Arab News runs a story from Agence France Presse reporting that 12 cases of MERS-CoV have been identified in the UAE. The number includes several Filipino paramedics working in the western part of the country.

The sudden up-tick in cases (which have included a death to a religious pilgrim returning to Malaysia and Filipino health workers returning home) has heightened the concern of the World Health Organization which is already monitoring the spread of the disease. It is of great concern for the Saudis, of course, because not only has the disease hit Saudi Arabia most significantly, but the country hosts the Haj, which will start in early October this year. Last year, the Saudi government sought to block would-be pilgrims who were aged or who had diseases that seemed to increase the likelihood of MERS infection. The disease, however, is now being reported to be affecting younger people in good health. That may lead to new restrictions on Haj visas.

UAE reports 12 new cases of MERS

ABU DHABI (AFP): Health authorities in the UAE have announced 12 new cases of infection by the MERS coronavirus, but insisted the patients would be cured within two weeks.

The health ministry said the cases were discovered during “routine checks” on people who had contact with infected individuals, according to a statement published by WAM state news agency.

Those infected by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome are kept in hospitals and “should be cured without a treatment within 10 to 14 days,” the statement said.

One of six Filipino paramedics diagnosed with the disease in the eastern city of Al-Ain died earlier this month.

The World Health Organization said Thursday that it has been informed of a total of 243 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection worldwide, including 93 deaths.


April:20:2014 - 07:07 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Arab News reports that there are now 111K Saudi students enrolled in American universities, most under the auspices of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. The number includes graduate, undergraduate, and those in preparatory English programs. Wisely, the students are not bunched into a handful of schools, but are spread out across the country, though not surprisingly, Alaska and Hawaii receive very few students.

The influx has been a godsend to universities suffering from declining numbers of American students due to the high costs of higher education. Foreign students pay ‘full freight’, that is, the full amount of tuition to the schools, unlike, for example, in-state students who pay discounted fees.

The increase has creates some issues for the schools, though, as many of them are unfamiliar with Saudi education and culture. Happily for me, it’s led to an increase in my being ask to consult with faculty and administrators to explain the differences in expectations.

Number of Saudi students in US reaches 111,000
Jeddah: Ibrahim Naffee

The number of Saudi students in the United States has reached 111,000 this year, up from 10,000 in 2007 while the number of Saudi students studying medicine in the States is over 600.

The Department of Commerce in the US said that international students have contributed to revive the US economy with $22.7 billion in 2011. “The number of Saudi students increased by 50 percent in 2011 alone,” local media said.

Saudi students can go for higher studies abroad through enrolling in the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program that allows access to the best world universities to pursue disciplines which lead to bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees and medical fellowships.

The countries where Saudi students are sent to study are selected on the excellence of their educational programs and are subject to periodic reviews. Currently, students accepted in the program are sent to the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, New Zealand, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, the People’s Republic of China, Malaysia, India and South Africa, according to the Ministry of Higher Education’s website.


April:20:2014 - 06:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Following the tiff that saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar, the GCC has found a way to bring the states back together. The exact steps to be taken are — annoyingly — unreported. But all is well, we’re told by Saudi Gazette.

Gulf states heal rift

RIYADH — Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council brokered a consensus Thursday after a rift that saw Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar. During a meeting in Riyadh, GCC foreign ministers conducted a “comprehensive review of measures relating to foreign and security policies,” according to a statement from the Gulf group. “[Participants] agreed to adopt measures that ensure working at a group level and that policies of any individual state should not affect the interests, security or stability of any other member state and without affecting the sovereignty of any of its states,” the statement said. Last month, in an unprecedented split between Gulf Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, saying Doha had not implemented a GCC deal reached in Riyadh in November to avoid interfering in each other’s affairs.

The three countries, led by Saudi Arabia, accused Doha of interfering in the internal affairs of countries in the Gulf region by backing Islamist movements in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere. Qatar denied it interferes anywhere but vowed to stick to its foreign policy.


April:19:2014 - 08:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

#SG reports that the Saudi government has made possession of a government ID a requirement for women to obtain passports. The purpose is to continue the effort to give women an independent identity, separate from that of their spouses or families.

The government is also going forward with its requirement for biometric identification for both sexes for obtaining a passport and other government services.

No passport for Saudi women without IDs

JEDDAH — Saudi women who do not have national identity cards will no longer issued with new passports, the Directorate General of Passports announced. It also said their passports will not be renewed. The directorate asked all Saudi men and women to register their fingerprints electronically with the Interior Ministry or they will not be allowed to use its services. Director General of Passports Maj. Gen. Solaiman Al-Yahya said starting May 1, no passports will be issued or renewed for Saudi men or women if they are not fingerprinted.


April:19:2014 - 08:12 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

The September 11, 2001 attacks on the US continue to be ground in the mills of the American courts. My local newspaper reports on a local suit to obtain information from the FBI concerning its investigation of a Saudi family that had been living in Sarasota, FL prior to the attacks. The article also notes ongoing suits in New York trying to find a lever to sue the Saudi government and some of the charities it established. Congress, meanwhile, is seeking the release of 28 pages that had been redacted from the official report on 9/11.

Judge waits for FBI’s Sarasota Saudi documents
Michael Pollick | Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Relatives of 9/11 victims are eagerly watching the legal struggle over information held by the FBI concerning a Saudi Arabian family in Sarasota with possible ties to terrorists, even as calls in Congress ramp up for more disclosure about how the attackers were funded.

On Friday, a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale was expected to receive FBI documents pertaining to the agency’s investigation of the Saudi family that abruptly left Sarasota just before the September 2001 attacks.

Late Thursday, the government asked for more time to submit the records, saying the materials that need to be searched comprise 23 boxes totaling 92,000 pages in the agency’s Tampa field office.

Government lawyers proposed a May 2 deadline.


April:18:2014 - 06:38 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

The Saudi public — and the World Health Organization — are taking note of a sudden increase in the number of cases of MERS-CoV being reported. A Malaysian Umrah pilgrim died following his return from Saudi Arabia and two Filipino health workers have been diagnosed with the disease in the Philippines.

There are still no specific cures or vaccines for the viral disease, but both monitoring and research continue. Because the most recent outbreaks have involved medical staff, the Saudi government is taking steps to reassure those workers that they will be taken care of.

Rising MERS raises alarm
JEDDAH: P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR

The rising number of fatalities from MERS infections in the Kingdom is causing alarm in the public.

The Health Ministry reported another fatality in Jeddah Wednesday, bringing the total number of MERS victims across the country to 71 from 205 infections. It said five more people were infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, including two medics, all in Jeddah. It identified the latest victim as a 52-year-old Saudi man.

The ministry said 35 percent of MERS patients in the Kingdom have died.

There were 37 confirmed cases in Jeddah in less than a month, including 21 medics.

Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah promised that he would press for special allowance for medics dealing with infectious diseases.

Saudi Gazette also reports on the new cases and deaths attributed to the disease:

MERS claims one more life in Jeddah; 5 new cases reported


April:17:2014 - 10:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

A new mayor and a new commissioner of police have led to changes in which the New York Police Department operates. The controversial “Demographics Unit”–or “Zone Assessment Unit” as it had been renamed–of the NYPD is being disbanded as an inefficient means of detecting terrorist activity, Associated Press reports in an article carried by Saudi Gazette. The move has been welcomed by American Muslim groups who believed they were being ethnically profiled purely on the basis of their religion. The program, set up in 2003 with assistance of the CIA, has been the subject of several suits, some still ongoing, that claim violation of constitutional rights to privacy, assembly, and freedom of speech and religion.

End of NYPD Muslim spying program welcomed

NEW YORK — Muslim groups and civil liberties advocates applauded the decision by New York Police Department officials to disband a controversial unit that tracked the daily lives of Muslims as part of efforts to detect terror threats, but said there were concerns about whether other problematic practices remained in place.

The Demographics Unit, conceived with the help of a CIA agent working with the NYPD, assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. Plainclothes officers infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and catalogued Muslims in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames. NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis confirmed Tuesday that detectives assigned to the unit had been transferred to other duties within the department’s Intelligence Division.

Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, said she was among a group of advocates at a private meeting last week with police at which the department’s new intelligence chief, John Miller, first indicated the unit — renamed the Zone Assessment Unit — wasn’t viable. She applauded the decision but said there’s still concern about the police use of informants to infiltrate mosques without specific evidence of crime.


April:17:2014 - 09:52 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

The problem of female orphans lacking mahrams, male guardians, as noted earlier this week, is being addressed, Saudi Gazette reports.

Female social workers could be used as guardians of the female students studying abroad, a spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs, says. It’s not made clear who would pay for this, but I assume it would come out of the budget for the scholarship program. Here again, costs are doubled because of Saudi distrust in women and a hyper cautious concern for their moral well being. Instead of the money being spent to educate female students, it’s being spent on preserving an outdated social ethic.

Women social workers can be mahrams for orphans
Saudi Gazette report

AL-KHOBAR — The assistant deputy minister of social affairs said women social workers at the protection home could act as a mahram (a man whom the woman cannot marry) for orphaned women if they are sent abroad on scholarships.

During the first symposium of women university students at protection homes, Lateefah Abunyan said the Ministry of Social Affairs treats orphans as families in society and whatever applies to families also applies to orphans.

This comes as many orphaned women complained that they are deprived of the opportunity to be sent on scholarships abroad because they do not have mahrams to accompany them.

Abunyan added this condition is according to regulations that aim to protect women and there are many orphaned women who have traveled abroad with their families or husbands.


April:17:2014 - 09:32 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the US and head of the Kingdom’s intelligence agency has stepped down from his office. The reasons most cited in analytical pieces is that he’s retiring for health reasons. Some, however, see it as possibly signaling some change in Saudi policies on Iran and/or Syria. I think the health reasons more plausible.

Prince Bandar steps down from intelligence chief post
Replaced by his deputy, Lt. Gen. Yousif Bin Ali Al-Idrissi

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The chief of Saudi Arabia’s national intelligence agency, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, was relieved of his post “at his own request” on Tuesday, according to a royal decree published by the Saudi Press Agency.

The royal decree by King Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz appointed Prince Bandar’s deputy, Lt. Gen. Yousif Bin Ali Al-Idrissi, as the new head of intelligence on an interim basis.

Prince Bandar took over as chief of the Kingdom’s intelligence service in July 2012, after serving for several years as head of the Saudi National Security Council. The decree did not specify if he would continue in this role.

Prior to 2005, he spent more than two decades as ambassador to the US.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Relieved As Intelligence Chief

Bandar Resigns as Head of Saudi Intelligence


April:16:2014 - 08:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

And interesting article in the English-language Saudi Gazette and its Arabic sister paper Okaz.

Islam is noted as a religion in which the ‘church’ and the state are commingled. In Saudi Arabia, which takes the Quran as its constitution, religious precepts are taken as being not only the basis of law, but as comprising the law.

The Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, however, has just alerted imams that if their sermons venture into the realm of politics, they face being fired. Intentionally or not, this is a wedge being inserted between the pulpit and politics. Individual preachers are not authorized to enter areas reserved for the religious leadership authorities.

The intent is to prevent or limit the over-zealous and extremist preachers, similar to the way they were stripped of their authority to issue fatwas in 2010.

Imams talking politics to be fired
Abdulrahman Al-Shamrani
Okaz/Saudi Gazette

RIYADH – The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance has warned imams that they may lose their jobs if they talk about politics in their Friday sermons.

“The imams who talk about politics in their sermons will not only be sacked from their posts but will be prevented from taking another position in any mosque,” an assistant undersecretary of the ministry said.

Abdulmohsen Bin Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh said if the ministry finds out that an imam has used the sermons to discuss politics, it would summon him to stand before a number of scholars from one of the advisory committees the ministry has established in various regions.

“If the imam repents and makes a solemn pledge not to do this again he will be pardoned and kept in his position, otherwise he will be dismissed,” he said.


April:15:2014 - 09:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Being an orphan in Saudi Arabia isn’t a fun thing. Strict interpretation of the Quran leads Saudis (and other Muslims) to have very restricted views of adoption — though fostering is acceptable. Saudis also have a view that women must be accompanied by male protectors or guardians to ensure their moral and physical safety.

The two precepts clash when it comes to female orphans who would like to take part in Saudi Arabia’s foreign scholarship program. The program, you see, requires female students to be accompanied by brothers, husbands, or some other responsible male. Single, female orphans are unable to meet the requirement.

As a result, Saudi Gazette reports, these women are being forced to find someone to marry in order to carry out their studies. The Kingdom may be paying tuition, but this is a pretty high price to demand from the student. And never mind that orphans are considered poor marriage material!

Mahram rule shatters dreams of orphan girls
Saudi Gazette report

MAKKAH — Many Saudi orphan girls see no way to continue their higher studies by taking advantage of the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program due to their inability to meet the condition of mahram (male guardian). Some of them resort to marriage as the only way in front of them to overcome this hurdle.

Reacting to this issue, a senior woman official in the Ministry of Social Affairs said the ministry was exploring the prospect of allowing orphan girls to benefit from the scholarship program without a mahram, Makkah daily reported.

Muna Abdul Qader, an orphan girl, said the condition that a woman can travel only in the company of a mahram has forced several girls to get married to take advantage of the foreign scholarship program.


April:14:2014 - 10:42 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Khaled Al-Maeena, now Editor-at-Large at Saudi Gazette, writes about the abysmal state of English-language teaching in Saudi Arabia. He finds it ‘rudimentary’ at best. He’s right, of course.

Most Saudi students, even those who have completed the full curriculum of English at Saudi schools, find it impossible to jump into coursework at universities where English is the medium of instruction. Those attending universities in the US find that rather than four years — the normal duration of undergraduate work — they need five, with the first year consisting of nothing much beyond remedial English language instruction. Graduate students face a harder task as they’re cut very little slack in coursework due to language limitations and the fact that graduate schools do not generally offer English language courses.

Al-Maeena notes the lack of training as well as ability in those assigned to teach English in Saudi schools. With poor instruction, students cannot magically acquire language skills.

Why isn’t English taught properly in our schools?
Khaled Al-Maeena

The Education Department in the Riyadh region has pointed out several deficiencies in the teaching of English language in the nation’s schools.

To me this is a good sign. To admit that there is a problem is a sign that solutions are possible, if there is a will to find and implement these solutions.

Among the negative aspects in the teaching of English outlined by the Education Department were poor and incorrect pronunciation, the use of Arabic in teaching English, no homework, carelessness in writing and no practical use of English writing skills.

There was also little or no utilization of books that assist in teaching the English language to those whose mother tongue is not English and no stress on elocution, dialogue or conversation.

In fact the teaching of English in our schools is done in a basic and rudimentary manner. Added to that is the weakness and the inability of Saudi English language teachers to improvise.


April:13:2014 - 09:36 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink
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