Archive for category Arabia
DHAKA – Bangladesh has approved a project to build hundreds of mosques with almost $1 billion from Saudi Arabia, an official said Wednesday, worrying minorities who fear they could be used to spread fundamentalist Islam.
The government plans to construct 560 mosques — one in every town in Bangladesh — as the secular administration woos Islamist groups before elections.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sought the funds from Saudi Arabia, which will provide the lion’s share of the $1.07 billion cost, during a visit to the oil-rich state last year, said planning minister Mustofa Kamal.
The centers of worship — equipped with research facilities, libraries and cultural centers — would be a “model” for worshipers in the Muslim-majority country, said Shamim Afzal, head of the state-run Islamic Foundation.
“It is a perfect idea of spreading the true knowledge of Islam,” he said.
But minority groups are less certain, concerned the proliferation of Saudi-backed mosques could spread the ultra-conservative Sunni doctrine of Wahhabism practiced in the Gulf kingdom.
Bangladesh has suffered from a rise in extremism in recent years as the moderate Islam worshiped for generations has given way to a more conservative interpretation of the scriptures.
The government has ordered a crackdown on homegrown extremist outfits after a series of bloody attacks on secular activists, foreigners and religious minorities.
Rezaul Haq Chandpuri, from a federation representing Sufi Muslims who have been targeted for violence, said there was no justification for these new mosques.
“Saudi finance is a concern. They may use their money to promote Wahabism through these mosques,” he said, adding minorities would feel “helpless and insecure”.
But the scheme could also “help the government monitor hateful sermons”, a tough task in Bangladesh where it controls few of the 300,000 existing mosques, said leading secular activist Shahriar Kabir.
“I think the government should take control of all mosques across the country. That way, it can easily identify where extremism are being promoted,” he told AFP.
In a major concession to Islamist groups ahead of polls, Hasina this month announced her government would recognize degrees from hardline madrassas, paving the way for religious scholars to qualify for public service jobs.
She also supported conservative protesters railing against a symbolic statue of justice outside the Supreme Court which they deemed un-Islamic.
Source: Middle East Online.
In a surprise move, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud appointed his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz as heir to the Saudi throne and relieved Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz of his positions as crown prince, deputy prime minister and interior minister.
The Saudi royal court announced the reshuffle June 21 with a statement that said Prince Mohammed bin Salman would take over as deputy prime minister, remain as defense minister and retain his other posts.
The statement said the appointment was approved by 31 of the 34 members of the Saudi Allegiance Council, which includes senior members of the royal family who determine succession in the kingdom.
On Twitter, Saudis preferred method of social media interaction, numerous hashtags related to the new crown prince trended heavily, with many celebrating the appointment and others pleading allegiance, bringing traditional Saudi customs into a modern technological context.
“I pledge my allegiance to his Royal Highness, Prince Mohammed bin Salman. May God protect our country and preserve its glory,” wrote Saudi user Fahd Alsaqabi . Abdullah Alshehry wrote: “May God help our new crown prince to elevate our country economically, politically and socially for the good of its citizens.”
Domestically, the news was reported with a sense of optimism and the reshuffle had a positive effect on the Saudi stock exchange, the largest in the Middle East. The Tadawul index increased more than 5%, an indication of trader confidence related to the appointment.
The choice of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, as crown prince makes him the youngest heir to the throne in Saudi history and comes at a time of major changes in the kingdom, known traditionally for its measured pace in dealing with matters related to domestic policy. Several young princes were appointed to high-profile government positions, ushering in a new generation of power.
Since entering the political spotlight in early 2015, Prince Mohammed has generated a reputation as a hard-working, results-orientated reformist, unafraid of making difficult decisions and with a clear vision of where he wants Saudi Arabia to be, domestically, regionally and internationally.
One of the prince’s biggest achievements has been the kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic and social reform plan, described by the Wall Street Journal as “the most far-reaching and ambitious program for Saudi reform and restructuring ever seriously proposed.”
The plan is designed to wean the Saudi economy off its traditional dependency on the energy sector, while creating jobs, stimulating the private sector and modernizing Saudi Arabia. A large component of the plan is focused on issues related to the kingdom’s young people, who are estimated to be more than half of the country’s population.
The centerpiece of Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Plan is to be the initial public offering of 1-5% interest in Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable company, valued at an estimated $2 trillion. Prince Mohammed said the measures would raise at least $100 billion a year by 2020, tripling non-oil income.
Another aspect of Vision 2030 is the promotion of a kingdom-based entertainment industry, with the goal of bringing commerce and recreation together. In February, the kingdom had its first Comic Con exhibition, which attracted more than 20,000 visitors, despite fears of a backlash from the religious establishment.
In May 2016, the kingdom set up the General Authority for Entertainment, tasked with putting together an entertainment industry. One of its first endeavors was signing a deal with the Six Flags Entertainment Corporation for a $500 million theme park to be built outside of Riyadh.
General Authority for Entertainment Authority CEO Amr al-Madani said that, by 2020, there will be more than 450 clubs providing a variety of cultural activities and events in Saudi Arabia, creating 100,000 jobs.
Source: Middle East Online.
June 21, 2017
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Wednesday appointed his 31-year-old son Mohammed bin Salman as crown prince, placing him first-in-line to the throne and removing the country’s counterterrorism czar and a figure well-known to Washington from the line of succession.
In a series of royal decrees carried on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the monarch stripped Prince Mohammed bin Nayef from his title as crown prince and from his powerful position as the country’s interior minister overseeing security.
The all-but-certain takeover of the throne by Mohammed bin Salman awards near absolute powers to a prince who has ruled out dialogue with rival Iran, has moved to isolate neighboring Qatar for its support of Islamist groups and who has led a devastating war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.
The prince already oversees a vast portfolio as defense minister. He has become popular among some of Saudi Arabia’s majority young population for pushing reforms that have opened the deeply conservative country to entertainment and greater foreign investment as part of an effort to overhaul the economy.
He had previously been second-in-line to the throne as deputy crown prince, though royal watchers had long suspected his rise to power under his father’s reign might accelerate his ascension. The young prince was little known to Saudis and outsiders before Salman became king in January 2015. He had previously been in charge of his father’s royal court when Salman was the crown prince.
The Saudi monarch, who holds near absolute powers, quickly awarded his son expansive powers to the surprise of many within the royal family who are more senior and more experienced than Mohammed bin Salman, also known by his initials MBS.
Meanwhile, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud, 33, was named the new interior minister tasked with counterterrorism efforts and domestic security. His father is the governor of Saudi Arabia’s vast Eastern Province, home to much of the country’s oil wealth and most of its minority Shiites. The prince is also Mohammed bin Nayef’s nephew, and previously served as an adviser to the interior and defense ministries.
The royal decree issued Wednesday stated that “a majority” of senior royal members from the so-called Allegiance Council support the recasting of the line of succession. However, that vote of support appears to have been from a past gathering of the council two years ago when Mohammed bin Salman was named second-in-line to the throne, and Mohammed bin Nayef was named the king’s successor.
The Allegiance Council is a body made up of the sons and prominent grandsons of the founder of the Saudi state, the late King Abdul-Aziz, who vote to pick the king and crown prince from among themselves. The council does not appear to have met again before Wednesday’s sudden change.
Over the weekend, the king had issued a decree restructuring Saudi Arabia’s system for prosecutions that stripped Mohammed bin Nayef of longstanding powers overseeing criminal investigations, and instead ordered that a newly-named Office of Public Prosecution and prosecutor report directly to the monarch.
The prince had appeared to be slipping from public eye and was not believed to have played a significant role in Saudi and Emirati-led efforts to isolate Qatar for its support of Islamist groups and ties with Iran.
Instead, it was his nephew, Mohammed bin Salman, who embarked on major overseas visits, including a trip to the White House to meet President Donald Trump in March. That visit to Washington helped lay the foundation for Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May, which marked the president’s first overseas visit and which was promoted heavily by the kingdom as proof of its weight in the region and wider Muslim world.
Saudi-U.S. relations had cooled under the Obama administration after Washington pursued a nuclear accord with Shiite-majority Iran that the Sunni-ruled kingdom strongly opposed. The warm ties forged between Riyadh and Washington under the Trump administration may have helped accelerate Mohammed bin Salman’s ascension as crown prince.
Despite his ambitions, which include overhauling the economy to make it less reliant on oil, the prince has faced failures and criticism for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which he oversees as defense minister.
The war, launched more than two years ago, has failed to dislodge Iranian-allied rebels known as Houthis from the capital, Sanaa, and has had devastating effects on the impoverished country. Rights groups say Saudi forces have killed scores of civilians and have called on the U.S., as well as the U.K. and France, to halt the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the Yemen war.
The U.S. already is helping the Saudis with intelligence and logistical support for the bombing campaign in Yemen, and the Trump administration has signaled it could assist with greater intelligence support to counter Iranian influence there.
The newly-minted crown prince also raised eyebrows when he ruled out any chance of dialogue with Iran. In remarks aired on Saudi TV in May, Mohammed bin Salman framed the tensions with Iran in sectarian terms, saying it is Iran’s goal “to control the Islamic world” and to spread its Shiite doctrine. He also vowed to take “the battle” to Iran.
Iran and Saudi Arabia’s rivalry has played out in proxy wars across the region. They back opposite sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen and they support political rivals in Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq. The conflicts have deepened Sunni-Shiite enmity between hard-liners on both sides.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
June 15, 2017
King Salman of Saudi Arabia has given Pakistan’s prime minister an ultimatum over Qatar. In an attempt to force Nawaz Sharif to take sides, the monarch jibed, “Are you with us or with Qatar?” the Express Tribune has reported.
The king posed the question during a meeting between the two leaders in Jeddah on Monday as part of the effort to find a diplomatic solution to the Qatar crisis. “Pakistan has told Saudi Arabia it will not take sides in the brewing diplomatic crisis in the Middle East after Riyadh asked Islamabad ‘are you with us or with Qatar’,” the newspaper pointed out.
Pakistan has been treading a careful path since Saudi and other Gulf countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. However, the Saudi government wants Pakistan to side with the kingdom.
Citing a senior government official, who was briefed on the talks at the monarch’s palace in Jeddah, the Express Tribune said that Pakistan would not take sides in any event that would create divisions within the Muslim world. “Nevertheless, in order to placate Saudi Arabia, Pakistan offered to use its influence over Qatar to defuse the situation. For this purpose, the prime minister will undertake visits to Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey,” the newspaper added.
Sharif traveled to Jeddah accompanied by army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other senior officials to discuss the emerging situation in the Gulf. It is thought that Prime Minister Sharif’s mediation visit to Saudi did not achieve any immediate breakthrough.
According to an official statement, Sharif met King Salman in Jeddah and urged an early resolution of the impasse in Gulf in the best interest of all Muslims.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
May 04, 2017
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday his first foreign trip as president will feature stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican, where he will meet with Pope Francis, an ambitious foray onto the world stage that will include meetings with NATO and a summit in Italy.
Senior administration officials said Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first stop to show his commitment to improving U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Trump will meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and other leaders where they are expected to discuss efforts to defeat terrorism and discredit radical ideologies, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe internal planning.
Trump, joining religious leaders in the Rose Garden on Thursday, said his first foreign trip would “begin with a truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders all across the Muslim world.” “Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam and it is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries,” Trump said.
The weeklong trip will mark the president’s first trip abroad and come about six weeks after the U.S. launched Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian air base in the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack in the war-ravaged country.
The trip will inject Trump into the thorny quest for Middle East peace, a prospect that has proven elusive for Trump’s predecessors. The announcement follows Trump’s meeting on Wednesday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and his optimistic pledge to mediate peace efforts between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Trump has sought to forge strong ties with Israel’s President Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of his presidency in hopes of facilitating peace. The visit to Israel will reinforce that alliance, officials said.
“Our task is not to dictate to others how to live but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East,” Trump said.
The Palestinians want to create a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Abbas noted that demand when he joined Trump at the White House.
But Netanyahu has rejected the 1967 frontier as a baseline for border talks and ruled out partitioning Jerusalem where Palestinians hope to establish a capital. Netanyahu’s government has expanded settlements despite U.S. efforts to curb the construction.
The White House had said previously that Trump would travel to Belgium for the NATO meeting and Italy for the G7 summit before Memorial Day. The president previously called NATO “obsolete” but has since recanted after listening to European leaders make the case for the military alliance.
Trump will be making his first overseas trip late into the start of his presidency compared to his predecessors. Former President Barack Obama visited nine countries by late April 2009, his first three months in office, meeting with allies such as Canada, Britain and Germany. The last first-term president to wait until May to venture abroad was Jimmy Carter in 1977.
His visit will also give him the opportunity to connect with Roman Catholics with his visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The White House said the president met privately Thursday with Roman Catholic cardinals.
Trump and Francis couldn’t be more different in their approaches to some of the pressing issues of the day, with immigration and climate change topping the list. Francis has spoken of the need for bridges between nations, not the walls that Trump has called for. He has called for an end to the use of fossil fuels, while Trump has pledged to cancel payments to U.N. climate change programs and pull out of the Paris climate accord.
But both share a populist appeal and speak with a down-to-earth simplicity that has endeared them to their bases of supporters. And both share a common concern about the plight of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic militants.
Francis recently called for the U.S. and North Korea to step away from the brink and use negotiations and diplomacy to diffuse tensions on the Korean peninsula — an issue that is likely to feature in any Vatican audience.
During the campaign, when asked about Trump’s border wall with Mexico, Francis famously said anyone who wants to build a wall is “not Christian.” Trump shot back that it was “disgraceful” for a religious leader to question someone’s faith.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Vatican City contributed to this report.
April 04, 2017
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May has forgone wearing a headscarf during her visit to Saudi Arabia. May stepped off a plane in the Saudi capital of Riyadh Tuesday morning without the headscarf the kingdom favors for women.
Under the kingdom’s dress code, Saudi women are required to wear a headscarf and loose, black robes in public, but covering one’s head is not required for foreigners. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama also declined to wear headscarves during visits to the country.
May is getting a mixed reaction on social media to the move. Some users see it as a display of feminism, while others call it disrespectful. May’s Downing Street office had no comment on her wardrobe choice.
Davos, Switzerland (AFP)
Jan 17, 2017
The rise of China will be a source of global stability not conflict, major oil supplier Saudi Arabia said at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday.
“As China gets integrated into the world, and into the world financial and economic systems, it has a tremendous interest in stability of those systems,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said.
“And so I think the rise of China should be one that is welcomed, not one that is viewed as a source of a threat,” he told a discussion in the Swiss resort, where 3,000 members of the political and business elite gathered for annual talks.
Asia is the number one market region for Saudi Arabian oil.
Jubeir’s comments came after China’s President Xi Jinping warned, also at Davos, against scapegoating globalization for the world’s ills or retreating behind protectionist walls.
US President-elect Donald Trump has blamed China and globalization for the loss of millions of American factory jobs.
Washington is a longstanding ally of Saudi Arabia but ties were strained under President Barack Obama, who hands power to Trump on Friday.
Riyadh felt Obama was reluctant to get involved in the civil war in Syria and other regional conflicts while tilting towards Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran.
Jubeir said he expects the Trump administration to be more engaged in the Middle East, and the world in general, while “rebuilding” relationships with allies.
“I think the change will happen,” the Saudi minister said.
Among Saudi concerns has been the regional role of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, which is backed by Iran.
“Our concern is that Lebanon not be a source of danger to us, mainly Hezbollah,” Jubeir said.
But the election in November of Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, who was backed by Hezbollah, will contribute to a “healing process” in Lebanon, Jubeir said.
“He has acted as a statesman as soon as he was elected” and last week visited Riyadh as his first foreign stop, the Saudi minister said.
Source: Space War.