Saudi Arabia

Wojdan Shaherkani And The Olympics

I confess a rather limited interest in the London 2012 Olympics but I had been looking forward to seeing Wojdan Shaherkani compete.

I am glad she came to London 2012 but there is a wider significant, as the WSJ explains:

“But the rapid defeat didn’t detract from the bout’s significance: Shaherkani became the first woman to compete for Saudi Arabia in the Olympics—a breakthrough moment in the ultraconservative kingdom.

After the match, speaking through a Saudi judo official who translated her brief remarks to a hoard of dozens of reporters, she said she was “excited, very proud” of her ground-breaking appearance. Speaking on the sidelines after the fight, her coach, Mohamed Elsayed Sabeia, said in an interview that it was a “momentous” occasion.

She showed up wearing a white judo robe and black cloth wrapped tightly around her head. Her opponent was Melissa Mojica, one of the world’s top judoka in the heavyweight category.

Shaherkani had never participated in an international judo bout. She was invited to the Olympics in a symbolic attempt to strike a blow for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The country prohibits women from playing sports in front of mixed audiences of men and women, and Saudi schools generally don’t provide girls with physical education.

Before the fight, some other judo fighters worried that Shaherkani wasn’t qualified to compete and suggested it could be dangerous for her to square off against Olympic athletes in the violent sport.

Those concerns faded quickly when the bout got under way. Shaherkani used a defensive strategy, trying to deflect Mojica’s advances. She succeeded a few times before Mojica grabbed hold of her and swung her to the ground. That ended the match. “

Syria, T72 Tanks And More

Over the past few weeks there have been numerous pieces in the press concerning Syria and the Middle East, this is a small selection:

Inside the torture chamber of Assad’s inquisition squads.

Syrian troops fire on protesters in Damascus.

Asa Winstanley on Russia Today has been quibbling about the precise death toll in Syria.

Why he does that I can’t say. I can understand why Russia Today does it. They are following Russia’s foreign policy support for Bashar Assad’s regime, but why Winstanley would quibble when the Syrian regime are slaughtering the people of Homs on a daily basis, is hard to fathom.

Left Foot Forward argues Liberal intervention shouldn’t be confined to the West.

China backs Assad before Syrian forces open fire at funeral.

Assad sends tanks towards Homs as Red Cross seeks ceasefire talks.

Nir Rosen on Syria’s armed opposition.

Syrian Regime Fakes Supportive Roy Interview.

Dozens More Die in Syrian Violence, Activists Say.

Saeed Malekpour’s death sentence.

Elsewhere, The Price of Dissent in Saudi Arabia.

Praise Arab Spring, except for antisemitism.

The treatment of immigrants in Greece is terrible.

That Plot

The more I read about the supposed plot in the US to kill the Saudi ambassador the less clear it becomes, a piece by Gareth Porter:

“On May 24, when Arbabsiar first met with the DEA informant he thought was part of a Mexican drug cartel, it was not to hire a hit squad to kill the ambassador. Rather, there is reason to believe that the main purpose was to arrange a deal to sell large amounts of opium from Afghanistan.

In the complaint, the closest to a semblance of evidence that Arbabsiar sought help during that first meeting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador is the allegation, attributed to the DEA informant, that Arbabsiar said he was “interested in, among other things, attacking an embassy of Saudi Arabia”.

Among the “other things” was almost certainly a deal on heroin controlled by officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Three Bloomberg reporters, citing a “federal law enforcement official”, wrote that Arbabsiar told the DEA informant he represented Iranians who “controlled drug smuggling and could provide tons of opium”.

Because of opium entering Iran from Afghanistan, Iranian authorities hold 85 percent of the world’s opium seizures, according to Iran’s Fars News Agency. Iranian security personnel, including those in the IRGC and its Quds Force, then have the opportunity to sell the opium to traffickers in the Middle East, Europe and now Mexico.

Mexican drug cartels have begun connecting with Middle Eastern drug traffickers, in many cases stationing operatives in Middle East locations to facilitate heroin production and sales, according to a report last January in Borderland Beat.

But the FBI account of the contacts between Arbabsiar and the DEA informant does not reference any discussions of drugs. “

Talking Of That Plot

There is a lot in the press and blogosphere about the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in the US. Much of it doesn’t make sense, but this is a thoughtful piece on the issue:

“Given the Quds Force’s modus operandi, it is odd that its commanders would entrust an unprecedentedly brazen attack against a foreign diplomat on U.S. soil to a former used-car salesman and Mexican drug-cartel hit men. Manssor Arbabsiar, the Iranian expatriate at the center of the plot, bears no resemblance to a covert operative, and any personal or familial connections he may have with Quds Force commanders does not explain his apparent role in facilitating the operation. The Quds Force also has no known connections with Mexican drug cartels, and enlisting them to carry out the terrorist attack runs counter to the Quds Force’s established pattern of working with long-standing, trusted contacts.

Finally, and perhaps most puzzlingly, the plot does not seem to fit Iran’s larger strategic objectives, whether regarding its relations with the United States, its relations with Saudi Arabia, or its relations with the international community. It makes little sense that Iranian authorities would choose such a drastic, extreme measure at this time, especially when such an act would do little to advance Iran’s prevailing goals, would assuredly provoke a harsh response by the United States, and would further tarnish Iran’s already poor global reputation. No matter how one looks at it, it is difficult to imagine how such an act would not severely jeopardize the security of the Iranian regime. If maintaining power and stability is what is driving Iran’s current leadership, such an attack would be of no apparent value.”