Terror charge feeds accused mosque shooter's desire for notoriety, expert says

The mosque terror attacks in Christchurch on 15 March are still being discussed. Now it's because the gunman from Australia has been charged with murder but prosecutors are looking at charging him with terrorism as well. Here is what appeared on www.stuff.co.nz in New Zealand this week, along with a photo of Al Noor Mosque. Charging the mosque terr...
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NZ$5 trillion investor group supports Christchurch Call

Since the Mosque killings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March there's been an outpouring of emotion and of money. This is what has been pledged so far. New Zealand and global investors representing more than NZD$5 trillion have added their support to the Christchurch Call, which sets out voluntary commitments for governments, companies and wider...
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The Christchurch mosques attack

The past fortnight has been dominated by the shootings and murders in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the rise of White Supremacism and analysis of that. At a personal level, the theme of death continued, having had to organize and attend a funeral last week. This is what The Spin Off writes about the Christchurch murders and how Facebook has dealt ...
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The world reacts to Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand is still reeling from the mosque attacks in Christchurch and the rest of the world is reacting to the response of the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to the attacks. The response was considered empathetic and measured. As a consequence, the Arab world, largely, has responded with much affection to New Zealand and the attacks...
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Turkey's President uses New Zealand video

Last week's tragic events in Christchurch, New Zealand, have had repercussions around the world- from the way New Zealand, and the prime minister in particular, has responded, to the rapid change in gun laws. Then there are the politicians who are using the tragedy for their own ends, such as Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. By Mark Lowen,...
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Iran claims US sabotage of missile program used to its ‘benefit’

This article talks about the Strait of Hormuz, often forgotten in articles about Iran. It's the strait between Iran and Ras Al Khaimah, an emirate in the United Arab Emirates. There's always been a lot of action there, such as fishing boats moving to the wrong waters and getting fired on. Most activity has not hit the news. This time it has. It's e...
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Saudi King reiterates support for Palestine

In recent months we have seen the Arab Gulf countries getting closer to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular. This is not surprising. israel, the UAE and Saudi are all anti-Iran, for different reasons. Although Iran is Islamic it is Shi'ite- a brand of Islam that Sunnis- the UAE and Saudi in particular, detest.

Certainly from the UAE, and from Saudi too, you can't telephone Israel directly, they do do business with the each other. In fact, in the UAE I telephoned Israel and sent an email. The telephone rang and rang. At that stage I didn't realise that you couldn't contact Israel. I hear its the same in Saudi.

Given the complex dynamics between the various parties it's surprising that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reportedly said to a group of Jewish Americans that it is time the Palestians accepted a peace agreement and that Israel should be entilted to live peacefully in its homeland. This happened in March it was reported. His father, King Salman, has commented that the Saudis stand behind Palestinian, according to a report by Reuters. Here is what he reportedly said.

Saudi king reiterates support for Palestinians after Israel comments

RIYADH (Reuters) - King Salman reiterated Saudi Arabia’s support for a Palestinian state after his son and heir apparent said Israelis were entitled to live peacefully on their own land - a rare statement by an Arab leader.

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Stampede: why thousands were killed at Mecca

During the hajj of 2015, when more than two million Muslims make the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, some 2,400 pilgrims were crushed or trampled to death in about 10 minutes. Why? The authorities claim that it was "God's will" but, according to an article in Vanity Fair, it was a result of arrogance and dishonesty of the Saudi regime. "The panic that broke out was the result and not the cause of the carnage", the author writes.

Here is the link to the article:

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/01/the-mecca-stampede-that-made-history-hajj

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What next for the Lebanon and Saudi Arabia?

I’ve been following the government changes in Saudi with much interest, having lived in the region and covered it journalistically for 8.5 years. It is no surprise that there are changes in the Saudi ruling family; those changes are rumoured to have been happening for years.

However, this time is different. The changes are swift and dramatic and several events have combined at the same time. While not directly linked, they could bring more instability to an already volatile region.

But whether it is a purge against corruption or a move by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to consolidate his power is another matter.  

First, there is the resignation of Lebanon’s Sunni Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, who is also the son of the Syrian-murdered former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Saad Hariri, who has joint Lebanese and Saudi citzenship, evidently feared for his life and had just had a meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Ali Khamenei.

Evidently, he was summoned from Beirut and sacked by his Saudi “allies”. I’ve also been told by my source in Saudi Arabia that Hariri’s bodyguard was told to leave Saudi Arabia Monday night. What will happen to him?

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Built on sand

There is so much happening in Saudi Arabia right now, and not just the meetings with Donald Trump and his clan. Oil, the Saudi ruling family and Islam are all showing signs of cracks. Certainly, Saudi Arabia is not how it used to be. Explaining this is Andrew Critchlow, who spent a long time in the Middle East, (when I was there). He went to the UK and was working with Thomson Reuters.

Three main pillars bind Saudi Arabia together: oil, the ruling Al Saud family and Islam. Reforms are preparing the Middle East’s largest economy for the end of a reliance on the first. But they could have a destabilising knock-on effect on the other two.

Saudi as a modern nation was founded in 1932 by a powerful regional overlord known as Ibn Saud. Since then the family has monopolised power by doling out its vast petroleum wealth in the form of handouts and preferential business deals while maintaining an uneasy pact with an ultra-conservative domestic religious establishment. But a 62 percent slide in the price of crude since 2012 has forced the kingdom to cut benefits such as energy subsidies for the average Saudi. Buying support is about to get tougher.

The radical restructuring of the economy now being managed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – one of Ibn Saud’s many grandsons – is ambitious and not before time. The prince, widely known as ‘MbS’, last month presented the details of his Vision 2030 and short-term National Transformation Plan, with the aim of weaning Saudi off oil, which still accounts for over 70 percent of budget revenues. But although it’s a financial necessity for Riyadh to rein in a record budget deficit, politically the strategy is risky – it could prove unpopular in poorer rural tribal areas of the desert kingdom.

That would be okay if the 1000-plus princes of the Al Saud family were a unified bunch. But they are not immune to disagreements. After the death of the incumbent King Salman bin Abdulaziz, power will pass for the first time outside the direct line of Ibn Saud’s sons, which itself implies a less harmonious succession. The sudden elevation of the 31-year-old MbS, the current king’s son, looks a threat to his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef, who as crown prince is the official heir to the throne. It could also kindle resentment among the sons of previous rulers who were passed over, including those who don’t descend from the offspring of Ibn Saud’s most influential wife, Hassa bint Ahmed al-Sudairi.

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An outrageous prosecution

Turkey is proving to be increasingly authoritarian. Another journalist, of dual Turkish and Finnish nationality, is convicted of terrorism charges. She is in New York.

Turkey has one of the worst records for detaining journalists. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), more than 100 journalists and media contributors are now in Turkish jails. “RSF has to date been able to establish a direct link between the arrest and the victim’s journalistic activities in 41 of these cases, and the organisation continues to verify others. President Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism is being reflected in raids on media outlets that are designed to silence his critics,” the 2016 report states.

he report also shows that the number of detained professional journalists in Turkey has risen 22% after quadrupling in the wake of the failed coup d’état in July.

“Hundreds of Turkish journalist have been taken to court on charges of “insulting the president” or “terrorism.” Some have even been jailed without any charges brought against them. The number of cases of arbitrary imprisonment continues to rise.

“Aside from Turkey, the three other biggest jailers of journalists are China, Iran and Egypt. They alone account for more than two thirds of the world’s detained journalists.”

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If only Stephen Paddock were a Muslim

The stories about the horrific shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada, the United States, just keep on coming. Each day there is something new. And among the reports there appears to be no attempt by officialdom to change any legislation, the most obvious being to change the gun laws. Imagine if the shooter had have been a Muslim, and thereby automatically a terrorist. All sorts of legislation would have been enacted, including expanding the Muslim immigration ban. Now the government is faced with the fact that the biggest mass shooting in American history was perpetrated by a home-grown white, male American. An ordinary bloke and a "nice" guy. No need to change any laws since this tragedy could happen anytime, anywhere. it had nothing to do with terrorism. Only 59 people were shot dead.

This opinion piece that appeared in the New York Times by Thomas L Friedman sums up the tragedy well.

If only Stephen Paddock had been a Muslim … If only he had shouted “Allahu akbar” before he opened fire on all those concertgoers in Las Vegas … If only he had been a member of ISIS … If only we had a picture of him posing with a Quran in one hand and his semiautomatic rifle in another …

If all of that had happened, no one would be telling us not to dishonor the victims and “politicize” Paddock’s mass murder by talking about preventive remedies.

No, no, no. Then we know what we’d be doing. We’d be scheduling immediate hearings in Congress about the worst domestic terrorism event since 9/11. Then Donald Trump would be tweeting every hour “I told you so,” as he does minutes after every terror attack in Europe, precisely to immediately politicize them. Then there would be immediate calls for a commission of inquiry to see what new laws we need to put in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Then we’d be “weighing all options” against the country of origin.

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Saudi Aramco's IPO

Saudi Arabia is attempting to diversify its economy so that it becomes less reliant on oil. Part of the plan includes an initial public offering (IPO) of Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, valued at between about USD 8 billion and USD 10 billion.  It’s hoping to get more than that when the oil company goes public, reportedly about USD 2 trillion. But will this be achieved?

It appears that Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Aramco in particular, is scaling back its plans for diversification. It seems that it may not happen to the extent originally intended by 2020.

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Are anti-Muslim comments acceptable?

Anti-Muslim comments are becoming increasingly common all over the world. We have a great deal of anti-Muslim rhetoric from the US President, Donald Trump, who portrays all Muslims as terrorists; there is similar rhetoric emanating from the UK.

In New Zealand, we have a professor from Waikato University who, on Facebook, suggested that hiring Muslims was a poor move because of their prayer schedule. They pray five times a day, three of which are generally early in the morning and late at night.

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Competition to host the Taliban

 I continue to argue that the feud between Qatar and the other Gulf Arab States- mainly the UAE and Saudi- is economic rather than political. The fact that Qatar is wealthier than either Saudi or the UAE, because of gas, and that it has worked hard to carve out a foreign policy that is distinct from the other Gulf countries- it has been accused of punching above its weight- has not gone down well with Saudi or the UAE.

All of these countries can be accused of either encouraging or supporting terrorist groups at some point, to some extent. It’s a well known secret that a number of the world leaders have ended up in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

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UNWRA: healthcare and education

This article has been written as part of a research project that I'm undertaking on behalf of and in conjunction with the Canterbury Refugee Resettlement and Resource Centre (CRRRC). The research will come out in September. 

A case study of UNWRA working with Palestinian refugees

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Will King Salman abdicate?

Last week saw the reshuffle of the ruling family in Saudi Arabia, something that many observers expected to happen a couple of years ago. By Western standards, the hope, and expectation, is that the country will become more open and transparent, with a respect for human rights. For some in Saudi, there might be the same expectations, for others there may be not. The views across the Kingdom differ widely.

A couple of years ago when I was attending a conference in Riyadh (wearing the abbaya, but not the head gear) one presenter, who argued that Saudi Arabia should allow more women to join the work force, said “women are no less moral than men”.  It's a comment I have never forgotten.

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Iran's Rouhani denounces US' Middle East Ignorance

It’s with considerable interest that I watch President Trump’s tour of the Middle East, predominantly Saudi Arabia and Israel, the two strongest allies of the US in the region.

These two countries might be different when it comes to religion but they are opposed to the same thing- Iran- and it is that common ground that binds them together.

 Saudi Arabia loves Trump, as does the UAE, where I spent time again recently. While Trump has business dealings in Dubai, with Damac, a large real estate developer, he also has close ties with Saudi Arabia. The arms deal signed with the largest Muslim state in the region is worth $110 billion, which mean that war in the region will go on and on. It is in the US interests to ensure that it does.

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Getting real with Riyadh

I thought this article was very interesting (not that I agreed with all of it) explaining the very complicated relationship between Washington DC and Riyadh. There is always the risk of oversimplifying the relationship but I think this article does a good job of avoiding that trap. It also explains the somewhat fraught relationship between Iran and the Gulf States. Such is the complications of the relationship between the Gulf States and Iran, even my friend (who has always kept his counsel on the subject of Iran) talked about the "mad country next door that may do something at any time". Whether this is true or not, probably doesn't matter as long as people believe it will happen.

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What it is like as a woman in Saudi Arabia

After having lived in the UAE for some years I’m frequently asked if it is hard for women. It wasn’t. No, it is not like Saudi Arabia. Women do not have to be fully covered- although it can help if you do. They have to be modestly dressed though. And they don’t have to deal with the restrictions that they do in Saudi Arabia.

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