After many prior announcements — all of which turned out to be premature — the Saudi government is now preparing to offer Tourist Visas to those interested in seeing Saudi Arabia for reasons other than business and religious obligation. Arab News reports that the Council of Ministers has asked the Saudi tourist commission (a government agency) to come up with the regulations necessary. That commission is an active one, so something is likely to happen. Sometime.
Saudi Arabia still lacks a lot of necessary tourist infrastructure. There are hotels in the major cities, of course, but not at the more remote — and more interesting — sites. Transportation is still a problem, hazardous at best. And then there’s the mismatch between Saudi attitudes toward foreigners and the fact that tourists expect to be treated warmly and generously. Saudis are certainly generous people, but I would not consider them particularly warm when it comes to dealing with foreigners. The religious police are going to need some expanded training, too.
Tourist visas to be introduced
JEDDAH: P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR
Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry is set to receive a shot in the arm following the government’s decision to issue tourist visas for the first time to woo foreigners intending to visit its historical sites.
The Council of Ministers has entrusted the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) with the task of issuing tourist visas on the basis of certain regulations approved by the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs.
The new tourism law aims at bringing about a qualitative improvement in the industry, which is expected to play a significant role in strengthening the economy besides creating thousands of jobs for Saudis.
Saudi Gazette gives front-page treatment to a piece reporting that a quarter million Saudis found jobs while foreign workers were being forced to comply with immigration and labor laws or leave the country.
That’s a considerable number. It should help with the statistics on unemployment, but there’s still a long way to go before those willing to work — male and female — have jobs.
Over 250,000 Saudis got employed during amnesty
Saudi Gazette report
AL-KHOBAR – Minister of Labor Adel Fakieh said that more than 250,000 Saudis have benefited from the seven-month amnesty period that ended on Nov. 4.
“The ministry will publish in the near future all the figures regarding their placements in each sector and region, in addition to the outcome of the status correction campaign,” he told the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) after inaugurating the Third Social Dialogue Forum here on Wednesday afternoon.
Fakieh thanked Minister of Interior Prince Muhammad Bin Naif and other ministry officials for their support to make his ministry’s drive to regulate the local employment market a great success.
The minister said the first forum focused on ‘working time and period of work hours’ while ‘the policies and structures of wages in the private sector’ figured in the second forum.
The article is particularly interesting in that it acknowledges that South Arabian languages are, in fact, languages, not just dialects of some universal Arabic. This is an acknowledgement that carries considerable political baggage as many would like to see Arabic defined as one, single language. Recognizing that there are many Arabics makes it somewhat easier to recognize that Arabs differ, one from another. There is not monolithic ‘Arabic’ that serves to unite all.
South Arabian languages face threat
JEDDAH: IBRAHIM NAFEE
It would be difficult to save several endangered south Arabian languages, including one spoken only by a small community in the far southeast of Saudi Arabia, a renowned linguist said Wednesday.
Janet Watson from the University of Leeds made this observation at the first Linguistics in Arabia Conference held at King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah. She said a major problem was that these languages have no literature and would therefore not survive for another 50 years.
The two-day conference, which marked the beginning of a new research enterprise in the field in Saudi Arabia, was inaugurated by KAU President Osama Tayyeb.
The most widely spoken of these endangered languages is Mehri with about 150,000 speakers, said Watson during her presentation. The city of Sharourah and the border area of the Empty Quarter are considered the home of this language in Saudi Arabia. There are also speakers in Yemen and Oman, she said.
Given the fatal results of flash floods in various Saudi Arabian cities over the past few years, it’s not strange that the municipalities involved would seek ways to ameliorate the situations. Vastly cheaper than digging up the cities to retroactively install major drainage projects are attempts to prevent rain. Unfortunately — or so allege Amnesty International and the Arab Organization for Human Rights — the Jeddah mayor’s office chose to use a chemical to stop cloud formation that seems to be classified as a WMD. Oops.
Oddly enough, the chemical allegedly used — “alkimitre” in the article; “alkimitril” in other sources — is pretty mysterious stuff. In fact, it’s one of the favorite chemicals condemned by the “Chem Trails” conspiracy theorists. Perhaps the “oops” belongs at the feet of Amnesty International?
City sued for ‘using toxic gas’ to prevent rain in Jeddah
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — Two international organizations are suing Jeddah Municipality for allegedly using poisonous gases to dissipate clouds, Al-Hayat newspaper reported.
The representative of Amnesty International and the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR), Dr. Talat Attar, said a lawsuit was filed with the Board of Grievances in July this year.
Attar said the lawsuit accuses the municipality of using Alkimtre gas for dissipating clouds to prevent rain.
This gas, he added, causes many environmental and health hazards. In a press statement, Attar pointed out that the legal authorities will review the case within the coming days.
“Alkimtre gas is a mass destruction weapon and its usage is in clear violation of all human rights,” he said.
Writing at Harvard University’s “Iran Matters” website, Saudi analyst and government advisor Nawaf Obaid offers his take on the recent deal reached between Iran and the “5+1 group. In sum, while the Kingdom is always interested in international agreements that tend toward peaceful resolution of issues, it is wary about Iran’s expansionist foreign policy and the likelihood of its acquiring nuclear weapons.
The Iran deal: a view from Saudi Arabia
The fundamentals of Saudi foreign policy stem from its role as the cradle of Islam, the world’s central banker of energy and the Middle East’s economic and financial engine. As the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and the location of the religion’s two holiest sites, the Saudi Kingdom is in a unique standing vis-a-vis the more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. This situation makes it incumbent on the Kingdom to remain extremely conservative at its core and outlook. This reality is enhanced by the Kingdom’s role as the world’s largest crude exporter. This has made Saudi Arabia the largest economy by far in the Middle East-North Africa region and the world’s third largest holder of foreign exchange reserves and is giving it the firepower to expend formidable financial and economic resources in assisting other nations in dire straits to maintain stability. The Kingdom’s enhanced role has generated an ever expanding foreign policy assertiveness that is being transformed from a primarily reactive based doctrine to a proactive one. The implications are that the Saudis will amalgamate political and financial incentives with an ever-growing military capability to sustain a forceful diplomacy to pursue vital national security imperatives.
I’ll be traveling this week for the American Thanksgiving holiday. Blogging will be light to non-existent.
See you all on my return!
Saudi Arabia’s efforts to reform its legal system continue. Saudi Gazette reports that three new measures have been signed into law by King Abdullah. These will help courts to work more efficiently and fairly. Defendants are assured both the right to an attorney and to be informed of the charges against them. Specialized courts will deal with particular areas of the law such as traffic, labor, and commercial law.
New laws to make judicial procedures more effective, open
Saeed Al-Bahes | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
DAMMAM – Approval of the three landmark laws by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah was widely welcomed by all those concerned with the Kingdom’s judicial sector.
They said that the new systems would expedite judicial procedures and make them more effective and transparent.
King Abdullah approved on Friday drafts of the Shariah defense law, the criminal procedure law and the procedures of the Board of Grievances, approved recently by the Council of Ministers
Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Nassaar, President of the Board of Grievances, described this as a giant step in judicial reforms which address all pressing needs and realize the ambitious goals. “As part of making the Board more effective, there would be more supportive bodies, such as the technical affairs bureau, of which the powers include publishing the copy of verdicts. The Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court have been constituted in line with the new laws,” he said.
Hugging, apparently, is an ‘exotic practice’ in Saudi Arabia. A practice that can get one arrested, if done in public and with unrelated people. Al Arabiya TV reports that three men were arrested in Riyadh and Madinah by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice for offering free hugs to passersby, as part of the international Free Hugs Campaign.
Given Saudi social mores, I can’t say I’m surprised….
boy was arrested in Saudi Arabia on Friday after taking part in the “Free Hugs” campaign that has seen some Saudi men take to the streets to offer up a hug to passers-by.
Arrested in the city of Madina, the boy, who was identified as a minor by the police, was holding a banner inscribed with the slogan “Free hugs” and was allegedly offering hugs to people near a local hospital.
Police told Al-Hayat daily newspaper that another man promoting the campaign evaded arrest.
Also, two men were arrested in Riyadh on Thursday for offering free hugs to passers-by in the capital.
Members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice arrested the two men in Riyadh for violating local laws and engaging in “exotic practices,” al-Hayat newspaper reported. They were asked to sign a pledge that they would not partake in the campaign again, according to the newspaper.
Saudi Arabia, through the King Abdullah Economic City, continues its efforts to diversify and expand its economy. Saudi Gazette reports (here in a piece from Al Arabiya TV) that it has signed agreements with Volvo and Renault to build trucks at KAEC, located north of Jeddah.
Saudi Arabia to produce Volvo and Renault trucks
King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) recently signed a land plot to purchase of 225,000 sq. meters in KAEC’s Industrial Valley for the construction and operation of Volvo and Renault trucks.
The plant, constructed by Zahid Tractor and Heavy Machinery Company, will be developed on an area of 60,000 sqm and is expected to produce 4,000 trucks a year and provide 400 new jobs.
Fahd Al-Rasheed, Managing Director and CEO of KAEC, said “the new trucks assembly plant, which will be constructed by Zahid Group, is considered a major milestone in the growth of King Abdullah Economic City.”
Saudi Arabia is known as ‘The Desert Kingdom’. Indeed, it has some remarkable deserts, from the Rub’ Al Khali to the Al Dahna east of Riyadh to the Nafud in the north. Saudi cities grew out of town built primarily on the edges of these deserts. The growth, however, did not adequately take into consideration that it does occasionally rain.
The result has been inadequate drainage systems that lead to flooding when there is heavy rain. Whether it’s flash floods caused by large masses of water running down mountainsides, as was the case in the 2007 Jeddah floods, or simply vast amounts of standing water as has more recently happened, when it rains, it floods.
It does not help matters that city streets are now paved with impervious concrete and asphalt. In earlier days, the dirt roadways could at least absorb rainwater.
What will be required is massive work in building appropriately-sized drainage facilities, whether they be sewers or catchment areas. In any case, it will be expensive to do it in the midst of some of the world’s most expensive real estate.
Rains make a mockery of the Kingdom’s drainage projects
Abdo Khal | Okaz
With every rainy season, one of our cities becomes a victim of the rains giving rise to the same cries and complaints of the season before.
Riyadh has been the first victim of the rainy season this year. The rains caused the death of three people in Riyadh, destroyed cars along the streets, damaged traffic signals and obstructed the flow of traffic. Water flooded government and private sector establishments and created pools in a number of neighborhoods. The rains have exposed the ineffectiveness of Riyadh’s drainage projects.
Every year, we complain about ineffective drainage systems which have become a problem for every town and city in the Kingdom. Although large sums of money have been spent on these projects, they still fail to drain the rain and floodwaters.
The government has spent more than SR12 billion on projects to protect towns and cities from floods. If you told any international expert that this much money had been spent on drainage projects in a year or two, he would never believe you. For this amount of money, a sewage network could be built to drain not only rainwater, but the waters of the seas and oceans as well!
Saudi Gazette runs a story from Reuters noting that Saudi Arabia is not concerned about a huge increase in US oil production. It believes global demand will continue to grow at such a pace that Saudi oil production can continue at it current rate and still be very profitable. Rather than seeing a smaller piece of the global petroleum pie, Saudi Arabia will be taking a piece of a much bigger pie.
(Reuters) DUBAI – Saudi Arabia remains unconcerned by surging US shale output, which threatens to eat into OPEC’s market share, and sees no need to cut production to support prices, Deputy Oil Minister Prince Abdulaziz Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz told a conference in Dubai on Wednesday.
“We need to make sure that the world economy comes out decisively on a growth pattern and, if that can be established, I think that the world economic growth will be sufficient to handle growth from all sorts – shale oil, shale gas, tight oil and including renewable,” he said.
“The world economy over the long term will need every contribution of every source of energy available,” he said. “The kingdom welcomes new resources of energy supplies, as they are needed.”
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries expects global demand for its crude to fall in the next five years because of increasing supplies outside the 12-member group from the boom in shale energy and other sources, according to its annual World Oil Outlook.
Among the petty annoyances found in Saudi offices is the level of multitasking that goes on. It’s not bad if it’s all job-related, but too often it seems that it’s for the benefit (and sometimes profit) of the official rather than his clients whose issues he is handling. Two or three people who have nothing to do with the matter at hand are hanging around conversing; one or more TVs are running in the background; one or many cellphones are in constant use by the official.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that the Saudi government has now banned the use of cellphones in the Passport Offices. This should bring a little more focus to the work that is supposed to be done, but we’ll have to wait and see about that. We’ll have to see, too, whether this new practice is spread across other government offices or even the private sector.
Jawazat staff banned from using mobile phones in office
Hanadi Abbas | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH – Director General of Passports Maj. Gen. Suleiman Al-Yahya has banned the staff from using mobile phones during office hours.
Al-Yahya, who took over as the chief of the General Directorate of Passports last week, told Okaz/Saudi Gazette on Wednesday that the performance of Passports Department employees will be monitored through surveillance cameras.
He also said that the working hours of the Passports Department will be extended up to 5.30 p.m. for employees who deal directly with citizens and expatriates so as to clear the transactions that were submitted during the grace period.
The passport offices will have more employees to deal with huge crowds of visitors, he said, and reiterated that passport offices seek to ensure that expatriates’ rights are maintained so they can visit hospitals, government bodies, courts and other government departments.