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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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Russia Kills ‘Saudi Al-Qaeda Envoy’ In Chechnya

Posted on 22 April 2011 by hashimilion

Doku Umarov

Russian security forces in Chechnya killed a Saudi militant who was the top envoy of Al-Qaeda in the Northern Caucasus and responsible for deadly attacks, the national anti-terror committee said Friday.

The militant — known by the nom-de-guerre of Moganned — was one of three rebels killed in a clash with Russian security forces around the village of Serzhen-Yurt in Chechnya on Thursday afternoon, it said.

“One of the eliminated bandits has been identified as the main emissary of the international terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda in the Northern Caucasus, a citizen of Saudi Arabia by the name of Moganned,” the committee said in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies.

It said that alongside Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov — Russia’s most wanted man who security forces have repeatedly failed to kill over the last years — Moganned was a leading figure among rebels in the region.

After waging two wars against separatists in Chechnya after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin is now battling an Islamist-tinged insurgency that has also spread to the neighbouring regions of Dagestan and Ingushetia.

The committee said that according to intelligence from detained militants Moganned had fallen out with Umarov and become a rival to the elusive Chechen in the rebel underground.

“Almost all acts of terror using suicide bombers in the last years were prepared with his involvement,” it said.

Moscow over the last year has been rocked by an airport bombing that killed 37 in January 2011 and a twin suicide bombing that killed 40 on the Moscow metro in March 2010.

Both of these attacks have however been claimed by Umarov and Russian officials have also pointed to his involvement. But over the last weeks they have come under increasing pressure to explain their failure to eliminate Umarov.

The Russian authorities have repeatedly indicated that Umarov was killed in the Caucasus, only to be forced into embarrassing backtracking when it emerged that the militant had escaped.

Russia hoped it killed Umarov in an air strike in Ingushetia last month but officials later admitted it appeared he had slipped away again.

A man purporting to be Umarov then telephoned the North Caucasus service of Radio Free Europe, saying that he was “absolutely healthy” and threatened further attacks.

The statement also claimed links between Magonned and Georgia, with whom Russia fought a war in 2008 and still retains tense relations.

It said he had been hoping this summer to receive a batch of new fighters from over the border with Georgia and with their help win overall control of the insurgency in the Caucasus.

Russian news agencies said Magonned had been in the Northern Caucasus since 1999 when he arrived to reinforce a group based in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge led by the notorious Arab militant Khattab, whom Russian forces killed in 2002.

By 2005, he had emerged as the main coordinator for handling money that was coming in from abroad to support the militant underground.

 

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Saudi Obsession with Iran

Posted on 07 January 2011 by hashimilion

During the past ten years, the political efforts of Saudi Arabia were focused on two issues:
Firstly, regaining Washington’s trust, friendship, alliance and protection of the Saudi regime, especially after the events of 11 September 2001, which badly affected their relationship. This objective was achieved, for after 4 years the relationship is back to normal. This was primarily due to Saudi money, which was spent generously, and the regime’s political concessions to the US at the expense of the Palestinian cause. This is in addition to America’s failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the need for a Saudi role in the region.

Secondly, confronting Iranian influence, it seems that Saudis are very much preoccupied with Iran’s scientific and nuclear development, Iran’s regional and global growth which has reached Africa and its ability to build strong alliances with the countries of Latin America.

Saudi Arabia’s policies towards many issues such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen, Algeria, Russia, Israel and Palestine, are all determined by the priorities of the Saudi- Iranian conflict. This conflict has also badly affected the production and the pricing of oil, whereby Saudi tries to decrease Iran’s oil revenue by failing to adhere to the OPEC quota, and hence manipulating the price of oil.

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