Editorial: America needs to do more

Updated 29 March 2014
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Editorial: America needs to do more

There can be no downplaying the importance of the visit of President Barack Obama who will hold talks with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah today. Over Syria, Palestine and Iran in particular, the two countries have much to discuss at what seems a crucially important moment for the Middle East.
The Kingdom has enjoyed a long friendship with the United States based on mutual respect and understanding. Washington has appreciated Saudi Arabia’s pivotal role in the Gulf and the wider Arab world and Islamic community. And it has also accepted with alacrity key initiatives such as the 2002 Abdullah framework for Palestinian peace, which remains the cornerstone of the current stumbling negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.
However, no relationship between sovereign nations can avoid differences. There have been times when wise advice proffered by the Kingdom was not responded to by Washington very positively — especially in two important policy areas — Syria and Iran.
From the outset three years ago, it was clear that Syria was experiencing a popular uprising against the endless repression by Bashar Assad regime. The final straw was the police murder of children who had sprayed anti-regime graffiti on a wall in Deraa. A fast-spreading popular revolt was met by brutality that appalled a watching world. Refugees began to flee as the violence unfolded. In the early days, the insurgents only had the light weapons of defectors or those they had seized from Assad’s troops and arsenals. With these they fought back against well-trained government forces heavily armed by Syria’s all-important ally, Russia.
The Arab League’s valiant efforts to broker a truce and end the conflict, not least in the beleaguered city of Hama, were from the outset exploited by Damascus to replenish and regroup its forces while continuing assaults on insurgent positions out of sight of the international media. At this point, firm international action, led by the United States, could have stopped the fighting for real. It did not require more US boots on the ground. It simply needed the strategic destruction of key Assad military infrastructure. The message would have been that if he did not negotiate for real, the Syrian leader would see the same detailed obliteration of his aircraft and tanks that had been visited on Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. But since no action was taken Assad continued with his killing spree.
Likewise, the United States' clear eagerness for a rapprochement with Iran has confused a straightforward issue. Iran is being sanctioned because it refused to comply with its international treaty obligations to have its nuclear program inspected. Yet it is being rewarded with reduced sanctions, for being prepared to negotiate about an obligation which is in fact non-negotiable. When sanctions are fully lifted, it ought not to be a reward for good behavior. Rather it ought to be seen simply as the ending of a punishment for bad behavior.
And given Iranian interference in the support of Assad, it is odd that the country is being given concessions. Had the US taken that into account before going for rapprochement, it would have gone very well with the countries in the region.
Also the United States has done nothing to force the Netanyahu government to quit its illegal settlement building and sit down and talk for real with the Palestinians. Let's hope the US president's current visit to the Kingdom opens a new chapter of fair and balanced US approach toward the Syrian and Iranian issues.


EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

Saudi drivers take a flooded street in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017
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EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

It has happened again. The roads, streets and many underpasses in Jeddah were flooded with rainwater on Tuesday. Many areas were turned into lakes because of the heavy, though forecast, downpour. In some areas, water was knee-deep while in others it was chest-deep. People were stuck in their vehicles and many were seen pushing their vehicles to the side of the roads with great difficulty. In low-lying areas, citizens struggled to remove their belongings from flooded houses.

For the residents of Jeddah, rain has, more often than not, brought trouble and devastation. Whenever the skies open up, thoughts go back to that “Black Wednesday” of November 25, 2009, when more than 100 people lost their lives and property worth billions of riyals was destroyed. An investigation was opened into the disaster and some of the guilty were taken to court and tried; some of the small fry were even jailed. As has been the case in the past, the mighty arm of the law could barely touch those at the top who enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

And so it was business as usual until the rain began to wreak havoc again, reminding us that the laws of nature take their course and that hiding your head in the sand does not chase the clouds away.

Having said that, it must be admitted that, yes, lessons were learned. A disaster management team was set up. The weather forecast department became active in issuing alerts. In fact, Tuesday could have been far worse had it not been for the timely alert from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and a prompt decision by the Ministry of Education to suspend classes, schools and universities in and around Jeddah. That helped in keeping people and vehicles off the streets. At noon on Tuesday, it looked as if the city were under some kind of curfew.

The questions that are on everyone's minds right now are: Why is it that rain renders the city helpless and immobile at this time every year? Why have efforts to create effective rainwater drainage systems not borne fruit despite pumping billions of riyals into new projects such as dams and canals? Why is it that the authorities are found wanting whenever heavy rain occurs? More importantly, what is the solution?

Here is the answer. These floods are a stark reminder of why the current drive against corruption is so essential. It is required in order to instill the fear of law into high-ranking officials and heads of construction companies and civic bodies who have failed in their responsibilities. Those who have cut corners and have pocketed public money, those who have not delivered on the projects and who have provided substandard services must pay for their sins of omission.

This is exactly what is happening. No one is above the law. The guilty, whoever they are, however high up they are, will have to pay — and they are. In this new era of transparency and accountability — initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — word has gone down from top to bottom that no one is immune. If you are guilty you will be punished. Those responsible for the havoc of the floods on Tuesday will have no rest either.