Monday, March 7, 2011

Is Saudi Arabia Next?

March 6, 2011 by TMO 

With a wave of pro-democracy fervor sweeping the Middle East, could the region’s richest powerhouse, Saudi Arabia, be next to fall?
Or perhaps the question should be: Can oil money buy stability?

By Lauren Frayer 

Weeks ago, the answer seemed to be “yes.” While revolutions took hold in Tunisia and Egypt, the Persian Gulf’s richest and most entrenched kings and sultans seemed to be riding out the unrest around them unscathed. But over time, the movement has spread to surprising places such as Oman and Bahrain, where wealthy monarchs had until now been able to placate their populations by doling out oil money in place of democratic freedoms. Now protests are scheduled for March 11 and 20 in Saudi Arabia — a development that was unthinkable just weeks ago.

“All bets are off as far as any certainties in the entire region. While each and every country has an individual set of circumstances — demographics, economics and politics — each is being affected by this wave of revolution moving through the region,” James Denselow, a researcher in Middle East security at King’s College in London, told AOL News. “Each government is responding in its own way, and no one is immune. The Saudis have been least touched by events, but I think there’s every chance that things will happen.”
Essentially, the proverbial deck of dominoes has begun to fall, and it’s got everyone wondering who could be next. For Saudis, it’s the billion-dollar question — quite literally.
Saudi Arabia sits on what the U.S. Department of Energy estimates to be at least a fifth of the world’s known oil reserves. The kingdom is by far the world’s largest oil producer. Oil comprises 90 percent of Saudi exports and 75 percent of government revenue.
With that money, the kingdom has long managed to buy its subjects’ loyalty. Saudis have no voting rights and are prohibited from organizing into political parties. The king is essentially the whole government — its legislative, judicial and executive branches combined in one man. A council of ministers and a consultative assembly are underneath him, with nominal powers. The royal family dominates most of those posts.
Even the slightest hint of unrest in the kingdom is enough to make the world’s financial markets quiver. When the 86-year-old Saudi king suffered a slipped disk in his back last fall, oil spectators went wild. But the Saudi finance minister told reporters today that protests roiling the Arab world have had no impact on his kingdom.
“We haven’t seen any adverse impact on the Saudi economy,” Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said. That’s despite the fact that Saudi stocks slipped to nine-month lows this week.
King Abdullah was out of the country for three months, having surgery in New York and recuperating in Morocco. He returned home to the Saudi capital Riyadh last week and immediately took steps to placate would-be protesters. State employees got a 15 percent pay raise, and the king ordered $10.7 billion to be pumped into the country’s development fund, which provides interest-free loans to Saudis who want to build homes, get married or start small businesses. A few days later, he promised that any temporary government workers will have their contracts made permanent.
“Concessions by the royal family to the people are a symbol of them trying to pre-empt protests and get ahead of the curve,” Denselow said.
“Other governments, including [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak’s before he left, tried to do the same thing: appease the people by giving them carrots before having to use any sticks. The problem comes when these protests occur, and let’s face it, this is a country that’s not really used to handling democratic freedoms or protests particularly well.”
Al-Assaf said that what Denselow referred to as “carrots” — a massive package of economic incentives totaling $37 billion — would go into effect today.
But for the first time in the royal family’s nearly 80-year reign, it may not be enough. Over the weekend, more than 100 leading Saudi academics and activists posted a statement on the Internet calling for sweeping reforms, including swapping out Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy for a constitutional one.
“The current situation … is full of reasons for concern,” the statement said. “We are seeing … a receding of Saudi Arabia’s prominent regional role for which our nation was known and the … prevalence of corruption and nepotism, the exacerbation of factionalism and a widening in the gap between state and society.”
That language is hauntingly similar to complaints by protesters in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Oman. And it spells trouble for the Saudi king.
Like those countries, about two-thirds of Saudis are younger than 30, and many of them are unemployed. There’s an 18-year waiting list for government-subsidized housing — meaning many young people must delay marriage for decades, because having an apartment is a cultural prerequisite.
Those voiceless masses got some surprise sympathy from an unlikely corner last week: a Saudi prince, albeit one who holds no official government role. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, a grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founding king, wrote that “unless many Arab governments adopt radically different policies, their countries will very likely experience more political and civil unrest.”
“The facts are undeniable,” he wrote, citing the Arab world’s relative youth, high unemployment, and unmet needs for housing, health care and education. “The gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening.”
Young Saudis also share technology with their Arab brethren across the Middle East, watching pan-Arab satellite TV stations like Al-Jazeera and logging in hours on social media.
Facebook pages calling for Saudi protests later this month have received several thousand followers. But activists say they believe authorities are also tracking them online. Police stymied attempts to hold rallies in the Red Sea city of Jeddah last month, after learning of the protest plans on Facebook.
“They are watching closely what people are saying on Facebook and Twitter,” Saudi blogger Ahmed al-Omran told Reuters. “Obviously they are anxious as they are surrounded with unrest and want to make sure we don’t catch the bug.”
As Saudi dissidents become emboldened by the unrest in surrounding countries, Riyadh and Washington are both beginning to panic. If Saudi Arabia’s oil flow were disrupted, even for a short time, world energy prices could skyrocket, resulting in shortages and social unrest not just confined to the Middle East.
Washington wants to avoid that at all costs but also finds itself in a sticky situation. U.S. officials can’t say that Egyptians and Libyans deserve democracy but that Saudis don’t. They might work furiously behind the scenes to prop up King Abdullah’s regime, but they have to be mindful of what that looks like to the masses.
“The more they seem to be involved, the more likely these protests are to flourish, because Western meddling, as it’s seen, is one of the factors involved in this whole revolution,” Denselow said. “It’d be very hard-pressed for any Western government to come out on TV and say at one minute they’re supporting the rights of the Egyptian or Libyan people, but they can’t support the rights of the Saudi people. That would just be a complete disaster.
“There will be a public face, one saying, ‘We encourage reform in Saudi Arabia, we welcome the king’s decision to give out these subsidies,’” he said. “But privately, they’ll be concerned with shoring up their traditional interests in the country.”

Qadhafi likens his crackdown to India’s action in Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi has told Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his crackdown against his opponents in Libya were akin to India’s actions against Kashmiris, Times of India reported on Saturday

It said that last week, on the eve of the UN Security Council debate and vote against Libya on February 26, Col. Qadhafi, in a missive to Dr Singh, asked for India’s support for his actions as civil war broke out in Libya.

“The request for support came even as African and European countries, including Libya’s UN envoy who defected to the rebels, made an impassioned plea in the Security Council to refer Qadhafi to the International Criminal Court,” the paper said. India voted for the UNSC resolution, which was passed unanimously.

Col. Qadhafi has reportedly used warplanes to strafe his own people who are fighting to free Libya from the strongman’s four decades of control. India has largely desisted from using air power to combat the rebels in Kashmir although it has used planes and helicopters to fight them elsewhere. According to some estimates, over 6,000 people have died in the Libyan fighting, a fraction of the Kashmiri casualty effected at the hands of Indian forces and Muslim extremists.

Col. Qadhafi “has rarely been a person India has been comfortable with,” the Times of India said. “In September 2009, (Qadhafi), in a 100-minute speech at the UN General Assembly, railed against India and Kashmir as well. Kashmir should be an independent state, not Indian, not Pakistani. We should end this conflict. It should be a Ba’athist state between India and Pakistan,” he said.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Cong candidates’ list before March 15

Staff Reporter
 GUWAHATI, March 6 – Some of the Congress Ministers and sitting Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of the party may be left out of the final list of the candidates for the ensuing Assembly elections even as the party exuded confidence in securing majority.
The Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) will announce the final list of the candidates before March 15.
APCC president Bhubeneswar Kalita told media persons today that the final list would be announced after the meeting of the election committee, which would be followed by the screening committee meet of the party.
The two-day election committee meet would begin on March 8, while the screening committee members would deliberate from March 10 to March 12 in Guwahati.
"Some of the Ministers and the MLAs of our party may not feature in the list, which is not new to the Congress party. We believe in projecting new faces and this election will be no exception," the APCC chief stated, adding, "Tickets would be given to those with maximum winning possibility."
Kalita, when asked, stated that the Congress would field its candidates in all the constituencies, including the BTAD.
He further informed that UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh would also campaign for the party in the State, besides other national leaders and Chief Ministers of the Congress-ruled States.
"The poll campaign has already started across the State though candidate-centric campaign would begin only after March 15, the deadline set for the announcement of the final list," Kalita said.
Replying to another query, he stated that the decision on the next Chief Minister would be taken by the party high command only after the results are declared and he has nothing to comment on this. He also stated that the poll manifesto would be releasedsoon

BJP to field Muslim candidates for Assam elections

Guwahati: Eyeing the critical Muslim vote-bank ahead of the upcoming polls in Assam, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to field Muslim candidates in the upcoming elections. Announcing the names of its candidates, the BJP ensured that the minorities got an opportunity to contest the polls, which is crucial to the party as it seeks to regainpower in the region. Addressing the media in Guwahati, Ranjit Dutta, BJP president (Assam), said it was the first timeMuslim candidates were being given tickets by a party to contest the polls despite their strong presence in the region. “The Congress has never fielded any Assamese Muslim...
Zeenews 2011-03-06

DMK hardens stance, Ministers to go ahead with resignation

Clearly in no mood for a rapprochement with the Congress, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) on Sunday asserted that its six Union Ministers would submit their resignations on Monday.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi confirmed late Sunday night that there was no further contact with the Congress (I) on the issue. Asked by reporters whether a mere three seats was the reason for the collapse of the talks, he said, “That was also one of the reasons.”

He did not rule out some other parties joining the DMK-led alliance.
Senior party leaders ruled out any attempt on the DMK's part to seek a patch-up and one of them, Union Chemicals and Fertilizers Minister M.K. Alagiri, expressed happiness over the development.

“I'm happy, aren't you happy?” was Mr. Alagiri's response, when reporters asked his for a comment on the DMK's decision to withdraw its Ministers from the UPA regime. The absence of the Congress, he said, would not affect the DMK's prospects. “It is we who walked out of the alliance,” he noted.

DMK Parliamentary Party leader T.R. Baalu said the Ministers of his party would submit their resignations on Monday, as per the decision made on Saturday by the party's high-power committee.

Talking to reporters at Anna Arivalayam, he said the Congress had not got in touch with the DMK leadership after the party adopted a resolution deciding to quit the Congress-led UPA government and extend only issue-based support to it.

Asked about the possibility of accepting the Congress in the alliance if the party changed its mind, Mr. Baalu said, “I cannot answer hypothetical questions.”

In a sign that the DMK wished to get on with the business of identifying constituencies to be contested by its allies, the party began parleys with the Pattali Makkal Katchi. Emerging from the talks, PMK president G.K. Mani said the meeting was cordial.

Asked whether the party wanted to contest in the constituencies it had won in the 2006 Assembly election, Mr. Mani said it was quite natural for any party to seek to retain its constituencies.

Though he argued that the exit of the Congress would affect the DMK alliance, he expressed the hope that all was not over yet for the alliance.

The AIADMK, which had finalised a seat-sharing agreement with the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, headed by actor Vijayakant, is yet to seal a pact with the Left parties.

“We were told to wait till an agreement was reached between the AIADMK and the DMDK. Now it is over and we are not able to understand why there is a delay,” said a senior Left leader involved in the talks.

Courtesy:The Hindu