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Ongoing Saudi-Iranian Proxy Conflict likely to worsen amid Hajj Row after last year’s stampede

University of Paris political science professor Khattar Abou Diab told VOA Saudi Arabia thinks Iran is trying to harm it as well

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Muslims During Hajj. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The ongoing proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia appears to be worsening after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, scolded Saudi leaders over their alleged responsibility in last year’s hajj stampede. Pro-Iranian media have also been playing up recent pro-Iranian Iraqi Shi’ite militias sending “volunteers” to fight Saudi coalition forces in Yemen.

Iranian state TV broadcast video Tuesday of victims from last year’s hajj stampede. Tehran says hundreds of its citizens were killed and Saudi Arabia has lied about the real number of casualties.

Hajj Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Hajj
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The television report played up blistering comments by Khamenei calling Saudi leaders “little Satans and apprentice political sorcerers who ignore God and maintain their unholy grip on power” by allying themselves with what he called the world’s arrogant nations, generally a reference to the U.S. and Israel.

Saudi Arabia’s head of security for the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, General Ahmed Ahmedi, refuted the Iranian claims of Saudi negligence and insisted the kingdom does its utmost to protect visitors to the Islamic holy sites.

He said Saudi security forces take the greatest pains to serve the visitors to the holy sites and offer them the best security from their arrival to their departure.

Former Iranian president Abolhassan Bani Sadr, who lives in exile in France, told VOA the hajj pilgrimage is just one facet of the ongoing conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Propaganda, economic war

Bani Sadr said Khamenei is accusing Saudi Arabia of committing crimes against Muslims during the hajj, but added that Iran is guilty of crimes in the region. He said Iran and Saudi Arabia have tried to dominate the region, creating rival alliances from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, and sowing death and destruction.

Bani Sadr stresses that there is a “propaganda war” taking place, alongside actual fighting in the battlefield, and an “economic war” that Saudi Arabia is waging against Iran by pumping excess quantities of crude to drive down prices and suffocate Iran.

University of Paris political science professor Khattar Abou Diab told VOA Saudi Arabia thinks Iran is trying to harm it as well.

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He said Saudi leaders have the impression Iran is trying to encircle it by way of its maneuvering in Yemen, Iraq, and the Gulf. He argues there is a danger of the ongoing proxy war developing into a direct conflict if world powers do not act to avert it.

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Pro-Iranian media emphasized Monday that Yemen’s Houthi rebels have developed new ballistic missile technology and are capable of striking deep into Saudi territory. Forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh have fired modified SCUD rockets into Saudi territory, but it remains unclear how many they still possess. (VOA)

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White House: Judge’s Decision Halting Travel Ban ‘Dangerously Flawed’

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Travel Ban
A sign for International Arrivals is shown at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.VOA

The White House is reacting furiously to a federal judge blocking President Donald Trump’s latest executive Travel Ban order that would have banned entry to travelers from several countries beginning Wednesday.

“Today’s dangerously flawed district court order undercuts the president’s efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States,” said a White House statement issued Tuesday shortly after Judge Derrick Watson ruled against restrictions on travelers from six countries the Trump administration said could not provide enough information to meet U.S. security standards.

The travel ban order would have barred to various degrees travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Watson’s temporary restraining order does not interfere with restrictions on North Korea and Venezuela.

Justice Department defends White House

The Justice Department “will vigorously defend the president’s lawful action,” the White House said, contending its proclamation restricting travel was issued after an extensive worldwide security review.

The Justice Department called the ruling incorrect and said it will appeal the decision “in an expeditious manner.”

Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke said: “While we will comply with any lawful judicial order, we look forward to prevailing in this matter upon appeal.”

Acting Director of Homeland Security Elaine Duke
Acting Director of Homeland Security Elaine Duke testifies before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

No change for North Korea, Venezuela

The new travel order “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: it lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be ‘detrimental to the United States,'” Judge Watson wrote in his opinion.

The White House argues that its restrictions “are vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our nation.”

Officials in the White House are expressing confidence that further judicial review will uphold the president’s action.

Hawaii involved for third time

Consular officials have been told to resume “regular processing of visas” for people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, according to a State Department official.

The suit on which Judge Watson ruled on Tuesday was filed by the state of Hawaii, the Muslim Association of Hawaii and various individuals.

“This is the third time Hawaii has gone to court to stop President Trump from issuing a travel ban that discriminates against people based on their nation of origin or religion,” said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin. “Today is another victory for the rule of law.”(VOA)

 

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Will India See an end to Haj Subsidy? A Government Panel Recommends Phasing it out in the new Haj Policy

Haj subsidy is given to those who go through the Haj Committee of India and not through private operators. The subsidy amount has in the recent years been between Rs 650-700 crore

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Haj policy
The proposed Haj Policy 2018-22 has been submitted to Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. (IANS)

Mumbai, October 8, 2017 : A government-appointed panel for revising India’s Haj policy has recommended abolishing subsidy for the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mekkah and Medina in Saudi Arabia besides allowing women devotees aged over 45 to travel in a group of at least four without a male relative.

The proposed Haj Policy 2018-22, submitted to Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, has been drafted in light of a 2012 Supreme Court direction to gradually reduce and completely remove the subsidy by 2022.

“It is advisable that the existing reduction plan (phasing out of subsidy) be followed,” according to the recommendations.

In a major reform, the draft Haj policy proposes to partially quash an earlier rule that barred women Haj aspirants to travel without ‘mehram’, a close family member like husband, father or brother.

“Ladies above 45 years of age be allowed in a group of four or more to go for Haj without a mehram,” the panel recommended.

Women below 45, however, will have to be accompanied by a male family member, according to the draft Haj policy that proposes to increase the quota for mehrams from 200 to 500.

Among other recommendations, made by the panel headed by former secretary Afzal Amanullah, are bringing down the number of embarkation points from which pilgrims can take flights to Saudi Arabia from the present 21 to nine.

The embarkation points for Haj pilgrims from next year would be New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Kochi and Ahmedabad.

The distribution of quota between Haj Committee of India and private tour operators will be in the ratio of 70:30 — almost a five percent hike for the private players.

This year, the Haj quota for India — home to the world’s third largest Muslim population — was increased to 170,025, of which 125,025 was allocated to the Haj committee and 45,000 to the privater tour operators.

ALSO READ After 22 years, India mulling resuming use of Arabian Sea route to ferry Haj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia

On the long-pending proposal to revive Haj pilgrimage by ship, Naqvi said the Saudi government would be consulted and then it would float an expression of interest to guage the market for such travel.

Independent tour operators say travel by ship would drastically reduce the cost per pilgrim to around Rs 60,000, making it affordable to a larger section of the population.

Regarding the distribution of Haj quota among states and union territories, the panel has recommended that it should be in the ratio of the Muslim population and in proportion to the number of applications received from each state or union territory.

Special quota for Haj pilgrims from Jammu and Kashmir will be increased from existing 1,500 to 2,000.

The reserved category of applicants in the 70-plus age group and fourth-timers has been abolished and they would go through the normal lottery. (IANS)

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Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women drivers; 7 more bans yet to be addressed for Saudi women

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A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia, Oct. 22, 2013. VOA

Oct 2, 2017: The Sharia-ruled monarchy of the Middle-East, Saudi Arabia decided to lift the ban on women drivers on September 26, much to the elation of Women’s Rights Activists throughout the world. King Salman issued a royal decree on Tuesday granting Saudi women the right to drive thereby ending the kingdom’s notorious reputation of being the only country that prohibits women from driving. The law will come into effect on June 24, 2018.

While the pronouncement signifies a “positive step” towards women-empowerment, the conclusion of whether such laws can be turned into practice in a patriarchal society like Saudi Arabia can be drawn only with the unfolding of time.

Apart from relaxing the ban on women drivers, the Gulf Kingdom also terminated a series of interdicts forced upon the women. A handful of loosened bans included that women will no longer require approval from their guardian to work.

Another significant statute blessed upon women the freedom to enter the sports stadiums albeit exclusively for the Saudi National Day besides the compulsory edict of being seated only in a family section far away from single men.

The Government has also passed laws allowing girls in public schools to play sports and have access to physical education.

saudi women
UN Women political cartoon. Wikimedia

While everyone is busy celebrating women drivers in Saudi Arabia, there is still a myriad of bans inflicted on women. These are:

1. Following the divorce, Saudi women are permitted to keep their children with them only till they reach the age limit of 7years (for girls) and 9years (for boys).

2. Saudi women cannot marry and divorce without the due consent of their male guardian. The male head dominates everything in a Saudi family.

3. The women of Saudi Arabia do not have the permission to get a passport without the prior assent of their male guardian.

Also Read: A step forward: Saudi Women take up active roles in an All female Emergency Call Centre 

4. The approval of the male guardian is also required during any medical emergency. Women cannot take a voluntary decision regarding issues that concern the question of their life and death!

5. Women do not possess the right to socialize with men except for immediate family members. Consequently, all the restaurants and places of public entertainment in Saudi Arabia maintain two sections, one for the men where women cannot enter and the other for families.

6. Under Sharia laws, daughters can inherit property but only half of what is received by their male counterparts.

7. Saudi women cannot even start a work unless two male members testify about her character in a law court before she can be granted a loan or a license.

Prepared by Mohima Haque of Newsgram. Twitter @mohimahaque26