Entries in Saudi Arabia (34)


King Abdullah Appoints Women to Advisory Council in Saudi Arabia

FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/GettyImages(RIYADH, Saudia Arabia) -- For the first time in Saudia Arabia, women have been named to the king's advisory body known as the Shura Council. It has no legislative power, but the move is politically significant in the conservative kingdom where women aren't allowed to drive or travel without a male guardian.  

Before the publication of the royal decrees, King Abdullah consulted religious experts to ensure that female participation on the council would comply with Islamic law, BBC News reports.

Women will make up 30 of the 150 members, the bare minimum allowed by the king's decree.

Men and women will be separated by a screen and will come in through a separate entrance, to ensure gender segregation.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


A City of Saudi Women: Segregation Setback or More Women in the Workplace?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(EASTERN PROVINCE, Saudi Arabia) -- Separate has never meant equal in Saudi Arabia. Yet a new women-only development in Saudi’s Eastern Province is aimed at moving women forward, easing more women into the workplace.

The new industrial city is expected to create about 5,000 jobs in women-run factories and firms, The Guardian reported.  The developer released a statement, saying the site was equipped, "for women workers…consistent with the privacy of women according to Islamic guidelines and regulations."

Women and men are kept separate in the Saudi kingdom, where a strict interpretation of Islam dominates the public arena. That poses a specific challenge to women workers, especially at the lower end of the income scale. They often can't interview for jobs with male bosses and need special accommodations to get to work, since they can’t drive themselves or spend their wages on a driver.

That's why Samar Fatany, a Saudi radio host and one of the kingdom’s prominent women voices, said the all-female development is a good thing: It may strike us as just more segregation, but to Saudi eyes it looks like empowerment.

"Otherwise, they won’t have that kind of opportunity to work," Fatany told ABC News. "Their culture and environment won’t let them work any other way."

"It's an opportunity to have an income, be financially independent," Fatany added. "It's an economic necessity."

That point was clear on an ABC News trip to Saudi Arabia in 2010, where I visited with women at all-female factories in Riyadh. Of all the women who worked the assembly lines packing boxes and manufacturing light fixtures, most of the women were single mothers abandoned by their husbands and desperately in need of an income. A wall separated them from the male factory workers on the other side, with just a few conveyer belts snaking through to unite the production line.

Those women wanted to work in segregated quarters. With their conservative families and personal religious values, they wouldn’t have taken a job that would involve mixing with men.

The new development falls in line with a Saudi government push to put more women in the workplace, a delicate balance between a more modern Saudi Arabia and the occasional backlash from conservative clerics.

If Saudi men feel threatened by women’s empowerment, it may be because they're suddenly being outperformed in the workplace.

"To me, a Saudi woman is a better worker than the Saudi men," said Khaled Al Maeena, editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette. "They work hard and they try harder."

Al Maeena, who is married to Samar Fatany, said Saudi women place more value on their hard-won opportunities.

"Women are more committed, they like to work more, they don’t give excuses, disappearing as men do," he said. "It’s a state of mind."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


First Ever Female Saudi Olympian Competes in London 2012 Games

MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Girls are not allowed in physical education classes in Saudi Arabia.  They are not allowed to play in sports clubs -- or even walk through the clubs' front doors.

But none of that stopped Wojdan Shahrkhani from making history Friday morning when she became the first ever female Saudi Olympian.

Never mind that the 16-year-old looked shaky and unsure in her first judo bout, which she lost in just 82 seconds.  Never mind that she left the mat without bowing, as is customary after matches, and needed to be reminded to do so.

She competed.  And that means in defeat, she was victorious -- both for her deeply conservative homeland and for the Olympics itself.

At the 1996 Atlanta Games, 26 countries had no female participants. Only 16 years later, this is the first Olympics where every team has women -- and where women will compete in all 26 sports. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei were the last holdouts.

"This is a major boost for gender equality," said International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, who has described Shahrkhani as a "symbol" of progress.

In her home country, Shahrkhani's participation has been hotly debated and was not guaranteed.  She and her fellow female Olympian Sarah Attar have been labeled "Olympic whores" online.

"Sports should be first and foremost for men.  Women should follow," argued Saudi Cleric Ahmad Al-Mu'abi during a recently televised debate, according to a clip posted by the pro-Israeli media monitoring firm, Memri.  "It is in women's nature to keep themselves covered up.  Whoever thinks that we restrict women is wrong.  The woman is a hidden gem.  Anybody who has a gem tries to protect it, so that nobody sees it or covets it."

But on Friday, even after losing quickly, she received support online.

Shaherkani is at the Games not because she met the qualifying standard for participation, but because the IOC facilitates participation by underrepresented countries.  Whereas her competitors are black belts, she is a mere blue belt.

"They are champions she is fighting, and my daughter, for her it is the first competition," her father, who is also her coach, said in the arena Friday.

Attar, the second ever female Saudi athlete, will compete in the 800m run on Aug. 8.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Saudi Woman's Headscarf Could Keep Her from Competing in Olympics

MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Saudi women's judo competitor Wodjan Shahrkhani is fast becoming the most sympathetic figure at the London Summer Olympics.

She's just one of two women Saudi Arabia sent to the Games and has had to overcome slurs from Saudi men at home who say that women in sports are immoral.  In fact, her country still bans females from taking part in athletic events inside the kingdom.

So what happens when Shahrkhani arrives in London?  The International Judo Federation says she cannot wear her traditional head scarf during competition, claiming it can pose a hazard to herself and her opponent.

This could wind up being a deal breaker for Shahrkhani and her participation in the Olympics, which activist Minky Worden with Human Rights Watch calls a travesty, especially since it would only leave one other woman from Saudi Arabia to compete in the Games.

Worden says, "The world should cheer Wodjan Shahrkhani and Sarah Attar as they make history in London, but we must also remember millions of women and girls inside Saudi Arabia who can only watch from the sidelines."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Saudi Arabia Sending Two Women to London Olympics 

(NEW YORK) -- Saudi Arabia will send two female athletes to compete in the Olympic games for the first time, the BBC reports.

Sarah Attar is set to compete in the 800-meter run and Woodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani will compete in judo. Saudi officials lifted  a prohibition on women competing in the games in June; many Saudi religious conservatives vehemently oppose the decision, the BBC reports.

The International Olympic Committee had been communicating with the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee about the issue in an effort to have balanced representation of the sexes.

The move means that there will be a female competitor from every competing nation for the first time in the history of the games.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Saudi Crown Prince Who Led Fight Against Al Qaeda Dies

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) -- Saudi Arabia is mourning the passing of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, whose death was announced over the weekend by the royal family.  Nayef was in his late 70s and believed to have had heart problems at the time of his death.

Nayef was buried Sunday in Al-Adl cemetery near the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, where some other members of the royal family were laid to rest.

Serving as Saudi interior minister since 1975, Nayef was a conservative hard-liner who helped guide his nation's fight against al Qaeda and other extremists threatening to topple the regime.  For this, he earned the respect of the U.S. and other Western allies.

In a statement, President Obama said, "Under his leadership, the United States and Saudi Arabia developed a strong and effective partnership in the fight against terrorism, one that has saved countless American and Saudi lives."

Nayef, the second crown prince to die in less than a year, was destined to take over for King Abdullah, who is 88.  It now appears that Nayef’s brother, Prince Salman, will become the new crown prince and heir to the throne.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Osama Bin Laden Wives Heading Out of Pakistan

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Osama bin Laden's three wives are once again on their way to Saudi Arabia after serving a short sentence under house arrest in Pakistan for illegally entering the country.

The wives, along with a gaggle of children, were scheduled to leave last week but their departure was delayed when it was discovered one of the travelers -- reportedly the brother of bin Laden's youngest wife -- did not have a passport.

The three women -- two Saudis and one Yemeni -- had been held in Pakistan since the al Qaeda leader was killed in early May in a nighttime raid by U.S. Navy SEALs. Their departure comes just days before the one-year anniversary of bin Laden's death, a day Western security officials are watching closely for hints of retaliatory attacks.

After the SEAL raid, American officials said they were allowed to speak to the wives once, but the oldest of the three was so combative that nothing at all came from the interrogation. Months later the wives were convicted by a Pakistani court of coming into the country illegally and served a brief detention sentence.

However, in the course of the illegal entry case against bin Laden's wives, investigators revealed new details about the al Qaeda leader's life in the shadows before his demise.

According to a police report obtained by ABC News, bin Laden's youngest wife, Amal Ahmad Abdul Fatah, told investigators that for a majority of the near-decade between the 9/11 attacks and bin Laden's death, he did not live deep in rugged caves in the Afghan border region as was the popular belief but stayed in various houses in major Pakistani cities. While he was hiding, bin Laden managed to father four children -- at least two of whom were born in government hospitals in Pakistan.

A video obtained exclusively by ABC News showing the inside of Bin Laden's last home, a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, revealed that bin Laden and his wives appeared to have lived on the top two floors of the three story house, but bin Laden could separate himself as much as he wished. The house was built to sustain multiple families independent of each other.

Still, Phil Mudd, one of the men who hunted bin Laden with the CIA, said that bin Laden's last years confined in his walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, with multiple wives and children most likely were not stress-free.

"I can only begin to imagine that that looked like American reality TV," said Mudd, "that he was living in some version of the Kardashians in Abbottabad."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Pushes Gulf Security and Aid for Syria

Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to discuss the sale of a number of missile-defense systems to Arab nations as a way to counter the looming Iranian threat.

Secretary Clinton will meet with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh on Saturday to discuss a regional security plan.

“In order to protect the Gulf, no one nation can protect itself,” a senior US official said. “We are working to address missile defense in the region.”

Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and patriot missile defense systems will likely be part of the “building blocks” for this new initiative. Countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait already possess some of these systems.

In 2011 the U.S. finalized the sale of THAAD missiles to UAE.

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait already have Patriot missiles, along with deals in place to upgrade to modern missile-defense systems.

The idea behind establishing a new Strategic Cooperation Forum is meant to unite Gulf States instead of dealing with each country’s security issues solely on a one-on-one basis, according to U.S. officials.

The discussions on regional security come a day before 60 countries will gather in Turkey for the “Friends of Syria” conference.

Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations are pushing the White House to arm Syrian rebels. But talk of a no-fly zone or even military intervention may be waning.

“The Americans said no weapons will go to the rebels, but what about communications devices or satellite coordinates so the opposition will  know where the Syrian tanks are?” a Saudi official told ABC News.

For now it appears the White House’s strategy will concentrate on getting a steady flow of humanitarian aid into Syria and attempting to end the bloodshed.

“Our main focus with partners is trying to get Assad’s guns silenced,” said a senior State Department official.

On Friday, Secretary Clinton also met with Saudi King Abdullah. The two discussed Iran and future sanctions that the country will face.

Clinton also discussed the need for Saudi Arabia to keep up oil production.

“Saudi Arabia won’t turn down any requests for oil from clients,” a senior Saudi official told ABC News. “We have two million barrels that can be switched on, but there is no demand for it.”

In a rare effort to publicly address the rise in oil prices, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, wrote an op-ed in Thursday’s Financial Times saying that there was no oil shortage and adding that there was also no rational reason why oil prices continue to remain high.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Ex-Senators Say Saudi Arabia May Be Linked to 9/11

United States Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Two former senators who led inquiries into the 9/11 attacks have issued sworn statements that they believe the government of Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the fight on terrorism, may have played a role in the terror attacks ten years ago.

"I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia," said former Senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, in an affidavit filed as part of a lawsuit brought against the Saudi government by families of Sept. 11 victims and others. Graham led a 2002 congressional probe of the attacks.

Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat who served on the 9/11 Commission, said in a separate affidavit that "significant questions remain unanswered" about the role of Saudi institutions. "Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued."

Families of the 9/11 victims released a statement praising Kerrey and Graham for their affidavits, which were filed in a New York federal court Friday to rebut claims by the Saudi government in recent court papers that the 9/11 Commission had "exonerated" it of any connection to 9/11.

"The families and survivors of the atrocities of 9/11 have not given up hope for justice. We are determined to expose the truth," said Beverly Burnett of Minnesota, mother of Thomas E. Burnett, Jr., who died on United flight 93 when it crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers fought hijackers for control of the plane. "The financiers and enablers of those who murdered our loved ones are still alive, well and capable of supporting terrorism. The trail back to them still points to Saudi Arabia."

Sen. Kerrey's affidavit said it was "incorrect" for the Saudis to claim that the 9/11 Commission had "exonerated" them. "Stated simply, the 9/11 Commission did not have the time, opportunity or resources to pursue all potentially relevant evidence on that important question, and the American public deserves a more comprehensive inquiry into the issue," wrote Kerrey.

The affidavits are part of a multibillion-dollar lawsuit that has been working its way through the federal courts since 2002. Though the U.S. Justice Department has joined the Saudis in trying to have lawsuits against the Saudis thrown out of court, an appellate court said late last year that foreign nations were not immune to lawsuits under some terrorism claims, meaning parts of the Saudi case may be reheard.

Lawyers for the Saudis have moved to have the affidavits disallowed. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News. The Saudi embassy also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Saudis have always denied any connection to the 9/11 attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., were Saudi.

According to Sen. Graham, open questions include possible financial support of al Qaeda by Saudi charities, and the role of a Saudi resident of California who was in contact with both the hijackers and Saudi officials. "There was a direct line," wrote Graham, "between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia, and [a] Saudi government agent living in the United States, Omar al Bayoumi, provided direct assistance to September 11th hijackers Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar."

"Finally someone who knows some of the truth about 9/11 is standing up and saying, 'Wait a minute, we didn't give those guys the all clear' as Saudi Arabia has been saying for several years," said Sharon Premoli of Vermont, who was in the World Trade Center when it was struck. "Exonerated, I don't think so!"

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Saudi Blogger Sent Home to Possible Death Sentence

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A Saudi blogger wanted for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter was returned to Saudi Arabia on Monday where he faces the possibility of a death sentence.

Hamza Kashgari, 23, was en route to New Zealand seeking asylum when he was detained in Kuala Lumpur by Malaysian security officials who said they didn’t want their country to become a safe haven for fugitives.

Kashgari’s offending tweets included a fictitious conversation with the Prophet Muhammad on his birthday last week eliciting more than 30,000 responses in less than 24 hours and several death threats. One of the tweets read “On your birthday, I will not bow to you. I won’t kiss your hands. I will shake hands with you as an equal, and smile at you like you smile at me, and talk to you only as a friend, nothing more,” he wrote.

The Saudi blogger deleted the controversial conversation from Twitter, but he continued to receive death threats and fled the country.

An official Saudi religious body declared him to be an apostate for his writings. Insulting the prophet is considered blasphemous in Islam and is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. For many in the Kingdom deleting the remarks was not enough and the religious conservatives demanded he be tried in a Sharia court.

Numerous human rights groups have made pleas to not send Kashgari back to Saudi.

Amnesty International has warned that Kashgari could be executed in Saudi Arabia if he is found guilty of apostasy.

Local rights group Lawyers for Liberty’s Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said, "If he [Kashgari] faces execution back in Saudi Arabia, the Malaysian government will have blood on its hands.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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