Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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March 10, 2004

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In-Depth Issue:

Saudi Clerics Forbid Muslims to Watch U.S. Arabic Channel (AP/Straits Times-Singapore)
    Clerics in Saudi Arabia say Al-Hurra, a new U.S.-funded television channel for Arab viewers, was founded to fight Islam and Muslims are religiously forbidden to watch it.
    Sheikh Ibrahim al-Khudairi and Sheikh Mansour bin Ahmed al-Hussein said no one should work for the station, watch it, or support it with advertising.

Egyptian Students Protest U.S. Reform Proposal (AP/Jerusalem Post)
    An American plan for reform in the Middle East drew a mass protest Tuesday at the University of Menoufia, north of Cairo.
    "Be wary of the Greater Middle East Initiative!" read a banner. "It is a great deception and a project aimed at benefiting Zionism."
    The Middle East Initiative, modeled on the 1975 Helsinki pact that the West used to press for greater freedom in the Soviet bloc, urges Arab states to undertake major political and economic reforms, especially to advance women and promote human rights.

Australia Muslim Chief Decries Extremists - Jamie Tarabay (AP/WTOP)
    Sheik Taj El Din Al Hilaly, the mufti of Australia since 1989, said Tuesday a group that adheres to the Wahhabi strand of Sunni Islam - the same followed by bin Laden - wants him out of office.
    Hilaly said the Wahhabis are using funds from some Arab states to recruit young men at universities and youth centers.
    Last month when he preached in Lebanon, Hilaly told worshippers: "Don't be surprised if one day you hear the Muezzin calling for prayer and saying 'Allahu Akbar' (God is great) from the top of the White House. Sept. 11 is God's work against oppressors."

Achille Lauro Hijacker Abbas Dies - Mohammed Daraghmeh (AP/Washington Post)
    Abul Abbas, the Palestinian mastermind of the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro passenger ship - during which he threw an elderly wheelchair-bound Jewish American tourist, Leon Klinghoffer, overboard after shooting him - has died in U.S. custody in Iraq "of natural causes," U.S. officials said Tuesday.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • U.S., EU Near Iran Deal; Exile Warns of Bomb Plans
    A resolution to be submitted to the UN nuclear watchdog's board in Vienna would signal to Iran it would be punished if it defied the International Atomic Energy Agency. "We're not looking for a formal non-compliance resolution at this time, but we're seeking a strong resolution that keeps pressure on Iran to comply with all its obligations," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
        Iranian exile Alireza Jafarzadeh, who has previously released accurate nuclear information about Iran, said Tuesday Iranian leaders decided at a recent meeting to seek an atom bomb "at all costs" by the end of 2005 and begin enriching uranium at secret plants. (Reuters/Washington Post)
  • CIA: Al-Qaeda Still a Threat to U.S.
    Al-Qaeda remains intent on obtaining and using anthrax and other chemical or biological weapons against the U.S., CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. "Al-Qaeda continues to pursue its strategic goal of obtaining a nuclear capability,'' Tenet also said. "It remains interested in dirty bombs.'' Tenet said the spread of bin Laden's anti-U.S. sentiment ensures threats against the U.S. will remain. He cited additional threats that have arisen from smaller Sunni Muslim extremist groups like al-Zarqawi, Ansar al-Islam, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. (Bloomberg)
  • Suicide Attack in Istanbul
    Two suicide bombers attacked a restaurant in Istanbul during a meeting of a masonic lodge Tuesday, killing a waiter and injuring six others. One of the injured attackers, who lost an arm, could be seen angrily chanting slogans as he was taken to hospital. "Two assailants shot the guard in his feet and raked the restaurant of the lodge with gunfire, then detonated bombs," said Governor Muammer Guler. CNN-Turk television said a man chanting "Allah, Allah" entered the building and detonated an explosive. (Guardian-UK)
  • Some Shiites Blame Wahhabis for Latest Atrocities
    Shiite preacher Hazim al-Aaraji has openly accused Wahhabis and al-Qaeda of carrying out attacks which killed at least 181 people and wounded 553 during one of the most important Shiite holidays. "We are not afraid of saying the truth, which is that al-Qaeda and the Wahhabists are behind the attacks on Kazimiya and Karbala," Al-Aaraji said Friday in a sermon outside the Kazimiya shrine in Baghdad. "Wahhabis believe that the killing of Shiites curries favor with God," said Abbas al-Robai, editor of the Shiite weekly newspaper al-Hawza. "They are behind the attacks." Shiites have long been a favorite target of Wahhabi warriors in Iraq, who sacked Karbala in 1801, and twice laid siege to the nearby holy city of Najaf early in the 19th century. (AP/Waterbury Republican-American)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Sharon Meets Egyptian Intelligence Chief on Gaza Pullout - Aluf Benn
    Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the head of Egypt's intelligence services, Omar Suleiman, held a secret meeting Monday at Sharon's ranch in the Negev to discuss the disengagement plan. (Ha'aretz)
  • PM Adviser: No Eastern Fence in West Bank - Amnon Barzilai
    "The State of Israel will not build a separation fence in the eastern part of the West Bank because of the diplomatic damage it is likely to endure as a result," Col. (res.) Dan Tirza, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Sharon on the issue of the fence, said Tuesday. Tirza also said there will be a 2.3-kilometer hole in the fence being built around Jerusalem in the area of the Jerusalem-Ma'aleh Adumim road. Tirza said his committee has tried to limit the damage wrought by the fence. "In places where I can, I move the route of the fence so as not to destroy olive groves and hot houses. Not a single home has been destroyed as a result of the route of the fence, except for some homes built illegally in the area of Baka al-Garbiyeh." (Ha'aretz)
  • U.S. Slams Syria after Diplomat Detained - Janine Zacharia
    A U.S. embassy political officer who had been watching a demonstration by reformers outside the Syrian parliament Monday in Damascus was detained and held for an hour by Syrian authorities. U.S. Ambassador to Syria Margaret Scobey strongly protested the detention. Syrian security officials apologized to the U.S. for the breach of diplomatic practice, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday. "Our embassy in Damascus has protested this incident in the strongest terms. The detention of diplomats, no matter how brief, is a clear violation of Vienna Conventions. It is not acceptable," Boucher said. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Syrian Vows to Continue Democracy Fight (AP/Washington Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Islamic Law Rules in Iraq - Daniel Pipes
    Rather than a successful compromise, Iraq's interim constitution is a signal victory for militant Islam. First, the compromise suggests that while all of Sharia (Islamic law) may not be put into place, every law must conform with it. The new Iraq may not be Saudi Arabia or Iran, but it will include substantial portions of Islamic law. Second, the interim constitution appears to be only a way station. Islamists will surely try to gut its liberal provisions, thereby making Sharia effectively "the source" of Iraqi law. Iraq's leading militant Islamic figure, Muqtada al-Sadr, has threatened that his constituency will "attack its enemies" if Sharia is not "the source" and the pro-Tehran political party in Iraq has echoed Sadr's ultimatum. When the interim constitution does take force, militant Islam will have blossomed in Iraq.
        The occupying powers now face a monumental challenge: Making sure this totalitarian ideology does not dominate Iraq and become the springboard for a new round of repression and aggression from Baghdad. (
  • Clerical Hurdles to Saudi Reform - Nawaf Obaid
    Decision-making in Saudi Arabia has always occurred through consensus between the royal family and the country's religious leaders. But clerics who have long enjoyed veto power over important decisions are unwilling and unable to back the reforms necessary to lead the kingdom in the 21st century. While Crown Prince Abdullah and other reform-minded royals have come to understand the need to build democratic institutions, strengthen women's rights, and protect religious freedom, the bulk of the religious establishment has worked to scale back the myriad proposals for reform in the government. Attempting to find a middle ground that satisfies the conservative clerics poses a threat to the entire reform program. (Washington Post)
  • Conspicuously Jewish, Avowedly Zionist, Irwin Cotler Settles In as Justice Minister of Canada - Leonard Stern
    On October 21, 2002, after an Islamic Jihad terrorist detonated a car bomb next to an Israeli bus, incinerating 14 passengers, Irwin Cotler stood in the House of Commons in Ottawa and criticized the Canadian government, led by his own Liberal party, for refusing to designate Islamic Jihad and Hamas as terror organizations. Two weeks after the bus attack, Cotler again rose from the backbench and urged his Liberal colleagues "to do the right thing" and blacklist Palestinian terror groups. Twenty days later the government relented and named Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist "entities." By that time it was assumed that Cotler was a troublemaker and was finished politically. A year later he became minister of justice and attorney general of Canada. (Jerusalem Report)
  • Is All Quiet on Israel's Northern Front? - Col. Zohar Palti
    The U.S. has repeatedly indicated that Syrian President Assad must take initial trust-building steps such as controlling Hizballah, preventing terrorist spillage from Syria into Iraq, and putting an end to terrorism directed from Hamas and Islamic Jihad headquarters in Damascus. Given Israel's current focus on Gaza, Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations do not appear to be in the cards for the time being. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Observations:

    The Arab Backlash - Editorial (Washington Post)

    • The administration's new democracy initiative for the "greater Middle East" is prompting an animated discussion.
    • Entrenched Arab autocrats, such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Syria's Bashar Assad, have tried to stop the initiative by denouncing it as an outside imposition or by claiming that no liberalization is possible before a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - which, they insist, can occur only by outside imposition.
    • Such decades-old rhetoric is as empty and exhausted as the nationalism and socialism on which the Egyptian and Syrian regimes are based. Yet it has been swallowed and retailed at face value by some European diplomats and critics of the administration.
    • Of course Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt under emergency law for 23 years, is opposed to the democratization policy - and would be regardless of how it was put forward, or whether or not peace had arrived between Arabs and Israelis.
    • Unless change is encouraged by the U.S. and Europe, it will be blocked indefinitely by the strongmen, most of whom depend on Western aid and alliances.
    • Until the administration is prepared to use its considerable leverage with allies such as Mubarak to promote political freedom, as opposed to stability, its democracy initiative will lack credibility.

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