2017: U.S. Embassy In Riyadh Saudi Arabia Issued More Than 106,000 Visas

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

US Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch reaffirmed on Tuesday that the United States and Saudi Arabia share strong and positive relations that have been going on for decades, especially when it comes to consular affairs.

He revealed that there are ongoing discussions to develop and strengthen them in the coming years.

Responding to Asharq Al-Awsat, Risch revealed that more than 106,000 visas, 70 percent of which were granted to Saudi citizens, were issued in 2017. He stressed that restless efforts are spent on developing visa mechanisms and providing timely and reliable services for the embassy.

Risch expressed pride over strong and positive relations shared with Riyadh.

About 70 percent of US visas issued in Riyadh, Dhahran and Jeddah were for Saudi nationals. Some 77,910 visas issued to Saudis included visitation, work, and study passes.

Risch is on a tour to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

Meeting with counterparts, Risch will discuss a range of consular issues. While in the region, the diplomat also plans to review consular operations at US Embassies and Consulates in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, and Amman, and to meet with inter-agency partners.

Stressing that US national security is a priority when issuing visas, Risch said that a vetting system looks into applications, making sure the applicant is eligible.

On the time it takes to land a US visa, Risch said that some requests are completed quickly, while others take longer. “But we want to be a reliable source for those who want to get visas from our representations anywhere in the world.”

He pointed out that all types of US visas are issued to Saudi citizens, but the most common are tourist visas and work visas for attending meetings.

Requests to visit families or friends and visas issued to Saudi students stand to prove the long history between the two countries, Risch added.

Iran: Ahmedinejad Describes IRGC Intelligence Chief as ‘Psychologically Imbalanced’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Ahmedinejad Describes IRGC Intelligence Chief as ‘Psychologically Imbalanced’

Tuesday, 18 September, 2018 – 09:45
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (AP)
London – Asharq Al-Awsat
In the latest in a wave of criticism against Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s close associates, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacked Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Intelligence Chief Hossein Taeb, describing him as “psychologically imbalanced” and not fit for the job.

He accused the judiciary and the IRGC of fabricating cases against his aides over political differences.

In a video, Ahmadinejad lashed out against Taeb, saying that all he does is “fabricate cases,” revealing that during his presidency, he was opposed to him assuming his current post.

The former president asserted: “All state officials know that he is imbalanced and everyone knows what he has been up to.”

Ahmadinejad said that “the fabrication campaign against him and his aides was launched by the Ministry of Intelligence and IRGC Intelligence in 2011 under Taeb’s leadership.”

Furthermore, he also wondered whether “the use of state power is permissible in political disputes.”

Ahmadinejad also revealed that Taeb, who served as deputy intelligence minister under former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, was removed from his post for sparking disputes among various officials.

“They kicked him out of the Intelligence Ministry, but they later violated the law and gave him a top post with full authority elsewhere,” said Ahmadinejad.

In April 2011, the European Union included Taeb and 23 other officials on the sanctions list for “gross violation of human rights” of Iranian citizens. He is barred from entering EU countries.

Ahmadinejad’s stances and criticism of the Iranian regime, coupled with growing public discontent as a result of the deteriorating economy and living conditions, have sparked widespread debate in the country. His opponents accuse him of adopting “populist” positions.

In another part of the video, Ahmadinejad stated that what he says is “not an insult or a propaganda against the regime… we want to reform the situation… we say that this is bad and damaging the regime, the Iranian revolution, and the people.”

A few days ago, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, vice president, chief of staff, and senior aide to Ahmadinejad, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison on charges of threatening national security.

In March, Mashaei protested in front of the British embassy and burned a court sentence against former vice president and close Ahmadinejad aide, Hamid Baghaei, in a symbolic reference to accusations of “links” between the Chief Justice and Britain.

Commenting on Mashaei’s charges, Ahmadinejad said it “distorts the image of the regime,” while also criticizing IRGC intelligence service for setting up its own prisons.

Last week, a group of Ahmadinejad supporters published a video of Mashaei in which he speaks of attempts to assassinate him in prison. He also accused Taeb of working to force confessions from Baghaei, who is serving a sentence in Evin prison.

IRGC intelligence service is a parallel organ of the Ministry of Intelligence. Khamenei appoints its chief, who is therefore considered one of the most powerful figures in the regime.

The Guards’ intelligence service is known for prosecuting senior officials accused of security violations. It is tasked with providing protection for the supreme leader and senior officials of state agencies, airports and nuclear facilities.

Ahmadinejad is not the first senior Iranian official to criticize the IRGC intelligence chief.

In recent years, current deputy speaker Ali Motahari and reformist opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi have sharply criticized Taeb and the IRGC intelligence service’s operation in parallel to the Ministry of Intelligence.

Among the most prominent arrests were Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s brother, Hossein Fereydoun, and brother of Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, Mehdi Jahangiri, on charges of corruption.

Prior to the 2017 presidential elections, Rouhani had criticized the arrest of a number of activists on his electoral campaign by the Guards’ intelligence.

Tunisia Ruling Party Suspends Prime Minister’s Membership

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Tunisia Ruling Party Suspends Prime Minister’s Membership

Sunday, 16 September, 2018 – 11:00
Tunisia’s Prime Minister Youssef Chahed talks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Tunisia, September 29, 2016. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
Tunisia – Almunji Suaidani
Tunisia’s ruling Nidaa Tounes party froze the prime minister’s membership.

“The party decided to freeze the membership of Chahed,” Nidaa Tounes said in a statement.

Following long discussions that lasted for hours on Friday, the party took that decision that might lead in a further phase to a temporary dismissal of Chahed. During his visit to one of the schools in the north of the capital, Chahed refused to comment.

Wafa Makhlouf, a founding member of Nidaa Tounes, expressed objection and other members’ rejection of the statement content – a stance that shows affection with the prime minister who aspires to play a key political role bigger than the one determined for him when he was first appointed a prime minister.

Makhlouf expressed concern regarding the current condition in the country.

A former leader in Nidaa Tounes Riad Alaziz expected the number of deputies from the National Coalition bloc to reach 55, and all of them would be supporting the political program of Chahed. This makes the bloc come second after Ennahda Movement and push Nidaa Tounes to the third place.

This parliamentary bloc works on ensuring positive outcomes of Chahed government during the upcoming voting over the financial law 2019, also through voting in favor of Chahed carrying out a partial amendment in the government, as well as conducting huge reforms and implementing a development program.

Yemeni Government Adopts Currency-Reviving Economic Measures

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Yemeni Government Adopts Currency-Reviving Economic Measures

Monday, 10 September, 2018 – 11:00
An employee counts stacks of Yemeni currency at Yemen’s central bank in Sanaa. (AFP)
Aden – Asharq Al-Awsat
In an effort to save the war-torn nation’s faltering currency and to address a diminishing economy, the Yemeni government announced executive measures on reforms approved by the national Economic Committee.

The government said it will withhold docking permits for luxury cargo, while reassuring that licenses for fuel shipments and five food commodities – wheat, rice, sugar, milk and edible oil– and medicine will continue being issued.

As head of the legitimate government, President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi had ordered forming a national Economic Committee presided by presidential adviser and economic and financial expert Hafez Moayad.

Barring the entry of non-basic shipments comes in an effort to reduce hard currency depletion lost through the import of luxury goods.

Economic Committee Head Moayad, in an official statement, confirmed that the committee has devised a mechanism for import processes relevant to five main commodities (wheat, rice, sugar, milk and edible oil), as well as means to resolve the problem facing the oil derivatives market– both with domestic consumption and the export of surplus.

He said that the committee handed a detailed briefing to authorities on Saturday.

In the document, the committee recommended establishing a workshop with traders and concerned parties to discuss mechanisms to be implemented and clarify them to commercial sector parties.

The mechanisms are claimed to be able to stabilize the currency and keep it from collapsing.

Moayad revealed that the Economic Committee, which consists of seven members, including the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank, has completed its research functions and will be ready to assume other duties.

He added that it will follow up with bodies responsible for implementation.

In the meantime, the Yemeni Ministry of Transport began implementing procedures prohibiting the import of luxury goods.

According to the ministry, the government decided to restrict imports to basic commodities and oil derivatives by means of appropriations, collections and remittances based on Economic Committee mechanisms.

The mechanisms took effect on Sunday.

The government had decided earlier to raise salaries of government employees by 30 percent and production capacity in oil and gas fields after providing security guarantees for the resumption of export.

Practices of Iran-backed Houthi coup militias in Yemen, such as looting and pillaging of Sanaa Central Bank assets, have played a huge part in the national currency’s collapse.

Saudi Forces Take Part in US-Led Military Exercises in Egypt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Saudi Forces Take Part in US-Led Military Exercises in Egypt

Saturday, 8 September, 2018 – 19:00
The Bright Star 2018 military drills kick off in Egypt. (SPA)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Saudi forces took part in US-led military exercises in conducted in Egypt.

The US-Egyptian Bright Star 2018 exercise kicked off on Saturday with the participation of Greece, Britain, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Italy and France, in addition to observers from 16 countries.

Commanding officer of the participating Saudi force Colonel Nasser bin Hatlin al-Suhaimi said that their involvement is part of a pre-training curriculum prepared for the armed forces to engage in joint exercises, reported the Saudi Press Agency.

The exercise covers anti-terrorism operations and include training on combat, sea landing, diving, medical insurance and the use of live ammunition.

Saudi forces took part in this exercise with paratroopers and special security forces units, which have been assigned to carry out a number of major operational duties, especially combating terrorism and piracy.

Parliament Speaker Slams Demands for Algerian President’s Resignation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Parliament Speaker Slams Demands for Algerian President’s Resignation

Tuesday, 4 September, 2018 – 11:30
Algerian women passing the People’s National Assembly building in Algiers, Algeria. (AP)
Algiers – Boualem Goumrassa
Speaker of Algeria’s People’s National Assembly Said Bouhadja slammed opposition demands for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down over their claims that he is “physically incapacitated to perform his duties.”

Speaking at an ordinary assembly session, he said that “a new Algeria has emerged, which is confirmed when compared to the Algeria of 20 years ago,” hinting to the period before Bouteflika came to power in 1999.

He noted that this “new Algeria” is enough to provide irrefutable answers to anyone doubting or questioning the president.

He was referring to opposition parties critical of Bouteflika’s policies, especially on economic issues, namely the Islamist “Movement of the Society for Peace” and the liberal “Jil Jadid” parties.

Bouhadja said that “the time of transition periods is over in Algeria, which sacrificed tens of thousands of martyrs to save the political institutions.

He made his remarks in reference to parties calling for a “transition” period that paves the way for the post-Bouteflika phase.

Democracy “is firmly established in our country and reaching power takes place within the dates stipulated in the constitution and through the will of the people, who are indisputable in their sovereignty,” stressed the speaker.

Bouhadja said of Bouteflika: “The nation and history attest that he dedicated all of his life to defend the freedom, dignity and sovereignty of the Algerian people.”

He praised the president’s efforts to establish the Algerian Civil Concord Law in 2000, which granted amnesty to about 6,000 extremists, all of whom were reintegrated into the society after spending years in prison on terrorism charges.

Lebanese Economy Hammered by Political Crisis, Debt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Lebanese Economy Hammered by Political Crisis, Debt

Friday, 24 August, 2018 – 09:45
A man counts Lebanese pounds at an exchange shop, in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Ahmad Harb opened his perfume shop on the main street of Beirut’s commercial Hamra district 35 years ago, and his business has weathered security and political crises in this volatile country, including a civil war.

He says this year has been the worst he’s seen: sales dropped by 90 percent and after the landlord raised the rent, he was finally forced to close the shop and move to a smaller, less expensive location nearby, said an Associated Press report on Friday.

“There is no business. Nothing works in this country, everything is very expensive,” Harb said, standing woefully outside his now shuttered shop.

Nearly four months after Lebanon held its first general elections in nine years, politicians are still squabbling over the formation of a new government amid uncertainty over a long stagnating economy, struggling businesses and concerns over the currency.

Years of regional turmoil — worsened by an influx of 1.5 million Syrian refugees since 2011 — are catching up with the tiny, corruption-plagued Arab country. Lebanon has the third highest debt rate in the world, currently standing at about $81 billion, or 152 percent of the gross domestic product. In the absence of a new government, Lebanon has been unable to access billions of dollars pledged by foreign donors for foreign investment in infrastructure and other projects, said the AP.

Meanwhile, many businesses are closing, some companies are laying off employees and even Lebanese living in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region have seen a drop in their business and income due to a drop in oil prices, translating into a decrease in remittances.

Amid this tight situation, many Lebanese who have cash are now spending less, fearing for the future. Residents complain they have to pay double for everything including private generators to deal with chronic electricity cuts and water trucks to cope with the dry summer months. Adding to the downward spin, the government earlier this year stopped awarding long-term housing loans with low interest rates because high demand has depleted money available.

Hardly a day passes without politicians warning that the worst is yet to come, raising fears among residents that the Lebanese pound, pegged at 1,500 to a dollar for the past two decades, might lose some of its value.

Harb wonders where he will get the money next month when his children return to school.

“The country is heading toward bankruptcy,” he said, referring to shops that have already closed down in Hamra Street, one of the top shopping districts in Beirut.

On a walk through downtown Beirut in August, when restaurants would normally be packed with expatriates and tourists, the depression is easy to spot. Some restaurants have closed while others offer 30 percent discounts. Some shops are offering up to 70 percent off, reported the AP.

Maamoun Sharaf, owner of a money exchange shop, said the delays in forming the Cabinet have had bad effects, but the situation had been bad even before that.

“This year the economy did not do well. Even our business dropped by 50 percent,” he said.

Political disagreements have led to a delay in the implementation of loans and grants pledged at the CEDRE economic conference in Paris held in April. International donors pledged $11 billion for Lebanon but the donors sought to ensure the money is well spent in the corruption-plagued country.

Despite the crisis, the state last year approved a salary scale for civil servants that will cost an extra $800 million annually. The government imposed new taxes to fund the new salary structure, increasing the burden on a population that has already been suffering under high taxes with no return in the form of stable services such as water and electricity. Indeed, daily electric outages are a common occurrence.

Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh has repeatedly released statements assuring people that the currency is stable.

Some Lebanese banks have been raising interest rates on the local currency for clients who agree to change US dollars to Lebanese pounds and put them in blocked accounts for a specific period of time. The move is backed by the Central Bank, which has been boosting its foreign currency reserves, reported the AP.

“There is a government paralysis in Lebanon but right now the Lebanese pound is safe. The Central Bank is trying to have dollars to boost its reserves in case of any economic crisis,” said economist Kamel Wazne.

He acknowledges, however, that the economy “is not well” and warns that state institutions and financial policies cannot be activated in the absence of a government.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who has lobbied Western governments for assistance, is bogged down with the details of forming a government and divisions among politicians over whether Lebanon should resume normal contacts with the Syrian regime.

Hariri’s pro-Syria opponents have been pressuring him, saying normal contact should be resumed to help boost exports from Lebanon through the Naseeb border crossing with Jordan, which was recaptured by the regime from opposition faction in July. Hariri is a harsh critic of the regime and is against having normal relations with its leader Bashar Assad, said the AP.

“The international community stood by Lebanon and what is needed now is for Lebanon to stand by Lebanon and to form a Cabinet quickly, because this delay negatively affects the economy,” said Wazne, who also referred to the debt that is expected to grow in 2018 by $5 billion due to a huge budget deficit.

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Egypt’s Hamas-Israel Peace Deal: Only If President Abbas Is A Total Idiot

 

Earlier today I read an article in the Times of Israel whose headline was about Egypt being upset with President Abbas because he was not in favor of the peace program they sculpted between Israel and Hamas. My commentary to you today on this issue will be a short one because the reality to the situation on the ground between Hamas and Fatah is short and un-sweet. I believe it was in 2007 when Hamas split with Fatah and by force took control of the Gaza Strip in south-west Israel. Israel if they had known that Hamas would rise up and take control of one of the two Conclaves they were going to give to the Palestinian People in the so called “land for peace” deal they would not have given up this land in the first place. My thoughts then and now is, how could the leaders of Israel at that time have been so naive as to believe that Hamas would not rise up against Fatah and take control of the Gaza Strip? A couple of years ago Mr. Abbas canceled elections that were suppose to unite Fatah and Hamas once again but when the leaders of Fatah realized that Hamas was going to easily win this election, they canceled the election.

 

Reality is this simple, any deal, no matter who brokers it, whether it be Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran or even Fatah themselves is a death sentence to Fatah and to Mr. Abbas. Hamas is only interested in one thing, total control, both of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and of all of modern-day Israel. Hamas does not play well with others, only an idiot or a fool does not realize this reality. Israel does know this now, this is why they are also against this Egyptian brokered plan. Israel’s leaders played the fool once, they are not going to play it again. Mr. Abbas has proven that he has learned from his experiences in his dealings with Hamas also and as the title of this letter to you states very plainly, only if Mr. Abbas is a total idiot would he ever go along with this Egyptian so-called peace plan. It does appear that the leaders of Egypt who brokered this plan have not learned this basic lesson.

More Than 1.6m Pilgrims Arrived in Saudi Arabia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

More Than 1.6m Pilgrims Arrived in Saudi Arabia

Friday, 17 August, 2018 – 08:30
Hajj pilgrims Perform Friday Prayers at Grand Mosque of Makkah, SPA
Jeddah, Makkah, Medina- Asmaa al-Ghaberi and Asharq Al Awsat
More than 1.68 million Hajj pilgrims from all over the world have arrived in the Kingdom to perform Hajj, the General Directorate of Passports announced on Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Sulaiman Al Yahya, director general of the Directorate General of Passports, told a press conference: “Up to this moment, our air, land and sea checkpoints have warmly received 1,684,629 pilgrims from different countries of the world.”

According to Yahya, 1,584,000 pilgrims have arrived by air, 85,000 entered the country via land crossings, and 16,163 came by sea.

He added that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman were keen on facilitating easier and comfortable arrival of pilgrims from abroad.

He said that effective use of technology has given an edge to Saudi Passports department to assist pilgrims on arrival and departure.

Civil Aviation
The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has successfully completed its operation plan for the arrival phase of the pilgrims for the current Hajj season. The total number of flights reached 6,969: 3,939 via King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and 3,030 via Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport in Medina.

Civil Defense
General Sulaiman Al-Amro, Director of Civil Defense, said that he notified the interior ministry of the readiness of the civil defense forces to continue its mission in this Hajj season.

Municipal, Rural Affairs
The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs completed the maintenance of 58 tunnels in Makkah and Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah, within a detailed plan to operate and maintain municipal facilities.

Awareness Messages
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has launched its awareness campaign for Hajj pilgrims to cooperate with all sectors, officials, and organizers. Awareness messages will be sent through social media platforms to various local, regional and international media in several languages; Arabic, English, French, Russian, Chinese and Persian.

ISIS Spreads Influence through Libyan Mosques

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

ISIS Spreads Influence through Libyan Mosques

Saturday, 28 July, 2018 – 09:15
Libyan police guard a checkpoint in Tripoli (AFP Photo/Mahmud Turkia)
Cairo – Waleed Abdul Rahman
Libyan mosques have fallen victim to the ISIS terrorist group which has turned them into centers for the recruitment of militants, an Egyptian study said.

“The organization has worked on recruiting some imams” so that they lure young men into the fight alongside the extremist group in Syria and Iraq, it said.

An imam has been recently arrested in the Libyan capital Tripoli on such charges.

The report, headlined “How ISIS Took Advantage of Mosques in Libya,” said that since chaos spread in the country in 2011, extremist groups have taken control over several regions, which has resulted in mosques being run by such organizations.

The researchers said that ISIS began influencing the minds of young men, mainly in the eastern city of Derna, which is seen as the stronghold of extremist groups.

The main aim of the organization was not just to recruit fighters locally, but also to send them to Syria, they said.

ISIS also resorted to the distribution of fliers in areas that fell under their control to inform residents on the importance of mosques in encouraging and facilitating the travel of young men to Syria.

The report quoted a woman as saying that ISIS sought to recruit her sons through one of Libya’s mosques.

She told the researchers that she had sent her children to the mosque to learn the Quran because schools had shut down due to the deteriorating security situation in Derna. But her sons ended up being recruited by the organization.

The report made some suggestions on how to limit ISIS’ influence through mosques, saying the authorities should raise awareness among the people on the dangers of extremist practices.

It also said that the Libyan government should have full supervision over mosques.