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Saudi Arabia and the WTO By: Steven Stalinsky
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 23, 2005

The office of the American trade representative announced on September 9 that America and Saudi Arabia have concluded a bilateral agreement for the kingdom to join the World Trade Organization. Once the technicalities are resolved, the kingdom will become an official member - something they have been working for since 1993.

During this time, there has been opposition by members of Congress. For example, a May 25 letter signed by 47 House members to the American trade representative, Robert Portman, outlined areas of concern regarding Saudi policies, including the lack of full cooperation in combating terrorism.

The letter quoted officials from the Treasury Department criticizing the kingdom for "not establishing an oversight commission to regulate its charitable sector" as well as "for its failure to set up a Financial Intelligence Unit." The letter ended by urging the "administration to oppose Saudi accession to the WTO" until it takes more "meaningful measures to cut off both the finances and ideologies that feed terrorist movements across the globe."


This has not occurred. For example, a program on Saudi Iqra TV on August 29 was devoted to supporting jihad in Palestine. The program began with the host's telling all Saudis including "women, children, elderly, and youth" that they should donate money and how to do so.


A caption then appeared on the screen: "Saudi Committee for Support of the Al-Quds Intifada, Account #98, a joint account in all Saudi Banks." A moderator explained, "Jihad is the pinnacle of Islam" and that money will go directly to those waging jihad and "helps them carry out this mission."


In 2001, Account #98 was cited in an official Saudi government report that extensively detailed Saudi financial support to Palestinian Arabs, including families of suicide bombers. According to the report, the Saudi government pays between 10,000 and 20,000 Saudi royals to the families of martyrs, noting at the time of the report that 986 families had received funds from the account that were passed from Saudi Arabia's Islamic Development Bank directly to the Unified Treasury of the National Palestinian Authority account.


For decades, the Saudi royal family has been the main financial supporter of Palestinian Arab terrorist organizations. According to records on a Saudi royal family Web site, Ain-Al-Yaqeen, the Popular Committee for Assisting Palestinian Mujahideen, and the Support Committee for the Al-Quds Intifada and the Al-Aqsa Fund have given more than $4 billion and reportedly pledged Palestinians up to $1 billion to finance the continuation of the Intifada, which they commonly refer to as "jihad" and "resistance." The committees are headed by powerful Prince Salman Ibn Abd Al-Aziz, the governor of Riyadh, and Prince Nayef bin Abd Al-Aziz, the interior minister.


The August 29 Iqra program included the secretary-general of the Saudi government's Muslim World League Qur'an Memorization Commission Sheik Abdallah Basfar, explaining why it was an "obligation" for all Muslims to support jihad.


Sheik Basfar promised that "all of the funds sent via the known charities and organizations" will reach those for whom the funds are meant. The Saudi government official then cited a few Hadiths, or sayings of Mohammed, including: "He who equips a fighter - it is as if he fought himself." Another Hadith explained: "Someone who does not fight or equip a fighter - Allah will afflict a disaster upon him."


Sheik Basfar's statement explaining "money is so important ... jihad can not be waged without it," was followed by the question, "Who will care for the families of these martyrs who sacrifice their souls? Can we be stingy with our money?"


The Saudi committees are cited in the congressional Saudi Accountability Act. This legislation calls on the Saudis to "permanently close all charities ... in the kingdom that fund, train, incite, encourage, or in any other way aid and abet terrorism anywhere in the world. "It also calls for an "end of providing support for the families of individuals who have committed acts of terrorism."


Should the Saudis not comply with the requirements named in the Saudi Accountability Act, the proposed legislation stipulates that sanctions are to be placed against them.


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Steven Stalinsky is the executive director of The Middle East Media Research Institute.

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