Tag Archive: Saudi Arabia


Upheaval in the Middle East is spreading and no one knows where it will stop. But everyone is clear about one thing; it will definitely spread into the rich industrialized world. It may stop somewhere in Europe because American continent is still out of reach. The turmoil in the Arab world is going to trigger worst-ever economic crisis for the world. And it is all about oil which, through still flows from Middle East, is getting dearer in the international market with worsening of crisis in North Africa and Arabian Peninsula. The focus of news after Egypt and Tunis is on Libya, Bahrain and Iran and by implication of Saudi Arabia. Libya is one of Africa’s largest holders of crude oil reserves, Algeria and Iran are major suppliers and Bahrain and Yemen both border Saudi Arabia on the peninsula that produces much of the world’s oil. Together, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain and Iran represent about 10 percent of global oil production.

According to a report in The New York Times, oil markets are famously skittish, especially when there is even the possibility of disruptions in the Middle East and North Africa, which account for some 35 percent of the world’s oil production and a greater percentage of the world’s known reserves. That nervousness is likely to spread elsewhere, with so many economies still fragile in the wake of the worldwide economic downturn and with the possibility that higher crude prices could lead to further increases in food prices. The high cost of food has already led to unrest in several countries, even before political revolts began in the Middle East. The increased price of energy is a “burden that can be a detriment to the global economic recovery.

Brent is a global benchmark crude oil that is produced in the North Sea and traded in London. It is typically the benchmark that is used to set the price for most of the oil from the Middle East. Another benchmark crude, West Texas Intermediate, closed at $86.20 a barrel on Friday. Each benchmark has an impact on gasoline prices in the United States, with the East Coast more affected by the Brent prices than other regions. The reserves in the Middle East and North Africa (known as the MENA countries), while long important, have grown even more critical as demand for oil increases. Prices have risen about 30 percent since September, reaching their highest level since September 2008.

Those who track oil prices are especially worried about the renewed turmoil in Iran and the possibility of unrest spreading from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, which could have a major impact on oil’s price and its availability. Richard H. Jones, the energy agency’s deputy executive director and a former American diplomat in the Middle East, said that about 17 million barrels of oil passed through the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz every day. “So if that shuts down, we’re in big trouble,” he said.

But so far, Mr. Jones said, the effects of the regional turmoil have been small. Egyptian production and transportation of natural gas have continued despite an explosion at a pipeline in the Sinai as the demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak were under way. (An Egyptian investigator said four gunmen bombed the pipeline.) Although there have been labor protests among workers at the Suez Canal, so far analysts have said there is no danger of the vital waterway being affected by the country’s political upheaval.

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Pakistan’s former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif who paved the way for another martial law due to his misplaced adventurism with the military in 1999, will be free to take part in active politics in next 11 days. It is widely believed that he secured freedom from jail through an agreement to stay away from politics for ten years to be able to leave, lock stock and barrel,  the country, the party and people of Pakistan. The period of ten years will expire in early next month. During this period of ten years, he tried to defy the agreement and land back in the country on a popular wave of sympathy with the judiciary but was forced out of the country again, of course with the support of a more powerful party to the agreement, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In return for his undertaking to stay away from active politics, all criminal charges against him were dropped by Musharraf government. And the country is agog with speculation as to what steps the PML-N strongman will take once his commitment is over.

Sources said the pact will end on December 2. It was following this pact in 2000 that former President Pervez Musharraf dropped the charges leveled against the PML-N chief and allowed him and his family to go into exile in Saudi Arabia. Musharraf had seized power in a military coup in October 1999 by ousting the government headed by Sharif. Though Sharif and the PML-N have denied the existence of such an agreement, sources said that the PML-N chief’s taking a backseat in recent years were indications that he was influenced by the commitment he had made to the Saudis. Sharif returned to Pakistan in late 2007, when Musharraf’s regime began losing its grip on power.

Sharif chose not to contest the 2008 general election and subsequently withdrew his nomination papers for by-polls to a parliamentary seat in Lahore this year. The sources said this was a clear indication of his “commitment to the pledge he made to the Saudis”. Once the agreement expires next month, the two-time former premier will be eligible to take part in elections, they said. The ruling Pakistan People’s Party has been criticizing Sharif for “deliberately” not taking part in the electoral process.

As the expiry of the agreement is nearing, Nawaz Sharif started talking tough and seems all set to put up a real stiff opposition to Zardari government whom he accuses of corruption and risk to democracy. On the other hand, President Musharraf has accused that Nawaz Sharif elections were funded by OBL. The most interesting statement came from US envoy Holbrook who expressed his frustration about possible Musharraf comeback by saying that he has no chance in Pakistan politics. No doubt, he will not win unless cleared by the establishment which, in Pakistan’s case, is now the US State Department’s South Asia desk.

Please also read:

Osama funded Nawaz for polls: Musharraf (The Nation)

Holbrook dismisses chances of Musharraf comeback (Daily Time)

Parcel bomb plot which was hatched in Saudi Arabia and executed in Yemen, is still shrouded in mystery, however, Britain has taken an advantage of it and as an aftermath of the recent mail bomb plot, has tightened screening of air cargo passing through the country and ordered re-screening of parcels originating from some cities in India, Pakistan, Iran and some other countries.

“Cargo originating from some cities in India, Qatar, Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh, Thailand, the Maldives, Sudan and Libya will have to be re-screened after arriving in Britain before being loaded onto onward flights,” Britain’s Transport Secretary Philip Hammond told DNA News. Currently such flights do not need to be screened in the UK.

After a meeting with industry representatives here, Hammond said they also discussed a proposed system of grading countries sending air cargo to the UK, according to perceived risk. Countries that have screening measures matching those of the UK and the European Union could have easier access to the UK than those that do not, he indicated.

When investigators pulled some Chicago-bound packages off cargo planes in England and the United Arab Emirates last week, they found two bombs wired to cell phones and hidden in the toner cartridges of computer printers. They were sent from Yemen. Following the uncovering of the plot being blamed on al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the UK banned all air cargo from Somalia and Yemen.

As soon as the parcel bomb plot started unfolding, it immediately got shrouded in mystery again. It was initially reported that a 22-years old girl, a medical student, was arrested in Yemen along with her mother for allegedly sending the parcel containing deadly explosive, it was subsequently reported that the cell number of the girl was found written on the parcel invoice which led to her arrest. Her lawyer has said that she has been unwittingly set up. It has now been reported by Reuters quoting a US official that a Saudi bomb-maker believed to be working with al Qaeda‘s Yemen-based wing is a key suspect in the parcel bomb plot against the United States.

Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who tops a Saudi Arabian terrorism list, is the brother of a suicide bomber killed in an attempt to kill Saudi counter-terrorism chief Prince Mohammed bin Nayef last year. That attack, as well as another attempt on a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009, involved the use of pentaerythritol trinitrate (PETN) — a highly potent explosive that appears to be the weapon of choice of al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

At least one of the two U.S.-bound parcel bombs sent from Yemen addressed to synagogues in Chicago and intercepted in Dubai and Britain on Friday employed PETN. The U.S. official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Asiri was being closely looked at by authorities in view of his experience with explosives. There were also indications he may have been the bomb-maker behind the Christmas Day attempt and the failed attack on Prince Nayaf last year, the official added.

Saudi Arabia, which provided intelligence that helped identify the parcel bomb threat, put Asiri at the top of its terrorism list in 2009. Authorities are scrambling to track down any AQAP operatives behind the latest plot. Yemeni police earlier on Saturday arrested a medical student believed to be in her 20s in Sana’a, but her lawyer told Reuters he feared she had been unwittingly used by others.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the parcel bombs sent from Yemen had the hallmarks of al Qaeda, and in particular AQAP. White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan has called AQAP “the most active operational franchise” of al Qaeda outside its traditional Pakistani and Afghan base. The Obama administration has been increasingly focused on the al Qaeda wing, which authorities have said was behind the failed attempt to blow up a U.S. jetliner on Christmas Day last year with a bomb that a Nigerian man hid in his underwear.

AQAP is headed by Nasser al-Wahayshi, a Yemeni former associate of Osama bin Laden. But it’s Anwar al-Awlaki, an American Islamist preacher of Yemeni ancestry, who is now drawing considerable attention in Washington. Awlaki, who argues al Qaeda’s extremist views using Western ideas and the Internet, has called the Christmas Day bomber one of his “students” and he traded emails with the U.S. Army psychiatrist who went on a shooting rampage at a military base in Texas last year that killed 13 soldiers. U.S. officials have said Washington has authorized the CIA to kill or capture Awlaki, a rare act against a U.S. citizen that shows the degree of threat he is believed to pose. They have also said the United States will likely increase strikes against al Qaeda in Yemen, seeking to apply the same degree of pressure there as covert drone attacks in Pakistan have had on the core group.

A British Court has handed down life imprisonment to a Saudi prince, none other than the King’s own grandson, for brutally murdering his servant. This punishment has exposed how the justice systems of Britain and Saudi Arabia have been established. British justice system makes no distinction between a royal and a commoner. It does not allow blood money either. Reuters has reported that a Saudi prince was jailed for life in Britain Wednesday for beating and strangling his servant in the room they shared at a luxury London hotel after what prosecutors called a campaign of sadistic abuse. This is in stark violation of Saudi justice system where there are different sets of laws for royals, Saudis, Arabs and ordinary mortals.

Agency has reported that Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud, 34, was told he must serve a minimum term of 20 years in jail for murdering Bandar Abdulaziz, 32, also a Saudi, at the Landmark Hotel in February. The prince, who told detectives he was a grandson of the Saudi king, had admitted manslaughter — unintentional killing — but denied murder. Standing in the dock with arms crossed, Saud showed no emotion as the sentence was handed down in London’s historic Old Bailey court.

Prosecutors described how the servant was bitten on both cheeks during a final assault by Saud. In previous attacks, the servant suffered “a series of heavy punches or blows to his head and face,” leaving his left eye closed and swollen, lips split and teeth chipped and broken, the Press Association reported. There were horrific injuries to one of his ears and internal bruising and bleeding to the brain as well as severe injuries to the neck consistent with manual compression, prosecutors said. They told the court that Saud tried to cover up the true nature of his relationship with his servant, saying they were friends and equals, but that a porter at the hotel said Abdulaziz was treated “like a slave.”

Prosecutors further said the two men were believed to be perverts and that the physical abuse. The prince testified he  had a girlfriend back home. Prosecutors said they found evidence that the Prince was a pervert and the he murdered his servant in that connection.

When arrested, Saud at first believed he was protected by diplomatic immunity but his status as a Saudi royal was not sufficient, according to prosecutors. Sentencing him, Judge David Bean said: “It is very unusual for a prince to be in the dock on a murder charge.  “It would be wrong for me to sentence you either more severely or more leniently because of your membership of the Saudi royal family. No one in this country is above the law.”

 

Saudi Arabia is rightfully a citadel of conservative and fundamentalist Islam. It has remained under the yoke of a form of the government, a system of monarchy not really sanctioned in Islam. So strong was the hold of autocracy and its own brand of religion that the word “nation” was a taboo, always treated like a four-lettered word. Equally sinful was the desire to identify oneself with a nation. However, it is now waking up to the societal need of every social animal i.e. nationalism or a national identity. The religion in the kingdom is normally used, and clergy pampered, to provide fabricated and doctored justifications for perpetuation of hereditary kingship, even in the 21st century.

Pampering of the clergy is manifest in many shapes, most notably in their powers of policing in herding and forcing people to mosques at prayer times. Incidentally, the most appealing message of the religion of Islam for people of those times 1400 plus years ago was not the five-times prayers but elimination of two worst instruments of human exploitation namely, clergy and the autocracy. These two mutually supporting instruments are being perpetuated in Saudi Arabia in the name of Islam. The kingdom was a province of the Ottoman Empire and was plucked out to serve imperial designs of Britain as aptly explained in the memoirs of “Lawrence of Arabia”.

It, however, seems that a change is in the air which can easily be felt by those visiting the kingdom. The feelings for religion are making space for feeling for the nation-hood. Foreign Policy Magazine has reported a rare spectacle this September when thousands of young men spilled onto gridlocked arteries from Riyadh to Khobar to commemorate National Day. Similar displays of patriotic fervor pass without notice in many countries around the world. But in a kingdom renowned for the austerity of its conservative religious movement, even a simple festival can be symptomatic of dramatic changes in the structure of society.

For decades, any celebration of the 1932 unification of the kingdom was widely interpreted as an affront to Islam. Powerful Saudi clerics conspired to treat tributary holidays, outside the two religious festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, as heresy. For this same conservative clergy to ignore elaborate, state-sponsored celebrations and National Day-themed Theater (in a country that does not allow cinemas) suggests that the balance of power between the House of al-Sa’ud and the House of Ibn Wahhab may be tipping in favor of the monarchy.

The current socio-political system in Saudi Arabia dates to the establishment of the kingdom by Abdul Aziz al-Sa’ud (Ibn Sa’ud). The expansion of al-Sa’ud’s power base beyond the central portion of the kingdom in Najd depended heavily on a group of desert warriors known as the Ikhwan, who had embraced the call to arms of al-Sa’ud’s then-ally and puritanical religious revivalist Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. The same 1744 pact governing this alliance between religious and temporal power persists to this day through the clerical legitimization of the rule of the House of al-Sa’ud, and the reciprocal guarantee of the Islamic character of the state.

Under this arrangement, the descendants of al-Wahhab — the al-Shaikh family — exercise ultimate control over the judiciary, education and religious hierarchy through key positions including that of Justice Minister and Grand Mufti. Dynastic succession in the 5,000-man strong royal family is similarly restricted to the direct descendants of Ibn Sa’ud, who dominate political life in the country to an extent that is virtually unparalleled in the contemporary world.

The alliance provides the royal family with leverage to perfect the practice of co-option through intermarriage, the allocation of oil wealth and appointments to positions of power. As a result, the kingdom’s senior Wahhabi clergy, including the top cleric and highest religious authority, have been subordinated to the political order and are expected to ratify and justify regime policies.

The impact of this arrangement on the legitimacy of the official religious establishment has fluctuated over time, but state-appointed clerics continue to enjoy tremendous power in schools, universities, mosques and state-controlled radio and television.

This is perhaps doubly true of the kingdom’s “unofficial” clerics and religious figures aligned with the fragmented Islamic awakening movement (sahwa). Members of this disparate group — made up of both moderates close to the reformist lobby and hardliners who provide moral succor to violent dissidents — share the social conservatism of their official counterparts, but derive their influence from their popular following and their willingness to openly challenge the regime. The most prominent among them rose to power in the 1990’s by channeling popular anger toward official clerics who had legitimized the presence of American troops on Saudi soil.

Many of these same independent and politically motivated conservative clerics today oppose King Abdullah‘s education and justice reform agenda, issuing hundreds of internet fatwas to derail modernization efforts. A royal response issued in August 2010, by way of decree, limited the authority to issue religious edicts to approved members of a 20-cleric Senior Scholars Authority and an affiliated committee.

The seemingly long-delayed decision to insulate the citizenry — and the royal agenda — from the influence of more extreme elements within the independent clergy, can actually be traced back to the early part of this decade. Following al Qaeda‘s attacks on the kingdom in 2003 and 2004, the king encouraged nationalist sentiment by promoting patriotism (watania) as a stand-alone subject in the academic curriculum.

With the exception of a joint statement issued by 156 scholars expressing outrage at the perceived replacement of religious based loyalty with Saudi nationalism, the clerical establishment remained surprisingly quiet. Their acquiescence paved the way for King Abdullah to sanction National Day as an official holiday in one of the first decrees he issued upon coming to power in 2005. In every year since, preparations have been more elaborate, and celebrations more colorful, than the year before. Please also click: forbidden luxury

Pakistan is facing one of the worst catastrophes in its history which has displaced nearly 20 million people and killed nearly 2000. Number of deaths may be insignificant as many more were killed in Taliban attacks on poor civilians in their noble cause to establish their regressive rule in Pakistan. They could tried their luck elsewhere also like in Saudi Arabia or UAE but the governments and people of these countries are more vigilant than Pakistani government people who were under the illusion that Taliban style slaughtering and chopping would bring about change in their lives. No amount of change is possible unless people themselves decide what they want and then start a struggle for that. They will continue to be fooled by bearded, landed and moneyed feudal.

As the world has started pooling up it human and monetary resources to help rescue and rehabilitate flood-hit Pakistanis, there is a visible frustration in two camps; Taliban and the ruling party. The latter is frustrated because no one is prepared to hand them any amount of aid money due to their much known Penchant for Pilfering and Plundering (PPP), the former is even more frustrated and has threatened to kill whoever comes from abroad to help flood-affected Pakistanis. Killing is the only pastime which thrills them and when it comes to killing infidels (read foreigners and hapless Pakistanis), the very thought of excites them no end.

It has been reported by the foreign media that Taliban have hinted they may launch attacks against foreigners helping Pakistan respond to the worst floods in the country’s history, saying their presence was “unacceptable.” The U.N. said it would not be deterred by violent threats. The militant group has attacked aid workers in the country before, and an outbreak of violence could complicate a relief effort that has already struggled to reach the 8 million people who are in need of emergency assistance.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq claimed Thursday that the U.S. and other countries that have pledged support are not really focused on providing aid to flood victims but had other motives he did not specify. “Behind the scenes they have certain intentions, but on the face they are talking of relief and help,” Tariq told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location. “No relief is reaching the affected people, and when the victims are not receiving help, then this horde of foreigners is not acceptable to us at all.”

He strongly hinted that the militants could resort to violence, saying “when we say something is unacceptable to us, one can draw one’s own conclusion.” U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said the U.N. remained committed to helping flood victims in Pakistan. “We will obviously take these threats seriously as we did before, and take appropriate precautions, but we will not be deterred from doing what we believe we need to do, which is help the people of Pakistan … who have been affected by the flood,” he told a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York.

Holmes noted that the Pakistani Taliban carried out a suicide attack against the office of the U.N.’s World Food Program in Islamabad last October, killing five staffers, and in March, militants attacked the offices of World Vision, a U.S.-based Christian aid group helping earthquake survivors in northwestern Pakistan, killing six Pakistani employees. He said U.N. security experts will be working with U.N. agencies and international organizations “to assess what the risks are and to minimize them.” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Washington is also taking the threat of attacks by militants seriously.

“We have information of the potential targeting of foreign relief workers in Pakistan, as well as government ministries,” Crowley told reporters in Washington, adding, “It just underscores the bankrupt vision that these extremists have and we are conscious of that threat.”

According to the United Nations, almost 17.2 million people have been significantly affected by the floods and about 1.2 million homes have been destroyed or badly damaged. Holmes said U.N. agencies have reached almost 2 million Pakistanis with emergency food supplies and an estimated 2.5 million with clean drinking water. He said medical treatment has been provided to about 3 million people and more than 115,000 tents and 77,000 tarpaulins have been distributed. About 70 percent of the $460 million initially sought by the U.N. and its humanitarian partners for flood relief — some $325 million — has either been contributed or pledged so far by foreign donors, while an additional $600 million has been provided or promised outside the appeal, he said.

“We’re approaching $1 billion with funds offered or already contributed inside and outside the appeal for this crisis,” Holmes said. “That’s a reasonable response, but we certainly need more.”

The floods began almost a month ago with the onset of the monsoon and have ravaged a massive swath of Pakistan, from the mountainous north to its agricultural heartland. The U.S. military has also stepped in to help, flying helicopters that have evacuated flood victims and delivered relief supplies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the northwest province that was hit hardest by the floods. It is unclear how many foreigners are operating on the ground in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which borders Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal area where the Pakistani Taliban are strongest. Many aid organizations involved in the relief effort have been in Pakistan for years and use networks of locals in the most dangerous areas. The United Nations said Thursday that the group won’t let violent threats deter its relief effort.

“There is a lot of work ahead and millions of people who need our assistance,” said Maurizio Giulano, spokesman for the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs which Holmes heads. “We would find it inhumane for someone to target us and our work, effectively harming the millions of people whose lives we strive to save.”

Violence has been relatively low in the country since the floods hit, but three bomb attacks in northwestern Pakistan on Monday killed at least 36 people. While increased Taliban attacks would complicate the flood relief effort, the group could also risk backlash from the millions of victims who have lost everything and are desperate to receive food and shelter. The death toll in the floods stands around 1,500 people, but the disaster ranks as one of Pakistan’s worst ever because of the scale and massive economic damage, especially to the country’s vital agricultural sector. The U.N. said earlier this week that some 800,000 people are still cut off by the floods and accessible only by air.

Pakistani officials urged anyone left in three southern towns Thursday to evacuate immediately as floodwaters broke through a levee, endangering areas previously untouched by the country’s almost month-long disaster.

The swollen Indus River broke through the Sur Jani embankment in southern Sindh province late Wednesday, threatening the towns of Sujawal, Daro and Mir Pur Batoro, said Mansoor Sheikh, a top government official in Thatta district. Most of the 400,000 people who live in the area are thought to have evacuated already, but those remaining were warned to flee, he said.

Pakistan’s senior meteorologist, Arif Mahmood, said high tides were preventing the Indus River from fully shedding excess water into the Arabian Sea. “We hope these tides would fully subside after 48 hours,” he said.