Is Saudi Arabia on Path Toward Balance?

kingdom tower saudi arabia, By faisal photography

kingdom tower saudi arabia, By faisal photography

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -  Geographically located at the geopolitical crossroads of the Middle East and the West, Saudi Arabia has come a long way from being known only as a religiously constrained nation dominated by hardline conservatives focused more on internal governance to the exclusion of Western opportunities because of their possibly corrosive influences.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 90, who died on 23 January 2015, was also known as 'the reformer' king, and under his decade long reign the socioeconomic transition strategies had already yielded positive results as the country became more open to doing business with partners that sometimes were at odds with the country's religious precepts. This fact was underscored by the number of world leaders and top dignitaries who visited Saudi Arabia to give their condolences.

The newly enthroned King Salman welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito, Spain's King Felipe VI, Jordan's King Abdullah, Denmark's Crown Prince Frederik, Dutch King Willem-Alexander, and the United Kingdom's Prince Charles and others and will hopefully continue Saudi Arabia's embrace of a path that leads out of the religious cocoon that has historically governed it.

Though still a monarchy, the Saudi Arabian government is relatively stable, and the influx of new business partners is helping this thriving society to transform its image of being a totally Islam-centric culture to one that at least entertains and hosts people from different nations and backgrounds. This includes, doing business with Western companies that sometime send female executives to manage large scale projects.

However, Saudi Arabia is a nation that is built on Islamic principles and protecting these principles remains its cornerstone and governs every transaction. For instance, though Western women may come to work there, they are still expected to observe the decorum and customs that are unique to Muslim society. Even First Lady Michelle Obama was criticized in the media for not wearing an Abaya or head scarf during a recent visit; however, it was noted by the Associated Press that former First Ladies Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush have also appeared in public meetings Saudi royals without an Abaya.

Even still, Saudi Arabia is realizing unprecedented global, economic and employment growth as people embrace the reality that it is simultaneously the ultimate ‘Hajj’ destination, but also for non-Muslims it is a country where they can achieve economic success, explore great job opportunities, or just visit as a great vacation destination.

Socioeconomic Transformation:  In 1970 Saudi Arabia introduced the first of a series of the ongoing five-year development plans. The long-range plan had in scope the implementation of a modern infrastructure, fostering the development of business relations with other nations, and making the kingdom an affordable place for one and all. As a result of assiduously following the scope of this program over a 30-year period, today Saudi Arabia has been transformed into one of the most modern and sophisticated Arab states.

The table below provides a high-level summary of some of the major social and political breakthroughs that were achieved as a consequence of the Social Economic Transformation policies.

Government Goals and Objectives

Achievements

2001, December (Fight for Values & Saving the grace of Islam)

The government calls for the eradication of terrorism, and publicly states that terrorist acts are explicitly prohibited by Islam. The government also takes the unprecedented step of issuing ID cards to women.

2002, May (Sabotaging the rule to “offer pain”)

The criminal code underwent major revision that included ban on torture and right of suspects to legal representation.

2005, November (The World knows the worth now)

The prestigious World Trade Organization (WTO) gives a green signal to Saudi Arabia's membership after 12-years of negotiations.

2009, June (Making relations rock-solid)

U.S. President Barack Obama visits Saudi Arabia as part of a Middle East tour. The visit was aimed at increasing U.S. engagement with the Islamic world.

2012 June (Let the souls breathe and get their dreams)

Saudi Arabia agreed to allow women athletes to compete in the Olympics for the first time. This decision was against the background of speculation that the entire Saudi team might be disqualified on grounds of sex discrimination.

2014 February (Banish the “Crude”)

New anti-terrorism law were introduced to fortify the suppression of violent groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda.

2014, June-September

Activists for women's rights have become more vocal and public in their demands for equal rights for women to fully participate in society, in particular, being able to drive. Among other platforms, social media users continue to push the boundaries and test the limits of freedom of expression.

The Employment Affairs:  Saudi Arabia currently possesses more than 25% of the world's oil reserves. The oil and gas sector in Saudi Arabia has created astounding wealth for the country, and has encouraged investment by other nations that buy oil and gas from this Middle East powerhouse. Experts believe that with social reforms that continue to take place, will encourage nations not traditionally inclined to do business with Saudi Arabia to reconsider. Such expansion should result in the creation of many high-paying job opportunities for foreign and domestic workers alike; a fact evidenced by Jeddah being named one of the top livable cities in the world.

Persistent Concerns:  Saudi Arabia still has much to improve upon when it comes to human rights especially with regard to meting out punishment. In this respect the country is still in a religious cocoon of ultra-conservative, orthodox ‘Wahhabism' which has been Saudi Arabia's dominant faith for the past two centuries. This religious interpretation of Islamic law takes a literalist view of Qur'an and the tenets, and thus continues to condone heinous acts such as "death penalty or stoning for adultery and fornication, flogging and amputation for stealing, and punishments of retribution, are sanctioned by the Qur'an and are unchangeable," legal scholar Shahid M. Shahidullah explains. Wahhabist interpretation of "sharia law is the exclusive foundation of criminal justice" in Saudi Arabia. (Source: VOX)

Frontline PBS featured an Analyses of Wahhabism and its rigidity that "has led it to misinterpretation and distortion of Islam, pointing to extremists such as Osama bin Laden and the Taliban." Indeed, many of the perpetrators of the September 11th air attacks against the U.S. were instigated and perpetrated by Saudi nationals, and indeed many people still believe that the government and constituent nations in the region harbor extremist.

Between 2014 and 2015 Saudi Arabia has more than redeemed itself with tangible efforts and resources in the fight against radical Islamist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda, two of the greatest terrorists threats facing the world today. The "Saudis have sent jets to bomb the group in the Syrian regions where it [ISIS] first gained strength and broader influence. The result is that Saudi Arabia now has useful intelligence on the groups the U.S. will be arming and training within Syria later this year. Saudi Arabia is one of only three Muslim countries (the others are Turkey and Qatar) that would allow the U.S. to set up rebel-training camps on its soil." (Source: Huffington Post)

In summary, Saudi Arabia has realized vast improvements and it has boldly embraced the challenges that face a country that struggles to balance modernity with tradition; and though many may yet criticize this nation, its increased presence on and involvement in global affairs heralds its desire to move toward balance.

Middle East Correspondent:  @Vinita Tiwari

Israel Plans to Deport African Migrants to Third Country

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Alex Hamasaki, Student InternLast Modified: 01:10 a.m. DST, 26 June 2013

Israel-Egypt border near Netafim, Photo by Vad LevinJERUSALEM, Israel - The Israeli plan to send its over 60,000 African migrants to an unidentified third country has received elicit criticism for the potential harm to the migrants.

Over the past eight years, thousands of African migrants, mostly from Eritrea or Sudan, have entered Israel through Egypt. Some of these migrants were fleeing repressive regimes or seeking job opportunities.

Israel has attempted to stop the influx of migrants by building a fence on the Israeli-Egyptian border. Additionally, since last summer, Israel has been imprisoning new arrivals in order to determine if they meet the criteria for refugee status. Israel also offered cash to migrants if they would leave the country voluntarily.

The Washington Post and the Associated Press allude that many Israelis feel some sort of “natural responsibility” toward the migrants from Africa because of the Holocaust. However, other Israelis worry that Israel’s Jewish character will be threatened with the arrival of the migrants.

Fears for the migrants safety from mistreatment in the third country sparked criticism toward Israel’s plan.

Israel has yet to announce the details of the plan and the country they plan to send the migrants to. According to the Washington Post, court documents show that Israel has an agreement with one country to take on some migrants, and is currently in talks with two others. It is not known what these countries would receive in return.

Under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, states cannot send refugees to countries where they will face physical or political danger reports the Associated Press. It is unclear if Israel will be monitoring the well being of the migrants when in another country.

Follow Alex Hamasaki on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Student Intern: @aghamasaki

President Otto Perez Molina Accused of Genocide

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Alex Hamasaki, Student InternLast Modified: 14:04 DST, 10 April 2013

Otto Pérez Molina, Presidente de Guatemala, Photo Courtesy of Casa de Americas

GUATEMALA CITY - During the trial of the former U.S.-backed military president Efrain Rios Montt, a former soldier implicated the former army general and current Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina in civil war atrocities.

Hugo Reyes, a soldier who was a mechanic in part of the engineering brigade in the area where atrocities were carried out, told the court that Molina ordered soldiers to burn and pillage during Guatemala’s civil war with leftist guerillas in the 1980s, reports Latino Fox News.

Molina was elected president for the conservative Patriotic party and assumed office on January 14, 2012.

Reyes said that “the people who were to executed arrived at the camp beaten, tortured, their tongues cut out, their fingernails pulled out.”

Montt is also being held on trial for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, with connection of the deaths of 1,771 Mayan Indians during his military dictatorship that lasted from March 1982 to August 1983, backed by the U.S. in his counterinsurgency against guerillas.

Victims of the Guatemalan massacres also gave testimonies. Julio Velasco Raymundo told the court that he witnessed the Guatemalan army shelling villages full of civilians.

The Guatemalan civil war lasted between 1960 and 1996, with heightened violence and terror during the reign of Montt in the 1980s. Several guerilla groups were rebelled against the government in a response to state repression and lack of representation.

Two guerrilla groups emerged in the early 1980s: the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) and the Organization of the People in Arms (ORPA). The geographical areas of activity of both guerilla groups corresponded with zones of high indigenous presence. The EGP and ORPA drew large numbers of members from the indigenous population, and they had bases of support among the poor and ladino middle classes of the capital city.

The government viewed the indigenous population as a threat and began the systematic killing of indigenous Mayan Indians assumed to be associated with the guerilla groups. The “kill list” of indigenous Mayans continued to grow, including non-violent leaders. From the start, the Guatemalan government was not fond of the indigenous Mayans, and were especially brutal toward them.

The Guatemalan Truth Commission estimated during the 36-year conflict, 200,000 people were murdered, 85 percent of whom were indigenous.

The Guatemalan government could not have performed these atrocities without outside assistance from their allies, Israel and the United States. From the U.S. assistance in a coup d’etat in 1954 to the Carter Administration, the U.S. provided the Guatemalan government military aid and troop training to assist with the combat of guerilla groups. When the U.S. decreased their aid to Guatemala, Israel stepped up in the 1970s and created an intelligence network within Guatemala, providing Guatemala with military intelligence, weapons, and military training.

Throughout the trials, Latino Fox News reports that Montt has remained silent, his lawyers saying that there was a lack of clear evidence that proved Montt is responsible for the crimes committed by Guatemalan troops.

Follow Alex Hamasaki on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Student Intern: @aghamasaki

Women's Rights in the Middle East

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Alex Hamasaki, Student InternLast Modified: 22:40 DST, 4 April 2013

A quick update of the recent rulings on women’s rights in the Gaza Strip and Saudi Arabia.

 Hamas orders gender segregation in schools

Saudi Portrait, Photo Courtesy of Edward MusiakGAZA STRIP, Israel - Gaza’s Hamas-controlled parliament passed a law requiring separate classes in schools for boys and girls in public and private schools from the fourth grade, Aljazeera reports.

Osama Mazini, the Hamas education director, announced on Monday that the February 10th law was approved by parliament.

Article 46 bans “the mixing of students from the two sexes in educational establishments after the age of nine, and work to 'feminise' girls' schools." The law also bans males from teaching in girls’ schools.

In the past, Hamas has enforced conservative religious laws, such as telling school girls to wear traditional full-length robes and headscarves in a besieged territory.

Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, is the Palestinian Sunni Islamic or Islamist organization. The group was founded in 1987 during the First Intifada as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’ original purpose was to liberate Palestine from Israeli control and to establish an Islamic state in the area of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 when it won in a landslide against its opponents, Fatah.

In July 2009, Hamas’ political bureau Chief announced that they would settle for a resolution of a Palestinian state based on the 1957 borders so long as Palestinian refugees had the right to return to Israel and that East Jerusalem would be the new nation’s capital.

The traditional Muslim organization’s Article 46 forbids the "receipt of gifts or aid aimed at normalising (relations) with the Zionist occupation (Israel)." Article 46 will go into effect in September.

Saudis lift ban on women bicycling

Saudi women can now legally bike in public under certain conditions, Aljazeera reports. The Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice overturned the previous ban on cycling and motorbiking for women. However, women must wear a full-body abaya, be accompanied by a male relative, and stay within certain areas. Women are allowed to ride bikes for recreation purposes only.

Saudi Arabia still bans women from driving. The Shura Council warned that allowing women to drive would “provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, and divorce.”

Follow Alex Hamasaki on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Student Intern: @aghamasaki

Israel introduces “Palestinian Only” Bus Lines

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Alex Hamasaki, Student InternLast Modified: 20:10 p.m. EDT, 5 March 2013

Map of Israel, Photo by Mr. DevlarWEST BANK, Israel - The Israeli government announced today that it is introducing two segregated bus line in the occupied West Bank.

Aljazeera reports that the Transport Ministry in Israel called this move “an improvement in service.” The Transport Ministry also said that the new bus lines would “improve public transport services for Palestinian workers entering Israel,” and save Palestinians from being charged “exorbitant prices” by pirate buses.

The ministry claims, according to Haaretz, that “the new lines will lessen the burden that has formed on buses as a result of the increase in numbers of working permits provided to Palestinians,” and that the buses will “contribute to the improvement of services, for the betterment of Israelis and Palestinians as ones.”

For any of those unfamiliar with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the Israelis and Palestinians are currently engaged in a conflict over land rights. The “start date” of the conflict is argued heavily among scholars.

Both groups have historical, cultural, and religious claims upon the land the Arabs and Jews are fighting over. The following is an abbreviated history of the recent Israeli/Palestinian conflict; however, in the interest of expediency several major events have been omitted.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 by British Foreign Secretary Aruther James Balfour in a letter to the Zionist Federation’s President Lord Rothschild, declared that British would “view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national Jewish peoples.” There have been several other papers and agreements that altered British support of the Jewish peoples, such as the White Papers of 1922 by Winston Churchill. Eventually, British handed the problem of Israel/Palestine to the United Nations (UN) in 1947.

The UN implemented a plan to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into two separate states with “a special international regime for the city of Jerusalem.” Through the Camp David Accords, Israel agreed to give Palestinians more autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Currently, Palestinians mostly occupy the West Bank and the Gaza strip, while Israelis occupy the rest of the territory. However, throughout the entire country, there are communities of Jews and Palestinians littered throughout the territory.

Both groups are currently vying for international sympathy in order to justify their claims toward the entire territory of the current Israel/Palestine. This recent event currently sways some sympathy toward the plight of the Palestinians.

According to the Guardian, the buses will run from the Eyal checkpoint by Qalqiliya across the border of the West Bank toward Tel Aviv. For passengers who have been granted permits by the army to enter Israel, they can only enter during the day to work. Further, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfield said that Palestinians returning to the West Bank would be searched for stolen property.

Although, Palestinian/Israeli relations are extremely complex and heavily influenced by regional and religious dynamics, this newly implemented plan to segregate Palestinian passengers is eerily reminiscent of Jim Crow laws.

The Jim Crow laws were state and local laws in the United States enacted between 1876 and 1965. They mandated de jure racial segregation in all public facilities in Southern states of the former Confederacy, with, starting in 1890, a "separate but equal" status for African Americans. The separation in practice led to conditions for African Americans that tended to be inferior to those provided for white Americans, systematizing a number of economic, educational and social disadvantages. De jure segregation mainly applied to the Southern United States.

Human rights groups are fearful that Israeli police at the checkpoints in the West Bank will remove Palestinian passengers from the regular, non-segregated bus lines and order them to use the segregated bus lines, which could potentially inflame an already marginalized population. This newest legislation is incendiary at best, and racist at worst.

It remains to be seen if this suppression will spur passive resistance such as demonstrated by Rosa Parks, who in 1955 refused to sit in the 'Blacks Only' section of the bus. Her resistance and subsequent arrest led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and was a pivotal moment in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Though not a one-to-one comparison, nothing good can come from segregating people.

Follow Alex Hamasaki on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Student Intern: @aghamasaki
 
Sources: Haaretz, Aljazeera, Inquisitr, Wikipedia

Israel Admits to Sterilizing Ethiopian Jews

Some people who read this post may believe that it is impossible for this to happen in 2010; however, I can attest to the veracity of one aspect of this story. Recently my mother attended a school sponsored event in Potomac, Maryland. Upon her arrival the hostess glanced at her and imperiously informed her that the kitchen was in the back. My mother with aplomb, informed the lady that she was attending the event on behalf of her grandson who was a student attending the school. Upon hearing this, the woman grudgingly accepted my mother's proffered hand before stepping aside to let her pass. As my mother entered, the woman wiped her hand on her dress.

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