In the House of God: A Diary of the Hajj

Wednesday, 23. September 2015 23:59 | Author:

(The following was written after trips to Mecca in 2004 and 2005 as Reuters correspondent sent to cover hajj)

One of the jewels in the crown of the Saudi-Wahhabi state is its control of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. When Abdulaziz assumed full sovereignty after his Ikhwan stormed into its cities, he added ‘King of the Hejaz’ to his list of titles. Pilgrim revenue, mainly from the hajj season, became the major domestic source of income for the nascent Saudi state, though the Najd-run entity still relied on foreign handouts to survive.(1) The state took control of pilgrim tour operations as part of the wider process of severing Hejazi autonomy and tying its political and economic life to Riyadh.(2) As the country moved into the era of modern communications then entered the petrodollar era in the 1970s, significantly larger numbers of pilgrims were able to visit, but the hajj they were to experience was a hajj with a very specific Saudi and Wahhabi stamp. Processing the world’s Muslims through Saudi-Wahhabi pilgrimage became a vast industry, a major preoccupation of the state and a key element in its self-legitimising rhetoric. Petrodollars are of vastly greater importance to state and princely finances, but, raking in some $24 billion a year in tourist receipts mainly linked to Mecca and Medina, hajj remains a major earner for Saudi Arabia.(3) It is also a monopolistic practice – there is little Saudi Arabia can do to compete with Shi’ite pilgrimage centres such as Najaf and Kerbala, but Jerusalem, which contains the Al-Aqsa mosque, the site towards which Islamic tradition says the first Muslims turned in prayer, is accorded little significance in Saudi media or Wahhabi religious discourse, whether it was under Jordanian or Israeli control. It is a rival to the prestige and revenue of the Saudi-Wahhabi state.(4) […]

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On Salafism in Turkey

Thursday, 23. July 2015 23:01 | Author:

Salafism Infiltrates Turkish Religious Discourse

Salafi discourse has made considerable inroads in Turkey over the past 30 years, making contributions to sectarianism in ways that have yet to be fully studied and understood. Although the military coup in 1980 was carried out by those who saw themselves as the guardians of Kemalist secularism, the junta forged closer ties with Saudi Arabia, viewing it as a conservative force interested in maintaining the regional political order. These ties led to a state promotion of Islam―embodied in the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis, the ideological framework that reconciled Turkish nationalism with religion―that also aimed to undercut the opposition Islamist movement of Necmettin Erbakan. This opened the way for cooperation between the Saudi-based World Muslim League and Turkey’s religious affairs administration—the Diyanet—and the education ministry in propagating religious material.[1] […]

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عن استقلال الاعلام الغربي في الشرق الأوسط

Thursday, 23. July 2015 22:43 | Author:

تشرفت بفرصة نشر القال التالي في صحيفة الاخبار اللبنانية – عن موضوع الاستقلالية المزعومة في طريقة تغطيتها لأحداث الشرق الأوسط.

إني أشهد… لماذا نحر الإعلام الغربي ضميره على مذبح آل سعود؟ […]

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Abdullah and His Reform Legacy

Saturday, 24. January 2015 5:42 | Author:

(From Middle East Eye)

The hagiographies of the deceased Saudi king Abdullah have piled up at a surprising rate, reflecting the desire – the desperate hope – among Western policy-makers that Saudi Arabia is on a path to “reform” that justifies their continued  investment in a regime whose political repression, economic plunder, improvised regional interventions and cradling of religious obscurantism and zealotry (beheading for sorcery) is of a scale arguably unique in modern times. In an astounding move, the UK government has even ordered flags to be put at half-mast. […]

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Games Without Frontiers, War Without Tears

Monday, 12. January 2015 4:17 | Author:

Debate over the Charlie Hebdo attacks has centred on different problems that the tragedy speaks to – freedom of expression, integration of immigrants into French society, anti-foreigner sentiment, Western political and military involvement in the Middle East, the rise of the anti-Western phenomenon of jihadism. While it’s not entirely clear yet how the attacks came about and the motivations involved, it’s worth dwelling a little perhaps on the last. While it’s true that Western wars in the Middle East have provoked a desire for revenge, the modern jihadist is also a product of the politicking of Arab regimes. The political price for these involvements is largely paid by the West, however. […]

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Gulf states and Jihadist wars of no political consequence

Saturday, 10. January 2015 17:22 | Author:

From RIEAS Research Institute for European and American Studies

The Syrian civil war has been the third major jihad of modern times for Gulf Arab states. The first, Afghanistan, was a new experience, the inaugural transnational jihad of the modern era in which Saudi Arabia and the United States jumped into the fray against the Soviet invasion. Each with different motivations, they poured some $20 billion in the fight and Saudi interior ministry may have facilitated travel for anything between 35,000 and 40,000 young men to join in.[1] Sensing Russian weakness, Washington wanted to take the fight to the Soviets, while Al Saud were willing to provide the manpower because of a new turn that Saudi Arabia took in the 1980s: scared by the 1979 Wahhabi revolt at the Grand Mosque in Mecca the regime moved to boost its Islamic credentials. The class of ulama (religious scholars) were given wider powers over society, the kingdom embarked on a programme of global proselytization (printing Qurans and funding mosques), and Saudis were publicly encouraged to join the Afghan jihad. The Mujahideen were public heroes. […]

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Making and Unmaking a revolution: Media and Bahrain

Saturday, 10. January 2015 17:13 | Author:

Media freedom has been one of the prime victims of the conflict in Bahrain since 2011. Both sides in the conflict saw media as a key arena for propagating their message and winning support. The protesters turned to outlets that would listen to them such as Iran’s Al-Alam, Al Jazeera English and the new social platform of Twitter. The government and its supporters hit back and ultimately proved successful in instrumentalizing both old and new media to crush the uprising and end at least for now the threat to the entrenched elites who run the country and benefit from its political and economic system. […]

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Al-Maqdisi statement on Salafi Jihadi infighting

Monday, 1. December 2014 5:47 | Author:

In case this site is pulled down, here is Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi’s statement of 23 September 2014 reflecting his view that ISIL, Jubhat al-Nusra and other Salafi Jihadists have damaged their cause through their division: […]

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Key shifts in the Arab ‘moderates’ position on Hamas and Israel

Sunday, 7. September 2014 5:36 | Author:

Published by Middle East Monitor

The Egyptian, Saudi and other Arab “moderates” position on the Gaza war has been presented in most media discussion and political analysis as a striking departure from previous policy and indication of a new shift towards Israel and its view of Hamas, “resistance” and other regional challenges to the global order. The fact is, however, that their Gaza policies are the consequence of over a decade of restructuring of Arab positions to accommodate the United States. […]

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UAE attacks in Libya: Not Zayed’s vision

Sunday, 7. September 2014 5:29 | Author:

First published at Foreign Policy and ECFR

One of the key principles of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Nahyan, who forged the United Arab Emirates (UAE) out of seven sheikhdoms, was to portray his small and vulnerable country as a friend to all Arabs. The federation he created evolved as an unusual hybrid, with cities as diverse as the liberal Dubai and the religiously conservative Sharjah next door. It has become one of the Arab world’s strongest economies, the second largest after Saudi Arabia despite a population one-sixth of the kingdom’s size, and continues to develop at breakneck speed. What Zayed — who passed away in 2004, leaving power in the hands of his ambitious son — would have made of his country’s involvement in the tangled revolutionary politics of Libya, several thousand miles to the west, is worth pondering. […]

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