Archive for August, 2012

Bahrain jails teachers’ union officials

Mon Sep 26, 2011

A military court in Bahrain has sentenced the head of the country’s Teachers Association to ten years in prison and his deputy to three for supporting anti-government protests.

Union chairman Mehdi Issa Mohammed Abu Deeb and his deputy Jalila Mohammed Reza al-Salman were convicted on Sunday by the court of national safety of “inciting hatred of the [Persian] Gulf kingdom’s monarchy and calling for its overthrow during protests earlier this year”.

They were also found guilty of using the union to “instigate acts that are considered criminal like calling for sit-ins by teachers, obstructing teaching, holding protests near schools… and calling upon parents not to send their children to school,” Bahraini human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja wrote in an e-mail to Press TV.

Abu Deeb, 49, who was arrested in April, started a hunger strike on September 11 to demand his release and for all false charges against him to be dropped. Abu Deeb, who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, is reported to be in critical health condition.

The court also sentenced Hadi Ahmeh Hasan Mekki to three years in prison for “witnessing an attack on two policemen and refusing to report the incident” as well as an additional 12 months in jail for attending anti-regime protests.

Three others were also jailed for three years for harboring Shaikh Mohammed Habib Al Saffaf, a clergyman. Al Saffaf, also known Al Meqdad, who was earlier sentenced to life imprisonment, is accused by the Manama regime of involvement in a plot to overthrow the monarchy.

The verdicts came a day after the kingdom held by-elections boycotted by the opposition to replace 18 lawmakers, who resigned from the parliament to protest the violent crackdown on anti-regime demonstrators.

On April 7, the Ministry of Social Development dissolved the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA), accusing the union of “issuing statements and speeches aimed at inciting teachers and students against the government and disrupting educational establishments.

Bahrainis have been holding anti-government rallies since mid-February, demanding an end to the Al Khalifa dynasty’s 40-year rule.

Scores of people have been killed and hundreds more have been arrested in the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in Bahrain, home to a huge American military installation for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://www.presstv.com/detail/201259.html.

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Over 80% of Bahrainis refused to vote

Sun Sep 25, 2011

Election results in Bahrain show that more than 80 percent of the electorate refused to vote in the recent parliamentary by-elections in the country.

According to a Bahraini government website, less than one in every five voters cast their ballots in the recent by-elections, Reuters reported on Sunday.

The controversial by-elections were held on Saturday to replace 18 Bahraini lawmakers from the main opposition party, al-Wefaq, who walked out of the parliament in February after security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters, killing and wounding scores of them.

Of the 144,513 eligible voters in 14 districts only 25,130 came out to vote, representing a 17.4 percent turnout, the Bahraini government’s elections website http://www.vote.bh reported.

Voting did not take place in four districts where candidates were running uncontested and automatically won the seat.

Al-Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman said the results showed that Bahrainis rejected the king’s reforms, adding, “There is no such thing as Bahraini democracy. There has to be peaceful rotation of power.”

“If there is no transition, Bahrain will remain in a crisis of security and human rights, this is a historic moment,” he added.

Meanwhile, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is to travel to Riyadh and meet with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Monday to hold talks regarding the relations between the two countries.

Bahrainis have been holding anti-government rallies since mid-February, demanding an end to the Al Khalifa dynasty, which has ruled the country for over 40 years.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://www.presstv.com/detail/201146.html.

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Saudis protest police violence on women

Sat Sep 24, 2011

Saudi activists in the eastern city of Qatif have taken to the streets to rally against police harassing female protesters and in support for the ongoing Bahraini revolution, Press TV reported.

Scores of women had earlier on Saturday staged sit-in protests outside the local government office in the eastern province of Dammam, calling for the release of their relatives held in prison for years without any charge.

Protesters in Qatif had also rallied on Friday against the Al Saud regime’s brutal military intervention in Bahrain with the aim of crushing the popular uprising in the small Persian Gulf kingdom.

Both demonstrations took place despite the government’s strict ban on anti-regime rallies in the country.

Moreover, activists in Saudi Arabia say the country has jailed more than 30,000 political prisoners, most of them prisoners of conscious. Many were arrested merely for appearing suspicious and the majority of them are being held without trials or legitimate charges.

The families of political prisoners have repeatedly pleaded with the ruling monarch to at least give their loved ones a fair trial. However, the king has for years ignored their calls.

Over the past months, Saudi activists in the Eastern Province have staged several anti-government protests, demanding reforms and immediate release of political prisoners.

Their campaign for human rights reform, freedom of expression and political reforms ended with an unexpected outcome: the anti-terror law, which gives the ministry of interior superior powers to detain suspects incommunicado for up to 120 days amendable to indefinite extension.

The law also defines terror crimes as any action endangering national unity, an ambiguous definition which can even be extended to peaceful demonstrations.

Human Rights Watch says more than 160 dissidents have been arrested since February as part of the Saudi government’s crackdown on anti-government protesters.

According to the Saudi-based Human Rights First Society (HRFS), the detainees have been subjected to torture both physically and mentally.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://www.presstv.com/detail/201000.html.

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Saudi king allows women to vote in local elections

By ABDULLAH AL-SHIHRI and MAAMOUN YOUSSEF – Associated Press
Sun, Sep 25, 2011

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi King Abdullah announced Sunday that the nation’s women will gain the right to vote and run as candidates in local elections to be held in 2015 in a major advancement for the rights of women in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.

In an annual speech before his advisory assembly, or Shura Council, the Saudi monarch said he ordered the step after consulting with the nation’s top religious clerics, whose advice carries great weight in the kingdom.

“We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society and in every aspect, within the rules of Sharia,” Abdullah said, referring to the Islamic law that governs many aspects of life in the kingdom.

The right to vote is by far the biggest change introduced by Abdullah, considered a reformer, since he became the country’s de facto ruler in 1995 during the illness of King Fahd. Abdullah formally ascended to the throne upon Fahd’s death in August 2005.

The kingdom’s great oil wealth and generous handouts to citizens have largely insulated it from the unrest sweeping the Arab world. But the king has taken steps to quiet rumblings of discontent that largely centered on the eastern oil-producing region populated by the country’s Shiite Muslim minority.

Mindful of the unrest, which reached Saudi Arabia’s doorstep with street protests and a deadly crackdown in neighboring Bahrain, King Abdullah pledged roughly $93 billion in financial support to boost jobs and services for Saudis in March.

Seizing on the season of protest in the Arab world, Saudi women’s groups have also staged public defiance of the kingdom’s ban on female driving. Saudi authorities went relatively easy on the women, who took to the roads earlier this year and gained worldwide attention through social media.

Abdullah said the changes announced Sunday would also allow women to be appointed to the Shura Council, the advisory body selected by the king that is currently all-male.

The council, established in 1993, offers opinions on general policies in the kingdom and debates economic and social development plans and agreements signed between the kingdom and other nations.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, follows deeply conservative social traditions and adheres closely to a strict version of Islam. Despite Abdullah’s attempts to push through some social reforms, women still cannot drive and the sexes are segregated in public.

Saudi Arabia held its first-ever municipal elections in 2005.

The kingdom will hold its next municipal elections on Thursday, but women will not be able to vote or run in those contests.

In announcing the reforms, Abdullah sought to ground his decision in religion.

“Muslim women in our Islamic history have demonstrated positions that expressed correct opinions and advice,” he said, citing examples from the era of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century.

He said the members of Saudi Arabia’s clerical council, or Ulema, praised and supported his decision.

He also acknowledged the yearning for greater social freedoms in the kingdom.

“Balanced modernization, which falls within our Islamic values, is an important demand in an era where there is no place for defeatist or hesitant people,” he said.

In January, a group of female activists launched a campaign on social networking websites to push the kingdom to allow women to vote and run in the municipal elections.

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Youssef reported from Cairo.

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Mecca for the rich: Islam’s holiest site ‘turning into Vegas’

SATURDAY 24 SEPTEMBER 2011
JEROME TAYLOR

Historic and culturally important landmarks are being destroyed to make way for luxury hotels and malls, reports Jerome Taylor

Behind closed doors – in places where the religious police cannot listen in – residents of Mecca are beginning to refer to their city as Las Vegas and the moniker is not a compliment.

Over the past 10 years the holiest site in Islam has undergone a huge transformation, one that has divided opinion among Muslims all over the world.

Once a dusty desert town struggling to cope with the ever-increasing number of pilgrims arriving for the annual Hajj, the city now soars above its surroundings with a glittering array of skyscrapers, shopping malls and luxury hotels.

To the al-Saud monarchy, Mecca is their vision of the future – a steel and concrete metropolis built on the proceeds of enormous oil wealth that showcases their national pride.

Yet growing numbers of citizens, particularly those living in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, have looked on aghast as the nation’s archaeological heritage is trampled under a construction mania backed by hardline clerics who preach against the preservation of their own heritage. Mecca, once a place where the Prophet Mohamed insisted all Muslims would be equal, has become a playground for the rich, critics say, where naked capitalism has usurped spirituality as the city’s raison d’être.

Few are willing to discuss their fears openly because of the risks associated with criticizing official policy in the authoritarian kingdom. And, with the exceptions of Turkey and Iran, fellow Muslim nations have largely held their tongues for fear of diplomatic fallout and restrictions on their citizens’ pilgrimage visas. Western archaeologists are silent out of fear that the few sites they are allowed access to will be closed to them.

But a number of prominent Saudi archaeologists and historians are speaking up in the belief that the opportunity to save Saudi Arabia’s remaining historical sites is closing fast.

“No one has the balls to stand up and condemn this cultural vandalism,” says Dr Irfan al-Alawi who, as executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, has fought in vain to protect his country’s historical sites. “We have already lost 400-500 sites. I just hope it’s not too late to turn things around.”

Sami Angawi, a renowned Saudi expert on the region’s Islamic architecture, is equally concerned. “This is an absolute contradiction to the nature of Mecca and the sacredness of the house of God,” he told the Reuters news agency earlier this year. “Both [Mecca and Medina] are historically almost finished. You do not find anything except skyscrapers.”

Dr Alawi’s most pressing concern is the planned £690m expansion of the Grand Mosque, the most sacred site in Islam which contains the Kaaba – the black stone cube built by Ibrahim (Abraham) that Muslims face when they pray.

Construction officially began earlier this month with the country’s Justice Minister, Mohammed al-Eissa, exclaiming that the project would respect “the sacredness and glory of the location, which calls for the highest care and attention of the servants or Islam and Muslims”.

The 400,000 square meter development is being built to accommodate an extra 1.2 million pilgrims each year and will turn the Grand Mosque into the largest religious structure in the world. But the Islamic Heritage Foundation has compiled a list of key historical sites that they believe are now at risk from the ongoing development of Mecca, including the old Ottoman and Abbasi sections of the Grand Mosque, the house where the Prophet Mohamed was born and the house where his paternal uncle Hamza grew up.

There is little argument that Mecca and Medina desperately need infrastructure development. Twelve million pilgrims visit the cities every year with the numbers expected to increase to 17 million by 2025.

But critics fear that the desire to expand the pilgrimage sites has allowed the authorities to ride roughshod over the area’s cultural heritage. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of Mecca’s millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades alone.

The destruction has been aided by Wahabism, the austere interpretation of Islam that has served as the kingdom’s official religion ever since the al-Sauds rose to power across the Arabian Peninsula in the 19th century.

In the eyes of Wahabis, historical sites and shrines encourage “shirq” – the sin of idolatry or polytheism – and should be destroyed. When the al-Saud tribes swept through Mecca in the 1920s, the first thing they did was lay waste to cemeteries holding many of Islam’s important figures. They have been destroying the country’s heritage ever since. Of the three sites the Saudis have allowed the UN to designate World Heritage Sites, none are related to Islam.

Those circling the Kaaba only need to look skywards to see the latest example of the Saudi monarchy’s insatiable appetite for architectural bling. At 1,972ft, the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, opened earlier this year, soars over the surrounding Grand Mosque, part of an enormous development of skyscrapers that will house five-star hotels for the minority of pilgrims rich enough to afford them.

To build the skyscraper city, the authorities dynamited an entire mountain and the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress that lay on top of it. At the other end of the Grand Mosque complex, the house of the Prophet’s first wife Khadijah has been turned into a toilet block. The fate of the house he was born in is uncertain. Also planned for demolition are the Grand Mosque’s Ottoman columns which dare to contain the names of the Prophet’s companions, something hardline Wahabis detest.

For ordinary Meccans living in the mainly Ottoman-era town houses that make up much of what remains of the old city, development often means the loss of their family home.

Non-Muslims cannot visit Mecca and Medina, but The Independent was able to interview a number of citizens who expressed discontent over the way their town was changing. One young woman whose father recently had his house bulldozed described how her family was still waiting for compensation. “There was very little warning; they just came and told him that the house had to be bulldozed,” she said.

Another Meccan added: “If a prince of a member of the royal family wants to extend his palace he just does it. No one talks about it in public though. There’s such a climate of fear.”

Dr Alawi hopes the international community will finally begin to wake up to what is happening in the cradle of Islam. “We would never allow someone to destroy the Pyramids, so why are we letting Islam’s history disappear?”

Under Threat

Bayt al-Mawlid

When the Wahabis took Mecca in the 1920s they destroyed the dome on top of the house where the Prophet Mohammed was born. It was then used as a cattle market before being turned into a library after a campaign by Meccans. There are concerns that the expansion of the Grand Mosque will destroy it once more. The site has never been excavated by archaeologists.

Ottoman and Abasi columns of the Grand Mosque

Slated for demolition as part of the Grand Mosque expansion, these intricately carved columns date back to the 17th century and are the oldest surviving sections of Islam’s holiest site. Much to the chagrin of Wahabis, they are inscribed with the names of the Prophet’s companions. Ottomon Mecca is now rapidly disappearing

Al-Masjid al-Nawabi

For many years, hardline Wahabi clerics have had their sites set on the 15th century green dome that rests above the tomb holding the Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar in Medina. The mosque is regarded as the second holiest site in Islam. Wahabis, however, believe marked graves are idolatrous. A pamphlet published in 2007 by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, endorsed by Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, stated that “the green dome shall be demolished and the three graves flattened in the Prophet’s Masjid”.

Jabal al-Nour

A mountain outside Mecca where Mohammed received his first Koranic revelations. The Prophet used to spend long spells in a cave called Hira. The cave is particularly popular among South Asian pilgrims who have carved steps up to its entrance and adorned the walls with graffiti. Religious hardliners are keen to dissuade pilgrims from congregating there and have mooted the idea of removing the steps and even destroying the mountain altogether.

Source: The Independent.
Link: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/mecca-for-the-rich-islams-holiest-site-turning-into-vegas-2360114.html.

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Iran sends biggest aid convoy to Somalia

Fri Sep 23, 2011

The Iranian Red Crescent Society’s (IRCS) biggest aid convoy for the drought-stricken people of Somalia is expected to arrive in the country next week.

The convoy consists of the Iranian people’s contributions which were collected by IRCS and the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (IKRF) in a nationwide fundraiser on food” on August 22, 2011.

The 5,000-ton shipment including foodstuff and medicine will reach Somalia by sea next Tuesday, IRNA reported on Friday.

IRCS has set up nine makeshift camps in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, housing about 5,000 families. There is also a mobile clinic in each camp providing Somalis with healthcare services.

IRCS has so far sent 15 humanitarian aid convoys to Somalia weighing about 600 tons as part of an initiative to supply Somalis battling with starvation and shortage of food.

The drought and famine have affected more than 11.8 million people across Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Somalia has been the hardest-hit country in what is being described as the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in 60 years.The UN says 3.2 million Somalis are in need of immediate life-saving assistance.

According to UN reports, about 3.7 million people in Somalia are on the brink of starvation and millions more in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda have been affected by drought.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://www.presstv.com/detail/200787.html.

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Iran to build long-range air-defense

Thu Sep 22, 2011

Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi says the Islamic Republic will manufacture long-range air-defense systems in line with the country’s plans to achieve self-sufficiency.

The design and production of long-range air-defense systems has been on the agenda of Iran’s Defense Ministry, Vahidi told reporters on Thursday.

Iran is currently manufacturing low-range and mid-range air-defense systems inside the country, he said, adding that the country is self-sufficient in this area, IRNA reported.

He noted that domestically-manufactured defense systems in missile, marine and ground sectors are more powerful in comparison with previous ones.

The Iranian minister pointed to “unfounded” threats posed by enemies against the Islamic Republic and emphasized that they know they cannot counter Iran.

Today, we are witnessing the declining power of the US and Israel more than ever before but they are making baseless remarks against Iran to divert the global public opinion from the problems faced by the West and the Israeli regime, he pointed out.

Vahidi’s remarks came after the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force has recently held the final day of massive three-phased aerial drills dubbed “Fadaeeyan Harim Velayat 3” (Defenders of Velayat Sanctuaries 3).

The drills were intended to simulate real-world scenarios in preparation for defending the nation against any possible foreign attacks against the country.

The United States and Israel have repeatedly threatened Tehran with the “option” of a military strike, based on the allegation that Iran’s nuclear work may consist of a covert military agenda.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://www.presstv.com/detail/200573.html.

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