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Saudi Woman Accuses Chauffeur of Rape Amid Row

Posted on 02 June 2011 by hashimilion

A Saudi businesswoman, forced by law to hire a male driver, has accused her chauffeur of raping her, a newspaper reported Wednesday amid a growing campaign to allow women to drive themselves.

The daily Okaz said the driver stopped the car in an industrial part of the holy western city of Medina and raped her while threatening to shoot her with his pistol.

The woman, who was not named, reported the attack and the driver, whose nationality was not given, was arrested.

The report coincides with an intensifying campaign to bring a change of law so that women can obtain a driving licence and drive legally. Activists have called on women to drive their cars in a protest rally on June 17.

Earlier this week, Saudi authorities decided to free on bail Manal al-Sharif who was detained for 10 days for breaking the ultra-conservative kingdom’s ban on women driving, her lawyer said.

“We were informed today of the decision to free Manal on bail. The procedural steps towards her release are under way,” Adnan al-Saleh told AFP, adding he hoped the case would now be closed.

Sharif had called upon King Abdullah to release her, Saleh told AFP on Sunday after meeting his client in prison.

The woman, a 32-year-old computer-security consultant, was arrested on May 22 after posting on YouTube a video of herself driving her car around the eastern Saudi city of Khobar.

The divorced mother of one explained in the video that getting around was often a headache. Women in Saudi Arabia without the means to hire a chauffeur must depend on the goodwill of male family members to drive them.

Her arrest sparked debate about women’s rights within the kingdom.

A Facebook page titled “We are all Manal al-Sharif: a call for solidarity with Saudi women’s rights,” on Sunday had more than 24,000 supporters.

However, another Facebook page called on men to use “iqals” — the cords used with traditional headdresses by many Gulf men — to beat Saudi women who drive their cars in the planned June 17 protest.

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Saudi Plans to Build 16 Nuclear Reactors by 2030

Posted on 02 June 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi Arabia plans to build 16 nuclear power reactors by 2030 which could costs more than $100 billion, a Saudi-based newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing a top official.

The world’s top crude exporter, Saudi is struggling to keep up with rapidly rising power demand. It has considered boosting its domestic energy capacity using nuclear reactors.

“After 10 years we will have the first two reactors,” Abdul Ghani bin Melaibari, coordinator of scientific collaboration at King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy told Arab News.

Many have backed away from atomic plans after the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant but oil-rich Gulf states are among the few countries looking to make major investments in nuclear power plants.

“After that, every year we will establish two, until we have 16 of them by 2030,” he said.

He estimated the cost of each reactor to be around $7 billion, adding that the Kingdom is in the process of planning for the nuclear project and coordination with specialized companies.

The kingdom plans to cover 20 percent of its electricity needs using nuclear energy, said Melaibari.

Power demand in the top oil exporter is estimated to grow 7-8 percent during the next 10 years.

Neighbouring United Arab Emirates in December 2009 awarded a South Korean consortium the contract to build four nuclear power plants worth $20.4 billion.

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Saudi Woman Arrested for Challenging Driving Ban

Posted on 22 May 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi authorities arrested a female activist on Sunday who launched a campaign to challenge a ban on women driving in the conservative kingdom and posted a video on the Internet of her driving, activists said.

The YouTube video, posted on Thursday, has attracted more than 500,000 views and shows , who learned to drive in the United States, driving her car in Khobar in the oil-producing Eastern Province.

“Police arrested her at 3 a.m. this morning,” said Maha Taher, another female activist who launched her own campaign for women driving four months ago to spread awareness of the issue.

An Eastern Province police spokesperson declined to comment and an interior ministry spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate any form of dissent and applies an austere version of Sunni Islam in which religious police patrol the streets to ensure public segregation between men and women.

Women in the country are not allowed to drive and must have written approval from a designated guardian — a father, husband, brother or son — to leave the country, work or travel abroad.

The campaign Alsharif launched is aimed at teaching women to drive and encouraging them to start driving from June 17, using foreign-issued licences.

While there is no written law that specifically bans women from driving, Saudi law requires citizens use a locally issued licence while in the country. Such licences are not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive.

“When the police stopped her they told her she violated the ‘norms’. There is no law that says women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia and this arrest is unjust. She is a role model for a lot of people and the arrest will provoke her supporters. Now more women want to drive,” Taher said.

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Malaysian PM Would Send Peacekeepers To Bahrain

Posted on 16 May 2011 by hashimilion

Malaysian premier Najib Razak says his country is willing to send peacekeepers to help “de-escalate tension” in Bahrain while backing Saudi Arabia’s role in resolving regional unrest.

Bahraini authorities in the kingdom ruled by a Sunni dynasty have attempted to curb violent protests in recent months inspired by uprisings that toppled Egypt’s and Tunisia’s presidents.

“Malaysia stands ready to contribute peacekeepers to the Kingdoam of Bahrain, if invited to do so by the Bahraini leadership,” Najib said in a statement late Friday following a meeting with Saudi Arabian monarch King Abdullah in Riyadh.

“Malaysia will consider it a great honour to offer assistance in this noble effort.”

He said Malaysia, a Sunni Muslim-majority nation, supported the national dialogue process launched by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa in a bid to “de-escalate tension in the country.”

On March 16, security forces drove mostly Shiite protesters out of central Manama’s Pearl Square and demolished their camp after King Hamad declared a state of emergency.

The King also called in Saudi-led Gulf troops to boost his security force.

Bahrain authorities said 24 people, including four policemen, were killed in the unrest with the kingdom coming under strong criticism from international human rights organisations for its heavy-handed crackdown.

 

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Monarchy Club to Extend Saudi Influence

Posted on 12 May 2011 by hashimilion

The Gulf Co-operation Council could be turning itself into the club of Arab monarchies as it considers bringing Jordan and Morocco into its fold, a move that would strengthen the political and economic capacity of the two countries’ leaders to fend off any popular challenge.

In a surprise announcement late on Tuesday, the GCC, which joins six oil-producing Gulf Arab states, said it was considering a request by Morocco and Jordan to join the bloc, even though the two poorer countries have little in common with existing members.

Following a GCC summit in Riyadh, Abdullatif al-Zayani, the secretary-general, said foreign ministers would be holding talks with the two non-Gulf countries to complete the procedures required for membership. It is not yet clear if membership will be granted or in what form.

Abdullatif al-Zayani

The GCC was formed in 1981 in the wake of the Iranian revolution as an alliance of oil-producing monarchies, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.

Efforts at economic integration have been only partly successful, undermined by rivalries and political divisions.

As republics dominated by family rule have proved most vulnerable to popular revolts this year, however, the GCC has been asserting itself, closing ranks to protect its members from the changes sweeping the region. GCC troops were sent to Bahrain to support the ruling Sunni family, helping it crush a Shia uprising. Meanwhile, the organisation pledged $20bn in financial aid to Bahrain and Oman, another Gulf monarchy that was hit by protests.

Saudi Arabia, the heavyweight in the GCC, has also been dismayed by the willingness of the US to abandon long-time allies such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted this year, and to criticise a Bahraini intervention, which Riyadh insists was needed to counter Iranian meddling.

Diplomats say GCC states have been sending the message that no Gulf ruling family will be allowed to fall – nor will Iran, which is seen as the biggest regional threat, be permitted to take advantage of the unrest in the region.

Khalid al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s foreign minister, said on Twitter that Jordan and Morocco were “clear examples of good, wise governance and real political development”. The GCC, he added, had “a vital interest in joining together with them”.

Mustafa Hamarneh, a Jordanian political analyst, said the GCC move was a sign that Jordan belonged to the “conservative monarchy club”. What all the countries had in common, he said, was that “they see eye to eye on all the main issue: on Iran, on Bahrain and on the question of political reforms”.

Membership in the GCC would be a boost for the Jordanian monarchy, if it went ahead, but would prove a setback for groups seeking reform, he added.

Hassan al-Mostafa, a Saudi writer, said the possible integration of the two countries into the GCC was an attempt to “reshape the region” by creating new alliances at a time when a democratically elected Egyptian government was likely to follow a more independent foreign policy, possibly becoming friendlier with Tehran.

“The GCC will also help Jordan and Morocco to avoid pressure or collapse of these regimes,” he said. “But Moroccans and Jordanians are more politically active and won’t accept the GCC dictating foreign policy.”

Dris Ben Ali, a Moroccan economist who has been advocating political reforms, said he was concerned about the political rationale behind a potential membership in the GCC, which might be aimed at halting Morocco’s move towards a “democratic, parliamentary monarchy” that could become a model for others in the region.

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Gulf Bloc Welcomes More Kings

Posted on 11 May 2011 by hashimilion

The six Gulf monarchies Tuesday responded to Arab uprisings by agreeing to expand their regional grouping to include pro-Western Jordan and Morocco and urged a quick political deal in Yemen.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) welcomed bids by the two Arab kingdoms to join the six-nation grouping of Gulf monarchies, its secretary general Abdullatif al-Zayani said.

“Leaders of the GCC welcomed the request of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to join the council and instructed the foreign ministers to enter into negotiations to complete the procedures,” Zayani told reporters.

He said the same procedure would be followed with Morocco.

His remarks came after a summit in Riyadh of the GCC, which groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, discussed relations with Iran, the unrest in Yemen — the Arabian Peninsula’s only republican state — and the tensions sweeping the region.

The heads of state demanded that all sides in Yemen, which has limited observer status in the GCC, sign a transition plan brokered by the bloc.

“The council urged all parties in Yemen to sign the agreement which is the best way out of the crisis and spare the country further political division and deterioration of security,” the GCC leaders said in a joint statement.

It said their transition plan for Yemen was a “comprehensive agreement that would preserve Yemen’s security, stability and unity.”

GCC heads of state discussed the bloc’s mediation efforts which stalled this month in the face of veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s refusal to sign up to proposals which would require him to stand down.

He has been insisting that any transfer of power should be in line with the constitution which would allow him to serve out his term until 2013.

The GCC plan proposes the formation of a government of national unity, Saleh transferring power to his vice president and resigning after 30 days, a day after parliament passes a law granting him and his aides immunity.

GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani travelled to Sanaa last week to invite members of the government and the opposition to sign the transition plan in Riyadh and to obtain the president’s signature but he returned empty-handed.

At Tuesday’s summit, the Gulf monarchies also criticised Iran’s “continued interference” in their internal affairs.

Relations between Iran and its Gulf Arab neighbours have deteriorated sharply, with the bloc accusing Tehran of seeking to destabilise Arab regimes by stoking the unrest that has rocked the region.

Shiite-dominated Iran strongly criticised Saudi Arabia’s mid-March military intervention in Sunni-ruled Bahrain which was aimed at helping crack down on a Shiite-led uprising.

Iran says it gives “moral support” to Bahrainis but is not involved in the protests. Bahrain and Kuwait have expelled Iranian diplomats, accusing them of espionage.

 

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Brave Saudi Women Dare to Take the Wheel

Posted on 11 May 2011 by hashimilion

 

Manal, a 32-year-old woman, is planning something she’s never done openly in her native Saudi Arabia: Get in her car and take to the streets, defying a ban on female drivers in the kingdom.

Manal and ten other people are organizing a campaign on Facebook and Twitter urging Saudi women with international driver’s licenses to join them starting June 17, risking their jobs and their freedom. The coordinated plan isn’t a protest, she said.

“I’m doing it because I’m frustrated, angry and mad,” Manal, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said in an interview from the eastern city of Dhahran. “It’s 2011 and we’re still discussing this insignificant right for women.”

The risk the women are willing to take underscores both their exasperation with the restrictions and the infectious nature of the changes sweeping the region. Saudi Arabia, which has the world’s biggest oil reserves, so far has avoided the mass demonstrations that have toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and threaten officials in Libya, Yemen and Syria.

“These events have taught Saudi women to join ranks and act as a team,” said Wajeeha al-Howeider, a Saudi women’s rights activist, in a telephone interview from Dhahran. “This is something they could only have learned from those revolutions.”

Male Approval


Saudi Arabia enforces the ascetic Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Women aren’t allowed to have a Saudi driver’s permit, even though some drive when they’re in the desert away from urban areas. They can’t travel or get an education without male approval or mix with unrelated men in public places. They aren’t permitted to vote or run as candidates in municipal elections, the only ones the kingdom allows.

The last time a group of women publicly defied the driving ban was on Nov. 6, 1990, when U.S. troops had massed in Saudi Arabia to prepare for a war that would expel Iraq from Kuwait. The Saudi women were spurred by images of female U.S. soldiers driving in the desert and stories of Kuwaiti women driving their children to safety, and they were counting on the presence of international media to ensure their story would reach the world and lessen the repercussions, according to Noura Abdullah, 55.

Abdullah was one of forty-seven drivers and passengers who stayed out for about an hour before being arrested. They were banned from travel for a year, lost their jobs for 2 1/2 years and were condemned by the powerful clergy as harlots.

Spread the Word

Now it’s “superb” that a younger generation is following in their footsteps, Abdullah said in an interview from Riyadh, the capital. She doesn’t have an international driver’s license, so she will help by spreading the word about the event with telephone calls, text messages and emails, she said.

“Their timing is perfect,” she added. “There’s momentum in Saudi Arabia now and that should help.”

King Abdullah has taken steps this year to ensure regional turmoil is confined outside his borders, pledging almost $100 billion of spending on homes, jobs and benefits. He also has promised to improve the status of women. He opened the first co- educational university in 2009; appointed the kingdom’s first female deputy minister, Nora bint Abdullah al-Fayez, the same year; and has said he will provide more access to jobs for women, who make up about 15 percent of the workforce.

A change of policy in 2008 allowed women to stay in hotels without male guardians, and an amendment to the labor law allowed women to work in all fields “suitable to their nature.”

‘Largely Symbolic’

Human Rights Watch said in January that “reforms to date have involved largely symbolic steps to improve the visibility of women.” While the United Nations ranked the kingdom in the top one-third of nations in its 2010 Human Development Report — higher than Brazil and Russia — its score for gender equality was much lower. On that measure, which includes assessments of reproductive health and participation in politics and the labor market, Saudi Arabia was 128th of 138 nations, below Iran and Pakistan.

The campaign Manal is helping to organize, called “I will drive starting June 17,” is the latest effort by Saudi women this year to express their desire for more rights. On April 23, a group of 15 women showed up at a registration center in the western city of Jeddah, asking to participate in the September election, the Arab News reported a day later. While they were denied entry, they were permitted to relay their demands to Abdul Aziz al-Ghamdi, the head of the district office, the Arab News said.

Facebook Fans


The protest against the driving ban has attracted almost 800 Facebook fans since it began May 6.

“We are not here to break the law or demonstrate or challenge the authorities,” the organizers said on their page. “We are here to claim one of our simplest rights.”

Sheikh Mohammed al-Nujaimi, a Saudi cleric, dismissed the campaign, saying statements he makes about religious issues that are posted on websites have received more than 24,000 page views in a day.

The plan is “against the law, and the women who drive should be punished according to the law,” al-Nujaimi said in a telephone interview. Driving causes “more harm than good” to women, because they risk mixing with men they aren’t related to, such as mechanics and gas-station attendants, he added.

“Women will also get used to leaving their homes at will,” al-Nujaimi said.

Other Support

Three telephone calls by Bloomberg News to the mobile phone of a press officer at Saudi Arabia’s Traffic Department, which enforces transit rules in the country, weren’t answered.

The campaign has received the support of some Saudi men. Ahmad al-Yacoub, 24, a Dhahran-based businessman, said he’s joined the effort because “these ladies are not fighting with religion or the government.”

“They are asking for a simple right that they want to practice freely without being harassed or questioned,” al- Yacoub said.

Ghada Abdul-Latif, a 31-year-old rights activist, said she will support the effort by filming it and posting it online; she won’t drive for fear of being jailed before her wedding in June.

“It is a courageous campaign,” said Hatoon al-Fassi, a Saudi historian. “It feels so weird to consider such a human right a courageous movement. But it is in a country such as Saudi Arabia, which is trying to live against the current and life and history.”

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Saudi Arabia’s Political Risks

Posted on 04 May 2011 by hashimilion

The world’s No. 1 oil exporter faces the twin challenges of creating jobs for a young population at a time of unrest in the Arab world, and pursuing economic reforms with a royal succession looming.

The stability of Saudi Arabia is of global importance since the kingdom sits on more than a fifth of oil reserves, is home to the biggest Arab stock market, is a major owner of dollar assets and acts as a regional linchpin of U.S. security policy.

King Abdullah, who is around 87, unveiled $93 billion in social handouts in March, on top of another $37 billion announced less than a month earlier.

But this apparent effort to insulate the kingdom from Arab popular protests sweeping the region has not stopped activists, including liberals, Shi’ites and Islamists, calling in petitions for more political freedom. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy with no elected parliament.

Riyadh has not seen the kind of mass uprisings that have shaken the Arab world this year, but Shi’ites in the kingdom’s oil-producing east have staged a number of protests.

Almost no Saudis in Riyadh answered a Facebook call for protests on March 11 in the face of a massive security presence.

Saudi Arabia has been ruled by the Al Saud family for 79 years, with influence from clerics following the austere Wahhabi school of Islam, and many oppose the very reforms the king has started.

However, slowing down reforms to modernise education might affect government plans to create jobs — unemployment last year reached 10 percent.

And with around 70 percent of Saudi Arabia’s almost 19 million people under the age of 30, the pressure to find them gainful employment is huge.

SUCCESSION

King Abdullah returned home in February after spending three months abroad for medical treatment, during which he underwent two surgeries after a blood clot complicated a slipped disc.

With the slightly younger Crown Prince Sultan also in poor health, the throne could eventually go to Interior Minister Prince Nayef, a conservative who could put the brakes on some reforms started by Abdullah, analysts say. Nayef, around 77 years old, was promoted to second deputy prime minister in 2009.

He has supported the religious police who roam the streets to make sure unrelated men and women do not mix in public and that shops close during prayer times.

To regulate succession, Abdullah has set up an “allegiance council” of sons and grandsons of the kingdom’s founder but it is not clear when, or how, it will work in practice.

So far only sons of the kingdom’s founder Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud have ascended the throne, and the remaining 20 or so are mostly in their 70s and 80s. Leaders have been reluctant to hand senior jobs over to the next generation.

If a younger generation were unexpectedly to come into play, prominent potential candidates include Nayef’s son Mohammed, who as the anti-terror chief was the target of an al Qaeda suicide attack in 2009. Another leading face among the grandsons of Ibn Saud is Sultan’s son Khaled, the assistant defence minister.

WHAT TO WATCH:

– The health of senior royal family members and their involvement in day-to-day affairs of running the kingdom

– Any sign of abrupt cancellation of scheduled programmes such as foreign visits by senior leaders

– Any signs that the elder generation is passing on more responsibility to the grandsons of Ibn Saud, and to which ones

REFORMS

Officials who back Abdullah say they fear that young Saudis frustrated over their failure to find work could provide potential recruits to violent Islamists who want to overthrow the House of Saud.

Abdullah started some narrow reforms to overhaul education and the judiciary after taking office in 2005 but diplomats say his reform drive has run out of steam.

He has not altered the political system of an absolute monarchy that analysts say has fuelled dissent, with democracy activists, liberals and Islamists calling on the king in petitions to allow elections and more freedom.

Abdullah’s handouts focused on social largesse and a boost to security and religious police, but included no political change.

The kingdom in March also announced it would hold long-delayed municipal elections but said women will not be allowed to vote. With no elected assembly, Saudi Arabia has no political parties.

Saudi analysts say the king could reshuffle the cabinet, where some ministers have been on board for decades, or call fresh municipal elections, a plan that was shelved in 2009 due to the opposition of conservative princes.

WHAT TO WATCH:

– Any signs of protests or petitions by activists demanding political reforms

– Any signs of a cabinet reshuffle or plan to hold fresh municipal elections

– Any approval of a much-delayed mortgage law, which aims to ease pressure on the housing market

SHI’ITE MUSLIMS

Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-led regional diplomatic heavyweight, has sought to contain Iran’s influence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq produced a Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.

With majority Shi’ites in neighbouring Bahrain having protested against the Sunni government there, analysts say there is a risk that unrest could spread to Saudi Arabia’s own Shi’ite minority, which lives in the oil-producing Eastern Province just across from Bahrain.

Shi’ites in the east have held a number of protests calling for prisoner releases and a withdrawal of Saudi forces sent to Bahrain to help put down the unrest.

Saudi Shi’ites have long complained about marginalisation and have started small protests to demand the release of prisoners they say have been detained without trial. Riyadh denies any charges of discrimination.

Riyadh also shares U.S. concerns that Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons in secret. The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action against Iran, which says it is developing nuclear energy only to generate electricity.

Saudi Arabia has publicly tried to stay out of the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear programme but a series of U.S. diplomatic cables released by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks portrayed Riyadh as pressing for a U.S. attack.

King Abdullah was said to have “frequently exhorted the U.S. to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear programme,” a cable printed in Britain’s Guardian newspaper said.

WHAT TO WATCH:

– Any signs of further protests and a deterioration in the eastern province

– Any possible military action against Iran and its impact on the Gulf region

– Any Saudi diplomatic moves to tighten sanctions on Iran and any signs of Saudi facilities offered for military action

AL QAEDA THREAT

Saudi Arabia, with the help of foreign experts, managed to quash an al Qaeda campaign from 2003 to 2006 that targeted expatriate housing compounds, embassies and oil facilities.

Riyadh destroyed the main cells within its borders. But many militants slipped into neighbouring Yemen where al Qaeda regrouped to form a Yemen-based regional wing that seeks, among other things, the fall of the U.S.-allied Saudi royal family.

The Yemen-based al Qaeda arm shot to the global spotlight after it claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound passenger plane in December 2009.

Despite the U.S. killing of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden on May 1, the Yemeni wing of the militant Islamist group is expected to remain active, and exploit political instability in Yemen as well.

WHAT TO WATCH:

– Whether al Qaeda’s resurgent Yemen-based branch mounts more operations in Saudi territory, as it has within Yemen

– Riyadh wants to build a fence to seal the mountainous 1,500-km (930-mile) Yemen border, which could help stop militants from crossing.

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