New Age Islam Edit Bureau
27 April 2017
It Is Time To Stand Up For Christians In The Middle East
By Ray Hanania
Iran’s Covert Nuclear Activity Continues
By Oubai Shahbandar
Saudi Arabia Is Not For U-Turning On Economic Benefits Of Transformation
By Frank Kane
An Affordable Green Card For Expatriates
By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
A Tale Of Two Kingdoms
By Zaid M. Belbagi
This Cost Is Acceptable
By Khaled Al-Sulaiman
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
26 April 2017
Christians are an endangered species in the Middle East, endangered not only by the threat of violent extremism that targets them but also their feeling that they must flee to survive.
Every day during this year’s Easter season, I listened to commentators on the right and the left talk about the fast-disappearing Middle East Christians not in terms of saving them but in terms of who is to blame.
Middle East Christians are a statistic in a political debate that crosses the political divide and the religious divide between Jews and Muslims.
Yet no one is really doing anything to protect them from extinction.
I am so tired of listening to Israelis claim that Israel does more to protect Middle East Christians than any of the Middle East countries. Israelis claim Israel is the only safe haven for Christians.
The day after Easter, an official of the Jewish Agency for Israel posted a tweet declaring, “As Christians flee the Middle East, I’m proud to live in Israel, which has five times as many Christians as it did in 1948. Happy Easter.”
The statement offended me. Yes, the Christian population of Israel may have increased slightly, but only after taking a major hit following Israel’s creation. Tens of thousands of Christians were among those that were forced to flee in 1947 and 1948, becoming refugees, including my cousins and uncles.
Other Christians living in the West Bank under Jordanian control experienced Israeli military brutality during the 1967 war 50 years ago. Since that time, Israel has expropriated large areas of Christian-owned lands in Christian areas including Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Nazareth, and even in occupied Jerusalem.
Today, Israel stands in the way of allowing my family to claim our land, which is adjacent to the illegal settlement of Gilo. Gilo was founded on Palestinian lands forcibly confiscated by Israel in the 1970s. In our case, the Israeli military destroyed a home, expelled my relatives, sealed the water well diverting it to Gilo and surrounding it with Jewish-owned settler homes under the gaze of “Gilo Park.”
The Jewish Agency did not mention that discriminatory practice!
Yet, despite this reality of oppression, it is true that the Christian population has increased slightly in Israel. Of course, statistics can be manipulated. If there were only five Christians left in Israel because of Israel’s oppression, and that population increased to six, Israel would boast about it as a “massive 20 percent increase.”
Nearly 80 percent of all Middle East Christians live in Egypt. The remaining live in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel.
This past Palm Sunday, Daesh terrorists attacked Coptic Christian worshippers in Egypt on Palm Sunday, forcing Egypt’s Christians to cancel their Easter services.
Many in the Muslim world expressed outrage at the suicide bombings that claimed 45 lives and wounded hundreds more. The terrorists targeted a church in Tanta, the seat of Egypt’s Christian community, and a church in Alexandria.
It was not the first time. Both cities have seen terrorism targeting Christians in the past.
Yet denouncing the violence against Christians is not enough from the Muslim world. Islam is the dominant religion in the Arab world and it is their responsibility not only to protect the Christian minority, but to celebrate the Christian existence.
Too often, Christians are marginalized and exploited like trophies in a window for political purposes. Only a handful of Christian leaders are invited to speak at Muslim conferences or events. Worse, many of the largest Islamic conventions in Western countries like the US are held on the same dates as the most important Christian holidays, Easter and Christmas.
Many Christian churches have opened their doors widely to support Middle East Christians. They stand in awe when I tell them my father is from the Holy City of Jerusalem, and my mother is from Bethlehem, the origins of Christian faith. Both are under extreme Israeli duress.
As an Arab Christian, I identify with Muslims far more than Muslims identify with Christians. I view myself as being Christian and “Muslim by culture.” I am proud to be a part of the Muslim world, but I am always disappointed so few Muslims offer anything more than rhetorical support for our plight.
I am constantly cautioned to be silent about Christian-Muslim relations, and told I should only speak of us as “Arabs.” We are no different, they say. Yet the Muslim community is reaching to great heights in America and elsewhere not as “Arabs” but as Muslims. They find solidarity in their religious beliefs in the face of horrendous persecution in the West.
Anti-Muslim racism is a frequent topic. Not discussed, though, is the fact that Christian Arabs are also discriminated against, not just in America, where Americans see no difference between Christian Arabs and Muslims, but in the Arab world, too.
That needs to end. We need to openly discuss it.
The Arab and the Muslim worlds have an obligation to support Christian Arabs and Middle East Christians that include those who do not view themselves as being “Arab” such as Chaldeans, Assyrians and Phoenicians.
When will we be respected? Because honestly, I am tired of listening to Israel do all the talking with their exaggerated “love” and their twisted data.
Muslims are not stealing my land in Palestine. It is Israel. And yet there is not one Muslim or Arab nation standing up for our defense.
Tehran is still pursuing research and testing that could lead to a weaponized nuclear device, the Iranian opposition said Friday. One military site in particular, Parchin, has come under scrutiny for allegedly continuing covert nuclear weapons work despite Iran’s commitment to end such activity as part of the nuclear deal.
According to intelligence documents released by the National Council of Iranian Resistance (NCIR), Tehran has found new ways to circumvent nuclear inspections and remains committed to continuing military research, which could lead to miniaturized nuclear warheads that could be installed on medium- and long-range ballistic missiles.
For years, Parchin was at the center of Iran’s nuclear weapons work. In 2016, the US and international inspectors concluded that traces of uranium discovered at Parchin in 2015 indicated a complex and fairly advanced nuclear research and testing program, the Wall Street Journal reported.
But as part of the nuclear deal, Iran never had to publicly disclose how far its nuclear weapons development had progressed (it still denies that its nuclear research had any other purpose than civilian use). Parchin is labeled a military base that is off limits to international inspections, on the premise that all nuclear-related work there has ceased. According to recent revelations, this is not the case.
“A new location tied to the nuclear weapons project... has been kept a secret until now and away from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors,” said the NCIR. Its sources within Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) say the engineering unit responsible for the nuclear weapons program, the SPND, is continuing its work on the same scale as before the 2015 nuclear deal.
The intelligence indicates that as part of this program, Iran is continuing its research to develop a trigger for a nuclear weapon at the Center for Research and Expansion of Technologies for Explosion and Impact. This weapon development is conducted under the codename “Research Academy” at Parchin. Since it is declared a “conventional” military site, IAEA inspectors are not allowed in.
Essentially, as Iran was negotiating the nuclear deal, it was trying to develop “back-up” sites to safely move, conceal and continue nuclear weapons research and possible tests. This would enable Iran to play the long game, so when the deal’s terms expire in about a decade, it could theoretically move forward quickly to enrich and weaponize a nuclear device and achieve a nuclear “breakout “capability before anyone can launch a military strike.
This information is particularly important given that as part of the deal, the Obama administration agreed to free seven Iranians in US custody on charges of smuggling dual-use components for Iran’s nuclear and military program. The US also agreed to halt efforts to arrest 14 other sanctioned serial Iranian smugglers and proliferators associated with the IRGC’s Quds Force.
Iran has been allowed to maintain the tools and resources to obtain fissile material for a nuclear bomb. In tandem, it is developing technology to fit a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile. The raison d’etre of the SPND program and Parchin research center is to convert nuclear research into a nuclear weapon. Iran is able to continue misleading and dissembling on the true purpose of the research center without any meaningful concern for repercussions.
IAEA inspectors have been offered no access to the lead Iranian scientist in the covert nuclear program, Mohsen Mahabadi (alias Dr. Hassan Mohseni). Tehran uses his dual role as an IRGC brigadier general to shield him from international inspection. The NCIR information claims Mahabadi is still active in the SPND’s nuclear weapons research activity.
If the nuclear deal has halted “all pathways” for Iran to become a nuclear power, why are its leading nuclear weapons program officers still allowed to continue their work outside any effective international monitoring?
The NCIR’s revelations include full detailed satellite imagery and an organizational chart of Parchin and SPND weaponization facilities. It would be folly for the international community not to take a closer look at how Iran is planning to use the time and sanctions relief that the nuclear deal affords it to reach its ultimate goal of becoming a nuclear power with the ability to threaten the region with annihilation.
One man’s U-turn is another man’s strategic rethink in light of changing circumstances.
While some in the media chose to present this week’s announcement of the reinstatement of benefits to Saudi Arabia’s government employees as a policy flip-flop, wiser heads recognized it for what it was: A sensible bit of fine-tuning to an important part of the overall economic strategy, in recognition of a significantly altered budget position.
This is what pragmatic governments are supposed to do. It is no sign of strength to adhere to a policy when the circumstances that gave rise to that policy have altered dramatically. It is blind stubbornness.
Track back to last year, when the decision was taken to cancel benefits and bonuses for Saudi Arabia’s civil servants. It was a headline-grabbing measure, for sure. Around 60 percent of Saudi gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the government sector, where employment is dominated — as much as 90 percent, by some estimates — by Saudi nationals.
It was a cost-control measure — some called it austerity — designed to send a clear and unmistakable message to the country: The fall in oil prices was a serious affair for the Kingdom’s finances and everyone would have to bear some of the burden.
There was outrage in the Twittersphere, and a sharp decline in consumer spending, but it was the right message to send.
The budget deficit had reached a record SR367 billion ($98 billion) in 2015, and with oil stubbornly hovering around $50, analysts were calculating the year when the Kingdom’s foreign reserves would be entirely dissipated.
It was shock medicine but appeared to have an almost instant effect. By December, when the budget was drawn up for the current year, the deficit had fallen to an estimated SR297 billion and is forecast to fall further this year. The benefit cuts on their own are estimated to have reduced government spending by billions of riyals.
It was not all about “austerity” in government spending, however. The first fruits of the National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020 and the Vision 2030 strategy were also beginning to show. These aim to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil dependency and toward a greater involvement of the private sector.
Capital Economics (CapEcon), the London-based consultancy that has pretty much called it right for the past couple of years in its Saudi coverage, said that the non-oil sector of the economy — the crucial part that has to be bolstered — lifted its share of the economy by 25 percent in the course of 2015-16, the best improvement in the Kingdom’s public finances since the early 1990s.
Further, the decision to reinstate the benefits was taken after official figures showed a big reduction in the overall fiscal deficit in the first quarter of the year, as had been forecast in the budget for 2017. The deficit was about half of what had been expected, reflecting the spending cuts, and better revenue performance.
The 2017 budget was drawn up on the basis of oil at $50 per barrel, so the fact it has averaged above that over most of this year has no doubt boosted government revenues. But the big impact from the reinstatement of government benefits will come from its effect on the increasingly important consumer sectors of the Saudi economy.
This week’s announcement will be music to the ears of mall operators, retailers, food and beverage industry operators and travel companies.
When the benefits were suspended last year, the consumer confidence indices took a big hit as it sunk in that there would be fewer riyals for discretionary spending.
The consumer sector is an important part of the non-oil economy, and it helps to counterbalance the effect of lower oil production in overall economic activity.
CapEcon sums up the effect: “The reinstatement of civil service benefits should bolster consumer confidence and support stronger growth in consumer-facing sectors in the coming months. This supports our view that a recovery in the non-oil economy will help to partially offset the impact of oil production cuts on headline GDP growth this year. We expect GDP growth of 1 percent this year, which is a touch stronger than consensus and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expectations,” said analyst Jason Tuvey.
It is not all good news for the Saudi consumer. There are more fiscal tightening measures planned for later this year, with a batch of new subsidy cuts and, of course, the introduction of value-added tax (VAT) early next year.
But the fact that the government is set to press ahead with these “austerity” measures will reassure international markets that the long-term transformation plans are unchanged, despite the change of tack on benefits.
I have had several queries from expatriate friends of different nationalities, seeking clarification about the proposed Saudi green card. Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, earlier announced the government’s plan to introduce a green card system with several benefits.
Most queries were about the details of such a system, including the conditions, requirements and cost involved in obtaining a card. Expatriates also wanted to know when this system was going to be introduced in the Kingdom.
Unfortunately, I am not in a position to give a definite and clear-cut answer to any of these questions, as the matter is still being studied by the concerned authorities, such the ministries of interior, finance, labor, commerce, economy and planning, as well as the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority. After completion of these studies, the topic will be referred to the Shoura Council to be studied by its committees.
This will be followed by deliberations in regular sessions of the Shoura in which all members can take part and articulate their viewpoints and opinions. Upon the Shoura Council’s adoption of a draft bill, it will be referred to the Council of Ministers for approval and implementation.
Since the announcement about the intention to introduce a green card system that would allow expatriates to reside in the Kingdom permanently in a similar manner to green card holders in the United States, the reaction from the Saudi public has been mixed. There have been supporters and opponents of this proposal and their viewpoints have been aired on social media websites.
Benefits To The Nation
Some have welcomed the idea and have indicated that it would bring about many social, economic and security benefits to the nation in terms of the payment of Zakat and taxes by expatriates that are hitherto collected only from Saudis. Moreover, it would be instrumental in reducing the volume of foreign remittances.
Green card holders would be allowed to engage in any businesses and commercial activities as well as to own property as in the case of Saudi citizens. The only difference would be citizenship, as expatriates would continue to keep their own nationality. Only those expatriates who fulfill the strict terms and conditions under the special citizenship law would be given Saudi citizenship.
The green card would abolish the controversial sponsorship law, which continues to remain an object of criticism by international human rights organizations. This system has also come under criticism by local human rights activists and some writers. The green card system would eliminate the phenomenon of tasattur, the illegal practice by which Saudis permit expatriates to manage businesses in their names for a share in the profits. Tasattur has spread across the country and all attempts to eliminate it have ended in failure.
As for those who oppose the green card idea, they tend to repeat the same arguments without understanding whether there is any basis for such arguments. These arguments include the allegation that “foreigners are eating up and depleting our resources and deprive our children of jobs”. They make such allegations without any substantial evidence or logic.
A Materialistic Point Of View
What bothers me the most is that all those who support granting a green card to expatriates look at the subject simply from a materialistic point of view, claiming that it would pump as much as SR18 billion per year into the state treasury. Of course, there is no doubt that the material aspect is important, but it is not supposed to be everything. The proposed fee for the green card is SR14,000 per annum.
This is, I think, a high amount, especially in the case of those expatriates who have spent a long period of time in the Kingdom and who wish to continue living in the Kingdom owing to religious, emotional and social reasons. Many of these expatriates would not be able to afford such as large amount. This fee can be collected from those expatriates who can afford it, in addition to those who are involved in business and commercial activities.
I previously wrote an article in this newspaper, asking Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior, to look into the case of those expatriates who have served the Kingdom for a long period of time – sometimes more than 30 years – but who are no longer able to work. However, these expatriates want to stay in the Kingdom or make frequent visits to the Kingdom owing to religious or sentimental reasons.
My request to the Crown Prince in the article was to take a favorable view of such demands by issuing permanent residency permits for these expatriates to live here or to visit the Kingdom at frequent intervals as a token of recognition of the services rendered by them to the nation.
Some of these expatriates came to the Kingdom while they were in the prime of their youth, but are now elderly and unable to continue their work as they did in the past. However, they still cherish a desire to stay in the Kingdom or at least to make frequent visits between their homeland and the Kingdom. A green card would certainly be a solution for them, but the fee should be one that they can afford.
By Zaid M. Belbagi
In 1900 the world consisted of 70 sovereign nations, a fraction of the number that exist today. The UK and the Sultanate of Morocco, however, occupy a special position in that they existed as independent nations in 1900 and earlier. In 1213, backed into a diplomatic corner, King John of England dispatched an embassy to Moroccan Sultan, Mohamed Ennassir, proposing an alliance; over 800 years later the two Kingdoms endure and maintain excellent relations.
As a scholar of diplomacy, a bilateral relationship of such longevity between countries separated by geography, religion, language and ethnicity is striking. In a political exercise of the old proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” frequent wars with Spain or France brought England and Morocco together throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the early modern era.
For relations to have been established between the Plantagenet King John — whose own brother Richard I famously went on a Crusade — and a Muslim sultan is truly remarkable. This was an age when Muslims were, in the words of Pope Urban II, “a despised and base race, who worship demons.” Having been excommunicated from the Church following a quarrel with Pope Innocent III, his barons in revolt and the French threatening invasion, the king sent envoys to the Moroccan sultan requesting military assistance. In an extraordinary turn of events, some historians claim that the king even offered to convert to Islam in the event that support was offered and war was declared against France.
These early exchanges culminated in the establishment of formal alliances and frequent diplomatic missions with the emergence of a new outward-looking England during the Elizabethan era. As the king of Spain amassed a great Armada to invade England in 1588, Queen Elizabeth I sent an envoy to Sultan Ahmad Al-Mansour requesting a military alliance and special privileges for English traders. In complete disregard of a papal ban on trading with Muslims, strong economic ties developed as the English sold armor, ammunition, timber and metal in exchange for Moroccan sugar and molasses. The union was detrimental to Spain and a leading Spanish clergyman of the period referred to it as a further “evil devised by that woman (Elizabeth I).”
The striking figure of Abd El-Ouahed ben Messaoud, immortalized in an oil painting of the era, came to personify not only the confidence of the Moroccan sultanate overseas but also the importance of the bilateral relationship with England. A private secretary to Sultan Ahmad Al-Mansour, he was sent to the Court of St. James to strengthen the relationship between the two countries. The robed and perfumed personage of the emissary made some impression upon the court and its celebrated playwright, a certain William Shakespeare. Othello, the brooding Moorish protagonist of the Shakespearean tragedy bearing the same name, is believed to have been inspired directly by Abd El-Ouahed ben Messaoud. It is said that Shakespeare witnessed the procession of his delegation and was stuck by the character of the envoy, described by his Elizabethan contemporaries as conducting himself with extreme “gravity...in the fashion of the season” as he wooed onlookers riding his Arabian thoroughbreds through Hyde Park.
Relations developed as political union at home made the British more proactive overseas and Morocco, under strong leadership, took on a distinct identity as a regional trading hub. Toward the end of the 17th century, an interest in the Orient and the Arab word reflected itself in new library collections at Oxford and Cambridge as well as in other academic institutions. The Royal Society, established in 1660 as a learned society for the advancement of sciences, reflected the close relationship between the two Kingdoms. Two of only three Arab fellows appointed to the society were actually ambassadors of Morocco, Mohammed bin Haddu (1682) and Mohammed bin Ali Abgali (1726).
Relations were not always cordial. Mohammed bin Haddu’s ambassadorship was followed by a period of shifting alliances. Between 1661 and 1684, the English occupied the port of Tangier, which was granted to King Charles II as a dowry for his marriage to Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza. Interestingly the Coldstream Guards, the oldest infantry regiment in the British Army, saw their first international action in Tangier (the port’s name is still proudly stitched on their regimental colors). Forced out of the colony by Sultan Moulay Ismail, relations entered a new phase as the specter of French and Spanish expansionism led to both sides seeking to strengthen their alliance.
As the thin red line of British imperialism spread over the world, interaction between the two Kingdoms increased. Plagued by domestic instability and foreign threats to their sovereignty, successive Moroccan sultans hired foreign advisers to oversee reforms to the military and administration. Occupying positions of extreme trust and considerable influence, several British advisers played a key role in the history of modern Morocco. Gen. Sir Harry Aubrey de Maclean, otherwise known as Kaid Maclean, was hired as a military instructor and famously rose to prominence as Commander of the Sharifian Army under Sultan Moulay Hassan and Sultan Moulay Abdelaziz. In a position of unparalleled influence, Maclean was key to putting down successive tribal insurrections and was an important figure during the transfer of power between the two sultans. The Times published a profile of him in 1901, in which its correspondent noted that, however exotic Morocco might be, the presence of the “ubiquitous Scotsman” was reassuring and noted that Maclean was central to implementing the Sultan’s modernizing agenda. Sent to King Edward VII on his accession, Maclean became a crucial go-between during a high point in relations as Britain sought to keep French and Spanish colonial interests at bay.
The bilateral relationship between the two Kingdoms has persisted into modern times. With both countries sending some of their best diplomats as representatives, the importance of maintaining close ties is clear. Importantly, the close ties would only have been possible because of the broadly tolerant and entrepreneurial policies of both Kingdoms. In an age characterized by religious animosity, such stories of historical cross-cultural understanding are immeasurably important.
April 27, 2017
A SAUDI businessman commented on my article titled «The shopping malls speak Saudi» published by Okaz newspaper on Tuesday. He said the only way to compel the private sector to Saudize jobs is to raise the cost of recruiting or hiring expatriate workers.
With the exception of housemaids, it is obvious that the government is proceeding with its determination to Saudize jobs in all sectors, including the retail sector, despite warnings that raising the cost of hiring expatriate workers would mean the financial gains the private sector is making would go down drastically.
(The Kingdom has been steadily closing off different areas of employment to foreigners, who comprise about a third of the population, as it aims to create jobs for young Saudis and cut unemployment rates. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development announced last week that it would limit jobs in all shopping centers and malls across the country to Saudi nationals, but it did not set a deadline for its implementation).
Increasing the cost of employing expatriates might make a large number of expatriates jobless and they might eventually decide to leave the Kingdom, which in turn would have a negative impact on the economy.
This is not an accurate analysis. The exit of expatriates will have a favorable effect on the national economy in the long run. It will mean more jobs for the Saudis and so a drop in the country›s unemployment rate.
Though the government has a tool to control the process of job Saudization, which is the Nitaqat program, yet many employers resort to dubious means including fake Saudization to get around the government›s policies.
Therefore raising the costs of recruiting and employing expatriates seems a more realistic approach to resolve the issue of unemployment among Saudis and to create a natural environment for the national output.
A number of businessmen have been excessively sensitive toward nationalizing jobs via the Nitaqat program. They are therefore ever ready and willing to reject the concept of Saudization.
They believe the nationalization of jobs will increase their operational costs and thus reduce their profits.
They believe a lower turnover will definitely mean financial losses for them even though they will still make profits.
I agree with my businessman friend, who has a successful experience in the nationalization of jobs in his big company and its numerous branches. The important thing here, however, is for his fellow businessmen to agree with his idea of raising the costs of hiring expatriate workers.