Arab Strategy Forum: Saudi reforms positive for 1.8 billion Muslims

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Arab Strategy Forum session in Dubai on Monday chaired by Faisal J. Abbas and featuring Ed Husain, center, and Omar Saif Ghobash, right. (AN)
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Mohammad Al-Gergawi, President of the Arab Strategy Forum, gives his opening remarks. (WAM)
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Above, Sean Cleary of FutureWorld Foundation. (WAM)
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Nick Allan of Contol Risks, above, said the US and China are competing in the next decade in both technology, economy and hopefully not military. (AN)
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From left: Faisal Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Arab News, Ed Husain, co-founder of UK’s counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, and Omar Ghobash, Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy. (AN)
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Ed Husain, a co-founder of UK’s counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, stresses a point during a panel at Arab Strategy Forum. (WAM)
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Omar Ghobash, Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy. (WAM)
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Above, Dr. Vikram Mansharamani, Harvard lecturer and author of “Boombustology: Spotting Financial Bubbles Before They Burst” at Arab Strategy Forum. (AN)
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From left: Zeina Soufan of Dubai TV, Alain Bejjani of the International Advisory Board of the Atlantic Council, Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Hamidy of the Arab Monetary Fund, Dr. Abdulmonem Said of The Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, and international oil economist Dr. Mamdouh Salameh. (AN)
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From left: Becky Anderson of CNN, Karim Sadjadpour, Chief Iran Expert and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dr. Elena Suponina, Advisor at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Dr. Abdulaziz Bin Sager, Founder and Chairman of the Gulf Research Center, and Huseyin Bagci, Deputy Director of Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara. (WAM)
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From left: Emad El Din Adeeb, Dr. Marwan Muasher, Former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Jordan, and Fouad Siniora, former Prime Minister of Lebanon. (AN)
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From left: Former US vice president Dick Cheney, Sean Cleary, and former foreign minister of China Li Zhaoxing. (AN)
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From left: Former US vice president Dick Cheney, former foreign minister of China Li Zhaoxing, and the Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. (WAM)
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From left: Mohammad Al-Gergawi, President of the Arab Strategy Forum, and the Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. (WAM)
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Huseyin Bagci, Professor and Chair of International Relations Department at M.E.T.U and Deputy Director of Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara (WAM)
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Above, attendees at the Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai. (WAM)
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Updated 10 December 2019

Arab Strategy Forum: Saudi reforms positive for 1.8 billion Muslims

  • Author Ed Husain says Kingdom's reforms are not just about Saudi Arabia but the whole Islamic world
  • UAE Minister Omar Saif Ghobash says Arab states would be better off if they separated economic problems from religious ones

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia came in for high praise at the Arab Strategy Forum, an annual event in Dubai attended by prominent scholars, diplomats, strategists and media professionals with the aim to forecast the events and trends for the next 10 years.

Taking part in a panel discussion on Monday with the theme “Future of Islamism in the Next Decade,” Ed Husain, a co-founder of UK’s counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, drew attention to the ongoing reforms in the Kingdom.

Describing the changes as positive yet “unanticipated,” he praised the Kingdom’s efforts.

“These reforms are not just about Saudi Arabia, they affect the whole region: 1.8 billion Muslims look in that direction several times a day,” he said.

“We are looking to the future of Saudi Arabia as it affects all Muslims around the world,” he said, adding that with these changes, “Muslims and the rest of the world are better for it.”

Since the announcement of the Vision 2030 reform plans in 2016, Saudi Arabia has witnessed steady progress in women’s empowerment.

The most prominent examples are the lifting of the driving ban on women and the removal of a guardianship system that now enables Saudi women to travel or obtain a passport without male consent.

Other advances include the enactment of an anti-harassment law and changes to laws regarding custody and alimony. Women have been allowed to enter new fields such as aviation, state security, economy, entrepreneurship, tourism and entertainment.

Besides praising Saudi Arabia, Husain described the UAE as a country with “an almost ideal model,” where people are “privately pious and realise it is the state and not the mosque that is responsible for solving your social and economic issues.”

Ed Husain, center, co-founder of UK’s counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, discusses a point during the panel ‘Future of Islamism in the Next Decade.’ (AN)

In his comments on “mosque and state,” Omar Saif Ghobash, assistant minister for cultural affairs at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said there is a need to redefine what it means to be a Muslim Arab today.

Ghobash, who served as UAE’s ambassador to France and Russia and is the author of “Letters to a Young Muslim,” said the definition is needed because it is no longer exceptional in the region to be creative, progressive and economically driven.

If one looks at history, the religious class carried a great deal of authority in how cities operated, he  said. But with advances in knowledge and the creation of various specializations, “the clerical class” can no longer claim to have the ability to answer all questions that may fall under topics such as transport policies, logistics and demographic challenges.

According to Ghobash, “the new generation fortunately does not have a deep understanding of their own history, and maybe that’s a way for them to be more positive of the future — unburdened by their forefather’s baggage.”

The findings of a poll developed by Arab News as part of an ongoing collaboration with the ASF, “Mosque and state: How Arabs see the next 10 years,” were revealed during the panel discussion.

Moderating the session, Faisal J. Abbas, editor-in-chief of Arab News, cited YouGov poll data suggesting that the Arab world remains religious despite reforms and changes in different fields.

The survey suggests that 51 percent of Arabs are in favor of places of worship for other religions but fear a secular state model.

Husain ascribed the stigma connected with secularism in the region to the absence of a native, authentic and relevant definition that Arabs could identity with.

Under the circumstance, “the failure to articulate a strong Arab identity will create a vacuum for extreme Islamism,” said Husain, whose 2007 book “The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left” has been described as “as much a memoir of personal struggle and inner growth as it is a report on a new type of extremism.”

Criticizing political parties and organizations with an extremist agenda, he asked: “What has Hamas done for Gaza? What has Hezbollah done for Lebanon? What has the Muslim Brotherhood done for the Egyptians? The uprisings led to instability.”

He suggested “progress” as the best model for Arab states to adopt, pointing out that a desire to overthrow the government — as seen in the Arab Spring revolts since 2011— does not result in a “utopian” system.

“We are still suffering from the revolutions since 2011 but what we have seen is a strong response to them ... and that the overthrowing of a governments didn’t work, doesn’t work and will not work.”

Echoing Husain’s views, Ghobash said the sheer scale of social and economic problems across the Arab world is a result of power being used to drive an extremist agenda.

In his view, Arab states would be better off it they correctly identified and separated economic problems from religious ones.

Houthis are ‘threat’ to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the entire region

A houthi rebel fighter holds his a weapon during a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP)
Updated 21 September 2020

Houthis are ‘threat’ to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the entire region

  • Five civilians injured in lastest attack at village in Jazan

JEDDAH: Houthi militias in Yemen are continuing to break international humanitarian law by targeting civilians in Saudi Arabia.
In its latest attacks on Saudi terrority, the group launched a projectile at a village in the southern Jazan region on Saturday. Five people were injured and property was damaged.
The Iran-backed militia has attacked Saudi Arabia’s territory, killing and injuring civilians in the process, since the start of the war in 2015, often to international condemnation.
“The Kingdom has tackled many Houthi attacks, which included ballistic missiles and drones that were originally intended to target civilians,” political analyst and international relations expert Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “If it wasn’t for the Kingdom’s instant response they would have caused very big damage.”
Al-Shehri said that a group like the Houthis were not expected to act differently, other than be violent and destructive. He pointed the finger at the international community for its silence as well as countries that have lifted an arms ban on Iran.
“The recently apprehended Houthi cell in Yemen smuggling Iranian weapons has admitted to receiving training in Iran, evidence of Iran’s continued involvement in Yemen. Therefore, this makes the US unilateral proclamation to reinforce UN sanctions against Iran the right thing to do now.”
Al-Shehri added that the militia was an organization whose activities would still endanger the lives of Yemeni civilians even if they did not harm neighboring countries. “They use cities as a shield and launch their rockets from inside Sanaa, among civilians.”
He said that the international community, as part of its responsibility to maintain global peace and security, was required to spare Yemenis the agony and scourge of war by implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2216 and bring the Houthis back to the negotiation table for an inclusive political solution.
“The Houthis are a threat to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the entire region as long as weapons remain in their hands,” Al-Shehri said.
The attack in Jazan was condemned by Egypt, Jordan and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The OIC secretary-general, Yousef Al-Othaimeen, affirmed the organization’s standing and solidarity with the Kingdom in all the measures it took to protect its borders, citizens, and residents on its territory.