By Aaron Hutchins - Thursday, October 4, 2012 - 0 Comments
Several middle eastern nations have an obesity problem worse than the U.S.’s
When it comes to obesity around the world, there is one constant: more money, more problems. The world’s dependence on foreign oil has allowed people in the Gulf States to go from impoverished to belt-busting. With the influx of money, hardier lifestyles of the past have given way to very little physical labour, an expansion of fast-food chains and swaths of the population moving from one air-conditioned environment to another without breaking a sweat. As a result, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the fattest countries in the world, in even worse shape than the United States.
The heavyweight champion, however, is Kuwait. It can be tough to notice the bulge under the traditional clothing, but the tiny nation of fewer than three million leads the eastern Mediterranean for obesity prevalence among men (36 per cent) and women (48 per cent), according to the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO). Compare that to Canada, where the prevalence of obesity is 27 and 24 per cent for men and women respectively. “They have a culture where entertainment is food,” says Philip James, president of IASO. “And they don’t have to do any physical activity because everyone drives around in luxurious cars.” Children fare badly, too: more than 45 per cent are overweight or obese.
Eating habits are partly to blame. Inside exquisite shopping malls are endless fast-food options: KFC, Fatburger, New York Fries. “They’ve got everything we have here and more,” says Andrew Faust, a fellow at the Pulitzer Center who was in nearby Dubai last July to report on its obesity crisis. In a region that restricts alcohol, the concern is high-sugar drinks. “They bombard every guest and drink multiple glasses of fruit juice a day,” James says.
By Emma Teitel - Monday, July 16, 2012 at 11:33 AM - 0 Comments
But the country’s highest-ranking female official insists she always wears it
Saudi Arabia is not keen on women’s rights. Under their version of sharia law, women are not allowed to drive a car or even leave their homes without donning black robes. They must go everywhere with a male guardian and currently are not allowed to vote. At a United Nations summit in New York, Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarch, King Abdullah, once defended his country’s record on women’s rights: “It is absurd,” he said, “to impose on an individual or a society rights that are alien to its beliefs and principles.”
In 2009, Abdullah changed his tune, appointing Norah al-Faiz, a female teacher and mother of five to the post of deputy education minister. She remains the highest-ranking female official in the Saudi government, the first woman made a deputy minister. Progressives in the country were thrilled; Faiz became a symbol of change, although she is forced to interact with her male colleagues via a closed-circuit TV. It allows her to speak with them from another room, but bars them from seeing her. Still, “there was lots of excitement,” says Tara Huda Silver, a researcher with the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, particularly from Saudi women. Finally, it seemed the country was relaxing its grip on women’s freedoms.
Then came the photographs. Ever since her appointment, Faiz has been dogged by one of the world’s strangest political controversies. After her appointment, the Saudi newspaper al-Watan published a photo of the new minister wearing a white headscarf, her face exposed. Faiz claims she always wears a niqab, a face veil worn by conservative women. “I am a Saudi woman from Najd, and thus I wear the niqab,” she said, alluding to her extremely devout home region, where the niqab is virtually compulsory. “I will never allow the publishing of my photo in newspapers and I will not accept that it be put up anywhere.”
By Charlie Gillis - Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 5:42 PM - 0 Comments
The kingdom is still very, very uncomfortable with female competitors
UPDATE: Saudi Arabia announced last week that it will in fact allow women who qualify to compete at the Olympics in London, suggesting the kingdom had finally succumbed to international pressure. But that “who qualify” proved a big caveat. On Monday, the International Equestrian Federation said that Dalma Rushdi Malhas, the rider featured below, has failed to make the cut after her horse was sidelined by injury. As a result, a hunt is on for any Saudi women who might be able to compete in an Olympic event without appearing terribly overmatched. With qualifications in most sports near completion, those women may have to compete under a special exemption granted by the International Olympic Committee.
She’s an improbable portrait of Arab femininity. The hazel eyes peer not from the one-inch slot of a niqab, but from beneath a riding helmet. She lives in France, attends school in London and tours the world with a paint gelding named Flash Top Hat. Dalma Rushdi Malhas is the sort of autonomous, cosmopolitan citizen that the government of Saudi Arabia doesn’t believe a woman can be. Which makes it hard to believe that the 20-year-old equestrian needs a man’s permission to compete this summer at the London Olympics.
She’s still waiting for it. “Female sports activity has not existed [in the kingdom] and there is no move thereto in this regard,” Prince Nawaf bin Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s minister of sport, sniffed to reporters in April. “At present, we are not embracing any female Saudi participation in the Olympics or other international championships.” The remarks, Prince Nawaf’s most recent on the issue, are a blow to the dreams of Malhas, who won bronze two years ago at the Youth Olympics in Singapore, and competes regularly at Europe’s top equestrian events.
Saudi Arabia’s long-standing proscription on women competing in Olympic events, or other athletic endeavours, may prove an awkward subplot to the 2012 Summer Games. Last week, a spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee reiterated the organization’s belief that last-hour lobbying would induce a historic change of heart on the part of the Saudi government, making London the first Games in which all member countries sent female athletes. Yet the signals from Riyadh remain mixed, and as the July 9 deadline to register athletes nears, a less pleasing spectre is raising its head: one country entering the opening ceremonies with an all-male delegation, in defiance of Olympic charter ideals of equality; and the IOC unwilling—or unable—to do anything about it.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 12:50 PM - 0 Comments
The last spike, the status quo, refugees in limbo, Jays on the line
The lost spike
Everyone has seen the famous 1885 photo of CPR board member Donald Smith driving the “last spike” into the transcontinental rail line at Craigellachie, B.C. Smith was supposed to use a spike of pure silver commissioned by the governor general, Lord Lansdowne, but Lansdowne and the spike could not make it to the ceremony. The whereabouts of the relic remained uncertain until June, when the Canadian Museum of Civilization announced it had acquired it from descendants of CPR vice-president William Van Horne. The spike was briefly displayed at CPR headquarters in Calgary this week before heading to its permanent home in Ottawa. A piece of history reclaimed.
Saudi status quo
Saudi Arabia’s secretive gerontocracy has pulled off another smooth power transition with the naming of a new crown prince, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. Prince Salman, 76, who served as governor of Riyadh for more than 50 years, is the brother of Crown Prince Nayef, who died of heart problems while receiving medical care in Switzerland. Seen as more moderate than Nayef, Salman is expected to prolong social spending and liberalization designed to inoculate against Arab Spring unrest.
By Alex Ballingall, Tamsin McMahon, and Richard Warnica - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 9:34 AM - 0 Comments
North America may be an emerging oil superpower, but gas prices are only going up
Rising gas prices have long been a rite of spring. We drive more as the weather improves and prices go up. But this year, there is a little extra frustration in the air.
As gas prices topped $1.40 a litre last week—reaching records not seen since 2008—a gas station in Oromocto, N.B., decided to drop its prices to 92.3 cents a litre as part of a promotion with a local radio station. It took minutes for anxious motorists to flock to the station, which went through 3,000 litres of gas before ending the sale after just 30 minutes. In Miami Beach, Fla., an impatient driver tried to beat one gas station’s traffic snarl and ended up slamming her SUV into the pump, setting it on fire. High prices have sparked an angry backlash among motorists. Police in Ontario have reported an increase in gas-and-dash thievery, while several campaigns on Facebook and across social media platforms are calling for nationwide gas boycotts.
The frenzy over fuel prices isn’t just a North American phenomenon, either. Fears of fuel shortages and price spikes in recent weeks have sparked riots in Indonesia and protests in the streets of Britain and Pakistan.
By Richard Warnica - Friday, February 24, 2012 at 11:09 AM - 0 Comments
Canadian Lav-3s, military transports made famous in the Afghan war, have been sold en…
Canadian Lav-3s, military transports made famous in the Afghan war, have been sold en mass to the Saudi military, which used them to help brutally suppress dissent in neighbouring Bahrain.
Postmedia reported Friday that the Canadian government approved more than $4 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia—a repressive monarchy with a poor human rights record—last year. That puts the Saudi kingdom tops among customers for Canadian weapons:
(T)he total in government-approved arms export licences for Saudi Arabia was more than 100 times the $35 million approved in 2010.
The Middle Eastern kingdom also has quietly purchased hundreds of LAV-3s from General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ont., over the years and was expected to receive more than 700 last year.
Video and photos shot by protesters and media outlets in March 2011 showed Saudi troops using LAV-3s to suppress an uprising inspired by events in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and opposed to Bahrain’s ruling Khalifa family.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Will new technologies make North American energy self-sufficiency a reality?
The rural state of North Dakota is famous mainly for its rough weather. Its largest city, Fargo, is best known to outsiders as the title of a noir movie in which a body is fed through a wood chipper. With a population half the size of Winnipeg’s scattered across rugged plains, it once held the distinction of being the least-visited state in the U.S. But today, so many people are flocking to North Dakota that there is nowhere to put them. In a nation beset by joblessness, workers are coming here in such numbers that an estimated 15,000 people are now living in trailers, cars, corporate “man camps” and other forms of makeshift housing. So scarce are places to sleep that in 2010 one firm housed some of its workers by trucking in a chunk of Vancouver’s recently used Olympic Village to the overwhelmed city of Williston.
The reason is an oil boom. Production in the state has surged from 100,000 barrels per day in 2007 to 500,000 barrels per day and growing—almost overnight making North Dakota the fourth-largest producer in the U.S., and on its way to becoming second only to Texas. And, like the Alberta oil sands boomtown of Fort McMurray—whose mayor recently visited to offer advice (“Plan ahead!”)—Williston is abruptly bursting.“First it got hard to find the hotel rooms. Then it was housing. Now it’s everything,” says Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. The state is racing to build more houses, roads, schools and hospitals. The biggest sign of change: “Young people in the communities,” says Ness—sons and daughters are not leaving the state to look for work as soon as they turn of age. It’s been, he says, a “renaissance—and a challenge.”
A rebirth of the local economy is the least of it. The oil boom under way here is part of a global transformation with far-reaching consequences for matters of warfare, the environment and modern life. Like Alberta’s oil sands, the sudden bonanza in North Dakota is driven by recent technological advances that have, for the first time, made it economically viable to extract oil (and natural gas) from previously untappable geological formations—so-called “unconventional” fuel trapped in rock. Such formations have been discovered elsewhere around the United States, but for years sat fallow as a mere curiosity. Suddenly, however, the technology is available to get the oil and gas out. And the rise of the feasibility this type of oil and gas extraction is poised to transform the geopolitics of energy.
In spite of the considerable environmental and logistical challenges involved, these developments have led to feverish calls for “energy independence.” The prospect that the U.S. could fulfill all its own energy needs from domestic sources, plus those from friendly neighbours such as Canada, has become a rallying cry for the Republican presidential candidates who are attacking President Barack Obama for standing in the way of job creation and “energy security.” Obama’s decision to deny a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have moved Alberta oil sands crude to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, has become a staple topic on the Republican presidential trail. In November, the Obama administration did move to open more areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska to offshore drilling, but banned development along the East and West Coast, fuelling more criticism from industry groups and Republicans.
The debate over North American energy security has been unfolding against the backdrop of the unpredictable Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa, home to 70 per cent or more of the world’s known conventional oil reserves. “The Arab world is very possibly at the beginning of the great revolutionary period of the 21st century,” says Paul Sullivan, an economics professor at the National Defense University in Washington. “Nobody really knows how long this will go and how it will all play out.” Of course, non-oil-producing states like Egypt and Syria are in chaos. But tensions continue to threaten some of the region’s largest producers, like Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, even Saudi Arabia.
And now the discussion has been sent into overdrive by recent threats by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz—a choke point on the Persian Gulf separating Iran from Oman—as retaliation for harsh economic sanctions over its nuclear program and the threat of a military attack on its nuclear facilities. The Strait of Hormuz is only 54 km wide, but each day, 15 million barrels of oil—17 per cent of the oil consumed by the world—move through the waterway. It would be a global disaster.
The rise of North America as an energy power is starting to get attention overseas. “A few years ago, much of the global debate was based on the premise of acute resource scarcity and its economic and political ramifications,” said Khalid al-Falih, the head of Saudi Arabia’s state-owned energy company, Aramco, in a speech on Nov. 21. But, he added, “Rather than supply scarcity, oil supplies remain at comfortable levels, even given rising demand from fast-growing nations like China and India.” The reason? Abundant supplies and a “more balanced geographical distribution of unconventionals”—such as the new sources now being developed by Canada and the United States.
Canadians are among the loudest voices in the U.S. selling a vision of continental energy independence. One of the pitchmen is Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan, who gives several U.S. speeches a year on energy. Speaking in December to conservative lawmakers from around the U.S. who had gathered in Phoenix, Ariz., he urged the audience to choose Canadian oil over what he calls “extreme oil” that depends on the U.S. military presence abroad. “I think we should have a broader goal continentally to move toward energy independence,” Wall told Maclean’s afterward. “Maybe this should be the moon mission of the next couple of decades.”
There is also a view that North American energy independence should include “Canadian energy independence.” Currently, Canada is a net exporter, producing more oil (2.5 million barrels per day) than Canadians consume (1.85 million). However, most Canadian production is exported from western provinces to the U.S., while about half of the crude used by Canadian refiners to meet domestic demand comes from imports—44 per cent of that from OPEC countries and 37 per cent from the North Sea, according to Natural Resources Canada. (The reason is the cost-effectiveness of exporting western oil to relatively closer American refineries, rather than moving it to refineries in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Quebec.)
But are the Canadian and American unconventional sources enough to fuel continental energy independence—or, at the very least, to wean America off Middle Eastern oil? The number to start with is 19.1 million barrels—the amount of petroleum products the U.S. consumed per day in 2010, according to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration. Most of that was used for transportation.
The U.S. only produced about half of that—9.4 million barrels per day (counting crude oil, natural gas liquids and biofuels)—leaving a gap of about 9.7 million barrels to be supplied through imports. Canada contributed the largest share—one-quarter. The next biggest supplier was Saudi Arabia, at 12 per cent, followed by Nigeria, Venezuela, Mexico and others. All told, OPEC members (Persian Gulf states, African countries, Venezuela and Ecuador) supplied about half of U.S. imports—already down from a peak of 70 per cent in 1977. So in order to eliminate oil from hostile or unstable sources at its current level of consumption, the U.S. would have to replace roughly five million barrels per day. Can it?
The U.S. domestic oil industry says yes—“Drill, baby, drill!” By ramping up domestic U.S. production and increasing imports from Canada, the United States could end its reliance on all other sources. “If the full potential of domestic oil and gas production could be achieved while also increasing imports of Canadian oil, all of America’s liquid fuels could come from secure North American sources within 15 years,” says Jack Gerard, the head of the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group.
The API hired consulting firm Wood Mackenzie to analyze a scenario of maximal North American oil production. They looked at what would happen if “all impediments” to extracting oil within the U.S. and off its shores were lifted. Under their scenario, drilling would be allowed in currently restricted areas off the coast of Alaska, the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and in portions of the Rocky Mountains. This would also include lifting a moratorium on shale drilling in New York state, and speeding up drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico that were slowed after the BP oil spill. In addition, Canadian oil sands pipelines into the U.S. would be fully developed so that the United States can absorb the expected increases of Canadian oil sands production.
The report concluded that without any change to current policies, U.S. production would increase only slightly above current levels. But if development was encouraged, U.S. production could surge to 15.4 million barrels per day in 2030 (not counting biofuels). The extra six million barrels would slightly exceed the portion of current consumption that comes from overseas. In addition, if enough pipeline capacity is built, Canadian oil sands production would increase from 1.6 million barrels per day in 2010 to 5.8 million in 2030. “By 2030, we could be very close if not equal to not having to import from other places in the world.” says John Felmy, chief economist for the API.
Already, the United States has seen a boom in natural gas production, thanks to the same technology that is enabling the oil boom: hydraulic fracking. This process pumps millions of litres of water and chemicals underground to break apart rock and release natural gas or oil. It is used to extract natural gas from underground shale formations such as the Marcellus in the northeastern part of the country, and the Eagle Ford and Barnett in Texas. Not only does the U.S. now produce enough natural gas to cover its own needs, but it is expected to soon become a natural gas exporter. Meanwhile, the abundant supplies have driven down prices for consumers, and have raised the possibility of replacing gasoline with natural gas for some vehicles such as buses and trucks, and for industrial plants to be adapted to run on natural gas—helping to reduce dependence on oil.
“Natural gas could conceivably become the basis of a vehicle fuel in the long run,” says Washington-based independent energy analyst Joseph Dukert, although, he adds, “We still have a long way to go before that happens. There is room for natural gas to penetrate the industrial energy market to a greater extent—but it would involve bringing in new types of equipment. Industry has been reluctant to move in that direction so it might take some nudging from the government.”
As for oil supplies, Canada is not the only neighbour that could help the U.S. move off of Middle Eastern oil. Oil giant BP has looked at the broader picture in the western hemisphere and concluded that if oil reserves trapped deep below the ocean off the coast of Brazil are developed, self-sufficiency is within reach by 2030. “The growth of unconventional supply, including U.S. shale oil and gas, Canadian oil sands and Brazilian deep-waters, against a background of a gradual decline in oil demand, will see the western hemisphere become almost totally energy self-sufficient by 2030,” the company concluded in a report on Jan. 18.
But on the opposite end of the spectrum are advocates for the surest form of independence: ending reliance on oil altogether. According to the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, a “comprehensive but achievable” clean energy strategy could cut America’s oil consumption by seven million barrels a day by 2030—more than enough to displace all imports, at today’s consumption level at least, from hostile and unstable countries.
The biggest piece of the NRDC’s strategy is a major increase in fuel efficiency. Already the Obama administration has taken a substantial step in that direction. Last November, the President announced new mileage rules for passenger cars and light trucks. Beginning in model year 2017, fuel-efficiency rates will have to start rising five per cent until they reach an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025—nearly double the fuel efficiency of today’s car. If the vehicle fleet on the road today had that efficiency rate, it would reduce U.S. oil consumption by 1.7 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Under the NRDC’s plan, emissions standards should be increased further—to 60 miles per gallon by 2025—and seven per cent of all passenger-vehicle miles be travelled using plug-in electric vehicles. The estimated savings if the plan went into effect would be 2.8 million barrels a day by 2030. For additional savings, fuel-efficiency standards for new medium- and heavy-duty trucks would be increased from six to 10 miles per gallon, old vehicles retrofitted, and large numbers of heavy trucks switched from diesel fuel to natural gas. The rest of the plan consists of long-term changes to urban design and lifestyles—such as expanding public transit and planning “smart communities” that require less driving and commuting, a savings of 1.6 million barrels per day. Another 1.6 million barrels per day could be saved by a combination of conservation initiatives, including fuel-efficient replacement tires and motor oil. “The fact of the matter is that the lowest hanging fruit lie in efficiency and clean fuel technology,” says Anthony Swift, an attorney for the NRDC.
Environmentalists also argue that reducing supply is a more “secure” form of energy independence. The price of oil is set by global markets regardless of whether oil is produced in the U.S. or imported from Canada, so instability in the Middle East that leads to price hikes will still be felt by North American consumers. “Should OPEC or any other major exporter choose to cut off supplies to any country, supply shortages and a price spike are likely to affect every major importing country regardless of where they get their oil,” says Swift.
The National Defense University’s Sullivan, though, says that energy security is greater when supply is guaranteed, even if prices are high: it’s the difference between paying more at the pump—and a scenario under which no oil can be had at any price. Still, the maximalist North American production scenario is unlikely to happen in the kind of time frame contemplated by the oil industry, or ever, given environmental concerns, political opposition and infrastructure challenges. Witness the years of delay and impediments to building the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would have helped move not only Alberta crude but also domestic U.S. shale oil. Or take the mounting opposition to the hydraulic fracking that underpins so much of new domestic production—a major concern for environmentalists as well as local communities concerned about the possibility that the aquifers that supply their drinking water could be contaminated by chemicals.
There is also reason to be pessimistic about the political prospects of achieving independence purely by reducing fossil fuel consumption through greater conservation and the use of renewable “green” energy sources. A case in point is the controversy that erupted over the Obama administration’s half-billion-dollar loan guarantee to solar-panel-maker Solyndra Corporation in 2009. The company went bankrupt and taxpayers were left on the hook, in a debacle that critics have made into a poster child for wasteful government efforts to expand clean energy production faster than market forces would do on their own.
Indeed, the most likely way to reach oil independence by 2030 is probably a combination of some increase in production, alongside further reductions in demand. “In order for North America to become energy independent, there would have to be substantial changes in the demand side of the equation as well as supply,” says Joseph Dukert, an independent energy analyst in Washington. Murray Smith, a former Alberta energy minister and the province’s former envoy to Washington, agrees. “If you sat down and formed a presidential commission and said, ‘How do we do this? How do we get to the math?’ you could come very close to energy independence. It would require some increased availability of drilling in the U.S., changing natural gas into a transportation fuel, and it would require further savings on making the hydrocarbon molecule more efficient, and increasing the level of diesel engine penetration in the marketplace.” Smith adds, “I don’t think it’s a dream out of reach—but it’s an elusive dream. You have to commit to it.”
But rather than Americans uniting around a plan for the future, the politics have become divided. The pro-drilling advocates and the anti-oil advocates have taken to the barricades, as the Keystone and Solyndra clashes show. Republicans and Democrats have made energy a partisan issue. Each side has enthusiasm and fundraising for their cause—be it from the oil industry or national environmental groups. There is little evidence of a constituency for a compromise approach that could realistically take North American energy independence from buzzword to reality.
“It would be best to have a full, comprehensive energy security policy, but this is unlikely to happen any time soon,” Sullivan testified to a congressional committee earlier this year. “It seems we will need to settle for ad hoc improvements in the diversification of supplies and other ad hoc policy measures, until the real shocks hit us in waves upon waves upon waves of economic and energy security woes.”
By Erica Alini - Monday, January 16, 2012 at 5:32 PM - 0 Comments
Around $900 billion in assets across the globe are managed by Islamic banks that operate according to sharia, an interpretation of Islamic law. In recent years, so-called Islamic finance has been growing at a rate of 15-20 per cent a year, and proved remarkably resilient to the financial crisis. Proponents of the relatively new sector point to its back-to-basics financial structures, which have made it popular with a number of non-Mulsim clients who have little appetite for risk. Critics, though, say the restrictions it comes with–prohibitions, for example, on paying interest and investing in anything that involves porn, pork or booze–are archaic and unworkable.
Canada, with its 1.3 million Muslims, has lagged behind countries like the U.K. and the U.S. in embracing sharia-compliant financial products. None of the country’s big banks currently offer sharia-compliant services, though some smaller players do. Toronto-based UM Financial Inc., which issued home mortgages conforming to Islamic law, filed for bankruptcy last year, leaving 170 Muslim borrowers in limbo, and opening a legal can of worms. Is the firm’s failure evidence that Canada should steer clear of Islamic finance; or proof that the country needs more of it–i.e. that the banks and policymakers need to bring the practice into the mainstream, with tighter rules and better oversight? We asked the experts to chime in.
Tarek Fatah is the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a liberal-minded grassroots organization. He is also the author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic lllusion of an Islamic State, among other works. Walid Hejazi is associate professor of international business at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, where he is currently teaching an MBA course on Islamic finance.
By macleans.ca - Friday, December 30, 2011 at 10:27 AM - 0 Comments
The deal includes 84 new F-15s and upgrades to 70 planes in the existing Saudi air fleet
The United States has confirmed a deal to sell 84 Boeing F-15 jets to Saudi Arabia, and to upgrade 70 F-15s already in the Saudi air fleet, the BBC reports. The $30-billion deal is part of a larger arms deal approved by the U.S. Congress last year, worth approximately $60 billion over the next ten to 15 years. Josh Earnest, White House deputy spokesperson said the deal would help support American jobs, while senior state department official Andrew Shapiro said it represented “a strong message to countries in the region that the United States is committed to stability in the Gulf and broader Middle East.” The announcement comes amid increasing tension with Iran, including recent posturing from Tehran over its ability to control the Strait of Hormuz, a strategically crucial oil route. Saudi Arabia is a key American ally in the region, and one of the most important suppliers of oil to the U.S.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 11:20 AM - 2 Comments
Did Iran really plan to kill the Saudi ambassador?
It’s a baffling plot that strains the credulity even of those deeply familiar with Iran’s capacity for murder and intrigue.
Last week, the U.S. Justice Department said it had disrupted an Iranian plan to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir. Several options were supposedly discussed, including a restaurant bombing that likely would have killed many innocent bystanders.
The U.S. has charged two individuals with the alleged plot. One, Gholam Shakuri, is a suspected member of the Quds Force, a wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for operations—including terrorism and assassination—outside Iran. The second, Mansour Arbabsiar, is an Iranian-born American citizen who, over the past three decades, has failed at a variety of business ventures selling everything from used cars to horses, gyros and ice cream. He’s been sued, chased by angry creditors, and charged with theft. Friends say he’d often forget keys and cellphones, and that his socks didn’t always match.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 14, 2011 at 3:53 PM - 6 Comments
Speaking with reporters today in Peterborough, the Prime Minister commented as follows on the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Let me just say with regards once again to this specific plot, we condemn this in the strongest possible terms, and it only reiterates the position that our government has been expressing for several years now, that the regime in Tehran – we have no quarrel with the Iranian people, but the regime in Tehran represents probably the most significant threat in the world to global peace and security. And so we take these matters very, very seriously, and we will be working with our allies.
In an interview with this magazine, the Prime Minister was asked about the threat and identified “Islamic extremist terrorism,” but also an increasingly complex world. Roland Paris read that interview and came away wanting the Prime Minister to be more specific.
In an interview with Peter Mansbridge this fall, Mr. Harper identified “Islamicism” as the greatest terrorist threat to Canada, but here he seems to elevate Iran to the most significant global threat. It’s unclear whether that makes Iran the threat to Canada that he has vaguely referred to in the past.
By macleans.ca - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Saudi Arabia grants women the right to vote, U.S.-Pakistani relations deteriorate further
Steps in the right direction
The king of Saudi Arabia has granted women the right to vote, acknowledging they can make “correct opinions.” This in a place where females can’t travel without a male’s permission, and where one woman who drove, despite a ban, was sentenced to 10 lashes. King Abdullah’s decision also permits females to run for Shura Council. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has approved draft regulations allowing women’s shelters to remain independent from government, and receive donations without state intermediation.
It was an exciting week in space news: NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, deployed by the space shuttle in 1991, fell from orbit. A troublemaker on Twitter, armed with some Orson Welles quotes, managed to spread rumours worldwide that UARS had fallen near Okotoks, Alta. Fortunately, it appears the satellite crashed harmlessly somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. A few days earlier, space geeks were titillated with another report: physicists think they saw neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light, which, if conﬁrmed, would disprove Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.
By macleans.ca - Monday, September 26, 2011 at 10:57 AM - 6 Comments
King Abdullah extends franchise in “historic and courageous” decision
Women in Saudi Arabia have been given the right to vote, run for office and be appointed to governing councils by King Abdullah, the country’s 86-year-old ruler. Abdullah made the announcement on Sunday in a speech that was broadcast live on state television. Manal al-Sharif, the 32-year-old figurehead of a contingent of women who have openly defied Saudi Arabia’s much-discussed driving-ban for women, welcomed the move to extend the franchise. She called Abdullah a “reformer” and said the decision was “historic and courageous.” Men in Saudi Arabia, an ultra-conservative Muslim country existing under a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam, were first able to vote in municipal elections in 2005. Women will join them on their second trip to the polls Thursday, but since the nomination process is already closed, and no women will be on the ballot. The winners of the election fill half the seats in the country’s 285 municipal councils. The rest are appointed.
By macleans.ca - Friday, March 11, 2011 at 2:27 PM - 1 Comment
Day after police fired on protesters appears peaceful
One day after police fired on protesters in Saudi Arabia, the streets in the eastern city of Qatif are quiet, with only peaceful demonstrations on the outskirts of town. Witnesses report heavy police presence in the country’s capital, Riyadh, and no protests. Another city, Al-Ahsa, saw several protesters arrested but again witnesses reported no violence. Protesters have been calling for democratic reforms in the country, which has been ruled by the al-Saud family for the last 80 years. Shiite Muslims in the Eastern Province have called for an end to what they say is government discrimination against them; the royal family and the majority of the country’s population are Sunni Muslims.
By Josh Dehass - Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 4:18 PM - 0 Comments
Saudi Arabia making blogs subject to same censorship rules as newspapers
Considering that Saudi Arabia has jailed bloggers on charges as dubious as “annoying others,” it’s no surprise that most of them post anonymously. But as of Jan. 1, they face pressure to use their real names, or risk being shut down, reports Fast Company. The government also ruled that “news bloggers” are subject to the same strict censorship as newspapers, including a ban against criticizing sharia law or “compromising public order.” The edict also says that only citizens over 20 are allowed to post news, which excludes the 31 per cent of foreign residents, plus youth—two groups that are most often disaffected. But Tariq al-Homayed, editor-in-chief of the royal-family-owned Asharq Alawsat newspaper, says the decision will reduce harmful rumours. “Anybody who wants to challenge the media is welcome to do so, so long as they do this under their real name,” he wrote.
Although Ahmed al-Omran fears the new rules will silence many bloggers, it hasn’t stopped him from posting on his blog, Saudi Jeans. “Today was a huge day for Tunisia,” he wrote on Jan. 15. “The only thing that annoyed me was that Saudi Arabia welcomed the ousted dictator. Here’s to a domino effect all over the Middle East.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 2:07 PM - 64 Comments
First, a correction. The list of oil sources posted here should have read: Algeria, the United Kingdom, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Angola, Iraq, Mexico, Venezuela, Russia and the United States. You’ll note that, in the original post, Iran was listed where Angola should have been. My apologies to to the good people of Angola.
Meanwhile, Ezra Levant, seemingly the inspiration for the government’s new rhetoric, continues to draw a line between good oil and bad oil: the former including our crude, the latter including crude from suppliers such as Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Algeria. In total, those four nations account for about 40% of our oil imports.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 7, 2011 at 5:32 PM - 188 Comments
The Environment Minister observed yesterday (around the 12-minute mark of that interview) that Canada is a supplier of ethical oil—a phrase recently employed by Ezra Levant—because the revenues derived from that oil are not used to “fund terrorism or the destabilization of other governments.” This may or may not beg questions about the origins of our own oil imports.
The latest release of Statistics Canada’s Energy Statistics Handbook lists our sources of crude oil and equivalents going back to 1989. Our noted individual sources in 2010 (through September) were, in order: Algeria, the United Kingdom, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, Mexico, Venezuela, Russia and the United States.
By Leah McLaren - Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 11:20 AM - 0 Comments
Saudi royalty meets the British justice system in a bloody case of murder at a five-star London hotel
Last week at the Old Bailey courthouse, a prince was jailed for life.
Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud, 34-year-old grandson to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and a member of one of the richest and most powerful families in the world, was convicted of murdering his manservant in what Crown prosecutor Jonathan Laidlaw described as “a really terrible, a really brutal attack.” It took place last February, when Bandar Abdulaziz, 32, was found beaten and strangled to death in a room at the ﬁve-star Landmark hotel in the upscale central London district of Marylebone. At the time, Saud co-operated fully with police, appearing “shocked and upset” at the death of his companion who, testimony revealed, often slept on the floor at the foot of his bed like a faithful dog. But during the October trial, a different story emerged.
The prince was revealed as a decadent playboy involved in a sadistic sexual relationship with Abdulaziz, a poor orphan—one so psychologically oppressed he did not even put up a fight to save his own life. While a post-mortem revealed Abdulaziz died with chipped teeth, split lips, a fractured rib and severe injuries to his head and internal organs, the prince had not a mark on him. The victim also had strange bite marks on both cheeks, which the prosecution argued were proof (in addition to sexually explicit photos of Abdulaziz on the prince’s phone) that the abuse had “an obvious sexual connotation.”
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 4:00 PM - 0 Comments
To help keep time, Saudi Arabia has erected the world’s biggest clock
Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, which this year ends during the second week of September, revolves around the clock: there’s fasting from dawn to sunset, and prayers five times each day. To help keep time, Saudi Arabia has erected the world’s biggest clock, which started a three-month trial period in Mecca at the beginning of Ramadan.
The opulent four-faced Mecca Clock Royal Tower is a marvel: it soars to 600 m, hovering over Mecca’s Grand Mosque, and when completed will be the world’s second tallest building. The structure reflects a goal by some Muslims to establish “Mecca time” as the universal standard. Scholars and clerics have argued that the Saudi city is the true global meridian, “in perfect alignment with the magnetic north,” and should therefore replace Greenwich Mean Time, which they say was imposed on the world when Britain was a colonial power. In the unlikely event that this comes to pass, the sun will never set on Mecca and its massive clock. Instead of looking up to Big Ben, inscribed in Latin with the phrase ‘Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria I,’ the new tower’s Arabic inscription, ‘God is greatest,’ will loom above all.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 4:48 PM - 35 Comments
Jack Layton, Sept. 1, 2006. “A comprehensive peace process has to bring all the combatants to the table.”
New York Times, today. Afghanistan’s president declared Thursday that reaching out to the Taliban’s leaders should be a centerpiece of efforts to end the eight-year-old war there, setting in motion a delicate diplomatic process that will carry great risks for both Afghanistan and the United States.
By Katie Engelhart - Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 5:00 PM - 3 Comments
Abdul-Jawad will also get 1,000 lashes for touting his conquests
Some people like to boast about their sexual conquests, others think it uncouth to do so. Here’s a story supporting the latter group: last week, 32-year-old Mazen Abdul-Jawad was sentenced to five years in a Saudi Arabian jail and 1,000 lashes for vaunting his sexual escapades on a Lebanon-based Arabic station, LBC. The self-professed philanderer, a divorced father of four, was detained in July, shortly after appearing on the show Bold Red Line, where he detailed his technique for picking up women at shopping malls—live on TV. He also paraded a number of sex toys in front of the camera, and reflected on losing his virginity at the age of 14.
In the West, Jawad, dubbed a “sex braggart” and the “Saudi Casanova” by the Saudi press, might have simply been written off as a lout looking for his 15 minutes of fame. Not in the kingdom, where unmarried men and women are forbidden from mingling and the Islamic religious elite reigns over many areas of public life. Jawad’s TV escapade led 200 Saudis to file legal complaints against him. Continue…
By Michael Barclay - Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 4:00 PM - 0 Comments
A small victory, but for women other changes are coming slowly
Education in Saudi Arabia used to be strictly segregated along gender lines. That’s all changed with the opening last month of the kingdom’s first co-ed university—the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Not only will women be able to study and work alongside men, they won’t be required to wear veils and will be permitted to drive cars—both serious no-nos for all other Saudi women.
It’s a bold move in Saudi Arabia, where the status of women has often been described as akin to apartheid. KAUST exists outside the education ministry—it’s run by Aramco, the state oil company, which invested $10 billion in its construction. The university is part of King Abdullah’s plan to diversify the Saudi economy beyond oil, and to create new opportunities for the large Saudi youth population (more than half of the population is under 25). To do this, KAUST could be considered a trial balloon to expand women’s education. Continue…
By The Editors - Friday, August 21, 2009 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Plus a week in the life of Y.E. Yang
Face of the week
Suaad Hagi Mohamud is reunited with her son in Toronto after spending three months in Kenya due to an identity dispute
A week in the life of Y.E. Yang
The 37-year-old South Korean arrived at the PGA Championship in Chaska, Minn., ranked 110th in the world. On Friday, he scored a two under par 70, leaving him six strokes behind the leader and odds-on favourite, Tiger Woods. But a 67 on Saturday drew Yang within striking distance of Woods, and on Sunday, he clinched victory on the 18th with a brilliant shot over a tree. After the win, Yang received a congratulatory phone call from South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 24, 2008 at 8:12 PM - 13 Comments
In a rare show of tactical bipartisanship, the three opposition parties combined to ask four consecutive questions this afternoon on the matter of Omar Khadr. If the opposition persists on this front, it’ll be maybe another week before Irwin Cotler charges across the aisle and strangles Lawrence Cannon.
While reading his prepared lines—amazing that the Conservatives still want to be heard maintaining that Mr. Khadr has been treated “humanely”—the new Foreign Affairs Minister did manage to vow that “the Government of Canada does not want to interfere in the judicial sovereignty of another nation.”
This will surely come as some surprise to Saudi Arabia and the two young Canadians it is currently planning to behead.
By Lianne George - Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 4:08 PM - 0 Comments
What do you do when you’re a businesswoman living in a country like Saudi…
What do you do when you’re a businesswoman living in a country like Saudi Arabia, where until a few months ago, it was illegal for you to set foot into a hotel (where business is often conducted) without a guardian or “mahram”? (Now, after a Royal Decree was issued by Saudi prince Talal Abdul Aziz Al Saud earlier this year, the only requirement for women checking into a hotel is their national ID card. Also, the front desk must inform the local police of their room reservation and the duration of their stay.)
Well, the new Luthan Hotel and Spa, Saudi Arabia’s first women-only hotel, opened in March, was designed to ameliorate the situation. The project came together under the direction of 20 Saudi princesses and businesswoman, according to an article in Marie Claire magazine this month. Men (even boys) are forbidden from entering the property. All staff are women. Inside is a sort of “sanctuary” for female professionals where they can remove their veils, go for a work-out, or hang out at the spa, and presumably hold meetings without ever having to set eyes on a dude. Which is great. Except of course it doesn’t resolve the little matter of having to conduct business with men, who comprise 95 per cent of the workforce.