Saudi Hails Hajj Success

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims move around the Kaaba, seen at center, inside the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on November 3, 2011.

(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz hailed the “success” of this year’s hajj despite fears of “chaos” in the wake of the Arab Spring, as remaining pilgrims continued final rites on Wednesday.

“We thank God for the success of this year’s hajj, which was the best pilgrimage season to ever pass,” Nayef told the commanders of hajj security forces late on Tuesday.

“Some (pilgrims) were expected to exploit the international and regional changes taking place to cause chaos. But thank God this did not happen,” SPA quoted Nayef, who also holds the interior portfolio, as saying.

The hajj — the world’s largest annual gathering — this year coincided with the Arab Spring democracy protests that have swept many nations in the region and led so far to the unseating of three autocratic leaders, in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as protests continue in Yemen and Syria.

“What’s going on in Syria is painful,” Syrian pilgrim Abu Imad told AFP. “I’m coming here for perform pilgrimage and to pray for myself and my children.”

According to the United Nations, more than 3,500 people have been killed, most of them civilians, in Syria’s uprising that began in March.

Saudi Arabia itself had been slightly touched by the unrest as Shiites held sporadic protests in its Eastern Province a few times over the past months.

But their movement was quickly contained by authorities in the conservative Sunni kingdom.

“We thank all the pilgrims for proving that they are Muslims who respect this (hajj) rite and for being cooperative,” the prince said.

Indonesian pilgrim Hamid Eddine also believes that “pilgrims must follow instructions to gain the rewards of hajj and to smoothly perform their pilgrimage.”

Saudi security forces have several times in the past confronted Iranian pilgrims holding anti-US and anti-Israeli protests.

In 1987, Saudi police efforts to stifle such a demonstration sparked clashes in which 402 people died, including 275 Iranians.

But no incidents were reported this year as Iranian pilgrims, put at around 97,000 — the maximum allowed for Iran under a Saudi system apportioning pilgrim quotas among the world’s biggest Muslim countries — held their protests inside their own camps on Saturday.

Already strained ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia became taut last month when the United States accused Iranian officials of having a hand in a thwarted plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

Iran has strongly denied involvement and emphasized “good relations” with its Arab neighbor across the Gulf.

Most of this year’s three million Muslim pilgrims had left the holy city of Mecca after after a farewell circumambulation of the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure in the Grand Mosque into which is set the Black Stone, Islam’s most sacred relic.

Others completed stoning of the devil on Wednesday — a ritual, which is carried out over three days in which pilgrims must stone the three pillars said to symbolize the devil.

In previous years, hundreds of people have been trampled to death in stampedes triggered by crowds trying to get close to the pillars to take their vengeance on the devil.

But this year, the stoning, like all other rituals, passed with no major incidents.

The ritual is an emulation of Ibrahim’s stoning of the devil at the three spots where he is said to have appeared trying to dissuade the biblical patriarch from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.

Saudi authorities have installed a multi-level walkway through the stone-throwing site in a bid to avoid the trampling that caused the deaths of 364 people in 2006, 251 in 2004 and 1,426 in 1990.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be performed at least once in a lifetime by all those who are able to.

AFP

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Right to Vote But No Driving

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Saudi monarch grants kingdom’s women right to vote, but driving ban remains in force

By Associated Press

2011-09-27T195104Z_01_BTRE78Q1J5Z00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-SAUDI-WOMEN-DRIVING

Veiled Saudi women take photos of their children during a ceremony to celebrate Saudi Arabia’s Independence Day in Riyadh in this September 23, 2009 file photograph.

REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed/Files

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, considered a reformer by the standards of his own ultraconservative kingdom, decreed on Sunday that women will for the first time have the right to vote and run in local elections due in 2015.

For the nation’s women, it is a giant leap forward, though they remain unable to serve as Cabinet ministers, drive or travel abroad without permission from a male guardian.

Saudi women bear the brunt of their nation’s deeply conservative values, often finding themselves the target of the unwanted attention of the kingdom’s intrusive religious police, who enforce a rigid interpretation of Islamic Shariah law on the streets and public places like shopping malls and university campuses.

In itself, Sunday’s decision to give the women the right to vote and run in municipal elections may not be enough to satisfy the growing ambition of the kingdom’s women who, after years of lavish state spending on education and vocational training, significantly improved their standing but could not secure the same place in society as that of their male compatriots.

That women must wait four more years to exercise their newly acquired right to vote adds insult to injury since Sunday’s announcement was already a long time coming — and the next local elections are in fact scheduled for this Thursday.

“Why not tomorrow?” asked prominent Saudi feminist Wajeha al-Hawaidar. “I think the king doesn’t want to shake the country, but we look around us and we think it is a shame … when we are still pondering how to meet simple women’s rights.”

The announcement by King Abdullah came in an annual speech before his advisory assembly, or Shura Council. It was made after he consulted with the nation’s top religious clerics, whose advice carries great weight in the kingdom.

It is an attempt at “Saudi style” reform, moves that avoid antagonizing the powerful clergy and a conservative segment of the population. Additionally, it seems to be part of the king’s drive to insulate his vast, oil-rich country from the upheavals sweeping other Arab nations, with popular uprisings toppling regimes that once looked as secure as his own.

Fearing unrest at home, the king in March announced a staggering $93 billion package of incentives, jobs and services to ease the hardships experienced by some Saudis. In the meantime, he sent troops to neighbor and close ally Bahrain to help the tiny nation’s Sunni ruling family crush an uprising by majority Shiites pressing for equal rights and far-reaching reforms.

In contrast, King Abdullah in August withdrew the Saudi ambassador from Syria to protest President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on a seven-month uprising that calls for his ouster and the establishment of a democratic government.

“We didn’t ask for politics, we asked for our basic rights. We demanded that we be treated as equal citizens and lift the male guardianship over us,” said Saudi activist Maha al-Qahtani, an Education Ministry employee who defied the ban on women driving earlier this year. “We have many problems that need to be addressed immediately.”

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