Here’s a peculiar little article from Saudi Gazette about how some Saudis are taking a traditional Iftar drink and letting it ferment, apparently ‘unknowingly’ creating a crude wine known in the US as ‘hooch’. This is, of course, haram, forbidden by Islamic law. The innocence of the individual manufacturers is something to behold. The article, though, sets them straight with an explanation from a university professor, then provides a general plan for making ‘siddiqi’, the home-distilled liquors known in both its brown and white incarnations.

Subya: the Pause that Intoxicates
Essam Al-Ghalib

SUBYA is a traditional Hejazi fruit drink found on many Iftar tables that is enjoyed by everyone from young children to the elderly. Relatively simple to make, it can be prepared in a few minutes and immediately enjoyed.

“Subya is not the kind of drink you want to keep refrigerated for a few weeks then serve to your family,” one subya vendor on Hera’ Street told Saudi Gazette. “You should drink it within three to five days.”

Made from a variety of ingredients including bread (for the yeast content), dates, wheat, corn, and spiced with cinnamon and cardamom, subya turns alcoholic if stored for three weeks or longer.
“It’s not the strongest type of alcohol, but it does give you a buzz if you don’t get high on other substances such as hashish,” Mamdouh (not his real name) explained. Mamdouh had bought some subya from a street vendor on the first day of Ramadan, and let it sit in his refrigerator. When he drank some this past weekend it gave him a, “Light-headed feeling,” he said.

“My intention was not to get drunk. I had heard this about subya and didn’t believe it and wanted to try it myself. I was surprised that it affected me like it did. The next morning I had a headache,” Mamdouh added.

Mamdouh was under the impression that because Subya is made with wheat and is not a distilled liquor such as vodka or whiskey, then drinking it is not forbidden by Islam.

However, according to Dr. Sadiq Al-Malki, Professor of Comparative Social and Political Systems, and Political Science at King Abdulaziz University, Mamdouh is, “Most definitely wrong in his thinking. Anything that makes you lose your presence of mind, whether a little or a lot, is ‘haram’ (forbidden),” Al-Malki said.


September:30:2007 - 18:26 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The BBC runs this brief collection of man/woman on the street interviews about women’s driving in Saudi Arabia. There’s a lot of social resistance to the proposition.

Saudi views on driving ban

Saudi Arabian citizens comment on a petition urging the king to overturn their country’s ban on women driving.

Meanwhile, over at Saudi Debate, Mona Elthahawy writes about women’s driving and how she sees it is an effort to push the religious police out of the way.


September:30:2007 - 08:52 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

The Saudi Embassy in Washington provides this overview of the speech given by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal before the UN General Assembly today. You can find the full text of his speech here.

Foreign minister stresses urgency of resolving Arab-Israeli conflict

In his statement to the 62nd UN General Assembly today, Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal warned that the Middle East region faces escalating conflicts in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and Somalia.

Addressing the region’s crises must begin with resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, Prince Saud said. To that end, the Arab Peace Initiative is a “unique and historical” opportunity to reinvigorate the peace process.

“No regional crisis has greater potential to affect other regional conflicts or world peace than [the Arab-Israeli] conflict,” he noted. “Neglecting to find a just and comprehensive solution to this conflict provides a suitable environment for the spread of extremism and terrorism and would impose a festering plague that will grow in intensity and complexity with time.”

Commenting on President Bush’s call for an international peace conference on Palestine, the Saudi foreign minister stated that the success of the conference depends on addressing final status issues – including Jerusalem, borders, and refugees – in a clear, direct way with timeframes.

He urged the international community to change its approach to the conflict and called on Israel to ease the daily suffering of the Palestinian people and end settlement activity as well as construction of its wall.

Turning to Iraq, Prince Saud stressed the Kingdom’s support for Iraqi unity, independence, sovereignty and non-interference in its internal affairs. It remains the responsibility of the Iraqi government to achieve a comprehensive national reconciliation, he said.

On Lebanon, the Saudi foreign minister said that Saudi Arabia remains “deeply and profoundly concerned” about the ongoing political crises in Lebanon and external interference in its affairs. He decried the recent political assassinations there and emphasized the importance of holding presidential elections “in accordance with the constitution, free from interference, intimidation and external sabotage.”

Prince Saud noted Saudi Arabia’s recent efforts to resolve crises in Somalia and Sudan, citing a successful Somali national reconciliation conference held in Saudi Arabia in September 2007 and an agreement on Darfur between Sudan and Chad that was brokered by the Kingdom in May 2007. He welcomed international efforts to establish peacekeeping forces in both Darfur and Somalia.

On other issues, Prince Saud reiterated Saudi Arabia’s support for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and drew attention to the Kingdom’s ongoing foreign aid to countries in need. He also stressed the Kingdom’s commitment to fighting terrorism and extremism, and strongly rejected linking Islam to terrorism.


September:29:2007 - 19:26 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi ARAMCO steps up to the plate in sponsoring a visit by some 25 American school teachers—apparently from middle schools—to the Kingdom, reports Khaleej Times. This kind of public diplomacy tends to be effective insofar as it avoids limiting the visitors’ exposure to a broad swath of real Saudis. If it’s just a canned tour, it can backfire.

Because ARAMCO has a developed history of including a broad cross section of Saudi society, though, this could be a useful way of presenting Saudi Arabia in a manner that gets outside the stereotypes.

25 teachers from US to visit Saudi Arabia
Habib Shaikh

JEDDAH — A group of 25 teachers from the United States is to visit Saudi Arabia from November 21 to December 3 as part of the Educators in Saudi Arabia programme. The trip is sponsored by Saudi Aramco, and is administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE).

The visiting group of teachers will meet area experts in education, industry, history and culture, and global relations in the Kingdom. They also will tour schools, cultural and historical sites and industrial facilities in Dhahran, Riyadh and Jeddah.

“American middle school students have many questions about the Middle East,” Terry Christiansen, a West Branch Middle School teacher, in Iowa City, who is part of the group, said in information made available to Khaleej Times here. “I hope to answer some of those questions after returns from Saudi Arabia,” he added.


September:29:2007 - 08:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Khaleej Times runs this strange little piece, an Agence France Press story taken from the Saudi daily Al-Shams. Seems to me that the guy was looking for a reason to divorce his wife and came up with a doozy. It is a fact, though, that Saudi men can divorce their wives at will while women must go through the courts.

Saudi divorces wife for watching male TV host

RIYADH – A Saudi man divorced his wife for watching alone a television programme presented by a male, an act he deemed immoral, the Al Shams newspaper reported on Saturday.

The man, whom the paper did not identify, ended his marriage on the grounds his wife was effectively alone with an unrelated man, which is forbidden under the strict Islamic law enforced in the ultra-conservative kingdom, the paper said.

Men in Saudi Arabia have the authority to divorce their wives without resort to the courts.


September:29:2007 - 08:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

The Washington Post runs an interesting column commenting on how efforts to put arguments and debate about religion off-limits serve to close argument and debate about political, social, and religious reform. Worth reading.

Muzzling in the Name of Islam
Paul Marshall

Some of the world’s most repressive governments are attempting to use a controversy over a Swedish cartoon to provide legitimacy for their suppression of their critics in the name of respect for Islam. In particular, the Organization of the Islamic Conference is seeking to rewrite international human rights standards to curtail any freedom of expression that threatens their more authoritarian members.

In August, Swedish artist Lars Vilks drew a cartoon with Mohammed’s head on a dog’s body. He is now in hiding after Al Qaeda in Iraq placed a bounty of $100,000 on his head (with a $50,000 bonus if his throat is slit) and police told him he was no longer safe at home. As with the 2005 Danish Jyllands-Posten cartoons, and the knighting of Salman Rushdie, Muslim ambassadors and the OIC have not only demanded an apology from the Swedes, but are also pushing Western countries to restrict press freedom in the name of preventing “insults” to Islam.

…When politics and religion are intertwined, there can be no political freedom without religious freedom, including the right to criticize religious ideas. Hence, removing legal bans on blasphemy and ‘insulting Islam’ is vital to protecting an open debate that could lead to other reforms.

If, in the name of false toleration and religious sensitivity, free nations do not firmly condemn and resist these totalitarian strictures, we will abet the isolation of reformist Muslims, and condemn them to silence behind what Sen. Joseph Lieberman has aptly termed a “theological iron curtain.”


September:29:2007 - 08:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi offers a very sobering piece predicting war with Iran within a year. He notes various statements by Iranian officials claiming that not only is Bahrain an organic part of Iran, but all the Gulf States. He finds that the expansionist program of the mullahs has shown itself unambiguously in Lebanon and Iraq and now threatens the region. But some wars, he says, are necessary, ‘with the spilled blood an infection is purged, which if left unattended would slowly kill the rest of the body.’

Do read the whole thing.

The Fires in Iran
Mshari Al-Zaydi

There is no exaggeration in saying that the waters of the Arabian Gulf are set to reach a boiling point again.

Signs of a war between Iran and the US are looming on the horizon. Iran’s Supreme Guide is adopting a threatening rhetoric, while America has announced that it is setting up a military group called Checkmate, which is part of the United States Air Force. [Checkmate is a highly confidential strategic planning group whose task includes “providing innovative strategies for warfighting and assessing future needs for air, space and cyberwarfare”].

Only a miracle or magic can prevent this war from happening, such as Iran declaring absolutely and unequivocally that it has renounced its revolutionary policies and nuclear ambitions under [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and [Ali] Khamenei’s regime. The other alternative is if the US and the West were to completely surrender to Iran, which would make it the leader of the entire Gulf region.

Both options, realistically speaking, will not happen, which is why only a supernatural force can prevent this war from happening.


September:29:2007 - 08:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

In a country where young women are not permitted to take part in Physical Education classes in universities, and certainly not competitive sports, this poll reported by Arab News is somewhat surprising. Saudi women do follow professional sports, particularly Saudi football (soccer). But they have to follow it on TV or radio as there are no facilities for them to attend live matches. If authorities take note of this poll, it might lead to changes. But as the article also notes, there are those who would see such a step as just another pace down the path to perdition.

Separate Section for Women at Football Stadiums Urged
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH, 29 September 2007 — The majority of soccer fans in the Kingdom have demanded separate seating arrangements for women at stadiums across the country to help them watch live football matches.

A survey conducted by an Arabic daily on the issue showed that 51 percent of participants wanted such seating arrangements for women while 49 percent opposed the idea.

Six percent of some 300 participants, aged between 17 and 65, wanted enclosed areas for families at stadiums. The participants included university students and employees of banks, companies and government departments.

The survey is significant as a large number of Saudi women follow football matches like their male counterparts. Their number is growing year after year, especially after the participation of Saudi soccer teams in international football tournaments.


September:28:2007 - 19:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing in Arab News, Tariq Al-Maeena notes that the popular ‘Tash Ma Tash’ Ramadan TV series (now in its 15th year) levels its cannons at all targets, conservative and liberal alike. It also points out social ills from corruption to nepotism. But is it enough, Al-Maeena asks, to simply watch good points being made? Where is Saudi society acting to right the wrongs being being pointed out to them? That’s a fair question.

Tash Ma Tash: Sharp Satire on Social Ills
Tariq A. Al-Maeena, talmaeena@aol.com

Tash Ma Tash, the popular Ramadan comedy series that sets the theme of its shows on the peculiarities of Saudi society, recently took on the Shoura Council in one of its episodes. Now running into its 15th season, this show has been drawing in a huge following year after year. Some swear that breaking fast in Ramadan wouldn’t be the same without Tash.

It’s no secret that the success of this show lies in the transparent and biting exposure through satire of some of this country’s ills and follies. And apparently by taking on the Shoura, the episode had irked some members of the Shoura enough so that they complained to the chairman of the Shoura Council, Saleh Bin-Humaid, for a public censure of the show.

But calmer heads prevailed, and wisely so, the speaker declined to intervene. In the episode in question, the liberals and reformists including those among the Shoura members were portrayed as highly educated but ineffective.

That this show has also targeted the liberal elements of our society has to some extent boosted its nonpartisan image. In the past, the show had often invited the ire of the conservative elements of Saudi society for its hilarious parody on some of our customs and behavior.


September:28:2007 - 18:55 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News runs an exceptionally clear article discussing the linkage between the US Dollar and the Saudi Riyal and what it means for the economies of both countries and the region. Do read the whole thing.

SAMA Must Pre-Empt Wild Speculation
Mushtak Parker, Arab News

LONDON, 29 September 2007 — The appreciation of the Saudi riyal against the US dollar during September, which saw the riyal at its highest against the greenback in 21 years, has fueled speculation whether the riyal will indeed maintain its peg to the US dollar or whether it will be revalued to a more realistic level to maintain the balance between the two currencies and therefore trade between the two countries.

While the interest rate, exchange rate and currency policy of a country are essentially issues of monetary and fiscal sovereignty, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, save Kuwait, did agree in 2003 to maintain the peg their currencies had to the US dollar. This was supposedly in preparation for GCC monetary union by 2010.

Most analysts now believe that this dream of monetary union is unachievable by 2010. Oman has already said that it would opt out of monetary union if it went ahead in 2010. Kuwait broke ranks in May 2007 when it depegged the Kuwaiti dinar from the US dollar and pegged it to a basket of major currencies to include the yen and the euro, which incidentally has similarly appreciated sharply against the US dollar. Kuwait defended its action saying a weaker dollar was driving up inflation by making imports more expensive. Since the depegging on May 19, the Kuwaiti dinar has appreciated around 2.5 percent against the US dollar.


September:28:2007 - 18:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

This The New York Times article points to the various movements and changes taking place within Saudi Arabia that seem to be pointing to a decision to permit women to drive. While that decision is not likely to come today or tomorrow, a combination of legal moves, increasing public debate, and solid arguments by Saudis—based on other than “women’s rights” arguments—are all leading to a major change. The article, written with input from Saudi-American blogger Rasheed Abou-Alsamh who blogs at Rasheed’s World, provides an accurate summary of what’s been going on over the past several months. It is particularly apt in noting how other changes, initially resisted by conservatives, eventually came to pass. Most definitely worth reading.

Saudis Rethink Taboo on Women Behind the Wheel
HASSAN M. FATTAH with Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Sept. 27 — In a recent episode of Saudi Arabia’s most popular television show, broadcast during Ramadan this month, a Saudi man of the future is seen sitting in his house as his daughter pulls into the driveway, her children piled into the back of the car.

“Where have you been?” the father asks.

“The kids were bored, so I took them to the movies,” she replies, matter-of-factly, as she gets out of the driver’s seat.

The scene may appear mundane, but in Saudi Arabia, where women are forbidden to drive — and, by the way, where there are no movie theaters, either — the skit portends something of a revolution. From a taboo about which there could be no open discussion, a woman’s right to drive is becoming a topic of growing and lively debate in Saudi Arabia.

Coming after other recent changes — women may now travel abroad without male accompaniment (though male permission is still required), seek divorce and own their own companies — the driving discussion is noteworthy. Whether it signals that women will actually be driving soon or merely talking about it openly remains to be seen.

“We are telling everyone this is coming, whether today or tomorrow,” said Abdallah al-Sadhan, producer, writer and host of “Tash Ma Tash” (“No Big Deal”), a variety comedy show that is broadcast during Ramadan and tackles controversial social issues in Saudi Arabia. Other episodes have also shown women driving in what Mr. Sadhan says is a deliberate message. “There will be a time we will accept it, so now is the time to get prepared for that.”


September:28:2007 - 07:55 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News carries this article on the debate arising in some Saudi schools over ‘uniforms’ for the male students. The uniform in question is the traditional white thobe and red-and-white checked shamagh/shamaq, in other words, traditional Saudi garb. Citing reasons ranging from its ungainliness in physical education classes to the fact that ‘they all look alike’, some argue against it. Others, citing the enormous pressure to change that Saudi culture is already experiencing, say they prefer to keep national dress as a uniform. Interesting debate.

Debate Over Public School Uniforms for Boys
Najah Alosaimi, Arab News

RIYADH, 28 September 2007 — The Education Ministry said it would not lift requirements that boys wear the Saudi traditional thobe (dishdash) and shumaq (the Saudi man’s headdress). “The current uniform of public schools across the country represents Saudi identity, and this won’t change for the time being,” said Saeed Almaleas, the deputy minister for boys education.

Saudi educational policies also apply to Saudi private schools, but not to international private schools where most expatriates send their children.

Under the current code, students are sent home if they do not arrive to school in the traditional thobe and shumaq. Some education officials, such as the manager of King Faisal Schools, Mohammed Alkateeb, have called for a separate school uniform.


September:27:2007 - 22:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink
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