Women Made to Sit With Water Tanker Drivers
Somayya Jabarti, Arab News

JEDDAH, 1 October 2006 — In their efforts to end the water crisis, authorities at the Aziziya Water Distribution Center yesterday triggered another problem.

Women — young and old, shrouded in black, most with their faces totally covered — climbed up to seat themselves into the cabs of water tanker trucks alongside the drivers.

“It is either that or the driver will run off with your water,” said a security officer to a twenty-something Saudi woman, who called herself Muna, when she drew back from joining a water tanker driver in the passenger seat. She said her brothers were angry enough because they had already bent the rules in allowing her to come to the Water Distribution Center in a taxicab. With her father dead, Muna’s brothers, some studying and others employed, had full legal guardianship over her, but none had the time to either fetch water or even give her a ride to Aziziya.

The water shortage in Jeddah could not have come at a worse time: right during Ramadan, when people can’t drink during the day and rely most on their home supplies from sunset to sunrise.

The process for getting water tanker trucks to deliver water to homes is an awkward one, subject to abuse (as this article notes), but is also causing a certain amount of chaos in Saudi society as women take on more responsibilities. In doing so, however, they are forced into culturally (or religiously, if that’s how you interpret it) difficult situations in which they must be alone with unrelated men. If nothing else, this ought to get the religious authorities putting pressure on the government to solve the problem.


September:30:2006 - 20:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The Saudi Gazette runs an article that talks about both Saudi business visits to the US and Saudi students in the US.

Interviewing a Saudi Embassy official in Washington, the reporter learns that the number of Saudi businessmen and women traveling to the US has actually increased over the past year.

For students, the scholarship program being offered by the Saudi government is certainly being taken up. The numbers don’t quite add up, but according to “Nayel Al-Jebairan” [sic: he means Nail Al-Jubair], there are 4,000 undergraduates, 1,500 are in Masters programs, 450 earning Doctorates as well 200 in medical schools. There are 1,500 women on scholarships and they outnumber the men in the Masters programs.

The article notes that because women must travel with mehrams (i.e. approved male chaperones) the women tend to be married. I don’t know if the mahram is a requirement of the government scholarship program; other Saudi women travel and study without chaperones, but with permission to do so from their fathers, uncles, or brothers.


September:30:2006 - 20:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi airline privatisation gets off the ground

The long-anticipated privatisation process of Saudi Arabian Airlines has finally taken off, and local entrepreneurs are eager to become involved in the company’s activities.

Last week, Khalid Al Molhem, the director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines, told a group of businessmen at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce that the process was initiated with the consolidation of ancillary business centres into separate entities.

These would then fall under an umbrella holding company, he said. The business centres include catering, ground handling, maintenance and the Prince Sultan Flight Academy in Jeddah.

It is in these areas that he feels the private sector has the potential to make the most of the opportunities presented by the privatisation.

Privatisation of certain state-owned institutions is seen as key to the development of the Saudi economy, and one of the linchpins of King Abdullah’s economic reform programme.

This article, from the UAE’s Gulf News, notes that Saudi efforts to privatize nationalized companies is proceeding, with Saudi Arabian Airlines (formerly Saudia) now being reorganized to make it more saleable.


September:30:2006 - 09:25 | Comments Off | Permalink

Terrorism: A Product of the Iraq War?
Mshari Al-Zaydi

What caught my attention recently was the leaked National Intelligence Estimate attributed to American Intelligence. In a nutshell, it said that American intervention in Iraq has caused fundamentalist terrorism to double and has not curtailed this phenomenon. It stated that there is a ‘cancerous spread’ of radical terrorist thought, which surpasses what is managed by Bin Laden himself.

This report, published by The New York Times last Saturday, stated that some of the estimated results confirm the outcome that had been predicated by the National Intelligence Council last January, 2003, which is: any war in Iraq will increase and strengthen political Islam worldwide.

Clearly, this report focuses on only one dimension of the war in Iraq, namely, fighting terrorism, but as we have been informed by the news, there are numerous other compelling dimensions, such as: the new Middle East, the roadmap for peace, and obliterating of the ‘apostate’ groups – according to American terminology. Regardless, the intention is not to come up with a comprehensive evaluation of American interference in Iraq, both internally and externally, rather the emphasis lies on the relationship between the strengths and weaknesses of radical terrorism, and the extent of it, in light of the Iraq War.

Mshari Al-Zaydi, who covers fundamentalism and Islamist movements for Asharq Alawsat, offers up this op-ed. The writing is rather complicated, very much following Arabic language structures, but it’s worth the effort to read.

Al-Zaydi writes that while the American presence in Iraq has certainly added to the problem of jihadist terror, it is a vast oversimplification to claim that presence is “the cause”. Instead, it has provided a new ground where old arguments within Islam are being fought out. He notes that there has been great tension within the fundamentalist movements about what is the greater purpose of Islam: spreading the message of Islam or fighting over the territory in which Islam hold reign. It pits the students of Saudi theologian Safar al Hawali, who advocate missionary work, purification of Islam, and the development of the next generation of Muslims against the Al-Qaeda theorist Abdullah Azzam and Egyptian fundamentalist Sayyed Imam Abdul Aziz, who sought to regain the glories of a lost past through fighting over the geography.

This conflict, Al-Zaydi tells us, has been growing since the 1980s, with the latter forces denying that nationalism has any role within Islam and is, in fact, a contradiction.

Al-Zaydi concludes with a warning against seeking simplistic explanations of the world:

The general idea therefore is that the American intelligence report is correct in saying that the Iraqi war has increased terrorism and helped it to gain momentum, however readers should not be quick to say, ‘I told you so’ and that terrorism is a reaction and nothing more to this American occupation.

Beware because this is not reality, and although that might superficially be the case; the true disease is what lies in the depths and not what scratches the surface. Can we start to look a little deeper?


September:30:2006 - 09:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

Something to Chew Over
Tariq A. Al-Maeena, close_encounters@gawab.com

Thursday morning I had barely dug into the newspaper and the lead story on the current water crisis in Jeddah when my driver buzzed me with the foreboding news that we were low on water ourselves. The water tank was kissing empty. With the weekend starting and my daughter flying in from Dubai that evening and with news of the water shortage throughout the city in the back of my mind, I decided to take matters upon myself and drive down with my driver to the water distribution depot in hopes of securing a water tanker before long.

Wishful thinking! If any of you readers has not experienced some time at this bureaucratic zoo, I suggest a visit. It is worth the experience of a lifetime, and mind you, I did not state it would be a pleasant one.

Sure, water is scarce in deserts. It’s not supposed to be that way in Jeddah, the second largest city in Saudi Arabia and home to tens of millions.

This op-ed by Tariq Al-Maeena describes the process by which residents arrange to have the water tanks at their homes filled by water tanker truks. Yes, that means that the homes don’t have piped water.

Article like this, voicing popular displeasure with government performance, may be part of the reason behind things like this:

King Approves New Water Company
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH, 30 September 2006 — Saudi Arabia yesterday announced plans to establish a national water company to carry out water and sewage projects. The state-owned company will take over the groundwater sector, the distribution of drinking water and the collection and treatment of sewage water.

The decision to restructure the ground and sewage water sector was taken by the Supreme Economic Council, chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.

The formation of the new company, which will carry out its operations on a commercial basis, is expected to boost the sector’s overall performance.

I’m not sure, though, that groundwater management will solve the problem. Most of Jeddah’s drinking water comes from desalination plants.


September:29:2006 - 20:50 | Comments Off | Permalink

Jamrat Bridge to Be Ready Before Forthcoming Haj
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH, 30 September 2006 — The first phase of the new Jamrat expansion project in Mina will be completed by the beginning of December ahead of the next Haj season, according to Habeeb Zainul Abideen, deputy minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs.

“We have already completed 70 percent of the first phase. God willing, the remaining part will be ready within the next 65 days,” the minister said, adding that about 10,000 people have been working round the clock to finish the project on time.

The SR4.2-billion ($1.12-billion) project was designed by the government as part of its efforts to avoid stampedes and crowding in the Jamrat area. In the past, hundreds of pilgrims have died performing the stoning ritual with 360 pilgrims losing their lives as a result of a massive stampede on the last day of the Haj last year.

Administering the Haj is an incredible undertaking. It requires not only providing food and housing for about two million people, who descend on a site for a 10-day period, but to manage their safety as they go through a series of ritual movements simultaneously throughout a several square mile area. Nothing in Western culture compares: it’s the equivalent of holding 10 Super Bowls simultaneously with 10 national political conventions, with a marathon thrown in.

As a consequence of the enormous demands pilgrims put on the areas involved and the support systems, they have been accidents in the past that have claimed hundreds of lives. The Saudi government has constantly been seeking ways to better the traffic flow, up to and including stressing particular hadith that reduce the need for all pilgrims to be in one place at one time. But accidents still happen.

The effort here is directed at one particular area of the pilgrimage ritual, Mina. Pilgrims travel to Mina twice: early in the pilgrimage, then again toward the end, where they stone the pillars of Jamrat. (See this useful map from Christian Science Monitor.) Last year, hundreds were killed in a stampede. The scale of the budget for this improvement should give some idea of how seriously the Saudi government takes its responsibilities as host of the Haj and guardian of the two holy places.


September:29:2006 - 20:39 | Comments Off | Permalink

‘Tash’ Takes Saudi Satire to New Levels
Samir Al-Saadi, Arab News

JEDDAH, 30 September 2006 — For years comedy has been used to satirize the state or society in the Arab world. It is said to be the only way to criticize the systems in the region without having to spend a night or two in lockups.

More than two decades have passed since Syrian icon Dareed Laham starred in his hit motion picture “The Border”. In the film, Laham criticized Arab-style bureaucracy in a production that has become a landmark for the modern history of political satire in the Middle East. Today, Arabs can get a little relief from the sometimes-frustrating realities of politics and society by watching “Tash Ma Tash,” which first appeared on Saudi TV during Ramadan 14 years ago.

“Tash Ma Tash” is somewhat of a phenomenon in the Middle East. It’s one of the most widely viewed TV programs during the month of Ramadan, popular for its ascerbic attacks on the status quo. What’s somewhat surprising (at least to those who have little knowledge of Saudi Arabs) is that it is a Saudi production, in Arabic, so clearly for domestic consumption.

One episode this year satirized the recruitment of terrorists, having the would-be terrorists compete in an “American Idol” type show. You can imagine how well that went down in some quarters.

This Arab News article talks about some other episodes as well as about audience reaction. It’s pretty hotly debated.

Do read the whole piece, particularly if you think of Saudi Arabia as monolithic in its beliefs.

You might also be interested in how “Tash Ma Tash” has been busy tweaking noses over the past couple of years (since I started this blog):

2005

2004


September:29:2006 - 19:57 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Editorial: Rice’s Delayed Visit

CONDOLEEZZA Rice’s delayed Middle East visit starts tomorrow when she arrives in Israel before visiting the occupied Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It must be hoped that the US secretary of state brings with her a sensible reappreciation of the follies of the Bush White House’s Middle East policies and that she is coming to listen and, where appropriate, to facilitate, not to dictate.

US influence in the region, as post-Eisenhower presidents have viewed it, stems from its relations with Israel. The Iraq debacle, the growing setback in Afghanistan and the belligerent confrontation with Iran have all been influenced by Washington’s slavish support for the Israeli state and its aggressive, expansionist Zionist policies. The key to a Palestinian settlement is supposed to rest in America’s leverage with the Israeli government. However, the consistent failure to use that lever in this cause, together with the no less serious refusal to deploy it in a timely manner over Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon, must give rise to the thought that a lever for so long un-applied amounts to no lever at all.

There are signs of fresh developments that Rice could facilitate…

Arab News offers up this view of what SecState Rice’s trip may bring about.


September:29:2006 - 19:46 | Comments Off | Permalink

Man forced off plane by fellow passengers
JESSICA BERNSTEIN-WAX

MADRID, Spain (AP) — A Spanish university professor with a long beard and dark complexion said Thursday he was briefly forced off an airliner during a layover on the Spanish island of Mallorca by passengers who feared he was an Islamic terrorist.

Pablo Gutierrez Vega said he was humiliated when three German passengers on an Air Berlin flight approached him during a layover in Palma de Mallorca on Aug. 30 en route from Seville, Spain, to Dortmund, Germany, and asked to search his carry-on luggage.

The men told him that other passengers were frightened by his appearance, said Gutierrez Vega, 35, a law professor at the University of Seville.

“They treated me like an Islamic terrorist because of my appearance,” Gutierrez Vega said, according to an account posted Thursday on the Web site of the newspaper El Pais.

Happily, this story concerns neither the US nor Saudi Arabia. But it is indicative of the fact that people are overreacting to their fears. I’m not sure what it will take to get this sort of behavior changed. Lawsuits, I guess, though I’m loath to promote those. This nonsense, though, has to stop.


September:29:2006 - 15:29 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

RICE TO VISIT REGION NEXT WEEK

Washington, 29 Sept. (AKI) – United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will on Sunday head to the Middle East where she will visit Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Egpt and Saudi Arabia, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack announced. During the visit, Rice will “consult with those leaders who have a vision for a more moderate, peaceful, democratic, stable, and prosperous Middle East,” McCormack said.

“The situation in the Middle East, moving forward the democracy agenda in the Middle East, as well as threats to that peace and stability and moderation in the Middle East, for example, from Iran and from terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah,” will be on her agenda, McCormack said on Thursday.

Rice is expected to try and jump-start the stalled Middle East peace process during her trip. The United States has voiced support for the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to form a national unity government, and during her tour, Rice will stop for a 24-hour visit in Israel and the Palestinian Authority and will meet with Israeli premier Ehud Olmert and Abbas.

The Arab states of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are viewed by the administration as key players in any future peace process and in dealing with the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb. The US government senses a new approach coming from the moderate Arab countries and would like to harness this to advance the peace process and block Iran’s nuclear aspirations, according to diplomatic sources quoted by Israel’s Jerusalem Post newspaper on Friday.

The sources said also that ever since the war in Lebanon this summer, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have positioned themselves closer to the American view of the Middle East and are now looking for ways to act to curb Iran’s influence in the region. The post-war situation in Lebanon will also be on the agenda during Rice’s visit.

Rice’s last visit to the region took place in July during Israeli war in Lebanon, when she focused on working towards a cease-fire between the sides.

The Italian news agency AKI carries this story. There’s definitely a new surge of activity in the region, brought about by the recent Israel/Hezbollah/Lebanon clash. It’s right that the Secretary of State is going to the region. There are opportunities that need to be explored and exploited now.

[UPDATE: The US State Department announced her travel during this press briefing. Scroll down to the second paragraph.]


September:29:2006 - 09:38 | Comments Off | Permalink

Who Lies to Whom in Democratic and Despotic Societies?
Amir Taheri

Should politicians who lie be hounded out of office? Wherever debate is possible, that is to say in societies where the people have a say in who rules over them, the question has been debated since the dawn of history.

Aristotle, who was the first to offer an organized study of politics, did not pay much attention to the issue of trust, presumably because he took it for granted. Over 15 centuries later, Machiavelli not only discovered the role of lies in politics, but also tried to codify, if not justify, them in the service of a higher cause: that is to say public order.

But what does one mean by lying? Despotic societies are structured on a hierarchy of lies with the lower echelons lying to the higher ones. The slave never told the master the truth, at least not all of it and all the time. The chief victim in a despotic regime, however, was the despot himself if only because everyone, including his favorite consort, lied to him.

This interesting rumination by Amir Taheri appears in Asharq Alawsat. He takes a look at something that’s rarely covered in any media: how different political systems reward or punish liars and the consequences of that. Definitely worth reading.


September:29:2006 - 09:33 | Comments Off | Permalink

You are Being Monitored

JEDDAH: BEFORE the Saudi Government imposed strict regulations on charity organizations, there were about 300 non-governmental charities in the Kingdom. Their annual collection from contributions totaled about $3 billion to $4 billion. Yet only $300 million got outside the Kingdom. The problem arises when the money-flow goes untracked and unaccounted for. Yet the Kingdom’s laws are much more stringent than even the EU anti-money laundering regulations of 1993. Under the Saudi regulations, the money transaction records are kept for 10 years whereas the EU regulations ask banks to keep the records for only five years.
However, keeping track of hundreds of charities raising billions of dollars in cash was a daunting task. To tackle this problem, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) asked each charity organization to consolidate its funds in a single bank account licensed by the government, and from which cash withdrawals were banned.

Non-resident individuals or corporates cannot open bank accounts without SAMA approval. SAMA has collected information on money laundering cases for over a decade and created a useful database.

Saudi Gazette runs this article that summarizes the Saudi government’s efforts to control charitable contributions. There’s nothing really new here; the article seems to be directed to Saudis and expats within the Kingdom to tell them what’s going on. I’m not sure why the paper chose such a creepy headline.


September:28:2006 - 23:50 | Comments Off | Permalink
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