Saudi Arabia

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Kay Bailey Hutchison, former senator and president of the Texas Exes, spoke at the KBH Center Symposium Friday. The symposium offered an interdisciplinary take on Mexican energy issues, exploring UT’s potential role in drilling opportunities in Mexico.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison spoke at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on Friday during the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center’s Symposium on North American energy security, an event designed to discuss geopolitical issues in North American energy. The symposium was part of UT Energy Week, a conference showcasing emerging research in the energy field. Hutchison discussed about the future of energy technologies and the effects of the energy reforms in Mexico. After the event, Hutchison sat down with The Daily Texan for a Q&A.   

Daily Texan: Where did the idea for the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center come from, and what unique perspective does a multidisciplinary study of the industry with business, law and engineering have to offer, specifically?

Former senator Kay Bailey Hutchison: Honestly, John Beckworth, associate dean of the UT law school, thought of a joint business and law school energy center. I immediately loved it because I have been general counsel of a corporation, and I know so often that the business people do not understand the legal needs to make sure everything in the transaction is right. Conversely, sometimes the lawyers do not understand the needs of the business people to complete a transaction in a timely way so that they do not lose their deal or their customer. So, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to have a joint center where law students in the energy field would learn about the business side and the business students would understand the legal side. [The Center] also has a particular focus on Latin America and the differences in the laws and legal systems. This could be very helpful for somebody who wants to explore or produce energy in another country. It was a perfect fit, and when they decided to name it after me, I was thrilled. 

DT: How would you gauge the success of the KBH center in achieving the goals that you mentioned?

KBH: Well, we have only been created since last summer, but we have come such a long way in a very short time. I think this inaugural symposium has been a huge success. We have had Mel Martínez, the former senator and cabinet member, and Bob Jordan, the former ambassador from the United States to Saudi Arabia. They have given great insights on international energy. Mel is the chairman of J.P. Morgan Latin America, so he showed us the corporate side. Bob Jordan was insightful because Saudi Arabia is doing so much right now to affect the price of oil globally. He also had some good insights on the new king and the new hierarchy in Saudi Arabia. The symposium has been a wonderful success. The panels have been good, the questions have been good. The audience is really asking questions and that is what you want in a good conference. 

DT: Has the KBH Center participated in the debate regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline?

KBH: I am a total supporter of the Keystone Pipeline, myself, but we have not taken a real position on that. It has been discussed in the symposium, and the [Obama] administration was represented here by an assistant secretary of state. The question has come up: Why would we not have a Keystone pipeline? Many in the room think that it would be an environmentally safer way to transport oil from Canada than the trucks that we are having to build new highways to accommodate. So that has been a real debate here and it has been very relevant.

DT: At a panel earlier this week, during UT’s Energy Week, experts agreed that for some issues, such as energy storage, regulatory agencies have fallen behind in developing regulation. Has the center tackled any of these issues and did you encounter any of these issues as a senator?

KBH: Absolutely. As a senator I encountered the new energy innovations. With solar energy, the biggest problem with using it was that it was so cyclical, and we could not store it. Even natural gas for cars. There has been so much that has emerged just in the last 10 years. I think the regulators are certainly trying to keep up with what is necessary in the regulatory field, but it is a work in progress. 

DT: Could you talk about some specific ways that you helped regulatory agencies catch up?

KBH: Well, for sure, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center will be able to shed light on what is coming up in regulation in terms of what might be needed, what might not be needed, what would be a better way to regulate. We want to allow for creativity to grow and progress. [We] do not want to stifle creativity by regulating something that is not there yet because it is not ready. There has to be balance to assure that the new kinds of energy, clean energy especially, are not regulated to death before they are able to be useful. For instance, the lack of battery storage for solar panels is a problem. If we allowed battery storage we would be able to run manufacturing plants consistently rather than have to lessen output in peak hours. Battery storage is an area where the federal government is doing more research and it’s very important to develop that. But, we want to make sure that as we do, there are environmental rules that assure that we are doing it safely and in an environmentally friendly way. We want the creativity to emerge so we can start using solar energy more efficiently. The new technologies would apply in other areas as well.

DT: Obama has supported an all-of-the-above policy that supports natural gas as well as nuclear and other forms of energy. So, a lot of different forms of energy are being researched. What energy innovation are you most excited about?

KBH: I think it is essential to make sure that we are getting the oil and gas in an environmentally correct way so that we become energy independent. It is going to make us more competitive globally because our businesses will have lower-cost energy. This is an area where America has led. We creatively produce new ways to get oil and natural gas out of the ground and out of the water. So, I think oil and natural gas is probably the biggest area where we can move forward and truly towards energy independence. Solar power and wind power are also very promising. We do not have the mechanics yet to make it a big percentage of our energy use, but Texas is doing quite a bit in wind, as well as solar, and it is very efficient once it is up and going. If we could get the battery storage, it is going to be a real part of our overall energy independence. I am excited about that, and I am excited about Texas’ role in producing these new options. 

There is also another option — using currents in the oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. [We] can use currents to generate energy for use on land. That is something that is being experimented in the Galveston-Houston Area. The University of Houston is doing work in that area, as well as others.

DT: Today’s symposium has an international focus of stabilizing North America’s energy. What are specific energy initiatives in Mexico by Mexicans, Americans or private actors that you look forward to see implemented?

KBH: The exciting part of energy in Mexico is that they are opening it up. It used to be just PEMEX, the national oil company, that was able to produce oil and gas in Mexico. But President Nieto has certainly made strides in saying, “We want to open it up, we want foreign investment and we want more out of the ground, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.” He is making it happen, and the [Mexican Legislature] is going along with it, and they are in the regulatory stage now. I think the American companies are going to want to be a part of this. They are going to want to work, in some cases, with PEMEX, and, in some cases, independently. [The companies] are going to bid on leases in the northern part of Mexico that would be the continuation of the Eagle Ford find in South Texas that we think continues on in North Mexico. But also, in the Gulf of Mexico, there is a lot of opportunity. American and European countries are bidding and winning in the Gulf of Mexico for drilling in the deep water, but it is very expensive so that may be down the road because the price of oil is so low right now. But, the big question mark out there is safety and the drug cartels. No foreign company is going to want to come in if they are not going to be able to be safe and also be able to do business in a transparent way because we have laws that require that. This large criminal element in the drug cartels is really hurting so much of the tourism in Mexico, most certainly, and in some ways, business as well. 

In Dave Eggers’ “A Hologram for the King,” an almost broke salesman, close to unemployment, is trying in vain to support his daughter’s college education. His only hope: pitch and sell a holographic teleconference system to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to be used at the King Abdullah Economic City. Eggers’ novel is fable-like in its oddness and moral-learning driven plot. The novel was a National Book Award finalist — and it might even win a well-deserved Pulitzer.

Many different themes overlap, and the novel’s complexities work together to produce a depressing, but engaging plot line. The book is a commentary on the global economy, a tale of caution to pipe dreams, an attack at the guaranteed American Dream and a fascinating character study of a depressed man. But ultimately, “A Hologram for the King” is about inevitable failure, false hopes and promises.

While Alan believes the King Abdullah Economic City is the world’s next Dubai, locals are skeptical and dismissive of the project. They say it’s not possible to build a city poised to be the next world market hub. When Alan arrives at the King Abdullah Economic City, he is given a royal roundabout. The King, or his contact, isn’t here, Alan is told, but surely they will be here the next day.

This goes on for days, and then for weeks. The situation becomes more desperate, and it is evident from the get-go that Alan is going to have a rough time in Saudi Arabia. While he waits for the King’s arrival, Alan has a series of adventures in the city of Jeddah. He becomes friends with a local cab driver, who is mildly concerned someone is trying to tie explosives to his car. He reminisces about his dead, frozen neighbor, his failed marriage and his tense relationship with his patriotic father.

Alan is sad and timid, which is odd for a salesman, and had an upbringing that left him a shell of a man. He is easily frightened. Despite this, Alan is hopeful that he will be able to sell his company’s pitch to the King. Convinced of these half-promises, Alan sticks around in Jeddah far longer than any reasonable human being would. He keeps getting the royal run around. Just like holograms themselves, the entire trip and sales-pitch are an illusion. Everything seems like its just for show. 

It is not the novel’s ending that makes the book so great; it is the journey that Eggers takes his readers on that makes “A Hologram for the King” so strong.

“A Hologram for the King” might have a shot of winning the Pulitzer this year. It impeccably deals with American issues like unemployment, divorce and migrating families in a non-American landscape. But, Pulitzer or not, Eggers’ newest novel is a winner.

The United States shares something in common with China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. We, like them, use the death penalty. According to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, the United States ranks fifth in executions among every country in the world.

Although not everyone is in agreement about the death penalty, rarely does the topic arise in political debates these days. “[The death penalty is] rarely ever discussed, and it’s never discussed on a federal level. I have not had a single inquiry from the media about it during this U.S. Senate race ... until now,” said Paul Sadler, Texas’ Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

Most people would agree that other issues, like the economy, are more important to Americans than the death penalty right now, but that’s no reason to ignore the topic. Unfortunately, Texas politicians provide little diversity in their views about capital punishment. Republican candidate Ted Cruz, who did not reply to my interview request, supports the death penalty. Sadler, too, agrees with our current use of capital punishment, and thinks his view is common. “I think if most Texans didn’t agree with it,” Sadler said, “we wouldn’t have it as our law.”

The Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate, John Jay Myers, opposes the death penalty. “It is impossible,” Myers said, “to make the burden of proof high enough to prevent executing the innocent, and two wrongs do not make a right.”  He does think supporters of the death penalty have good intentions, but their efforts are misguided. “The establishment politicians are asking the wrong questions,” he said. “They are asking, ‘How should we penalize violent criminals?’ But they should be asking, ‘What can we do to reduce the causes of violence in the first place?’”

Kristin Houle, the executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, became involved with the issue while she was student at the University of Kentucky. Like Myers, she thinks that most Texans have good intentions, but that they’re unaware of the problems with capital punishment. “I think that most Texans want a justice system that is fair, accurate, and reliable,” she said. “I believe most people do not know enough about the realities of the death penalty system and its fatal flaws and failures.”

Voices on our own campus speak out against the death penalty as well. Anne Kuhnen, who leads the Texas Amnesty International’s Committee to Abolish the Death Penalty, considers capital punishment “an unjust and inhumane punishment that is a violation of basic human rights. It does not deter crime, it does not bring justice for crimes, and it is racially and economically biased. It also sends the wrong message to murderers. State killing is just as bad as any other kind of killing. Most importantly, it is not foolproof. Innocent people are regularly convicted.”

Ashley Brandish, a freshman from Dallas, opposes the death penalty as well, mostly for ethical reasons. “As a member of a moral community,” she said, “we have interests in life, and to deprive someone of that is and should be considered morally prohibited regardless of the circumstances.”

But why does it seem like most UT students ignore the issue altogether?  “I think most UT students don’t think much about this issue because it doesn’t affect them,” Kuhnen said. “However, I’m firmly convinced that if more people realized what a terrible practice it is, and how it looks to the rest of the world that we still use capital punishment, they would not support it. I also think if students realized how much it costs despite how ineffective it really is in deterring capital crimes they might start to question it more.”

It will be no easy task to get Texas to eliminate the death penalty. Since 1976, Texas has executed far more people than any other state, accounting for 487 of America’s 1,309 executions. The death penalty is literally a matter of life and death, and therefore it is an issue that needs to be discussed. Brian Cutter, a philosophy graduate student, said, “At the federal level, the issue of the death penalty is hardly addressed at all. It hasn’t come up once in the presidential debates.”  Unless we as citizens show that the issue is important to us — which it should be — our politicians will continue to ignore it.

Especially in Texas in an election year, we must examine the use of capital punishment. Gov. Rick Perry has ordered the executions of 234 people, including some, like Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004, who were convicted on questionable evidence.

Minorities are particularly hurt by the death penalty — although African-Americans alone make up nearly half of all homicide victims, 77 percent of victims in cases that resulted in capital punishment were white. “For one, there’s not enough checks and balances on the whole process,” Cutter said. “The current implementation of the death penalty in Texas is unjust, especially in its disproportionate targeting of minorities and poor people. However, even if the implementation of capital punishment could be improved, it still wouldn’t be morally justifiable.”

There is reason for hope. The last four years have seen fewer death sentences than any time after 1976 in the United States. America’s youth, especially us Longhorns, I hope, could lead the way to a world without capital punishment. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”  In order to uphold America’s fairness and overall humanity, we must kill the death penalty, or at least discuss it.

McCann is a Plan II freshman from Dallas. 

ABUJA, Nigeria — The detention of hundreds of female Nigerian pilgrims heading to Mecca at Saudi Arabia’s busiest airport over a rule requiring them to travel with a husband or male relative is threatening to bring a diplomatic dispute between the two nations.

Saudi authorities are holding 908 Nigerian women in poor conditions “with some needing urgent medical attention” at King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah and threatened to deport them, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria said in a report submitted to Nigerian lawmakers Wednesday.

The report said female pilgrims who had landed in a smaller airport in Medina had been unaffected.

However, Fuwaiba Muhammad, a pilgrim, told an Associated Press reporter at Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in the northern Nigerian city of Kano that she had been deported Wednesday from the Saudi Arabian city of Medina, along with dozens of others.

This is the first time pilgrims have faced the possibility of mass deportation over the male escort issue, the commission has said. According to the report, an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Nigeria exempts female pilgrims from requiring a male relative to escort them for the mandatory Hajj pilgrimage, which costs about $4,000 per person.

Until now, state pilgrimage officials had been allowed to stand in the place of a male relative or husband. Muhammad, for instance, said that she had been traveling with a Hajj official who is not her relative.

But Saudi authorities have proven much stricter this year. They even stopped women who did travel with their husbands.

“Islam allows wives to bear the names of their parents and not necessarily that of their husbands,” the report argued.

All able-bodied Muslims who can afford it are expected to perform Hajj at least once in their lives, leading people to go to great lengths to make the trip.

Some pilgrims sell their cows and jewelry and others save for months or years to pay their own way to Mecca.

Mana had said Monday that the escort situation had been resolved through diplomatic channels, but the commission’s report Wednesday said Saudi authorities have “remained adamant.”

The report said top Nigerian officials had held meetings with Saudi officials in Nigeria and in Saudi Arabia in a bid to reach a compromise.

Nigeria’s Foreign Ministry sent a letter of undertaking guaranteeing the return of the female pilgrims after Hajj, it added, but Saudi authorities still did not release them.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan put together a high-profile delegation late Wednesday to travel to Saudi Arabia “as soon as an appointment is finalized with the appropriate authority,” a government statement said.

Saudi officials could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

LONDON — Global health officials are closely monitoring a new respiratory virus related to SARS that is believed to have killed at least one person in Saudi Arabia and left a Qatari citizen in critical condition in London.

The germ is a coronavirus, from a family of viruses that cause the common cold as well as SARS, the severe acute respiratory syndrome that killed some 800 people, mostly in Asia, in a 2003 epidemic.

Saudi officials said they were concerned that the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage next month could provide more opportunities for the virus to spread. The Hajj has previously sparked outbreaks of diseases including the flu, meningitis and polio.

Printed on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 as: Officials on watch, observe new virus

VENICE, Italy — Haifaa Al Mansour has the distinction of being the first person to ever film a movie in Saudi Arabia, never mind that she’s a woman.

Al Mansour’s “Wadjda,” which premiered this week out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, is about a 10-year-old girl who dreams of having a bicycle so she can race a neighborhood boy. But the dream is just a little too subversive for a deeply conservative Muslim society where women live segregated existences and girls around Wadjda’s age are expected to begin fully covering their faces when in public.

“I feel so proud honestly to have shot the first film ever to be shot inside Saudi Arabia,” Al Mansour told The Associated Press. “It was an extremely difficult experience, but still it’s very rewarding and it says something about the country — that the country of Saudi Arabia is opening up, and there is a place for arts to grow, and there is a place for women.”

Despite having support within the Saudi royal family, Al Mansour said she had to cope with limits present within society. For example, severe restrictions on the mingling of men and women created challenges in directing male actors in outdoor scenes, she said.

“I had to stay in a van and talk through a telephone sometimes or through the producer,” she told a news conference.

The movie offers a rare and perhaps even unprecedented look into Saudi daily life.

Wadjda lives alone with her mother, played by Reem Abdullah, and they are visited only sometimes by her father. Devoted as he appears in person, he is seeking a second wife to have a son, a source of stress for Wadjda’s mother.

Wadjda is as unfazed by the family drama as her mother is distracted by it. The girl instead focuses on how she can get enough money — 800 Saudi riyals, or $213 — to buy a green bicycle from a nearby store, despite being repeatedly told that girls do not ride bikes.

She charms the shopkeeper into putting it on hold for her, while selling homemade bracelets and extorting small sums for favors to raise the cash. Then, a school announcement that a Quran-reading contest will have a prize of 1000 riyals suddenly awakens a modicum of devotion in an otherwise uninterested girl.

Many of the scenes at school emphasize the universals of growing up. Children gossip about their teachers, tease each other and hide minor transgressions. The girls listen to music and wear high-top sneakers, which peek out from under their robes.

But Al Mansour also elegantly underlines the unique plight of girls when a classmate of Wadjda’s pulls out photographs of her own wedding from her Quran during religion class. The teacher smiles, simply asks the groom’s age — 20 — and kindly tells the girl that photos are not allowed in school.

Al Mansour sought producers from outside the region, and chose a German production company, Razor Studios, that had worked on Palestinian director Hany Abu Assad’s “Paradise Now” and Israeli director Ari Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir,” both of which won Golden Globes for best foreign film.

But while she walked along with the 12-year-old star Waad Mohammed on the red carpet in Venice on Friday, there won’t be any gala openings in Riyadh because there are no movie theaters there or anywhere in the Arab country. The film will, instead, be distributed by DVD and shown on Saudi TV, said co-producer Fahad Al Sukait of Saudi Prince Waleed Bin Talal’s production company, Rotana Studios.

Al Mansour, who has made three short films and a documentary previously, said her work in the media had made her a “polarizing” figure in Saudi Arabia, and that she had received death threats.

“But I never take that personally,” she told AP. “I know that they think that I threaten their values, but I always try to be respectful because I want to engage them in a dialogue rather than fight with them.”

Al Mansour said the fact that she ultimately was able to direct a film in her own country was due to changes that are happening in the society there.

“There is an opportunity now for women to believe in themselves, to push and believe in their dreams,” she said. “Society will put pressure on women to stay at home. But women must stick together and fight for what they want to achieve.

A protester is detained by security forces in front of the Saudi Embassy in Cairo during a demonstration to demand the release of a human rights lawyer detained in Saudi Arabia for allegedly insulting the monarch.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia closed its Cairo embassy Saturday and recalled its ambassador following protests over a detained Egyptian human rights lawyer in a sharp escalation of tension between two regional powerhouses already on shaky terms due to uprisings in the Arab world.

The unexpected Saudi diplomatic break came following days of protests by hundreds of Egyptians outside the Saudi Embassy in Cairo and consulates in other cities to demand the release of Ahmed el-Gezawi. Relatives and human rights groups say he was detained for allegedly insulting the kingdom’s monarch.

Saudi authorities denied that and said he was arrested for trying to smuggle anti-anxiety drugs into the conservative oil-rich kingdom.

The collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime last year in Egypt stunned Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, which saw it as a sign of its own potential vulnerabilities and how Western backing can suddenly shift away from longtime allies.

Saudi officials have increasingly viewed Egypt’s post-revolution trajectory — particularly the political gains by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood — as worrisome trends that could encourage greater opposition in the Gulf.

A full break in ties between Cairo and Riyadh appears unlikely as the Arab League deals with the complicated showdown between protesters and the regime in Syria. But the deepening rifts underscore profound changes in the region’s hierarchy with Gulf states using their influence and relative stability to exert more leverage over wider Mideast affairs.

Egypt swiftly tried to contain the Saudi snub.

Egypt’s military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was in touch with the Saudis to “heal the rift following the sudden decision,” the Egyptian official news agency said.

Tantawi asked King Abdullah to reconsider the decision, the Saudi news agency reported. The news agency said the king would look into the matter in the coming days and cited the two countries’ “long history of friendly relations.”

The Egyptian government issued a statement expressing its “regret” for the behavior of some of the protesters, and noted that the government and Egyptian people hold Saudi Arabia in “great esteem.”

The Egyptian news agency also published a copy of what it said was a signed confession by el-Gezawi admitting to drug possession, in a clear attempt to mute Egyptian public anger.

But the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is jockeying with Egypt’s military rulers for power, supported the demonstrators.

“The protesters in the past days were expressing the desire of Egyptians to protect the dignity of their compatriots in Arab countries and a reflection that disregard for the dignity of Egyptians abroad is no longer acceptable after the revolution,” the group said in a statement.

It was worst diplomatic tiff between the two regional powerhouses since Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries broke off diplomatic ties with Egypt after it signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979.

Diplomatic relations were restored in 1987.

Under Mubarak, the two regional powerhouses generally had strong relations.

But el-Gezawi’s case revived long-standing resentment over the treatment of Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia, which is a destination for more than a million Egyptians searching for better jobs.

The lawyer flew to Jiddah on his way to perform a minor pilgrimage, called umrah, to Islam’s holy shrines in the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina, said his sister Shereen el-Gezawi. The fact that he was arrested on his way to perform a religious rite further enflamed Egyptian sentiment.

His family said he had been convicted in absentia and sentenced to a year in prison and 20 lashes by a Saudi court for insulting the king. However he was not notified of the court’s ruling ahead of his Saudi trip. El-Gezawi had earlier filed a lawsuit in Egypt against King Abdullah over the alleged arbitrary detention of hundreds of Egyptians.

As Arab uprisings have toppled four longtime Middle Eastern rulers, Saudi Arabia has been worried about signs of rebellion within its borders. Authorities have met attempts to advocate for more rights, as el-Gezawi has done, or question the monarchy’s authority with strong opposition.

Many Egyptians suspect the drug case against el-Gezawi was trumped up.

El-Gezawi’s friend and lawyer Mohammed Nabil, dismissed reports el-Gezawi was smuggling drugs and said the lawyer may have confessed under duress. The lawyer’s wife visited him Friday and is due to return to Cairo late Saturday, Nabil said.

Outside the Cairo embassy earlier this week, protesters chanted, “Down, down with Al-Saud!” referring to the Saudi royal family and “Screw you, your majesty!” in reference to the aging Saudi monarch.

The demonstrators called for the expulsion of the Saudi ambassador in Cairo, and some raised their shoes alongside a picture of Abdullah, a sign of deep contempt in the Arab world. In the consulate in the port city of Suez, protesters blocked staff from leaving Thursday, prompting the military to evacuate them.

The Saudi news agency, quoting a foreign ministry official, said the protests were “unjustified” and attempts to storm the missions threatened the safety of diplomatic staff.

The agency also said the ambassador was recalled for “consultation.”

An Egyptian government official said the decision was largely motivated by security concerns over the protests. A staff member in a Saudi consulate said the offices will be closed indefinitely.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive situation.

The Saudi ambassador had previously filed a police report against protesters from a youth group, accusing them of sabotaging his embassy during an unrelated protest.

Egyptian protesters also questioned whether the Egyptian government is doing enough to protect its citizens abroad. They rallied outside the Foreign Ministry in Cairo, demanding the Egyptian ambassador in Saudi Arabia be questioned over his handling of el-Gezawi’s case.

Many activists claim Egypt curbs its criticism so as not to alienate the wealthy kingdom or endanger Egyptian jobs there.

Printed on Monday, April 30, 2012 as: Saudi Arabia closes embassy in Egypt.

Prince Nayef bin Abdel-Aziz, is seen in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — the interior minister was named crown prince late Thursday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia named a new crown prince late Thursday: the tough-talking interior minister who is known for cracking down on Islamic militants and resisting moves toward greater openness in the ultraconservative kingdom.

Saudi state TV announced the naming of Prince Nayef bin Abdel-Aziz Al Saud as heir to the Saudi throne following the death of the previous second in line, Crown Prince Sultan, last week.

Nayef would assume the throne upon the death of King Abdullah, 87, who is recovering from his third operation to treat back problems in less than a year.

Images broadcast earlier this week from the funeral of Prince Sultan showed the king with a surgical mask covering his face.

Prince Sultan died in New York Saturday at the age of 80 after an unspecified illness.

Traditionally, the king chooses his heir. But Prince Nayef was chosen by Allegiance Council, a 37-member body composed of his brothers and cousins. Abdullah created the council as part of his reforms and gave it a mandate to choose the heir.

Prince Nayef, 78, was also named vice prime minister and will also keep his job as interior minister.

Nayef has earned praise in the West for leading crackdowns on Islamic extremist cells in Saudi Arabia, which was home to 15 of 19 of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

He was harshly criticized for a 2002 interview in which he said that “Zionists” benefited from the 9-11 attacks because it turned world opinion against Islam and Arabs.

He has also opposed some of Abdullah’s moves for more openness in the strictly conservative society, saying in 2009 that he saw no need for women to vote or participate in politics. Even so, it seen unlikely that he would he would cancel Abdullah’s reforms if he became king. They include the opening of a coed university in 2009 where both genders can mix, though many religious authorities forbid any mixing of the sexes.

Some believe Nayef would put any further changes on hold if he takes power.

There is thought to be little chance that the changeover at the top of Saudi Arabia’s leadership would affect the country’s close relations with the United States.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden led an American delegation in the Saudi capital to offer condolences to King Abdullah after the death of Prince Sultan, who was also Saudi Arabia’s defense minister and is credited with modernizing his country’s armed forces, largely through huge arms deals with the United States.

On Thursday Biden met with members of the royal family. A White House statement said Biden noted Sultan’s “lasting contributions to the enduring partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia delivers a speech to the Saudi Shura Council, or advisory assembly, in Riyadh on Sunday. Saudi King Abdullah has given the kingdom’s women the right to vote for first time in nationwide local elections, due in 2015.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

A Saudi activist will stand trial for defying the kingdom’s ban on female drivers, a lawyer and rights advocates said Monday, revealing clear limits on how far the conservative Muslim land is willing to go to grant women greater rights.

Just a day earlier, King Abdullah, who is regarded as a reformer by Saudi standards, decreed that women would be allowed for the first time to vote and run as candidates in elections for municipal councils starting in 2015. He also promised to appoint women after two years to the Shura Council, the currently all-male consultative body with no legislative powers.

Activists in Saudi Arabia and abroad welcomed the changes as a step in the right direction, while urging the kingdom to end all discrimination against women. Some also pointed to the case against Najalaa Harriri as evidence of how far the kingdom still has to go on the path of reforms.

Harriri was among the dozens of Saudi women to challenge the country’s ban on driving in a campaign that began in June. The campaigners posted video of themselves behind the wheel on the Web.

She was summoned for questioning on Sunday by the prosecutor general in the western port city of Jeddah, according to attorney Waleed Aboul Khair. She will stand trial in a month, joining several other women currently on trial for driving.

Activists say the trials reveal a gap between the image the kingdom wants to show to the outside world and the reality on the ground in the ultraconservative nation.

“I believe that Saudi Arabia has always had two kinds of rhetoric, one for outside consumption to improve the image of the kingdom and a more restrictive one that accommodates the religious establishment inside,” Aboul Khair said.

In most cases, the women are stopped by police and held until a male guardian is summoned and the women sign a pledge not to drive again. Some are referred to court.

Harriri refused to sign, according to Samar Badawi, another female activist who was present at the police station with her three weeks ago.