BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Trump trip report flunks on Iran

As was noted here in an earlier post, the lead story in the May 22nd afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ concerned the US president’s visit to Israel.

In addition to repeated promotion of the ‘apartheid’ calumny, in the first of two items relating to that story listeners had heard BBC Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman telling them that the Israeli government ‘says’ that Iran arms Hizballah.

Razia Iqbal: “You mentioned Iran and there was some criticism of Iran when the president was in Saudi Arabia and he has underlined that criticism again today in Israel hasn’t he?”

Tom Bateman: That’s right and, you know, I don’t think that’s going to be the last of it and of course it’s a message that resonates with Israel because Israel’s government is extremely concerned about Iran. They believe that…ah…because of its action, that they say it’s arming Hizballah just north of Israel here in Syria [sic], that that brings an even greater threat – in fact its greatest threat in the form of Hizballah just over its border in Lebanon.” [emphasis added]

As was noted in our previous post:

“One would of course expect a BBC correspondent based in Jerusalem – new or not – to be capable of informing BBC audiences that Iranian financial and military support for Hizballah (in violation of UNSC resolution 1701) is not just something that the Israeli government ‘says’ but a fact about which Hizballah has been open and at least one Iranian official has admitted.”

Later on in the same programme’s second item on that story (from 45:05 here) presenter Razia Iqbal returned to the topic of Iran in a conversation with the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet.

Listeners learned nothing from that conversation about the Iranian regime’s policy of supporting and enabling terror groups in the region and the real reasons why some Middle East countries have long viewed the Iranian regime as a threat to regional stability were not conveyed to BBC audiences. What they did hear, however, is a portrayal of the subject that would doubtless have gone down very well in Tehran. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Razia Iqbal: “Let’s return to our top story now; the second leg of President Trump’s visit to the Middle East. Today he is in Israel and the Palestinian territories. We’re joined now from Jerusalem by Newshour’s Lyse Doucet. Ah…Lyse: you were in Saudi Arabia following President Trump there and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke directly about the fact that the president flew from Riyad to Tel Aviv and though there were no diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. I wonder if there is a sense here that the Gulf states are making common cause with Israel in the context of their mutual fear of Iran?”

Doucet: “Yes, it’s very interesting isn’t it? This little diplomatic milestone: President Trump flying for the first time on this first direct flight. In fact Prime Minister Netanyahu said he looks forward to the day when an Israeli prime minister can fly from Tel Aviv to Riyad. And I think it’s a story that doesn’t get enough attention; that there have been behind the scene, very discreet meetings between Israelis and Saudis. Very senior Saudis have come to Israel before because they do want to make common cause.”

Of course one of the media outlets not giving “enough attention” to that story is the BBC itself. Doucet continued:

“You’ve mentioned one of the biggest reasons to do so and that is their shared animosity towards Iran. That was one of the main issues in the centrepiece speech that President Trump delivered to a gathering of some 40 Arab and…leaders from the Arab and Islamic world. Not just the fight against extremism but a fight against Iran and he’s brought that message here. He spoke of…he said I’ve come from the Arab world with the common understanding that is shared by you that Iran is the main threat. So things are definitely shifting.”

Of course “things” actually ‘shifted’ quite some time ago – as Gulf state reactions to the 2015 P5+1 deal with Iran concerning its nuclear programme indicated – but neither Iqbal nor Doucet (who has written about that topic in the past) bothered to remind listeners of that.

Iqbal: “It’s interesting to hear you say they’re shifting because of course Iran on the ground in Iraq and in…in…certainly in Iraq is doing quite a lot to fight against the Islamic State group. So one wonders about these tectonic shifts, if you like, and how they’ll manifest itself [sic] given that President Trump is really keen to make inroads with eliminating Islamic State.”

Doucet: “Yes, and welcome, President Trump, to the Middle East. At some point we may hear him say – as he said about the Affordable Care Act in the United States; Obamacare, – I didn’t realise that it was so complicated. As you know, take Syria that you just mentioned [sic] – he wants to push back Iran; that is the Saudis’ main goal. But interestingly, President Trump did not mention Russia in his speech in Riyad. And arguably Russia and Iran are working together, first to bolster President Assad but also to fight against so-called Islamic State and at the same time to push back some of the forces which have been trained and financed by the United States.

And what the Iranians would say is that they are in Syria because they’ve been asked to be there. They’re in Iraq because they’ve been asked to be there and they see no reason why they should leave. I think there’s growing concern about what will come next at a time when Iranians have shown that in the re-election of Hassan Rouhani, they want an engagement with the wider world. The message from Riyad – and it will be the message as well from Jerusalem – is that their enemies want to isolate them in the world.”

Iqbal: “Just, Lyse, very briefly; his next trip is to the Palestinian territories?”

Doucet: “Yes. The Palestinians have been surprised. They thought that President Trump would be only focusing on Israeli interests and Israeli views but his ear has been bent by King Abdallah of Jordan, by the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and this is why we’re not going to see the announcement of a move of the American embassy to Jerusalem. He is trying to be a friend of Israel and a friend of the Palestinians.”

Doucet offers no factual evidence for that extraordinary claim.

For years BBC journalists – and not least Lyse Doucet and Razia Iqbal in person – have been playing down the Iranian regime’s regional aggression and patronage of terrorism and the corporation has also repeatedly propagated the myth of ‘moderates’ within the Iranian regime.

If BBC audiences are to understand why Israel may have common interests relating to Iran with some of its neighbours in the Middle East, then clearly they need to be provided with a factually accurate and comprehensive portrayal of the Iranian regime’s policies, positions and activities rather than whitewashed, vacuous and unhelpful commentary of the type broadcast to millions worldwide in this item.  

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Weekend long read

1) At the Middle East Quarterly, Efraim Karsh discusses “An Inevitable Conflict“.

“It has long been conventional wisdom to view the June 1967 war as an accidental conflagration that neither Arabs nor Israelis desired, yet none were able to prevent. Had Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser not fallen for a false Soviet warning of Israeli troop concentrations along the Syrian border and deployed his forces in the Sinai Peninsula, the standard narrative runs, the slippery slope to war would have been averted altogether; had Israel not misconstrued the Egyptian grandstanding for a mortal threat to its national security, if not its very survival, it would have foregone the preemptive strike that started the war. In short, it was a largely accidental and unnecessary war born of mutual miscalculations and misunderstandings.

This view could not be further from the truth. If wars are much like road accidents, as the British historian A.J.P. Taylor famously quipped, having a general cause and particular causes at the same time, then the June 1967 war was anything but accidental. Its specific timing resulted of course from the convergence of a number of particular causes at a particular juncture. But its general cause—the total Arab rejection of Jewish statehood, starkly demonstrated by the concerted attempt to destroy the state of Israel at birth and the unwavering determination to rectify this “unfinished business”—made another all-out Arab-Israeli war a foregone conclusion.”

2) At the Tablet, Israel’s State Archivist Yaacov Lozowick reveals previously unpublished transcripts from the Six Day War.

“The Six-Day War was run by a committee. A highly classified committee, whose transcripts have never been seen for 50 years. Until now: here they are.

Israel has no commander-in-chief. The military is subordinate to the cabinet, where each minister, prime minister included, has one vote. Often the cabinet sets up a smaller committee called the security cabinet (SC), to which it delegates supervising and commanding the military. Facing exceptional decisions, the prime minister may declare that the entire cabinet is the SC. This ensures secrecy, because leaking information from the SC has serious penalties. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol often reminded his colleagues that the very fact that they had met was itself a state secret.

The security cabinet of 1967 appears in these never-published transcripts as a group of serious, professional, and responsible decision-makers. While the ministers brought their worldviews to the table, they often didn’t vote on party lines, often did listen to one another, and generally managed to make decisions, albeit slowly and through compromises. These characteristics were not helpful in the maelstrom of the Six-Day War, when the cabinet receded in the face of its two most enigmatic members: Levi Eshkol, who can be read either as a weak figure or a master manipulator; and Moshe Dayan, who comes across as an arrogant but talented prima donna.”

A link to the Israel State Archives website section on the Six Day War is available in the ‘Library’ section on the menu bar above.

3) At the Algemeiner, Ben Cohen interviews Iran analysts on the topic of the presidential election in that country.

‘“The election in Iran is a tightly controlled and stage-managed process that has been designed to produce the favorable result to the regime,” said Reza Parchizadeh, an Iranian political analyst.

Saeed Ghasseminejad — an Iran Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) — observed that Rouhani was starting his re-election bid from a weak position, having achieved little over his four-year term other than the nuclear deal with six world powers in July 2015, which many ordinary Iranians complain has not yielded any meaningful economic benefits.

“However, Raisi is an even weaker candidate,” Ghasseminejad said. “He does not speak well, he is known for his ruthlessness (as Tehran’s deputy prosecutor) in the 1980s, he is inexperienced. The middle-class Iranians are really afraid of him, which pushes them to reluctantly vote for Rouhani.”’

4) David Andrew Weinberg and David Daoud discuss the Saudi Arabian approach to Israel at the Forward.

“Breathless observers have recently declared that Saudi Arabia and Israel are becoming cozy allies due to their shared concerns about Iran. Analysts have claimed that Riyadh’s “government and the establishment media – and their spin-offs and allies – are pursuing a deliberate strategy” of conveying praiseworthy tolerance toward Israel and Jews. Rudy Giuliani, a figure close to President Donald Trump, even went so far as to argue that Riyadh has done an about face on Israel and that this should guide U.S. policy toward the kingdom.

These observers are fundamentally wrong.” 

 

 

BBC silent on Saudi Arabia’s new UN commission seat

Those getting their news from the BBC will not be aware of the fact that Saudi Arabia has been elected to a four-year term on the UN’s women’s rights commission. As the Independent reported:

“The kingdom is now one of 45 countries sitting on a panel “promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women,” according to the UN.”

UN Watch notes that:

“Saudi Arabia was elected by a secret ballot last week of the U.N.’s 54-nation Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Usually ECOSOC rubber-stamps nominations arranged behind closed doors by regional groups, however this time the U.S. forced an election […]

Saudi Arabia was also recently re-elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council where it enjoys the right to vote on, influence and oversee numerous mechanisms, resolutions and initiatives affecting the rights of women worldwide…”

No coverage of that story appears under the BBC’s ‘United Nations’ tag or ‘Saudi Arabia’ tag or on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

That, perhaps, is somewhat less surprising when one remembers that just last year on International Women’s Day the BBC found it appropriate to ask its audiences “Are Saudi women really that oppressed”?

Related Articles:

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BBC’s context-free Strait of Tiran backgrounder appears again

A year has passed since the BBC began reporting the story of the proposed transfer of the Red Sea islands of Sanafir and Tiran from Egyptian to Saudi Arabian control.

In that time, the BBC News website has published several articles on the topic, none of which has adequately clarified to audiences that the purpose of Egypt’s occupation of the islands was to block shipping to and from the Israeli port of Eilat or that such moves led to military action in 1956 and 1967 which twice brought Tiran and Sanafir under Israeli control.

Saudi-Egyptian deal on Red Sea islands sparks anger 10/4/16

Egypt’s Sisi hits out at ‘evil conspirators’ amid islands furore 13/4/16 (discussed here)

“Mr Sisi said that Saudi Arabia had asked Egypt in 1950 to protect the two islands, situated at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, from Israel.”

Egypt court quashes Red Sea islands’ transfer to Saudis 21/6/16 (discussed here)

“Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967, subsequently returning them to Egypt both times”

Egypt court upholds ruling halting transfer of islands to Saudi Arabia 16/1/17 (discussed here)

“Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967, subsequently returning them to Egypt both times”

On April 2nd 2017 the BBC News website revisited the story in an article titled “Egypt court voids ruling halting transfer of islands to Saudi Arabia” that once again carried an insert of background information that includes the following context-free statement:

“Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967, subsequently returning them to Egypt both times”

Yet again, while the BBC has found fit to include Israel in its portrayal of “why the Red Sea islands matter”, it has not informed audiences of the Egyptian actions which prompted Israel to ‘capture’ the islands.

The BBC bases much of its Middle East reporting upon a version of history which begins with the Six Day War but ignores the background and build-up to that event. As the fiftieth anniversary of that war approaches (and with it the prospect of extensive BBC coverage) this story presents an opportunity for the BBC to provide its audiences with some of the background and historic context which is serially absent from its reporting.  

Related Articles:

The missing chapter in the BBC’s coverage of the Red Sea islands story

Context missing from BBC News’ backgrounder on Strait of Tiran

BBC: Nasser ‘asked’ UN peacekeepers to leave Sinai in 1967

BBC online description of Six Day War: not accurate, not impartial, barely informative

 

 

Compromised BBC backgrounder surfaces again

On January 16th the BBC News website published an article titled “Egypt court upholds ruling halting transfer of islands to Saudi Arabia“. Included in that report was an insert of background information titled “Why the Red Sea islands matter”, which previously appeared in an article concerning the same story in June 2016.tiran-art-jan-17

The insert includes the following context-free information:

“Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967, subsequently returning them to Egypt both times”

As was noted here over six months ago:

“The BBC did not bother to inform readers why that was the case.

“In 1949, Egypt established itself on two small and deserted islands in the straits that had never belonged to it – Tiran and Sanafir. Later, they were leased to it by Saudi Arabia. In January 1950, Egypt assured the United States Government that the occupation of the islands was in no way intended to interfere with shipping in the waters of the gulf. But soon Egypt broke its word, fortified the entrance to the straits and blockaded Israel. Having failed to conquer the southern Negev during the War of Independence or to bring about its cession by Israel through political pressure, Egypt now tried to land-lock Eilat and block Israel’s outlet to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, which meant cutting Israel’s present and future communications with Asia and East Africa. The closure of the Straits of Tiran was one of the main factors that led to the Sinai campaign of 1956. Israel’s refusal to withdraw its forces from Sharm el Sheikh unless its freedom of passage through the straits were effectively safeguarded led to the stationing there of the UN Emergency Force. The blockade was lifted and Israel could freely develop its trade with countries in Asia and East Africa, import oil from the Persian Gulf, and redeem the southern Negev from its desolation. Israel declared solemnly that any interference with its rights of navigation in the gulf would be regarded as an attack, entitling it to exercise its inherent rights of self-defence. […]

On 23 May 1967, President Nasser re-imposed the naval blockade in the Straits of Tiran in a deliberate attempt to force Israel to forfeit its internationally-acknowledged rights or else go to war. Five days earlier the UN Emergency Force was expelled by Nasser, and the units stationed at Sharm el-Sheikh were evacuated. […] The Israeli army reached Sharm el-Sheikh on 7 June 1967 and lifted the blockade. From 1967, freedom of navigation prevails in the Gulf of Aqaba, benefiting shipping bound for Israel and Jordan.”

Apparently the BBC considered it necessary to ensure that its audiences know that “Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967” – but not why.”

That observation obviously still applies.

Related Articles:

The missing chapter in the BBC’s coverage of the Red Sea islands story

Context missing from BBC News’ backgrounder on Strait of Tiran

 

 

 

BBC News ignores a ‘highly unusual’ Middle East story

At the beginning of June, the BBC’s Middle East editor put considerable effort into reporting on a three-hour long meeting in Paris which – despite the fact that neither Israel nor Palestinian representatives were present – was described as “Middle East peace talks”.No news

BBC News produces eight versions of report on three-hour Paris meeting

BBC’s Middle East editor promotes Paris conference falsehood

BBC’s Bowen employs apartheid analogy in report on Paris conference

Earlier this month, the BBC News website reported on a visit to Israel by the Egyptian foreign minister which was intended to kick-start an alternative track for direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO.

With the topic of the ‘Middle East peace process’ being one which – in one form or another – is rarely off the BBC’s agenda, it was rather surprising to see that a story billed by the local press as “highly unusual” received no coverage from the corporation whatsoever.

“Retired Saudi General Anwar Eshki visited Israel this week and met with Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai. 

Eshki, who headed a delegation of Saudi academics and business people, also met with a group of Knesset members to encourage dialogue in Israel on the Arab Peace Initiative .[…]

While this wasn’t an official visit, it was a highly unusual one, as Eshki couldn’t have traveled to Israel without approval from the Saudi government. […]

The former general and the delegates met with opposition Knesset members on Friday. The meeting was organized by Meretz MK Esawi Freige, and was attended by MK Michal Rozin of the same party and Zionist Union MKs Ksenia Svetlova and Omer Bar-Lev. Freige told Haaretz that Eshki and the delegates also met with Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid on Tuesday. He said that Lapid wanted two members of his party, MKs Ofer Shelah and Jacob Perry, to attend Friday’s meeting, but it didn’t work out due to scheduling conflicts.

Freige, Svetlova and Rozin said in conversations with Haaretz that Eshki and the delegates sought to meet with Israeli lawmakers in order to encourage dialogue in Israel about the Arab Peace Initiative. They added that during Friday’s meeting, the MKs proposed that Eshki invite Israeli lawmakers who support the initiative to a meeting in Saudi Arabia. “The Saudis want to open up to Israel,” Freige said. “This is a strategic step for them. They said they want to continue what former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat started. They want to get closer to Israel. This is clearly evident.” “

That is not a story which one would have thought could be ignored by a self-described “serious student of the Middle East” representing an organisation which pledges to keep its audiences “in touch with what is going on in the world”. 

The missing chapter in the BBC’s coverage of the Red Sea islands story

The BBC’s coverage of the Egyptian move to hand over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabian control has been rather superficial. Announced during a visit by the Saudi king to Egypt, the move was not mentioned in an April 8th BBC report on that visit.

On April 10th the BBC News website published an article devoted entirely to the topic of online reactions to the agreement – “Saudi-Egyptian deal on Red Sea islands sparks anger” – and that was followed on April 13th by an article titled “Egypt’s Sisi hits out at ‘evil conspirators’ amid islands furore“.

There, readers found unchallenged amplification of the following statement:

“Mr Sisi said that Saudi Arabia had asked Egypt in 1950 to protect the two islands, situated at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, from Israel.”

In fact, the two islands were occupied by Egypt in 1949 – with Saudi consent – in order to enable Egypt to impose a blockade on shipping bound for the Israeli port of Eilat.

Remarkably, in none of its coverage has the BBC informed its audiences that additional parties also have a stake in this story – as the Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahern explains:map Tiran

According to article V of the peace treaty between Jerusalem and Cairo, the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba are considered international waterways “open to all nations for unimpeded and non-suspendable freedom of navigation and overflight.” Both countries pledged to “respect each other’s right to navigation and overflight for access to either country” through the strait and the gulf.”

So how did the handing over of the two islands to a third party not bound by the terms of that peace treaty go down in Israel? Ahern has some interesting answers to that question.

“Given that the islands are in a strategically crucial location for Israel, it was significant that officials in Jerusalem were quick to assert that they were unperturbed about the deal.

Riyadh gave Jerusalem written assurances that it intends to respect Israel’s rights to free passage through the Strait of Tiran, a crucial lifeline to Israel’s only Red Sea port in Eilat, officials said. Equally noteworthy is the fact that the deal was only struck after an agreement was reached between all four major stakeholders — Cairo, Riyadh, Washington, and Jerusalem.

“We reached an agreement between the four parties – the Saudis, the Egyptians, Israel and the United States – to transfer the responsibility for the islands, on condition that the Saudis fill in the Egyptians’ shoes in the military appendix of the [1979 Israel-Egypt] peace agreement,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told reporters Tuesday.”

The BBC, however, apparently found that significant development much less newsworthy than the Twitter and Facebook comments of anonymous Egyptians and Saudis. 

BBC Trending’s preposterous International Women’s Day question

On International Women’s Day (March 8th) the question that BBC Trending found it appropriate to ask visitors to the Middle East page on the corporation’s website was “Are Saudi women really that oppressed?“.Saudi women on ME pge

In the text accompanying that video report, readers are told that what they know about the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia (including, apparently, its 2015 ranking by the World Economic Forum at 134 out of 145 countries) is a “stereotype”.

“Life for women in the Arab kingdom is often painted as one of repression, after all they are forbidden from driving and are restricted by male guardianship laws which deprive them of their independence.

And BBC Trending has covered several stories that have gone viral that show how these restrictions affect women’s lives.

But many of these stories also show how women are using social media to make their voices heard, challenging not only their own society but also the stereotype the world has of them.

So for the “Saudis on Social” series we asked Saudi women, if they are really that oppressed?”

In the video the BBC’s Mai Norman tells audiences that:

“When it comes to Saudi women, well, most of the world has a certain image: unequal and can’t even drive. But many Saudi women say that’s just a stereotype; it’s not the full picture.”

How the term “many Saudi women” is quantified or sourced is not revealed to audiences and neither – crucially – are the basic standpoints and beliefs of the report’s contributors. Viewers see an interview with a woman presented as Samer al Morgan who tells them that:

“The Saudi woman is completely different. There are many different types of women. I’m one of these women who doesn’t fit the image portrayed by western media.”

The speaker is apparently Saudi journalist Samer al Mogren and one has to wonder about BBC Trending’s framing of her words given the fact that in 2008 she recounted her own experiences at a major newspaper.

“Mogren worked for four years at the Saudi daily Al-Watan, enjoying a top-notch position where she supervised both men and women at the paper’s social affairs desk. Late last year, the editorial board changed hands, and from that point her skills were called into question. “I was totally marginalized,” she says. “I wasn’t consulted as an editor; I’d go home at six or seven in the evening after writing out the pages only to find that when the paper came out the next day, nothing I’d done was published. “I started to witness real discrimination against women. Women weren’t wanted there, except for a handful who were needed for administrative work. If there was a woman who was capable of making a decision, it wasn’t welcome.” Loath to capitulate to the whims of her new boss, Mogren decided to leave her job while she was ahead. “If I’d stayed there I’d have been buried,” she says. During her field work as a journalist, Mogren has interviewed countless Saudi women and documented their plight as second-class citizens in Saudi society. Mogren, who has since begun contributing to the Kuwaiti Awan, has revealed some horrific stories of violence against Saudi women and hopes to raise more awareness about this issue around the world, in particular in the Arab world.”

Norman goes on:Saudi women Trending

“So we’ve been asking Saudi women themselves: are women in the kingdom really that oppressed?”

Viewers then see Nourah al Shaaban – presented as an “executive director” of an unnamed organization say:

“As a Saudi woman I never felt oppressed in any means. We have in our parliament more than 30 women.”

Norman explains:

“She’s referring to the recent and long-awaited move to allow women the right to vote and take part in parliamentary elections.”

In fact, as the BBC itself reported, the December 2015 elections were for municipal councils “with few powers” rather than for a parliament as most viewers would understand the term. Many female candidates – apparently including women’s rights campaigners – were barred and those that did run were not allowed to address male voters face to face. Polling stations were segregated and the female candidates won approximately 1% of the contested seats.

Norman continues:

“So do they have a point? More women in Saudi Arabia graduate from university than men. Contrary to popular belief women in Saudi Arabia can work and in fact have found prominence in different fields.”

As Freedom House points out:

“More than half of the country’s university students are now female, although they do not enjoy equal access to classes and facilities.”

According to the World Bank, women made up a mere 20% of Saudi Arabia’s workforce in 2014 and the percentage of women holding ministerial level positions was zero.

The video does go on to highlight the issues of the extensive requirement for male guardians and domestic violence – described by Freedom House as follows:

“Women are not treated as equal members of society, and many laws discriminate against them. They are not permitted to drive cars and must obtain permission from a male guardian in order to travel within or outside of the country. According to interpretations of Sharia in Saudi Arabia, daughters generally receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers, and the testimony of one man is equal to that of two women. Moreover, Saudi women seeking access to the courts must be represented by a male. The religious police enforce a strict policy of gender segregation and often harass women, using physical punishment to ensure compliance with conservative standards of dress in public. Same-sex marriage is not legal. All sexual activity outside of marriage, including same-sex activity, is criminalized, and the death penalty can be applied in certain circumstances. A 2013 law defines and criminalizes domestic abuse, prescribing fines and up to a year in prison for perpetrators. However, according to analysis by Human Rights Watch, the law lacks clarity on enforcement mechanisms.”

The report closes with the following messaging – again including the foggy term “many women”:

“Clearly when it comes to rights there are still many battles to fight. However many women in Saudi Arabia say that labelling them as victims only makes those battles harder to fight.”

Obviously there are women in Saudi Arabia fighting the uphill battle for equal rights and some small gains have been made. However, this report fails to clarify to audiences that many of the issues facing Saudi women (and human rights campaigners in general) are rooted in the country’s legal system which is based on interpretations of Sharia law.

This report’s attempt to create linkage between the way in which the situation of Saudi Arabian women is portrayed in the Western media and their ability to make progress in changing laws created under that male-dominated legal system clearly does not hold any water.

Then again, neither does the preposterous question posed repeatedly in this report’s title and subsequent content or its whitewashing of parts of the subject matter through inaccurate and selective representation of the situation of women in a non-democratic theocracy in which they cannot even decide how to dress or open a bank account without male permission.

If anyone – including Saudi women – was expecting the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism” to make the most of International Women’s Day to inform its audiences of the issues faced by women in one of the worst places on earth for gender equality, they will have been sorely disappointed.

Related Articles:

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Revisiting the BBC’s downplaying of religion in Middle East conflicts

As was noted here recently, backgrounders produced by the BBC on the topic of the flare-up of tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia were remarkable for the fact that they downplayed the religious aspects of the clash between those two theocracies.Sunni Shia 2

Via Oren Kessler of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies we learn that the BBC is not the only Western media organization to have adopted such an approach.

“On January 4, Vox published a lengthy article on the Saudi-Iranian rivalry that concluded, predictably, that “it’s not really about religion.” The very next day, the same author published a similar piece that offered this: “No one who seriously studies the Middle East considers Sunni-Shia sectarianism to be a primarily religious issue.””

Kessler’s analysis of the issues behind such framing includes the following:

“First, most post-religious Westerners have never felt the pull of faith. The prospect that a mentally sound person—let alone billions of them—would let spiritual conviction guide their most consequential actions doesn’t quite add up. So too the notion of religion as one’s primary identity marker. We deem one’s nation to be an entirely legitimate identity marker; indeed, it’s the default option, and in this country, failure to take sufficient pride in being American is grounds for suspicion. The prospect that faith, or even membership in a faith community, could fill that role rings hollow.

Second, from a policy perspective, nonreligious motives are more comforting. Addressing terrestrial motivations (money, land, grievance) is far easier than confronting a person’s closest-held beliefs and the immutable scripture that underlies them. That’s particularly the case because scrutinizing specific religious doctrines remains one of the last great taboos, all the more so when the faith in question is the supposedly non-white creed of Islam.”

Read the entire article here

BBC backgrounders on Sunni-Shia divide downplay religiosity

Last month’s flare-up of tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia prompted many Western media organisations, including the BBC, to provide their audiences with material ostensibly explaining the background to the story.Sunni Shia 1

In an article headlined “Iran and Saudi Arabia’s great rivalry explained” which appeared on the BBC News website on January 4th, readers were told that:

“Iran and Saudi Arabia are on opposing sides of a more than 1,000-year old argument at the heart of Islam – between Sunnis and Shia.

After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, his followers split over who was his rightful heir.

It is important not to overstate the division. Sunnis and Shia share fundamental beliefs, and have co-existed for centuries – the animosity between Iran and Saudi Arabia is better understood in terms of a power struggle in the Middle East and beyond.”

On January 5th a filmed report shown on BBC television was posted on the BBC News website under the title “Saudi Arabia and Iran – The tension explained“. Viewers of that report were told that:Sunni Shia 2

“It’s not really about religion. […] It’s not a clash of religious narrative.”

Instead, viewers were told, “the geo-political, the political and the economic elements definitely play a role here”.

Of course there is nothing novel about the phenomenon of Western commentators preferring to avoid the quagmire issue of the religious dimensions of Middle Eastern conflicts and instead opting to frame them in terms of narratives more familiar to their audiences.

It is, after all, that practice which leads to the presentation of terrorism with Middle Eastern roots against Western targets as being ‘grievance-based’ and it is the same framing which facilitates the portrayal of religiously affiliated terrorist groups in the Middle East such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or Hizballah as “militants” engaged in “resistance” against a geo-political status quo.

But is especially noticeable that in this case the BBC has elected to downplay the religious aspects of a clash between two states which are theocracies: countries in which the separation between state policy and religion is non-existent.

In the filmed report BBC audiences were told that:

“In a sense there has been a cold war going on between the two – what many pundits call a war by proxy. They are in effect fighting each other through groups that they’re supporting in Syria and Yemen in particular.”

Of course those proxies are inevitably tied to their sponsors by ideology which is primarily based on religious identity.

As many Middle East experts have been documenting for quite some time, one of the side-effects of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has been a rise in Sunni-Shia rivalry and tensions. In 2013 the late Professor Barry Rubin noted the appearance of a paper published by a Muslim Brotherhood linked organization in Britain which identified Iran as “the greatest threat” and concluded “We no longer have any choice but to defend ourselves against Iran,” which holds “a sectarian, ethnic, Persian agenda.”

Also in 2013, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center noted that “the escalating anti-Shi’ite rhetoric from Sunni clerics belonging to different schools of thought reflects an agreement that the Shi’a is the enemy of the moment—one that is more pressing than the West and Israel.”

“A major force driving the schism is the escalating anti-Shi’ite rhetoric from Sunni clerics who belong to different schools of thought. Of particular note is a speech given on May 31, 2013 by Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, considered by many the current spiritual leader of the Sunni world, in which he said he regretted the many years he had spent on attempts at Sunni-Shi’ite rapprochement. He said that Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi clerics were right to consider Shi’ites as infidels, and adopted their terminology when talking about the Shi’a (“Hezbollah is the Party of Satan”).”

Rhetoric of a similar stripe is no less apparent on the other side of the divide, as documented by Phillip Smyth in his 2014 paper “The Shiite Jihad in Syria and its Regional Effects“.

“Following Assad’s lead, Iran and its proxies have since fall 2012 engaged in an extensive media campaign casting the Syrian rebels, whatever their actual beliefs, as takfiris, or Muslims who accuse other Muslims of apostasy. In turn, when a takfiri accuses other Muslims of apostasy, this marks those “apostates” for death. In Shiite usage, the term is often synonymous with the extremist Sunni Wahhabis, who have historically predominated in Saudi Arabia.

Through the early propagation of the inaccurate view that all Syria’s rebels embrace radical Sunni ideology, Iran and its Shiite proxies have effectively stirred visceral support among their coreligionists. The message especially struck those who feel oppressed in their various cultural and national contexts. “

The BBC’s downplaying of the religious aspects of the latest chapter in the long-standing power struggle between Sunni and Shia and the attempt to portray the issue primarily in terms of “geo-political, political and economic elements” clearly does not enhance the corporation’s funding public’s “awareness and understanding” of the background to this important story.