Return from a long, long break.

4 01 2008

First there were finals, and then there was laziness, but I’m back to talk more about why U.S. coverage of the Middle East is totally stupid.

I don’t watch television news very often because it is generally useless, but I’m knitting a scarf and can’t listen to NPR for another three hours, so I flipped on CNN. Your World Today was on, and in addition to some primary coverage and a story on Britney Spears’ latest breakdown, was running a rather perplexing piece on an English-language Saudi blogger who got arrested for supporting 10 reform advocates that the Saudi government has accused of being linked to terrorism.

This is not really news–the Saudi government is constantly arresting people for saying things it doesn’t like. They must have spent 15 minutes (a long time in television news) on this report, and the anchor kept saying, “Is individualism in danger in Saudi Arabia?” As if individualism was once highly prized in Saudi Arabia. It was all very weird.

I did a little (very little) investigating and discovered that the Bush administration is petitioning for this blogger’s release–a fact not mentioned in the televised CNN report. It seems to me as if the whole thing is a ploy to make it look like this is an aberration, when in fact it’s an extremely common occurrence.


King Abdullah University of Science and Technology!

27 10 2007

Groundbreaking of KAUST, Oct 27On October 22 King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new university in Thawal called the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

With one of the largest university endowments in the world, KAUST is using MIT as a model and is aiming to be world-class in every respect – students, faculty, facilities. The website is also quite impressive.

I am jumping-off-the-walls excited about this. One hindrance to development in the Arab world is the lack of original research going on at the universities. A lot of countries have an awful brain-drain effect going on, and as a result the academic community is generally not thriving.

So a university like this, which has the potential to keep some of the brain power of the Middle East in the Middle East, is a big deal. It’s very exciting.

KAUST will be co-ed – a fact that is pretty significant in Saudi Arabia. It will be the first co-ed university in the country.

Saudis can be hardcore conservatives–The Saudi national motto is the Shahadah.  And very conservative Saudis are often less than approving of their royal family, who sometimes appear to be pretending conservatism to avoid revolt. It’s inevitable that King Abdullah will face criticism from within the kingdom for this – probably harsh criticism.

Anyway, it might be very difficult for KAUST to attract non-Saudi women, Muslim or otherwise. Living in Saudi Arabia as a single woman with no family would be damned near impossible, even if the university you were attending was progressive.

More on KAUST:

Places that are not Iran or Palestine

4 10 2007

If you take a look at the tag cloud over there you’ll notice that I’ve been disproportionately addressing Iran, Palestine and Israel. I figure that’s inevitable – those are places with a lot of conflict (Iraq obviously has conflict, too, but I avoid writing about it as much because it’s incredibly depressing). Also, the only person who has ever commented here is Iranian, and I have to address my audience’s interests. But I thought maybe today I could switch it up and see what’s going on in other places.

According to al-Jazeera there have been more than 200 forest fires in Lebanon over the past two days – they think someone set the fires deliberately, either to obtain coal as a cheaper source of fuel (most likely) or for political reasons.

In Saudi Arabia there’s apparently been a little loosening of taboos over women driving – that is, they’re discussing it. There was a question about this on my Reporting exam yesterday, and I missed it, which is maybe another reason why I should check out news in other countries.

Saudi Arabia is a very conservative country (a lot of the time pundits in the United States take laws or customs from Saudi Arabia and erroneously behave as if they apply to the whole Muslim world, which is annoying), so it’s always good to hear about taboos breaking down there.

Kuwait is predictably a little boring. The big headline on Kuwait Times today is that the king made a speech about how the legislative and executive branches should work ‘hand-in-hand’ for Kuwait’s future. Which means, as far as I can tell, exactly nothing. I suspect Kuwait Times is a government newspaper, because government newspapers love to report on boring speeches made by government officials.

And finally, almost a month after the fact, Israel has admitted to attacking northern Syria on September 6. Israeli officials had refused to confirm or deny that the attack had even taken place, but when the Syrian president went on record yesterday to say that the attacks had indeed happened, Israel had to say something. They wouldn’t say why they did it – the U.S. press is speculating that North Korea was shipping some kind of nuclear technology to the area, but a lot of people think Israel was targeting arms headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon.