Witness – Searching for reforms in King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia

March 24, 2011
(Saudi King Abdullah address the nation from his office at the Royal Palace in Riyadh March 18, 2011. Saudi King Abdullah announced on Friday billions of dollars in handouts for his people and boosted his security apparatus in a renewed effort to shield the world's top oil exporter from unrest rocking the Arab world. REUTERS/Saudi Press Agency)

(Saudi King Abdullah address the nation from his office at the Royal Palace in Riyadh March 18, 2011/Saudi Press Agency)

Handouts dash Saudi king’s reformer reputation

By Reuters Staff
March 21, 2011
saudi king

(Saudi King Abdullah addresses the nation from his office at the Royal Palace in Riyadh March 18, 2011/Saudi Press Agency)

Watching Bahrain, Saudi Shi’ites demand reforms

February 22, 2011
saudi shi'ite

(Shi'ite Saudi Muslim worshippers during the Ashura festival in Qatif ,December 27, 2009/Zaki Ghawas)

Saudi Shi’ites mark Ashura festival in anxious mood

December 16, 2010

ashura (Photos above and below: Saudi Shi’ite Muslims mark Ashura in Qatif, December 16, 2010/Zaki Ghawas)

Like their Shi’ite brethren across the Middle East, Hussein and his Saudi friends marked the mourning day of Ashura on Thursday, their mood tinged with worry over their future in the strict Sunni Muslim kingdom. Hundreds of black-clad Shi’ites in the small Gulf town of Qatif, in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province, rose early to join once-forbidden processions to mark the slaying in 680 of Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein.

Saudi king, religious police, Islam and donkeys – via WikiLeaks

December 8, 2010

mutaween 1 (Photo: Religious police perform dusk prayers with Saudi youth outside a Riyadh cafe on June 27, 2010 during half-time of the Germany-England World Cup soccer match. The police ensured that people watching matches in cafes said their prayers during the tournament/Fahad Shadeed)

WikiLeaks has come up with an interesting insight into the way King Abdullah views his own kingdom’s religious police, the mutaween who enforce Islamic behaviour in public. A cable from the Riyadh embassy entitled IDEOLOGICAL AND OWNERSHIP TRENDS IN THE SAUDI MEDIA and dated 11 May 2009 mentions what appears to be a U.S. diplomat’s visit to a Saudi newspaper editor whose name is XXXed out. The Saudi says the king had visited the office and complained about how ignorant the religious police were about Islam and how they  treated people like donkeys:

Why did the U.N. proclaim World Interfaith Harmony Week?

October 22, 2010

unga 1 (Photo: United Nations General Assembly hall, 23 Nov 2006/Jérôme Blum)

The United Nations General Assembly passes a stack of resolutions every year and many of them go all but unnoticed.  One such document just approved in New York established a new World Interfaith Harmony Week. High-minded resolutions put most news junkies to sleep, so it’s probably no surprise this one got such scant media coverage (see here and here). But there’s more to this one than meets the glazed-over eye.

Saudi national day reflects monarchy’s growing clout against clerics

September 20, 2010

abdullah (Photo: King Abdullah on a visit to Jordan, July 30, 2010/Muhammad Hamed)

Saudi authorities are taking greater liberty in celebrating the modern monarchy’s anniversary, a sign of their growing clout against clerics who have criticized holidays outside of the Islamic calendar.

Saudi royal order says only appointed clerics can issue public fatwas

By Reuters Staff
August 13, 2010

saudi fatwasSaudi King Abdullah has ordered that public religious edicts, or public fatwas, be issued only by clerics he appoints, in the boldest measure the ageing monarch has taken to organise the religious field.

Sonorous black Saudi cleric rescinds objection to fatwa against singing

By Reuters Staff
July 29, 2010

saudi singerAn imam whose voice helped him become the first black Saudi to lead prayers at Mecca’s Grand Mosque said he was wrong to speak against a fatwa prohibiting singing, in the latest spat between reformist and conservative clerics in the kingdom.

Saudis say Muslim women exempted from wearing face veils in France

By Reuters Staff
July 27, 2010

saudi niqabTwo Saudi clerics have declared Muslim women are exempt from wearing full veils in France, which is planning to ban them, but added they should avoid visiting it as tourists.