More important, they also expose two big lies of the Palestinians: 1) the Islamic attitude towards the Jews; and 2) the Islamic relationships concerning Jerusalem.
1) Islam and the Jews: Love-Hate Relationship
Islam’s attitude towards Judaism and the Jews is a fascinating tale that began with admiration and imitation. Muhammad was highly influenced by the Jewish religion and in fact he admired the Jews as a model to imitate. The 90 Meccan Sūwar (p. of Sūrah) contain the history of the Jews from Abraham and his descendants to Moses and the Children of Israel in Egypt and Sinai Desert and to Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel. Moses was the chosen personality and he appears in 34 Sūwar.
Many of the Islamic views originate from the Jewish religion and traditions: Tawhīd, the belief in one unique God and denial of Fetishism. The belief in sin and Punishment, Hell and Paradise. Ummah, the religious congregation; Salāh, the prayer as an exhibition of the belief and the direction (also Jāhilīyah origin). Sawm, the fasting (together with Jāhilīyah origin). The heroes of Muhammad and Islam were Jewish and above all of them are Abraham and Moses. It is of note that Muhammad encompassed the history and creation of the Jewish people, being the chosen people, and the best of this is the centrality of the Land of Israel to the Jews.
Initially, Muhammad had no intention to establish a new religion. During the Mecca Period, Muhammad admired the Jews, as attested to in the Sūwar of the Qur’an. He explained that since the Jews have a book (Tawrat) and the Christians have a book (Injīl), and the Arabs have no book, he endeavored to give the Arabs a book. Muhammad introduced to the Arabs a book akin to the Tablets of the Testimony, which were given to Moses at Mount Sinai and contain great virtues.
The Qur’an insists that the Jewish Scripture is the voice of Allah. This is the book that Moses was given on Mount Sinai and it is the only truth as spoken by Allah and given to the chosen people, the Children of Israel. Moreover, when the Arabs mocked at Muhammad and persecuted him, he attested the Jews to remove the doubts about his prophetical prophetic messages and being the seal of all prophet.
Muhammad publicly stressed the Children of Israel are the Chosen People, and he will make Abraham and his descendants the leaders of all peoples:
O Children of Israel, remember my favor which I bestowed upon you, and that I exalted you (Faḍḍaltukūm) over all nations. We certainly chose them (Akhtarnāhūm) by knowledge over [all] the worlds (‘Ala al-‘Alāmīn). We showed them miracles which tested them beyond all doubt. We gave the Book to the Children of Israel and exalted them (faḍalnāhūm) above the nations. We have cause the Israelites to inherit them (Awrathnāhā).
Thus, there is much material in the Qur’an which links the Children of Israel to the Land of Israel. Abraham came to this land when he first left his homeland; the Children of Israel came to the Land when God brought them out of Egypt; the Temple of the Children of Israel stood in this Land. God promised that they will be gathered together in the land just before the end-times.
Allah’s promise to the Children of Israel is that He will never renege on his promise, therefore they must not leave their land, and otherwise Allah will grow angry with them and punish them. The Children of Israel were also given the Book as an inheritance, wa-Awrathnā Banī Isrā’īl al-Kitāb. The Book was bestowed upon those whom Allah has chosen, Alladhīna Istafaynā Min ‘Ibādinā. The Qur’ān also honors the Children of Israel with peace, guidance and safety. Allah will “destroy your enemies and make you rulers in the Land,” wa-Yastakhlifakum Fīl-Arḍ.
Not only Muhammad recognized the only rights and legitimacy of the Jews to the Land of Israel according to its biblical borders, but he insist that they must live only in it.
And we caused the people who had been oppressed to inherit the eastern regions of the land and the western ones, which we had blessed (al-Arḍ Allatī Bāraknā Fīhā). And the good word of your Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Israel…
Enter, my people, the Holy Land (al-Arḍ al-Muqaddasah), which Allah has decreed for you (Allatī Kataba Allāhu Lakum) and do not turn back and [thus] become losers.
And we said after Pharaoh to the Children of Israel, “Dwell in the land, and when there comes the promise of the Hereafter, We will bring you forth in gathering.”
The Land of Israel is the “Holy Land” (al-Ard al-Muqaddasah); the “Blessed Land” (al-Ard al-Mubārakah); the “Land of Israel” (Ard Banī Isrā’īl). That is why Ibn Kathīr goes so far as to consider these verses a divine command to Israel for Jihad to enter the Land of Israel and Jerusalem. Though they sinned and strayed from Allay, their punishment was to delay their entry for forty years, after which they were to enter the land. They are also commanded to “enter the gate” which refers to the Land of Israel.
If the Macca era until September 622 and the beginning of the Medina period was characterized as one might say a love story between Muhammad and the Jews, the Medina period until Muhammad’s death is totally different. The love story transformed into hatred and animosity and ended with racial and religious anti-Semitism; genocide (Banū Qurayza tribe); ethnic cleansing (expulsion of the Jewish tribes Banū Nadīr and Banū Qanūwqā’), and by prohibiting the Jews from living on the Islamic lands.
Muhammad immigrated to Yathrīb, which became Madīnat an-Nabī (the City of the Prophet), exactly because Jews were there. However, after Badr War (March 624), everything was changed. Two main reasons were indicated:
a) Muhammad and his small group of supporters went from being persecuted to vanquishing their enemies. The immediate result was a rapidly growing community of followers. The figures are impressing: in twelve years of preaching in Mecca Muhammad had only at most 150 followers. After the victory at Badr, almost ten thousand joined his ranks. This fact shows one of the most important characteristics of the Arab political culture, namely following the war hero, the conqueror. However, the crucial result of Badr victory was that only from that period of time on Muhammad proclaimed himself as a prophet who brings a new religion to the Arabs, which is separate from that of the Jews. Now his preaching were not only warmongering against the infidel Arabs but precisely against the Jews.
b) The Jewish tribes of Medina, Banū Nadīr, Banū Qanuwqā’ and Banū Qurayza, reacted against Muhammad’s new approach and objected him as a prophet similar to the prophets of the Bible, and mainly being the seal of all prophets and the Qur’an is the words of Allah. The Jews refused to accept him, claiming he was a false prophet.
From Muhammad’s perspective, the Jewish tribes expected of him to embrace their own religion, however he declared adherence to the basic religion of Abraham and rejected the demand to follow their own religions. Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but a pure monotheist Muslim (Ḥanīfan Musliman), and so are those who “who follow him, the Prophet and the true believers.” Abraham was also the founder of Mecca’s sacredness. Allah assigns to him the place of the Ka’ba, and tells him to purify it and proclaim to the people the duty of pilgrimage. The Qur’an also insists that the rest of the prophets, too, were the same, pure Muslims.
Muhammad claimed that the destiny of Islam is to control the entire world, being the only legitimate religion. Later on Muhammad proclaimed that all of prophets, from Adam and Noah to Abraham and his children, and to Moses, David, Solomon, Job, Jesus and Peter – were his prophets, Muslim prophets. The Muslim believers are the chosen community, and not the Jews, and Islam is above Judaism and Christianity. The full and last revelation from Allah was given to the Arabs by Muhammad, and the Qur’an is the final and superior scripture. Consequently the Ka’ba has become the religious center of Islam and the Ḥājj has transformed into Islamic ritual.
The Jews were mortal challenge to Muhammad, and according to the aggressive Arab political culture that externalizes the guilt, his reaction was brutal accusing the Jews with all the faults and sins. Consequently, the tribes of Banu Nadīr and Banu Qaynuqā’ were expelled, and their property was seized and expropriated to the Muslims. After the Battle of the Trench (627) all of the males from Banu Qurayza, from the age of fertility to the elderly were slaughtered, their heads cut off by a line, while the women and children were coerced to convert to Islam.
Now, the Qur’anic depiction of the Jews is highlighted in Sûrat al-Baqarah, 2:61 and Sûrat al-‘Imrān, 3:112. They are considered “cursed” and “enemies of Allah”, deserving of death. This is also expressed in the prayer Muslims say at least 17 times a day: Allah’s rage is upon them, therefore, he turned them into apes and pigs. Their worst sin was that they distorted the texts and intentionally concealed the appearance of Muhammad and his prophesies. They are the devil’s minions, and if they do not accept the true faith of Islam they will burn in the Hellfire. They are also “liars”, “accursed”, “stone-hearted”, “despicable traitors”, and the worst of all animals. They are the worst enemies of Islam, in fact the worst of Allah’s creation, and rats are in fact “mutated Jews.” It is the duty of the Muslims to persecute and kill the Jews:
The Day of Judgment will not come, until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. And when the Jews will hide behind a tree or a rock, the tree and the rock will call out: “Oh Muslims, oh, servants of Allah! A Jew is hiding behind me; come and kill him.”
Only Islam remains the religion of Abraham that Allah forwarded to Muhammad for the sake of all humanity. The Jews have become infidels, and they lost Allah’s covenant (Mīthāq). Their guilt: they associate others with Allah, like the idolaters.
2) Islam and the case of Jerusalem
According to the Palestinian narrative, the sanctity of Jerusalem stems from the following Islamic sources: a) Jerusalem is the first Qiblah, the prayer direction of the Muslims. b) Jerusalem is the third Ḥaram, Islamic holy place, after Mecca and Medina. c) Muhammed had supposedly made a miraculous a night trip to the Temple Mount, built a mosque there, and returned to Mecca that very night. According to this, Muhammed had thus established Jerusalem’s status and centrality in the Islamic faith and religion.
a) “Jerusalem is the first Qiblah” – what are the facts? When Muhammad made the Hijrah to Medina, he instructed his followers to pray like the Jews, towards al-Shām. It is important to note that even Bukhari, from the 9th century perspective claims that the direction of prayer was towards “Shām,” without any mentioning of Jerusalem. The Qur’an never mentions Jerusalem by name. The pagan Arabs had absolutely no affiliations or regard for Jerusalem and had no idea as to what it. Moreover, direction of prayer is Jewish tradition, unknown to the Arabs.
The refusal of the Jews, after 16-7 months of his presence in the Medina, to follow Muhammad’s new ‘theology’ turned him into their implacable and spiteful enemy to the extent that he made a 180 degree reversal and ordered to change the direction of prayer to the Ka’ba, the pagan shrine of Mecca.
Allah’s Apostle prayed facing Bayt al-Maqdis [the Jewish Temple Mount] for sixteen or seventeen months but he loved to face the Ka’ba. So Allah revealed: Verily, We have seen the turning of your face to the heaven (2:144). So, the Prophet faced the Ka’ba and the fools amongst the people namely ‘the Jews’ said, what has turned them from their Qiblah which they formerly observed? [Allah revealed]: Say: To Allah belongs the East and the West. He guides whom he will to a straight path (2:142)… Some men had died before the Qiblah was changed towards the Ka’ba. So Allah revealed [2:143].
The Prophet prayed facing Bayt al-Maqdis for sixteen or seventeen months but he wished that his Qiblah would be the Ka’ba. So Allah revealed 2:144 and he offered ‘Asr prayers and some people prayed with him. A man went out and passed by some people offering prayer in another mosque, and they were in the state of bowing. He said, I, by Allah, testify that I have prayed with the Prophet facing Mecca. Hearing that, they turned their faces to the Ka’ba while they were still bowing.
Ibn Sa’d agrees. In Mecca, Muhammad used to pray towards the Jewish Bayt al-Maqdis, with the Ka’ba in front of him. After his Hijrah he continued praying towards Bayt al-Maqdis for sixteen months and then he was instructed to turn towards the Ka’ba. By that, Jerusalem has lost its sacred status, and the Ka’ba remains the only Qiblah, and is identified as the ultimate Qiblah of Allah’s prophets.
Jerusalem was the prayer direction for only “16 or 17 months,” not because of religious reasons but because Muhammad wished to obtain the favor and support of the Jews when he arrived in Medina. The reason he fled in September 622 to Medina, was exactly because the Jewish tribes reside there. He thought that his admiration to the Jews and in fact that he wished to bring the Arabs a “Jewish book,” would help him to integrate in Medina more easily.
However, after the Jews objected to his claim to represent the Jewish religion and of being the last Jewish prophet and even mocked him as false prophet, and after Muhammad became a victorious war hero the instruction was amended from then on, Muslims must not follow the Jewish traditions, and were to pray toward Mecca. When Muslims pray, they face Mecca; in Jerusalem Muslims pray with their backs to the city toward Mecca. Even at burial, the Muslim dead face is turned toward Mecca.
Muhammad’s stance towards the Jews shifted totally to a deep hatred and animosity. Following this decision, Muslims in fact have turned their backs towards Jerusalem while praying. The Ka’ba in Mecca was fortified as a religious center and pilgrimage to Mecca has become an Islamic ritual. It is essential to note: it is not as many says, once the prayer direction was changed to Mecca the importance of Jerusalem was utterly cancelled. This is not the situation. Jerusalem was not important at all. Muhammad never mentioned its name. His former order to his followers was the direction of prayer of the Jews alone, and it was towards “Shām,” Syria.
In their astronomical and geographical analysis, the Muslim group under the title of Muslim awareness, clearly prove that the Qiblah after Muhammad’s death was never to Jerusalem. In their summary, “It was shown conclusively that the early mosques do not point at northern Arabia or even close vicinity of Jerusalem.”
b) Jerusalem is “the third Ḥaram” – what are the facts?
The issue of the “Ḥaram” concerning Jerusalem developed only during the Umayyad Period (750-661), and lasted at most 60 years only. Muhammad Ibn al-Zubayr, Abu Bakr grandson, revolted against the Umayyad ruler Yazid I, and refused to give him swear of allegiance (Bay’ah). After the Battle of Karbala in October 680, he established his power in Arabia, Iraq, and part of Egypt, thus denying the Umayyad Dynasty, its political center was in Damascus, to approach to Hijaz and to practice the Ḥājj, the pilgrimage in Mecca.
Jerusalem, which bordered the desert and being the faraway place from Mecca under Umayyad’s control, was chosen to replace Mecca as a place of worship and pilgrimage. For that, they had to build a mosque, the first in Jerusalem ever. The first structure, Qubbat as-Sakhrah (The Dome of the Rock), was built between the years 688 and 691, almost 60 years after the death of Muhammad (June 632). The second structure, the al-Aqşa, was built in 715, almost 83 years after Muhammad’s death.
From this perspective we can infer that the choice of Jerusalem was based on a political reality and not religious importance. It was only chosen to replace Mecca as a pilgrimage site for the Umayyad after Mecca became unavailable. Indeed, the fall of the Umayyad had also signified the end of the Jerusalem story as a place of Ḥājj. According to the testimony of one of Muhammad’s women, Jerusalem became Ḥaram only at the time when Muhammad admired the Jews and wish to get their political support and their religious legitimacy.
Therefore, Jerusalem being an Islamic Ḥaram is a religious myth that lasted for less of 100 years all in all out of 1300 Islamic history for political reasons. Contemporary Muslims and Palestinians have brought it to the forth for mere political reasons without any substantial religious corroborations.
c) Did Muhammad make a miraculous night visit to the Jewish Temple Mount?
The only reference in the Qur’an employed by Muslims, by means of their egregiously distorted political interpretations in our time, in respect to the sanctity of Jerusalem for Islam, is the first verse in Sūrah 17, Banī Isrā’īl:
“Glory to Him who journeyed his servant by night, from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque” (Subĥāna al-Ladhī Asra’ bi-‘Abdīhī Laylan Mina al-Masjidi al-Ḥarāmi Ilal-Masjidi al-’Aqşā”).
The verse called Isrā’ is connected to the Mi’rāj, which describe how Muhammad had a vision at night in which he hovers with angel Gabriel through the seven worlds while riding on his miraculous horse al-Buraq, and returns to Mecca the same night. On the way to the seven worlds he meets the prophets: Adam, St. John and Jesus, Joseph, Idris, Aaron, Moses and Abraham.
Flying horses and dragons and gods able to fly were common myths centuries before Muhammad. These myths were often grafted onto new religions. The whole story may have been influenced by the story of the prophet Elijah who flew into heaven in a burning chariot pulled by horses. Prophet Ezekiel experiences in Babylon a vision in which he was taken by a lock of his hair and a wind lifted him up between the earth and the heaven” to one of the gates of the Jerusalem Temple. In the following verse it is stated that Ezekiel saw there the glory of the God of Israel. The story of Muhammad has also its source in the story of the ladder of Jacob in the Bible.
The issue from Muhammad’s perspective was that his two most admired Jewish ancestors were Abraham and Moses, and both saw God face to face. God appeared to Abraham and promised him to inherit the Land of Israel. Moses ascended Mount Sinai and received from God the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. So, if his prophets saw God, he is more entitled to see Allah by himself.
The only source from which contemporary Muslims derive the belief in the sanctity of Jerusalem in Islam rests on their interpretation of this event of the so-called night journey on the white horse. The assertion that the Mosque that stands today on the north edge of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the same mosque called al-Aqşā in the Qur’an, that assertion is completely modern that lacks any historical foundation. Muhammad intended to reach heaven in order to behold Allah. Muhammad, in his opinion, was the seal of all prophets, believed that he was in a better situation to see Allah, because he was more important than his predecessors.
However, it is worthwhile to recall that the Jews never claimed that Moses functioned in, or ever visited, Jerusalem. Nor did Abraham, who lived a large part of his life and died in Hebron, ever visit Jerusalem. Most probably it was a very small Jebusite village during Abraham’s day. Moreover, there are no Jewish sources or other religious sources, or political and archaeological from antiquity that can be cited as a source of the story by Muhammad. Nor can it be said that there was some misunderstanding or inaccurate interpretation on Muhammad’s part. It is a pure political propagation promoted by contemporary Muslims for political ends.
Indeed, the Islamic tradition is not based on factual evidence and is not corroborated by religious or archaeological proofs. The claim that Muhammad’s miraculous visit had occurred on the Temple Mount is a new invention, spread by contemporary Muslim and Palestinian propagators. However, the most important and greatest reliable Islamic sages and classical exegetes and commentators discussed the subject of the meaning and place of al-Aqşā mosque. They raised various theories regarding its location, none is that al-Aqşā identified by the Jewish Temple Mount.
1) There is the approach of Ibn Abdallah Muhammad al-Wāqidi (748-822), a historian and biographer of Muhammad, who founded his suggestion on Islamic chain of testimony of authentic witnesses (called Isnād) who identify the al-Aqşā mosque as a prayer area established by Muhammad twenty kilometers north-east of Mecca on the way to Medina. In the Qur’an, the term Aqşa is a description of a location on earth. The verses contain a list of several holy places in the vicinity of Mecca, one of them being al-Mash‘ar al-Aqşa. al-Wāqidi also brings other sages who claim that al-Aqşā was a prayer area built by Muhammad 16 kilometers north-east from Mecca, in a place called Ji’rānah.
2) There is the approach proposed by Muhammad Ibn-Sa’ad (784-845), a biographer of Muhammad, with the consent of Abū Abdallah Muhammad al-Bukhārī (810-870), the most authentic author of the Ḥadīth; and Aḥmad ibn Shu’ayb al-Nasā’ī (829–915), a noted collector of Ḥadīth, who contend that the incident related to al-Aqşā in Surat Banī Isrā’īl, 17:1 occurred 18 months before the Hijrah (migration of Muhammad in September 622) at a place called Maqām Ibrāhīm, near the well of Zamzam – the well in the city of Mecca, adjacent to the Masjid al-Haram and the Ka’ba.
In Mecca, there was a well-known sacred area near the Ka‘ba, namely al-Ḥijr. It was a place of visions experienced during sleep. The best-known example is the dream of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, Muhammad’s grandfather, in which he was entrusted with the task of digging the well of Zamzam. Later sources contain more stories of visions experienced during sleep in al-Ḥijr.
Uri Rubin believes that this year, 619, was the year in which Muhammad’s wife, Khadīja, and his uncle ‘Abbās died, and these events deeply influenced Muhammad and perhaps contributed to this event. Alfred Guillaume has argued convincingly that in its original context the verse refers to a point on the outskirts of the ancient sacred enclave around Mecca.
3) Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (838-923), a Persian historian and biographer of Muhammad, and one of the first commentators on the Qur’an, has collated all of the Islamic sources. He states that Muhammad’s objective was spiritual: to reach the house of Allah in the upper firmament and to see Allah face to face. If Muhammad was to be the last and the most important of all the prophets, and Abraham and Moses had seen God face to face, Muhammad surely would have had to see Allah.
The important thing is that according to Tabari, Muhammad rode to heaven on the heavenly white horse, but did not dismount his horse or pray at any mosque. That was not his mission. He wished to see Allah. Therefore, he pursued his journey to heaven to see Allah and from there he returned directly to Mecca at the same night. Had Muhammad prayed in any al-Aqşā mosque, his followers would have been constrained to pray there, but that was not the case. From this perspective, Muhammad’s ascension (Mi’rāj) was failed, as there was no mentioning he met Allah.
Tabari also states the significance of al-Aqşā as representing not Jerusalem but the edge of the world, the farthermost point in the world. It may refer to “the highest heaven,” reflecting Muhammad’s aspiration to encompass the entire world. Ibn Hishām, states that Muhammad had other night visions which were not inserted to the Qur’an. The Meccans mocked at Muhammad of his night visions, in which he was deeply insulted. According to Ibn Ḥanbal, Muhammad did not erect any Mosque, and these are Jewish traditions called Isrā’īlīyāt.
Muslim exegetes refute this by claiming there is nothing in the Qur’an to indicate that al-Aqşā verse stands for a site in heaven. Rather, it seems to mean that the site is situated at the farthest end of the terrestrial course of the night journey. This verb occurs five more times in the Qur’an, all of which in passages describing biblical history. Three of them describe the nocturnal exodus of Moses with the Children of Israel from Egypt, and in the other two places the verb describes the nocturne flight of Lot with his family from his city. Thus accordingly, the Qur’anic al-Masjid al-Aqşā was identified as Medina.
4) A good summing up of the issue, is Muhammad Ibn-Ishāq (704-761), Muhammad’s most important biographer. He stated there are additional testimonies of Muhammad’s nocturnal journeys that were carried out while he was sleeping and were not included in the Qur’an. These journeys did not include visits to other places (such as Damascus, for example) apart from Mecca. As for this specific journey, he cites the testimony given by ‘Aisha, Muhammad’s beloved wife, who related to the issue of Isrā’ and Mi’rāj by declaring that Muhammad’s body was lying beside her throughout that entire night, but his spirit was taken by Allah and hovered in the heavens.
5) There is also a contemporary explanation introduced by the Egyptian researcher Ahmad Muhammad ‘Arafa (2003) through the medium of the Egyptian Ministry of Cultural Publications. He suggests that Muhammad’s night journey related to 17:1 refers to the Hijrah of the prophet from Mecca to Medina. The journey was not to Jerusalem but to Medina. The word Isrā’ in Arabic that appears in the Qur’an means “to move secretly from a dangerous location to a safe place.” In that way the prophet obeyed the instructions of Allah to the effect that Mecca was dangerous, his enemies were plotting to kill him, and he was to escape secretly at night to Medina. Muhammad’s praise for Allah in the Sūrah, demonstrates the importance of the event for Muhammad’s life and career.
Saudi Arabia’s Entertainment Plans: Soft Power at Work?
Saudi Arabia recently broke ground on its ambitious “entertainment city” known as Qiddiya, near Riyadh. The splashy launch, attended by 300 dignitaries from around the world, highlights a frequently overlooked aspect of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan: the entertainment industry as a growing economic sector. As the kingdom diversifies its economy away from reliance on petro fuels, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been keen to showcase the increasing openness of his country, promoting festivals, concerts and sports events and ending the country’s 35-year ban on cinemas.
These projects are partially intended to bolster the economy and attract FDI—but not only. Saudi Arabia is also playing catch-up with other regional actors, such as Qatar and the UAE, in terms of cultural output and cultural participation. With Qiddiya and the other cultural projects in the works, Saudi is now carving out a road for itself to become a regional culture hub.
Thefirst phase of Qiddiya, which includes high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari area, is expected to be completed in 2022. Saudi officials hope the park will draw in foreign investment and attract 17 million visitors by 2030; the final phase of the project is expected to be completed in 2035, by which point the entertainment resort will be the largest in the world, dwarfing Florida’s Walt Disney World.
Beyond these financial incentives, however, the Qiddiya project is Saudi Arabia’s answer to events like the Dubai Expo 2020 or the Qatar World Cup 2022 and suggests that the kingdom is trying to position itself as the next big destination for lucrative events – which also add to the idea that entertainment, culture, and innovation are key to Saudi Arabia’s economic vision and success.
Vision 2030’s emphasis on entertainment raises a key question: is Riyadh attempting to increase its soft power across the region in a constructive and proactive way? The answer to that question is yes.
In the immediate future, Qatar and the UAE will remain the region’s foremost entertainment and cultural hubs. From Qatar’s Islamic Museum of Art, which famous architect I.M. Pei came out of retirement to design, to Dubai’s theme parks, including a $1 billion behemoth which is the world’s largest indoor theme park, these two Gulf states are demonstrating their prowess to develop an arts and culture scene. In Doha, Qatar is exemplifying its unique outlook towards world affairs by emphasizing humanitarianism and fourteen centuries of history. Qatar is also hosting the World Cup in 2022, intended to bring Doha center-stage in the sports world. Abu Dhabi’s Louvre has been referred to as “one of the world’s most ambitious cultural projects”, while advertisements throughout the emirate insist that the museum will cause its visitors to “see humanity in a new light”.
Despite these Gulf states’ head start on developing vibrant entertainment sectors, there is still room for Saudi Arabia to offer something new. For one thing, some of its neighbors are dealing with trouble in paradise: Qatar’s once-strong economy is under increasing strain as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt boycott it; meanwhile, the company which owns many of Dubai’s largest theme parks lost $302 million in 2017.
The Qiddiya project also represents a particular vision that’s distinct from neighboring countries’ cultural programs. Qiddiya is designed to mix desert heritage and the ethos of the past with the technological advances of the future. The intended result is to be a fusion between aspirations and building on those achievements from desert to post-modernity, on a colossal scale.
The project is crafted both to satisfy domestic demand—it includes plans to build 11,000 homes to serve as vacation homes for Riyadh residents— and to compete directly against Saudi Arabia’s neighbors in the Gulf. With two-thirds of the Saudi population under the age of 35, building a thriving entertainment sector is particularly important.
The kingdom is hoping to use its idea of mixing the past with the future in Qiddiya to significantly alter the flow of tourist revenues in the Gulf. The UAE, Qatar and Bahrain rely on tourists from the Gulf and beyond for essential cash inflows—including the $30 billion a year Saudis spend on tourism abroad every year. By providing new entertainment options in-country for Saudi Arabia’s citizens and residents, who pay more than any other country’s citizens while on vacation, Riyadh aims to redirect some of this overseas tourism spending back into the kingdom. It’s set up concrete goals to this effect, hoping to increase domestic spending on culture and entertainment from about three percent of household income to six percent. Saudi Arabia also likely hopes that Qiddiya will attract significant international tourism as well—one senior official tied the park’s creation to the goal of making Riyadh one of the top 100 cities in the world to live.
Of course, it is likely to be a long wait before the kingdom itself starts producing the cultural output that will make it a real entertainment hub; after all, Saudi public schools still do not teach music, dance and theater, and the kingdom lacks music and film academies. But by taking the first steps of embracing the vast economic potential of the entertainment sector, the kingdom may well be on its way there.
Israel, Ukraine, and U.S. Crack Down Against Press
On Wednesday, May 16th, Russian Television reported recent crackdowns against the press, on the part of both Ukraine’s Government and Israel’s Government. One headline story, “9 journalists injured by Israeli gunfire in Gaza ‘massacre’, total now over 20”, reported that Israel had shot dead two journalists:
“Yaser Murtaja, 31, a cameraman for Palestinian Ain Media agency, died on April 7 after he was shot by Israeli forces the previous day while covering a protest south of the Gaza Strip. He wore a blue protective vest marked ‘PRESS’.”
“Ahmad Abu Hussein, 24, was shot by Israeli forces during a protest in the Gaza strip on April 13. He died from his injuries on April 25. He was also wearing a protective vest marked ‘PRESS’ at the time.”
The other 18 instances were only injuries, not murders, but Israel has now made clear that any journalist who reports from the Palestinian side is fair game for Israel’s army snipers — that when Palestinians demonstrate against their being blockaded into the vast Gaza prison, and journalists then report from amongst the demonstrators instead of from the side of the snipers, those journalists are fair game by the snipers, along with those demonstrators.
Some of the surviving 18 journalists are still in critical condition and could die from Israel’s bullets, so the deaths to journalists might be higher than just those two.
Later in the day, RT bannered “Fist-size gunshot wounds, pulverized bones, inadmissible use of force by Israel in Gaza – HRW to RT” and presented a damning interview with the Israel & Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch.
The other crackdown has been by Ukraine. After the U.S. Obama Administration perpetrated a very bloody coup in Ukraine during February of 2014, that country has plunged by every numerical measure, and has carried out raids against newsmedia that have reported unfavorably on the installed regime. The latest such incident was reported on May 16th by Russian Television, under the headline, “US endorses Kiev’s raid on Russian news agency amid international condemnation”. An official of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) stated there: “I reiterate my call on the authorities to refrain from imposing unnecessary limitations on the work of foreign journalists, which affects the free flow of information and freedom of the media.” An official of the CPJ (Committee to Protect journalists) stated: “We call on Ukrainian authorities to disclose the charges and evidence they have against Vyshinsky or release him without delay. … We also call on Ukrainian authorities to stop harassing and obstructing Russian media operating in Ukraine. The criminalization of alternative news and views has no place in a democratic Ukraine.” However, as reported by RT, Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General called the editorial policy of the anti-regime RIA Ukraine “anti-Ukrainian” in nature, amounting to “state treason.” So, the prosecutor is threatening to categorize and prosecute critical press under Ukraine’s treason law.
The U.S. regime is not condemning either of its client-regimes for their crackdowns. (It cites Ukraine’s supposed victimhood from “Russian propaganda” as having caused Ukraine’s action, and justifies Israel’s gunning-down of demonstrators and of journalists as having beeen necessary for Israel’s self-defense against terrorism.) In neither instance is the U.S. dictatorship saying that this is unacceptable behavior for a government that receives large U.S. taxpayers funds. Of course, in the U.S., the mainstream press aren’t allowed to report that either Israel or today’s Ukraine is a dictatorship, so they don’t report this, though Israel clearly is an apartheid racist-fascist (or ideologically nazi, but in their case not against Jews) regime, and Ukraine is clearly also a racist-fascist, or nazi, regime, which engages in ethnic cleansing to get rid of voters for the previous — the pre-coup — Ukrainian government. People who are selected individually by the installed regime, get driven to a big ditch, shot, with the corpses piling up there, and then the whole thing gets covered over. This is America’s client-‘democracy’ in Ukraine, not its client-‘democracy’ in Israel.
May 16th also was the day when the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted 10 to 5 to approve as the next CIA Director, Gina Haspel, the person who had headed torture at the CIA’s black site in Thailand where Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times and blinded in one eye in order to get him to say that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks; and, since then, Zubaydah, who has never been in court, has been held incommunicado at Guantanamo, so that he can’t testify in court or communicate with the press in any way. “The U.S. Government has never charged Zubaydah with any crime.” And the person who had ordered and overseen his torture will soon head the agency for which she worked, the CIA.
Whether the U.S. regime will soon start similarly to treat its own critical press as “traitors” isn’t clear, except that ever since at least the Obama Administration, and continuing now under Trump, the U.S. Government has made clear that it wants to seize and prosecute both Edward Snowden and Julian Assange for their journalistic whistleblowing, violations of “state secrets,” those being anything that the regime wants to hide from the public — including things that are simply extremely embarrassing for the existing rulers. Therefore, the journalistic-lockdown step, from either Israel, or Ukraine, to U.S., would be small, for the United States itself to take, if it hasn’t yet already been taken in perhaps secret ways. But at least, the Senate Intelligence Committee is strongly supportive of what the U.S. Government has been doing, and wants more of it to be done.
JCPOA in Post-US Exit: Consequences and Repercussions
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal signed by the P 5+1 in 2015 was widely hailed as a landmark achievement made possible by sincere dialogue and diplomacy. Indeed, the agreement is to a greater extent an achievement of the nuclear non-proliferation regime that helped checked the increasingly disturbing power symmetry in the Middle East which in return has managed to contain the transformation of low intensity conflicts into all out wars. A relative stability is the hallmark which resulted from JCPOA in the Middle East which is extremely volatile region of the world. A vital question is: how these achievements are going to be affected by the US withdrawal from it?
The US withdrawal from JCPOA will adversely affect the aforementioned three areas of its accumulative achievement with variant degree. First, it has negative consequences for the norm that negotiated settlements in international arenas has the potential and lasting credibility to minimize violence or other coercive means led by war. The momentum and confidence the diplomatic means have garnered in post- JCPOA scenario will come to the crushing halt. The sealed and mutually agreed upon agreements in international arena especially in which the US is the potential party, will come under extreme scrutiny leading to an environment of gross trust deficit. Therefore, on the first instance this withdrawal has negative lasting consequences for the diplomatic norms in itself.
Secondly, US exist from the deal does not augur well for the nascent nuclear non-proliferation regime. This regime has a dearth of good precedents like the JCPOA which has deterred a nation from acquiring and operationalizing nuclear weapons as is the case with Iran. Keeping in view this backdrop of this institution, JCPOA has been its glaring example wherein it has managed to successfully convince a nation to not pursue the path which leads towards the nuclear weapons. Therefore, the US withdrawal has shaken the confidence of the non-proliferation regime to its core. It has engendered a split among the leading nations who were acting as sort of de facto executive to enforce the agreements on the nuclear ambitious states. Therefore, this US withdrawal has undoubtedly far reaching repercussions for the non-proliferation as an institution. This development may affect the nature and its future development as an institutional mechanism to deter the recalcitrant states to change their course regarding the nuclear weapons.
Thirdly, in relation to the above mentioned negative consequences on diplomacy and nuclear non-proliferation regime, the US withdrawal from the deal has far serious security ramifications for the volatile and conflict ridden Middle East. It has multiplied the prospects of all-out war between Iran and its regional rivals on one hand and Iran and Israel on the other hand. Just tonight the announcement of Trump exiting JCPOA and the Israeli aggression on Syrian military bases substantiates the assertion that there exists a correlation between this US withdrawal and the Zionist regime`s regional hegemonic designs. It has extremely positive message for the Saudi Arabia. The impulsive and overambitious Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) went on extended tours in the US and Europe to convince Western leadership that Iran should be contained. Therefore, element of stability in the region – contained low intensity conflicts – got serious motivation to turn into all-out-wars with non-exclusion of nuclear options at the disposal of Zionist regime in the Middle East. The Middle Eastern region with this exit of the US is going to observe substantial turmoil in the months to come which will have some extra regional ramifications.
As a conclusion it could be argued that the US exit has some far reaching repercussions for the diplomatic norms, non-proliferation regime and above all for the volatile Middle Eastern region. All these ramifications resulted from the US withdrawal will also in return have some serious consequences internally and externally. The status of the US as the sole super power of the world will be diminished with this decision. It will create an unbridgeable gap in the West. Henceforth, the EU foreign will be more autonomous, integrated and autonomous in her conduct.
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