to day-to-day living in the United Kingdom and whether King Abdullah can effect changes that would make living abroad more comfortable.
Al-Hakami said living on a students' allowance provided by the Saudi government is difficult at best. She said Arab students form other countries, such as Libya, Kuwait and Qatar, have a more generous living allowance.
"Saudis get the smallest allowance," she said, adding that the understaffed Saudi Cultural Attache's office in London makes it difficult to have student issues resolved.
"Some of the students have difficulties in communication with Saudi supervisors at the Cultural Attache's office because the number of office personnel is too low for the number of students," she said.
Zaid Al-Otaibi, a Saudi doctorate student at Newcastle, said there is an increase in the number of Saudis holding leading positions in both government and private industry who are graduates of British universities. Being a graduate of a British university he is a good motive for students who want to succeed as a professional.
"The UK is the best place where students can receive education away from the harassment that our Saudi compatriots face in other countries where politicians get easily confused every time a new political issue takes place," he said.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Should OPEC Flex Political Muscle?

Tuesday, 20 November 2007
By Sabria S Jawhar

THE most telling thing about the OPEC summit this week in Riyadh was King Abdullah's gentle rebuff of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who had hoped to use oil as a political weapon against his enemies - namely the United States and other Western, fuel-hungry nations.
On Saturday Chavez suggested boldly that OPEC should become more political. "OPEC was born as a geopolitical force and not only as a technical or economic one in the ‘60s," Chavez said. "We should continue to strengthen OPEC, but beyond that, OPEC should set itself up as an active political agent."
He added that "if the United States was mad enough to attack Iran or aggress Venezuela again the price of a barrel of oil won't just reach $100 but even $200."
My heart tells me, "More power to you, friend. Give them what they deserve." But my head tells me, "Ouf, this could be a disaster of catastrophic proportions."
There's a good many people who would like nothing more than to dangle oil in front of the United States like a carrot to encourage good behavior. Their bullying tactics over the past six years have inflamed just about every Muslim from Indonesia to the United Kingdom. We feel helpless with this aggressive, unrelenting campaign against us.
But we can't let our emotions run away with us and we must look at the long-term consequences. And that would make an already angry lion even more angry and it just might tip things into a direction none of us want to go.
King Abdullah didn't have to think twice about the answer.
"Oil is an energy for building and prosperity; it shouldn't become a means of conflict," he said. "Those who want OPEC to become an organization of monopoly and exploitation ignore the truth."
He reminded OPEC leaders that "OPEC had always behaved moderately and wisely."
And with that appraisal others followed. Ibrahim Ibrahim, who represents Qatar Petroleum, credited Chavez with helping OPEC become stronger but he also said, "There is no need for OPEC to be a political force now. It just has to ensure that the oil market is stable."
President George Bush will be out of office in 14 months. Americans are already wearing buttons that simply read "01-20-09." In other words, dark days will end when another president is sworn in on that date. We must be patient. If we use our heads now, just maybe the Americans will use their heads as their presidential election comes. The same can be said for the push by Iran and Venezuela these past few days for OPEC to sever its connection to the US dollar. Several OPEC members are said to want to switch selling oil from US dollars to Euros.
Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister, disagreed and King Abdullah put the weakened dollar and its impact on oil consumption in perspective.
"The current price of oil, if we take into consideration inflation, is less than what it was in the early 1980s," he said.
The consequences of leaving the dollar for the Euro would not be beneficial to Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries in the long-run, because it would only further weaken the dollar and put the Bush administration in a more desperate situation.
I'm not suggesting that we adopt an appeasement policy with the United States just so they don't turn on us. But the region is in a precarious position at the moment and we can't make impulsive decisions based on our emotions that would further destabilize it.
With King Abdullah's moderate, if not calming, approach to these issues, he steered away two pressing issues that could lead oil-producing nations into disaster: using oil as a weapon and abandoning the dollar. At the same time, the King managed to turn the summit into another direction by announcing the Saudi government will donate $300 million to finance programs to explore solutions to global warming.
This is the long view of the world and certainly more sensible than leaving an unpredictable country like the United States high and dry. Yes, my heart says let them go through a little suffering, but the brain says patience is a virtue.

Dangerous Proposal

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The United States has a long track record of financing and waging proxy guerrilla wars in several parts of the world: arming and abetting the Contras rebels in Nicaragua, fomenting trouble in Vietnam, meddling in Somalia affairs, creating the Mujahideen force to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and lately crafting an anti-Al-Qaeda force in Iraq's restive Anbar province. To add to the long list, Washington is now planning to start a US-supported tribal force in Pakistan's troubled tribal belt, according to a new and classified proposal awaiting Washington's approval. The idea is to arm tribal leaders against Al-Qaeda and Taleban militants and foreign fighters entrenched in the area, according to Monday's report in The New York Times.
Washington has long played the card of overtly and covertly supporting homegrown disenchantment in any rebellious movement. A case in point is that of Anbar where the US egged on and pampered the tribal Sunni Sheikhs to stand up against Al-Qaeda's daily dose of deaths through suicide attacks and kidnappings.
If the new proposal gets Washington's go-ahead, it will mark a significant shift in its strategy as it is likely to expand the presence of American military trainers in Pakistan and directly finance a separate tribal paramilitary force. The proposal also envisages paying huge amounts of money to militias that agree to fight Al-Qaeda and foreign militants in the tribal belt of Waziristan.
The latest proposal raises the question of whether any partnership to be forged by Pakistani troops can be made without a significant US military presence in Pakistan. And it is unclear whether enough support can be found among the tribes, some of which are known to be actively working with Pakistan's intelligence agency.
The Bush administration has used billions of dollars of aid and heavy political pressure to encourage Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to carry out more aggressive military operations against militants in the tribal areas. But the sporadic military campaigns Pakistan has conducted there have had little success, resulting instead in heavy losses among Pakistani Army units and anger among local residents who have for decades been mostly independent from Islamabad's control.
The Mujahideen movement in Afghanistan, undisputed creation of the US, is largely instrumental in the formation of Al-Qaeda and its likes. The proposal to arm tribal leaders in the politically unstable northwest of Pakistan is fraught with dangers; it has the potential of spawning many more Al-Qaedas in the not so distant future.

The Agony of the ‘Qatif Girl’

Tuesday, 20 November 2007
By Suzan Zawawi
WITH cases such as "Qatif Girl's" rape case, judicial reform couldn't come at a better time.
Last week, the Qatif General Court re-sentenced the Saudi young woman dubbed by Saudi media as "Qatif Girl" to 180 lashes and a jail term, doubling her first sentence after being gang-raped 14 times within two hours by seven convicted men. The court found the girl guilty of being in the company of a non-relative male during her abduction at knifepoint, a year-and-a-half ago.
Apparently, the three judges presiding over the case didn't believe that being raped 14 times was sufficient punishment for the girl who attempted suicide after the rape.
Upon appealing to the courts against the first sentence of 90 lashes, "Qatif Girl" hoped that she would be able to gain back a fraction of her dignity that was lost that horrifying night.
But that didn't happen, the same judge who presided over in the first case, doubled her sentence along with the rapist.
If the girl's soul didn't die that night her innocence was surely violated last Wednesday.
"Qatif girl's dream of redeeming any of her self-respect through the judicial system was crushed in front of her own eyes.
Qatif court's message is loud and clear, girls and women who are raped could face punishment, and if they attempt to appeal they might face the same sentence as ‘Qatif Girl' and if you are a lawyer defending your client to the best of your ability, you might be thrown out of court, have your license confiscated and a ban from defending your client.
Judicial reform, which King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, called upon, couldn't come at a better time.
Not only are women, but men and children are also suffering from an un-codified system, leaving judges to rule on cases according to their own interpretation and understanding of Shariah law.
A case decided in one court might be adjudicated differently in a different court, according to the judge.
The second ruling on ‘Qatif Girl' couldn't come at a worse time as the world media is currently focusing on Saudi Arabia, the host of OPEC meeting.
The enormous efforts exerted by both Saudi women and the government in empowering Saudi women in all fields have been overshadowed by the court ruling.
Could the judge in Qatif be so oblivious to the outcome of such rulings, whether to the rape victim, other sexually abused women and Saudi Arabia's image abroad?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Narrow Worldview

Tuesday, 13 November 2007
By Sabria S Jawhar

WHENEVER I saw King Abdullah on television as he visited European heads of state I bubbled with pride that history was being made as we expanded our vision of tolerance and understanding in this time of crisis in the Mideast. And King Abdullah's humble nature and desire to reach out to the common Saudis was evident during his visit to the United Kingdom when he met with Saudi university students to listened to their concerns and experiences of living abroad.
But nothing could be more exciting than the King's visit to the Vatican to meet with Pope Benedict XVI.
It's the first time a Saudi king has visited the leader of the Catholic Church. The message exchanged by the two leaders was to encourage tolerance and demonstrate the strong ties between Islam and Christianity.
Much has been written in Saudi Arabia and in the West about the visit. Inevitably we are on the receiving end of lectures from Western journalists about our alleged lack of tolerance when it comes to visitors or workers in Saudi Arabia practicing their own faith.
To watch the BBC or read the New York Times one would think our country is a hotbed of religious intolerance and persecution.
After all, according to these models of Western journalistic integrity, non-Muslims are not permitted in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. If a Mormon family from Utah wants to visit the Grand Mosque in Makkah and have their photos taken with the pigeons while thousands of Saudis and expatriates perform Friday prayers in the background, well, what's wrong with that?
Well, plenty. It's called respect. What's equally troublesome is the hypocrisy of journalists and human rights advocates when discussing their brand of religious tolerance.
Let's look around. Non-Jews are not allowed to enter the Inner Temple in Jerusalem. An average curious Jew walking by the temple is also barred from entering it. It's only for religious leaders. St. Peter's at the Vatican, the spiritual home to the Pope, does not welcome non-believers of the Christian faith. And I don't see Muslims and Jews setting prayer mats and tiny altars inside the Vatican to practice their faith.
And some Hindu temples are off-limits to tourists. The Golden Temple in Amritsar, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, allows tourists only in the outer areas. The laws that apply to the Golden Temple are similar to the borders of Madinah, in which two borders, the religious borders and the geographical borders, are established.
Non-Muslims are allowed in parts of Madinah if they observe the religious borders.
When I hear these so-called advocates of religious freedoms cry out for tolerance in Saudi Arabia, I think of their selective memories and narrow view of the facts when it comes to the rest of the world.
This doesn't mean that there isn't room for criticism of Saudi Arabia. Certainly we need to think about how to be more forward looking when it comes to viewing non-Muslims. Regrettably there are religious zealots who take it upon themselves to harass, if not arrest, Christians praying in the privacy of their own homes. This is silly. What they do in the privacy of the their homes is their business. Not mine. And certainly not of the Mutawwas.
And we need to do a better job of making the distinction between the actions of a country and that country's religious faith.
In other words being an Israeli and being a Jew are two separate things. We can recognize the faith as part of our religion while still maintaining our strong opposition to the policies of a country that practices its own brand of state-sponsored terrorism.
But let's also consider the fact that some non-Muslims engaged in illegal activity, whether it's prostitution, selling alcohol or gambling, use the religious card all too often. If someone is arrested on suspicion of operating a prostitution ring, what better way than to tell one's embassy that he was really arrested for practicing his own religion. It's a lot easier to get out of jail claiming religious persecution than trying to explain why you are selling Indonesian maids for SR100 on any given night.
There is room for improvement, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that this is a one-way street. If Saudi Arabia needs to be put under a microscope, let all countries be subject to the same scrutiny.