Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Service)
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, ruled by the Al Saud family since its founding in 1932, wields significant global political and economic influence as the birthplace of the Islamic faith and by virtue of its large oil reserves. Close U.S.-Saudi official relations have survived a series of challenges since the 1940s, and, in recent years, shared concerns over Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism and Iranian regional ambitions have provided a renewed logic for continued strategic cooperation. The ongoing political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa is changing the dynamics of long-running reform debates in the kingdom. The full effect of these events on the kingdom and on U.S.-Saudi relations has yet to be determined. Official U.S. concerns about human rights and religious freedom in the kingdom persist, and some Members of Congress have expressed skepticism about Saudi leaders’ commitment to combating religious extremism and sharing U.S. policy priorities in the Middle East and South Asia. However, Bush and Obama Administration officials have referred to the Saudi government as an important regional partner in recent years, and U.S. arms sales and related training programs have continued with congressional oversight. Since October 2010, Congress has been notified of proposed sales to Saudi Arabia of fighter aircraft, helicopters, missile defense systems, missiles, bombs, armored vehicles and related equipment and services, with a potential value of more than $86 billion.
CRS — In Re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001: Dismissals of Claims Against Saudi Defendants Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA)
In Re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001: Dismissals of Claims Against Saudi Defendants Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Practical and legal hurdles, including the difficulty of locating hidden al Qaeda members and the infeasibility of enforcing judgments in terrorism cases, hinder victims’ attempts to establish liability in U.S. courts against, and recover financially from, those they argue are directly responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks. Instead, victims have sued numerous individuals and entities with only indirect ties to the attacks, including defendants who allegedly provided monetary support to al Qaeda prior to September 11, 2001. Within the consolidated case In re Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, one such group of defendants was the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, several Saudi princes, a Saudi banker, and a Saudi charity. Plaintiffs argued that these Saudi defendants funded groups that, in turn, assisted the attackers.
A threshold question in In re Terrorist Attacks was whether U.S. courts have the power to try these Saudi defendants. In August 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed dismissals of all claims against the Saudi defendants, holding that U.S. courts lack jurisdiction over the claims. Specifically, the court of appeals held that in this case, U.S. courts lack: 1) subject matter jurisdiction over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, because the Kingdom is entitled to immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (the FSIA) and no statutory exception to immunity applies; 2) subject matter jurisdiction over the Saudi charity and Saudi princes acting in their official capacities, because they are “agents or instrumentalities” of the Kingdom and thus, under the FSIA, are entitled to immunity to the same extent as the Kingdom itself; and 3) personal jurisdiction over Saudi princes sued in their personal capacities, because the princes had insufficient interactions with the forum to satisfy the “minimum contacts” standard for personal jurisdiction under the Fifth Amendment due process clause.
In 2011, the Second Circuit reversed itself with respect to the immunity of non-terrorist states, finding that the tort exception under the FSIA does not exclude terrorist acts that take place within the United States. In 2013, the court ordered these claims against Saudi Arabia and its agencies or instrumentalities be reinstated in the interest of justice to determine whether the tort exception applies.
This report summarizes the FSIA and jurisdiction in cases against foreign defendants and analyzes the court of appeals decision. It also discusses legislative efforts to address these issues (S. 1535 and H.R. 3143).
FACTBOX — Women’s rights in the Arab world
Source: Thompson Reuters
Egypt is the worst country for women in the Arab world, closely followed by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen, according to gender experts surveyed in a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll released on Tuesday.
Comoros, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar came top of the survey, which assessed 22 Arab states on violence against women, reproductive rights, treatment of women within the family, their integration into society and attitudes towards a woman’s role in politics and the economy.
The results were drawn from answers from 336 gender experts invited to participate in an online survey by the foundation, the philanthropic arm of the news and information company Thomson Reuters, in August and September.
New Report: Energy Conservation Key Security Goal for Gulf
Source: Chatham House
The systemic waste of oil and gas in the Gulf is eroding economic resilience to shocks and increasing security risks, including to citizens’ health. Success or failure in setting and meeting sustainable energy goals in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will have a global impact, says a new report Saving Oil and Gas in the Gulf.
The six GCC countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE and Bahrain – now consume more primary energy than the whole of Africa. Yet they have just one twentieth of that continent’s population. Energy intensity in the region is high and rising in contrast to other industrialized regions and is driven by systemic inefficiencies.
Almost 100% of energy in the region is produced from oil and gas without carbon dioxide abatement, and water security is increasingly dependent on energy-driven desalination. If the region’s fuel demand were to continue rising as it has over the last decade, it would double by 2024. This is a deeply undesirable prospect for both the national security of each state and the global environment.
Saving Oil and Gas in the Gulf is the first report to offer practical recommendations that address the key challenges of governance, political commitment and market incentives from a GCC-wide perspective. It draws on the results of two years of research and workshops in the region, with representatives of over 60 local institutions w ith a critical interest in and influence over domestic energy.
The report concludes that efficiency savings are urgent, achievable and will build a bridge to renewables deployment.
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. Department of State Foreign Press Office)
The Arab League, an umbrella organization comprising 22 Middle Eastern and African countries and entities, has maintained an official boycott of Israeli companies and Israeli-made goods since the founding of Israel in 1948. The boycott is administered by the Damascus-based Central Boycott Office, a specialized bureau of the Arab League.
The boycott has three tiers. The primary boycott prohibits citizens of an Arab League member from buying from, selling to, or entering into a business contract with either the Israeli government or an Israeli citizen. The secondary boycott extends the primary boycott to any entity world-wide that does business in Israel. A blacklist of global firms that engage in business with Israel is maintained by the Central Boycott Office, and disseminated to Arab League members. The tertiary boycott prohibits an Arab League member and its nationals from doing business with a company that deals with companies that have been blacklisted by the Arab League.
Since the boycott is sporadically applied and ambiguously enforced, its impact, measured by capital or revenue denied to Israel by companies adhering to the boycott, is difficult to measure. The effect of the primary boycott appears limited since intra-regional trade and investment are small. Enforcement of the secondary and tertiary boycotts has decreased over time, reducing their effect. Thus, it appears that since intra-regional trade is small, and that the secondary and tertiary boycotts are not aggressively enforced, the boycott may not currently have an extensive effect on the Israeli economy.
Despite the lack of economic impact on either Israeli or Arab economies, the boycott remains of strong symbolic importance to all parties. The U.S. government has often been at the forefront of international efforts to end the boycott and its enforcement. Despite U.S. efforts, however, many Arab League countries continue to support the boycott’s enforcement. U.S. legislative action related to the boycott dates from 1959 and includes multiple statutory provisions expressing U.S. opposition to the boycott, usually in foreign assistance legislation. In 1977, Congress passed laws making it illegal for U.S. companies to cooperate with the boycott and authorizing the imposition of civil and criminal penalties against U.S. violators. U.S. companies are required to report to the Department of Commerce any requests to comply with the Arab League Boycott.
The current list of countries that request U.S. companies to participate or agree to participate in boycotts prohibited under U.S. law includes Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
This report provides background information on the boycott and U.S. efforts to end its enforcement. More information on Israel is contained in CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti.
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, ruled by the Al Saud family since its founding in 1932, wields significant global political and economic influence as the birthplace of the Islamic faith and by virtue of its large oil reserves. Close U.S.-Saudi official relations have survived a series of challenges since the 1940s, and, in recent years, shared concerns over Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism and Iranian regional ambitions have provided a renewed logic for continued strategic cooperation. The ongoing political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa is changing the dynamics of long-running reform debates in the kingdom. The full effect of these events on the kingdom and on U.S.-Saudi relations has yet to be determined. Official U.S. concerns about human rights and religious freedom in the kingdom persist, and some Members of Congress have expressed skepticism about Saudi leaders’ commitment to combating religious extremism and sharing U.S. policy priorities in the Middle East and South Asia. However, Bush and Obama Administration officials have referred to the Saudi government as an important regional partner in recent years, and U.S. arms sales and related training programs have continued with congressional oversight. In October 2010, Congress was notified of proposed sales to Saudi Arabia of dozens of F-15 fighter aircraft, helicopters, and related equipment and services, with a potential value of $60 billion. Contracts to implement those sales are now being signed.
At home, Saudi leaders are weighing a litany of economic and political reform demands from competing, energized groups of citizen activists. The prevailing atmosphere of regional unrest and increased international scrutiny of domestic political developments further complicates matters. Groups representing liberal, moderate, and conservative trends have submitted advisory petitions to King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz, and many recent reform statements refer to and echo past requests submitted to the king and his predecessor, the late King Fahd. Initiatives to organize nationwide protests have been met with some popular criticism and official rejection, while local protests over discrete issues occur sporadically. Some observers fear that public confrontations with unpredictable consequences may result from the apparent incompatibility of a ban on all demonstrations and the enthusiasm of different activist groups, including Shiite citizens of the Eastern Province, government employees, students, and relatives of prisoners and terrorism suspects. The Obama Administration has endorsed Saudi citizens’ rights to free assembly and free expression. Saudi leaders reject foreign intervention in the country’s internal affairs.
Since taking power in 2005, King Abdullah has created greater public space for domestic social reform debates and has promoted the concept of a strong national identity among Saudis in the face of a determined domestic terrorism campaign. Succession arrangements have attracted particular attention in recent years, as senior leaders in the royal family, including the king, have faced health crises, and the deaths of two crown princes has raised questions about the transition to the next generation of the Al Saud family. Robust oil export revenues have strengthened the kingdom’s economic position and provide Saudi leaders with significant financial resources to meet domestic investment needs and provide social benefits. Current U.S. policy seeks to coordinate with Saudi leaders on regional issues and help them respond to domestic economic and security challenges. It remains to be seen whether U.S. initiatives and, more importantly, Saudi leaders’ efforts will ensure stability. Shared challenges have long defined U.S.-Saudi relations, but questions about political, economic, and social reform may become more pressing in light of the calls for political change that are now swirling around the kingdom.
Introduction:Arab populations have many similarities and dissimilarities. They share culture, language and religion but they are also subject to economic, political and social differences. The purpose of this study is to understand the causes of the rising trend of diabetes prevalence in order to suggest efficient actions susceptible to reduce the burden of diabetes in the Arab world.Method:We use principal component analysis to illustrate similarities and differences between Arab countries according to four variables: 1) the prevalence of diabetes, 2) impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), 3) diabetes related deaths and 4) diabetes related expenditure per person. A linear regression is also used to study the correlation between human development index and diabetes prevalence.Results:Arab countries are mainly classified into three groups according to the diabetes comparative prevalence (high, medium and low) but other differences are seen in terms of diabetes-related mortality and diabetes related expenditure per person. We also investigate the correlation between the human development index (HDI) and diabetes comparative prevalence (R = 0.81).Conclusion:The alarming rising trend of diabetes prevalence in the Arab region constitutes a real challenge for heath decision makers. In order to alleviate the burden of diabetes, preventive strategies are needed, based essentially on sensitization for a more healthy diet with regular exercise but health authorities are also asked to provide populations with heath- care and early diagnosis to avoid the high burden caused by complications of diabetes.
Liberalizing Monarchies? How Gulf Monarchies Manage Education Reform
Source: Brookings Institution
With the onset of the Arab uprisings, Gulf monarchies face increased pressure on their traditional ruling balance. Gulf Arab oil monarchies have traditionally been resistant to political reform, and their reaction to the Arab spring has largely followed suit. To focus solely on political liberalization, however, is to ignore ambitious societal and bureaucratic reforms that have been launched in recent years. In many ways, the processes and pressures involved in reforming the state’s “soft institutions” – whether due to pressure from political elites, citizens, or the international community – offer important lessons for broader institutional reform in these cautiously liberalizing monarchies.
This paper focuses on one of such institution—the educational sector—and analyzes the extent to which reform in that sphere can provide models for wider liberalization. Education reform in the Gulf is a politically charged and socially sensitive endeavour with potential winners and losers among various co-opted groups. Looking at the experiences of three Gulf states—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates—the study seeks to consider how successful these monarchies have been in transitioning from highly centralized and rigid bureaucracies to more responsive, innovative, and dynamic systems.
+ Full Paper (PDF)
Saudi Arabia: Repression in the Name of Security
Source: Amnesty International
Since March 2011 the Saudi Arabian authorities have launched a new wave of repression in the name of security. They have cracked down on demonstrators protesting over human rights violations in the context of calls for reform at home and the uprisings and mass protests in the region. At the same time, they are in the process of creating a new anti-terror law which threatens to exacerbate an already dire situation for freedom of expression, in which any real or perceived dissent is almost instantly suppressed. It would also legalize a number of abusive practices including arbitrary detention, thus consolidating draconian and abusive counter-terrorism measures imposed since 2001 against the backdrop of an extremely weak institutional framework for the protection of human rights. State power in Saudi Arabia rests almost entirely with the King and the ruling Al Saud family. The Constitution gives the King absolute power over government institutions and the affairs of the state, and severely curtails political dissent and freedom of expression.
The country’s 27 million residents have no political institutions independent of government, and political parties and trade unions are not tolerated. The media is severely constrained and those who express dissent face arrest and imprisonment, whether political critics, bloggers or academics. King Abdullah announced on 25 September 2011 that women will have the right to vote and run in municipal elections, the kingdom’s only public poll, from 2015 and be appointed to the Shura Council, a body that advises the monarchy. However, women remain subject to severe discrimination in both law and practice. Women are unable to travel, engage in paid work or higher education, or marry without the permission of a male guardian.
It is against this background that some Saudi Arabians have been insisting publicly that it is time for change and for their human rights to be respected. Many have tried to assert their right to peaceful protest on the streets. Some have demanded political and social reforms; others have called for the release of relatives detained without charge or trial on terrorismrelated grounds. In response, the security forces have arrested hundreds of people for protesting or voicing their opposition to government policies this year. Most have been released without charge; others remain in detention without charge or trial; and others still have been charged with vague security-related and other offences. Amnesty International considers many of those detained to be prisoners of conscience, held solely for peacefully expressing their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Two individuals have been charged in New York for their alleged participation in a plot directed by elements of the Iranian government to murder the Saudi Ambassador to the United States with explosives while the Ambassador was in the United States.
The charges were announced by Attorney General Eric Holder; FBI Director Robert S. Mueller; Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; and Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
A criminal complaint filed today in the Southern District of New York charges Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen holding both Iranian and U.S. passports, and Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran’s Qods Force, which is a special operations unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that is said to sponsor and promote terrorist activities abroad.
Both defendants are charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official; conspiracy to engage in foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire; conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives); and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism transcending national boundaries. Arbabsiar is further charged with an additional count of foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.
Shakuri remains at large. Arbabsiar was arrested on Sept. 29, 2011, at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and will make his initial appearance today before in federal court in Manhattan. He faces a maximum potential sentence of life in prison if convicted of all the charges.
State Department Travel Warning: Saudi Arabia
Source: U.S. Department of State
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia. There is an ongoing security threat due to the continued presence of terrorist groups, some affiliated with al-Qaida, who may target Western interests, housing compounds, hotels, shopping areas, and other facilities where Westerners congregate. These terrorist groups may employ a wide variety of tactics and also may target Saudi government facilities and economic/commercial targets within the Kingdom. This replaces the Travel Warning issued December 23, 2010 and updates security advice to resident U.S. citizens.
The last major terrorist attack directed against foreign nationals was in 2007. Significant measures since then by the Saudi government have greatly improved the security environment throughout the Kingdom. The Department of State has since authorized the return of all family members to U.S. Embassy Riyadh, U.S. Consulate General Jeddah, and U.S. Consulate General Dhahran. While these changes reflect a continued improvement in the security climate in Saudi Arabia, particularly in the Eastern Province and Riyadh, it is important to note that there remains an ongoing security threat. U.S. citizens who visit Saudi Arabia are strongly encouraged to carefully select hotels or housing compounds with security measures in place that meet your particular needs. This is a personal and individual decision for you and/or your sponsor. In addition, U.S. citizens should always be aware of their surroundings when traveling or visiting commercial establishments frequented by Westerners. U.S. citizens are also advised to keep a low profile, vary times and routes of travel, exercise caution while driving, entering or exiting vehicles, and ensure that travel documents and visas are current and valid.
Country Specific Information: Saudi Arabia
Source: U.S. Department of State
Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by a king chosen from and by members of the Al Saud family. The king rules through royal decrees issued in conjunction with the Council of Ministers, and with advice from the Consultative Council. The king appoints members of both councils. Islamic law is the basis of the authority of the monarchy and provides the foundation of the country’s conservative customs and social practices. Saudi Arabia has a modern and well-developed infrastructure, and facilities for travelers are widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Saudi Arabia for additional information.