Saudi Arrests Two Foreigners Linked to Al-Qaeda Suicidal Attacks Plot

Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday arresting two foreigners allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, the state news agency said. Spokesman for the Ministry of Interior said the two men were arrested last week after “monitoring hatred and incitement messages on social media.”

MOI spokesman said preliminary investigation shows that the two suspects, one from Yemen and the other from Chad who has been previously deported from the kingdom and returned with a different passport, “exchanged information about imminent suicidal attacks in the region.”

The United States closed 22 embassies and consulates, mostly in the Middle East and including Saudi Arabia, in response to fears of an unspecified terrorist attack linked to al-Qaeda. The State Department also issued a global travel alert last Friday that will be in force until the end of August.

On July 25, the State Department issued a travel warning urging US citizens “to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia.”

The Saudi spokesman said the computers and mobile phones found with the two suspects show that they have communicated with the “misguided group,” a term often used by the government to describe al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The spokesman added that the suspects used encrypted email and listed a number of social media accounts allegedly used by them.

‘Just an Inconvenience’

Eman al-Nafjan on the blocking of Viber:

In the long term it doesn’t really matter how many applications are blocked or what reason they’re blocked for. Early on, Saudi persistence and desperation has broken down all blocks.

Censorship does not work anymore. If people wanted access to something, they will find a way to get there.

Sovereign Decision: Saudi Arabia Not Ready to Open Football Stadiums to Women Yet

President of the Saudi Football Federation (SAFF) denied media reports suggesting that the federation will allow women to attend matches in stadiums, saying this decision was not his to make.

“A decision like this is a sovereign decision. Neither me nor SAFF can make it,” Ahmed Eid told al-Riyadh newspaper. “Only the political leadership in this country can make that decision.”

Eid added that there are studies being conducted to explore the possibility of building boxes at some stadiums that can be rented by businesses and families so women can attend football games. Eid said these boxes could be built in the new King Abdullah Sports City stadium when it opens in 2014, and also at Prince Abdullah al-Faisal stadium that is being renovated, both in the coastal city of Jeddah on the Red Sea.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that applies a strict interpretation of Islam with many restrictions on women. But the country sent two women to the Olympic Games for the first time last year in London after pressure from human rights organizations. Wojdan Shahrkhani competed in judo and Sarah Attar in track and field. Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, praised Saudi Arabia’s late decision to send women to the games. “This is a major boost for gender equality,” he said.

The Saudi government recently announced that it will allow physical education at private girls’ schools under supervision from the Ministry of Education. Some private schools for girls already offer sports classes, but the decision is expected to regulate an existing practice and open the door to other schools to do the same.

Human Rights Watch urged the government to remove hurdles on women sports. “Sports for Saudi girls in schools will have a lasting impact on their empowerment, education and professional opportunities,” said Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives for HRW, in a statement. “Doing away with the ban on sports will allow a generation of girls to compete and to work within the kingdom to pull down hurdles.”

Football is the most popular sport in the country, and SAFF is understandably cautious about the issue of allowing women into stadium. Ahmed Eid is the first elected president of SAFF and also the first non-royal to take this office. A former goalkeeper for Jeddah-based al-Ahli club, Eid is considered a reformer and a supporter of women sports.

Writing in Arab News earlier this year, columnist Sabria S. Jawhar said Eid as “probably the single most important male ally that Saudi female athletes have to get a women’s football team up and running.”

Photo courtesy of Waleed Alzuhair via Flickr

‘Thorny’

Badriya al-Bisher on women driving in light of the recent statement by Saudi Justice Minister:

It is truly a thorny issue because it is similar to the mystery of whether the egg or the chicken came first. How can you issue a violation permit against a citizen for not having a driver’s license when your institution does not allow the said individual to attain one in the first place and when your institution does not open a driving school for the person? What if a woman carries a Gulf or Arab or international driver’s license as per international agreements worked upon in Saudi? It is truly “of course” a thorny issue.

Saudi Arabia to Allow Women’s Sports Clubs

Saudi Arabia is to license women’s sports clubs for the first time, al-Watan daily reported, in a major step for an ultra-religious country where clerics have warned against female exercise…

Watan said on Friday the Interior Ministry had decided to allow women’s sports clubs after reviewing a study that showed flaws in the existing system.

You would think that the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, the government organization responsible for regulating sports in the country, would be the body to have the last word on this.

New Petition for Women Driving

The Associated Press:

A Saudi online newspaper says more than 3,000 nationals of the kingdom, including prominent writers and academics, have endorsed a study that recommends lifting a ban on women driving.

Sabaq quoted on Tuesday Abdullah al-Alami, a researcher who contributed to the study, as saying it was sent to King Abdullah’s main advisory body, the Shura Council, asking them to set a date to discuss it.

The site later quotes al-Alami, who has recently published a book about the debate over women driving, as saying that the petition has been faxed to the Shoura Council. With more than 3,000 names, that’s a lot of faxing. If the fax machines of Shoura break, you know who to blame.

School of Rock (Not)

The Saudi Ministry of Education said music, dancing and camera phones are not allowed in school parties, according to a report in Okaz newspaper today. This reiteration of the ministry’s long ban comes after deputy minister Hamad Al Alsheikh told al-Hayat Saturday that he sees nothing nothing wrong with using music at school theater. That statement obviously did not go down well with religious ultraconservative who believe that music is haram and should not be taught to children or allowed at schools.

Another Day, Another Hearing in the Trial of Saudi Activists

Trial of Saudi activists Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamed continues in Riyadh. The hearing session Saturday morning was open to the public, and it was reportedly well attended by activists who came to show support to al-Qahtani and al-Hamed. The judge did not allow them to use their smartphones in the courtroom, but many of them tweeted their impressions after they left. From the tweets I read, the judge and defendants seemed to have resumed their debate over the legitimacy of the trial. In the end, the judge adjourned the trial for two more weeks.

Many people seem to believe by now that this whole trial is a mockery. “The judge, the defendants, the attendees, and observers, near and far, know that it is a mock trial and its verdict is already decided,” tweeted @agrni. “If the judge changed the verdict, he would be changed.” Al-Qahtani has previously said the trial is part of an Interior Ministry’s campaign targeting the activists. With a new minister at top, it would be interesting to see if MOI decides to drop the case.

Amnesty International urged the Saudi government in September to drop the case against al-Qahtani and al-Hamed “as it appears to be based solely on their legitimate work to defend human rights.” The rights group said if the two activists are detained on the charges against them it would consider them “prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release.”

The government is accusing the two activists of a dozen of charges, including the founding of an unlicensed human rights organization and questioning the legitimacy of the rulers.

The Princess Won’t Protest In The Street

Princess Ameerah al-Taweel says it is up to the government to allow women to drive and that it is a decision that Saudi leaders should take. Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Prince Alwaleed’s wife said Saudi women lack the “amazing lobby” that conservatives have. Women, she said, are not organized enough to exert pressure on the government to change its policies.

She makes some good points about the pace of change in the country and how “rights are not given, they are taken,” but she totally dodged Amanpour’s question on how her situation as a princess gives her protection to pursue her women empowerment effort.

“We are not going to protest in the street,” she said.

Manal al-Sharif probably does not want to protest in the street, either, if she had other means to gain her rights. Princess Ameerah talked about the lack of civil society but failed to mention that it is the government who is stifling the development of such society by dragging their feet on passing the civil society law.

Does the princess truly believe that she would be able to do the work she does at her husband’s foundation if they were not members of the royal family?