Saudi Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, a popular but controversial religious scholar who has been mostly in solitary confinement since 2017, appeared in court this week only to hear that his case had been again adjourned for four months.
Charged with more than 30 counts of terrorism, a term that is broadly defined in Saudi Arabia to include adherence to atheism and peaceful dissent, prosecutors are demanding the death sentence.
It was not immediately clear why the trial was postponed but some analysts suggest the government may have wanted to avoid a high-profile court case at a moment in which Saudi Arabia is manoeuvring to prevent a deterioration of relations with a Biden administration critical of the kingdom’s human rights record.
The State Department’s annual human rights report has identified Mr. Al-Awdah in recent years as one of “at least 120 persons (who) remained in detention for activism, criticism of government leaders, impugning Islam or religious leaders, or ‘offensive’ internet postings.”
Mr. Al-Awdah’s crimes reportedly include sedition, stirring public discord, inciting people against the ruler, supporting imprisoned dissidents, and being an affiliate of Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization in 2014.
Mr. Al-Awdah was detained after he called in a tweet to his millions of followers for reconciliation with Qatar three months after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed an economic and diplomatic boycott on the Gulf state.
The four countries lifted their boycott in January with no indication that their demands for far-reaching changes in Qatari foreign and media policy had been met.
A 64-year-old militant Islamist cleric who shed his support for jihadists after his release from prison in 1999, Mr. Al-Awdah denounced Osama bin Laden in the 2000s and became a leading figure in the government’s deradicalization program.
Like other scholars, writers and journalists, several of which were sentenced last year to lengthy terms in prison, he became a voice for political and social reform in the wake of the 2011 popular Arab revolts, calling for a humanist interpretation of Islam and reform of Islamic law through recontextualization. He argued that Saudi Arabia should be a democracy rather than a theocracy, embrace pluralism, respect minority rights, and allow for the emergence of an independent civil society.
United Nations human rights experts described Mr. Al-Awdah, who has not sought to hide his militant past, as an “influential religious figure who has urged greater respect for human rights within Sharia.”
Saudi scholar Yasmine Farouk argues that Mr. Al-Awdah’s past is in fact one of his assets. “If the Saudi regime were really seeking to reform Wahhabi Salafism, Awdah would provide it with a model to do so, as well as being an indispensable actor in the process. That’s because he is a man who doesn’t deny his past,” Ms. Farouk said.
Casting doubt on the utility of Mr. Al-Awdah’s past and the sincerity of his reformist views is the fact that he has at times harked back to the anti-Semitic views he expressed in his earlier years.
Nonetheless, his trial as well as last year’s sentencing of men like Hijazi researcher and writer Abdullah al-Maliki casts a shadow over Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s assertion that he is guiding Saudi Arabia towards a vague, undefined moderate form of Islam.
Prince Mohammed’s projection of a moderate Saudi Islam is designed to bolster the kingdom’s quest for leadership of the Muslim world and increase its ability to attract foreign direct investment.
The crown prince and many in the Saudi elite that have not been targeted by Prince Mohammed in his crackdown on potential opponents see Islam as a tool to solidify the ruling family’s grip on power. Members of the family as well as ultra-conservative religious figures have long advocated an interpretation of Islam that demands absolute, unquestioned obedience of the ruler.
Citing Islamic jurisprudence, Prince Turki al-Faisal insisted in an oped as far back as 2002 that the kingdom’s rulers had the sole right to demand full allegiance and obedience. The prince was rejecting an assertion by a prominent religious scholar that power was shared in the kingdom.
Scholars merely “advise and guide” rulers, Prince Turki, a former intelligence chief and ambassador to Britain and the United States, who now heads the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, said.
The incarceration and sentencing of reformers contrast starkly with notions of a humanitarian Islam that embraces the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights advocated by Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’ largest Muslim civil society movement.
The contrast is spotlighted, despite significant progress in removing hate speech and supremacist concepts from Saudi schoolbooks, in differences between Nahdlatul Ulama’s first steps towards reforming Islamic jurisprudence and Saudi moves that seem primarily utilitarian, rhetorical and symbolic.
Saudi education minister Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Sheikh’s announcement this week that the kingdom was establishing “intellectual awareness units” in universities “to promote the values of citizenship, moderation, and countering ideas of extremism and decadence” appears primarily designed to enhance a façade of moderation void of concepts of diversity of opinion, pluralism, and freedom of expression.
Nahdlatul Ulama’s calls for reform of Islam, moreover, have gained traction in the corridors of power in world capitals as well as influential non-Muslim religious communities while Saudia Arabia struggles to polish its image tarnished by the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and repression of critical voices.
The Biden administration’s criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and conduct of the six-year-long war in Yemen has complicated the kingdom’s efforts to improve its image, particularly in the West.
Saudi Arabia’s image problems have cast a shadow over the kingdom’s quest for religious soft power as well as foreign direct investment needed to successfully implement Prince Mohammed’s economic diversification plan.
The politics of legal cases against critics and dissidents raises questions not only about the kingdom’s human rights record but also issues important to many potential foreign investors such as the independence of the judiciary, transparency, accountability, and the rule of law.
The recent release of Loujain al-Hathloul, while upholding her conviction as well as the freeing of several other detainees, suggested that the government would go only so far in addressing its reputational issues and attempting to get off on the right foot with the Biden administration.
Arab News, a widely read English-language Saudi newspaper, last month updated a 2019 profile of Mr. Al-Awdah that described him as a “chameleon cleric” and one of several “preachers of hate.”
Long managed by sons of King Salman and close associates of Prince Mohammed, Arab News’ mother company, Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG) lists two National Commercial Bank investment funds as owning 58 per cent of its shares. Government institutions own more than 50 per cent of the bank’s stock.
The Arab News profile suggested that Mr. Al-Awdah had not altered his pre-1999 ultra-conservative and militant views despite projecting himself as a reformer and had not removed from his website religious edicts advocating those opinions.
Said Ms. Farouk, the Saudi Arabia scholar: “Awdah actually began a process to deradicalize Saudi Salafism and reform it in an inclusive, bottom-up way, without relying on state coercion. The credibility he earned in doing so has given him the latitude to legitimately oppose violent resistance to any meaningful process of reform of Islam inside the kingdom and elsewhere.”
Process to draft Syria constitution begins this week
The process of drafting a new constitution for Syria will begin this week, the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, said on Sunday at a press conference in Geneva.
Mr. Pedersen was speaking following a meeting with the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, who have agreed to start the process for constitutional reform.
The members of its so-called “small body”, tasked with preparing and drafting the Constitution, are in the Swiss city for their sixth round of talks in two years, which begin on Monday.
Their last meeting, held in January, ended without progress, and the UN envoy has been negotiating between the parties on a way forward.
“The two Co-Chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists.
“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.”
The UN continues to support efforts towards a Syrian-owned and led political solution to end more than a decade of war that has killed upwards of 350,000 people and left 13 million in need of humanitarian aid.
An important contribution
The Syrian Constitutional Committee was formed in 2019, comprising 150 men and women, with the Government, the opposition and civil society each nominating 50 people.
This larger group established the 45-member small body, which consists of 15 representatives from each of the three sectors.
For the first time ever, committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, and Hadi al-Bahra, from the opposition side, met together with Mr. Pedersen on Sunday morning.
He described it as “a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us.”
Mr. Pedersen told journalists that while the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process, “the committee in itself will not be able to solve the Syrian crisis, so we need to come together, with serious work, on the Constitutional Committee, but also address the other aspects of the Syrian crisis.”
North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?
In a series of shocking and unintelligible decisions, the Algerian Government closed its airspace to Moroccan military and civilian aircraft on September 22, 2021, banned French military planes from using its airspace on October 3rd, and decided not to renew the contract relative to the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which goes through Morocco and has been up and running since 1996–a contract that comes to end on October 31.
In the case of Morocco, Algeria advanced ‘provocations and hostile’ actions as a reason to shut airspace and end the pipeline contract, a claim that has yet to be substantiated with evidence. Whereas in the case of France, Algeria got angry regarding visa restrictions and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron on the Algerian military grip on power and whether the North African country was a nation prior to French colonization in 1830.
Algeria has had continued tensions with Morocco for decades, over border issues and over the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by Morocco as part of its historical territorial unity, but contested by Algeria which supports an alleged liberation movement that desperately fights for independence since the 1970s.
With France, the relation is even more complex and plagued with memories of colonial exactions and liberation and post-colonial traumas, passions and injuries. France and Algeria have therefore developed, over the post-independence decades, a love-hate attitude that quite often mars otherwise strong economic and social relations.
Algeria has often reacted to the two countries’ alleged ‘misbehavior’ by closing borders –as is the case with Morocco since 1994—or calling its ambassadors for consultations, or even cutting diplomatic relations, as just happened in August when it cut ties with its western neighbor.
But it is the first-time Algeria resorts to the weaponization of energy and airspace. “Weaponization” is a term used in geostrategy to mean the use of goods and commodities, that are mainly destined for civilian use and are beneficial for international trade and the welfare of nations, for geostrategic, political and even military gains. As such “weaponization” is contrary to the spirit of free trade, open borders, and solidarity among nations, values that are at the core of common international action and positive globalization.
Some observers advance continued domestic political and social unrest in Algeria, whereby thousands of Algerians have been taking to the streets for years to demand regime-change and profound political and economic reforms. Instead of positively responding to the demands of Algerians, the government is probably looking for desperate ways to divert attention and cerate foreign enemies as sources of domestic woes. Morocco and France qualify perfectly for the role of national scapegoats.
It may be true also that in the case of Morocco, Algeria is getting nervous at its seeing its Western neighbor become a main trade and investment partner in Africa, a role it can levy to develop diplomatic clout regarding the Western Sahara issue. Algeria has been looking for ways to curb Morocco’s growing influence in Africa for years. A pro-Algerian German expert, by the name of Isabelle Werenfels, a senior fellow in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, even recommended to the EU to put a halt to Morocco’s pace and economic clout so that Algeria could catch up. Weaponization may be a desperate attempt to hurt the Moroccan economy and curb its dynamism, especially in Africa.
The impact of Algeria’s weaponization of energy and airspace on the Moroccan economy is minimal and on French military presence in Mali is close to insignificant; however, it shows how far a country that has failed to administer the right reforms and to transfer power to democratically elected civilians can go.
In a region, that is beleaguered by threats and challenges of terrorism, organized crime, youth bulge, illegal migration and climate change, you would expect countries like Algeria, with its geographic extension and oil wealth, to be a beacon of peace and cooperation. Weaponization in international relations is inacceptable as it reminds us of an age when bullying and blackmail between nations, was the norm. The people of the two countries, which share the same history, language and ethnic fabric, will need natural gas and unrestricted travel to prosper and grow and overcome adversity; using energy and airspace as weapons is at odds with the dreams of millions of young people in Algeria and Morocco that aspire for a brighter future in an otherwise gloomy economic landscape. Please don’t shatter those dreams!
Breaking The Line of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
The conflict between Israel-Palestine is a prolonged conflict and has become a major problem, especially in the Middle East region.
A series of ceasefires and peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine that occurred repeatedly did not really “normalize” the relationship between the two parties.
In order to end the conflict, a number of parties consider that the two-state solution is the best approach to create two independent and coexistent states. Although a number of other parties disagreed with the proposal, and instead proposed a one-state solution, combining Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip into one big state.
Throughout the period of stalemate reaching an ideal solution, the construction and expansion of settlements carried out illegally by Israel in the Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank and East Jerusalem, also continued without stopping and actually made the prospect of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis increasingly eroded, and this could jeopardize any solutions.
The attempted forced eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah district, which became one of the sources of the conflict in May 2021, for example, is an example of how Israel has designed a system to be able to change the demographics of its territory by continuing to annex or “occupy” extensively in the East Jerusalem area. This is also done in other areas, including the West Bank.
In fact, Israel’s “occupation” of the eastern part of Jerusalem which began at the end of the 1967 war, is an act that has never received international recognition.
This is also confirmed in a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council Numbers 242, 252, 267, 298, 476, 478, 672, 681, 692, 726, 799, 2334 and also United Nations General Assembly Resolutions Number 2253, 55/130, 60/104, 70/89, 71/96, A/72/L.11 and A/ES-10/L.22 and supported by the Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004 on Legal Consequences of The Construction of A Wall in The Occupied Palestine Territory which states that East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli “occupation”.
1 or 2 country solution
Back to the issue of the two-state solution or the one-state solution that the author mentioned earlier. The author considers that the one-state solution does not seem to be the right choice.
Facts on the ground show how Israel has implemented a policy of “apartheid” that is so harsh against Palestinians. so that the one-state solution will further legitimize the policy and make Israel more dominant. In addition, there is another consideration that cannot be ignored that Israel and Palestine are 2 parties with very different and conflicting political and cultural identities that are difficult to reconcile.
Meanwhile, the idea of a two-state solution is an idea that is also difficult to implement. Because the idea still seems too abstract, especially on one thing that is very fundamental and becomes the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict, namely the “division” of territory between Israel and Palestine.
This is also what makes it difficult for Israel-Palestine to be able to break the line of conflict between them and repeatedly put them back into the status quo which is not a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The status quo, is in fact a way for Israel to continue to “annex” more Palestinian territories by establishing widespread and systematic illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, more than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In fact, a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council have explicitly and explicitly called for Israel to end the expansion of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territory and require recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the region.
Thus, all efforts and actions of Israel both legislatively and administratively that can cause changes in the status and demographic composition in East Jerusalem and the West Bank must continue to be condemned. Because this is a violation of the provisions of international law.
To find a solution to the conflict, it is necessary to look back at the core of the conflict that the author has mentioned earlier, and the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to encourage Israel to immediately end the “occupation” that it began in 1967, and return the settlements to the pre-Islamic borders 1967 In accordance with UN Security Council resolution No. 242.
But the question is, who can stop the illegal Israeli settlements in the East Jerusalem and West Bank areas that violate the Palestinian territories?
In this condition, international political will is needed from countries in the world, to continue to urge Israel to comply with the provisions of international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and also the UN Security Council Resolutions.
At the same time, the international community must be able to encourage the United Nations, especially the United Nations Security Council, as the organ that has the main responsibility for maintaining and creating world peace and security based on Article 24 of the United Nations Charter to take constructive and effective steps in order to enforce all United Nations Resolutions, and dare to sanction violations committed by Israel, and also ensure that Palestinian rights are important to protect.
So, do not let this weak enforcement of international law become an external factor that also “perpetuates” the cycle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It will demonstrate that John Austin was correct when he stated that international law is only positive morality and not real law.
And in the end, the most fundamental thing is that the blockade, illegal development, violence, and violations of international law must end. Because the ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict is only a temporary solution to the conflict.
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