Category Archives: Arabian Peninsula

Political Nirvana: Hillary Clinton Writes to the Saudi People about Freedom for Syrians…….

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has penned a column for the Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat (owned by Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud). Her topic is the Syrian uprising against the Assad regime and is titled “No return to the Status Quo Ante in Syria”.
She assures the Saudi people, and any other Arabs who might read that daily, that the Bahraini Saudi Syrian people deserve freedom and the right to choose their own government, that they deserve dignity and freedom from fear. She also said that Bahrain Syria deserves a government that respects the people and seeks a unified and democratic nation…..
Like Mr. Obama in his last speech, she neglected to mention Saudi Arabia and the people of the Arabian Peninsula. They both believe in the principle of selective non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations, and hence she did not mention Occupied Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or the UAE where many people are languishing in prison for expressing their opinion. Or maybe they believe that the peoples in these absolute tribal monarchies have already attained political Nirvana or, worse, they don’t believe these people deserve what the peoples of other Arab countries (and Iran) deserve.
It is true, not as many people have been killed in most the Gulf states than in Syria or Libya or Egypt. Except for Bahrain where proportionally as much if not more have been killed than in some of the others, given the small population of native Bahrainis and the 33 killed and dozens still “missing”.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

A Country of Princes on Wheelchairs, Corrupt Men in Suvs, Scurrying Faceless Women……

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But not Saudi Arabia, or so it seems. And not Riyadh. As ever, Saudi men sit in their large SUVs, stuck in traffic between the steel-blue facades of office buildings, and the wives of these men are still having their drivers drop them off in front of the shopping malls in downtown Riyadh, where they scurry from Prada to Ralph Lauren and then disappear into Starbucks for a latte — in the “family department,” a room on the side kept separate from the world of men. The boulevards and promenades of the Saudi capital look as though they had been swept clean, as if some mysterious force had extinguished all public life. Riyadh has nothing like Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis or Tahrir Square in Cairo. In fact, there is no sign in Saudi Arabia of a public political discourse that could be compared with the debates, held in secret at first and then more and more in the open, with which the unrest began in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. Almost every political discussion seems to end with the same words: Long live the king! Saudi Arabia feels like a realm that has come to a standstill in a rapidly changing world. Its leaders, most notably the 86-year-old King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, are pinning their hopes on the old principle of stability………….

They call it stability, others call it stagnation. That same argument was used in the swamp that was Egypt under Mubarak for thirty years: they said it was ‘stability’, I called it a swamp. There is not much virtue in stable misery and repression and powerlessness and corruption. Once the fear is gone, the ‘stability’ card is not compelling.
(And then there was/is Khaled al-Jehany, a brave young man, the only one in the city, who stood in a Riyadh street and said that the whole country is a big prison, He was whisked away and his fate is still unknown).
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Is the Saudi Women Drive-in Protest DOA?……….

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On Facebook and Twitter, activists had launched a campaign calling on women in Saudi Arabia who hold international drivers’ licenses to get behind the wheel on Friday, June 17, and drive their cars to protest the country’s ban on women driving. Their call is a daring initiative. Women who have defied the ban in the past have lost their jobs, been banned from travel and denounced by members of the country’s powerful extremist religious establishment. The women say their planned move is not a protest nor an attempt to break the law, but rather a bid to claim basic rights as human beings……….

That is where these women are wrong, when they say they are not trying to protest (or even break an arbitrary rule). Protest is a God-given right. Every one of us, man or woman, was born protesting, along with the proverbial slap on the behind. They are protesting, they are asserting their right to protest, as they should. Rather than pull back and try to water down their demands, they should expand them. Arab despots, like all despots, only understand the language of firmness. They can smell fear and hesitation. Think of Egypt, think of Tunisia.
(Nevertheless, I now suspect that this Saudi drive-in may fizzle, as much as the men’s protest in Riyadh last March did. Opponents are gaining voices on twitter. That expected drive-in may be DOA: dead on arrival).
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Saudi Women, Saudi men: the Drive-in…..

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One woman’s effort to end the ban on her gender being able to drive in Saudi Arabia is catching attention around the world. And on Morning Edition today, the editor of Jeddah’s Saudi News said that Manal al-Sharif’s campaign is gaining some traction in Saudi Arabia…….” NPR News

A Saudi woman was arrested yesterday, for the second time, for driving a vehicle. Saudi Arabia is the only country that bans females, that is ‘human’ females, from driving cars (I suspect women in Qandahar can’t drive either: so you get the picture). That is not the news. The real Saudi news is that Saudi women are organizing a drive-in, and it has a chance of success. If many women join.
Success is always a matter of how many come out to defy authority. Last March there was a campaign for protests in Saudi cities to call for freedom and reform. Only one man reportedly showed up in the capital Riyadh to publicly protest and he has not been since his arrest that day. Khaled al-Jehany is unlikely to be in a mood to protest again, if he is released. Defying authority has always been a taboo in Saudi Arabia: religious fatwas and the usual instruments of a police state have been effective in keeping people from defying the authority of the princes and their Wahhabi ulema (clergy) allies under Shaikh Al Al Shaikh.

It is the numbers, stupid. The more who heed the call for protest, the more chance of success. At some point there is enough of the people out (men, women, or otherwise) that the authority has to give in: that was the lesson of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya (almost), and Bahrain (almost). The numbers defy age-old fears. On their coming drive-in day, Saudi women may come out in huge numbers and drive. They may be able to achieve what the men have failed to do: defy authority and win. That is what authority fears: that it will be forced to relent through public protests, that is why they sent tanks into Bahrain. They want any “reform” to be bestowed by the ruler, not a right taken, wrested, by the people as it should be.
I am always for anyone or group that defies any authority anywhere in the Middle East (except the Salafis who always side with repressive and corrupt authority): from Rabat through Riyadh and onto Tehran.
 
(Go for it ladies: you may be the ones who finally break that wall of fear).
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Of Genomes, Iranians, Arabs, Jews, Gomorans, and Neanderthals…….

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Now that Stanford University’s Iranian Genome Project has been partly funded by a diaspora philanthropic organization, speculation is running wild in certain Iranian circles. The project’s expected medical benefits notwithstanding, Facebook is abuzz with comments about the potential unintended consequences of the racial revelations it may yield. A common Iranian lamentation is that virtually every major civilization has invaded us at least once: Greek, Roman, Arab, Mongol, Turkic, and European armies have all set up camp here. The odds are that the project will deliver a healthy shock to the racial purists among us. A similar project revealed that most Palestinians are not descended from Arab interlopers, as some Israeli ideologues argued, but from the ancient Jews who converted to Christianity and Islam. The idea of racial purity came to the Middle East in the 19th century as an extreme manifestation of nationalism. Soon, storms of Pan-Turkic, Pan-Iranist, and Pan-Arab agitation were brewing in tiny social teacups around the Middle East. Suddenly everybody was congenitally better than everybody else. Grandiose maps imagining new, ethnically correct national boundaries were drawn up and plans were made to recover national innocence by exorcising foreign words. I still remember the Pan-Iranists’ slogan of my youth: “Ahead to our own borders……. The chimera of racial purity led the to fabrication of new national myths and the systematic distortion of old ones. Some Iranians (like their Turkic and Arab counterparts) sought to escape their present inglorious existence in dreams of a golden past. In this spirit, much praise was showered in Iran on the national epic of Iran, Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh or Book of Kings………

Okay, they have discovered that most ‘Palestinians” were descendants of ancient Jews rather than Arabian tribes. What else is new, and what difference does it make? I never thought Palestinians were “Arabs” in the sense that their ancestors came from Arabia, anymore than that the ancestors of most Egyptian came from Arabia (they did not). Anymore than expecting the ancestors of blue-eyed blond Syrians to have been from Hejaz or Nejd. That is not how an “Arab” is defined by sane rational people.
But it is an interesting historical exercise: one day I shall undergo it to confirm if I am truly a descendant of the ancient Gods, or if that information was just a cruel hoax. I personally suspect that it is true.
Which makes me wonder: what if all our leaders are exposed (not a pun) to such Genome tests. Suppose the al-Saud, for example, discover that they were descended from, let us say, the Jews of Khyber. What would the Mufti Shaikh A Al Al Shaikh say (if he were rational, he would just shut up about it)? Suppose the al-Khalifa rulers of Bahrain discover that they are the descendants of some Sodomite tribe (meaning from that famous Biblical city of Sodom). That may explain their predilection for sexual assaults and rapes of male and female captive protesters. Sodomites (the people of Sodom) were notorious as sexual aggressors: that is just one version of the story. As for Qaddafi, I suspect he will end up being the descendant of the fraternization of some Roman legionnaire with a female sheep herder from the old Roman Province of Africa, Nothing Arab there, is there? There has already been speculation, mostly in Saudi media like Alarabiya (and Asharq Alawsat) that Iran’s Ahmadinejad is really Jewish and that he used to go by another name. I say: who cares? The only thing that changes is that he becomes entitled to do the Aliyah (עלייה)by the “right of return”: he could some day run for the Knesset. As for the al-Nahayan clan of Abu Dhabi (and the UAE)……..oy vey.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Post Bin Laden: Will al-Qaeda Come in From the Cold?………….

     
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Bin Laden’s radical politics continued to hold sway with some Saudi youth as Al Qaeda carried out attacks in the desert kingdom mainly in 2003. With an internal crackdown against Al Qaeda, Saudi fighters headed to Iraq to battle the US military and Iraq’s Shiite-led government through 2007. Only after concerted pressure from the Americans, did the Saudi royal family make a serious effort to try to stop the migration of young Saudi radicals to Iraq..…….

Will al-Qaeda mutate again now that Bin Laden is dead? Will it come in from the cold?
I have never believed that al-Qaeda terrorists, good Salafi sons of the Wahhabi nest, had ever completely cut the cord with the mother. There were a couple of publicized operations inside the Arabian Peninsula, many arrests, trials, re-education camps. Yet the emphasis has always been on ‘misguided’ sons who will return to the bosom. Re-education programs were set up exclusively for these Salafi ‘misguided ones’: by contrast, a ‘misguided’ Shi’a would probably have his head chopped off. Then there was the important money angle: that may explain the reluctance of the terrorists to perform significant operations in the Saudi kingdom. Why blow up decent Wahhabi folks in the ‘mother country’ when there is ample supply of Shi’a heretics next door in Iraq? Why kill the cash cow (or cash she-camel naqah)?

There is no doubt that al-Qaeda will undergo some more changes now that its leader, its main link to the moneyed part of the Arab world, is dead. We may be about to find out how far these changes will go before this year is over. Despite the public ‘animosity’ between al-Qaeda and the al-Saud dynasty, the Saudi regime has kept close and warm relations with the regional supporters of Bin Laden, the Salafis and their various organizations (e.g. Islamic Heritage Societies). Some of them act as outright Saudi agents in the Gulf states, pushing for yet closer ties with Riyadh, pushing for Saudi hegemony. This is partly tribal, but largely political and ideological and, dare I say it, financial.
The Salafi Wahhabis were spawned in Saudi Arabia and have never really strayed too far from their roots. The Saudis know they have a reliably fierce potential ally in their intensifying struggle not only against the ‘rival’ theocracy in Iran but also against the inevitable winds of Arab change and revolution. Al-Qaeda recruits have shown their ferocity in the terrorist campaigns inside Iraq, almost certainly financed by Saudis and other patrons in the Persian-American Gulf. For some years the Saudis tried to tie Iran to al-Qaeda, especially in Iraq, the same way as Dick Cheney tried to tie Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) to al-Qaeda. This was largely based on the proximity of Iran to Afghanistan and that some Bin Laden family members fled after 2001 to Iran. Saudis tried, improbably, to tie the Iranian mullahs to the terrorist acts committed in Iraq against the Shi’as by Saudis and other foreign Salafi Arabs. But that was then, a spin tailored to the Iraqi and American markets of that time.

Now there may be a new twist: a new, yet old, al-Qaeda that is truly allied with the Saudi regime, this time openly. The prodigal Wahhabis returning to the bosom of the mother: the absolute tribal monarchy from which they never strayed too far. They can be used in the coming battle: to intensify terrorist acts in Iraq (and possibly Iran), and they can be used against Hezbollah and Amal in Lebanon (something already started by the Saudi-financed Hariri group). It is an alliance that fits this new sectarian Sunni-Shi’a cold/hot war provoked by the al-Saud in order to divide our unstable region and help keep their shaky throne. This closer alliance is an idea that has no doubt crossed the minds of the al-Saud princes in the past, and they may be putting it to work now. They already have strong ties and alliances to al-Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers like the Salafis of the Islamic Heritage Societies and other groups in the Gulf. They have kept somewhat warm relations with the Taliban (Saudis and the UAE were the only Arab regimes that recognized their rule in Afghanistan before 9/11). Is it a coincidence that his year alone the Saudis have reportedly released hundreds, maybe thousands, of former al-Qaeda terrorists? Are they setting things up for a new alliance, post-Bin Laden? That would be a smart move for them to make, especially now that the more reactionary Prince Nayef is gaining ascendancy.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

May Day: Housemaids and Workers of the Arab World, Unite……

     
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“Several foreign manpower recruitment offices in the Kingdom have urged the authorities to protect their interests and impose tighter regulations on the recruitment of Indonesian workers. They were responding to the Jakarta government’s decision to introduce rules to protect Indonesian workers in the Kingdom. The recruitment companies demanded the Saudi Embassy in Jakarta to draft a new bilateral agreement with new conditions for hiring domestic staff. The new agreement would consist of certain conditions aimed at safeguarding the rights of Saudi recruitment offices against exploitation, Al-Riyadh newspaper reported. It would include a provision compelling Indonesian manpower recruitment agents to bear the responsibility for offenses committed by maids they have recruited………. There is a growing demand from Saudi families to allow them to recruit housemaids from Nepal and Ethiopia. The recruitment charges from these countries range from SR5,500 to SR6,000, with a monthly salary of SR700. The recruitment procedures from these countries would take less than two months,” he pointed out…….”

This is a humanitarian issue all across the Arab world. In a couple of GCC states, I strongly suspect the number of Asian housemaids exceeds the number of native citizens. I ‘strongly’ suspect that is the case in the UAE and Qatar. Some governments do more: the Saudi government sends officials to ‘target’ source countries in Asia to negotiate down the ‘prices’ of housemaids to make them “affordable” for local citizens. Countries that do not agree on lower “prices” for housemaids are punished by banning human imports from them. Not very Islamic, is it?
But the situation may be worse in places like Jordan and Lebanon, although the numbers are fewer. Every week there are reports of one or two Asian maids either falling off the balcony, dying accidentally, or committing suicide in Lebanon. It is almost like being a political prisoner in occupied Bahrain under Apartheid these days: one can die of strange causes.
Speaking of Bahrain: I wish the working people of that captive country better luck and freedom in the near future. So many workers have been fired from their jobs in both the public and private sectors for expressing their opinions.So many Bahrainis have been imprisoned simply for doing their jobs: doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, journalists, etc. Many are being tortured, some sentenced to death by military kangaroo courts.
I also salute the workers of Tunisia and Egypt who joined their brothers and sisters in overthrowing the dictatorships, and for keeping their vigilance during the current treacherous period. I salute the workers of all Arab states whose revolutions are still ongoing: Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Algeria, Mauretania, Jordan, and Morocco. Keep your vigilance: don’t let your revolution be hijacked by clones of the old regime, by former members of the old regimes, or by the old colonial masters. Nor by the despotic tribal absolute monarchies allied with the Salafi mercenaries.
I also salute the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula and the United Arab Emirates who are striving, slowly and cautiously but in some cases very bravely, toward civil societies. It is a difficult task in these two police states. Many are in prison under these two regime for using their God-give right to freely express their opinions. Some have been tortured; the price of freedom.
Happy May Day.
Cheers
mhg

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Wilayat el-Faqih Comes to Saudi Arabia, Music and Isotopes……..

     
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Saudi King Abdullah issued a royal decree yesterday making it illegal to criticize the chief cleric, the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, and other clergy. The king, with a simple decree, made Shaikh Abdelaziz Al Al Shaikh infallible. Now Shaikh Al is more infallible than the Prophet Mohammed was (people were free to criticize him fourteen centuries ago). He is more infallible than a Catholic (or Orthodox) saint. His pronouncements are now as holy as he himself is perceived (if you get my drift, and depending on one’s point of view). The royal family is simply returning the favors done by the clergy, the most recent of which was condemning protests against governments as un-Islamic, haram, taboo (except in Libya and possibly in Syria), but especially in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Now the Saudis are inching closer to the Iranian system of government: a supreme clergy (wilayat al-faqih in Arabic, or vilayat e-faqih in Persian). But alas, Shaikh Al is still subservient to the al-Saud: like all Arab muftis he tailors his fatwas to fit their needs. Besides, in theocratic Iran there is only one permanent life-time job: that of supreme leader, Khamenei (Ahmadinejad leaves in 2013, and not a minute too soon). Under the Saudi system there are two top ones: the king and the mufti. Come to think of it, there are many more lifetime jobs, as many as there are princes (+the mufti).

(Repetition: Shaikh Abdelaziz Al Al Shaikh is a direct descendant of “Imam” Mohammad Bin Abdelwahab the (now long dead) zealot from Nejd after whom Wahhabism is named. There are several of the Al Al Shaikh holding high ministerial positions in Saudi Arabia, always have been. They are given different numbers to distinguish them from each other, sort of like isotopes in chemistry (or ought to be). Imam Mohammad Bin Abdelwahab should not be confused the late great Egyptian singer, composer, (and occasional plagiarizer) Mohammed Abdelwahab who was not a Salafi or a fundamentalist but did have some great songs).

Cheers
mhg

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

The Economics of Saudi Housewives and Princes………

     
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Household Economics 101: referring to my last post. The reason Saudi families need so many housemaids is not necessarily that they are lazy. The wife often works, mostly teaching in girls schools, in order to make ends meet. They also need someone to drive the wife to work and back because women are not allowed drive in Saudi Arabia, even women who threaten to breastfeed their Asian drivers (actually those in the news were upper middle class ones). They can’t take public taxis driven by strange men, besides it probably is not safe in the kingdom of many frustrations. They don’t all live in the style of the al-Saud and their retainers. Most middle class families have to borrow even in order to travel for a vacation, most don’t own homes. There are people who are dirt poor under that ocean of petroleum and not far from those princely palaces: that is how the thousands of princes can afford to amass billions.
A report in Arab News today confirms what I and others have written: that overall unemployment is in double digits and that it is about 40% for young adults (20-24). That is a (pre)revolutionary rate of unemployment for young people. Fortyfucking percent unemployment! And only Khaled al-Johani showed up to protest in Riyadh last month and nobody knows what happened to him! Enough to drive anyone from the Arabia Peninsula, whose last name is not al-Saud, to despair.
I shall have more on this point in a coming posting soon: you have been forewarned.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Gulf Cat that Got Clinton’s Tongue………….

     
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Allies of Saudi Arabia have not publicly protested these serious and systematic violations. The European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said on April 18 that she had been “very pleased” with her two-day visit to Riyadh and made no public comments about the political prisoners. Neither Tom Donilon nor Robert Gates publicly commented on the kingdom’s human rights violations. “The EU’s silence on the brazen arrest of a peaceful dissident on the first day of its chief foreign policy representative’s visit looks like a pat on the back for an authoritarian state,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Silence when more than 160 peaceful dissidents are locked up should not be an option for Brussels or Washington.”………. In 2009, Saudi Arabia acceded to the Arab Charter for Human Rights, which guarantees in article 32 the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The kingdom is one of few countries that have not yet signed the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. “As the list of Saudi political prisoners grows longer, the silence of the US and the EU becomes more deafening,”…..”

Susan Rice today brazenly, and rightly, condemned human rights abuses in Syria and Libya and a few other Middle East countries. She waxed indignant. What was most noticeable were the countries she did not mention. Two of these countries are the worst abusers of human rights now: Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Even as Rice was speaking, these two regimes were rounding up people in both countries and torturing them in Bahrain. Not only do they suppress freedoms and dissent, they also practice a form of apartheid discrimination, in the Saudi case against anybody of a different sect or faith, in the Bahrain case against the majority of the people (a la South Africa). Rice did not say boo about them. Nor did Secretary Clinton recently when she lambasted other governments this week. The Saudi pussycat has got all their tongue. No profiles of courage when elected American and European officials are terrified of offending offensive tribal absolute serial-polygamous monarchs.
I knew that deep bow Mr. Obama made in from of King Abdullah in 2009 was the beginning of something.
Cheers
mhg

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com