Arab News has a couple of pieces concerning the religious police today. The first notes that the family of a man who died of a heart attack while in religious police custody is demanding the death penalty for those responsible. The case has been investigated by the General Investigation and Prosecution Authority, which plays, to some extent, the role of a public prosecutor. This organization found that the man’s death was not the responsibility of the religious police. Now the case is being transferred to a religious court of three judges, where it will be heard as a private legal action.

Bulawi Kin Want Death for Guilty
Raid Qusti, Arab News

RIYADH, 1 July 2007 — Family members of the deceased Ahmed Al-Bulawi — a Saudi man who collapsed and died at a center for the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Tabuk last month — are demanding execution for the person responsible for the death of their kin in the trial that begins today over his death.

A part-time commission member in Tabuk apprehended Bulawi after he was seen picking up a woman in his car near an amusement park. Both he and the woman were arrested and brought in for questioning at the commission’s center. At the center, Bulawi collapsed and died. It was later established that the deceased used to work for the woman’s family, as he drove them on errands for extra cash.

An official medical report in the investigation case cleared commission members of any wrongdoing that might have caused his death. The report mentioned that he died of a heart attack due to a medical condition.

With the case now being transferred from the General Investigation and Prosecution Authority (GIPA) to a religious court for suspects to be tried according to private rights and alleged mistakes in the apprehension, the deceased’s family is accusing the commission of causing the heart attack due to possible emotional pressure which could have led to his death.

The second piece appears to be one to balance criticism of the paper that it is injecting itself into an anti-religious police argument. This article praises a group of religious policemen for ‘saving’ a young man from a life of sin and crime by addressing his father’s drug problem.

Virtue Commission ‘Saves’ Young Boy
Yousuf Muhammad, Arab News

MADINAH, 1 July 2007 — Having received a complaint about a delinquent 15-year-old boy behaving improperly in a shopping mall, members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice dealt with the root of the problem by uniting the youngster with his family and arranging for his drug-addict father to seek help.

On a routine inspection of Madinah’s shopping areas, the attention of commission members was drawn to the youngster working in a mall. Shattering stereotypical negative views of the government-run organization, the youngster was taken to a local commission center to be given moral advice, where further analysis of his case led commission members to identify that the youngster came from a broken family, which was the cause of his behavioral problems.

June:30:2007 - 18:59 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette, whose website has been extremely slow loading of late, runs this piece about another court case involving members of the religious police. The case, which started in 2004, is only now being brought to trial. It involved allegations that the Commission members abducted a woman and her two daughters. This particular case has been in and out of the Saudi media over the years as the case was first rejected by a court and is now being heard in the Court of Grievances.

Court Summons 2 Commission Members
Suzan Zawawi

TWO members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice have been asked to appear before the Court of Grievances in Riyadh Sunday in connection with an alleged abduction case of three women three years ago.
The first hearing was postponed last month because Commission representatives did not turn up in the court.

The case involves Umm Faisal and her two teenage daughters. They were coming out of an amusement park on the outskirts of Riyadh in 2004 when two men approached them, declaring themselves to be Commission members. The men had no identity badges, says the women’s lawyer Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem.

According to Umm Faisal, the two men dragged her driver out of the car and beat him up. The Commission members deny this.

Then they took over the car and drove off with the women locked in the back seat. The car then crashed into an electric pole. Seeing the smoke coming out of the car engine, the men left the car and the occupants stranded, according to Umm Faisal’s testimony.

The Commission members accused the women of promiscuity, saying they were not fully covered. However, Umm Faisal and her daughters denied it.

Umm Faisal made a rare precedent by filing the first ever case against the Commission in 2004. However, the lower court allegedly turned down the suit, saying the Commission cannot be tried. Lahem then filed another case in the Dewan Al-Mathalim (Court of Grievances), requesting compensation.

June:30:2007 - 11:57 | Comments Off | Permalink

An interesting essay from Saad Sowayan at Saudi Debate. In it, he argues that while globalization is bringing many elements of life, including laws, into a certain uniformity, this need not lead to the complete flattening of the world’s different cultures and values. Western methods, systems, and particular values are definitely making themselves ‘global’. This is not, he says, the result of imperialism or power-politics, but from osmosis. These ‘imports’ are being imported because they work, not because they are being forced down one’s throat. Cultures other than the predominant Western model are still valuable; they have a role to play in defining what the global culture will look like. But they won’t if they instead shy away from change, rejecting it because it isn’t ‘home grown’. Definitely worth reading.

Global shift towards a ‘world state’ is a chance for cultures to stride into the limelight
Saad Sowayan

Economic globalization is drawing the world’s once distinct and distant societies into a mesh of communities linked by immediate communications, the replacement of religious belief by materialism, and an inexorable move towards a degree of uniformity which may ultimately lead to a single, world state emerging out of the patchwork of nation sates of which we are a part. This process, writes Saad Sowayan, has brought cultural homogenization and a replacement of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ by ‘legal’ and illegal’. But the process does not imply that the entire world is about to be invaded by the West. Instead, the process offers the opportunity for all the world’s societies to contribute to the state of affairs which may – over a long period – emerge.

June:30:2007 - 11:49 | Comments Off | Permalink

This article from the Canadian on-line newspaper Montreal Gazette is interesting. It notes how globalization is changing the production and sale of foods, not just in Canada, but in the Middle East as well. Canadian meat processors have found that there are new markets for the sale of halal foods, foods produced to meet the religious standards of Muslims. Whether its the production of halal veal for Saudi markets or producing other halal food products for domestic Canadian markets, Muslims are proving to be a new audience.

Halal Sizzles
A booming market for food that meets Muslim dietary requirements has more and more meat processors converting to halal

In 2001, Ecolait Ltd. converted a small part of its veal production to halal, after hearing about a booming demand for meat in the Middle East.

At the time, the St. Hyacinthe veal company saw potential in several Arab countries, which were refusing to import European meats because of incidents of mad cow disease.

“In North America, consumption of veal was somewhat limited,” recalled Arthur Batista, Ecolait’s director of sales and marketing.

“Our strategy was to go into the international market.”

So Ecolait – North America’s largest veal company with annual revenues of $200 million – began slaughtering 300 head a week according to Muslim religious standards, or halal.

In less than two years, Ecolait was selling 80 per cent of the veal consumed in Saudi Arabia.

While in Quebec, Muslims’ dietary requirements have triggered headlines this year in the reasonable accommodation debate, booming demand for halal food is sparking global interest among wholesalers and retailers alike.

June:30:2007 - 11:37 | Comments Off | Permalink

Gulf News, out of Dubai, takes an analytical look at recent cases in Saudi Arabia where marriages have been annulled or canceled due to family pressure based on the issue of tribal origin. Religious scholars find no basis for tribal discrimination within Islam, but are loath to contradict an Islamic judge’s legal opinions. That, in part, is due to the fact that so much of Islamic law is not codified, but depends instead on the particular judgment of a particular judge on a particular case. Sociologists simply note that the matter of tribalism runs deep in Saudi society.

The Saudi government, in the assessment of Madawi Al-Rasheed in her book A History of Saudi Arabia, has tried from its earliest days to suppress the importance of the tribes. While their political importance may have been reduced, their emotional importance seems not to have diminished as much. I guess it’s a matter of ‘You can take the person out of the tribe, but you can’t take the tribe out of the person.’

Tribal ties weigh heavily on Saudi marriages
Mariam Al Hakeem

Riyadh: The case of Fatima and her husband Mansour Al Taimani, which hit the Saudi press, internet websites and social gatherings for two years, was not an isolated case as some may think.

In July 2005, a judge in Al Jouf, in northern Saudi Arabia, nullified Fatima’s marriage to Mansour following her family’s allegation that Al Taimani had misled them about his tribal affiliations. The husband denied the charges. The couple has two children from their marriage.

Saudis are split on the issue with a majority supporting the couple and a minority on the side of the judge. Sociologists have warned of the repercussions of such cases, while religious men look at the situation as personal interpretive judgment that could be right or wrong.

This time, the tragedy shifted from north to east as a Sharia court in Ahsa in the Eastern province of the kingdom started to review a lawsuit filed by a brother of a 30-year-old female saying that members of his family have convinced a judge to divorce his sister on ground of incompatible status of the man.

June:30:2007 - 11:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

In many parts of Saudi Arabia, ‘cancer’ is still a word not fit for polite conversation. It wasn’t so long ago in the US that the word would be used only in a whisper, as though there were something morally wrong with the victim. This article, from the UAE’s Khaleej Times, notes a breast cancer awareness campaign being geared up in the Kingdom. Whether the headline, noting a ‘rise in breast cancer cases’ is correct or whether the disease is simply being diagnosed more frequently is open to question. There’s an added complexity in that Saudi women have difficulty in exposing private parts to male doctors—and the majority of doctors in Saudi Arabia are male.

Alarming rise in breast cancer cases
Habib Shaikh

A GROUP, formed recently, is working to educate the Saudi people about the alarming rise in breast cancer cases in the Kingdom. The organisation, named Zahra, which has official approval from the Ministry of Social Affairs, has some big supporters.

Princess Haifa bint Faisal bin Abdulaziz, heads the group’s board. Before receiving the stamp of approval, the non-profit organisation was named the National Organisation for Breast Cancer Education. The organisation has pledged to draw attention to the disease from qualified specialists and educate patients.

“We will direct the patients to where they should go and what stage they have reached,” Princess Haifa said. More than one million cases of breast cancer are diagnosed worldwide each year, with the majority in developed countries.

“King Faisal Hospital alone sees about 600-700 a year, a huge increase from recent years,” said Ayman Linjawi, a breast-cancer surgeon at the hospital. Studies show that breast cancer constitutes 18 per cent of all cancers in Saudi Arabia. Only lung cancer is more prevalent in the kingdom.

June:30:2007 - 10:45 | Comments Off | Permalink

In what appears to be a bit of mischief-making, Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV carries this story on its English-language website. I’m not aware of anything to suddenly cause the Saudi government to start supporting Hamas, as the article alleges. I suspect it is more the case that the network, which does support Hamas, is trying to create a new ‘reality’. That it comes at the expense of Saudi Arabia is just an added feature, to keep the bosses happy.

Saudi king avoids meeting Abbas

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has snubbed the Palestinian president, skipping a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas on a visit to Jordan.

An Abbas official said “the meeting was postponed due to lack of time as both leaders had busy schedules”, but Al Jazeera’s David Chater, reporting from Jordan, said it was a deliberate and undiplomatic snub.

Abbas was kept waiting at a palace room for a telephone call that never came.

Instead, the Saudi monarch, who brokered a power-sharing deal between Abbas’s Fatah faction and rivals Hamas in February, urged both sides to talk to each other, saying the infighting was benefiting only the Israelis.

It would be a bitter pill for Abbas to swallow, just days after he dissolved the unity government set up under the Saudi deal and accused Hamas of attempting to assassinate him.

He had said then that he would not enter into talks with the group after it seized Gaza and humiliated Abbas by occupying his presidential compound there.

June:29:2007 - 08:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

An interesting piece from Financial Times. While oil revenues continue to fill the treasuries of most of the Gulf States, the income is not that substantial in some of them. Bahrain—about to run out of oil—and Dubai—which had very little to start with—are looking at various forms of taxation to offset government expenses. The whole of the GCC is considering the possibilities.

Taxes certainly take money out of people’s pockets. But they also give taxpayers an ownership relationship with the state and government. If one is ‘paying for’ services, one expects to receive them; one can, in fact, demand to receive them. Whether the states will be able to collect the taxes is a somewhat different matter, of course. Withholding taxes from paychecks or via electronic monitoring of the roads makes tax collection a bit easier. Which is a good thing, actually, because most of the Arab states which do have income taxes collect only a small fraction of what’s due.

Taxes cloud looms over Gulf expats
Simeon Kerr in Dubai

Expatriates in search of the Gulf’s tax-free nirvana have over the past few years become accustomed to a rising cost of living as rampant inflation has eaten into savings. Now, increasing signs of taxes are set to amplify the grumbling.

Bahrain this week introduced a 1 per cent social insurance tax on salaries of both nationals and expatriates, to help fund unemployment benefits for all workers.

Dubai, meanwhile, is to introduce a road congestion charge that will penalise drivers just over $1 each time they pass under four toll gates at key points on the city’s busiest thoroughfare.

These two measures, while modest compared with developed states’ levels of taxation, could signal a shift in the social compact between Gulf governments and their foreign guest workers – who in the United Arab Emirates, the region’s most extreme case, form up to 99 per cent of the private-sector workforce.

The six Gulf Co-operation Council states are also mulling over other direct taxes, including the introduction of a sales tax.

June:29:2007 - 08:12 | Comments Off | Permalink

The shift in the balance of influence in the Arab world, from Egypt and toward Saudi Arabia, is the subject of this piece from the UAE’s Gulf News. The article suggests that American pressure, severe economic problems, and restless citizenry within Egypt have taken away its ability to project ‘the Arab position’. Instead, Saudi Arabia, flush with new money from oil, is stepping in to fill the vacuum. The article is probably most interesting for the way it cites various officials dancing around the issue.

Saudi Arabia inches to forefront of Arab political affairs
Jumana Al Tamimi

Dubai: After decades of Arabs looking at Egypt’s role in regional issues as vital and decisive, Saudi Arabia, which played a supportive role in Arab decisions and positions for a long time, has begun to emerge as a leader in Middle East affairs in what analysts describe as a “natural” progression.

However, the shift between the role of “leadership” and “strategic follower” has created a veiled tension between the two heaviest-weight Arab countries, added analysts and experts. Officials in both countries denied it.

June:29:2007 - 08:05 | Comments Off | Permalink

Foreign Policy journal runs an excellent piece on reforms in Saudi Arabia noting how King Abdullah is working—against the odds—to ‘de-Salafize’ the country. The article notes the sources of opposition, including Saudi Arabia’s own history, but is optimistic that change is happening and will continue. Definitely recommend reading the whole piece.

The Magic Kingdom’s Wild New Ride
Jean-François Seznec, Afshin Molavi

Everywhere you look, it seems, the Middle East is in flames. Yet, almost unnoticed by outside observers, the most conservative country in the region has embarked on a historic journey of reform

Last week, a senior official in one of the world’s wealthiest states suggested that one third of all government jobs should go to women.

Switzerland? Denmark? France?

Wrong, the country is Saudi Arabia, and the senior official is Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the crown prince. In a state that has embraced the most misogynous readings of the Koran and a society that remains deeply patriarchal, Prince Sultan’s statement was truly revolutionary.

As Sultan’s older brother, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, visits Spain, Poland, and France this week, it may not be obvious that Saudi Arabia is undergoing a substantive transformation, but it is. Although the Kingdom’s diplomatic exploits capture the headlines—its efforts to counter Iranian influence in the Arab world, support for peace in Lebanon, and the Saudi-sponsored Arab League peace initiative to name just a few—its domestic changes are likely to be more far-reaching, durable, and consequential.

The Saudi monarch is pushing forward a surprisingly reformist domestic agenda, but his task is delicate. Five key actors will determine how this drama plays out: The 20 or so senior princes (including the king), the civil service, the merchant class, younger princes, and the religious establishment. King Abdullah can win this fight, but he can’t do it alone. By seeing Saudi Arabia as more than just a place to sell arms, buy oil, or fight terror, Europe and the United States can tilt the balance of power toward more reformist elements and marginalize the forces of religious reaction. The stakes couldn’t be higher: King Abdullah is battling not just stubborn conservatives and parts of his own family who are resistant to change, but Saudi history itself.

June:28:2007 - 09:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The Saudi government is making it a condition for obtaining residency permits that all foreign workers be covered by health insurance. The reason behind the move, according to this Khaleej Times article, is to help move Saudi employment practices up to international standards. It’s at least a step in the right direction.

Health insurance papers a must for Saudi iqama
Habib Shaikh

JEDDAH — While issuing or renewing iqamas (residence permits), the Passport Department has begun demanding documents to prove that health insurance cover is provided to expatriate workers by their employers.

It is believed that the compulsory health insurance will help the country’s eight million expatriate workers and their dependents receive good health care and also boost the Kingdom’s growing insurance market.

Health Minister Dr Hamad Al Manie said that the cooperative health insurance scheme would cover all expatriate workers as well as Saudis working in the private sector this year. “It will be applied later to all Saudis,” he said.

June:28:2007 - 09:31 | Comments Off | Permalink

This piece from Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald caught my eye, primarily because it demonstrates an international market aimed at a very particular group: Saudi Bedouins. Even the Bedouins are part of globalization when it comes to finding feed for their livestock. It looks like another win-win situation for the global economy.

ABB wins Saudi barley supply deal

Grains marketer ABB Grain Ltd has won a $1 billion contract over five years to supply barley to Saudi Arabia.

ABB said it had entered into a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia’s United Feed Company to supply feed barley.

An ABB spokesman said ABB would supply at least one million tonnes of barley a year, but United Feed had indicated that it would take as much as ABB could provide.

…ABB said Saudi Arabia was the world’s biggest buyer of feed barley, importing about 7.5 million tonnes a year. United Feed accounted for most of the grain tonnage.

June:28:2007 - 07:58 | Comments Off | Permalink
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