Blair blackmailed by Bandar over BAE

Prince Bandar: with friends like these...

Saudi Arabia's rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday.

Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced "another 7/7" and the loss of "British lives on British streets" if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.

Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists. He faces accusations that he himself took more than £1bn in secret payments from the arms company BAE.

He was accused in yesterday's high court hearings of flying to London in December 2006 and uttering threats which made the prime minister, Tony Blair, force an end to the Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery allegations involving Bandar and his family.

The threats halted the fraud inquiry, but triggered an international outcry, with allegations that Britain had broken international anti-bribery treaties.

Lord Justice Moses, hearing the civil case with Mr Justice Sullivan, said the government appeared to have "rolled over" after the threats. He said one possible view was that it was "just as if a gun had been held to the head" of the government.

Can we invade Saudi Arabia now? Please?
Read More

Links February 9th to February 11th

Links for February 9th through February 11th:

Read More

Links for January 14th

Automatically posted links for January 14th:

Read More

Links January 9th and January 10th

Automatically posted links for January 9th through January 10th:

Read More

Links for November 29th

Automatically posted links for November 29th:

Read More

Links for November 28th

Automatically posted links for November 27-28th:
Read More

Tahawy on Saudi Arabia treatment of women

I can't find it online, so I am republishing below this fine op-ed by Mona al-Tahawy where she makes the obvious yet crucial point that Saudi Arabia's medieval practices (only one manifestation of its backwards ideology) have been tolerated far too long:
Gender Apartheid by Mona Eltahawy NEW YORK -- Once upon a time, in a country called South Africa the color of your skin determined where you lived, what jobs you were allowed, and whether you could vote or not. Decent countries around the world fought the evil of racial apartheid by turning South Africa into a pariah state. They barred it from global events such as the Olympics. Businesses and universities boycotted South Africa, decimating its economy and adding to the isolation of the white-minority government, which finally repealed apartheid laws in 1991. Today in a country called Saudi Arabia it is gender rather than racial apartheid that is the evil but the international community watches quietly and does nothing. Saudi women cannot vote, cannot drive, cannot be treated in a hospital or travel without the written permission of a male guardian, cannot study the same things men do, and are barred from certain professions. Saudi women are denied many of the same rights that “Blacks” and “Coloreds” were denied in apartheid South Africa and yet the kingdom still belongs to the very same international community that kicked Pretoria out of its club.
She rightly points out that, aside from the oil reason, Saudi Arabia has been enabled by the collapse of any alternative ideology in the Arab world, with the Saudis having bought the silence (or enthusiastic support) of most other Arab regimes. As they say, RTWT.
To understand the heinous double standards at play, look no further than the case of a 19-year-old Saudi woman who was gang-raped last year. Despite being abducted and raped by seven men, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced her to 90 lashes because she was in a car with an unrelated man before she was abducted. Saudi Arabia’s ultra-orthodox interpretation of Islamic law preaches a strict segregation of the sexes. The young woman had the temerity to appeal -- and publicize her story in the media. And so, earlier this month, the court increased her punishment to <i>200 lashes and six months in jail</i>. Her lawyer, a prominent human rights defender, was suspended and faces a disciplinary hearing. And the actual abductors and rapists? They got between two and nine years in jail. A rape conviction in the kingdom usually carries the death penalty, but the court said it did not impose it due to the "lack of witnesses" and the "absence of confessions.” Farida Deif, a researcher at Human Rights Watch women’s rights division, who interviewed the young woman and her lawyer extensively, told me that one of the rapists had filmed the assault with his mobile phone but the judges refused to allow the clip as evidence. Compare that to the use of such mobile phone footage to convict two police officers in Egypt on November 5, on charges of torturing and sodomizing a bus driver. A few governments here and there have condemned the Saudi court’s behavior but you can be sure that Saudi Arabia will be there at the next Olympics -- even though it bars women from the national team -- and the world will continue to fete the kingdom’s representatives without a word of chastisement. Just by agreeing to attend next week’s Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Annapolis Saudi Arabia merited headline news. The easy explanation of the world’s apathy to the plight of Saudi women is that the kingdom sits on the world’s largest oil reserves. True. The more difficult explanation -- and the one that too many avoid -- is that the Saudis have succeeded in pulling a fast one on the world by claiming their religion is the reason they treat women so badly. I am a Muslim who is constantly wondering how it is that I worship the same God as the Saudis. Islam may have been born in Mecca -- in what is today Saudi Arabia -- but the warped interpretation of my religion prevalent in that country is like a perverse attempt to undo any good that Muslims believe was revealed in Prophet Mohammed’s message in 7th century Arabia. What kind of God would punish a woman for rape? That is a question that Muslims must ask of Saudi Arabia because unless it is we who challenge the determinedly anti-women teachings of Islam in Saudi Arabia, that kingdom will always get a free pass. It is easy to dismantle the Saudi clerical claim that it is Islam that justifies their outrageous treatment of girls and women. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, a place where women enjoy rights a Saudi woman could only dream of, where they recite the verses of the Quran on television for all to see and hear. In Saudi Arabia, a woman’s voice is considered sinful. Saudi Arabia’s neighbors -- Egypt, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates -- are all Muslim-majority countries: Women drive, vote, are judges, and hold ministerial portfolios. The international community must not forget the many brave Saudis such as the gang-rape victim, her lawyer, and the activists who continue to question this oppression by their government and clerics. Their courage deserves the same kind of support the world offered anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. Nor should the victims of Saudi atrocities be forgotten: In 2002, 15 schoolgirls died when officers of the morality police would not let them out of their burning school building -- and barred firefighters from saving them -- because the girls weren’t wearing the headscarve and the black cloak that all women must wear in public. How many more girls must die and women suffer rape before the international community names this gender apartheid and condemns it appropriately? Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator, and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues. Copyright ©2007 Mona Eltahawy / Agence Global
Read More

Links for November 24th

Automatically posted links for November 24th:

Read More

Del.icio.us links for November 23rd

Automatically posted links for November 23rd:

Read More

Del.icio.us links for November 21st

Automatically posted links for November 21st:

Read More

Del.icio.us links for November 19th

Automatically posted links for November 19th:
Read More

Links for 11/9/07, and a little on Saudis

Regarding the last article on Saudi Arabia, Hamid makes the argument that the US should put democracy-promotion at the forefront of its policy because lack of democracy creates terrorism and extremist ideology, and calls for conditionality on the US arms deal with Saudi Arabia. It seems to me that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of both Saudi Arabia and the US. The Saudi regime is an active exporter of terrorism and extremist ideology, and this has nothing to do with lack of democracy. It is a long-standing, deliberate policy backed at the highest levels of the royal family. This is a country that has funded and provided manpower to paramilitary movements in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia and many other places. It has also exported and financed the most intolerant strands of Islamic theology throughout the Muslim world. At one point the US backed this, or was tolerant of it at least. But it is very much the same phenomenon that is taking place today, only this time against US interests. With regards to conditionality, the Saudis could very well buy the weapons themselves, and the deal is a boon to the US arms industry. The important thing about the deal is not the money or weapons being delivered but the underlying strategic alliance that provides security for the Saudi royal family. But this regime will continue to promote extremist ideologies at home and abroad, and genuine democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia (a goal desirable in itself but that is certainly not linked to greater stability) would be better served by weakening, not strengthening, the al-Sauds -- not that this is going to happen, for obvious oil and corporate power reasons.
Read More

IntelliBriefs: Saudi Arabia's media influence

Saudi Arabia's media influence:
Saudi Arabia's takeover of the region's media is a reflection of what is occurring globally where a handful of multinational companies increasingly dominate the media. This spills over from entertainment into news coverage. To Saudi Arabia such control is paramount in an era when the media is increasingly pervasive, because Riyadh's political and economic clout – and the survival of the Royal family – depends on the kingdom retaining its position as a leading player in the region's power politics. To retain this balance of power – held in the region by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia against an ascendant Iran and non-governmental actors – informative and potentially damning news on the kingdom needs to be squashed. Saudi Arabia's approach to media under its control, and the harsh punishments on those that do not portray a rose-tinted view of the royal family and the kingdom, is mirrored in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, which have similarly draconian media laws to retain monarchical power bases. Qatar can be considered somewhat of an exception with Al Jazeera, but when it comes to the channel applying the same exposure to governmental malfeasance and social issues in Doha as it does elsewhere in the region, Al Jazeera comes up short. Although much of Saudi media ownership revolves around entertainment, as the Managing Editor of Beirut-based Middle East Broadcasters Journal, Habib Battah, pointed out: "MBC, Orbit, Rotana – all these companies have a big Saudi stake and are not really about Saudi Arabia, but about appealing to a pan-Arab audience," that is perhaps the point, with Saudi shareholders - most linked to the royal family - being able to dictate what is, and what can be, aired to a pan-Arab audience, even if it is only entertainment.
Worth reading in full, even if it only skims the surface.
Read More

Saudi to create oil protection security service

From Le Figaro, an article on how Saudi Arabia is creating a new security service specifically dedicated to protecting petroleum installations. Beyond threat perceptions about attacks on these centers, there is also the factor that this will create yet another service, exclusively under the control of Minister of Interior Prince Nayef and his son -- with a rumored budget of $5 billion and staff of 35,000.
L'Arabie crée une force de protection des sites pétroliers: POUR EMPÊCHER un attentat terroriste contre ses installations pétrolières, Riyad vient de décider la création d'une force de sécurité spécialisée, d'environ 35 000 hommes. Jusqu'à présent, la protection des 80 champs pétroliers et gaziers, ainsi que des 11 000 kilomètres d'oléoducs du premier exportateur d'or noir au monde était répartie entre une multitude de services (sécurité publique, forces spéciales, Garde nationale, etc.), soit au total 15 000 hommes. « Compte tenu de la persistance des menaces terroristes ou des tensions avec l'Iran, les Saoudiens se sont rendu compte que la solution du détachement des personnels et des matériels n'était pas satisfaisante », explique un diplomate occidental à Riyad. Annoncée récemment par le ministre de l'Intérieur, le prince Nayef, à la Shoura (une assemblée dont les membres sont désignés par le régime), cette décision n'a pas encore été rendue publique. La protection des sites pétroliers représente un important enjeu de pouvoir entre les différents clans de la direction saoudienne. La Garde nationale, toujours commandée par le roi Abdallah, gardera certaines prérogatives. Mais le dossier et ses investissements induits - on parle de 5 milliards de dollars - seront gérés directement par Nayef et son fils, les principaux responsables de la lutte antiterroriste dans un royaume durement frappé par al-Qaida depuis 2003.
This will mean more investment into arms purchases and other security technology, much to Western suppliers' delight.
Read More

Saudi Religious Police Attacked by Girls

Saudi Religious Police Attacked by Girls:
Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat - Members of Khobar's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice were the victims of an attack by two Saudi females, Asharq Al-Awsat can reveal. According to the head of the commission in Khobar, two girls pepper sprayed members of the commission after they had tried to offer them advice. Head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in the Eastern province Dr. Mohamed bin Marshood al-Marshood, told Asharq Al Awsat that two of the Commission's employees were verbally insulted and attacked by two inappropriately-dressed females, in the old market in Prince Bandar street, an area usually crowded with shoppers during the month of Ramadan. According to Dr. Al-Marshood, the two commission members approached the girls in order to "politely" advise and guide them regarding their inappropriate clothing. Consequently, the two girls started verbally abusing the commission members, which then lead to one of the girls pepper-spraying them in the face as the other girl filmed the incident on her mobile phone, while continuing to hurl insults at them. The Eastern Province's head of the commission also revealed that with the help of the police his two employees were able to control the situation. The two females were then escorted to the police station where they apologized for the attack, were cautioned and then released.
Fantastic.
Read More

New campaign for right to drive in Saudi

Saudi Women Petition for Right to Drive:
DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 23 -- For the first time since a demonstration in 1990, a group of Saudi women is campaigning for the right to drive in this conservative kingdom, the only country in the world that prohibits female drivers. After spreading the idea through text messages and e-mails, the group's leaders said they collected more than 1,100 signatures online and at shopping malls for a petition sent to King Abdullah on Sunday. Wajeha al-Huwaider of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, co-founded a group urging that women be permitted to drive. The group sent King Abdullah a petition with more than 1,100 names. "We don't expect an answer right away," said Wajeha al-Huwaider, 45, an education analyst who co-founded the group. "But we will not stop campaigning until we get the right to drive."
Really, I don't even see why the (mostly American) press bothered to cover tiny "democratic" improvements in Saudi political life when this retard-run country doesn't even allow women to drive. Every time I am reminded of that ban I shudder at the thought that this is the most influential Arab country. If they have a lot of support, these women should give each other driving lessons and prepare for a wave of civil disobedience.
Read More

The siege of Mecca

I want this book. (You can get it from Amazon.) Update: Looking through the book's site linked above, there are PDF versions of declassified Western intelligence documents on the siege. Some interesting examples are this US embassy in Cairo report of how Mubarak, vice-president at the time, ordered al-Ahram to downplay news of the siege that was going to be on the top banner headline or how Hassan II sent his most vital aide at the time, Moulay Hafid Alaoui, to Jeddah with commandos from the Gendarmerie Royale to be put at King Khalid's disposal. H2 was ready send several hundred more commandos, in the grand tradition of Moroccan brawn working for Saudi Arabia.
Read More

al-Saud family feud?

Saudi prince criticises monopoly of power at the heart of kingdom:
A prominent prince plans to form a political party in Saudi Arabia and invite jailed reformists to join. The rare call for reform from within the royal family is likely to anger the kingdom, which bans political parties. Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz, a half-brother of King Abdullah and the father of Saudi Arabia's richest private business tycoon, also criticised what he termed an alleged monopoly on Saudi power by one faction within the Saudi royal family.
Without wanting to be entirely dismissive of this "reformist" call for a new party, can we really take it really seriously if it's just about one side of the al-Saud family (may they be cursed to eternal damnation!) not being very happy with the other? Hopefully this will at least destabilize the Saudi regime and it will then be too busy to ruin other countries. To give him some credit, this princeling is asking for some positive developments:
Prince Talal pointed to neighbouring Gulf nations, such as Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, which have already opened up their conservative political systems and held elections. "Saudis are asking why these small countries have followed this direction and not us?" he said. In the past, Prince Talal has called for an elected assembly to enact legislation, question officials and protect public wealth. In the interview, he also called on the kingdom's powerful Wahhabi religious establishment to make changes. "We have signed international conventions on women's rights and we should respect them," he said. The group of Saudi activists that Prince Talal cited have been in jail for months for advocating reform. The prince called them "prisoners of conscience, not criminals". Prince Talal also called for an independent Anglo-Saudi inquiry into claims that some Saudi royals received kickbacks from oil and arms deals. The US justice department is currently investigating a 1985 arms deal with BAE Systems.
The last of which is more than you can say for the United Kingdom, where not only Labour but the Tories seem quite happy to accept Tony Blair's closure of the BAE investigation.
Read More

Keeping Alms for Jihad in US libraries

I have read about the Alms for Jihad affairs in Britain -- and I would fully support the Association of Librarians of America in keeping the book available in the US, regardless of the quality of the book (which I have no idea about).
OIF is hearing from librarians who are wondering if they must comply with a request from British publisher Cambridge University Press to remove the book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World from the shelves of their libraries. Alms for Jihad is the subject of a British libel lawsuit brought by Saudi banker Khalid bin Mahfouz, who has filed several similar lawsuits to contest claims that the Saudi government has used Islamic charities to fund terrorism. Cambridge University Press chose to settle the suit rather than risk a large damage award at trial. Under the settlement, Cambridge University Press has agreed to pulp unsold copies and to ask libraries to return the book to the publisher or destroy the book. (See "Cambridge U. Press Agrees to Destroy Book on Terrorism in Response to Libel Claim" from the Chronicle of Higher Education.) Critics claim that Mahfouz is attempting to silence critics by using British libel law. Unlike U.S. libel law, which recognizes First Amendment freedoms, and requires plaintiffs to prove statements about them are false, British law places the burden of proof on defendants, who must demonstrate the truth of their claims.
Someone should leak an electronic version of the book onto the internet.
Read More