Monday, November 23, 2009

Is Confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia Inevitable?

Director's Comments:

Relationships between autocratic Saudi monarchs and theocratic Iranian Mullahs have always been precarious due to centuries-old religious animosities (Sunni Saudis versus Persian Shiites). However, in recent decades, the situation has been exacerbated as each side aims to establish a military supremacy in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region and undermine each other wherever the opportunity arises. For example, Saudi monarchs supported former Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein against the Mullahs of Qom during the Iraqi-Iranian carnage between 1980 and 1990.

The ruling elites in Tehran and Riyadh took sides in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s. They have supported their proxies in Lebanon and in Iraq for decades, but to a greater extent since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Now, they are taking sides along religious lines in a bloody conflict between the Yemeni Sunni central government and an oppressed religious minority (Shiites) segment of its society, located on its northern border adjacent Saudi Arabia. The Yemeni religious minority, known as Al-Hawthis, accused the Saudi government of aiding the Yemeni central government against them, and the Saudi government accused the rebels of crossing its Southern border and killing three soldiers on Nov. 3 2009.

The Saudi military with the help of Pakistan, according to Prince Khalid bin Sultan, deputy to Saudi Defense Minister, retaliated by bombarding the rebels’ hideout from the air and the ground. In addition, the Saudis sent their warships to patrol Yemeni Red Sea shores in order to make sure no arms from Iran reach the Yemeni rebellions. It’s hard to imagine that the Saudis would have taken this dangerous and provocative step unless they were assured by the US and/or Israel that one or both of them would defend the Saudis against any Iranian reaction. Israel and the US have been threatening to hit Iran’s nuclear facilities and this might be the best pretext to get that job done.

On the other hand, the Saudi monarchy may have done this on its own to draw Iran into a military confrontation so the US and/or Israel will have a pretext to destroy Iran’s military infrastructure. Iran is the only remaining major threat to the Saudi monarchy in the region and crippling Iran’s military power would allow the monarchy to become the dominant power in the Gulf.

In 1987, the Iranian pilgrims rioted during the Hajj rituals in Mecca, which led to brutal reactions by Saudi forces and resulted in more than four hundred deaths and scores of injuries. There have been reports that the Iranian pilgrims may riot during the Hajj this year and the Saudis are warning against any disruption during the Muslims’ holy season. As in many previous conflicts among Muslims, Islam is used as an effective tool to achieve political ends by regimes and terrorists alike.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Saudi woman journalist sentenced to 60 lashes

Director's Comments:

CDHR denounces the Jeddah Summary Court and its presiding religious extremist Judge, Muhammad Amin Mirdad, for sentencing journalist Rosanna Al-Yami (R.A) to sixty flogs for doing her job. According to Saudi and global media outlets, R.A. “…was accused of being an accomplice to Abdul Jawad (Saudi male citizen) who provoked a furor because he boasted on TV about having premarital sex, provided explicit sexual descriptions and described how to pick up girls and women, “ Arabnews. “Imagine how busy the courts and public squares would be if every person in free societies where freedoms of speech and expression are protected under the rule of law are convicted and sentenced to flogging because they boasted about dating and sexual activities,” Said Dr. Ali Alyami, Director of the Washington based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi religious courts (rule of law and freedom of expression are considered an immoral Western invention, therefore antithesis to Islamic teachings) and their mostly ultra conservative (extremist) judges issue arbitrary and severe sentencing based on their mood, religious orientation and preconceived notions. The courts use these same standards to determine methods of punishment that may have very little to do with the case at hand, with the intention of sending chilling messages to those who dare think out of the box. Public flogging is the most humiliating form of punishment and is administered with the intention of reminding people that they are perpetual minors incapable of being in charge of their own lives and actions. Verdicts and summary sentencing in Saudi courts are not designed to fit the actions or crimes at hand, but to create an all-encompassing and enduring fear of the system’s heavy handedness. Abdul Jawad, the primary bragger has been sentenced to 1,000 flogging and a 5 year term of imprisonment.

As the birth place of Islam, home to its holy shrines (in Mecca and Medina) and promoter of an austere interpretation of the Quran and Shariah Law, the Saudi establishment plays an influential role in Muslims lives and the perception they have of themselves as well as non-Muslims. What happens in Saudi courts resonates throughout Muslim communities. Sentencing the Saudi female journalist, R. A. to 60 floggings in a public square is not because she was an accomplice to a minor event, but to intimidate other Saudi journalists and the public in general into total submission to the rule of the jungle carried out by men whose ultimate goal is total control over people’s lives in the name of God.

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Shoura member: Saudis need attitude adjustment

Well known Saudi businessman believes “Saudis need attitude adjustment”

Director's Comment:

After complaining about the Western media’s negative depiction of Saudis, Dr. Najeeb Al-Zamil, a well-connected Saudi businessman and a member of an appointed national assembly of 150 men (Majlis Alshura, a powerless committee of advisors to the King) has commendably raised an issue that human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and CDHR have studied and highlighted for years: The plight of mostly poor Asian expatriates in Saudi Arabia. Some have described the treatment of unskilled expatriates in Saudi Arabia as a modern form of slavery because of their unbearable living conditions, meager financial compensation and mistreatment by their employers. Dr. Al-Zamil correctly asked: “These expatriates who have come here to make a living and to improve their lives — why do they not like us?" He attributed it to assortments of anecdotes including gloomy facial expressions, “This is because Saudis are known for always putting on a grim face."

In this case, Dr Al-Zamil, like many Saudi officials and employers, shunned dealing with the real causes of expatriates’ resentment toward their employers. The dehumanizing treatment of expatriates begins the minute they arrive in Saudi Arabia. For starters, their passports are confiscated by Saudi authorities and handed over to their prospective employers. These expatriates consist of professionals, technocrats, cheap laborers, family drivers and the unluckiest amongst them, maids. Once they are in the custody of their employers, or masters in the case of maids and family drivers, they are treated as property of their employers. They cannot leave the country, try to escape abuses in the hands of their current employers, look for other jobs, form associations or other support systems with their compatriots, and if they happen to be non-Muslim or non Saudi-style Muslim, their plight gets worse.

The overwhelming majority of unskilled laborers live in shoddy and unhealthy camps where temperatures can reach 120 degrees in the shade during the scorching Saudi summers. Most expatriates are paid meagerly ($100 to $ 150 a month) and many of them work for months without receiving any financial compensation, depending on the mood of their employers since there are no labor laws to protect them from gross injustices and abuses.

For house maids, things get uglier. They are under their employers’ disposal 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like other unskilled laborers, they are paid very little and expected to perform a variety of jobs including entertaining adult males in the households where they work. These are facts that foreign and some courageous Saudi men and women reporters and human right activists have written about. While Dr. Al-Zamil’s castigation of his country men and women for their maltreatment of expatriates is to be applauded, smiling won’t change the negative image the Saudis (not the global media) have efficiently and successfully created for themselves.

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