Monday, December 31, 2007

The official website of Iran's president yesterday headlined the following nuggets:
- Ahmadinejad terms Iran-Sudan relations "excellent".
- President appreciates filmmakers boycotting Denmark film festival.
- Ahmadinejad calls for enhancement of ties with Latin America.
- President calls for special attention to welfare of villagers.
- Production of auto engines for domestic production a source of natinal pride: president.
(That last one is a classic, my favorite- with the one about Sudan relations th runner-up).

His own personal blog, titled 'Ahmadinejad's Personal Memos' reads like a Dear Abby of (usually Islamic) piety. Something like Mike Huckabee's blog might look like, but perhaps more coherent, and with more crosses, Mathews, and Lukes than sauras and ayahs. Given the eschatology-centered GOP campaigns, any Republican website might look like that....even Rudy's during his first term.

Secretary Rice said she will meet her Iranian counterpart anytime, anywhere with the condition that Iran first stop enriching uranium. Except that the Iranians have not asked for such a meeting yet, and are now less likely to do so.
This was an unusual thing because it will almost certainly be rejected, especially now that the Bush administration looks unlikely to succeed in pushing through tougher international sanctions. Normally, a meeting among diplomats is a means, part of a process, toward a goal. Meetings are what diplomats do, and as such a meeting can never be considered a reward, not by both sides. Unless it is a date, and some dates can be included in the rewards column- which this one certainly ain't, not from the point of view of the dour Iranian mullahs.

The election of a Lebanese president has been postponed for the nth time. Both sides, the Hariri-Saniora camp and the opposition camp, now agree on the same candidate for the job, but there are differences on details- as it is in any deal, the devil is in the details.

President Bush has said that 'the world' wants a Lebanese president elected based on the demands of the Hariri-Saniora-Junblatt camp, which is the American-Saudi (and by default and preference Israeli) camp as opposed to the opposition Hizbollah-Amal-Michel Oun camp, which can be dubbed the Syrian-Iranian camp.
He did not make the mistake of saying that the Lebanese people want that: he may realize by now that many Lebanese, perhaps more than one half of them, do not want that.

Hezbollah responded quickly to Mr. Bush, asserting that they reject his wisaya over Lebanon, a term meaning mandate or guardianship over someone. Its spokesman claimed that it was Mr. Bush who is blocking an agreement which was within reach. Meanwhile a spokesman for the rump cabinet, with the name of Fitfit, said that the cabinet, what remains of it, will not resort to selecting a president on their own, although he said that option was not off the table for the future. Perhaps it is Fatfat in the Lebanese accent which is more singsong than my Gulf accent- either way it sounds French and feline. Back to the basics: Hezbollah and her allies claimed that Mr. Bush's proposals go against the Lebanese constitution.

In Iraq the government is pressing for various 'Awakening Council' Sunni militias that are mushrooming and are funded and armed by the Americans to be brought under central Iraqi control. Baghdad looks with suspicion at these militias, and rightly so, since they had been until recently allied with al-Qaeda. It is suspected that they may be biding their time before turning their guns and bombs against the government. Actually there is no uncertainty here: once US troops start to depart in earnest and petro-money and arms from all the neighboring countries start to flood in more rapidly than now, this is most likely what will happen. Baghdad's suspicion is probably exacerbated by the fact that some Saudi-owned media have recently been calling for similar 'awakening councils' in the Shi'a provinces as well.
Unfortunately the same measures that may have contributed to the current success of the surge may end up defeating US goals in Iraq in the long term, that is if the goal is a stable Iraq under a viable and elected central government.

The Guardian (UK) newspaper has published details of Tony 'Yo' Blair's role in pressuring the British Serious Frauds Office and the Attorney General to quash invetigation of the famous GBP 1 billion payoff (also called a bribe but not in polite mixed company). This was allegedly paid off by the British defense contractor BAE to Prince Bandar Bin Sultan while he was ambassador in Washington- before he became national security adviser to the Bush administration which was before he became head of the Saudi National Security. The report cites the various stages of the exchange between Blair and the investigators, and how they eventually caved in to Blair, who had already caved in to the Saudis.

Friday, December 21, 2007

NewSpeak in Arabia: News media reported recently that Saudi King Abdullah has pardoned the 'Qatif girl' who was abducted and raped by seven men and was later sentenced to prison and flogging for her troubles. Not one outlet noted the irony in this act- but them, we are not known for understanding irony.
This is good news because it shows that world pressure works in some of the darker corners of the world.
It is also good news because the victim was 'pardoned', and 'pardoning' a victim is a good and humane thing- I think it is better than giving her 200 lashes. All victims should be pardoned, because they deserve it more than the criminals who are pardoned, no? There is no more to say on this, for now.

Hillary Clinton's campaign is trying hard to clear itself from any accusations of fear-mongering. Campaign spokesmen have been re-iterating on television, on a daily basis, that they did not bring up the 'cocaine' issue intentionally, that they do not think the 'cocsaine' issue matters, and that they will never raise the 'cocaine' issue again, no matter what new revelations come out about Senator Obama and his association with the use and trade of 'coaine' or other such substances.

Meanwhile, former Senator Bob Kerry, an aspiring VP, has put in his own two Manhattan subway tokens in trying to heal the party. He said that Senator Barack Hussein Obama should highlight (shades of The New School?) his middle name, and should be proud of his African father's name, 'Hussein'. The former senator almost hinted that Obama's father was not likely any relation of Saddam 'Hussein'. Kerry said while standing next to a beaming Hillary "It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim."
Kerry, the war hero possibly turned hatchet man, did not have time to call for a series of one-on-one debates between Barack and Hillary. Nor to offer that Clinton, Hillary not Bill, would be happy to wear a Hijab, or Burq'a, or even the more modernistic Niqab, just to show Iowa voters her cultural sensitivity to any latent Islamic quirks that Obama may hold. She would do it, he would have said, if being open-faced would insult Obama's Muslim heritage.
He did not, however, repeat that "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself....."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

There was a Republican debate in Iowa last week. I was following the stock market, and it was moving up earlier. The Dow Jones Index had stabilized around 80 points plus when the debate started. It was interesting to see how the debate influenced the market indices.

The candidates were not exactly Churchillian, even with the country engaged in two wars and possibly facing a third one. But then nobody has sounded Churchillian, not even on 9/11 and the days after- remember the great Decider oratory about defeating the terrorists by going shopping? How more ordinary can leaders get?. But they were excited, drooling, about cutting taxes furiously (or is it slashing, which evokes those teen films) in order to achieve the following lofty goals, not all of them Lafferian:

Clean up the environment (one or two actually conceded that global warming existed, and to hell with Rush Limbaugh and that angry chubby guy on CNN Headline News).

Stop illegal immigration (Rep. Tomas Tancredo was salivating at this point, who knows: perhaps he was even undergoing more although he doesn't seem like the type, because he looked almost joyous, a very uncharacteristic state for him. Or maybe he was just grimacing, thinking of all those child rapists and other criminals waiting to cross the border)
Defeat terrorism, especially Islamic terrorism whether Sunni, Shi'a, Salafi, or Unitarian. (plausible over time).

Improve the quality of education (Rep. Hunter seemed ready to appoint Jaime A. Escalante, the teacher from Stand and Deliver, as secretary of education. Or maybe he just meant Edward James Olmos)
Improve the economy and employment (plausible)
Reduce dependence on foreign oil. (In your dreams, gentlemen. Besides, this may conflict with the goal of cleaning up the environment (see above)).

Encourage celibacy (definitely a quixotic quest, just ask Rudy).

Reduce abortion.

Raise overall moral standards (possible, but depends on what the definiton of it is).

The market indices gradually declined as they debated, and by the end of it the Dow had made a 150 point turnaround to the negative, with the Nasdaq and S&P following closely. The market buttomed at the end of the debate, and once the gentlemen had departed, the indices started to improve. They closed modestly up, and it was a good thing they ended the debate almost an hour before the markets closed- gave the markets time to recover.

I have no idea at this point what people in the Middle East think of all this. Perhaps we can have debates among the eligible sons of potentates to see who will get to the throne without having to off the others. But then all these will be of the male denomination, and where would that put Hillary?

Since there are no taxes in the Western sense in most Arab countries, things work backwards. The rulers and potentates get the income, from oil or sheep or whatever, and they get the first dibs, then it goes to the budget, where it is spent, and they get a second dibs through the various 'services' they provide. So, it is hard to see whose taxes can be slashed and cut here.

I also wonder what our leaders and potentates would think of Mike Huckabee's surprising discourse on the division of labor in the brain: right side for arts and creativity, left side for logic and analysis (I assume it is this way all over the world, not just in Arkansas). I wonder which side, if any, they use the most.

Monday, December 17, 2007

(This was posted on my website last week):
Things seem to be suddenly quieting down in the Gulf region, in terms of rhetoric. There has been little follow-up on the NIE Iran report, after an initial burst of necon damage control spin all over the media outlets. President Bush, and even VP Cheney, have both been quiet on the subject. Even Iran's Ahmadinejad has been silenced- Iran's al-alam TV website has barely referred to the nuclear issue these past few days. His own website barely mentions the issue now.

There is still vocal disappointment in some Arab media, particularly the Saudi-owned media like alhayat, asharqalawsat and a few Gulf satellite newpapers. And in these papers, there has been an increasing tendency over this past week of talk about a conspiracy. Some of the editors and columnists have even started to talk of 'capitulation' by Washington, which is absurd and only reflects nervousness at a possible rapprochement between Washington and the clerical regime in Tehran.
The ire has spread to the Lebanon crisis as well. A regular alhayat correspondent and analyst writes in today's (Dec. 14) edition that Bush is now compromising over Lebanon, abandoning his 'promises' to the Lebanese (meaning to the less than half of the Lebanese who support the Saniora-Hariri cabinet). When a country is as divided as Lebanon, or Iraq, or, come to think of it, as the United States, compromise is the only solution.

France's Nicholas Sarkozy has come under some fire as well this week, partly because of perceived laxity about Lebanon. He can't be compared to Chirac who was close to the Hariris- Chirac has had his own ethical/financial issues since leaving office, but these are the kind of issues that make some Arab media and rulers comfortable with a Western politician. Sarkozy doesn't seem to have these kind of issues, not yet, but then he is just a rookie.
There have also been dark hints in some Arab media this week about Sarkozy's close relations with 'Jewish goups', whatever they are, and talk of his Jewish 'roots' or connections. At the same time, he is criticized for being too easy on Syria in Lebanon, allowing her to regain some influence, something that clearly would conflict with the interests of these alleged 'groups'.
In the end, Riyadh may have more money, but it is too far and Lebanon is surrounded by Syrian territory except for a short strip of Israeli border.

Sarkozy has been under fire in Algeria as well, even during his latest visit. The Algerians, led by the forever-ruling FLN, are still blaming France for what they themselves, led by Mr. Bouteflika's FLN, have done during 45 years of independence to screw up their own country. Seeing how Algerians cross the Mediteranean by droves to live and work in France, they probably would have been better off staying part of France- after some changes to empower the Arab and Berber citizens. They would be free to speak, write, and vote by now. And they would enjoy European Union living standards by now.

Iraqi officials have hinted at a proxy war waged in Iraq between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran finances her allies and probably arms them, although anybody can buy any kind of arms in Iraq these days. Saudi Arabia is financing her proxies among the Sunni tribal shaikhs, and is trying now to buy off some of the marginal Shi'a shaikhs as well. The latter is unlikely to work for long, given the history and treatment of Shi'as in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are good at this sort of thing, funding a civil strife, and they have had longer experience in it than anyone else in the region. They had perfected this long before the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s.

The first time was probably during the (North) Yemen civil war of the 1960s, after army officers overthrew the monarchy and proclaimed a republic. They were Nasserist pan-Arab secularists, and the Saudi regime was terrified at having a pro-Nasser secular republic next door, especially with unresolved border issues. They poured money among the tribal shaikhs and got the civil war started. Their nemesis, Egypt under Gamal Abdel-Nasser, had no choice but to send in troops to counter the flow of petro-money. Egypt's military was bogged down for several years in a guerrilla war with seventh-century tribes being financed by an eighth-century petro-dynasty. The Egyptians were bloodied and demoralized, and although this crtainly did not cause their defeat on June 5, 1967, it probably added to the other serious issues they had. They, together with Jordan and Syria would have lost the war anyway. The audacious Israeli war plan, tactics and superior training did most of the job.

Is it deja vu all over again, as they say in Riyadh? The Yemen war ended as a stalemate, but the monarchy was not restored: it remained a republic in name, although of course not democratic. It is not likely that the new Saudi efforts will fare any better in Lebanon or in Iraq- nor would any Iranian efforts to dominate these countries succeed, despite the media frenzy about that possibility. Not when at least half of the people in each of these countries seems to be on the 'wrong' side, or is it the 'right' side. Maybe this is why King Abdullah and Mr. Ahmadinejad have a date: they will be going to the Hajj together next week.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Closed Shop Media:
I was looking up inormation on Arab media ownership when I came across the minutes of a conference on Arab media held during March 2005. It was titled "Arab Media, Power and Influence" and it was sponsored by various groups, including Woodrow Wilson (Princeton), James A. Baker (yep, Rice), and the IISS.
What was shocking, or maybe it should not have been, was that almost all the Arab participants were either directly or indirectly employees of two ruling houses of the Gulf monarchies who own these major media outlets. The Arab participants were from Alhayat (published in London and reportedly owned by Prince Khalid Bin Sultan al-Saud), Asharq Alawsat (published in London and reportedly co-owned by Prince Salman al-Saud), Alarabiya TV (Saudi but broadcasts from Dubai, and has the same ownership as Asharq Alawsat), and Aljazeera (Qatar, and owned by an al-Thani shaikh).Then there was James Abourezq and a couple of other people. The rest were all either full-time staff of these venerable organizations or regular columnists and commentators. No one else of the media anywhere in the vast Arab world was deemed to have anything to say about the important issue except for these three semi-state-owned organizations.

They talked about some general aspects of Arab media including, oddly, "how ownership of Arab outlets drives media agenda". But that is not what they really talked about: the topic was plainly open for everyone to see, in the participants to the conference. It is not clear who financed that conference.....but in this case I am a betting man.

It is noteworthy (an understatement) that many pan-Arab media outlets have been snapped up and are now owned by Saudi conglomerates, including all the satellite multi-channels operated by ART, MBC, Rotana, and LBC of Lebanon (control of LBC was purchased recently by Prince al-Waleed from another Saudi potentate). They also pull the strings of a few newspapers that tow the official Saudi line on all issues in other Gulf states, especially in Kuwait and Bahrain- no need to mention Lebanon here. Now if they can only make a deal with Mel Karmazin and manage to shut up Howard Stern.

Now that the pressures of the 'unifying' threat of an American attack have receded, Iran's Ahmadinejad is coming under intense fire at home, from both rival politicians and college students who normally have little love for the hardliners. This must be seen in the context of parliamentary elections next spring and presidential elections in 2009. It is possible that Ahmadinejad will be voted out of office just a few months after Bill Clinton moves back into the White House (if she wins he'll probably be confined to the Lincoln Bedroom at night).

BTW on Oil prices: whatever happened to threats and predictions about a year ago that Saudi Arabia would follow a strategy of increasing oil production in order to halve crude prices and apply pressure to the Iranian econmy? The threats were tied to increased Iranian influence in Iraq and were taken quite seriously in the West, although this site dismissed them at the time mainly because of doubts about production capacity and the budgetary, and internal political, impact on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf producers. We also speculated at the time that the thousands of princes would not stand for having less dinero and lowering their lifestyles. Oil prices have since increased by about 30% or so, depending on the base price used for calculation. Apparently the princely Samsons decided to keep the temple standing because they did not like losing all that dinero and incurring public ire.
To paraphrase a famous lame duck: If they really want to beat the troublemakers, they should keep on shopping.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Kuwaiti daily alwatan reports on its front page two days ago that US forces have been trying to draw Iran into a conflict by provocative flights and firing artillery across its border. Alwatan claims to have 'credible' reports form 'reliable' European diplomatic sources that the military option is not off the table, and that in fact Israel is slated to attack Iran, and that if Iran retaliates, then the US will side with Israel. The report claims that this plan aims to ease fears of Persian Gulf states that host American military facilities of Iranian retaliation and to limit the coming conflict to three sides: Iran-Israel-USA. (This is pure twisted Gulf logic: it still doesn't make sense to me, it will still have the US using its forces in the Gulf in a conflict and possibly drawing retaliation).

There is another serious problem with the report: its source, Alwatan is arguably the second least credible newspaper in Kuwait and perhaps the whole Gulf region, after alseyassah. Both tabloids have many times attributed wild reports to un-named "confidential and reliable" sources in the past, often with certain dates set for wars on Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, the al-Maliki government or all of the above. The owner/editor of one of these newspapers has been editorially kissing royal flanks so often that he can probably nose his way to Riyadh with his eyes closed, if you get my drift (he won't). So, this latest bit of wishful thinking can be safely relegated to the dustbin of journalism as well.
These people really had their heart set on another war- they really want their war, to be fought by the brave children of others, of course.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has publicly denied comments by Iraq's National Security Chief Muaffaq al-Rube'ie that Iran and Saudi Arabia are seeking to settle their own rivalries and disputes in Iraq. He also said that a Saudi embassy may open soon in Baghdad, which would be a first positive step in any effort to balance Iranian influence in Baghdad. Maybe the Arab governments are finally waking up.

In Iraq, in an important symbolic move, Arab media report that Ayatollah Sistani announced that the Eid Adha will be December 21st for Shi'as- except that the Iraqi government had already announced the Eid holiday to start on the 19th. Perhaps he was telling the bureaucrats that they should have left it to the Hawza to set the date. Still, the holiday can be started by the bureaucrats before the actual Eid itself on the 21st. There has been no confirmation of this yet in the Iraqi media.

Even as the Gulf seems to cool down, the Arab region is heating up again this week:

Bombings have picked up in intensity in Iraq, especially in the north and south (Al-Amarah).

Huge bombings in Algeria that killed UN and local personnel were attributed to al-Qaeda.

The general slated to head the Lebanese army was killed, among others, probably by a favorite Lebanese invention and wartime pastime, a car bomb. The current army chief looks set to become the new compromise president, if the two sides can agree on the shape of the new cabinet. Right now it looks like there will be no reconciliation unless Mr. Saniora leaves, but anything can happen in politics.
Clearly Lebanon needs a new covenant among its various factions: the old one has not worked, at least not for the past thirty five years as the demographics and political power have shifted.

Shifting the blame on the Nile: In Egypt a newly-wed groom failed to deflower his bride on their wedding night, a must if he is to have his breakfast of fool medammas the next morning. The man suspected that she was not a virgin, and stabbed her to death. The police decided to hold the husband, who has already confessed, for four days pending an investigation- it is not clear an investigation of what. In an earlier case, a man also killed his bride for the same reason: when medical tests showed that in fact she had been a virgin that man was sentenced to hard labor- but only after the medical test results....which means what it means.
Perhaps they should start Sex-Ed classes, for men only, in the New New Middle East?


Friday, December 07, 2007

With one simple paragraph, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stole Christmas from the neocons in the administration and at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Until recent days, AEI 'experts' were on cable TV networks calling for a bombing campaign to start soon, before it was too late. The report vindicates a man much maligned in Washington, Mohammed El-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who stated recently that reports of Iranian weapons development are exaggerated- he was Blixed (as in Hans) by the neocons and the media.

Worse, the report vindicates none other than Vladimir Putin, who also stated that there was no evidence of such Iranian development. Now Mr. Cheney cannot dream of riding through the rugged Persian Plateau, with the secular (Muslim secular, not 'Christian' secular, which somehow makes it kosher) peasantry throwing wild flowers at his motorcade. It also comes on the heel of Iranian gestures toward the Arab GCC states, all U.S allies whose leaders are now left wondering who or what to believe.

One result of this new development is that the winds of war will quickly recede from the (Persian) Gulf region. Oil prices should at least stabilize at lower levels than $ 90. The Bush administration will not likely go out with a bang, as it had evidently wished. This will also reduce the chances of any stricter UN sanctions against Iran, Charles Krauthammer's wishful analysis notwithstanding. Another possible result will be within the Democratic Party. This reduces the 'wisdom' of Senator Hillary Clinton's vote to label Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization. It may have some ramifications in Iowa next month and beyond.

All this does not mean that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons in the future, it just makes it a less imminent threat. It also may only mean that the administration will shift gear and may focus on Iranian influence in Iraq as a casus belli, an issue that does not concern the international community.

Of Interest: The Egyptian Ministry of Awqaf (religious affairs) has issued a fatwa saying that anyone who dies of AIDS will be considered a martyr. It did not specify if they will be considered martyrs by the bureaucrats down here or by those up there, presumably by both. The justification is quite logical, based on repentance and forgiveness: those who die of HIV will have suffered so much and repented so much that they deserve to be considered martyrs. This is a surprisingly humane fatwa by Arab theological standards, even by some American 'Christian' standards.
Now it will be interesting to see what the Salafi Jihadists will do once they get wind of this new fatwa: will they switch away from blowing themselves up among Iraqi Shi'as (Shi'ites to most of you infidels) and instead espouse unsafe sex as a way to get there? Instead of slipping across the border into Iraq, will they head for the nearest unsafe outlets, say, Beirut or Dubai?

The most boring NFL games, are those of New England. The Patriots win so predictably and consistently that they have taken the excitement and fun out of a great game. I hope they don't make it to the Super Bowl, and that they lose it if they do. Nothing personal, but I hate shooting ducks in a fenced backyard.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

In Doha, Iranian president Ahmadinejad proposed to the Arab GCC leaders a joint security agreement. He invited them to Tehran to discuss the matter. He also proposed an extensive array of deals, including an organization for economic cooperation. He also mentioned a proposal for 'clean family tourism', clearly emphasizing something quite different from the usual erotic tourism that Gulf men enjoy in places such as Beirut, Amman or Cairo. Ahmadinejad proposed that Iran provide the Gulf states with water and natural gas (Iran holds the second largest world reserves in natural gas). He did not mention anything about the GCC supplying Iran with much-needed refined products like gasoline which his country needs to import now because of poor refinery maintenance.

The media report that the leaders will approve a "Gulf Common Market", and that they will vote to keep the unified Gulf currency on track for 2010, and that whoever wishes and can will join the unified currency- which most likely will be somewhere between two countries or none. This is probably a way to save face for the finance and central bank officials who really botched the project. Doing the common market first makes sense. Doing a unified currency before a common market is like putting the cart before the horse: it makes no sense, if you have any sense to start with, that is. Maybe someone went back and read about the history of the Deutsche Zollverein and the European Union.....maybe.

In Sudan, the president of the republic (for the past 20+ years) has pardoned the well-meaning British teacher who named a teddy bear after me. Demonstrators in Khartoum, apparently having no other passtime on a slow Friday, had rioted for her to be put to death. Now, if she were a native or another African, or Arab....we would have a Saint Gillian (Gibbons). Well, she would have a different name.

Nawaz Sharif is back in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto is back in Pakistan. General Musharraf is still in Pakistan. A gunfight at Islamabad Corral, and that's definitely not O.K, is looming, but who are the Earps and who are the Clantons here? It doesn't really matter.
The feudalist Sharif is favored by Saudi Arabia (it figures). The quasi-kleptocrat Bhutto is favored by Washington (and the UAE, if it matters). Oddly, the Generalissimo comes across as the least unsavory Pakistani politician around. Pakistan has always been ruled by military dictators and feudal landowners, occasionally behind a figleaf of Islam, the raison d'etre of the nation that was carved out of India at the end of the Raj. Had they stayed part of India, the Pakis would have remained a large and very influential minority in a democratic country. Quel dommage.

In Lebanon, the politicians and warlords (usually the same), have resorted again to the only 'national' institution in the country, the army. It looks like all will agree on the commander of the army, a general Michel Suleiman, to become the new president. They will need to change the constitution first to allow for that. In Venezuela yesterday the people voted in a referendum on a constitutional change, and the Chavez government lost the vote. In Lebanon they cannot put an amendment for a vote by the Lebanese people: there is no such thing as one Lebanese people anymore, not for the past year and a half. So, the warlords will decide the matter among the capos of the various 'families'.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

In Saudi Arabia, a young women (19) was punished, again, last week for being kidnapped and raped by seven men in the Eastern Province Shi'a (Shi'ite) town of al-Qateef. Initially a court sentenced the victim to 90 lashed plus time in prison, while the rapists got light jail terms (harsh Islamic law stipulates death sentences for rape). Later, the Higher Judicial Council ordered a retrial and revised the sentence to 200 lashes for the woman- I guess that this should be enough to whitttle her down to the bare bone level, with most of the flesh and gore gone. The men got jail terms of between 2 to 9 years. The victim's laywer, a Mr. al-Lahim, was punished as well: he was barred form pursuing the case and his law license was withdrawn. Alarabiya TV's website to its credit, covered the incident and the intial sentences.
Reports (AFP) claims that the raped woman is of the Shi'a minority sect, while the seven rapists are Sunnis- alles klar?

According to Human Rights Watch: "The young woman, who is married, said she had met with a male acquaintance who had promised to give her back an old photograph of herself. After she met her acquaintance in his car in Qatif, a gang of seven men then attacked and raped both of them, multiple times. Despite the prosecution’s requests for the maximum penalty for the rapists, the Qatif court sentenced four of them to between one and five years in prison and between 80 and 1,000 lashes. They were convicted of kidnapping, apparently because prosecutors could not prove rape (this time the Saudi investigators could not obtain their normally easily obtained confessions). The judges reportedly ignored evidence from a mobile phone video in which the attackers recorded the assault." HRW notes that the harsher new sentence for the victim was a result of the woman speaking out to Human Rights staff about what she considered an injustice. It hints that the woman insisted on pursuing the case, and hence drew the anger of the court. (Are there such cases, then, where the victims do not insist in pursuing and never draw the anger of a bigoted court?)

According to HRW: "There is currently no rule of law in Saudi Arabia, which does not have a written penal code. Judges do not follow procedural rules and issue arbitrary sentences that vary widely. Often, judges do not provide written verdicts, even in death penalty cases."

No indication yet if the departure of Karen Hughes from the Arab scene in the New New Middle East had anything to do with the new harsher sentence for the victim.
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