Archive for October, 2017
September 23, 2017
ISTANBUL (AP) — The Turkish parliament on Saturday renewed a bill allowing the military to intervene in Iraq and Syria if faced with national security threats — a move seen as a final warning to Iraqi Kurds to call off their Monday independence referendum.
The decree allows Turkey to send troops over its southern border if developments in Iraq or Syria are seen as national security threats. Turkish officials have repeatedly warned the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq to abandon its plans for independence.
Kurds are dispersed across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran and lack a nation state. Turkey itself has a large ethnic Kurdish population and is battling a Kurdish insurgency on its own territory that it calls separatist.
The bill read in parliament Saturday listed combating Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq and the Islamic State group as national security requirements for Turkey. It also emphasized the importance of Iraq and Syria’s territorial integrity and said “separatism based on ethnicity” poses a threat to both Turkey and regional stability.
Speaking in parliament, Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli likened Monday’s vote in northern Iraq to a brick that — if pulled out — could collapse an entire “structure built on sensitive and fragile balances.” The resulting conflict could be global, he warned.
Osman Baydemir, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — the third biggest group in parliament — called the bill “a war mandate” and “a proclamation of enmity towards 40 million Kurds.” A dozen parliamentarians from the party are behind bars for alleged links to terror groups.
The HDP voted against the mandate Saturday. All other parties, including the main opposition Republican People’s Party, voted for it. Earlier Saturday, the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called the referendum “a mistake, an adventure.” He said Turkey would take diplomatic, political and economic measures according to “developments on the ground.” He added a cross-border military operation was also an option.
The renewed mandate is a combination of two previous bills that are based on a constitutional article on the “declaration of state of war and authorization to deploy the armed forces.” The Iraq Bill was passed in 2007 to combat outlawed Kurdish militants in northern Iraq to prevent attacks in Turkey. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK has its headquarters in Iraq’s Qandil mountains. Turkey, the United States and the European Union consider it a terror organization.
The Syria Bill of 2012 was in response to mortar attacks by Syrian government forces on a Turkish border town. The combined bill was passed in 2014 as IS waged a deadly campaign in Kobani, the Syrian Kurdish town on the Turkish border. IS failed to take over the town and the victory strengthened Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units or YPG, who are now a key U.S. ally against IS in Syria. Turkey, however, considers them a terror group.
The mandate has allowed Turkey to launch a cross-border military operation into northern Syria with Syrian opposition forces in August 2016 to clear its border of IS and YPG. Turkey’s air force has also been bombing targets in northern Iraq and Syria.
The Turkish military, meanwhile, said additional units joined this week’s previously unannounced exercises near the Iraqi border. The chief of staff also met his Iraqi counterpart in Ankara to discuss the Kurdish referendum and border security.
October 11, 2017
The number of cargo vessels arriving at Hamad Port in Doha rose by 47.3 per cent in August, Qatar News Agency has reported.
According to the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics, the figure was 162 vessels carrying around 1.3 million tons of goods. The ministry’s monthly report showed that in the same period the total number of vessels in all of Qatar’s ports was just over 600, carrying about 3.9 million tons.
The Director of Hamad Port, Abdul Aziz Al-Yafei, announced last month that the port authority plans to accommodate more than 1,000 vessels by the end of this year, and about one million containers. Al-Yafie explained that work is underway to make Hamad Port a major re-export hub in the region.
The Hamad Port only opened officially on 5 September. It aims to acquire 35 per cent of the total Middle East trade by next year.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
KHOBAR – Hunched over platters of dates and Arabic coffee, Saudi women raring to drive once a government ban ends next June signed up for another revolution — to be the kingdom’s first female cab drivers.
King Salman last month decreed that women will be allowed driving permits, a historic reform that could put not just millions of women behind the wheel but potentially many more into the workforce.
Sensing a lucrative opportunity, ride-hailing company Careem says it plans to hire up to 100,000 female chauffers to lure new clients in the gender-segregated kingdom.
This week, the company invited AFP to its first recruitment session in the coastal city of Khobar, which attracted a diverse crowd — from housewives to working women — who already have foreign driving licences.
“For years I felt helpless. My car would be parked outside and I could not drive,” said Nawal al-Jabbar, a 50-year-old mother of three, sipping coffee from a thimble-sized cup.
A chorus of hoots and claps erupted in the auditorium as the women, who learned about the recruitment by word-of-mouth, watched news footage on a projector screen of last month’s royal decree.
“It felt like we had woken up in a new Saudi Arabia,” Jabbar said.
An instructor stood next to the screen, holding up a smartphone to show the inner workings of the app.
The firm plans to add a new “Captinah” button to the app next June that would allow customers to choose women chauffeurs. The option will only be available to other women and families, Careem spokesman Murtadha Alalawi said.
Around 30 women registered for the event in Khobar.
Many arrived unaccompanied by men, something not commonly seen in a country where male “guardians” have arbitrary authority to make crucial decisions on behalf of women.
– ‘Rite of passage’ –
“This is a rite of passage for women,” said Sarah Algwaiz, director of the women chauffeurs program at Careem, referring to the reform.
“For women to drive their own cars signals autonomy, mobility and financial independence.”
The Gulf kingdom was the only country in the world to ban women from taking the wheel, and it was seen globally as a symbol of repression.
For decades, hardliners cited austere Islamic interpretations to justify the ban, with some maintaining women lack the intelligence to drive and that allowing them to would promote promiscuity.
“Society portrays women to be strong when it’s convenient and weak when it’s convenient,” said trainee Jabbar.
“I say if you can depend on a female doctor to deliver a baby, then you can depend on a woman to drive a car.”
The lifting of the driving ban has been widely credited to 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who styles himself as a modernizer in the conservative kingdom, where more than half the population is aged under 25.
Prince Mohammed has cracked down on dissent while also showing a rare willingness to tackle entrenched Saudi taboos such as promoting more women in the workforce.
Becoming a chauffeur would mean “extra income”, said Banain al-Mustafa, a 24-year-old medical lab technician who obtained her license while she was studying in West Virginia in 2015.
“I drove for two-and-a-half years,” she said, including once on her own in a nine-hour road trip from New York to West Virginia.
“If I can drive there, why not in my own country?”
– Cultural backlash –
The reform is in line with the kingdom’s Vision 2030 program that seeks to elevate women to nearly one-third of the workforce, up from about 22 percent now.
Authorities have highlighted the economic benefits of the reform as the kingdom reels from a protracted oil slump; Saudi families would no longer need foreign chauffeurs, often a major source of financial strain.
Riyadh is moving to bring female driving instructors from abroad, local media reported, and Princess Nourah University said it will inaugurate a women’s only driving school.
Authorities this week warned against violations of the ban until it is formally lifted after a woman was filmed driving out of a luxury hotel in Riyadh.
Careem said it would wait for government regulations to be formally announced before putting female recruits behind the wheel.
Its rival Uber is reportedly planning a similar initiative to recruit female drivers.
The new Careem recruits in Khobar were seemingly unperturbed by pockets of resistance from men or sexist comments on social media over women driving.
“Look at how women’s abayas have evolved — different styles and colours — despite strong resistance,” Jabbar said, referring to the traditional black gown.
“After a while, even women drivers will become a new normal.”
Source: Middle East Online.
Oct 5, 2017
Saudi Arabia signed on Thursday preliminary agreements to buy S-400 air defense systems and receive “cutting edge technologies” from Russia during King Salman’s landmark visit to Moscow, the Saudi military industries firm said.
The agreement was announced as King Salman, who is on the first official trip to Russia by a Saudi monarch, and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks at the Kremlin.
Under the agreements, Saudi Arabia is set to buy S-400 air defense systems, Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems and multiple rocket launchers.
These agreements are “expected to play a pivotal role in the growth and development of the military and military systems industry in Saudi Arabia,” Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), the Sunni state’s military industries firm said.
“The memorandum of understanding includes the transfer of technology for the local production” of the Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems, advanced multiple rocket launchers and automatic grenade launchers.
“In addition, the parties will cooperate in setting a plan to localize the manufacturing and sustainment of parts of the S-400 air defense system,” SAMI said.
The two countries also agreed on the production in Saudi Arabia of the Kalashnikov automatic rifle and its ammunition as well as educational and training programs for Saudi nationals.
“These agreements are expected to have tangible economic contributions and create hundreds of direct jobs,” the company said.
They “will also transfer cutting edge technologies that will act as a catalyst for localizing 50 percent of the Kingdom’s military spending.”
Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned arms exporter, had no immediate comment on the agreements.
Source: Space War.
October 2, 2017
Makkah- Makkah would witness next Thursday a real-estate auction on three lands of a total space of around 50,000 square meters and worth more than one billion riyals (USD266 million) — the three lands are located inside the central region.
The first land is located at King Khalid Road and is 13076.68 square meters, while the second is located near King Abdul Aziz Road and is of a total space of 6093.70 square meters. As for the third, it is of 34651.14 square meters near Qatari mosque.
Abdul Salam Qadi Flatah, a real estate agent in the implementation court at the Ministry of Justice, said that this auction goes in tandem with the constructional revolution approach and the economic revival taking place in Makkah following a successful pilgrimage season.
Flatah affirmed that the state has provided variable privileges for the investors in the central region, knowing that possession was previously restricted to citizens. This backs Saudi businessmen and goes in line with the Saudi Vision 2030.
He assured that the real estate sector in Makkah will start its recovery period after it was facing a low supply. Flatah said that putting up the lands for sale will urge investors to seize the chance, reviving most of the sectors in Makkah in the upcoming period, especially real estate and retail.
The direct supervision of Makkah Region Development Authority on most of the development projects (more than 10,000 square meters) is among motives attracting real-estate investment in the central region, Flatah pointed out.
Source: Asharq al-Awsat.
RIYADH – Saudi Arabia on Wednesday urged Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani to call off to planned referendum on independence for his autonomous region to avoid further “crises” in Iraq and the region.
A Saudi government official said Barzani should drop plans to hold a referendum “in light of the situation in the region and the dangers it is facing, and in order to avoid new crises”.
He called on the Kurdish leader to make use of his “wisdom and experience”, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.
Holding the referendum as planned on September 25 could have “negative consequences on the political, security and humanitarian fronts”.
It could also “affect efforts to establish security and stability in the region, as well as efforts to fight against terrorist organisations and their activities,” the official added.
Regional kingpin Saudi Arabia is the latest country to voice its opposition to the referendum in oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan.
But Barzani has so far resisted pressure from Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors Turkey and Iran, as well as from the United States and its Western allies, to call off the vote.
Iraq’s supreme court has ordered the suspension of the referendum to examine claims made by the federal government that it was unconstitutional.
The Saudi official called on “all concerned parties to engage in a dialogue that would serve the interests of the entire Iraqi people”.
Source: Middle East Online.
September 27, 2017
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Women will be allowed to drive for the first time next summer in Saudi Arabia, the ultra-conservative kingdom announced, marking a significant expansion of women’s rights in the only the country that barred them from getting behind the wheel.
While women in other Muslim countries drove freely, the kingdom’s blanket ban attracted negative publicity for years. Neither Islamic law nor Saudi traffic law explicitly prohibited women from driving, but they were not issued licenses and were detained if they attempted to drive.
Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington and the king’s son, said Tuesday that letting women drive is a “huge step forward” and that “society is ready.” “This is the right time to do the right thing,” he told reporters in the U.S. Women will be allowed to obtain licenses without the permission of a male relative.
The announcement came in the form of a royal decree that was reported late Tuesday by the state-run Saudi Press Agency and state TV. “I am really excited. This is a good step forward for women’s rights,” said Aziza Youssef, a professor at King Saud University and one of Saudi Arabia’s most vocal women’s rights activists. Speaking to The Associated Press from Riyadh, she said women were “happy” but also that the change was “the first step in a lot of rights we are waiting for.”
Saudi history offers many examples of women being punished simply for operating a vehicle. In 1990, 50 women were arrested for driving and lost their passports and their jobs. More than 20 years later, a woman was sentenced in 2011 to 10 lashes for driving, though the late King Abdullah overturned the sentence.
As recently as late 2014, two Saudi women were detained for more than two months for defying the ban on driving when one of them attempted to cross the Saudi border with a license from neighboring United Arab Emirates in an act of defiance.
Youssef took part in numerous driving campaigns, including a widely publicized effort in 2013 when dozens of women across the kingdom uploaded videos to YouTube of themselves driving in Saudi Arabia. Some videos showed families and male drivers giving women a “thumbs-ups,” suggesting many were ready for the change.
The decree indicated that women will not be allowed to drive immediately. A committee will be formed to look into how to implement the new order, which is slated to take effect in June 2018. For years, the kingdom has incrementally granted women more rights and visibility, including participation in the Olympic Games in London and Rio, positions on the country’s top consultative council and the right to run and vote in local elections in 2015.
Despite these openings, Saudi women remain largely subject to the whims of men due to guardianship laws , which bar them from obtaining a passport, traveling abroad or marrying without the consent of a male relative. Women who attempt to flee abusive families have also faced imprisonment or been forced into shelters.
King Salman and his young son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, tested the waters over the weekend by allowing women into the country’s main stadium in Riyadh for annual celebrations of the nation’s founding. The stadium had previously been reserved for all-male crowds to watch sporting events.
Women and men also flooded a main street in the capital, bopping their heads to pop music as green lights flickered overhead in the color of the flag. The scene was shocking for a city in which gender segregation is strictly enforced and where women are seldom seen walking the streets, much less mixing in close quarters with males.
The 32-year-old crown prince has also opened the country to more entertainment , allowing musical concerts and even a Comic-Con event as part of a wide-ranging push to reform the economy and society. This year, the government announced that for the first time girls in public schools would be allowed to play sports and have access to physical education.
The decree stated that the majority of Muslim scholars on the country’s highest clerical council agreed that Islam allows women the right to drive. However, many of those same ultraconservative clerics, who wield power and influence in the judiciary and education sectors, have also spoken out in the past against women driving, playing sports or entering the workforce. They argue such acts corrupt society and lead to sin.
One Saudi cleric even stated in 2013 that driving could affect a woman’s ovaries and hurt her fertility. That same year, around 150 clerics and religious scholars held a rare protest outside the Saudi king’s palace against efforts by women seeking the right to drive.
Women in Saudi Arabia have long had to rely on male relatives to get to work or run errands, complicating government efforts to boost household incomes as lower oil prices force austerity measures. The more affluent have male drivers. In major cities, women can access ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Careem.
To celebrate Tuesday’s decree, several Saudi women posted images on social media deleting their ride sharing apps. President Donald Trump commended the order in a White House press office statement that called the change “a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia.” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the move “a great step in the right direction.” She did not comment on whether Saudi Arabia still needs to do more to ensure full rights for its female citizens.
Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, also welcomed the Saudi decision, writing on Twitter that it represented “an important step in the right direction.” Lori Boghardt, a Gulf specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the change is yet another sign that the crown prince is intent on adopting social reforms that will transform the kingdom.
“Today it’s especially clear that this includes moves that’ve long been thought of by Saudis as politically risky,” she said.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell and Malak Harb in Dubai, and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.