Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sabria on Huffington Post

Hi everyone,

My take on Arab expectations of President Obama's visit to Cairo and Riyadh is posted today on the Huffington Post. Take a look. I will post the column here a bit later.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Isolating Israeli Arabs not the answer to Israel's security concerns

Israel, in its infinite wisdom, decided that bullying Arabs in Gaza is not enough and has now turned its sights on one-fifth of its population: the Israeli Arab.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Israel’s ultranationalist party, wants to ban the Nakba, the annual day of mourning held each May 15 to mark the day Israel was established in 1948 and forcing Palestinians into exile. He also wants all applicants for the country’s national identification card to sign a loyalty oath.

To be fair Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes the proposals and the bills face a tough road in the Israeli parliament. Loyalty oaths have been bandied about in the parliament before and haven’t gained much traction. But Lieberman seems to think that Arabs, who are citizens of Israel and have all the rights that go with citizenship, are a dangerous lot that threaten Israel’s internal security. Never mind there is little evidence Israeli Arabs pose any great danger.

Naturally, a day of mourning for Israel’s founding more than likely annoys most Israeli Jews. I’d even think it pretty much makes them angry and resentful. But the fact is Israelis – Arabs and Jews -- are protected by the country’s free speech laws. The right to free speech has taken a beating in the post 9/11 years. It used to be that exercising one’s right free speech may mean losing friends and on the rare occasion influencing enemies.

Today unpopular opinion means public condemnation and loss of one’s job. It may also mean a thorough government investigation that usually doesn’t lead to anything other than disrupting one’s life or perhaps a temporary jailing.

The troubling aspect now is that governments like Israel want to dilute that right by passing laws that curb free expression. In the case of the Palestinians’ day of mourning it means three years in prison if convicted. There is immense pressure for society to conform to stated ideals and principles whether one agrees with them or not. Unpopular expression is not tolerated.

Muslim organizations want stricter enforcement of libel and defamation laws. Western ultra-conservatives want anti-war protesters, foreign policy critics and leakers of confidential torture memos charged with treason. Israel is falling in line by attempting to curtail its existing free speech laws.

An ultranationalist party member told the Los Angeles Times recently that it’s inconceivable for Americans to hold protests against their country's independence. Unlikely perhaps, but not inconceivable. This is a country where some Christian religious conservatives staged demonstration at the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq, arguing they deserved to die because they and their government supported gay rights. Anything is conceivable.

Westerners will say that Palestinians need to get over 61-year-old grief and move on. The irony, though, is that Israel was founded by people who were driven from their European homelands and lost families to the Holocaust. Today, they feel the need to express their grief in the form of many ceremonies and remembrances. I don’t blame them. But why can’t the Israeli Arab be afforded the same comfort?

Equally troublesome is the empty requirement for a loyalty oath, a relic of oppressive Eastern European regimes, not the least of which was Nazi Germany, and the United States in the Cold War era.

The oath requires that citizens sign an oath expressing loyalty to Israel as "a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state." It’s essentially asking Arabs to renounce their culture and religion so Israelis can feel safer. In the grand scheme of things loyalty doesn’t come with a signed piece of paper. It comes from within the heart. Israeli Arabs haven’t staged any revolutions and it’s unlikely they will. They’ve already expressed in their heart of their feelings about Israel by remaining in the country.

These two issues have sparked great debate among Israelis, indicating great differences of opinion. Rather than creating further divisions with Arabs, perhaps the country’s citizens will find ways to soften those divisions and encourage Israeli Arabs to be part of the community rather than continue to isolate them.

Originally published in the Saudi Gazette.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Saudi elections delay may solve women's vote, transparency issues

The announcement the other day that municipal elections scheduled this year in Saudi Arabia have been pushed back two years has got me thinking about the long road we have ahead of us for good citizen representation.

The elections were held to great acclaim as the new age in Saudi Arabia when ballots were cast in 2005 and municipal councils were elected. There was the democratic-style campaigning among Saudi liberals, conservatives and businessmen.

The Saudi government quashed protests from Saudi women to be allowed to run for office or at least vote.

We were told our moment hasn’t come. Apparently the country needed time to put infrastructure in place to ensure Saudi society could handle the cataclysmic earthquakes and 100-year floods that would ensue when the first woman stepped into the voting booth.

But here we are four years later and Saudi Arabia has little to show for those elections. And what exactly will 2011 bring? A voice for Saudi citizens in their government? While it is all well and good to elect a municipal council, it would help if we knew what the municipal council did for us. If men were elected to public office, wouldn’t it make sense that the official would be held accountable to the voters who elected him?

For the complete article, please click here.

NOTE: Just a reminder to my readers that my articles originally published at can be read in full by accessing the link above. My columns originally published in the Saudi Gazette can be read in full on this site each week.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Saudi women must redefine what is 'Saudi society'

The election of four women to the Kuwait parliament should be an object lesson for Saudi females who wish for the same thing in Saudi Arabia but find the obstacles too daunting.

The four newly elected women last week were among 16 women in a field of 210 candidates running for election. The 16 for years have fought a battle to win a seat in parliament with dismal results. They were attacked by conservatives as unworthy of a parliamentary position. But they returned every election year until they finally persevered. And guess what? The ultra-conservative candidates didn’t win a single seat.

The Kuwait parliament holds considerable power, although the royal family still maintains absolute authority. Yet Kuwait is the most democratic GCC country with a particularly friendly relationship with the United States and other Western countries.

What does this mean for Saudi women?

For the rest of the article please click here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Netanyahu's hints at a two-state solution lack sincerity and it's up to Barack Obama to call him on it

Maybe it’s just me but I thought that when President Barack Obama comes to Egypt next month for his major speech to the Arab and Muslim communities that he’s going to have to do a lot of groveling.

He did his mission for reconciliation no favors recently when he suggested to the Arab League that it abandon demands for the right of return for Palestinian refugees in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Already skeptical of efforts by the United States to negotiate a peace, the Arab League just got a little more skeptical.

But then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu throws something new into the mix. Maybe a two-state solution isn’t so bad. Netanyahu will be visiting Obama this week at the White House to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran. And wouldn’t you know it? Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak implied the prime minister is open to the two-state solution.

For the complete article please click here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Will Obama truly respond to Muslims' concerns?

President Barack Obama’s speech next month in Cairo is highly anticipated by the Arab world, but there is considerable trepidation about what the future holds for us since U.S. foreign policy affects not only our perception about the United States but also how we go about our lives.

Obama has already demonstrated that he wants a new and different relationship with the Ummah, but sincerity often takes a back seat to reality. There has never been a lower point between the United States and Arabs and Muslims than right at this moment.

For Obama to repair the damage he must state unequivocally his break from former President George W. Bush’s Middle East foreign policies. We must hear it directly from Obama. There should be no tip-toeing with the niceties of respecting a former president’s foreign policies with silence. The damage has been so great that it must be acknowledged.

While Obama has spoken in positive generalities, his foreign policy goals remain elusive for the Muslim world. But if we can expect him to hold the stick in the middle and practice a balanced and nuanced foreign policy, then we are on the right track to reestablishing.

Naturally, that means a new and bold approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The so-called peace process over the past two decades has reached ridiculous proportions with the parsing of each act, each word and each event.

Obama has already stumbled with his administration’s suggestion to the Arab League that it abandon its demands for the right of return for Palestinian refugees. If Obama hasn’t read the 2002 Arab Peace Plan perhaps now is the time to take a look. Israel’s primary concern is its security and safety. What better guarantee than Arab nations recognizing Israel’s right to exist and establishing diplomatic relations in exchange for the right to return to Israel and return to its pre-1967 borders?

Many Western leaders have adopted the position that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the cause rift between the West and Islam and the rise of terrorism. I’m not sure what reality these leaders live in. An Arab’s view of U.S. foreign policy is colored by the conflict. It colors our view of the West’s intentions in Iraq and Afghanistan and even how we view ourselves in a world of blind loyalty to a country that inflicts human suffering without consequences.

The recognition by Arab nations of Israel, if Obama sincerely wants it, will not satisfy the likes of Al-Qaeda. While Al-Qaeda has its supporters within the Muslim community their attitude is not reflective of most Muslims. Yet the Bush administration’s misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have made the issue so complex that Muslims are conflicted.

Obama has made it clear he seeks withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, but now we wait to see how he rebuilds a destroyed country. The reconstruction of schools, hospitals and infrastructure, long a failure in Iraq, is paramount to winning the hearts and minds of Muslims. Awarding university scholarships to Iraqi students to study abroad and funding university research in Iraq to pave the way for Iraqis to become members of the international community also will be a good start.

Obama is rethinking U.S. strategy by installing new a new military commander to direct operations in Afghanistan. But is Obama willing to assist, not control, operations in northwest Pakistan to defeat the Taliban? Is he willing to help stabilize the Pakistan government to ensure a consistent and effective campaign to minimize Taliban influence?

The key to winning the confidence of Pakistanis and Afghans is to demonstrate that collateral civilian casualties are not acceptable at any level. Diplomacy should be the primary directive, and assistance, not a military campaign, will win that confidence.

But given the behavior of the United States over the past eight years, Muslims perceive the U.S. as a destroyer, an invader and a country to be feared. Given the choice between joining the Taliban, Al-Qaeda or the U.S., it seems that Pakistanis and Afghans prefer the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. It’s the lesser of evils. It’s the old cliché of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It seems to me that some Afghans and Pakistanis believe that it’s better to side with an odious regime like the Taliban than with an army that is killing their neighbors and destroying their homes.

Obama next step in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a delicate one. He is better equipped to handle the war there than Bush, but Muslims are straddling the fence in that region deciding which way to go. His speech next month will help them make that decision.

Originaly published in Saudi Gazette.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Why Saudi women deserve a good beating

Whenever I read about Saudi men beating up their wives or daughters because they think they deserve physical justice for some perceived wrongdoing I’m always reminded of the expression “pick on someone your own size.”

I thought of this the other day when Saudi Judge Hamad Al-Razine told a panel at the National Family Safety Program seminar in Abha that it is perfectly acceptable to slap one’s wife around if she spends too much money.

According to a newspaper report, he said, “If a person gives SR1,200 to his wife and she spends SR900 to purchase an abaya from a brand shop and if her husband slaps her on the face as a reaction to her action, she deserves that punishment.”

Ah, our forward-thinking Saudi judges are always on the lookout to protect the weak and helpless. If I recall correctly the last time I complained about spending SR900 on an abaya I was pilloried from Madinah to Dammam and told that I should be thankful to spend that much money on a garment to ensure my modesty as a good Muslim girl. Now Saudi men want it both ways. They want me in my abaya and they want to slap me around for buying it.

For the complete article, please click here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Demands to allow Christian proselytizing in Saudi Arabia only further religious divisions

Whenever I write about Islam and urge Muslims and non-Muslims set aside their difference and promote their similarities I inevitably receive e-mails accusing me of being a hypocrite alleging that Saudi Arabia has no religious freedoms and bans proselytizing by Christians and people of other faiths.

When I attempt to explain the unique position of Saudi Arabia as a Muslim country I am usually met with a snort and a huff, demonstrating the profound disconnect between Western non-Muslims and Asian Muslims. The debate over religious freedom can’t be made in the context of Christianity in secular societies.

While I am all for compromise between various religious leaders to reach common ground, I can’t help but think that I am constantly being goaded into bending to the will of one religion based on how it is practiced in the West.

To read the rest of this article, please click here.