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Entering Saudi Orbit While Ignoring Iran: New Age Islam's Selection 2 February 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

2 February 2016

Entering Saudi Orbit While Ignoring Iran

By Barçin Yinanç

Turkey’s European Problem

By Semih İdiz

Saudi Women’s Empowerment

By Nabeela Husni Mahjoub

Saudi Women’s Work and Challenges in the Council Just Starting

By Maha Akeel

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Entering Saudi Orbit While Ignoring Iran

By Barçin Yinanç

February 2 2016

Ever since economic sanctions against Iran were officially lifted in mid-January, you could see this mood of overriding joy among the business community.

It is not difficult to understand their joy. While Western markets have remained more or less stable, the Turkish business community has been hit by the turmoil in the region. Turkish business has suffered from the political tension of strained bilateral relations with countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Russia.

From the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) to the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB), you hear statements voicing excitement about new business opportunities to come in the post-embargo period. There are high (and some definitely exaggerated) expectations on how Turkish exports will increase and how Iranian tourists will flood into Turkey to compensate for lost Russian tourists.

This stands in high contrast with the silence coming from Turkish officials. One statement I came across was from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who said right after the announcement of the decision that Turkey was happy to see the sanctions lifted and his expectation was this would boost economic ties between the two countries.

As someone who worked to find a breakthrough in the nuclear talks back in 2010 as Turkey’s then-foreign minister, one would have expected a more excited attitude from Davutoğlu. At any rate, nothing more was heard from the government. This is rather unusual, since one would expect the government to play a leading role in boosting trade ties with Tehran.

While European governments have been sending high-level political delegations to Tehran since last July, when the nuclear deal was reached, not only have Turkey’s rulers been avoiding going to Iran, but they would rather get even closer to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch rival.

The latest high-level visit to Iran was conducted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on April 7, 2015. As of today, no visit to Tehran seems to loom on the horizon.

By contrast, in the course of the past two years, Erdoğan visited Saudi Arabia three times; the first one to attend the funeral of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in January 2015 and then again a month later when he visited the new king.

The president’s third and most recent visit took place on Dec. 29, 2015. Only a month later, Davutoğlu visited Riyadh on Jan. 30. Two visits in the course of one month, one on the presidential level and another on the prime ministerial level. This is certainly telling.

Let’s also add that while Turkey has seen no problem in taking part in the Saudi-led “Islamic coalition against terror,” which is basically seen as a Sunni alliance, it has also sided with Riyadh in the latest contention with Tehran over the Saudi Kingdom executing a Shia clergyman.

So, the picture is clear: In the regional proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia, where the fiercest battleground is Syria, Turkey sees no problem entering into the orbit of the Saudis.

Yet it is very difficult to see how siding with the Saudis overrides Turkey’s national interests in seizing the moment as far as Iran is concerned.

Turkey has always been against the sanctions policy against Iran, favoring engagement with Tehran. It has always argued that engagement will strengthen the hands of the power centres in Iran, which are more prone in having better ties with the Western world. And better ties with the West would mean better chances of finding solutions to the problems in the region.

Turkey’s immediate foreign policy priority is to see an end to the war in Syria. And the key is in the hands of the Iranians, not the Saudis.

Turkey is not only missing the opportunity to intensify its trade ties with Iran, but also to contribute to a political process that might, at least, end the downward spiral of violence in the region.



Turkey’s European Problem

By Semih İdiz

February 2 2016

Many European nations that are less than friendly toward refugees today on the grounds of cultural and religious differences also failed their humanity test toward masses of people fleeing conflict and injustice before, during, and in many cases after World War II.

There are harebrained ideas emanating from these very same countries today, where some politicians say – no doubt with significant public support – that the refugees should all be loaded on boats and shipped back to Turkey.

There are even European presidents who oppose providing material help to Turkey, which is trying to cope with over twice the number of refugees that have entered Europe. “These people are all Muslim, let them go to a Muslim country, and let the Muslim world look after them,” they argue with a bitter logic.

Some European politicians are going so far as to say that refugees should be shot at the border to stop them entering the country. All of these arguments are accompanied by an attempt to demonize the refugees as a whole because of the criminal activities of a few, in order to say, “These people have no place in Europe.”

Even this carries overtones of events in Europe 70-80 years ago. Self-righteous Europeans like to engage in “Mea Culpa” as long as those “culpable” are from a different generation. But when faced with similar situations, many members of the present generation behave in the same manner as their parents and grandparents did.

What we see again is human nature at its worst. So much so that a French cartoonist can go so far as to lampoon the body of a drowned refugee infant by suggesting that he would have grown up to become a sexual deviant attacking European women. The fact that he does this in the name of “superior European values,” by citing the right to free expression, is – needless to say – sickening.

Most European countries merely want to dump their refugee problem on someone else’s doorstep, even if that “someone else” is another European country.  The notion of European unity is in tatters. It is up to Europeans to work out how they will restore their self-appointed sense of moral superiority after this crisis.

The bottom line, however, is that Europe is faced with a problem that will not go away simply because it wants it to. There are endless television debates where influential Europeans underline this.

Turkey is also faced with a serious refugee problem. Despite the government’s claim to be doing its moral duty in this regard, Ankara does not know how it will proceed in trying to solve this problem and is trying to cope with piecemeal precautions.

Turkey is not immune to the inhuman behaviour we see in Europe either. Despite being mostly Muslim, Syrian refugees have also been demonized in Turkey, and the years 2014 and 2015 saw many attacks against them across the country for one reason or another. 

Turks also listen to what Europeans are saying and are worried that Europe will send hundreds of thousands of refugees back to Turkey, even if this is not true. An impromptu online survey by daily Hurriyet last week showed that the majority of respondents are also prepared to forgo the privilege of visa free travel to Europe, which is being promised in return for Turkey’s readmitting refugees that have gone to Europe.

What ultimately lies at the core of Turkey’s problem, however, is Europe’s inability to come up with a unified position to solve this crises in an equitable manner, by also cooperating meaningfully with Ankara.

The measures agreed on so far appear to be merely palliative. Until all the sides concerned stop bickering about the matter, and come up with real solutions fast, real progress in trying to resolve this problem equitably will remain elusive.



Saudi Women’s Empowerment

By Nabeela Husni Mahjoub

Feb 2, 2016

The term “Shariah regulations” has been wrongly used as a weapon by officials in charge of women empowerment because they do not believe in the feasibility of the program and women’s role as an important factor in development.

Some officials who are against women’s empowerment elaborate this term to establish their argument and use the term to prevent activities and movement of women and cut their veins one after another as they did in my city Jeddah.

After the first meeting of the Jeddah Municipal Council, the anti-women lobby has been trying to postpone the council’s second meeting because of the participation of Dr. Lama Sulaiman and Rasha Hefdhi as its members, who were elected from two active constituencies.

Women should have full participation in municipal councils without any bureaucratic obstructions or hue and cry or creating artificial crisis as has recently happened in Jeddah Municipal Council.

Everywhere woman is considered an equal partner of man but some people think it would make them handicapped or weaken their position. Because of their anti-woman approach, they reminded the municipal chairman to take the trump card of “Shariah regulations” to defeat women.

Speaking to a satellite channel following a verbal dispute in the first meeting, the chairman emphasized that woman members should comply with Shariah regulations. The chairman could not give a convincing reason for what had happened in the first meeting as Lama and Rasha were following Shariah regulations without being instructed because they were aware of their responsibility.

Unfortunately some people wanted to lessen the capabilities of women and marginalize their role in society. They will not allow women to show their capabilities.

We all know that women do not cover their faces or hands while in the state of ihram for Haj and Umrah. They perform all religious rituals in the same place mingling with men. Allah did not order to build a separate Kaaba for women, who perform Tawaf (circumambulation around the Kaaba), sa’ee (hastening between Safa and Marwa hillocks) and rami jamarat (stoning of Satan in Mina) with men.

If this is the case in a major spiritual journey, which is the fifth pillar of Islam, how can they prevent women from sitting around a table with other male members of the council when the law guarantees women the same rights of men?

It pained me a lot when I saw Dr. Lama and Rasha sitting outside the council meeting hall as if they are outcast or children and they don’t deserve to sit in like their male counterparts. If the women sit outside the hall or behind a wall they would not able to participate in the council effectively and men will exploit the situation. This will lead to the failure of women in municipal councils.

I have full confidence in the capabilities of Lama and Rasha as they will be able to overcome the mentality of opponents whose aim is not to implement the Shariah as repeated by the chairman but to weaken women’s participation in the council using the Shariah card.

We have seen women sitting beside men in the audiences of Makkah Emir Prince Khaled Al-Faisal and Jeddah Governor Prince Mishal Bin Majed. I have seen Rasha standing close to the prince and sitting with other members of the delegation without any barrier. Why did they not object to women’s participation in the audience of princes and keep quite? How can they sit with her in the audience of princes and refuse to sit with her around the table of meeting? Is she not the same woman?

Who said that the wooden or glass barrier does represent Shariah regulations during such meetings? I would like to underline here that Saudi women are in the forefront of people in following Shariah regulations. They are more committed to Shariah than anyone else because they respect themselves and their culture and fear Allah. They do not need someone to dictate them where to sit and put obstacles to restrict their contribution and stop their active participation in society.



Saudi Women’s Work and Challenges in the Council Just Starting

By Maha Akeel

Feb 2, 2016

I was disappointed, dismayed and depressed to say the least. Before the news came out, many women and men supported the stand taken by the two elected women to the Jeddah municipality council, Lama Alsulaiman and Rasha Hefzi, of their right to sit on the same table and in the same room with their male colleagues. The fact was that there were no regulations on the seating arrangement in the main bylaws of the councils. But now the Minister of Rural and Municipality Affairs has officially announced that “new” addendums to the regulations, made after the election results, state that women council members should be in a separate room following council proceedings and discussions and communicating with their colleagues through CCTV and microphones!

Voting for the first time on Dec. 12, 2015 was truly a historic day for Saudi women. We practiced our right to express ourselves after lobbying and demanding that for the past ten years since the first municipal elections were held. Even though not a significantly large number of women registered themselves to vote, for various reasons, 80% of those who did turned up to vote on a weekend as soon as the doors of the voting centers opened early in the morning. That is indicative of their determination.

The bigger surprise was the results. When all expectations predicted that no woman, or at the most one woman, would win, 21 women won across Saudi Arabia, in large cities and small villages. It showed that, contrary to what has been propagated that Saudi society is not ready to see women in public office and hold leadership positions in their community, it does actually supports and believes in women’s abilities and rights. Although many women expected the Ministry of Municipalities and Rural Affairs to appoint an equal number of women as men to the remaining third seats (numbering 1,052) in the municipalities, they were disappointed with the appointment of only 17 more women, bringing the total of women to 38 out of 3,158 council members in the 284 municipalities.

It seems that even this small number of women in the councils is threatening social norms and conservative cultural perceptions of women’s place that they had to be banished. How are they supposed to effectively communicate and participate in the decision making process if they do not have equal access and are marginalized?

Nevertheless, Saudi women have broken another glass ceiling, overcome another hurdle and achieved progress on a grand scale. This point cannot be stressed more. Some views considered this achievement as mere window-dressing. Western media was skeptical of the significance of this in a country where women still can’t drive a car and treated as a minor in need of a male guardian’s permission to work, travel or run her business, which is true to some extent and presents major obstacles to Saudi women’s full independence and contribution to society, but what must be realized is that any measure of power and expression for Saudi women will lead to more gains for women and the society as a whole. That was the hope and expectation.

This is just the beginning of the real work and challenges that the elected and appointed women in the municipality councils will face. Unfortunately, as with every step forward for women setbacks are made under the broad and undefined concept of “Shariah regulations” which apply only where women are concerned. Even though by majority Islamic scholars interpretations across the Muslim world, mixing of men and women in public places including at work is not against Shariah regulations. During the Prophet’s, PBUH, time and his successors, women attended public gatherings, voiced their opinion, objected and argued. They were known to have joined battles, treated the wounded and went about their daily work in markets and elsewhere unhindered.

In the Shoura Council, which is of a higher status then the municipal council, women and men share the same hall, and during committee meetings women are allowed the choice to either sit with their male colleagues or in a separate room. That should be the general rule for meetings. Valuable time and discussion should not be wasted on such trivial matters as “where should the women sit?”

Furthermore, whether it is driving, working, or traveling, it should be the woman’s choice as long as she is mature enough and sane to make her own decisions. If a woman is considered capable and responsible enough to marry, raise a child, get a university degree and work — as doctor with human life under her care, teacher with the country’s future in her hands, or banker entrusted with money — shouldn’t that qualify her to take care of her own life affairs, and by extension the life of her community. It is not a competition between men and women; it is complementary where both are equal partners in life and in serving their society.

The majority of the public who voted for the women and expressed their confidence in them as their representatives should be more vocal in supporting their candidates. Additionally, such incidents undermine whatever progress is achieved for women empowerment and does not give a good impression of Saudi Arabia and its diverse, tolerant and respectful society.

Maha Akeel is a Saudi writer