Monday, December 13, 2010

Will Saudi Society Change Peacefully?

Saudi society has long been dominated by the overzealous religious police, known as mutawa or mutaween, who strictly enforce the Saudi version of the Islamic Sharia Laws. The most visible manifestations of such enforcement include the almost total gender segregation, conservative dress code in public, and interruption of business for prayers five times a day.

There are some recent signs that the Saudi government is moving toward broader social reform by beginning to create new mutawa-free spaces within the Kingdom where the rules are different. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is one such space. Not only is the university co-educational, it has no dress code, nor does it allow the mutaween to enforce their rules. By offering greater freedom, the university is attempting to attract the best and the brightest academics, researchers and students from around the globe to create a world-class institution.

This is how the University describes itself: "The principles of academic freedom ensure that faculty members and researchers may conduct research and publish the results without undue hindrance or control. As an international university with many partners, KAUST recognizes the importance of academic freedom and the challenges presented by taking account of the various intellectual property regimes in the home countries of KAUST partner institutions."

IBM is one of the many international partners of KAUST. According to Businessweek, KAUST agreed to buy an IBM supercomputer, which is an essential tool in the research projects that IBM and the Saudis are targeting for their first collaboration. Among other things, the two teams will collaborate on a study of the nearby Red Sea, which they believe will help improve oil and mineral exploration. "[The supercomputer] is a magnet for smart people, and it makes it possible for us to solve big problems," says Majid F. Al-Ghaslan, KAUST's interim chief information officer.

Not content with KAUST to spur change, the Saudi ruler King Abdullah is now pushing the creation of four new special cities, according to the New York Times.

The first of these four cities is King Abdullah Economic City-KAEC (pronounced "cake"), a 65-square-mile development along the Red Sea. With a projected population of two million, the city is a Middle Eastern version of the “special economic zones” that have flourished in places like China.

Here is how New York Times describes the implications of the planned Saudi effort:

If the plan works, at best it would transform Saudi Arabia into a technologically advanced society controlled by a slightly more tolerant religious autocracy. Or it could provoke militant violence and government crackdowns. “What they are trying to do is very difficult,” said Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University who has written extensively on Saudi Arabia. “Someone telling you to go pray — that in-your-face religion — that’s not going to be permitted in these cities. It’s a more ecumenical Islam. But it’s a slippery slope. Once you start, you’ve basically opened up the door to a certain degree of diversity and tolerance.”

KAEC is expected to be followed by three other cities: Knowledge Economic City near Medina, the second holiest city for Muslims; Prince Abdulaziz bin Mousaed Economic City, 450 miles north of Riyadh, which will focus on agribusiness; and Jazan Economic City, proposed to create industrial jobs for Saudis living near the border with Yemen, where al Qaeda is believed to be very active.

The fact that Saudi leaders recognize the need to change was articulated recently by Sir William Charters Patey, the British ambassador in Riyadh until May 2010, in a interview with Arab News as follows: “They accept that you can’t just go on the same old way. Some of the assumptions that underpin Saudi Arabia...may not be enough to see them into the future.”

The Saudi rulers understand that oil could no longer be taken for granted. It currently accounts for 60 percent of GDP and 90 percent of revenue. Moreover, the country’s population is forecast to double over the next three decades and the Kingdom will need to generate income from other sources by then.

Patey said that the strategy, “a sensible and pragmatic one,” was to use the Kingdom’s current energy advantage to diversify into industries that are energy intensive. Saudi Arabia, he said, had also embarked on an ambitious strategy of developing a knowledge-based economy.

Change will eventually come to Saudi Arabia, but many questions remain about the process. Can the Saudi rulers escape the inevitable backlash from the adherents of the extreme Wahabi ideology that they have exported to other Muslim nations such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen? Will there be a process of political liberalization to match social and economic reforms? What will be the pace of this change? Will such change come peacefully? Can the current Saudi government manage this transition without unleashing widespread instability in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and the wider Islamic world? How will the Saudi Kingdom's western allies and its neighbors react to such instability?

It's hard for any one, including the Saudis, to answer these and other similar questions now. The only thing that can be said with any certainty at this time is that the change is inevitable, and the face of the Middle East and Islamic world will change dramatically by the end of the 21st century.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Quality of Higher Education in India and Pakistan

Is Pakistan Emulating Saudi Arabia?

Jihadis Growing in Tenth Year of Afghan War

Pakistan Must Defeat Agents of Intolerance

Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy: "Islam and Science Have Parted Ways"

Clash of Ideas in Islam

Turkey, Pakistan and Secularism

Jinnah's Vision for Pakistan


Anonymous said...

World class institutions take a long long time to can't be bought like a rolls royce.

But still I think the king's intentions are noble...

But the thing is people are either creative or obedient you can't have someone very creative in science and non creative in social issues.

Most great scientists Einstein,Pauling,Sakharov also think a great deal about social issues...and they have the societal respect to matter..

Shah of Iran tried to modernize Iran by massively expanding technical education Aryamehr Institute of tech(now Sharif University) used to give IITs a run for their money as the best tech institutes in the emerging world.

BUT It is this mass of neo literates are the same ones who started to question the validity of an absolute monarchy etc and led to the iranian revolution.

But then unlike the shah the Saud family has no grand vision of a first world secular middle eastern country...One odd university is unlike to change much...

I think that is the reason most muslim countries underinvest in higher education as a large number of people with advanced degree invariably ask uncomfortable questions....

Pervez H said...

One certainly welcomes the change,
small though it be, in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, as yet there is no
indication that Pakistan wants to follow the new Saudi trend. Instead one sees
a growing tendency to emulate Wahabi-style conservative culture.

Anonymous said...


For that to change the people of Pakistan must be told what Jinnah wanted..
basically a secular state where muslims wouldn't be swamped by non muslims..

This great muslim ummah type Jinnah has been deliberately created by hardline factions to sustain the mullah military feudal edifice of the state...

Unfortunately it may be too late in the day to reverse the tide..

satwa gunam said...

I can say only one appropriate proverb "you can take thousand horses to pond but the horse has to drink '

Najam said...

It can also be said with certainty that peaceful change in Saudi Arabia,from Prophet's(SAWS)Islam to enlightened Riazi Islam can speedily
be achieved, if services of following experts of Islam are provided to Saudi people.

a)Sherry Rehman
b)Isra Naumani
c)Taslima Nasreen
d)Amina Wadood
e)Pervez Musharraf
f)Salman Taseer
g)Tariq Alamgir
and of course the most learned of all
h)Riaz Haq

Anonymous said...

ha ha ha ha

Good one Riazi Islam is basically kuffarized islam within with kuffar concepts like secularism and equality before laws and man made laws like jail terms instead of chop chop justice as 'revealed' in the koran....

Riaz Haq said...

Najam: "It can also be said with certainty that peaceful change in Saudi Arabia,from Prophet's(SAWS)Islam to enlightened Riazi Islam can speedily be achieved, if services of following experts of Islam are provided to Saudi people."

Predictable response...except I think you forgot to add your "favorite" Pervez Hoodbhoy's name to your list of "experts of Islam" :--)

Let me share with you his response to my email:

Riaz, I am glad to receive this from you. One certainly welcomes the change,
small though it be, in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, as yet there is no
indication that Pakistan wants to follow the new Saudi trend. Instead one sees
a growing tendency to emulate Wahabi-style conservative culture. Regards,

Rashid said...

Attached Interview in Middle East Quarterly
" (islamic) Science Expert"

Anonymous said...

Affect of islam in UK

Moin said...

It is true that change is coming every where. That is why Obama is here. His election campaign slogan was CHANGE.

Kidding aside, remember that change is a double edged sword. As Saudi Arabia moves towards Western ways, Islamic ways have already started to take over Europe and Americas.

Halal products are increasingly and easily available now most places in Europe and USA. And awareness of Muslim culture and habits is becoming more and more acceptable - regardless of the extreme hostility towards Muslims in a few parts of the world. Pretty soon almost all airlines and grocery stores will automatically be carrying Halal food. In spite of the recent opposition to Sharia Law in England and in some States in USA, Sharia Law in the near future will be part of the Law Schools Curriculum in most law schools.

The halal food industry in USA has grown by several hundred times in the last 10 years. Halal food is now supplied and served in almost all hospitals and jails in USA.

Islam, Arabic, Middle Eastern Culture and all types of Islamic Studies including the Quran are now regularly offered in almost all universities in US and Europe.

Instead of lamenting, guys, it is time to celebrate.

The Western media is trying tooth and nail to give Islam a black eye. But I truly believe God has other plans.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts from a piece by Beena Sarwar on secularism debate in Pakistan:

First of all, the very fact that this discussion is taking place in a mainstream newspaper -- even though it is in English, which limits its outreach -- is something to appreciate.

Secondly, the discussion is taking place at a time when Pakistan, indeed the world, finds itself polarised as never before. Never before have we seen such extremes jostling for ascendency at the same time. In Pakistan, the extremes are most visible in the attire people, particularly women, wear out on the streets (from jeans to burqas), the gatherings and functions they attend (from religious gatherings to musical evenings, fashion shows and wild underground parties), what they are reading (religious literature to Communist readings that would have landed them in jail in the Zia years), the television and films they are watching (religious shows to uncensored films on DVD, and Indian films at mainstream cinemas), and how they express their views (through writings, art, music, seminars and peaceful candlelight demonstrations to violent protests and suicide bombings).

The entire gamut is there, from the extreme left to the extreme right, from wild permissiveness to ultra-conservatism -- the latter apparently on the rise not just in Pakistan but around the world. In fact, this ascendency of the Right is so strong that the demons of religion-based militancy unleashed during the Zia years can take down even those who adhere to the late General's world views: a Zaid Hamid can lose even as Gen Zia wins, as the UK-based researcher Anas Abbas interestingly posited it. The charismatic right-wing cult leader, who had sucked into his fold youth icons like the fashion designer Maria B and rock singer Ali Azmat, had to go into hiding not because progressive Pakistanis prevailed against his virulent pan-Islamist, anti-India world view, but because he offended his own.

This is a time when the 'blasphemy laws' as they are applied in Pakistan are causing a worldwide uproar because of the injustice they perpetuate; ......

We're talking about secularism at a time when supposedly educated people, including parliamentarians and politicians are 'warning' the government not to tamper with these blasphemy laws, or else face the 'consequences'. It is ironic that such a warning was issued recently by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, President of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q)....
We can now have this debate in the pages of this English-language newspaper, 20 years after Gen. Zia's departure, because those who hold these violent beliefs consider us to be irrelevant. So is the situation hopeless for people like us? No, because these discussions are not taking place in a vacuum. There is a lot of questioning going on in Pakistan at various levels about religion and its role in the state. These discussions are taking place in many languages and at many fora. Thousands if not millions of activists, political workers and ordinary citizens in Pakistan share the belief that religion should be a private matter, which should not be imposed violently.

The rise of the Internet -- according to one estimate, as many as 18 million Pakistanis have Internet access -- means that people have other alternatives to share information that the dominant news media sidelines. Blogs or facebook pages like SecularPakistan or SayNoToTheStateReligion may not have millions of followers but their readership is growing. Amidst the cacophony of jihadist views that regularly find space on radio and television networks are also voices that courageously question the role religion has been given in Pakistan. The trickle may not become a flood anytime soon, but neither is it about to dry up and disappear.

satwa gunam said...


I have visited some of the gcc countries and the general attitude of the young there is to blow the money off in all sensual pleasure rather than on intellectual pursuit. When i saw those infrastrucutre, what came on my mind was the reading:

1. you can buy medicine but not health,
2. you can buy book not knowledge

Zen, Munich said...


I am reasonably skeptical. Deceased king, King Fahd was a playboy(means he spent fortune on Parisian prostitutes) who thought that Kingdom should be modernized. He proposed that clerics use Ijtihaad, as early as 1980s. But nothing happened, for every step forward, there were 2 steps backwards. Saudis today are one of the most hypocritical societies - rich but backward, spiritual but intolerant, austere but fat.
One of the best book on the inner working of Saudi society is the book "Kings messenger", a bio. of Prince Bandar
Current efforts are just to appease West after 9-11

Riaz Haq said...

Zen: "Current efforts are just to appease West after 9-11"

I think the greater incentive is self-preservation. The Saudi rulers now fear their own creation, the intolerant clerics, and their impatient youth who are questioning them.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's how Saudi Arabia is responding to widening unrest in the Arab world, according to Bloomberg News:

Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, will hold municipal elections next month in a bid to deter the political unrest that’s hitting other countries in the region.

The elections in the country with one-fifth of the world’s proven oil reserves will start on April 23, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing Abdul-Rahman al-Dahmash, the director of the kingdom’s electoral commission.

More than two months of protests have shaken the Middle East and North Africa as citizens demand civil rights, higher living standards and the ouster of autocratic regimes. In Bahrain, a Saudi neighbor, security forces quelled mainly Shiite demonstrators calling for democracy after Saudi-led troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council entered the country on March 14.

The municipal election announcement comes after Saudi King Abdullah on March 18 ordered an increase in spending, including $67 billion on housing and funds for the military and religious groups that back the ban on domestic protests. A call for a March 11 demonstration in the kingdom failed to materialize after the government deployed troops and senior clerics denounced protests as un-Islamic.

Although Saudi Arabia held its first municipal elections in February 2005, the second election was delayed in May 2009 until yesterday’s announcement. The 150-member Majlis al-Shoura council, the country’s assembly, is appointed by the king and plays only an advisory role.

Saudi Arabia is the least democratic country in the Middle East and ranks 160th out of 167 countries worldwide, according to the Democracy Index for 2010 published by the Economist Intelligence Unit. All political parties and organizations are banned in Saudi Arabia.

Riaz Haq said...

Arab protesters demand democracy, but not secularism, says Michael Scheuer, former Bin Laden hunter at the CIA:

The Arab world’s unrest has brought forth gushing, rather adolescent analysis about what the region will look like a year or more hence. Americans have decided that these upheavals have everything to do with the advent of liberalism, secularism, and Westernization in the region and that Islamist militant groups like al-Qaeda have been sidelined by the historically inevitable triumph of democracy—a belief that sounds a bit like the old Marxist-Leninist claptrap about iron laws of history and communism’s inexorable triumph.

How has this judgment been reached? Primarily by disregarding facts, logic, and history, and instead relying on (a) the thin veneer of young, educated, pro-democracy, and English-speaking Muslims who can be found on Facebook and Twitter and (b) the employees of the BBC, CNN, and most other media networks, who have suspended genuine journalism in favor of cheerleading for secularism and democracy on the basis of a non-representative sample of English-speaking street demonstrators and users of social-networking sites. The West’s assessment of Arab unrest so far has been—to paraphrase Sam Spade’s comment about the Maltese Falcon—the stuff that dreams, not reality, are made of.

A year from now, we will find that most Arab Muslims have neither embraced nor installed what they have long regarded as an irreligious and even pagan ideology—secular democracy. They will have instead adhered even more closely to the faith that has graced, ordered, and regulated their lives for more than 1400 years, and which helped them endure the oppressive rule of Western-supported tyrants and kleptocrats.

This does not mean that fanatically religious regimes will dominate the region, but a seven-year Gallup survey of the Muslim world published in 2007 shows that a greater degree of Sharia law in governance is favored by young and old, moderates and militants, men and even women in most Muslim countries. While a fa├žade of democracy may well appear in new regimes in places like Egypt and Tunisia, their governments will be heavily influenced by the military and by Islamist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda. If for no other reason, the Islamist groups will have a powerful pull because they have strong organizational capabilities; wide allegiance among the highly educated in the military, hard sciences, engineering, religious faculties, and medicine; and a reservoir of patience for a two-steps-forward, one-step-back strategy that is beyond Western comprehension. We in the West too often forget, for example, that the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda draw from Muslim society’s best and brightest, not its dregs; that al-Qaeda has been waging its struggle for 25 years, the Muslim Brotherhood for nearly 85 years; and that Islam has been in the process of globalizing since the 7th century.

As new Arab regimes develop, Westerners also are likely to find that their own deep sense of superiority over devout Muslims—which is especially strong among the secular left, Christian evangelicals, and neoconservatives—is unwarranted. The nearly universal assumption in the West is that Islamic governance could not possibly satisfy the aspirations of Muslims for greater freedom and increased economic opportunity—this even though Iran has a more representative political system than that of any state in the region presided over by a Western-backed dictator. No regime run by the Muslim Brotherhood would look like Canada, but it would be significantly less oppressive than those run by the al-Sauds and Mubarak. This is not to say it would be similar to or more friendly toward the West—neither will be the case—but in terms of respecting and addressing basic human concerns they will be less monstrous.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Op Ed by Miranda Husain published in Newsweek Pakistan about Saudis and Bahrainis seeking Pak help in quelling Shia protests:

Less than three weeks after Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces, led by Saudi Arabia, entered Bahrain to aid the anti-democracy crackdown there, dignitaries from both oil-rich kingdoms did their separate rounds in Pakistan. The royal houses of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are nervous, and they need Pakistan’s mercenaries, and—if necessary—military muscle to shore them up.

This is a remarkable turn of events for Asif Ali Zardari, who had been trying since he was elected president in 2008 to secure Saudi oil on sweetheart terms. He had been unsuccessful in his efforts because the Sunni Saudis view his leadership with some degree of skepticism. It also doesn’t help that Zardari, a Shia, is big on improving relations with Shia Tehran. Riyadh now appears inclined to export oil on terms that better suit cash-strapped Islamabad. Manama, too, wants to play ball. It wants increased defense cooperation and has pledged to prioritize Pakistan’s hopes for a free-trade agreement with the GCC in return. But Zardari and his Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, should fight the urge to get mired in the Middle East.

Pakistan already has a presence in Bahrain: a battalion of the Azad Kashmir Regiment was deployed there over a year ago to train local troops, and retired officers from our Navy and Army are part of their security forces. Media estimates put the number of Pakistanis serving in Bahrain’s security establishment at about 10,000. Their removal has been a key demand of protesters in the kingdom. Last month in Islamabad, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly assured Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, that Pakistan would offer more retired manpower to help quell the uprising against Bahrain’s Sunni rulers by its Shia majority. Gilani’s spokesman was unable to confirm the pledge.

Islamabad’s support to the tottering regime in Manama is not ideal. “It’s like our version of Blackwater,” says Talat Masood, a former Pakistan Army general, referring to Bahrain’s recruitment drive in Pakistan. “We’re doing [in Bahrain] exactly what we have been opposing here,” he says. Pakistan, he maintains, has no business in trying to suppress a democratic, people’s movement in another country. Short-term economic gains cannot be the only prism through which Pakistan views its national interests, he says.

Pakistan has a long history of military involvement and training in the Arab world. Its pilots flew warplanes in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, and volunteered for the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Involvement in Bahrain’s current strife would not be the first time that Pakistan has used its military might to thwart an Arab uprising against an Arab regime. In 1970, future military dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, then head of the Pakistani military training mission in Jordan, led his soldiers to intervene on the side of Amman to quash a Palestinian challenge to its rule.
“The U.S. has counted on Pakistan to help control the Arab world and safeguard Arab rulers from their own populations,” says Chomsky. “Pakistan was one of the ‘cops on the beat’ that the Nixon administration had in mind when outlining their doctrine for controlling the Arab world,” he says. Pakistan has such “severe internal problems” that it may not be able to play this role even if asked to. But the real reason that Pakistan should avoid this role is so that it can stand on the right side of history, alongside those who are fighting for democracy.

Hopewins said...

Dr. Haq,

At the end-times of the Ottoman/Usmania Empire, what is now "Saudi" Arabia was divided into three major parts: Kingdom Hejaz on the West-coast (Red Sea), Kingdom of Najd (Central Desert) and a Shia Imamate on the East-Coast (Persian Gulf).

The House of Saud was the ruling family of the Central Desert Kingdom of Najd. Under the deal reached between the House of Saud (plus Wahabi Ulema) and the British Empire, the Kingdom of Najd agreed to support the British in their war against the crumbling Caliphate of the Usmania Empire. In return, the British Empire agreed to let the Saudi-ruled Kingdom of Najd conquer and annex the Kingdom of Hejaz to the West and the Shia Imamate to the East. To pacify the ruling personages ("Hashemite") of the Kingdom of Hejaz, the British carved up the territories of the Usman Empire into Iraq, Syria & Jordan and made the members of the Hashem family independent kings of these newly formed countries. So the first kings of Syria, Iraq & Jordan were all related and came from the erstwhile-Kingdom of Hejaz under the British Scheme. Of course, Syria and Iraq had revolutions which got rids of their kings and created Republics, but Jordon still has its king and is called the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to this day.

This might just seem like typical stupid politics of empires at first, but it has a HORRENDOUS religious significance, which the British may not have understood at that time and which still haunts the world to this day.

(1) The Kingdom of Najd was Radical Salafi/Wahabi, with some ties to the Deobandi School in British India.
(2) The Kingdom of Hejaz was Cosmopolitan Traditionalist/Sufi, with deep ties to the Barelvi School in British India.
(3) The Shia Imamate on the Persian Gulf, which is where 80% of "Saudi" oil lies, was Twelver, with deep ties to the remains of the Persian Empire and the State of Awadh in British India.

The conquest, subjugation and annexation by the Desert Kingdom of Najd of (i) the West-coast Kingdom of Hejaz and (ii) the east-coast Shia Imamate has led to the destruction, persecution, suppression and wiping out of all Sufi/Barelvi/Shia culture and traditions in "Saudi" Arabia. This has manifested itself in the wanton destruction of Houses of Worship, Shrines and other holy places--

This is not a trivial point.


Riaz Haq said...

Here's a news story of Saudi culture in action:

A Saudi Arabia Airlines flight from Jeddah to the eastern city of Dammam was delayed over a passenger's demand that a stewardess be removed from the aircraft because she wasn't accompanied by a male guardian, Okaz newspaper reported.

Flight 1108 was delayed when a stewardess began to read out and demonstrate flight safety procedures was interrupted by a passenger who asked her "why are you on the plane without a guardian?" the newspaper reported.

The passenger then proceeded to demand the plane not take off until all women unaccompanied by male guardians be removed from the aircraft.

The captain called security who then forcefully removed the objecting passenger and his son and started an investigation, according to the newspaper. The incident caused the flight to be delayed two hours.

Every woman in Saudi Arabia must have a male guardian accompanying her when travelling, usually a husband or father, sometimes a son. Women in the kingdom need the consent of a male guardian to work, travel abroad, marry or to open a bank account.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who has tried to accelerate the pace of reform in the kingdom, announced in 2011 that women would be able to vote and run in municipal elections starting in 2015.

Last month, the monarch appointed 30 women to the 150-member Shoura Council which was previously an all male body that advises the government on legislation.

Mohammed said...

As a Western educated, Arabic speaking Pakistani living in Saudi Arabia, I can tell you dispassionately that the change in Saudi society is taking place slowly on policy, behavioural and psyche levels. The 'Arab Spring', that was knocking on Saudi Arabia's doors, accelerated the need for change from the government's perspective and the realisation of educated, middle class Saudi citizens that they must change even if they are afraid of it and don't even know in which direction they must head.

IMHO, as long as change is introduced gradually but is in parallel with economic prosperity, 'change' in all its facets will be both easier and acceptable. The government will continue giving society 'morphine shots' in the shape of land grants, salary increases and general infrastructure spending while it nudges reforms.

I suppose stability during a change process is absolutely necessary and this is the direction the government is taking. The extreme situation of Egypt has shocked Saudi society into even considering any sort of revolution. The instability frankly scares the everyday Saudi.

Riaz Haq said...

The guardianship law for Saudi women is a vestige of its Medieval past when all women, including adults, were required to have a male guardian's permission for almost everything in life: To work, marry, travel, do business, stay at a hotel, etc. Male guaridan could be father, husband, brother, etc. Ban of driving is also an example of how Saudis treat women as chatel.

Riaz Haq said...

ASLAN: Islam doesn't promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you're a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent. There are Buddhist -- marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering

women and children. Does Buddhism promote violence? Of course not. People are violent or peaceful. And that depends on their politics, their social world, the way that they see their communities, the way they see themselves.

CAMEROTA: So, Reza, you don't think that there's anything more -- there's -- the justice system in Muslim countries you don't think is somehow more primitive or subjugates women more than in other countries?

ASLAN: Did you hear what you just said? You said in Muslim countries.

I just told you that, Indonesia, women are absolutely 100 percent equal to men. In Turkey, they have had more female representatives, more female heads of state in Turkey than we have in the United States.

LEMON: Yes, but in Pakistan...


ASLAN: Stop saying things like "Muslim countries."

ASLAN: Stoning and mutilation and those barbaric practices should be condemned and criticized by everyone. The actions of individuals and societies and countries like Iran, like Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia must be condemned, because they don't belong in the 21st century.

But to say Muslim countries, as though Pakistan and Turkey are the same, as though Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are the same, as though somehow what is happening in the most extreme forms of these repressive countries, these autocratic countries, is representative of what's happening in every other Muslim country, is, frankly -- and I use this word seriously -- stupid. So let's stop doing that.

LEMON: OK, Reza. Let's -- I want you to listen to Benjamin Netanyahu again. This is actually the one I wanted you to hear. ASLAN: Yes, the ISIS.


NETANYAHU: But our hopes and the world's hopes for peace are in danger, because everywhere we look, militant Islam is on the march. It's not militants. It's not Islam. It's militant Islam. And, typically, its first victims are other Muslims, but it spares no one.


LEMON: He's making a clear distinction there. He says it's not militants, it's not Islam; it's militant Islam. Do you understand his distinction there? Is he correct?

ASLAN: Well, he's correct in talking about militant Islam being a problem.

He is absolutely incorrect in talking about ISIS equaling Hamas. That's just ridiculous. No one takes him seriously when he says things like that. And, frankly, it's precisely why, under his leadership, Israel has become so incredibly isolated from the rest of the global community.

Those kinds of statements are illogical, they're irrational, they're so obviously propagandistic. In fact, he went so far as to then bring up the Nazis, which has become kind of a verbal tick for him whenever he brings up either Hamas or ISIS.

Again, these kinds of oversimplifications I think only cause more danger. There is a very real problem. ISIS is a problem. Al Qaeda is a problem. These militant Islamic groups like Hamas, like Hezbollah, like the Taliban have to be dealt with. But it doesn't actually help us to deal with them when, instead of talking about rational conflicts, rational criticisms of a particular religion, we instead so easily slip into bigotry by simply painting everyone with a single brush, as we have been doing in this conversation, mind you.

Riaz Haq said...

Saudi Arabia is to press Pakistan to boost the number of its troops in the kingdom to help bolster Riyadh’s defences against Islamist militants, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as Isis.
Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, landed in Riyadh on Wednesday and met King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

While diplomats stress the close ties between the countries, Mr Sharif’s trip — his third this year — comes amid profound challenges facing the bilateral relationship, not least the continued flow of funds from rich patrons in Saudi Arabia to Islamist hardliners within Pakistan.
The countries’ close relationship has been built on common security interests dating back to the 1970s, when the Saudi oil boom created employment for a large number of Pakistanis. Islamabad deepened the relationship in the ensuing years by assuming responsibility for some of Saudi Arabia’s internal security needs.
“Saudi Arabia is both a friend and a source of a continuing problem,” said a senior Pakistani official ahead of Mr Sharif’s departure. “This relationship provides opportunities and challenges.”
It is not clear how many Pakistani troops there are in Saudi Arabia, although it is understood the numbers deployed are modest. And analysts say Islamabad is cautious about broadening its security relationship with Riyadh.
“There is uncertainty in the Middle East as Saudi Arabia deals with the wider Islamic State-related challenge,” says Mahmud Durrani, a former national security adviser to the prime minister’s office. “Pakistan has to be careful to avoid getting embroiled in a relationship with the Saudis which only exposes us to new controversies.”
Riyadh has grown more anxious about security after the takeover of Yemen by Shia Houthi rebels, say western diplomats who have followed the Saudi-Pakistan discussions over the past year. “The Saudis are very keen to boost their security apparatus, and Pakistan as a friend with a history of services to the kingdom is of great interest,” said one.
Saudi Arabia — like Pakistan — faces a rising Sunni jihadi threat, while many accuse the government of having turned a blind eye to domestic preachers whose ideology underpins such groups. Private Saudi donations to Islamist extremist groups continue despite government attempts to stem the flow of cash.
Riyadh, which confronted a domestic al-Qaeda insurgency in 2003-2006, is concerned about Isis militants in Syria and Iraq seeking to target the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has built a defensive security fence along its border with Iraq, but Isis militants managed to breach the border in January.
The Saudi-Pakistan defence relationship developed in the 1970s, when Pakistan’s military dictator General Zia ul-Haq sent thousands of troops for security duties in the kingdom after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

“In the 1980s, the Saudis were keen to keep Pakistani troops as this helped counter the Iranian threat,” says one former Pakistani army general who served in the kingdom. “For the Saudis, the relationship with Pakistan guarantees both against internal dissent and external threats.”
The relationship strengthened in 1998 when Saudi Arabia began giving oil to Pakistan to help the country overcome the effect of international financial sanctions following its maiden nuclear tests. The arrangement lasted almost three years.
More recently in early 2014, Saudi Arabia lent $1.5bn to Pakistan to shore up the country’s foreign reserves after a visit to Islamabad by then crown prince Salman. The full terms of the loan were not revealed, although Pakistani finance ministry officials said at the time the loan was interest-free.

Riaz Haq said...

Recently, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif confirmed that a “threat to Saudi Arabia will evoke strong reaction from Pakistan” during a meeting with the top defence-related brass, which was convened after the Kingdom’s offensive against the Houthi rebels in Yemen started. While a lot of Pakistanis are not in favour of going into what they perceive as a sectarian conflict, they fail to recognise both the strategic and economic implications if Pakistan does not support the Saudi Arabia-led offensive against the Houthi rebels. Firstly, the PML-N led government has every right to take this decision based on the number of representatives it has in parliament. However, what needs to be understood is that it’s not just the government, but also the military establishment which is backing the whole offensive due to strategic compulsions.

The two arguments against the engagement of Pakistani troops in Yemen and Saudi Arabia are: why engage our troops in a foreign country when we are fighting our own war; and why be part of a sectarian conflict? The truth is that a nation’s foreign policy is not driven by emotions but is based on long-term economic and strategic security concerns. Pakistan has taken part in Arab conflicts in the past. Fighter pilots from the Pakistan Air Force had flown Royal Saudi Air Force jets to repel an incursion from south Yemen in 1969. One should also remember that there are 400 Pakistani military trainers present in the Kingdom, already training Saudis on border management against the Islamic State on the Iraqi border.

The recent decision to support Saudi Arabia in this conflict is backed both, by the military and civilian leaderships, which see the stability of Saudi Arabia in Pakistan’s interest for two reasons: millions of Pakistanis work in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries with the highest number being in Saudi Arabia. Apart from that, the GCC remains the largest source of foreign exchange for Pakistan. In addition, Saudi Arabia remains Pakistan’s biggest strategic ally and helps meet our energy needs. Instability within the GCC and Saudi Arabia would mean millions of Pakistanis coming back jobless, hurting us economically. We have seen what happened to Pakistanis living in Kuwait after Iraq invaded that country.

The question remains: will Pakistan’s participation in the operation in Yemen hurt Pakistan’s own war? No. Our military and air force deployment inside Saudi Arabia will be limited in numbers and the decision regarding this should be left to the military command. We regularly send troops on UN missions. Does our participation in these missions affect us? No. Secondly, the perception that the Yemen conflict is sectarian in nature is only because of Iran’s support to the Houthi rebels. In reality, this is more of an ethnic conflict with there being a quest for political power. Pakistan’s foreign policy with regards to Iran traditionally has been to defend Iran too. Hence, a serious diplomatic effort from our foreign office should be made to convince Iran that its stability as well as that of Saudi Arabia is vital for Pakistan. We cannot ignore either country.

We must also understand that there are more than 10 Muslim countries, including Turkey, backing the strikes in Yemen against the Houthis and Pakistan will eventually have to choose sides or lose support from our biggest strategic partners and energy providers. It is now up to the prime minister and his government to cash in on the opportunity and get a good economic deal for Pakistan in exchange for providing security for the GCC countries.

Pakistan could gain economically if a sound deal is negotiated for providing jobs to Pakistanis in the GCC countries, as well as negotiating a better energy deal. A good economic package negotiated at an appropriate time to benefit all Pakistanis will help the case for a greater military role in the GCC countries.

Riaz Haq said...

#Saudi Prince: #Arabs Have 'Wronged #Islam And Distorted The Image Of #Muslims'

Arabs have "wronged Islam and distorted the image of Muslims," Saudi Prince Khaled Al-Faisal warned in a speech this week. The prince said Muslims should "not allow colonialism to return, or for divisions to prevail."

The prince's remarks were brief and did not reference any recent events in the Arab world. It's unclear what he was referring to, but his comments come as the Islamic State group has carried out terror attacks against Muslims across the Middle East and as Saudi Arabia is locked in a struggle against Iran for influence over the region.

"I do not envy anyone who stands to speak on behalf of Arabs today. We have wronged Islam and distorted the image of Muslims," Prince Saud, who has served as foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, said during the opening remarks at the 15th Arab Thought Foundation conference in Abu Dhabi. The theme of the event was: "Arab Integration: The Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Arab Emirates."

"Excuse me if my candor is painful, but the wounds are glaring," he added. "Arise Arabs, wake up Muslims, do not allow colonialism to return, or for divisions to prevail."

In July, Saudi officials accused the Islamic State group of bombing the holy city of Medina, the site of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad's tomb and his house, in an attack that killed four security officers and injured five others.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has urged Muslims to unite against an epidemic of "extremism." But earlier this year, Saudi Arabia's top religious authority, the Grand Mufti, said Iran's leaders were not Muslims. Saudi Arabia and Iran represent opposite sides in Syria's civil war and other Middle East conflicts, including Yemen. Saudi Arabia cut off relations with Iran in January after its embassy was attacked in Tehran.

Riaz Haq said...

Wajahat Ali: "While Hazrat Khadija's home has been flattened for fear of idolatry, there are giant posters of King Salman and Prince Mohammad Bin Salman adorning Mecca"

That tableau is a perfect symbol of the strained marriage between the house of God — the Kaaba, in Mecca — and the House of Saud, which controls everything related to the sacred mosques. In adherence to the reactionary religious ideology it embraces, the government has allowed the prophet’s house to fall into decrepitude. It has flattened the home of his first wife, Khadija, and installed public toilets where it used to stand. But it has no objection to the construction of extravagant hotels not far away.

These government’s conflicting values were on display wherever I looked: While non-Muslims are forbidden from even entering Mecca, everyone is free to eat American Hardee’s hamburgers or KFC fried chicken, or buy a Rolex watch across from the Kaaba. It’s forbidden to excessively venerate the prophet and his companions, but there’s no problem with the giant posters of King Abdulaziz, King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, that are all around town.

Riaz Haq said...

#SaudiArabia Agrees to Let #Women Drive.

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that it would allow women to drive, ending a longstanding policy that has become a global symbol of the repression of women in the ultraconservative kingdom.

The change, which will take effect in June of next year, was announced on state television and in a simultaneous media event in Washington. The decision highlights the damage that the no-driving policy has done to the kingdom’s international reputation and its hopes for a public relations benefit from the reform.

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, is a Muslim monarchy ruled according to Shariah law. Saudi officials and clerics have provided numerous explanations for the ban over the years.

Some said that it was inappropriate in Saudi culture for women to drive, or that male drivers would not know how to handle women in cars next to them. Others argued that allowing women to drive would lead to promiscuity and the collapse of the Saudi family. One cleric claimed — with no evidence — that driving harmed women’s ovaries.

Rights groups have long campaigned for the ban to be overturned, and some women have been arrested and jailed for defying the prohibition and taking the wheel.

But the momentum to change the policy picked up in recent years with the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a 32-year-old son of the king who has laid out a far-reaching plan to overhaul the kingdom’s economy and society.

The change could face some resistance inside the kingdom, where families are highly patriarchal and some men say they worry about their female relatives getting stranded should their cars break down.

So-called “guardianship” laws give men power over their female relatives. Women are unable to travel abroad, work or undergo some medical procedures without the consent of their male “guardian,” often a father, a husband or even a son.

Riaz Haq said...

#Saudi Money Fuels the #Tech Industry in #SiliconValley. #Twitter #Facebook #Uber #WeWork The New York Times

We need to talk about the tsunami of questionable money crashing into the tech industry.

We should talk about it because that money is suddenly in the news, inconveniently out in the open in an industry that has preferred to keep its connection to petromonarchs and other strongmen on the down low.

The news started surfacing over the weekend, when Saudi Arabia arrested a passel of princes, including Alwaleed bin Talal, the billionaire tech investor who has large holdings in Apple, Twitter and Lyft. The arrests, part of what the Saudis called a corruption crackdown, opened up a chasm under the tech industry’s justification for taking money from the religious monarchy.


Unsurprisingly, this is not a topic many people want to talk about. SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that runs the $100 billion Vision Fund, which is shelling out eye-popping investments in tech companies, declined to comment for this column. Nearly half of the Vision Fund, about $45 billion, comes from the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

WeWork and Slack, two prominent start-ups that have received recent investments from the Vision Fund, also declined to comment. So did Uber, which garnered a $3.5 billion investment from the Public Investment Fund in 2016, and which is in talks to receive a big investment from the SoftBank fund. The Public Investment Fund also did not return a request for comment.

Twitter, which got a $300 million investment from Prince Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding Company in 2011 — around the same time that it was talking up its role in the Arab Spring — declined to comment on his arrest. Lyft, which received $105 million from Prince Alwaleed in 2015, also declined to comment.

Privately, several founders, investors and others at tech companies who have taken money from the Saudi government or prominent members of the royal family did offer insight into their thinking. Prince Alwaleed, some pointed out, was not aligned with the Saudi government — his arrest by the government underscores this — and he has advocated for some progressive reforms, including giving women the right to drive, a restriction that the kingdom says will be lifted next year.

The founders and investors also brought up the Saudi government’s supposed push for modernization. The Saudis have outlined a long-term plan, Vision 2030, that calls for a reduction in the state’s dependence on oil and a gradual loosening on economic and social restrictions, including a call for greater numbers of women to enter the work force. The gauzy vision allows tech companies to claim to be part of the solution in Saudi Arabia rather than part the problem: Sure, they are taking money from one of the world’s least transparent and most undemocratic regimes, but it’s the part of the government that wants to do better.

Another mitigating factor, for some, is the sometimes indirect nature of the Saudi investments. When the SoftBank Vision Fund invests tens of millions or billions into a tech company, it’s true that half of that money is coming from Saudi Arabia. But it’s SoftBank that has control over the course of the investment and communicates with founders. The passive nature of the Saudi investment in SoftBank’s fund thus allows founders to sleep better at night.

On the other hand, it also has a tendency to sweep the Saudi money under the rug. When SoftBank invests in a company, the Saudi connection is not always made clear to employees and customers. You get to enjoy the convenience of your WeWork without having to confront its place in the Saudi government’s portfolio.