26 January, 2015

Turkish President Erdoğan launches projects in Somalia under tight security

Turkish President Erdoğan launches projects in Somalia under tight security

MOGADISHU - Agence France-Presse

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, center, and Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, second left, with their wives, attend the cutting of the tape for the new airport terminal in the capital Mogadishu, Sunday Jan. 25, 2015. AP Photo

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the Somali capital of Mogadishu yesterday, under tight security to launch Turkish-sponsored development projects including an airport terminal.

Hundreds of soldiers and police officers had shut down much of the capital’s streets, where on Jan. 22 five people were killed in a suicide attack on a hotel housing the Turkish delegation in Mogadishu.

Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels – who are fighting to overthrow the country’s internationally-backed government – said they carried out the bombing, the latest in a string of attacks by the group against high-profile targets in Mogadishu.

Erdoğan praised the “major developments” seen in Somalia, after he was welcomed at the new Turkish-renovated airport by his counterpart, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Turkey is a major investor in Somalia, including carrying out a series of major construction projects in a city left devastated by over two decades of war, and now undergoing a major building boom.
Mohamud praised Turkey’s “prominent, exemplary role” in Somalia, where unlike most nations, Turkish citizens live and work outside heavily fortified compounds.

“Turkey did not hold back, waiting for stability before it invested. Instead, it invested to achieve it,” Mohamud said.

“Where other international partners chose to plan their interventions from elsewhere, Turkey put its people on the ground in Somalia.”

Erdoğan last visited Mogadishu in 2011 as the then prime minister, the second major leader to visit the city in years, a few months after Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.

Erdoğan had originally planned to visit Mogadishu on Jan. 23, but postponed the trip to attend the funeral of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

The visit to Somalia ends Erdoğan’s Horn of Africa tour, which has included visits to Ethiopia and Djibouti, a key port on the Gulf of Aden and the entrance to the Red Sea.

Both countries contribute troops to the more than 20,000-strong African Union force in Somalia, which is battling the Shebab.



Saudi Gazette | Businesswomen question ban on fitness centers, beauty clinics

Businesswomen question ban on fitness centers, beauty clinics
Mon, 05 Jan 2015 10:02:51 AST
Saudi Gazette | Saudi Gazette report

AL-KHARJ, Riyadh — The Ministry of Interior has issued a ban on women from running spas, beauty centers and women's sports facilities. Reacting to the ban, businesswomen in the industry demanded authorities reconsider, Al-Hayat daily reported.

The businesswomen said the ban has caused them great losses and put them under a great deal of stress. They questioned why they were granted licenses and permits to run their businesses only for the ban to be announced shortly after.

Elham Al-Sabki, a beauty center owner, said all of her efforts to gain permission from the municipality, Ministry of Health and the General Presidency of Youth Welfare have been wasted.

"We are desperate to regain our license from any authority. The General Presidency of Youth Welfare has sponsored male fitness businesses but it refuses to sponsor female ones as it claims it is not within their field of interest. We need a female department in the presidency in order to have our voices heard," said Al-Sabki.

"Fitness and beauty is more important to women than men. So how can we expect a woman to be beautiful with an attractive body if we don't provide the resources for her to work out? Moreover, the bureaucratic red tape involved in getting a license was exhausting and cost me more than SR300,000. They should have given us an alternative," she added.

Al-Sabki said in the past, businesswomen would apply to the Ministry of Health to get a license to run a physical therapy clinic and once granted, they would use the license to open a spa. However, the regulations have become stricter and this is no longer an option.

Lina Hijawi, also a beauty center owner, said she had to stop her plan to install a Moroccan bath after the decision to ban beauty centers was announced.

"Installing the bath cost me SR35,000 and some municipalities are applying the ban while others aren't. I had to close my spa and beauty center while women in nearby provinces are still running their clinics," said Hijawi. She added that banning an entire an industry is not a pragmatic move.

"If the reason for the ban is some inappropriate videos posted in these beauty centers, then banning is not the solution. The municipality should have regulated and set definite rules for running beauty centers," she said.

The committee of women businesses at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it was extremely disappointed by the municipalities' double standards and questioned why men were not subjected to a similar ban. The head of the committee, Jawaher Al-Aql, clarified that the Ministry of Interior is the authority that issued the ban.

"We will penalize the centers that violated the morals of this society but we cannot close down all of the shops. This will force women to enter a black market just to operate, making it a bigger problem to deal with than the current one," said Al-Aql.

Saudi Gazette | ‘Down with the Houthis’ rule’, thousands chant in a huge rally

'Down with the Houthis' rule', thousands chant in a huge rally
Sun, 25 Jan 2015 11:47:45 AST
Saudi Gazette | SANAA — Thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of Sanaa on Saturday in the largest demonstration against Houthis since the Shiite militiamen overran the capital in September.

"Down, down with the Houthis' rule," chanted the protesters who rallied following a call by the Rejection Movement — a group recently formed in provincial areas to challenge the powerful militia.

Dozens of Huthi supporters tried to stop the demonstration, triggering a brief scuffle, before they left, as the numbers of protesters kept increasing.

Demonstrators gathered in Change Square near the University of Sanaa before they headed for Republican Palace, in central Sanaa, according to organizers.

The palace is the residence of Prime Minister Khalid Bahah, who left it on Wednesday for an unknown destination after a two-day siege by the militia.

But the protesters changed their route and headed toward the residence of embattled President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi to express their "rejection of his resignation," according to the organizing committee.

The demonstrators were also demanding that Hadi "impose the authority of the state" in face of the tightening grip of Houthis on power, they said.

Hadi tendered his resignation Thursday saying he could no longer stay in office as the country was in "total deadlock."

Houthi gunmen backed by armored vehicles were deployed along Sittin Street, where the president lives, but they only watched on as the protesters marched and did not attempt to stop them.

Large demonstrations also took off in the cities of Taez, Ibb and Hudaida, organizers said.

Parliament is set to hold an extraordinary meeting on Sunday to discuss Hadi's resignation offer, which needs to be approved by lawmakers to take effect.

After heavy fighting between government forces and the Houthis this week that killed at least 35 people, the UN Security Council and Yemen's Gulf neighbours had all voiced support for Hadi's continued rule.

The situation escalated a week ago when the militiamen seized Hadi's chief of staff, Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, in an apparent bid to extract changes to a draft constitution they oppose because it would divide Yemen into six federal regions. The Houthis still hold Mubarak and maintain a tight grip on the capital despite a deal struck late on Wednesday to end what authorities called a coup attempt.

In return for concessions over the disputed draft constitution, the Houthis had pledged to vacate the presidential palace, free Mubarak, withdraw from areas surrounding the residences of Hadi and Bahah, and abandon checkpoints across the capital. — AFP

25 January, 2015

Saudi Gazette | Speechwriters unknown heroes behind US State of the Union

Speechwriters unknown heroes behind US State of the Union
Tue, 20 Jan 2015 11:55:50 AST
Saudi Gazette | WASHINGTON — Day after day from morning to night, a small cadre of wordsmiths searches for the right message, tone and cadence for the US president to speak to the American people.

When President Barrack Obama delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday in Congress, it will be the capstone of weeks of work for a team of White House speechwriters.

"It is a massive undertaking, the process starts really early around Thanksgiving (November 26)," said Jeff Shesol, a State of the Union speechwriter for former president Bill Clinton.

The White House currently has nine speechwriters. A number of them also work for First Lady Michelle Obama and other officials and bodies in the executive.

At the White House, aboard Air Force One, between hotels, they live their lives just behind the scenes of the president's hectic schedule.

The job is traditionally discreet, and often demanding, given the president's need to speak on breaking news as well as in formal settings such as the all-important State of the Union address delivered in the heart of Congress.

An ideal speechwriter "should be possessed of high competence, great physical vigor, and a passion for anonymity," according to the position's description in a 1937 report.

The job can be grueling, but speechwriters know their time at the White House makes for an effective springboard for the rest of their career in politics or the private sector.

"It's an extraordinary job," said Adam Frankel, who was part of Obama's writing team until 2011 and highlighted the president's taste for good writing.

"He is a gifted writer and he also has respect for the writing process and understands what that process is like. He is very involved in the writing process from the very beginning."

Cody Keenan, 33, a principal speechwriter for the president writing the State of the Union, compared the work to graduate school.

"You get a paper assignment, you might pull an all-nighter or come in really early to finish, and you hand it in and then you get his marks back and find out whether he likes it or not," Keenan said.

"The good thing is he'll make detailed edits when he gets the speech, and he's generous with his time -- he'll walk us through the edits and explain why he made them."

The difference, Shesol pointed out, "is that you just don't get a grade and move on to the next assignment, you are going to rewrite this one again and again."

In their small and exclusive world, a few figures hold a special place for speech writers, including president John F. Kennedy, whose speeches resonate beyond their time.

Ted Sorensen was one of the few writers who got to pen words for Kennedy. He was also one of his chief advisers.

At Kennedy's side daily, Sorensen was in a prime position to understand the presidents mind, and exchange ideas with him as well.

For all his successors, the question of access to the president, if not always easy, is central to the job.

The first State of the Union speech was delivered in January 1790 by George Washington. Then, it was a simple document, closer to an administrative report for Congress rather than a policy platform.

It was Woodrow Wilson who began the practice of presidential speeches to a broader audience in 1913.

Paradoxically, these moments of supposed great policy import where the country's president unveils priorities for the coming year have rarely yielded historic discourse.

But there is at least one notable exception: the January 29, 2002 speech by George W. Bush used the formulation "axis of evil" to describe Iraq, North Korea and Iran. The phrase would become emblematic of his polarizing presidency.

If the texts are sometimes forgotten, the solemn moment when the chief executive makes his annual trip to Congress remains.

Shesol calls it an "incredible ceremony" at the packed chamber of the House of Representatives.

The audience is full of emotion over a speech he helped write and rewrite for weeks.

"To have played some role in writing the words that the president is saying is a thrill that is hard to describe," Shesol said. — AFP

Saudi Gazette | Registration date for biometrics extended till April

Registration date for biometrics extended till April

RIYADH — The biometrics registration deadline for expat women has been extended till April, General Directorate for Passports spokesman Lt. Col. Ahmad Al-Laheedan was quoted as saying by Al-Hayat Arabic daily on Tuesday.

The deadline for fingerprint registration for all Passports Department (Jawazat) services except iqama (residence permit) renewal ended on Dec. 23, 2014. The fingerprint registration deadline for the renewal of iqamas was to end tomorrow (Jan. 21, 2015).

No female expatriate will be able to renew her residence permit unless fingerprinting and iris scanning requirements have been met.

"Anyone who has reached the age of 15 should register his or her fingerprints at the directorate," Al-Laheedan said.

The directorate has prepared 35 locations in 13 areas where women can register fingerprints. All applicants must bring their original iqamas and passports to complete the registration process. An expatriate who faces deportation or violates residency regulations must get the eye scanning done.

Al-Laheedan called on all male and female expatriates who have not registered their fingerprints to do so at the earliest to ensure obtaining Jawazat services at any time, especially in emergencies.

Such services include obtaining exit/re-entry visas, which will not be processed unless the expatriate has registered his/her fingerprints. Expats can check whether they have registered their fingerprints by logging in to the Ministry of Interior website www.moi.gov.sa, and then clicking on e-services.

They should click 'Passports' in the template and select 'Public Query FingerPrint Enrollment.' The fingerprint registration status will appear if they feed their iqama numbers.

23 January, 2015

We saw what you did - satellites and human rights

 IRINnews logo
humanitarian news and analysis
We saw what you did - satellites and human rights

lead photo
NAIROBI, 23 January 2015 (IRIN) - The shocking satellite imagery of the destruction in the northeastern Nigerian town of Baga and nearby villages earlier this month provided graphic evidence of the extent of the crimes by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram when they stormed in.

The images released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International on 15 January, which show clear signs of arson, ended a growing debate on media coverage of remote conflict zones. It turned the spotlight back to the fact that something terrible had happened in Baga, and hundreds, if not as many as 2,000 people, may have died.  

"It's the power of the image," Nigerian human rights lawyer Clement Nwankwo told IRIN. "The reason people questioned whether 2,000 people were killed was because that level of brutality was unimaginable. But the images validate that claim, the number of fatalities could be in that vicinity." 

Satellite imagery is increasingly being used by human rights organisations to fact check claims that otherwise would be difficult to verify. It provides an additional dimension of evidence for investigators that can be both immediate, or long-term – compiling a sequential series to spot patterns of environmental degradation, for example.

The imagery can also reveal more than was expected. HRW is currently investigating potential human rights incidents in Nigeria that were previously unknown.


Satellites cannot be intimidated or threatened, and their images are a digital record that enables retrospective analysis. But they are just one tool in a campaigner's kitbag, and they have limitations. There is continuing judicial mistrust over the admissibility of the data in courts as computer-generated images can be manipulated, require subjective interpretation by experts, and may not necessarily demonstrate causality.

US former secretary of state Colin Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is one of the more notorious examples of misinformation – including the loaded suggestion that the view from space was superior to that of the UN weapons inspectors touring the facilities. 

Josh Lyons is HRW's remote sensing analyst. He worked on the Baga imagery, and says collaborating with investigators on the ground – matching testimony and local knowledge to what is observable in the satellite data - is key to the accuracy and credibility of his assessments. 

There are a number of increasingly sophisticated commercial satellites available at relatively low cost that are democratizing use. In the case of Baga, Lyons looked up online what imagery of the town was available on the specified days, paid the European company Airbus just US $350 (thanks to HRW's NGO discount), and had the package of images in his computer within 2 hours. If he had ordered bespoke coverage, tasking the satellite to photograph a specific area, that would have cost between $400 and $1,380 depending how rapidly it was needed.

"The barrier is not necessarily price, but the sufficient software and expertise to interpret the imagery," Lyons told IRIN. To get around that problem, non-profit organisations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science provide human rights groups with analytical support. Amnesty International used the satellite firm DigitalGlobe to interpret their Baga images.

How the good guys spy
- Check: To see if others have already tasked commercial imagery of your area of interest. Determine the date and time sequence you are interested in and the resolution required. 
- Order: The US firm DigitalGlobe has multiple satellites and its images are the most detailed, but the European Airbus company's are less expensive and easier to order with a user-friendly online system. 
- Gather: As much ground-based evidence as possible – photos, testimonies, GPS references. Work with colleagues to cross-check information and investigate the initial observations.
- Analyze: This can be outsourced. Accuracy is essential. Beware dangerously easy mistakes - post-harvest waste burning can look like impact craters under certain conditions.
- Verify: Do your evaluation again and again to avoid tunnel vision. When the evidence is indisputable, launch your advocacy plan.
Sourcing includes How to Use Satellites to Document Human Rights Violations 
Computer software, with complicated algorithms and change detection models are usually needed to process and manage large numbers of satellite images. They can come in different spectral bands, including near-infrared – good for monitoring changes in vegetation health -  as well as detecting evidence of fire damage, as in the case of Baga. New satellite systems use shortwave infrared to pierce clouds and dense smoke to reveal objects that would be hidden in traditional imagery – with resolutions as high as 31 centimeters per pixel. 

What can you see?

Making sense of what your computer displays is the hard part.  Fire, for example, leaves tell-tale signs: roofs are burnt away with load-bearing walls left intact; air strikes produce big impact craters; the size of an artillery round can be measured, and therefore the weapon that fired it determined; displaced earth is a different colour, and can indicate something buried beneath.

But what may look like classic damage signatures can be misleading under certain circumstances, and alternatives need to be painstakingly eliminated. Conflating events due to a lack of sufficient sequential time series data is another problem. "It's also very common that your mind's eye becomes attuned to a particular type of damage, and you can miss other details," said Lyons, who worked with the UN on remote sensing in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

GPS, Google Earth and the George Clooney-funded Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), were steps in the evolving revolution in human rights monitoring. Now new micro satellite constellations such as Planet Labs and Skybox, which will provide constant real-time observation of the planet, are touted by some as a way to not just document but also deter rights abuse. 

The SSP is going beyond "traditional" human rights monitoring, widening its focus to investigate how, in the project's words, "those committing mass atrocities are funding their activities and where they are hiding stolen assets". 

Greg Hittelman, communications director of the Enough Project, which partners with SSP, believes remote sensing is among a range of technologies that can be used to "help prevent atrocities and human rights abuse, to escalate global awareness, bring accountability to perpetrators, and provide justice for victims". 

But Lyons is less optimistic. "I don't believe it has that magical capability. When IS [Islamic State] posts video of its latest beheading, or the Syrian government uses barrel bombs – in effect war criminal selfies – the message is clear. They do not believe they will be held to account."


Mahadnaq Tacsidii marxuum Mohamed Ahmed Hassan Arwo.

Mahadnaq tacsida marxuum Maxamed Axmed Xasan Carwo


King Salman outlines vision for ‘stability and unity’

King Salman outlines vision for ‘stability and unity’

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman. (SPA)


World leaders remember ‘Islam-West mediator’ Abdullah

Smooth transition as Salman becomes new king
King Abdullah passes away

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has pledged to continue the current policies of the government, to ensure stability and unity in the country.
In a speech following the death of King Abdullah on Friday, King Salman also urged the nation’s citizens to pledge their allegiance to new Crown Prince Muqrin and to the new deputy crown prince and second deputy premier, Muhammad bin Naif.
“We will continue by the grace of Allah and His strength to cling to the right path followed by the state since its inception by the founder, the late King Abdul Aziz and his sons after him. We will never deviate from it because our constitution is the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet, peace be upon him,” King Salman said.
The king commended the service of King Abdullah to the nation, the wider Muslim community and the Arab world. He also asked Allah to help him with this “great trust” of the monarchy, to guide him onto the right path and avoid “falsehood.”
Quoting from the Qur’an to highlight the transience of life, he said that everyone on earth would perish and have to face their Creator. With a heart “filled with grief and sadness,” he extended condolences to the “loyal Saudi people and the Arab and Islamic ummah” on the death of King Abdullah.
He said King Abdullah had spent his entire life trying to follow the precepts of God, “strengthening his religion, serving his nation and people, and defending the causes of the Arab and Islamic” world. “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return,” the king said.
King Salman also urged Arabs and Muslims to seek solidarity in the face of the challenges currently confronting them. He said this would be the policy of Saudi Arabia as it moves to tackle obstacles facing it.

“We will continue in this country, which Allah has honored by choosing it as the platform for His message and the Qibla (direction in which Muslims pray), to boost unity and defend our nation’s causes.” He said the Kingdom would be guided by the teachings of Islam, a religion of “peace, mercy and moderation.”
“I ask Allah to guide me to serve our dear people, realize their hopes, preserve our country and nation’s security and stability, and to protect it from all evil. He is able to do that, there is no strength except with Allah,” the king said.

World leaders remember ‘Islam-West mediator’ Abdullah

World leaders remember ‘Islam-West mediator’ Abdullah

In this Nov. 4, 2012, file photo released by Saudi Press Agency, King Abdullah applauds French President Francois Hollande after presenting him with the Order of Merit in Jeddah. (AP Photo/SPA, File)


World leaders react to King Abdullah's death

RIYADH: World leaders paid tribute to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on Friday, praising the late ruler as a key mediator between Muslims and the West.
US President Barack Obama said he and Abdullah, whose country has for decades been a strategic ally of Washington, had enjoyed a “genuine and warm friendship.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Abdullah, who died in a Riyadh hospital earlier the same day, as a “wise politician.”
Iran sent condolences to the Saudi people and announced its foreign minister would travel to Riyadh for an “official ceremony” this weekend.
Abdullah, who officially took power in 2005, guided the Kingdom through a turbulent decade in the region, with neighbors Iraq and Yemen wracked with insecurity after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and the growth of Islamic radicalism.
French President Francois Hollande said Abdullah’s vision of “a fair and durable peace in the Middle East remains truer than ever.”
Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised the late king as “an ardent defender of peace.”
And the foreign ministry in Spain hailed Abdullah as “a respected figure throughout the Middle East for his willingness to help resolve conflicts.”
In London, Prime Minister David Cameron said the Saudi ruler would be remembered for “his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.”
Prince Charles of Wales is to travel to Riyadh as The Queen’s representative to pay his respects, the royal’s office said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Abdullah’s rule had been “fair and moderate,” praising him for aiding “dialogue between the Muslim world and the West.”
In the Middle East, Lebanon, which has close ties with Riyadh, spoke of losing “a defender and a partner” who had stood by Beirut “in difficult times.”
Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi said the king “ensured... support for causes of justice, peace and development in the Arab, Muslim and entire world.”
His country joined Algeria and Mauritania in announcing three days of mourning, while Cairo said its official grieving would run for a whole week.
Several leaders cut short overseas trips to travel to Riyadh and pay their respects.
Jordan’s King Abdallah II left the World Economic Forum in Davos, organizers said, before declaring 40 days of mourning for the late Saudi king.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin praised Abdullah as an “exemplary leader... with sound judgment.”
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declared three days of mourning, describing the late monarch as a “sage.”
“With much sadness, we received the news of the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, a loss to the Arab and Islamic world,” Abbas said in a statement.
President Recip Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said Abdullah had contributed “to strengthening cooperation and solidarity in the Muslim world, especially concerning the Palestinian question and the situation in Syria.”
At the Asian Cup in Australia, the national football team of the United Arab Emirates donned black armbands for their match against Japan.
Malaysian Prime Minister Rajib Razak called Abdullah a “great leader for his initiative for inter-religious dialogue,” and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani pointed to Saudi involvement in his country’s peace negotiations.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, paid tribute to a man who “brought prosperity and reforms to his nation.”

King Abdullah passes away

Prince Salman named king and Prince Muqrin crown prince


Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah died on Friday following a short illness. Crown Prince Salman has been named the new king with Prince Muqrin crown prince, according to a Royal Court statement.
King Abdullah was hospitalized in December suffering from pneumonia and had been breathing with the aid of a respirator.
King Salman said King Abdullah died at 1 a.m. on Friday. “With deep sorrow we announce the death of King Abdullah,” said the new king in the statement issued by the Royal Court, adding that the funeral prayers would take place after Asr prayer at Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh on Friday.
King Salman and Crown Prince Muqrin will receive the oath of allegiance from the people of Saudi Arabia at his palace in Riyadh after Isha prayer.
The smooth succession indicates stability in Saudi Arabia, according to observers.
Since the death in 1952 of King Abdul Aziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia, the throne has systematically passed down to his sons.
King Salman, credited with transforming Riyadh during his half-century as governor, has a reputation for austerity, hard work and discipline.
Born on Dec. 31, 1935, King Salman is the 25th son of King Abdul Aziz. He was appointed governor of Riyadh province at the age of 20. He was appointed minister of defense in 2011.


A Saudi Palace Coup

A Saudi Palace Coup
David Hearst

Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (New Saudi King pictured above) state of health is cause for concern, which is why the power he has given his son is more significant than other appointments announced. Aged 79, Salman is known to have Alzheimers, but the exact state of his dementia is a source of speculation

King Abdullah's writ lasted all of 12 hours . Within that period the Sudairis, a rich and politically powerful clan within the House of Saud, which had been weakened by the late king, burst back into prominence. They produced a palace coup in all but name.
Salman moved swiftly to undo the work of his half-brother. He decided not to change his crown prince Megren,who was picked by King Abdullah for him, but he may chose to deal with him later .However he swiftly appointed another leading figure from the Sudairi clan. Mohammed Bin Nayef, the interior minister is to be his deputy crown prince. It is no secret that Abdullah wanted his son Meteb for that position, but now he is out,
More significantly, Salman, himself a Sudairi, attempted to secure the second generation by giving his 35- year old son Mohammed the powerful fiefdom of the defence ministry . The second post Mohammed got was arguably more important. He is now general secretary of the Royal Court. All these changes were announced before Abdullah was even buried.
The general secretaryship was the position held by the Cardinal Richelieu of Abdullah's royal court, Khalid al-Tuwaijri. It was a lucrative business handed down from father to son and started by Abdul Aziz al Tuwaijri. The Tuwaijris became the king's gatekeepers and no royal audience could be held without their permission, involvement, or knowledge. Tuwaijri was the key player in foreign intrigues --to subvert the Egyptian revolution, to send in the troops to crush the uprising in Bahrain, to finance ISIL in Syria in the early stages of the civil war along his previous ally Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
The link between Tuwaijri and the Gulf region's fellow neo-con Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, was close. Tuwaijri is now out, and his long list of foreign clients , starting with the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi may well feel a cooler wind blowing from Riyadh. Sisi failed to attend the funeral on Friday. Just a question of bad weather?
Salman's state of health is cause for concern, which is why the power he has given his son is more significant than other appointments announced. Aged 79, Salman is known to have Alzheimers, but the exact state of his dementia is a source of speculation. He is known to have held cogent conversations as recently as last October. But he can also forget what he said minutes ago, or faces he has known all his life, according to other witnesses. This is typical of the disease. I understand the number of hospital visits in the last few months has increased, and that he did not walk around, as he did before.
So his ability to steer the ship of state, in a centralised country where no institutions, political parties or even national politics exist, is open to question. But one indication of a change of direction may lie in two attempts recently to establish links with Egyptian opposition figures.
I am told that senior advisers to Salman approached an Egyptian liberal opposition politician and had a separate meeting with a lawyer. Neither of them are members of the Muslim Brotherhood but have working contacts with it. Talks were held in Saudi Arabia in the last two months about how reconciliation could be managed. No initiative was agreed, but the talks themselves were an indication of a more pragmatic, or less belligerent, approach by Salman and his advisers. It was understood that these meetings were preparatory to a possible initiative Salman may announce once he was in power.
The policy of the late King was to declare the Brotherhood terrorist organisation on a par with the Islamic State and al Qaeda.
Even before the Sudairis made their move, a power struggle within the House of Saud was apparent. Early on Thursday evening, rumours on twitter that the king was dead flooded the internet, which is the primary source of political information in the kingdom. There were official denials, when a Saudi journalist on al Watan newspaper tweeted the information.
The palace's hand was forced when two emirs tweeted that the king was dead. MBC TV network cut broadcasting and put the Koran on screen ,a sign of mourning, while national television kept on with normal programming. This was a sign that one clan in the royal family wanted the news out quickly and the other clan was stalling for more negotiations.
The need for a change of course is all too apparent. On the very night in which the royal drama was taking place, a political earthquake was taking place in Saudi Arabia's backyard, Yemen. President Abd Rabu Monsour Hadi, his prime minister and government resigned after days of virtual house arrest by Houthi militia. Hadi's resignation leaves two forces in control of the country both of them armed to the teeth : an Iranian backed militia which gets its training from Hezbollah, and al Qaeda, posing as the defender of Sunni muslims.
It is a disaster for Saudi Arabia and what is left of the ability of the Gulf Cooperation Council to make any deal stick. Their foreign ministers met only the day before. Yemen's former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was levered out of power three years ago and who according to leaked telephone calls, advised the Houthis on how to grab power, is now calling for fresh elections, and there were already calls on Thursday night for the south to split away from the North. Yemen,in other words, has officially become the Middle East's fourth failed state.
The meteoric rise of the Houthis in Yemen was not the result of spontaneous combustion. It was planned and plotted months ago by Saleh and the United Arab Emirates. Saleh's son, the Yemeni ambassador to the UAE, was a key figure in this foreign intrigue, and as I reported before, he met an Iranian delegation in Rome. This was picked by US intelligence and communicated to Hadi. The year before, the then Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar flew a leading member of the Houthi delegation via London for a meeting. Incredible as it seemed, the Saudis were re-opening contact with an Iranian backed Zaydi or Shia sect with whom they had once fought bitter wars.
The Saudi/Emirati plan was to use the Houthis to engage and destroy their real target which was Islah, the Islamist party and chief representative of the Sunni tribes in Yemen. As elsewhere in the Arab world, the entire focus of Abdullah foreign policy after 2011 , was to stop the Arab spring in its tracks in Tunisia and Egypt and crush all forces capable of mounting an effective opposition in the Gulf States. Everything else, including the rise of Saudi's foremost regional rival Iran, became subservient to that paramount aim to crush democratic political Islam.
The Yemen plan backfired when Islah refused to take up arms to resist the Houthi advance. As a result, the Houthis took more control than they were expected to , and the result is that Yemen stands on the brink of civil war. Al Qaeda's claim to be the only fighters prepared to defend Sunni tribesmen, has just been given a major boost.
It is too early to tell whether King Salman is capable of , or even is aware of the need for changing course. All one can say with any confidence is that some of the key figures who stagemanaged the Kingdom's disastrous foreign intrigues are now out. Meteb's influence is limited, while Tuwaijiri is out.
It is in no-one's interests for chaos to spread into the Kingdom itself. Maybe it is just co-incidence that Abdullah died almost on the eve of the anniversary of the January 25 revolution in Egypt. But the timing of his death is a symbol.The royal family should learn that the mood of change, that started on January 25 is unstoppable. The best defence against revolution is to lead genuine tangible political reform within the Kingdom. Allow it to modernise, to build national politics, political parties, real competitive elections, to let Saudis take a greater share of power, to free political prisoners.
There are two theories about the slow train crash which the Middle East has become. One is that dictatorship, autocracy, and occupation are the bulwarks against the swirling chaos of civil war and population displacement. The other is that dictators are the cause of instability and extremism.
Abdullah was evidence in chief for the second theory. His reign left Saudi Arabia weaker internally and surrounded by enemies as never before. Can Salman make a difference ? Its a big task, but there may be people around him who see the need for a fundamental change in course. It will be the only way a Saudi King will get the backing of his people. He may in the process turn himself into a figurehead, a constitutional monarch, but he will generate stability in the kingdom and the region.

Article was first published at http://www.huffingtonpost.com


Saudi Arabia's new King Salman promises continuity

Saudi Arabia's new King Salman promises continuity

Saudi Arabian King Salman has pledged continuity, hours after his accession to the throne following the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah.

The new king moved swiftly to appoint heirs and ministers, including one prince from the ruling dynasty's third generation.

King Abdullah died overnight, weeks after being admitted to hospital with a lung infection.

He was buried in an unmarked grave in Riyadh, following Friday prayers.

His burial was conducted in line with the traditions of Wahhabism - the ultra-conservative form of Sunni Islam followed by the kingdom - where funerals are austere and simple.

King Abdullah's body was wrapped in a shroud and taken by ambulance to the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh.

Following prayers, which were attended by Gulf heads of state as well as foreign leaders including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his body was taken to a public cemetery and buried.

The king's body was wrapped in a shroud at his funeral

'Correct policies'

Within hours of acceding to the throne of the oil-rich kingdom, King Salman, 78, vowed to maintain the same policies as his predecessors.

"We will continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment," he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

The new king's profile was updated on his official Twitter account, where he wrote: "I ask God to help me succeed in my service of the dear [Saudi] people."

He named another of King Abdullah's half-brothers, Muqrin, who is in his late 60s, as the new crown prince.

Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, was appointed deputy crown prince, making him second in line to the throne and effectively smoothing the line of succession for years to come.


20 January, 2015

France security: Chechens arrested over alleged attack plan

Almost 15,000 extra police and troops have been mobilised to boost security across France
Continue reading the main story

Paris attacks
New leads
The victims
Three days of terror
France and freedom

Police in southern France have detained five Chechens on suspicion of preparing an attack, prosecutors say.

The arrests took place in Beziers and Saint-Jean-de-Vedas, near Montpellier.

They come as France remains on high alert following attacks in Paris that killed 17, including 12 at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Four men charged with supporting Amedy Coulibaly, one of the gunmen behind the attacks, are due to appear in court in Paris later on Tuesday.

It is not known whether the arrest of the Chechens is connected to the attacks in Paris earlier this month.

One suspect was arrested in the city of Beziers and another four were detained near Saint-Jean-de-Vedas, according to local media.

Certain "products" were recovered during police searches, officials said, without giving further details. Unconfirmed reports said a stash of explosives was found.

Chechnya, a highly restive and predominantly Muslim region in Russia, has seen large demonstrations against cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by Charlie Hebdo last week.

First to face charges

Three days of attacks began in Paris on 7 January when brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi burst into the offices of Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people.

Coulibaly killed four Jewish hostages on 9 January before being shot dead by police. He is also believed to have shot dead a policewoman the day before.
Lassana Bathily, who hid customers at the Jewish store from the gunman, is being awarded a French passport

The Paris prosecutor's office said the four men in court on Tuesday - the first to face charges in the Paris terror attacks - were suspected of providing logistical support to Coulibaly.

The men, aged 22 to 28, are expected to be placed under formal investigation.

They were among 12 people arrested in police raids on Friday. Three of the women detained in the raids were freed on Saturday and five people were released overnight on Tuesday.

Almost 15,000 extra police and troops have been mobilised to boost security across France since the Paris attacks.

Hundreds of soldiers are also being deployed across Belgium following a series of anti-terror raids and arrests.

Meanwhile, a Malian employee who helped shoppers during the supermarket siege by Coulibaly is due to receive French nationality on Tuesday.

Lassana Bathily, a 24-year-old Muslim, hid customers inside a basement cold store when the gunman stormed the shop and took people hostage.

He will receive a French passport at a ceremony in his honour after his application was fast-tracked.

It comes after a petition was circulated calling for him to be granted citizenship.

He has lived in France for nine years and applied for citizenship last year.

How the attacks unfolded (all times GMT)

Wednesday 7 January 10:30 - Two masked gunmen enter Charlie Hebdo offices, killing 11 people, including the magazine's editor. Shortly after the attack, the gunmen kill a police officer nearby.
11:00 - Police lose track of the men after they abandon their getaway car and hijack another vehicle. They are later identified as brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi.
Thursday 8 January 08:45 - A lone gunman shoots dead a policewoman and injures a man in the south of Paris. Gunman later identified as Amedy Coulibaly.
10:30 - The Kouachi brothers rob a service station near Villers-Cotterets, in the Aisne region, but disappear again.
Friday 9 January 08:30 - Police exchange gunfire with the Kouachi brothers during a car chase on the National 2 highway northeast of Paris.
10:00 - Police surround the brothers at an industrial building in at Dammartin-en-Goele, 35km (22 miles) from Paris.
12:15 - Coulibaly reappears and takes several people hostage at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris. Heavily-armed police arrive and surround the store.
16:00 - Kouachi brothers come out of the warehouse, firing at police. They are both shot dead.
16:15 - Police storm the kosher supermarket in Paris, killing Coulibaly and rescuing 15 hostages. The bodies of four hostages are recovered.

Three days of terror


Yemen Houthi rebels 'seize presidential palace'

President Hadi has been under pressure for months

Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen have taken the presidential palace in country's capital Sanaa, witnesses say.

Col Saleh al-Jamalani, commander of the force that guards President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, described it as a "coup".

President Hadi was reported not to be at the presidential palace, but his residence is another part of the city is also said to be under attack.

Yemen, a key US ally in the fight against al-Qaeda in the region, has seen unrest for months.

Houthi militias overran Sanaa in September after moving out of their northern Yemen stronghold, but the presidential complex in southern Sanaa had remained outside their control.

Col Jamalani told AP news agency that the rebels who swept into the complex had been helped by insiders and were looting arm depots in the palace grounds.

The rebels abducted President Hadi's chief of staff, Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, on Saturday.