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Will corruption finally mean prison? Some US firms are still scoring lucrative deals. Kidnapped German girls held for a year are rescued. A sheikh defends himself: The women he was with were menopausal!
Top News: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz condemned the financing of terrorist groups in a May 8 statement. His remarks followed the issuing of a fatwa by the country’s top clerical body declaring terror financing a crime under Islamic law. It was a good move, praised by none other than US Centcom Commander Gen. David H. Petraeus. But a question remains: Why did it take the clerics so long—almost nine years after 9/11—to state the obvious? And a prominent Arab columnist asks why this “historical” fatwa was not better publicized by both the clerics who wrote it and the local media.
The scandal of floods in Jeddah that left at least 123 people dead last fall, underscored the lack of an adequate drainage and sewage systems in the Red Sea port city. King Abdullah appears determined to bring the city officials and contractors to task for this failure. On May 10 he ordered that those responsible for not building the necessary systems — for which millions of Saudi riyals had been appropriated — be brought to trial. Saudis are watching the case closely to see if the government is finally getting serious about tackling corruption.
Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki Al Faisal, ripped into U.S. Middle East policies in a May 15 speech before a high-powered audience of Saudis and diplomats. Turki said the U.S. handling of Afghanistan was “inept,” that it had lost its post-9/11 moral high ground through its “negligence, ignorance and arrogance.” And that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s “confusing signals” on nuclear non-proliferation in the region are “unacceptable.” The lambast was not a total surprise coming from Turki, who has never been shy about criticizing U.S. policies. But it was harsher than his previous public complaints.
The editor-in-chief of Al Watan, one of the kingdom’s more liberal Arabic newspapers, stepped down May 16 in what appeared to be his forced resignation after the paper ran a column critical of salafism. Jamal Khashoggi, 52, who served as press officer for Prince Turki Al Faisal during the prince’s tenure as ambassador to Washington, told AFP he resigned “for the better of Al Watan.” It was the second time that Khashoggi was forced to leave Al Watanbecause of the paper’s airing of views regarded as progressive in the Saudi context.
Saudi security forces rescued two young German girls, aged 3 and 6, from Yemeni kidnappers who had held them for over a year in a remote border area, Saudi officials said May 17. A brother and the parents of the girls, who were returned to relatives in Germany days later, are still missing. The German family was among a group of nine foreigners taken hostage in northern Yemen in June. Three women — two Germans and a South Korean — were later found dead.
Four young Saudis from Jeddah are potentially in hot water for their participation in an MTV program about the aspirations and frustrations of Saudi youth. Religious conservatives were offended by the views expressed by the youths in the documentary, called “Resist the power! Saudi Arabia,” and have filed a complaint in a Saudi court. A spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Information told AFP that the complaint was being investigated. If found valid, the three 20-something men, and possibly the woman also profiled in the program, could be punished by the court with imprisonment and lashings.
The documentary, part of a program called “True Life,” is posted on MTV’s website. It shows one man trying to enter a shopping mall to meet a woman he had spoken with online; another trying to get Jeddah’s city council to accept women speakers in its meetings, and another trying to secure a venue for his metal rock band to perform. The woman was shown riding a bicycle dressed in pants and a T-shirt.
A Saudi citizen was arrested May 3 in Iraq and confessed to plotting attacks on games at the World Cup, soccer’s premier event to be held in South Africa in early June. Abdullah Azam Saleh Al-Qahtani, reportedly linked to Al Qaeda, told the Associated Press that “we discussed the possibility of taking revenge for the insults of the Prophet [Muhammad] by attacking Denmark and Holland.” Al Qahtani was referring to the publishing of cartoons that depicted Islam’s holiest figure disrespectfully. Many Muslims took that as an insult to their faith.
Money: US companies have been losing market share in Saudi Arabia’s more competitive business environment since the kingdom began diversifying its bilateral diplomatic and trade ties several years ago. But some firms are still scoring good deals. U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin announced May 21 that it had secured a $40 million contract to supply the Royal Saudi Air Force with advanced weapon-targeting equipment known as Sniper for its fleet of F-15S jet fighters.
Elsewhere: The on-going clerical debate on whether gender mixing debate in public places is allowed under Islamic law or not took an embarrassing twist for a proponent of gender separation when it was disclosed that he had taken part in a seminar in Kuwait also attended by several women. Sheikh Al Najaimi told the press it was okay for him to be with the women because they all were “menopausal.” He did not elaborate, so we don’t know if this classification means that hewas not interested in themor theywere not attracted to him!
Also, the reality is that many Saudi women are happy with the country’s strict gender segregation. And they are making their voices heard with petitions to top Saudi officials basically saying: “No changes, please.”