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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bahraini Islamic bank eyes French operations

By Frederik Richter

MANAMA, April 22 (Reuters) - Bahrain-based Islamic lender Al Baraka Banking Group BARKA.BH said on Wednesday it planned to enter the French market to tap into Western Europe's largest Muslim community.

The penetration of Muslim populations in European countries is seen as a key element for future growth of the nascent Islamic finance industry, but penetration has been slowed by the need for national regulation to cover Islamic product structures.

France is currently changing its legal system to allow Islamic financial institutions to provide services to its 5 million Muslims.

Al-Baraka's units in North Africa are planning tie-ups with French partners to "establish Islamic banking in France", it said in a statement on the Nasdaq Dubai, where it is also listed.

"However, there are no agreements entered into up to now, (nor any) legal arrangements being processed," it said.

Paris Europlace, the body promoting Paris as a financial centre, told Reuters' Islamic Finance Summit last week France would license its first Islamic bank by end-June.

Gilles Saint Marc, chairman of the body's Islamic finance committee, said a licence application was placed in early March and that the bank was likely to launch with 40 million euros in capital raised with investors in Gulf Arab states Bahrain and Qatar.

A French financial institution plans to sell a 1 billion euro ($1.32 billion) sukuk this year, marking the first issuance of Islamic corporate debt in Europe.

Islamic banks cater to investors who want to avoid paying or earning interest, which is forbidden under Islamic law. (Editing by Will Waterman) (Click on [ID:nISLAMIC] for more Islamic finance stories and ISLAMIC for a speed guide). Learn more Understanding Islamic Banking. The Value Proposition that Transcends Cultures

Women’s ‘sports clubs’ face the ax

Najah Alosaimi, Arab News
RIYADH: The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs will close women’s unlicensed sports clubs in the Kingdom unless they are operated by medical organizations.

Hamad Al-Omar, the ministry spokesman, said the present women’s independent sports clubs do not have commercial registration for the provision of sport and health services.

The General Presidency of Sport and Youth Welfare, which provides licenses to men’s sports clubs, does not do the same for women’s clubs. No other government department has the authority to give licenses to establish women’s clubs. This is a major factor that has led to the emergence of unlicensed sports clubs for women.

According to Saleh bin Nasir, deputy director in the Presidency, a request has been submitted to the appropriate authorities asking for permission to establish women’s clubs. “We are waiting for a decision from the authorities,” he said.

The lack of a licensing authority for women’s sports clubs has forced investors either to abandon their project or find ways to circumvent the rules.

Two years ago, businessman Bader Al-Shibani wanted to open a women’s sports club along with the one he runs for men in Jeddah. “I ran into a stone wall at every turn. Every department I visited denied that they had the authority to give permission to establish a women’s club,” he said, adding, “In the end, I just abandoned the project.”

Meanwhile, others get around the difficulty by deciding to register their businesses as “beauty salons” and then provide — in addition to beauty services — a full complement of fitness, health and weight-loss programs.

Attorney and community activist Abdulaziz Al-Qasim thinks that every department has preferred to turn a blind eye to the matter of sports clubs for women in order to avoid social fuss and “random fatwas, which would most likely appear once women’s sports are recognized.”

“It’s clear that one department is now taking the decision to put an end to the increasing number of unlicensed clubs, which other departments have created by their refusal to give them approval instead of coordinating with one another,” he said.

The ministry began implementing its decision in Jeddah by taking action against two women’s clubs from 15 unlicensed ones and one in Dammam, according to Al-Madinah newspaper.

Raja’a is a supervisor in one of the clubs, which is officially listed as a beauty salon but provides swimming lessons, sauna, massage and a fitness gym. She said that a female inspector from the municipality had asked them to move the fitness facilities away from the salon.

“Since our sports club receives about 150 visitors every day, we decided to rent another location and open a natural treatment clinic,” Raja’a said.

Raja’a’s case illustrates how business owners can still get around the rule and open sports clubs described as natural treatment clinics.

Saudi social worker Bolger Eman Al-Nafjan, sees this reaction as “natural,” especially when the rules obstruct their work instead of facilitating it.

She supports the ministry’s decision to close unauthorized women’s clubs, but added that such steps should be taken only after clarifying which department is responsible for licensing the clubs.

Some Saudis believe that there is a lack of enthusiasm for allowing sports clubs for women or allowing them to operate officially in the Kingdom. Perhaps, they said, the religious scholars’ antipathy to women’s sports further complicates the issue.

The ministry’s decision coincides with a recent statement by a Saudi scholar describing women who participate in sport as “shameless.” On his official website Abdulrahman Al-Barak, the scholar, wrote about the consequences of opening women’s sports clubs, saying the clubs would encourage women all over the Kingdom to leave their homes.

Similarly, in an interview with Al-Eqtisadiah television last year, Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh said: “Women should be housewives; there is no need for them to engage in sports. Such practices don’t serve society.”

Halimah Muzaffar, a Saudi writer who highlights the importance of women’s sports in her columns, said sport should not be regulated. “It’s like any other natural activity that every human being — regardless of their sex — should pursue in accordance with our Islamic values.”

The ministry’s decision was greeted with disappointment by many sports club directors and clients. They said that the decision would impact their businesses as well as the new culture among women for staying fit through sports.

Leena Hamamy, director of a fitness center at Al-Khalidia Towers, believes that the lack of licensed clubs is the direct result of poor services in the existing clubs. “Our visa applications for bringing qualified trainers are rejected because women’s clubs are not listed to operate,” she said.

Leena said she could not understand the need for a campaign to close women’s clubs which help women stay healthy while shisha caf├ęs are all over the country. “Clubs here are operated by women and for women and we only offer activities that coincide with our values, including strict regulations on dress code.”

Fitness trainer So’ad Katab said Saudi society had an urgent need to increase the number of women’s clubs “because as kids, women were prevented from practicing sport at school and when they grow up they don’t have a place to watch their health and socialize.” She added that many women come to her clubs on doctor’s advice.

The new regulation has not yet been applied to any club in Riyadh. Eight months ago Bodoor Al-Naemy, 34, joined an expensive club in Riyadh to exercise. “Working out with a group motivates me,” she said, adding that closing women’s clubs would frustrate many because “health and fitness clubs in medical centers have high subscription fees compared to private ones.”

How Do French Muslims See the Virginity Case?

Compiled By Radwa Khorshid

Under French law, a marriage can be annulled if there has been "an error about the person or the essential qualities of the person."
In France, a court of appeal in Douai gave a verdict on the marriage of a young Muslim couple that comes against last May's original decision of Lille's court which annulled the marriage because the bride had lied about being a virgin.

According to the new court ruling, the couple remains effectively married, even though both partners have already moved on with their lives.

It is worth mentioning that the French Justice Minister, Rachida Dati, was the one who asked state prosecutors to file an appeal against the ruling annulling the marriage of the Muslim couple.

Under French law, a marriage can be annulled if there has been "an error about the person or the essential qualities of the person."

The law does not state what the essential qualities are but marriages have been annulled for reasons such as impotence, if a partner does not reveal a previous marriage or a child, or if the wife hides that she had been a prostitute. (IOL)'s European Muslims Page is presenting some of the French Muslim prominent figures' opinions about the challenges faced by French Muslims when it comes to the procedures required by European laws for marriage in general and this case in particular. Whether you are a French Muslim or a European Muslim facing, almost, the same challenge, you are invited to share with us your thoughts on this case through "Add Your Comment" tool or European Muslims e-mail.

This case may be seen by some French Muslims as a tiny private case, but definitely it has a significant meaning hidden behind it. I can see it as an exact replica of the usual Western tunnel vision of Islam and Muslims. Whether people who relate such a minor case to Islam and Muslims have goodwill or not, they always, mistakenly, mix between Muslim women's troubles and Islam as a religion.

I believe some of the media outlets make the most use of these minor cases to attract more audience. Moreover, they should be bearing in mind that for any media outlet using the word Islam is now one of the key to guaranteed success especially post-9/11.

I also see those feminist movements' reactions toward the first verdict, which annulled the marriage, is an expected response which aims to hit back at French Muslim women's attack on the hijab law.

Further more, some media outlets focus on such cases in an attempt to divert attention away from some crucial cases that are relevant to French Muslims such as the equality between people of different religious beliefs, the discriminatory attitude towards Muslims in some cases, etc.

What happened yesterday is that a French court of appeal ruled against the verdict of Lille's court to annul the marriage of two young Muslim couple after the groom complained his bride was not virgin as she claimed before marriage. I believe the French secularism is recently having its own privacies which differentiate between the private life and another part of the same private life which is spent in public. The case of hijab in France is a very good example to what I am saying. Although the French constitution doesn't prevent hijab, or any religious symbol, inside French schools, a new law was issued by the French government, in 2004, preventing hijab in both primary and secondary state schools. This law is against the constitution and against the French Muslim women's rights.

However, French Muslims recognize the fact that they are living in "The State of Law," and they have to respect their government's regulations in order not to be punished. So to sum it up, I can say that French Muslims always take the Islamic rule: the necessities permit prohibitions into their consideration while being subjected to such verdicts and rules.

As a French Muslim, I don't see any problems with Shari`ah in this court case as it is a case of trust not Shri`ah. The real problem is with the people in France themselves; they are very much against Islam and Muslims and they always subject Muslims to condemnation. Any subject that has to do with Islam or even close to Islam heats a big controversy. The problem is not with Islam or virginity, but with French people being anti-Islam and Islamophobic. They seize any chance to say that Muslims are barbarians. I am really sorry for this Muslim couple.

When it comes to Muslims' marriage in France, I do think that although Muslims in France have to go through many procedures, both civil and Islamic procedures of marriage, to get married, yet, I don't see having Shari`ah courts in France must be given our priority at this very moment especially that we overcome this through Islamic illegal marriage under the supervision of imams. Struggling against Islamophobia in France must be our first priority.

Based on the fact that we live in a secular country that accepts only civil marriage, I don't see any problem with this verdict. I agree that the court might have been affected by the debate over this case from the very beginning, but still, the case must remain a private case that should concern only this Muslim couple .

I call for equality between French citizens, from different religious back grounds and of different origins, when it comes to citizenship, this topic must be placed at the top of the French Muslims' agenda instead of the civil marriage issue.

According to Dr. Al-Qaradawi's fiqh of Muslim minorities, "the marriage in the West is a civil marriage." I personally go for civil marriage as I believe that civil marriage is a significant way to save French Muslim women's rights especially when the alternative is unofficial or temporary marriage. Virginity is not a requirement for marriage in Islam and the Muslim couple's case is a very private case not to be discussed in public.
Source : IslamOnline

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bahraini Islamic bank eyes France

Bahrain-based Islamic lender Al Baraka Banking Group said on Wednesday it planned to enter the French market to tap into Western Europe's largest Muslim community.

The penetration of Muslim populations in European countries is seen as a key element for future growth of the nascent Islamic finance industry, but penetration has been slowed by the need for national regulation to cover Islamic product structures.

France is currently changing its legal system to allow Islamic financial institutions to provide services to its 5 million Muslims.

Al Baraka's units in North Africa are planning tie-ups with French partners to "establish Islamic banking in France", it said in a statement on the Nasdaq Dubai, where it is also listed.
"However, there are no agreements entered into up to now, (nor any) legal arrangements being processed," it said.

Paris Europlace, the body promoting Paris as a financial centre, told Reuters' Islamic Finance Summit last week that France would license its first Islamic bank by end-June.

Gilles Saint Marc, chairman of the body's Islamic finance committee, said a licence application was placed in early March and that the bank was likely to launch with 40 million euros in capital raised from investors in Bahrain and Qatar.

A French financial institution plans to sell a 1 billion euro ($1.32 billion) sukuk this year, marking the first issuance of Islamic corporate debt in Europe.
Source : Reuters

US policy on Hamas 'unchanged'

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has reiterated the US position that it will not deal with or fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas until certain conditions are met.

Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that Hamas must renounce violence, recognise Israel and agreed to "previous obligations" of the Palestinian Authority.

She said it appeared that Hamas had "no intention" that this would happen but said the US wanted to "leave open the door".

However Osama Hamdan, a senior member of Hamas in Damascus, said the US was working against the Palestinian people by adopting such conditions.

"Hillary Clinton must understand that there is a Palestinian democracy and there [were] Palestinian elections and someone won those elections," he said.

"She must talk to those people or at least respect the choice of the Palestinians. By her position she is against the Palestinian people [and] she is against [their] choices."

Iran sanctions

Clinton also did not rule out the possibility of further sanctions against Iran should diplomacy fail over its nuclear programme.

In her first congressional testimony since her confirmation hearing in January, Clinton said the US was confident it could, with the help of global partners, put together a comprehensive sanctions regime against Iran "should we need it".

"We actually believe that by following the diplomatic path we are on, we gain credibility and influence with a number of nations who would have to participate in order to make the sanctions regime as tight and as crippling as we would want it to be," she said.

"We are deploying new approaches to the threat posed by Iran, and we're doing so with our eyes wide open and with no illusions."

Iran has rejected Western allegations that its nuclear programme is intended to develop weapons, saying it is solely for peaceful energy purposes.

Pakistan criticism

Clinton also had heavy criticism for the Pakistani government, saying it was "basically abdicating to the Taliban" in agreeing to the imposition of sharia law in parts of the country.

On North Korea, she said the US wanted to resume six-nation nuclear talks with the isolated nation but the world must not "give in" to the North's "unpredictable behaviour".

And on Sri Lanka, Clinton said the US had been pressing the government to halt the fighting in order to assist civilians and criticised the Tamil Tiger leadership for "little openness" ending their operations.

Some Republican members of the committee pressed Clinton on the decision by the administration of Barack Obama, the US president, to release formerly classified documents on detainee interrogation methods used during the Bush administration.

However, Clinton deflected those inquiries, saying it was not a matter for her to discuss in public.

Source: Agencies

Interpol urged to arrest Israeli war criminals

TEHRAN: Iran's President yesterday accused Israel of mass murder and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, two days after his denunciation of the Jewish state as racist prompted a walkout from a UN meeting on race.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a conference in Tehran on Israel's "genocide and war crimes" in Gaza that Iran had asked Interpol to arrest 25 "Zionist war criminals" for the assault on the Strip in December and January.

"Siege and mass murder of the Palestinians in Gaza and ethnic cleansing in other occupied areas are all considered as ... crimes committed by the Zionist regime," Ahmadinejad told prosecutors from Islamic countries.

Last month, Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi said Iran had drawn up charges, including "war crimes, invasion, occupation, genocide and crimes against humanity", against 34 Israeli commanders and 115 others.

Iran, which does not recognise Israel's right to exist, said in December it had set up a court to try Israelis for attacking Gaza and it was ready to try those it accused in absentia.

Source : Gulf Daily News

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cabinet passes regulations simplifying iqama transfer

RIYADH: The Council of Ministers, chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, yesterday passed a series of regulations facilitating the transfer of jobs of people employed by operation, maintenance, catering and cleaning companies in government departments.

The Labor Ministry will transfer the sponsorship of such workers from previous government contractors to new ones. The state will bear their iqama and sponsorship transfer fees. If a new contractor does not require the workers then it is at liberty to terminate and return them to their home countries.

“The transfer of workers from the previous contractor to the new one should be based on their desire and on agreements between them,” Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja said while explaining the Cabinet decisions.

The new contractor is also required to present an application to the Labor Office mentioning the workers it requires. However, all of the new contractor’s financial and administrative jobs should be restricted to Saudis in accordance with the Kingdom’s Saudization laws.

The regulations also state that the benefits and salaries of Saudi employees should be no less than what they were given under the previous contractor, the Saudi Press Agency quoted the minister as saying.

The Cabinet also agreed to a resolution taken by GCC leaders on continuing work with the current mechanisms of the Customs Union until its remaining requirements are completed.

The restrictions on GCC citizens in practicing economic and independent professions in member countries shall be lifted and they will be treated equally. GCC citizens will be allowed to carry out social services.

King Abdullah earlier briefed the ministers on his talks with Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete and US envoy George Mitchell. The Cabinet hoped that Mitchell’s efforts would contribute to reaching a just and comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East.

The Cabinet heard a report from Finance Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf on the meetings of Arab joint financial organizations where Saudi Arabia called for greater coordination among Arab countries to confront the global financial crisis.

The Cabinet referred to the first meeting of the board of trustees of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and said the research university would boost knowledge economy and act as a bridge between cultures.

The Cabinet appointed Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid, Mohammed bin Obaid Binzagr and Abdul Aziz Al-Adel as new members of the Saudi Arabian Airlines’ board of directors, and renewed the tenure of Yousuf Al-Maimani and Abdullah Abumilha on the board for another three years.

Saeed bin Jibran Al-Qahtani has been appointed as a new member of the Saudi Geological Survey’s board of directors.

The Cabinet also renewed the membership of Talal bin Mustafa Qadi and Abdul Aziz bin Mohammed Al-Bassam to the Saudi Geological Survey board. It also appointed Mohammed bin Mansour Al-Omran, education adviser at the Education Ministry’s girls section, Ibrahim bin Mohammed Ammar and Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Abdan as ministers plenipotentiary at the Foreign Ministry, and Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al-Kharashi as deputy director general of programs and policies at the Zakat and Revenue Department.

Kosovo recognized

Saudi Arabia yesterday announced its recognition of Kosovo and became the 58th country to support Pristina after it declared independence from Serbia last year.

“In line with the existing religious and cultural bonds with the people of Kosovo, and in respect to the will of the people of Kosovo to obtain independence, the Kingdom announces its recognition of the Republic of Kosovo,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said it hoped this move would positively contribute to enhancing the security and stability of Kosovo and its neighboring countries.
Source : Arab News

China records slower growth

China's economy has continued to grow but at a slower rate of 6.1 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared to 6.8 per cent in the previous quarter, the latest government data has shown.

The figure is well below the government's hoped-for annual growth of 8 per cent in 2009, and 4.1. per cent below the growth rate seen in the first quarter of last year.

Data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Thursday showed China's annual GDP growth continuing to slow despite a huge government stimulus plan to keep the economy strong.

According to Reuters news agency the latest figures marked the weakest growth since China began publishing quarterly records in 1992.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a growth rate of 6.3 per cent, but the slowdown underlines the impact of the global slump on China's trade-dependent economy.

Chinese exports fell 17 per cent in March, the fifth straight monthly decline but less severe than February's 25.7 per cent plunge.

Before the global economic crisis struck, China's GDP had experienced double-digit growth from 2003 to 2007.

'Better performance'

"The overall national economy showed positive changes, with better performance than expected"

Li Xiaochao,
National Bureau of Statistics
Despite the slower growth the government said conditions are better than expected.

"The national economy is confronted with the pressure of a slowdown," Li Xiaochao, the National Bureau of Statistics' spokesman, told reporters.

"The overall national economy showed positive changes, with better performance than expected."

Li said problems faced by the world's third-largest economy included a decline in exports, a drop in corporate profits and growing unemployment.

"We need to be vigilant, and react according to the changes taking place abroad. We need to be ready to react to the effect on our economy," he said.

"Good measures need to be extended, bad ones dropped. It is better to expect the worst and to be ready to react accordingly."

China registered nine per cent growth throughout 2008, and the slower growth figure comes amid concerns that the country this year will experience its slowest economic expansion in 19 years.

Cash injection

The statistics bureau said urban fixed asset investments rose 28.6 per cent in the first quarter, while in March alone the increase was 30.3 per cent year-on-year.

The figure is a measure of government spending on infrastructure, which received a massive boost in November with a four-trillion-yuan ($580bn) package aimed at warding off the effects of the global economic crisis.

The statistics bureau reported that consumer spending rose 15 per cent in the first quarter while consumer prices, China's main gauge of inflation, fell by 1.2 per cent in March.

The data also showed China's industrial output expanding 5.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2009 from a year earlier, while in March alone it rose by 8.3 per cent.

Industrial output, which illustrates activity in the country's millions of factories and workshops, rose 12.9 per cent in 2008.
Source: Agencies

UN chief condemns Iranian president's speech at anti-racism conference

GENEVA, April 20 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned on Monday Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at the Durban Review Conference on racism.

"I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite," Ban said in a statement.

"This is the opposite of what this Conference seeks to achieve. This makes it significantly more difficult to build constructive solutions to the very real problem of racism," he said.

"We must all turn away from such a message in both form and substance. We must join hands and work together to achieve a constructive, substantive agenda to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance," he added.

The Durban Review Conference, which opened Monday in Geneva, is a follow-up meeting to the World Conference against Racism, held in 2001 in Durban, South Africa.

In his speech to the conference, the Iranian president referred to Israel as "the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine."

He also said the state of Israel had been created "on the pretext of Jewish suffering" from World War II.

Dozens of European diplomats walked out of the conference room to show their protest as Ahmadinejad gave his speech.

The United States, Israel, Canada, Australia and several other European countries had already chosen to boycott the meeting even before it started due to concern that it could be used as a forum to criticize Israel.

In a separate statement on Monday, the UN's high commissioner for human rights also condemned Ahmadinejad's speech.

"I utterly deplore the speech of the president of Iran delivered this afternoon at the Durban Review Conference against racism," said Navi Pillay.

"I condemn the use of a UN forum for political grandstanding. I find this totally objectionable," she said.

But she reiterated her objection to some countries' boycotting the conference.

"The best riposte for this type of event is to reply and correct, not to withdraw and boycott the conference," she said in the statement.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

East to West, Saudi is the best!

By Conrad Egbert
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has proved itself to be the region's biggest and mightiest, yet again.

In the midst of the financial crises when rumours of a final round of ‘manpower streamlining' have sent companies scrambling for cover, Saudi Arabian Bechtel Company (Sabco) steps out into the light and expresses it's desire to hire 70 employees at the end of this year, to support its Jubail Industrial City expansion project.

Is it just my imagination or is there any sort of recession happening down there at all?
With a 2009 budget of US $880 million (SAR3.3 billion), a 35% to 40% increase from the previous year, Jubail Industrial City includes the development of Jubail Two - an 84km2 industrial zone for petrochemical related industries, and a four 10km2 residential district, a 195km heavy rail network, a university for 18,000 students and labour housing for 12,000.

And as if this wasn't enough, last week Saudi Binladen and French defence specialist Thales signed a $500 million signaling and security systems contract for the main 1800km section of the monstrous $2 billion North-South Railway Project.

And next week, you'll probably hear of a few more contracts that happened to fall out of the bag along the way and were inadvertently picked up by some unsuspecting but welcoming contractors.

Maybe it's time to head down to the Kingdom to look for some work. Arabtec certainly didn't waste any time getting down there.

And with our Saudi Arabia Conference in Jeddah only a month away, you'll have to excuse me. I need to go pack.

Muslim Families: Current Challenges and Future Aspirations

By Dr. Alaa Mohamed Al-Saeid, Islam Online

Islam has emphasized the importance of the family unit, and has laid down its governing rules and regulations in great detail in the Qu’ran and in the Sunnah. This highlights the importance of the family with regards to the well-being of the individual, society and the Ummah.

The Holy Qu’ran and the Sunnah have elaborated on the rules governing marriage, the rights and entitlements of spouses, the parent-child relationship, as well as inheritance, legacies and divorce. Tackling all issues pertaining to the family in such great detail serves to accentuate the belief that the well-being of the family affects the individual’s sense of peace and contentment, as well as the stability and security of society as a whole. The provisions set down in both the Qu’ran and Sunnah are directly related to aqeedah and faith in God Almighty.

God Almighty gives us marriage as an indication and manifestation of His infinite wisdom “and among his signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): Verily in that are signs for those who reflect”.1

Islam views the marriage contract as the most holy of covenants that is not to be taken lightly, and strongly opposes any deceit or dissemblance. The Qur’an states that: “and how could ye take it when ye have gone in unto each other, and they have taken from you a solemn covenant.”2

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) further stresses upon the importance of marriage and says: “youth, whosoever owns the means to marry should do so, and if not capable then abstain”3 Islam further refuted both abnegation and monasticism.

Islam establishes the relationship between spouses to be based on mercy, love and goodwill between both partners, to this end Islam gave both partners clear rights and defined duties that they are obligated to abide by, to facilitate their lives and to create a safe and stable society. In this context Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The most virtuous of you are those good to their families and I am the best amongst you to my family.”4

Within Islamic doctrine the aim for setting up a family is the formation of a righteous individual and a society that is capable of endeavor and contribution; this is because the family is the primary social environment that embraces a member from birth onwards. The family witnesses the progression from one stage to the next, and works on forming the life of any individual with its own unique persona. The family provides the surrounding ambiance that shapes the mental, social and moral perspective of the individual, and consequently is the strongest effective conditioning force.

Role of a Family

The vital role of the family in the life of any individual can be seen as:

1. Safeguarding the integrity of the human element

2. Primary core of any society

3. Offering a psychological haven

4. Forming a righteous human being

5. Putting regulations on physical desires

6. Offering continuity to social heritage

7. Achieving social and individual security

8. Supporting the emotional and physical development of the individual

The Status of the Muslim family in Europe

After the immigration of Muslims to Europe, both in groups or as individuals, we began to witness the immergence of generations of European Muslims, and after a time the Muslim presence in Europe stabilized. Muslim families took their place within the framework of European societies, and the effects of the Western- style of life became apparent, we also began to notice an increase in inter-family problems within Muslim families of the West, which have included:

1. An increase in divorce rates.

2. Parental negligence.

3. A decrease in the levels of education.

4. A high level of delinquency.

5. Marital abuse.

6. A rebellious attitude from wives towards their spouses.

7. An increase in marital problems.

8. A large number of cases in the courts, and complaints to the police, regarding problems in Muslim families.

9. Problems arising from Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men.

All these issues, which can easily be noticed by any layman observer, are in fact an alarm, warning of the danger faced by the Muslim family, which is considered to be the safe haven, immortal citadel, primary fortress and source of righteousness for the Muslim community.

We need to take a sagacious stance towards rectifying the path, and a prudent approach to tackling the dangers, and make serious and diligent efforts towards safeguarding the Muslim family from deterioration and destruction.

We aspire to have Muslim families – as God Almighty intended them to be- as entities of compassion, mercy, care and love, and capable of issuing forth righteous generations, who can act as role models to societies in general, proving that Islam places humanity on the right path and offers a life of contentment.

How Can we Achieve This Aim?

Based on the ordains of God Almighty, and on the commands of our True Religion, all Muslims whether individuals, groups, or institutions are obliged to do their duty and take a keen interest in the affairs of the Muslim family, on the grounds that it is the fortress that will guard future generations of Muslims, as well as the Muslim presence in the West. In the words of the Holy Qu’ran: “O ye who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a fire…”5 and in the words of The Messenger of Allah “You are all shepherds and each one of you is responsible for his flock”.

The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe has launched a campaign heralding 2009 as the “Year of EU Muslim Family”, their belief and motto being that “A Stable Family Forms a Stable Community”, the federation has urged and encouraged all associations and organizations to join the cause. We should all adopt this belief and support this campaign, out of our faith in the crucial role that the Muslim family plays in Europe, in securing and stabilizing Islamic presence, and presenting the true Islamic paradigm of life based on devoutness, compassion and mercy, and in acknowledgment of the dire difficulties facing Muslim families in the West.

We call out to all organizations, associations and authorities, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, that can co-operate with us on this huge project, and put in the necessary effort and commitment, that will benefit the Muslim family, Muslim presence in Europe, as well as the societies in which the Muslim families live.

Let our motto this year in Europe be – God Willing – “A Stable Muslim Family in Europe”.

Let our joint work and aim focus on achieving this lofty goal – with the aid of God Almighty – exerting all our efforts in this regard.

(1) Surat An-Nur (21)
(2) Surat An-Nisaa (21)
(3) Al Bukhary 8/9 Book of Marriage
Muslim 172/9 Book of Marriage
(4) Al Turmozy 394/10
(5) Surat At-Tahrim (6)

Violation of rules cited as reason for JCCI sack

JEDDAH: The primary reason behind the sacking of the head of the Security and Safety Committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (JCCI) was his violation of the chamber’s rules and regulations, said Abdullah Binmahfouz, deputy chairman of the JCCI.

Binmahfouz said Adnan Al-Abbasi’s membership was canceled for violating the JCCI’s Article 15 by speaking to organizations outside the JCCI without first referring to the organization’s Public Relations Department.

Al-Abbasi was sacked two days ago after he gave a statement to newspapers in which he said that there are 300 national illusionary security companies with licenses and permits to operate but are not working. He also said that 70 percent of security and safety equipment sold in the Kingdom’s market is not up to the standard.

Binmahfouz said such comments were unacceptable and that Al-Abbasi wanted to appear in the media. “Accusing 300 local companies with licenses and permits of not working is a false charge against the Ministry of Commerce. He also put himself in charge of the Saudi Standards and Quality Organization when he said that 70 percent of security and safety equipment is below standard,” said Binmahfouz.

He said that JCCI is not in the position to accuse companies or government departments, and that those who want to do so should contact the departments directly to express their personal views with evidence.

Binmahfouz said that rules and regulations regarding dealing with the media, which were issued two months ago, stated that statements to the media should be approved by the general manager of the Business and Committees Sector and the JCCI’s secretary-general.

“Speaking to the press without approval is a direct violation. Placing opinions in the press in the name of the JCCI will not be tolerated according to our rules and regulations,” he added.

Adnan Mandora, general manager of the Business and Committees Sector, said the decision to sack Al-Abbasi was legal and that it was based on Section 3 of Article 15. “We are not blocking the freedom to express opinions to the press regarding issues. However, when saying what was said in the media, the first question that comes to mind is why these issues were not discussed in committee meetings? The main task of heads of committees is not to defame, but to find solutions and carry out work. The action taken against Al-Abbasi was not contrary to the policies of the JCCI. The JCCI cannot allow such actions — whatever he said was his own personal opinion,” he added.

Source : Arab News

Monday, April 13, 2009

Economist: Fiscal stimulus always benefit big capital

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - An economist said fiscal stimulus packages would in a proportionate way always benefit big capital owners engaged in any kind of economic activity.

"Fiscal stimulus packages will always benefit those with big capital in any economic activity proportionately, This is something unavoidable," economist Tony Prasentiantono said here Monday.

He made the statement when asked to comment on the recent statement of the chairman of the board of patrons of Gerindra Party, Prabowo Subianto, that economic stimulus packages would only benefit and be enjoyed by big businesses rather than the common people.

Tony who is also chief economist of state-owned bank BNI said that basically his statement was general in nature.

Quoting an example he said "when the national budget expands it will be contractors, suppliers and companies working for the government that benefit."

He said other parties also enjoyed it in the form of project spillovers such as construction workers. Basically, a lot of parties collectively get its benefit, he said.

"It is indeed unavoidable that investors, contractors and suppliers will get more benefit while others such as laborers and others will only enjoy the spillover," he said.

He said the parties concerned would get an advantage proportionately, in other words not all parties would get equal advatages, adding that this was an economic axiom.

"What is important is increasing its trickle-down effect as much as possible," he said.

He said the government had asked contractors to use locally-produced raw materials
as much as possible so that the multiplier effect of the policy could be enjoyed by the people in the country to drive economy.

Khaled vows to protect rights of evicted people

Hasan Hatrash, Arab News

JEDDAH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal announced yesterday that housing units would be provided to evicted residents of unorganized residential districts surrounding Khozam area that are under development.

He said the residents’ rights were given top priority under the Khozam area development plan.

“We shall prepare all the conditions and facilities necessary to create a better life for residents of the city,” he said.

Prince Khaled was speaking to reporters during an inspection visit yesterday to the Khozam area development project. Work on the project started last month.

The prince noted that the project, which includes the development of four districts, has been initiated with a successful start.

“People will feel the importance of this project after its completion,” he said.

He said the project “is a human development project,” which has security, economic, social and cultural dimensions. “It would result in great improvement in the living conditions of the people of the districts who are deprived of basic amenities,” he said.

He added that the developed districts would have a modern infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and all other facilities.

Abdullatif Al-Shallash, CEO of Khozam Real Estate Company, which is handling the project, said the project would be completed in record time in view of the global economic crisis.

The project will be completed according to a precise time schedule, he said, adding that the whole project is expected to be ready in five years.

The first phase of the project will begin in downtown Jeddah. Buildings in the area will be evacuated beginning September. The second phase will include Al-Sabeel district and is expected to begin in May next year. The third and fourth phases covering Khozam and Al-Nuzlah areas respectively will start by August 2011.

“The infrastructure and public services in these districts are excepted to be ready by the end of June 2014,” he said.

Iran says it welcomes nuclear talks with West

Iran welcomes nuclear talks with the United States and other countries, Tehran's top nuclear negotiator said Monday.

The negotiator, Saeed Jalili, made the comments during a telephone call with the European Union's foreign policy chief, state television reported. During the conversation, Jalili said the talks should be aimed at "constructive cooperation" between countries.

Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran was open to talks — but only if they were based on respect for Iran's rights, suggesting the West should not try to force Tehran to stop uranium enrichment. Jalili's comments appeared to be more of a definitive answer, but he stressed that Iran would issue an official response to the invitation soon, the TV reported. He did not elaborate.

The United States announced last week that it would join direct talks with Iran that Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are seeking to convene. The talks aim to break a long deadlock over Iran's nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies fear aims to build atomic weapons. Iran denies the charge.

Ahmadinejad said Thursday that Iran would present a new proposal for negotiations, saying "conditions have changed" — an apparent reference to President Barack Obama's election and Iran's own progress in its nuclear program since previous talks with Iran were held last year. He didn't elaborate on the proposal.

Jalili also insisted in his conversation with Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, that the all parties involved in the talks should have the "right understanding of international developments and realities," the TV reported.

Ahmadinejad announced on Saturday that Iran now controls the entire cycle for producing nuclear fuel. The step was significant toward furthering Iran's nuclear energy capabilities and could be designed to strengthen Iran's position at a time when the Obama administration has said it would negotiate with the Iran over it nuclear program.

Source : The Independent

Friday, April 10, 2009

Early quick counts have SBY's Democratic Party in the lead

Early quick count results began trickling in Thursday, with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party leading the field.

The Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI), the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) and the National Survey Institute (LSN) all had the Democratic Party leading the list with around 20 percent of votes.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), headed by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, was second with around 15 percent, while the Golkar Party, chaired by Vice President Jusuf Kalla trailed in third with less than 13 percent.

The Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) was fourth with around 8 percent.

However, the three survey institutes differed in their order of the political parties after the top four.

The other political parties that managed to make it into the top 10 included the National Awakening Party (PKB), the National Mandate Party (PAN), the United Development Party (PPP), the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), and the People's Conscience Party (Hanura)
Source : The Jakarta Post

UK worried about Jerusalem demolitions

Abdul Jalil Mustafa, Arab News

AMMAN: British Foreign Secretary David Miliband yesterday expressed his country’s concern over the demolition of Palestinian houses in Jerusalem, saying the holy city should be the capital of both Israel and the future Palestinian state.

“We view with real concern the proposed demolitions in East Jerusalem,” Miliband told a press conference he jointly addressed with his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh. “Jerusalem should be the capital of the Palestinians and Israel,” he said.

Miliband was responding to plans by Israel to demolish scores of houses in a Jerusalem suburb that would turn about 1,500 Palestinians homeless.

The Israeli authorities alleged that the building of the houses was illegal in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it, saying the holy city would remain the “eternal, undivided capital” of the Jewish state.

The United Nations still consider East Jerusalem an occupied city and both Jordan and the Palestinians insist that there would be no peace in the region before Israel quits East Jerusalem so as it becomes the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Miliband met Jordan’s King Abdallah who stressed the need for launching “serious negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinians in the run-up to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, the royal court said.

“The monarch discussed with Miliband efforts being exerted with a view to launch serious negotiations to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of the two-state solution,” a royal court statement said.

“King Abdallah underscored the importance of the role of Europe and the world community in pushing forward the peace talks between the Palestinian and Israeli sides toward the establishment of just peace based on relevant UN resolutions and the Arab peace initiative,” it added.

Judeh earlier on Wednesday conferred with the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Robert Serry, underlining the importance of the UN role in pushing forward the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, an official statement said.

“The United Nations and the world community have an important role to play in launching serious negotiations aimed at bringing about a settlement for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” Judeh told the visiting US envoy.

The new US administration of President Barack Obama and the European Union have a pivotal role to perform in advancing the Middle East peace process in the run-up for the implementation of the “two-state solution,” he said.

US apologises over Afghan deaths

The US military has admitted that its troops killed four civilians in Afghanistan, including a child, not fighters as was earlier reported.

The US has also offered an apology for the deaths on Wednesday night and indicated that the family will receive support.

Brigadier-General Michael Ryan said in a statement late on Thursday: "We deeply regret the tragic loss of life in this precious family."

A 13-year-old boy who survived the night-time raid on his home told Al Jazeera that his mother, brother, uncle and another female family member were killed.

A woman who was nine months' pregnant was wounded and lost her baby.

"Words alone cannot begin to express our regret and sympathy and we will ensure the surviving family members are properly cared for," Ryan said.

Al Jazeera's Todd Baer, reporting from Kabul, said that while the US operation was going on, the family thought that somebody had entered their home unlawfully to steal.

"They began shooting at soldiers. So the soldiers returned fire," he said.

"There has been enormous pressure from citizens on the Afghan government to end these kinds of civilian casualties, end these kind of raids on houses."

Colonel Graig Julian, a US officer, told Al Jazeera: "When it appears that we have accidentally killed innocent civilians, we are very sorry about that. That is not why we came here. We came here to provide security for the Afghan citizens."

Violence spreading

Violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest level since the US-led invasion to overthrow the Taliban government in 2001, despite a growing number of foreign troops.

In the latest clashes, Afghan and US-led multinational forces said they killed 27 fighters in two separate battles in the southern provinces of Helmand and Uruzgan on Friday.

A spokesman for Helmand's governor said the toll could be higher, with up to 36 people killed and 18 others wounded in one battle.

In a second incident in Helmand, six police officers were killed and seven wounded by suspected Taliban fighters in Nava district.

Barack Obama, the US president, wants to increase troop numbers further and is seeking the support of Nato countries, also stationed in Afghanistan, for a "surge" strategy similar to that operated in Iraq.

However, forces opposed to the US-backed Afghan government have been able to take the conflict from their strongholds in the south and east to the outskirts of the capital, Kabul.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in operations by Afghan and foreign forces, an issue that has angered residents and increased pressure on Hamid Karzai, the country's president.

The casualties have also been a major source of friction between the Afghan government and the West.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

President holds prayers service for success of elections
Cikeas, Bogor (ANTARA News) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and First Lady Madame Ani Yudhoyono held a special prayer service at the presidential residence in Cikeas, Bogor, here on Wednesday for the success of the legislative elections on Thursday.

"We were determined to make the elections run smoothly and with quality. There are three things we want to achieve namely good implementation, fair and democratic, and smooth and orderly elections," he said in his speech before the prayer service at around 7.30 pm.

The head of state called on attendants to pray for the smooth implementation of the elections.

"Eight months have been used for indoor campaigning and another three weeks for outdoor campaigns. So let us pray so that all other processes could also be smooth and successful," he said.

On the occasion he also called for efforts against directing reports on potentials of frauds including other negative things that would make the situation inconducive ahead of the event.

He also called for maintaining the conducive domestic security situation and avoiding anarchic actions. He advised that all complaints be channeled through the existing and proper mechanisms.

More than 300 people from various circles attended the religious service including the general chairman of the Democrats Party, Hadi Utomo and the party`s executive Anas Urbaningrum.

A total of 38 political parties and six local parties in Aceh would participate in the elections to select members of the House of Representatives (DPR), provincial and district legislative assemblies and the Regional Representatives Council.

Saudis say new Israeli gov't policies are dangerous

by AFP

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday slammed the policies of Israel's new right-wing government as dangerous and an obstacle to Middle East peace efforts, and said only international pressure can change them.

"It is now clear that Israel, which has until now frustrated all peace efforts, whose new government has declared dangerous policies, cannot be expected to automatically change its stand," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters.

"This requires a solid and firm international action, especially on the part of the United States, to prompt Israel to change its policies which contravene... international legality and the requirements of peace."
At a joint news conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, he said Arab states still backed the Saudi-crafted Arab Peace Initiative, and that it would remain on offer as long as Israel shows interest in reaching a peace deal.

The Arab plan offers Israel full recognition in return for the creation of a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders.

Prince Saud said "negative remarks" by the coalition government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hardline Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman were taking the peace process "back to square one."

"It is no exaggeration to say that the failure to put an end to this chronic struggle... has been behind dangerous phenomena that have swept many parts of the world such as terrorism, violence and extremism," he said.

He cited the Israeli government continuing to allow expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

Miliband, in Riyadh for a British-Saudi "Two Kingdoms" dialogue, called on both Israel and the Palestinians to keep commitments made by their previous leaders in the peace process.

"It is very important that both sides adhere to the commitments of their predecessors, the Palestinians in respect to security improvement, for example, and the Israeli government in respect to the freeze on settlement activity," Miliband said.

"At this time the need for a peace plan has never been greater," he said.

US to join Iran nuclear talks

The US government has said it is to regularly join in talks between Iran and other states over the Islamic republic's nuclear programme.

Washington will participate in the talks, held between Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran, the US state department said on Wednesday, marking a shift from the policies of George Bush, the previous US president.

"We believe that pursuing very careful engagement on a range of issues that affect our interests and the interests of the world with Iran makes sense," said Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state.

The other members of the "P5+1" group said they welcomed the US decision to join the talks.

The group had announced earlier that it would invite Iran to attend a new session aimed at breaking a deadlock in the talks.

Increased dialogue

Western powers have accused Iran of seeking to build a nuclear weapon, a claim that Iran denies.

Tehran insists it has the right under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to develop nuclear power for civilian energy purposes.

"There is nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon," Clinton said.

The Bush administration had pursued a policy of isolating Iran and not attending the P5+1 group's meetings with Iranian officials on the nuclear issue.

However, the Bush administration did send a representative to one such meeting in Geneva last July.

Condoleezza Rice, the former US secretary of state, said Iran had not been serious at that meeting and such contact ceased.

Barack Obama, the current US president, has signalled a willingness for US officials to hold talks with Iran and other powers with poor relations with the US.

In March, Obama recorded a video addressed to the Iranian people in which he appealed for better relations between the two nations, which have not had diplomatic ties since 1979.

Source: Agencies

Monday, April 6, 2009

Obama says U.S. is not at war with Islam


By Matt Spetalnick and Ibon Villelabeitia

ANKARA (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama told the Muslim world on Monday the United States was not at war with Islam, using his first international tour to try to repair America's damaged image abroad.

Obama hammered home his support for the creation of a Palestinian state, despite the recent election of a right-leaning government in Israel, in an effort to show he was serious about reaching out to Muslims.

"Let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam," he said in a wide-ranging speech to Turkey's parliament.

In his first trip as president to the Muslim world, which had accused his predecessor George W. Bush of bias in favor of Israel, Obama said: "The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."

Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed Obama's words, saying he had made a major commitment to the two-state solution. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Israel was committed to reaching peace and would cooperate with the Obama administration to achieve that goal.

Obama is on the last leg of his first overseas trip as president. He is trying to rebuild ties with Muslims after anger at the invasion of Iraq and war in Afghanistan, made more urgent by a resurgent al Qaeda and Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

"Our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject," Obama said.

"But I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim world cannot and will not be based on opposition to al Qaeda. Far from it. We seek broad engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding, and seek common ground."

Obama's visit is a nod to Turkey's regional reach, economic power, diplomatic contacts and status as a secular democracy seeking European Union membership that has accommodated political Islam.

"Given Turkish activity and credibility in the wider region stretching from Afghanistan to the Middle East, passing over energy transit routes, Obama wants to give new blood to a real strategic partnership with Turkey," said Cengiz Candar, a leading Turkish commentator and Middle East expert.


NATO member Turkey is a transit route for U.S. troops and equipment going to Iraq as well as Afghanistan. As Washington reduces its troops in Iraq, Incirlik air base is expected to play a key role and Obama discussed this with Turkish leaders.

Obama urged the foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia during a meeting later on Monday to complete talks aimed at restoring ties between the two neighbors, a U.S. official said.

Ankara and Yerevan are engaged in talks to end nearly a century of hostility, including reopening the border -- a move which could help shore up stability in the volatile Caucasus.

Touching on a highly sensitive subject, Obama told reporters he stood by his views on mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915, which he has termed genocide, but said he expected a breakthrough in talks between Turkey and Armenia.

"I want to be as encouraging as possible around those negotiations which are moving forward and could bear fruit very quickly, very soon, so as a consequence what I want to do is not focus on my views right now," Obama said, trying to strike a balance over the issue while adding to pressure on the talks.

Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks during World War One but denies that up to 1.5 million died as a result of systematic genocide.


The U.S.-Turkish relationship suffered in 2003 when Ankara opposed the invasion of Iraq and refused to let U.S. troops deploy on its territory. Turkey has also criticized Washington for allowing Kurdish separatists to be based in northern Iraq.

Obama drew on his personal background to emphasize his conciliatory message to Muslims.

"The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know, because I am one of them," Obama said in his speech to parliament.

Obama also said he sought engagement with Iran, but added: "Iran's leaders must choose whether they will try to build a weapon or build a better future for their people."

Obama offered to improve cooperation in the fight against PKK separatist rebels and backed Turkey's troubled EU bid.

"Turkey's greatness lies in your ability to be at the center of things. This is not where East and West divide, it is where they come together," Obama said.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; Writing by Paul de Bendern and Ibon Villelabeitia; editing by Jon Boyle)

Kingdom calls for action to spur growth

JEDDAH: The Council of Ministers yesterday welcomed the steps taken by the recent G-20 summit in London aimed at speeding up global economic recovery and called for greater cooperation among countries to achieve sustainable economic growth.

The Cabinet meeting at Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh, chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, commended the summit’s decision to set up the Financial Stability Board (FSB), which is composed of all G-20 members including Saudi Arabia.

The FSB will monitor potential risks in the economy, especially those involving the biggest firms, and will conduct “early warning exercises” and periodic reviews to spot potential trouble. The new regulator, working closely with the International Monetary Fund, will report possible threats to the stability of the global financial system to the G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors.

The Kingdom called for additional measures to restore confidence in financial systems by adopting reforms and applying monitoring regimes.

King Abdullah earlier briefed the ministers on the outcome of his talks with US President Barack Obama and other world leaders on the sidelines of the G-20 summit. He also said that the Arab summit and Arab-Latin American summit in Doha would strengthen relations and lead to strengthening cooperation between the countries.

King Abdullah thanked God for blessing Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, with good health and hoped that the crown prince would return to the Kingdom in better health. Prince Sultan is currently convalescing in New York following a successful surgical operation.

The Cabinet heard a report from Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah Zainal Alireza on the 17th Arab economic forum that was held in Beirut last week. During the meeting Saudi Arabia called on Arab countries to increase cooperation in order to lessen the negative effect of the global financial crisis on them, activate Arab free-trade zone projects and remove obstacles to inter-Arab trade.

The Cabinet also emphasized the importance of the international conference on nanotechnology, which was opened in Riyadh recently.

Source : Arab News

Iran's leading reformist candidate says would negotiate with US

By NASSER KARIMI , Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran - The leading reformist candidate in upcoming Iranian presidential elections said Monday that if elected, he would negotiate with the U.S but that Iran would not give up its nuclear program.

Speaking in his first news conference since declaring his candidacy, Mir Hossein Mousavi said if Barack Obama's administration changes the U.S.'s policies toward Iran, Mousavi would be open to talks. But, in comments that echo other top Iranian officials, Mousavi said the country is still waiting to see how Obama's administration differs from that of his predecessor.

"We will definitely negotiate with them. Why not?" Mousavi said. "Peace with any country would benefit our interests."

The Obama administration has said it wants to engage Iran, a different tactic than that of the Bush administration which sought to isolate the country. But Obama has also said that Iran's nuclear and missile programs pose a threat.

The U.S. and its allies have charged Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear program is designed for peaceful purposes such as power generation.

Mousavi said talks with the United States would be beneficial, as long as Iran does not have to "pay heavy costs such as the deprivation of advanced technologies," a reference to Iran's disputed nuclear activities.

"We have to have the technology," Mousavi said, adding that the consequences of giving up the country's nuclear program would be "irreparable" and that the Iranian people support the nuclear program.

Many Iranians across the political spectrum have rallied behind the country's nuclear program which is considered a source of national pride.

Mousavi said he would attempt to "lessen the costs of having the (nuclear) technology," a reference to the fact that Iran is under U.N. sanctions over its refusal to halt its nuclear activity.

Mousavi, 67, is seen by many as the candidate with the best chance of defeating current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner who's often been at odds with the United States.

Mousavi's hard-line past and spotless revolutionary credentials appeal to conservatives. Mousavi's reformist past — he was a senior adviser to former President Mohammad Khatami who served two terms before Ahmadinejad was elected — also appeals to Iranians eager for reform.

Mousavi came to prominence after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah.

He served briefly as foreign minister, then was prime minister from 1981-1989. His premiership spanned the destructive eight-year war with Iraq, in which at least a million people on both sides were killed.

Mousavi Monday also condemned the killing of Jews in the Holocaust, a much different stance than Ahmadinejad who in 2005 called the Holocaust a myth.

"Some people were killed there, some Jews were killed there, we condemn the killing of a single innocent person," said Mousavi. But he added that the world should not stand by and watch the killing of Palestinian people by Israel.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Obama Administration Has First Face-to-Face Contact With Iran


THE HAGUE — It was brief, it was unscheduled and it was not substantive, but a meeting Tuesday between Richard C. Holbrooke, a presidential envoy, and an Iranian diplomat marked the first face-to-face encounter between the Obama administration and the government of Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed that Mr. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, greeted Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Mohammad Mehdi Akhondzadeh, on the sidelines of a major conference here devoted to Afghanistan.

“It was cordial, unplanned and they agreed to stay in touch,” Mrs. Clinton said to reporters at the end of the conference. “I myself did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.”

Mrs. Clinton also said the United States handed the Iranian delegation a letter requesting its intercession in the cases of two American citizens who are being held in Iran and another who is missing.

These two American contacts with Iran are another step in the Obama administration’s policy of engagement. It is a tentative process, in which the White House makes symbolic gestures, like President Obama’s recent video greeting to the Iranian people and government for their New Year, while continuing to formulate its longer-term strategy.

Some officials, including Mrs. Clinton, are skeptical that Iran’s leaders will ever embrace the American overtures. But reaching out, analysts say, keeps Iran on the defensive by demonstrating to the Europeans, the Russians and others that the United States is sincerely trying. And talking about Afghanistan is easier than confronting more divisive issues, especially Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

For weeks, American officials regarded this conference as a good place to make a move. The delivery of the letter, along with Mr. Holbrooke’s greeting during a lunch break, suggested that the encounter was less than pure serendipity.

Mrs. Clinton also reacted warmly to remarks delivered by Mr. Akhondzadeh about what Iran would do to aid reconstruction in Afghanistan and to cooperate in regional efforts to crack down on the booming Afghan drug trade, which is spilling across the Iranian border.

“The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation,” she said. “The Iranian representative set forth some very clear ideas that we will all be pursuing together.”

The rise of Afghanistan’s drug trade with Iran gives Tehran a natural role to play, Mrs. Clinton said. “The questions of border security, and in particular the transit of narcotics across the border from Afghanistan to Iran is a worry that the Iranians have, which we share,” she said.

Iran cooperated with the United States on Afghanistan in the days after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and administration officials still view it as one of the most promising avenues for a reconciliation. Mrs. Clinton had pushed for Iran to be included on the invitation list for the United Nations-sponsored conference.

The encounter also illustrated the forceful personality of Mr. Holbrooke, whose job title does not include Iran, but who has managed to put himself at the center of the administration’s foreign-policy initiatives.

Iran, which was a no-show at the last Afghanistan conference, in Paris, did not send an official of Mrs. Clinton’s level, unlike most participants. But by sending Mr. Akhondzadeh, a former ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, it was clearly not trying to avoid contact.

Still, the unsigned letter, which an American official handed directly to the Iranians, was a reminder that there were many thorny obstacles to better relations. The cases of the three Americans have dragged on for months, frustrating the families and the government.

“We ask Iran to use its facilities to determine the whereabouts and ensure the quick and safe return of Robert Levinson, and grant the release of Roxana Saberi, and permission to travel for Roxana Saberi and Esha Momeni,” Mrs. Clinton said, quoting from the letter. “These acts would certainly constitute a humanitarian gesture by the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Mr. Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent, disappeared in March 2007. Ms. Saberi, a freelance journalist who has worked for National Public Radio, was arrested by Iranian authorities on Jan. 31.

Ms. Momeni, a graduate student at California State University, Northridge, was arrested last October, accused of a traffic violation. She was conducting research on the Iranian women’s movement.

At the conference, Iran offered support and criticism of the Obama administration’s new policy on Afghanistan. It praised the focus on regional cooperation, but it argued that sending more foreign troops to Afghanistan would be ineffective.

That came not long after Mrs. Clinton explained the Obama administration’s decision to deploy 17,000 additional soldiers, as well as 4,000 more military trainers, to buttress Afghan security forces.

Mrs. Clinton had a busy day of diplomacy, notably a meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, at which the two discussed cooperation on a variety of issues.

For the most part, though, the focus was on Afghanistan — less as a military issue than as a development problem. Mrs. Clinton called for a new start in Afghanistan, emphasizing more effective development and better regional coordination.

“Our collective inability to implement a clear and sustained strategy has allowed violent extremists to regain a foothold in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and make the area a nerve center for efforts to spread violence from London to Mumbai,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Source : The New York Times

WAMY supports 1,000 Gaza students

P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH: The office of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in Makkah province is sponsoring 1,000 Palestinian students at the Islamic University in Gaza, said Mohammed Al-Ghamdi, head of the committee for providing emergency relief for the people of Gaza.

“The sponsorship of a single student costs the organization $1,000,” Al-Ghamdi said, adding that the Palestinian students, receiving WAMY scholarships, are attending courses in engineering, medicine, computer science, business administration, education and sciences.

Al-Ghamdi made the statement while attending a ceremony at WAMY headquarters in Jeddah to honor its officials who worked for Gaza relief.

Jamal Al-Khodari, head of the Popular Committee to Confront the Israeli Siege, commended the support of Saudi Arabia and its people to the Palestinians. He also praised WAMY’s relief work for the people of Gaza.

“All relief assistance provided by this charitable organization has reached the hands of deserving people in Palestine,” Al-Khodari told the gathering.

“About 50 percent of university students in Palestine, especially those at the Islamic University in Gaza, are unable to pay their fees,” he said.

Leadership training

WAMY’s office in Dammam said it would organize a leadership training program for students from Class X to XII on Thursday and Friday.

The program includes a .

Those who want more information on the program may contact:

Cheaper rents for Dubai residents

Dubai's property watchdog on Wednesday said its new rental index, due out later this month, will include lower rental values to better represent the current slowdown in the market.

The Real Estate Regulatory Authority (Rera) renewed its pledge to publish an updated index in April following reports earlier this week suggesting the new index could be delayed until the summer, UAE daily The National reported.

In a statement Mohammed Khalifa bin Hammad, the director of Real Estate Relationship Regulation at Rera, said the index was being updated as a result of data collected through the online rental contract registration programme.
"The new update of the rental index will be released in April. What has been noted from the first rental index is an average price change of between 10-15 per cent," said bin Hammad.

Rera also confirmed it would update the list every few months to keep in touch with future market fluctuations.

It added that reports claiming Rera had delayed issuing the new figures because of a hold-up in gathering data were “entirely false” and based on information from “an unknown individual allegedly working for Rera,” The National reported.

The news comes barely 24 hours after a Rera official said an updated rental index would not necessarily be based on new rental values in the emirate after all.

Karim Awwad, an official at the authority, was quoted as saying "We are not making any changes to the existing figures; we are just going to be updating the areas that were not mentioned in the last index.

''We will be conducting a new survey in summer of this year."

The comments were published by AME Info on Tuesday.

The latest statement from Rera reconfirms its stance in February when it indicated that the index would be updated and re-released in April following concerns it was based on unrealistic rental values taken during the boom of summer 2008.

Rents have fallen from last year's peak and will likely drop 20 percent+ this year.