Tag Archive | "government"

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Why Saudi Arabia Should Be Worried About Iran’s Next Move

Posted on 20 April 2011 by hashimilion

Protests in Qatif, Saudi Arabia

 

Iran warned Saudi Arabia on Monday of the dire consequences of Riyadh’s intervention in Bahrain.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s adviser for military affairs, Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, told journalists, “The presence and attitude of Saudi Arabia (in Bahrain) sets an incorrect precedence for similar future events, and Saudi Arabia should consider this fact that one day the very same event may recur in Saudi Arabia itself and Saudi Arabia may come under invasion for the very same excuse.”

A post-U.S. Iraq renders the Saudi kingdom vulnerable to a future Iranian invasion.

The remarks made by Safavi, who formerly served as commander of Iran’s elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (1997-2007), constitute the first time Tehran has issued such a direct warning. The Saudis and the Iranians have had tense relations since the founding of the Islamic republic in 1979 and increasingly so since the U.S. invasion of Iraq toppled the Baathist regime, which led to a Shiite-dominated Iraqi state and the empowering of Iran. But never before has Iran issued a public statement about an invasion of the Saudi kingdom.

So, why is the Persian Shiite state engaging in such threats now? The Saudi move to intervene in neighboring Bahrain, where popular unrest was largely waged by the Shiite majority, threatened to topple a Sunni monarchy. Well aware of the implications, the Saudis embarked on their first long-term, overseas military deployment, sending in 1,500 troops to help Bahraini forces crush the Shiite opposition.

The Saudi move succeeded in quelling the unrest (for now at least), which placed Iran in a difficult position. Lacking the capability to physically aid their fellow Shia in the Persian Gulf, the Iranians were caught in an awkward situation. Iran had to do more than issue diplomatic statements and engineer protests against the Saudis and their allies.

Warning the Saudis that they too could be invaded on the same pretext that they used to go into Bahrain is definitely an escalation on the part of the Iranians. Since Iran making good on its threat is unlikely to happen anytime soon (given that the United States would not stand by and allow Iran to attack Saudi Arabia), this can be argued as yet another hollow threat. A more nuanced examination of the situation, however, suggests that Tehran is not just simply engaging in bellicose rhetoric.

Instead, Iran is trying to exploit Saudi fears. The Wahhabi kingdom fears instability (especially now when it is in the middle of a power transition at home and the region has been engulfed by popular turmoil). The clerical regime in Iran sees regional instability as a tool to advance its position in the Persian Gulf region.

Riyadh can never be certain that Tehran won’t ever attack but Iran would have to overcome many logistical difficulties to make good on its threat. The Saudis are also not exactly comfortable with the idea of overt military alignment with the United States. The last time the Saudis entered into such a relationship with the Americans was during the 1991 Gulf War and it lead to the rise of al Qaeda.

Put differently, any conflict involving Iran entails far more risks than rewards for the Saudis. Cognizant of the Saudi perceptions, the Iranian statement is designed as a signal to the Saudis that they should accept Iran as a player in the region or be prepared to deal with a very messy situation. The key problem for Saudi Arabia is that Tehran doesn’t have to actually resort to war to achieve its ends. But Riyadh’s efforts to counter Iran and its Arab Shiite allies are likely to create more problems for the Saudis because crackdowns are contributing to long-term instability in the region and causing agitation among the Shia, which Iran can use to its advantage.

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Saudi Shi’ites Protest, Call For Prisoner Release

Posted on 15 April 2011 by hashimilion

 

Hundreds of Saudi Shi’ites in the oil-producing east took to the streets in protest on Thursday, calling for the release of prisoners held without trial and an end to human rights violations, activists said.

The main rally took place in the Shi’ite centre of Qatif in the Eastern Province and a smaller one in a nearby village. Activists said there was very little police presence.

“Now in the centre of Qatif there are around 500 men and women, carrying candles and chanting for the release of prisoners and their right to protest,” said one activist who declined to be named for fear of being detained.

Another activist said around 50 women gathered in Awwamiya village, near Qatif, also carrying candles and chanting for the release of prisoners held without trial and for an end to female discrimination in the absolute monarchy.

A police spokesperson in the Eastern Province did not answer calls for comment.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil producer and major U.S. ally is an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate any form of dissent. It has not seen the kind of mass uprisings that have rocked the Arab world in the last few months.

Shi’ites in the Eastern Province have held some protests over the past few weeks, resulting in police detentions of some of the demonstrators, but almost no Saudis answered a Facebook call for protest on March 11, amid a huge security presence.

Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite minority, mostly living in the Eastern Province which holds much of the country’s oil wealth, have long complained of discrimination, a claim the government denies.

 

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Saudi Arabia is Losing Its Fear

Posted on 09 March 2011 by hashimilion

In Riyadh the mood is tense; everyone is on edge wondering what will happen on Friday – the date the Saudi people have chosen for their revolution. The days building up to Friday so far have not been as reassuring as one would like.

On 4 March, there were protests in the eastern region and a smaller protest here in Riyadh. The protests in the eastern region were mainly to call for the release of Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amer, who had been detained after giving a sermon calling for a constitutional monarchy.

The protest in Riyadh was started by a young Sunni man, Mohammed al-Wadani, who had uploaded a YouTube video a few days before, explaining why the monarchy has to fall. After the protests, 26 people were detained in the eastern region and al-Wadani was taken in soon after he held up his sign near a major mosque in Riyadh.

It’s not just the people who are on edge; apparently the government is also taking this upcoming Friday seriously. Surprisingly, Sheikh Amer was released on Sunday, while usually political detentions take much longer.

All this week, government agencies have been issuing statements banning protests. First it was the interior ministry that promised to take all measures necessary to prevent protests. Then the highest religious establishment, the Council of Senior Clerics, deemed protests and petitions as un-Islamic. The Shura Council, our government-appointed pretend-parliament, also threw its weight behind the interior ministry’s ban and the religious decree of prohibition. But you can’t blame the clerics or the Shura for making these statements – the status quo is what’s keeping them in power and comfortable.

Saudis are now faced with a ban on any form of demonstration, and the blocking and censorship of petitions. Moreover, four newspaper writers who had signed one of the petitions are now suspended.

Saudis feel cornered, with little means of self-expression and at the same time exposed to news and opinions that only add salt to the wound. For example, Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz, the king’s half-brother, went on BBC Arabic TV to state his support for a constitutional monarchy and warn that anything less will lead to “evils” (his word).

Meanwhile, a newspaper reported that an expatriate was sentenced to 14 months in prison and 80 lashes for stealing part of a chicken from a restaurant. In response to the news, Abdulrahman Allahim, an award-winning Saudi human rights lawyer, tweeted that in his experience he had never come across a case in Saudi courts where a defendant was given a verdict of not guilty.

In Jeddah, a committee that has spent more than a year investigating the disappearance of millions of public funds assigned to the municipality to build a sewerage system has yet to make one formal accusation against anyone.

Another article revealed that the unemployment benefits recently decreed by the king have been whittled down from 3,000 riyals (£490) a month to 1,000 riyals (£165) and will probably only be given to unemployed men but not women.

The official unemployment rate of men is 10%, although many estimate it to be higher. The unemployment rate for women is yet to be officially announced but a study in 2010 estimated it at more than 26%.

It’s also estimated that about 60% of the population is under 30. These young, unemployed people live with many constrictions on their freedom. In addition to extreme gender segregation, single men are banned from entering shopping malls, and women cannot process their own papers, get a job or even access transport without male accompaniment and approval.

There’s no denying that the country is fertile ground for a revolution. However, I am concerned that the revolution might be hijacked by Islamists. Sa’ad al-Faqih, a London-based anti-monarchy activist, is claiming the revolution for himself. His TV programme, which is accessible via satellite in Saudi, is organising protest locations and revving up viewers to participate. Another contender is the new Islamic Umma party, whose founding members are imprisoned until they renounce their political aspirations (they have so far refused). Although the founding members are not free, the party’s online activity grows day by day. Both groups make use of a rhetoric that is dear to many average Saudis – attacking US foreign policy and the royal family’s misuse of the nation’s wealth while threading both issues within an Islamic theme.

On the other hand, the king is popular. All the petitions call for a constitutional monarchy, rather than the fall of the monarchy. Those who signed the petitions are mostly loyal to the king, but want access to decision-making and an end to corruption.

Also, many of the signatories are thinkers, writers and academics – generally an elite group of Saudis. From what I’ve read, nothing indicates they will go out to protest. However, one political activist who has been imprisoned several times for writing petitions was noticeably absent from recent lists of signatories. When a close friend of mine asked him why, he said, “now is not the time to sign petitions, now is the time to act”.

It’s very difficult to predict what will happen on Friday. My guess is that there will be protests. The larger protests will be in the eastern region and mostly by Shia Muslims. I also expect smaller protests in Riyadh and Jeddah. What tactics the security forces use will greatly influence not only the demonstrators but also the people watching from their homes. If undue violence is used against the demonstrators, it could possibly ignite the same fuse that led to full-blown revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Whether or not it comes to that, we as a people have changed for ever. No longer do I see the frightened hushing of political discussion – everyone is saying what they believe and aspire for out in the open without fear. As Fouad Alfarhan, a prominent Saudi activist, tweeted:

“Probably not much will happen, however the biggest gain is the awareness raised in a large faction of our young people of their human and political rights in this post-Bouazizi world.”

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Saudi Arabia Planning Cabinet Reshuffle

Posted on 04 March 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi Arabia is to announce a major cabinet reshuffle soon as the four-year term for the current council of ministers has expired, an official told AFP on Wednesday.

The term of the cabinet formed on March 22, 2007 expired 21 days ago based on the lunar Islamic calendar followed in the conservative kingdom.

“The government’s mandate has expired, but due to the king’s absence, the announce of the reshuffle has been delayed,” the official said.

King Abdullah, who is also the prime minister, returned to Riyadh on February 23, after being away for three months for medical treatment.

“We can expect significant changes of some ministers,” said the official, who declined to comment on speculations over replacing Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi.

King Abdullah kept the line-up of ministers unchanged when he ascended the throne after the death of his brother King Fahd in 2005.

In February 2009, he appointed new education, justice and information ministers, a new supreme court chief and a new head of the consultative Shura council, along with the nomination of a deputy education minister for women’s education.

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Saudi Prince Calls for Reform Amid Regional Unrest

Posted on 18 February 2011 by hashimilion

The protests and unrest in Arab countries may be dangerous for Saudi Arabia if King Abdullah does not step up the pace of reform, a Saudi prince said Thursday.

Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz, a half brother of the king, said it was not too late for the Saudi government to take steps to avoid protests – and that the king is the only person who can bring about major changes.

“The only person who could really maintain things and do major things and change is King Abdullah,” the prince told BBC Arabic in an interview. “Because he is not merely liked, but he is loved by the people. But if he doesn’t do it, it would be very dangerous in our country.”

Talal is an outspoken prince who has called for reform before. He holds no government posts and is considered something of an outsider within the royal family.

He was forced briefly into exile in the 1960s amid reports at the time that he planned a revolt.

Political activity in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which follows strict Islamic rule, is severely restricted and all power rests in the hands of the ruling Saudi family.

The kingdom’s first political party was formed recently by moderate scholars calling for reform, following the turmoil in Egypt and Tunisia.

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