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Category Archive: Opinions & Editorials

Benefiting from the Vacuum in Syria

8 October 2015 | comments (1) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al-MulhimAbdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

On Jan. 16, 2012, I wrote an article that was published in this paper titled, “Russia, bridesmaid, but, never the bride.” Now, Russia is simply on the road to say to the world, yes, they are here in Syria and they are a military force that the world has to reckon with.

Many of the Russian old guard are still swallowing their pride; they never forgot their Soviet Empire breaking down in front of their eyes, as also their helplessness to save it. What is more humiliating was seeing their former allies and former members of the Warsaw Pact joining their former western rival, NATO. In other words, Russia in reality has no allies except shaky states such as Syria. But, many in the Russian old guard were determined to bring back their glory. But, how and at what cost?

After the Soviet Union’s breakdown, Russia went into a period of political uncertainties, economic recession and even went through a cycle of violence and coup attempts. Years later, Russia’s credibility was put to the test when Yugoslavia collapsed. And the Russians saw their historical ally, the Serbs being bombarded by the West without even a resolution from the United Nations and the Russians stood by without the ability to help their ally.

As a matter of fact, Russian ships in the vicinity of the NATO operation area were not even capable of using high speed manoeuvres due to shortage of fuel and the Russian forces didn’t have any clear and decisive rules of engagement.

Now, the Russians are far away from their old international influence. Russia at times was losing an edge in major strategic, economic and political decisions. Even their nuclear facilities were not getting the proper care and many of their old nuclear submarines were becoming a threat to northern European countries such as Sweden due to nuclear leaks in their reactors. So, what is the easiest, safest and cheapest way the Russian can take to be back in the game?

When the Arab Spring began in Syria, many analysts expected that there will be swift intervention either from the West to speed up the fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad or a Russian intervention to help their ally to fight any changes in the country.

The West under the US leadership stood by and the American administration kept drawing many red lines that Assad was challenged to cross. But, he continued to cross every American red line. There was no American response.

The Russians were also hesitant and subsequently they pulled their fleet from their bases in Syria when the US made a serious threat to interfere if Assad used chemical weapons or continued using explosive barrels. Bashar eventually used both chemical and explosive barrels against his people. US still stood by and nothing happened. Now, the Russians are coming.

After four years of chaos and civil war in Syria; after hundreds of thousands of Syrians being killed and many more were wounded; after millions of Syrians being displaced; and after a total destruction of the country, the Russians took it as a golden opportunity to get back to the international arena and regaining their lost glory by intervening in Syria. And they are doing it the cheap way.

Attack as many targets in Syria and regardless of how many will be dead and injured, Russia knows that no one will pay attention. The Syrians are so wounded, now they don’t feel any pain. But, sure the Russian actions were admired by many people and think that finally, someone is capable of challenging the Americans. In these Russian military operations, it is only the Syrian blood being spilled.

To be honest, no matter what reasons are behind the Russian intervention, no one for sure knows about the outcome; or how the Syrians, or the regime will benefit from it. But, at the end, Russia that took the initiative will most likely stand benefitted from the military adventure.

The Russians have finally found a way to challenge the Americans, and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be hailed as a decisive world leader. In other words, Russia has nothing to lose, regardless of the outcome. Syria, which remained an ally of Russia has never had any strategic friendship with the West. So for Russians are legitimately on track to come to the aid of their ally. But why now?

Ironically, the former Soviet Union never came to the aid of their Arab ally when the US was involved. The Arab world saw this in 1967 when Moscow stood still and again in 2003 when Moscow sent just words of mouth to the Iraqis when it was invaded by the West.

Russia intervened in Syria because they saw a broken and fractured country that they can use to regain their lost glory.

Russia didn’t come to fight Daesh or any terrorist groups. Russia is there because the West wasn’t there. Russia this time wants to be the bride and not the bridesmaid.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Benefiting from the Vacuum in Syria reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.

The ‘Kafala’ System Must Go

5 October 2015 | comments (1) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Khaled AlmaeenaKhaled Almaeena

Over the past few years there have been growing criticism over the treatment of foreign workers in the Gulf States. Accusations were hurled by International Labour Organization (ILO) and human rights activists, which for years were ignored.

However, in the past few years Gulf States have been taking steps to alleviate the miserable conditions of the workers. There have been some steps taken but by and large the problem persisted because the foreign worker, whether labors or white-collared office workers, remained under the total mercy of the sponsors or “Kafeels”.

I had written several articles over the past few years outlining the situation and even writing to concerned officials but to no avail.

Only my last letter to the new Saudi minister of labor evoked a quick response and action and I must thank the minister and his staff who viewed the humanitarian case of a doctor who could not travel for 19 months due to a bureaucratic error.

The problem lies not in the laws but in implementation. Also workers, who mainly are non-Arabic speakers, are rarely given a sympathetic hearing and in most cases victimized as the sponsors go and report them as runaways — registering “huroob” cases against them.

Apart from the Kingdom streamlining and reforming its labor laws, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are also in the process of reforming their sponsorship laws.

The UAE is introducing labor reforms that aim to tighten oversight of employment agreements for the millions of migrant workers and they will take effect on Jan. 1. 2016.

They focus on improving transparency of job terms and employment contracts, spell out how contracts can be broken and could make it easier for workers to switch employers.

The UAE Minister of Labor Saqr Ghobash has taken the GCC lead by initiating reforms that will better protect foreign workers. Now workers can change employers and also be saved from substitution “contract”, which forces them to sign another document on arrival.

“These rules will take the labor market to a new stage based on a strong and balanced relationship between all parties and on agreement and transparency in contracting to guarantee the rights of all parties,” Ghobash was reported as saying while announcing the date of implementation.

Long-awaited changes to Qatar’s kafala sponsorship system have been green-lighted by the Cabinet, bringing reforms one step closer to becoming enshrined in the law.

However, the new rules still require final approval from the Qatari Emir and are unlikely to come into force until late 2016 at the earliest.

The large influx of workers to the GCC States, especially the Kingdom, created a big “visa market” and many nationals and recruitment agencies abroad made millions of riyals.

Today in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia too, the Ministry of Labor has clamped down on heartless “visa traders” and has pushed for reforms. A media campaign should be conducted and people, both the workers and the employees, should be made aware of their rights and obligations.

Contracts should be lodged with the Ministry of Labor rather than with employers. And the Kafala system must go.

— Reprinted with permission of the Saudi Gazette and Khaled Almaeena. The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena

Yemenis in Kingdom

5 October 2015 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al-MulhimAbdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

Yemenis have always considered Saudi Arabia as their second home. Relations between the people of Saudi Arabia and Yemen have always been very strong. Yemenis have always lived in peace and harmony with Saudis. And that is why many analysts who are unaware of the depth of relations between the two peoples were surprised when a few months ago Saudi authorities corrected the status of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis, who were living and working in Saudi Arabia without legal status. At the same time, there are millions of Yemenis who live, work or travel to and from the Kingdom and enjoy the available health care and education. In other words Saudis have nothing against Yemen or the Yemenis. And every Saudi has deep sympathy for them.

Saudi Arabia led the coalition operation only after Yemen’s legitimate government asked for it. At the same time, Saudi Arabia can’t afford to see lawless militias controlling a country with 30 million people and thousands of miles of common border with the Kingdom.

These militias — mostly the Houthis — have a huge stockpile of weapons that pose a direct threat to Saudi Arabia. The coalition forces are continuing their military operations in Yemen to end the conflict once and for all.

There is a humanitarian crisis in Yemen due to tens of years of internal conflicts. Yemen had always been suffering from instability and internal fighting. The country lacks water resources, reliable infrastructure, proper health care and education system and many other things necessary for a decent living.

In the past, Saudi Arabia had provided tens of billions of dollars in direct financial aid and tens of billions of dollars for improving their infrastructure and building hospitals, schools, roads and airports. Saudi Arabia had always stood by Yemen in difficult times. In addition to government-to-government relations, investments were made by Saudi businessmen in Yemen.

Now, Yemenis have a difficult task to correct the situation in their country because it is only the Yemenis who can rebuild Yemen and bring back stability. It is time for all Yemenis to lay down their arms and accept the legitimate government. This will free Yemen from all outside interventions especially from Iran.

We, the Saudi people, have the highest respect for Yemen and the Yemenis. They are very intelligent and hardworking people who have the talent and ability to take back their country from the Houthis and rebuild Yemen after many years of instability and destruction. Saudi Arabia and its people will stand by all the Yemenis if they show signs of serious steps to live in peace among themselves. Women and children in Yemen are suffering from this never-ending chaos. The world is seeing tired women and starving children and again, it is only the Yemenis who can sit together and put the interest of Yemen ahead of their own personal interests.

Yemen has the potential to rise again and become a contributing member to the stability and prosperity of the area. We in the Kingdom want to see a prosperous Yemen. For the time being, the millions of Yemenis living and working in Saudi Arabia can do more for their country by showing the Yemenis in Yemen that Saudi Arabia has a very strategic interest in seeing a stable Yemen. Yemenis residing in Saudi Arabia are one of the biggest assets for their country. Their contribution of billions of dollars in remittances to their country can rebuild Yemen in a very short time. Yemenis in Saudi Arabia had played a big part in strengthening their economy. The Houthis are also part of the Yemeni society and can be a part in building Yemen, but, not a force to destroy Yemen or by playing into the hands of Iran.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Yemenis in Kingdom reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.

Time for Muslim Unity

23 September 2015 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al-MulhimAbdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

Millions of Muslims head toward Makkah every year to perform Haj. Muslims converge on Makkah from every nook and corner of the world. They hail from different cultures, speak different languages and adhere to different political ideologies. But once they arrive in Makkah, all their differences vanish into thin air and they perform all Haj rituals in complete harmony.

We see this happening every year. It is intriguing that the unity seen in Makkah is seldom experienced when they return to their respective countries. The spirit of brotherhood disappears when they end Haj and leave Makkah.

Haj is not only about moving from one place to another to perform certain rituals, we also celebrate Eid Al-Adha at the end of the pilgrimage. Haj, in other words, is a form of worship and celebration.

Haj is a symbol of Muslim unity and equality. All pilgrims don the same simple clothing called ihram. There is no difference in the dress code on the basis of age or economic status. Haj, the fifth pillar of Islam, also instills in Muslims the importance of utilizing time effectively. During the pilgrimage, worshippers are supposed to perform rituals at specific time. Haj also teaches us tolerance. Since it is a huge gathering, perhaps the largest of its kind, people cannot perform the Haj without keeping their cool by tolerating others.

In short, Haj teaches us self-discipline and to live in harmony with others. Currently, Muslims especially in the Arab world are going through a difficult phase. The entire Arab world has become a cauldron of chaos. On a daily basis, we receive reports about killings and unrest in the region. Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya have all descended into chaos. Unfortunately, in most of these countries Muslims are killing Muslims.

During the past five years, hundreds of thousands of Muslims have been killed and many more have been injured in the ongoing bloodshed. The world is seeing millions of Muslims and non-Muslims being displaced from these Muslim countries. While the Muslim world is celebrating Eid, the world is witnessing the ordeal of thousands of Muslims who are fleeing their countries and facing death while seeking refuge in other places.

Muslims should learn from the Haj season. During Haj, they live peacefully. They should try to emulate this spirit of brotherhood in other countries and after Haj as well. Living in peace and harmony is more comforting to the soul. And living in peace is a must for any form of development.

For hundreds of years, Muslims during Haj have always used this gathering in Makkah to strengthen mutual ties. The entire Muslim world is facing unprecedented challenges that are of our own making and it is us who can resolve the ongoing crises. It is true that others can extend a helping hand but at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the Muslims to play their due roles to get over all the problems. We need to forge unity among our ranks and set aside our petty differences in the greater good of the Ummah.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Time for Muslim Unity reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.

The Terrible Crane Tragedy in Makkah

21 September 2015 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Khaled AlmaeenaKhaled Almaeena

The terrible crane tragedy in Makkah on Sept. 11 that caused over a 100 deaths and 200 injured truly shook our society. I am not going to dwell on the causes.

Investigations were conducted and the results made public quickly. Nothing remained hidden. Custodian of Two Holy Mosques King Salman had made it very clear that the public will have full knowledge regarding the sad incident. And the government has done just that after swiftly concluding the probe into the reasons behind the tragic incident.

The manner in which King Salman took charge following the Makkah Crane tragedy was indeed very commendable. He not only led the way in consoling the families and participated in the funeral for the dead, but he also, ensured that the injured were given the best possible medical attention and care.

He also announced a very generous and unprecedented compensation to the families of the victims and has shown the world that the Kingdom has a decisive and a humane leader.

The King rightly ordered full and thorough investigation of the incident and the experts began their study swiftly, and arrived at a conclusion.

Though not fully blaming the contractor for the tragedy it did apportion part of the blame on them for violating safety rules. For that the firm has been sanctioned.

King Salman’s just and compassionate approach augurs well for the Kingdom. It also indicates to both public officials and private individuals that any offense will be questioned.

The moment this tragedy occurred I was flooded with calls from various international media channels asking for reports and probable causes.

However, one of the factors initially viewed as the cause was the terrible and freak weather conditions, which was underlined in the report submitted to the government.

One thing I can say for sure is that I had never witnessed such terrible storms in Makkah or Jeddah and the torrential rain that followed.

Another commendable factor was that the authorities were quick to react and rescue operations continued throughout the night. Bodies picked up, some badly mutilated the injured taken to hospital and those in critical condition given the treatment.

This was a time when the people of all walks and all nationalities came together. International sympathy also poured in. The government assumed full responsibility, as these were the guests of God.

King Salman not only directed all the operations but also paid a visit and viewed the scene of the accident. As Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques this was expected of him. What was more striking was his visit to the injured and his words of sympathy.

This was not a PR exercise but a genuine expression of concern. Talking to the injured of several countries, assuring them all help and offering compensation in a dignified way was a reflection of the noble qualities of the King.

These words of solace themselves alleviated my pain and suffering said an injured pilgrim. The Kingdom is determined that the pilgrimage will continue to go ahead with will provide all the support to that effect. There will be no let up. This is our duty.

— Reprinted with permission of the Saudi Gazette and Khaled Almaeena. The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena

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