A Saudi student in the UK has identified the gene responsible for “heritage paralysis” and finds that it is exacerbated by close intermarriage. This only adds to the number of diseases and conditions resulting from the traditional practice of preferring marriages among first cousins throughout the Arab world. The article at Arab News includes a graph showing the prevalence of the disease throughout the region.
A Saudi scholarship student in Britain, Nuha Al-Rayess, has discovered a new genetic mutation that leads to muscle atrophy, weakened limbs and, finally, total paralysis in some cases. The tests she conducted showed that the principal cause for this condition is intermarriage and reproduction among family members.
Al-Rayess noted that this disease is known in medical terms as “heritage paralysis.” However, its genetic causes were previously unknown. As such, her new discovery is a significant leap forward in the world of genetic disease research.
Al-Rayess said that 70 percent of hereditary diseases in Saudi Arabia occur due to people marrying and subsequently producing children with their blood-line relatives. Indeed, the Kingdom has some of the highest rates in the world for familial marriages, making it easier for the disease to continue in future generations.
The Saudi government is facing a conundrum when dealing with temporary marriages (Nikah Misyar, for Sunni Muslims). While there are multiple fatwas authorizing such marriages as permitted under Shariah law, it is against Saudi Arabia’s public policy. The government acts to discourage it — as with this article from Saudi Gazette — but appears to be unable or unwilling to directly counter religious statements. Whether moral suasion overcomes biological drives and convenience, with a religious blessing, will be an interesting thing to watch.
Grappling with the surge in temporary marriages
Saudi Gazette report
THE Saudi Charitable Society for the Welfare of Saudi Families Abroad (Awaser) has warned Saudi citizens against engaging in any temporary marriage contracts abroad.
Speaking to Al-Riyadh newspaper, Tawfiq Abdulaziz Al-Suwailem, chairman of the board of directors, said the society works with the ministries of social affairs and foreign affairs as well as Saudi missions abroad to crack down on Saudis who enter temporary marriages.
“There should be legislation and extensive media coverage of such marriages arranged by brokers outside the country. Saudi men should realize the consequences of these marriages.
Unfortunately, over the past 10 years, these types of marriages have spread and are out of control. They have been called tourist, summer and common-law marriages and they all have one common thing: they’re temporary and the disengagement ends with a divorce,” Al-Suwailem said.
While things are much better than they were 20 or 30 years ago, there’s still too much sycophancy appearing in Saudi media to suit King Salman. Arab News reports that the King as told government agencies to take action to block the obsequious flattery and fawning that is published every time an official receives a new position or spends a day in the hospital.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has instructed monitoring authorities to control publication of reports and advertisements congratulating government officials and exaggerated condolence messages and punish violators, sabq.org reported on Wednesday.
“In a circular issued to ministries and government departments, the king said it has been noticed that people publish excessive ads for congratulations and condolences, violating regulations,” the electronic newspaper said, adding that allocations for such ads are made from the budget.
A circular issued by the government eight years ago banned ministries and government departments from publishing such ads and reports in local newspapers and magazines.
Asharq Alawsat‘s Editor-in-Chief Salman Aldossary trumpets the UN Resolution on Yemen as a victory for the Gulf Cooperation Council. He sees this as one of the GCC’s finest moments and as an indication that the GCC is finally punching its own weight in the international arena.
The GCC teaches the world a lesson from New York
This could well be the greatest diplomatic triumph for the Gulf and Arab countries at the United Nations. Who would have believed that mighty Russia, which until recently has been extremely sympathetic to the Houthis, would not be able to impede the UN Security Council resolution on Yemen? What kind of diplomatic efforts did Gulf countries exert to enable them to convince Russia to give its indirect approval to Operation Decisive Storm? What explains this level of international support that the offensive has garnered from the world’s highest political authority? This shift in positions must have been caused by the same logic that led to the launch of Operation Decisive Storm: that it was necessary to rescue Yemen after its legitimate President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi submitted an official request to the UN.
The UN Security Council resolution on Yemen has not only hemmed in the Houthi militias and Yemen’s ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, but also, thanks to the unprecedented level of international support, went so far as to voice rejection of the Houthi coup in Yemen. It also imposed sanctions on senior Houthi figures and Saleh under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. The resolution was clear enough in that it threatened to take further measures in the event rebels failed to comply with Resolution 2216. In other words, Operation Decisive Storm is merely one of the measures the international community has decided to take in a bid to stop the occupation of Yemen.
The success of these diplomatic efforts, which Saudi Arabia has spearheaded, highlights that Operation Decisive Storm was not a rash step. It is impossible for Riyadh to breach international laws, and it has enough experience and knowledge to take major decisions with wisdom and temperance, even in such difficult times. The UN Security Council is confirming the validity of the Saudi decision and supporting it politically, and perhaps would also support it with military force in case the rebels do not comply with Resolution 2216 within the next 10 days.
The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution (#2216) calling for all parties in Yemen — particularly the Houthis — to stop the violence and return to negotiations. It calls for an arms embargo and for the Houthis to relinquish all areas they have seized by force. It also placed sanctions on individuals seen as playing a negative role, including the son of the former Yemeni president. Russia abstained from the vote.
Also Imposes Sanctions on Key Figures in Militia Operations
Imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen, the Security Council today demanded that all parties in the embattled country, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threatened the political transition.
Adopting resolution 2216 (2015) by 14 affirmative votes to none against, with one abstention (Russian Federation), the Council also demanded that the Houthis, withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate Government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions.
Acting under chapter VII of Charter, the body also called upon the Houthis to refrain from any provocations or threats to neighbouring States, release the Minister for Defence, all political prisoners and individuals under house arrest or arbitrarily detained, and end the recruitment of children.
Imposing sanctions, including a general assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo, on Abdulmalik al-Houthi, who it called the Houthi leader, and Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, son of the president who stepped down in 2011, the resolution called upon all Yemeni parties to abide by the Gulf Cooperation Council and other initiatives and to resume the United Nations-brokered political transition.
King Salman wants to leave his mark on Saudi history, but he wants it to be a good mark. Reacting to a video showing Minister of Health Ahmed Khatib getting into a dawsha with a citizen complaining about health care, the King sacked the Minister. He’d been in office since January 28.
Al Arabiya TV has the story:
A recently leaked video involving a Saudi minister in a squabble has been a hot topic in the kingdom.
Health minister Ahmed Khatib was filmed having a heated argument with another citizen, in which he was shouting and making angry gestures.
He was later relieved of his duties in an order by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Friday, with Dr. Mohammed Ali al-Sheikh appointed Acting Health Minister of Saudi Arabia.
In the 27-second video, the former minister is seen loudly dismissing a visibly angry citizen who had come to speak to him about the state of a private hospital in Riyadh.
Saudi Gazette reprints an article from Economist that seeks to answer the question about why Saudis are such heavy consumers of and participants in social media. Various surveys show Saudis as being the most active on various social media platforms in relation to both population size and Internet connections.
The article notes that the lack of other social outlets is certainly a factor, but also that conservative Saudis — including clerics — find that the outreach possibilities are too good to ignore. While abuses of social media abound and there are recurrent calls to ban or control it, Saudis aren’t going to give up their access to the world and their soapboxes from which they can address it.
On MARCH 18th, at an Arab media get-together, Twitter announced that it will open an office in Dubai. Not before time. Smartphone growth has rocketed in the Gulf—by most counts the region has the highest penetration. WhatsApp and Facebook have become standard modes of communication. Nowhere is that more so than in Saudi Arabia. Several surveys in 2013 showed that the kingdom has the world’s highest percentage of people on Twitter relative to its number of internet users; and on YouTube too. Saudis also spend more hours online than their peers elsewhere. That might seem surprising for such a conservative country where the constitution is said to be taken directly from the Koran and where women are not permitted to drive. Why are Saudis such big fans of social media?
Outsiders often regard the 30m Saudis as far behind the rest of the world. The modern Saudi state was founded only in 1932, and then on the basis of an existing pact between the Al Saud family and the Wahhabist clerics, who peddle a particularly red-hot version of Islam. It is certainly a traditional place, especially around the capital Riyadh. But the country has also rapidly modernised since discovering its vast oil wealth. It has a GDP per capita of almost $26,000. Today thousands of its young people study abroad, speak English and are as globalised as their peers in other countries. Fully 75% of the population are under 30. They have grown up thinking it normal to go online to do everything from ordering a coffee to watching TV.
It is the wedding of these factors to Saudi Arabia’s social peculiarities that may account for its topping of the virtual rankings. Shopping malls are pretty much the only source of entertainment for young people, because the clerics dislike cinemas and bars. So mingling with friends on social media has obvious appeal, not least because it is illegal for unrelated men and women to fraternise in person. Facebook has become a way of picking up a date (previously, many young people would turn on Bluetooth and search for random connections nearby). Frustrated Saudis can also vent about the government anonymously on Twitter. But social media is not just used for getting up to naughty things. The country’s most popular Twitter account, with 11.4m followers, is that of Muhammad al-Arefe, a Saudi cleric—and not a particularly liberal one, either.
If Saudi Arabia’s opinions and policies can be garnered from its media, then the Saudis have all but abandoned Pres. Obama and his Middle Easter policies. Asharq Alawsat — sometimes known as “The Green Truth” as a nod to its line to Saudi policy makers — runs editorials from two former Editors-in-Chief that lambaste the President for his errant views brought forth in an interview with The New York Times‘s columnist Thomas Friedman.
From Tariq Alhomayed:
Obama is always wrong on the Middle East
In his interview with journalist Thomas Friedman this week, US President Barack Obama said that the threat to regional states, including Saudi Arabia, is not Iranian intervention, but rather “internal threats.” Can this be true?
The reality is that Obama has an incorrect view of the region, and this is something that has become increasingly clear since he took office. He is always wrong on our region, and has made the biggest mistakes here, and these mistakes have had major consequences.
Obama rushed to withdraw from Iraq, and now here we see him returning once again. He played down the Syrian revolution and Assad’s crimes. He talked about “red lines” but Assad has crossed each and every one of these, while Obama has done nothing. He played down the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) only to subsequently be forced to acknowledge the reality of the situation, although he still had enough time to blame his country’s intelligence services for failing to realize this earlier.
It is also interesting to note a recent Washington Post report that revealed the extent of ISIS’s connection with the former ruling Ba’athist regime in Iraq, and that many members of the group are ex-members of Saddam Hussein’s military. This is the same military that was controversially disbanded following the Iraq invasion. Washington has made many mistakes in Iraq, and Obama must bear some share of the responsibility for this.
From Abdulrahman Al-Rashed:
Contradictions in Obama’s Doctrine
I tried to ignore US President Barack Obama’s interview with the New York Times because I was sure it would be part of his propaganda campaign for the framework nuclear deal with Iran. Still, the interview’s impact cannot be ignored. Rather than calming the fears of those in the Gulf region, Obama has provoked many here.
Thomas Friedman, one of the Times’ most prominent writers who is extremely knowledgeable about the region’s affairs, interviewed the president. Perhaps this was why the nation’s leader was dragged into arguing his points, instead of justifying them.
What’s strange about the conversation was that Obama commended the Iranian regime, justifying its actions and implying a sense of guilt over what the US had done against Iran.
I don’t know what books the American president reads before he goes to bed or how he understands the events of the past three decades. Tehran’s mentality and practices are close to those of Al-Qaeda: religious, fascist and hostile towards anyone who opposes their ideology. Tehran’s understanding of the world considers others as either believers or infidels. It is Iran that was responsible for much of the violence in the region under the banner of religion—and this was around 15 years before Al-Qaeda even emerged.
The fact that so many unhinged fatwas make it into the public realm has led to a situation where satire is confused with reality.
Al Arabiya TV reports that an article appearing in a Moroccan satire paper alleging that Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti supports cannibalism as a way to show “togethernesss” needed a blunt denial from the Grand Mufti himself. Of course the Arab media isn’t the only one that mistakes satire with facts. Articles appearing in the American satirical paper The Onion are sometimes picked up by major media.
But when real life takes on bizarre aspects — be they in laws or fatwas — a little confusion is understandable. It’s just not very good journalism.
Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh has denied issuing a fatwa (religious edict) which allows a hungry man to eat his wife, or parts of her body, in the case of famine or if eating his wife would result in saving his own life.
Over the past few days, several pro-Iranian media outlets, such as the online portal of Al Allam news channel and Lebanon’s al-Jumohouria newspaper have carried the story without backing it with any evidence or specifying where or when such a fatwa has been issued.
The unsubstantiated fatwa attributed to the Grand Mufti claims that such sacrifice is the ultimate way of showing subordination and love to her husband as a “way for their two bodies to become one.”
Saudi Gazette/Okaz badly report a vote in Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council. The headline says that the Council voted against the appointment of women as ambassadors. Actually, the Council said that the nomination of ambassadors was outside its competence: it is up to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not the Council to make such nominations and appointments. It was within the Council’s remit, however, to deny Saudi diplomats a pay raise.
RIYADH – The Shoura Council on Tuesday rejected a proposal to appoint women in the post of ambassadors.
The foreign affairs committee at the council turned down the recommendation moved by a member Lubna Al-Ansari in this regard. She proposed that women shall be appointed in key positions in the Kingdom’s administrative, financial and technical fields as well as in diplomatic missions abroad.
The committee report noted that it is a policy matter that can be decided by the higher authorities. It also drew attention to the fact that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs enjoys jurisdiction to appoint women in key positions, including that of ambassador, and it will make appointments in key positions after taking into account of the qualifications and capabilities of the officials. The council also rejected another proposal to increase salary of diplomats and other officials working at Saudi missions abroad. — Okaz/Saudi Gazette
Writing at Asharq Alawsat, the paper’s Editor-in-Chief argues that the current conflict in Yemen is not sectarian, but geo-political and is focused on the Houthis as a rebellious group acting as a puppet of Iran. He distinguishes this from the situation in Iraq where sectarianism is very much at issue.
Houthis, not Shi’ites
Operation Decisive Storm, which is being backed by most countries across the world, is not a battle against the Shi’ites. Although this is certainly how the Houthis want to portray things, along with all other parties in their orbit, from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization forces and Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah to, of course, their common backer: Iran. However, in reality, this is not a war against the Shi’ites, but a war against a rebel group that is being sponsored by a state whose strategy is based on exporting sectarianism across the region. This same country is portraying itself as the “grand protector” of Shi’ites everywhere—politically and doctrinally—as if these Shi’ites don’t have homelands of their own that can protect them from the lies of the Persian state.
There is a cacophony of sectarian discourse being put forward by Tehran’s agents in the region. Can you believe that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah or Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi are complaining about sectarianism? We have even heard similar statements from commanders in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization forces. In other words, commanders of a military force that is formed along sectarian lines are now accusing others of sectarianism. I can only say that those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies for decades dealt with Zaydi former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in addition to supporting the Shi’ite religious authorities in Yemen, while Riyadh also enjoyed excellent ties with former Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad, who was an Alawite. Gulf states do not frame their relations with other states according to sectarian or religious identity, although this is clearly something that the mullahs’ regime in Tehran is doing. Gulf states have never targeted their Shi’ite citizens or dealt with them any differently, even if they are minorities. Rather, Gulf states have granted them the exact same rights as the rest of their citizens, as opposed to Iran which deals with its own Sunni community as second-class citizens, oppressing them and depriving them of their rights, and even preventing them from building houses of worship. Gulf states have never committed any violations against their own citizens, whatever their sectarian or doctrinal identity. The same cannot be said of the Shi’ite militias in Iraq and how they are dealing with the country’s Sunnis, and this is something that is happening in full view of the Baghdad government.
The Washington Post runs an analysis of Saudi Arabia’s assertive role in Yemen. It notes the way the Kingdom once supported the Shi’ite government of Imam Yahya Hamiduddin, but shifted gears following the Imam’s death. Now, the piece says, the Saudis and their coalition partners are seeking to restore peace in Yemen and thwart Iranian ambitions.
For Saudi Arabia, struggles in Yemen have deep roots
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — In the two weeks since Saudi Arabia launched a bombing campaign in Yemen, the kingdom has barely slowed the advance of Shiite rebels who appear to be digging in for a long fight.
But so far, Saudi commanders have projected no outward signs of concern that the campaign is falling short.
“We should not be impatient for the results,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad Asseri, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, cautioned on Friday.
Saudi Arabia’s determination is rooted in something deeper than overcoming insecurity on its borders and the fear that rival Iran could take advantage of it through perceived links to the insurgents. Saudi Arabia’s leaders — backed by its powerful Islamic religious establishment — also have taken on a special role as guardian of both its southern neighbor and the wider Arabian Peninsula.
“This is a blessing .?.?. but it also places a responsibility on all of us,” King Salman told a gathering of the nation’s political and armed forces elite at his Riyadh palace last week.