Saudis Reject Fish Market Jobs
T. Cordeiro, Arab News

JEDDAH, 15 December 2004 — In its attempts to provide jobs for its citizens, the Kingdom has been aggressively encouraging its businesses to provide, and even create, jobs for Saudis. Although most companies are looking for Saudis, the Saudis seem to be hiding. To a large extent, the men in this country are choosy and finicky. They have many opportunities open to them yet they appear to be dissatisfied with their options.

This article shows where Saudi men draw the line on “acceptable” work. Being a fisherman is okay; selling fish in a market isn’t. It makes me wonder, though. Before the exploitation of oil, there were Saudi fishermen on both coasts. In the Eastern Province, on the Arabian/Persian Gulf, most were Shi’i. They have an entirely different work ethic than the majority Sunni. But the Red Sea has been fished for millenia, too, and those fishermen sold their catch. What’s the problem now?

It shouldn’t be a matter of “honorable” work, as there’s a long history of Saudi Arabs doing it. It’s certainly not the most congenial of jobs: early hours, hard work; it gets pretty smelly by mid-day in the heat. I suspect the problem is a combination of increased expectations–due to the magical period of oil wealth–and an imported (from the Nejd) distain for physical labor. It’s far easier to sling an invoice than to scale a fish.

December:15:2004 - 00:18 | Comments Off | Permalink

Who Needs These Ph.D. Holders?
Muhammad Al-Badri • Al-Madinah

It is said that Saudi Arabia has one of the largest number of Ph.D. holders per capita in the world. It is also said that one Saudi university holds the top rank among the world’s higher educational institutions for awarding doctoral degrees to its students. An old man once wondered what benefit has been gained from “all those doctors on whom we spent millions educating and preparing for practical life.” He felt that most of them spend their time in cafes, sipping tea or coffee and smoking shisha.

This article, from the Arabic daily Al-Madina points out a problem endemic in many developing countries: a glut of useless PhD-holders. There has traditionally been great respect paid to scholars in the Arab world. The years they spent in learning was appreciated as a personal sacrifice for the greater good. But it also slipped into a matter of “degrees for degrees’ sake” mentality. Not only is this missing the point, but it’s also turning out superfluous degree holders.

When I was in Syria, I was struck by the number of Syrians receiving Doctorates in Refrigeration Engineering. Annually, Syria was producing more doctors in the field than existed professors in the field. And a doctorate in Engineering isn’t a working degree; it’s an academic degree.

When I was at university at Georgetown, the school shut down its Astronomy program. It was one of the oldest such programs in the country, but it, too, was graduating more doctors than there were jobs in the field. That, I think, was the right decision to make, though it was clearly tough on would-be astronomers. Fields of academic endeavor change. Georgetown’s program was mostly optical astronomy and other forms–radio, X-ray, etc.–were taking over.

But developing countries have shifting needs, too. In the early stages, those who can provide the specialized skills like engineering are very important. (Traditionally, engineers even had their own honorific, mohendis, to set them apart from other scholars.) Now, though, while infrastructure is still important, there is probably a glut of architects, civil engineers, and electrical engineers. What’s needed are more Saudis doing the actual implementation of the plans those engineers devise.

December:15:2004 - 00:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

Voter Apathy at Start of Stage II
By Shahid Ali Khan

WITH only nine days to go before voter registration ends in the Riyadh region for Saudi Arabia s historic municipal elections, turnout is low.

Only 78,300 out of an estimated 400,000 potential voters in the Riyadh region have registered for Stage 1 of the poll process that opened November 23 and ends December 22.

This Saudi Gazette article says that there’s something going wrong with the elections: people simply aren’t registering to vote. While part of the problem is surely the fact that elections are a new–and therefore unknown–thing, I’m not sure that that’s all. Could there be a sense that they’re “just for pretend?” Or perhaps, because women aren’t taking part, they’re not comprehensive enough? Do people not want the responsibility of representative government? Is there deep religious suspicion of representative government? I really can’t figure out why people are staying away.

December:13:2004 - 22:31 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James C. Oberwetter and Consul General Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley on the Attack on the Consulate General of the United States in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Ambassador Oberwetter: First let me express our condolences to the families of the five locally employed staff of the Consulate and one local guard employed by the United States, who all died in the line of duty. Our deepest sympathies to their families and to the ten injured locally employed staff. To the Saudis who also experienced injuries during the firefight at the gate and on the premises, our best wishes of full and speedy recovery. To the Saudi security forces who freed the compound from the five terrorists — three of them were killed, two wounded — our special thanks. I also thank our diplomatic security team and our regional security team at the Consulate who should receive great credit for saving many lives.

Unless startlingly new information becomes available, this will probably be the last entry on the attack on the US Consulate in Jeddah. The linked piece is a transcript of a press conference conducted by the US Ambassador and Consul General. It’s good, but I could have wished a bit more about the FSNs who gave their lives.

December:13:2004 - 22:24 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Democracy: Is It a Time for Celebration, Then?
Dr. Khaled Batarfi,

Election time in Saudi Arabia! While voters registered for the first municipal elections in half a century, scores of young men and women were discussing their concerns, hopes and demands in the National Dialogue Forum last week. They were allowed to question taboos, and demand power sharing, better education, women’s rights, and more. The media is reporting, analyzing and debating these issues in increasingly free-speech mode, and a more tolerant society is opening up to different and differing ideas.

Batarfi, Editor-in-Chief of the Arabic daily Al-Madina makes some good points in this op-ed. He notes the considerable progress toward reform that has been happening, both with the Saudi government and within Saudi society. While happy with the successes, he notes that there’s still a lot to be done. And success is not guaranteed.

December:12:2004 - 21:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

Abusive Employers Barred From Recruiting Maids
Somayya Jabarti, Arab News

JEDDAH, 12 December 2004 — Thirteen Saudis have been banned from recruiting any foreign maids as a punishment for mistreating them. On behalf of the Ministry of Labor, Deputy Minister Ahmed Al-Zamil said that the unidentified men failed to pay the maids or to repatriate them.

Saudi Arabia has a problem with the treatment of expatriate female labor. Most of the women coming to the country are seeking jobs as domestics and nannies (there is an entirely different group comprised of professional women in areas such as nursing and teaching). But some Saudis–as is the case in almost every other country–don’t realize that they have responsibilities toward those women as employers; certainly, there are some true horror stories that come out of Saudi Arabia about the mistreatment of domestic servants. As this article notes, however, government authorities are starting to crack down on abuse. They have made attempts at regulating recruitment agencies in the past, but this step goes after the employer himself, banning the future hiring of domestic servants.

December:12:2004 - 21:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

Editorial: National Dialogue

The youth of the Kingdom are due to inherit a society that is moving from the extraordinary transformation of the last 30 years to new, but perhaps no less radical, challenges. Crown Prince Abdullah was, therefore, quite right when he told his young audience after the National Dialogue Forum in the Eastern Province that they, representing as they did the future of the nation, were the most important of all its concerns.

This unsigned Arab News editorial is a good one. It notes that progress is being made toward reform, but that the steps are slow and small–intentionally. In their first attempts at representative government, both Kuwait and Bahrain had unpleasant experiences. There were elections, but those elected did not bring to the job any skills as representatives of any but their own interests. By going slowly, the Saudi government is not seeking to thwart reform, but to moderate its pace. With so many aspects of Saudi life now being questioned by Saudis–and many outsiders–I do think it wise that they try to develop new ways of thinking about power and power-sharing before implementing major reforms.

December:12:2004 - 21:25 | Comments Off | Permalink

Heroes of the Future
Suraya Al-Shehry

“Scientific thinking” is present in a society if the society understands and believes in a scientific approach. In order to benefit from this approach, our government and our private sector should actively encourage science and technology. The benefits of a scientific approach become very clear when a comparison is made between the achievements of Israel and those of its Arab neighbors. Both Israel and the Arab world share many of the same geographical features and natural potential so it cannot be argued that these two factors make all the difference. On the contrary, meticulous planning and bold decisions — with the objective of moving forward through science and technology — make Israel different. We Arabs are used to looking at the Jewish state as a military force propped up by the West, especially the US. There is truth in that view but it is far from the total picture. According to recent statistics, Israel published 216,000 research articles in 1995. For the same year, the total for the entire Arab world was 6,625. In 1997, some 12 million books were sold in Israel, which works out to an average of three books per person. The country’s export of electronic goods grew from $1 billion in 1986 to more than $6 billion in 1999. Its export of diamonds, which account for 80 percent of world production, was worth more than $4 billion in 1995. Decision making in manufacturing and economic matters is invariably determined by the findings of research centers.

This Arab News op-ed is designed to both inform and to shame. By choosing Israeli accomplishments in being part of the modern world and contrasting them to their equivalent failures in the Arab world, Ms Al-Shehry does an excellent job. She points out the deficiencies in the comparison and suggest ways to change them. Her use of Israel will be galling to those who cannot get a clear picture of the country in their minds, seeing instead only unmitigated evil. The entire article is worth reading.

December:12:2004 - 21:22 | Comments Off | Permalink

The “Forum for the Future”, held in Rabat on Dec. 11, was designed to discuss political and economic reform in the Middle East. The US State Department issued a fact sheet on the accomplishments of the forum. Below is the text of a speech given by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal:

At the outset let me state firmly that I believe there can never be a clash of civilizations between us. It is a contradiction in terms. Civilizations are not competing products in the marketplace but rather the collective effort of human genius built on cumulative contributions from many cultures. We are all indebted to the ingenuity of great men like Bacon, Locke, Rousseau and Goethe. Who can deny the effects of the great Greek philosophers on our civilization, or the role of such Islamic thinkers as Avicenna, AlRazi, Ibn Al-Haytham and Ibn Rushd in keeping the flames of human knowledge during the darkest ages, let alone the shining beacons of knowledge, from India and China. So civilization can not be monopolized by any single nation or group.

There is no argument between us either regarding the universality of the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity, or the Jeffersonian democratic ideals, of Wilsonian principle of self determination. Our own Arab and Islamic heritage incorporates most of these values. And, considering our myriad differences, this unity of vision is quite extraordinary.
» Continue Reading

December:12:2004 - 20:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Suspected Terrorist Captured in Madina

SECURITY authorities arrested a suspected terrorist after raiding a farm in Madina he used as a hideout, reported Al-Madina, the Arabic language daily newspaper…

…In another development, Okaz reported that security authorities in Madina are currently carrying out precautionary measures at the entry and exit points and roads after discovering that most of the terrorist elements that carried out the attack against the US Consulate in Jeddah were from Madina.

At the same time, the citizens in Madina denounced the acts of the deviant group. They pointed out that these elements do not represent the true image of the sons of Madina. They said that these persons were misled.

It is noteworthy that the security authorities carried out numerous raids at some locations in the Western Harra due to suspicions on the existence of wanted elements there.

In the wake of the attack on the US Consulate in Jeddah, the Saudi authorities have enhanced their efforts to track down terrorists. This article from The Saudi Gazette notes an arrest, as well as a security cordon around the city of Medina.–where most of the attackers came from–as well as in the Western Harra, a desolate region between Medina and the Jordanian border.

December:10:2004 - 22:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Arab News continues to run stories about the attack. Noteworthy is this appreciation, Stolen Lives, Forgotten Tributes of Ali Yuslem, a Yemeni, who first came to Saudi Arabia when he was ten. He worked at the Consulate for the past 25 years as a driver. I met him first back in 1981, when we were both new to the business. He rose to become the Consul General’s driver. The writer of the piece, Mody Al-Khalaf, does an excellent job of reminding us that we are all diminished by the loss of people like Ali.

An article notes somberly that Fakhrudeen Mohamed Jaufer Sadiq, was the Lankan Who Died in Jeddah Attack Buried in Makkah. The American Consul General, Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, as a non-Muslim, could not attend the funeral.

Another article, Special Marines Arrive to Beef Up Security at US Consulate, notes the arrival of the US Marine Corps “Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team” (FAST) was in place to provide enhanced security while damage to the compound was being repaired and general security enhancements were repaired and replaced.

This article also notes that life in Jeddah is beginning to return to normal. People–especially those who live and work near the Consulate–are still skittish, naturally, but roads are being reopened, the hospital across the street is fully open for business.

Rasheed Abou-Alsamh has a good article that recounts his experience, from a distance, but usefully puts to rest several rumors that were circulating during and immediately after the attack. One claimed that the Consulate’s exterior wall had been breached by the attackers. That wasn’t the case. Also untrue was a rumor that American staff were in secure safe-havens while local FSN staff were left to their own devices. The Consulate–like all consulates and embassies–has safe-havens for all staff, equally. There may be several of them in large or spread-out facilities, but people use the one that’s nearest to them. You have no way of knowing where you’re going to be when something happens, and you’re certainly not going to go running around trying to find an assigned space. State Dept. is actually very good about running drills for various sorts of contingencies–fire, attack, bombs, etc.–each with its own proper response. Part of those drills is knowing where the safe-havens are and how to get to them as quickly as possible.

This article notes, too, that Monica Lemieux was, in fact, shot during the initial attack. Her departure yesterday may well have been for medical treatment, though I can’t verify that at present.

UPDATE: I’m informed by Consulate sources that Monica was not, in fact, injured. It is coincidental that her last day in her assignment was the day of the attack. I’m sure she’s shaken, but I’m glad she’s not injured.

December:10:2004 - 01:24 | Comments Off | Permalink

Top Saudi cleric condemns U.S. Consulate attack as sinful

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority on Wednesday condemned as a sin the deadly shooting rampage at a U.S. consulate, and local newspapers reported one of the slain assailants was a former employee of the nation’s religious police…

Grand Mufti Abdul-Aziz al-Sheik said in a statement that anyone who enters the kingdom with the permission of its leaders has a promise of security and should not be attacked.

“What happened on Monday regarding the storming of the U.S. consulate in Jiddah, using weapons and explosives, killing innocent souls, petrifying secure ones, and undermining security in the kingdom are all forbidden acts and grand sins,” al-Sheik said….

Some bloggers don’t find this denuciation convincing. But then, some don’t want to see anything positive coming out of the Arab or Muslim world. Rather, I think this statement by The Grand Mufti should be seen as what it is: a total condemnation of the attack on moral grounds. It is significant when the Grand Mufti speaks and millions around the world listen to him.

Saudis are truly conflicted by what is happening these days. Most Saudis are, in fact, religious quietists. They want to practice their religions as they see fit, without interfering in or being interfered by the outside world. That is a luxury that cannot be obtain any longer though. The world is growing smaller daily. What happens in one country more than ever affects other countries.

The majority of Saudis do have a fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. Many aspects of that interpretation are rejected by more modern interpretations, but most of it is perfectly acceptable. Salafism is, in itself, a reformist movement, attempting to remove latter-day accretions and influences from the original religion. That puts it at odds with many groups, Islamic and otherwise.

By itself, that is not a critical issue, though matters like the rights of women and freedom of religion are certainly
worth of international comment and criticism.

It is the melding of that fundamentalist interpretation with a too narrow view of the world that creates the real problems. Saudis are ignorant–in the sense of never having learned–of the outside world. Education does not prepare Saudi students either for jobs or for being citizens of the world. It is a struggle even to maintain foreign language classes in the country; there are no programs for American studies, UK studies, Asian studies. Saudis grow up not knowing what values other cultures have, nor the strength with which the citizens of those countries hold those values. Everything is distorted through a prism of religiosity.

As a newer reform movement moves through Saudi society, Saudis are going to be conflicted. They can recognize that they share many western values, but fear that accepting all of them will require them to give up their Islamic values. That sort of challenge, on the personal level as well as on the societal level, is not an easy one to endure. But it is one that must be met if Saudi Arabia is to play as important a role in the 21st C. as it did in the latter half of the 20th C.

December:10:2004 - 01:00 | Comments Off | Permalink
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