This Saudi Gazette article spells out how comprehensive the legal reforms announced by King Abdullah last month must be. The article notes in passing that while Sharia law will of course remain the law of the land, substantive law courts will replace Sharia courts in many regards. It notes, too, that the legal system as it now stands is incapable of shifting gears to move into a new method of operating. New judges, new laws, new courts and courthouses will all be required. Definitely worth reading.

Supreme Court – What it will Take
Joe Avanceña

DAMMAM – The establishment of a Supreme Court, which is aimed at overhauling the Kingdom’s legal system, will require the setting up of effective legal infrastructures, according to lawyers.

Without such legal infrastructures, the Supreme Court will not function, lawyers said, though they wholeheartedly welcome the move to ensure better delivery of justice.
“There is that desire to completely scrap the existing system and re-establish a completely new system altogether,” said Dr. Ahmed A. Audhali, a leading lawyer in the Eastern Province. “The envisioned new system, which we have been discussing now for many years, is a complete re-structuring of the Saudi legal systems,” Audhali said.

King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, announced in early October an overhaul of the judicial system, including the allocation of SR7 billion for training judges and building new courts.

The Supreme Court will replace the Supreme Judicial Council – which serves as the highest tribunal in the country – except for the administrative functions of the judiciary.

Along with the Supreme Court, specific tribunals to handle commercial cases, personal matters, and labor disputes will also be established.

Audhali said that, for now, “there are no judges who are qualified to be appointed, insufficient court houses, no administrative planning yet.”

When the Supreme Court is set up, then Shariah law will be more of an administrative legal system and not a substantive law, according to Audhali.

November:27:2007 - 04:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

On the eve of the Hajj, Saudi authorities are taking preemptive action to avoid an epidemic of bird flu. Having already culled over 300,000 chickens in the Riyadh region, banned poultry imports from certain countries, vaccinated poultry workers in several cities, and stopped hunting for wild fowl, even more steps are being taken.

This Saudi Gazette article reports that unlicensed poultry shops and markets are being shut down in Medina: Bird Flu Precaution

Arab News reports that the government intercepted attempts to smuggle infected poultry into Riyadh: City Officials Intercept More Poultry Trucks in Riyadh

November:27:2007 - 02:55 | Comments Off | Permalink

Unlike the event in Mecca in 2002, this fire at a girls’ school in Abha, led to no injuries or deaths.

1,500 Girl Students Evacuated from Fire
Abdul Khaliq Al-Ghamdi

AL-BAHA – Some 1,500 female students panicked and were evacuated, leaving behind their books and veils, when a fire broke out in a 200 sq. m. furniture warehouse in a building of the Girls’ College science department in Bani Saar on Saturday.

The fire, caused by a short circuit, gutted three tables. Upon reporting the accident the Civil Defense, they dispatched seven teams from Bani Saar and Al-Baha to the site to contain the fire.

The girls were evacuated to the Home Economics building. None was reported injured.

November:26:2007 - 23:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Arab News is keeping the fire going under the story of ‘Qatif Girl’. Arab News reporter Ebtihal Mubarak speaks with both the attorney and the girl’s husband and find them both complaining that what the Ministry of Justice had published [See this earlier piece and comments.] is simply not factual. Mubarak also notes that the Ministry is not prompt in responding to media queries, waffles when it does speak, and that most of the Saudi media is avoiding this story like the plague. Very interesting reading!

Qatif Girl’s Lawyer to File Complaint Against Ministry
Ebtihal Mubarak, Arab News

JEDDAH, 27 November 2007 — The lawyer for a victim of kidnapping and rape who was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison said yesterday he would file a complaint that states the Ministry of Justice defamed his client.

The defamation suit would be filed through the Ministry of Culture and Information because the defamation of his client occurred through a statement the Ministry of Justice issued through the Saudi Press Agency on Saturday.

The lawyer, Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, is disputing claims made by the ministry, including that his 19-year-old client had confessed to the moral crime of having an “illegal affair” with an unrelated man.

Arab News has made several attempts to get the Justice Ministry’s reply to this case, but since the ministry doesn’t have an official spokesperson all media requests are submitted by fax. Replies, if they come, take weeks, making it difficult to get the ministry’s response to breaking news. A fax with questions regarding the case was sent to the ministry’s Public Relations Department last week requesting a reply by today due to the urgency of the case.

November:26:2007 - 22:19 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink

Arab News runs two article Tuesday on what Saudi Arabia is looking to achieve through its attending the Middle East Peace Conferenc in Annapolis.

The first reports on what the Saudi Council of Ministers thinks. It also covers King Abdullah’s conversations with King Abdullah of Jordan, conducted on Monday, and Middle East Envoy and former British PM Tony Blair…

ME Conference ‘Must Discuss Core Issues’
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH, 27 November 2007 — The Council of Ministers insisted yesterday that the international Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, must deal with core issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict in order to be successful.

“The Cabinet expressed its hope that the conference will deal with core issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict to reach a just and comprehensive peace settlement on all tracks within a timeframe,” said a Cabinet statement after the meeting.

The Cabinet, which was chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, also said that the Annapolis conference, called by US President George W. Bush, should lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

The Kingdom also stressed that the conference’s deliberations should be based on UN resolutions, the Middle East peace road map and the Arab peace initiative.

King Abdullah briefed ministers on the outcome of his talks with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is the Quartet’s Middle East peace envoy, adding that the talks focused on international efforts to revive the peace process.

Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal is leading the Kingdom’s delegation to the conference. Saudi Arabia agreed to participate in the conference after an Arab League meeting in Cairo. “It is no secret that I was reluctant until today. Had it not been for the Arab consensus at the meeting, Saudi Arabia would not have gone to Annapolis,” Prince Saud said after the Cairo meeting.

He stressed that participation itself was not the final goal, and that the Arabs were seeking an agreement that would safeguard their interests. “We are not going for handshakes or a display of emotions… We are there only to reach a peace which safeguards Arab interests and safeguards the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese lands,” he said.

The second piece is a reworking of an interview by Scott McLeod of TIME magazine with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal…

What the Saudis Want From Annapolis

Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal tells TIME magazine that he is optimistic about this week’s Middle East peace conference in Annapolis because of what he calls US determination “to see this through.” Continuous US mediation in post-conference negotiations, including pressure on Israel, he says, “can turn things around” and lead to a comprehensive settlement before US President George W. Bush’s term expires in 13 months.

But, speaking in Paris to Time correspondent Scott MacLeod just hours before his scheduled arrival in the US, Prince Saud warned Israelis that they would have no peace until Israel withdrew from Arab territories captured in the 1967 war. Saud, who will be the highest ranking Saudi to ever attend a peace conference with the Jewish state, added that he would not shake the hand of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or make a symbolic visit to Jerusalem before a peace deal. “The hand that has been extended to us has been a fist so far,” he said. He warned Israelis against seeking a surrender, adding, “We don’t need a Versailles for the Arab world, a peace that will only be an instigator of future wars.”

TIME: Are you optimistic about Annapolis?

Saud: One of the elements of optimism is the sense of determination of the United States to see this through. Peace without the complete and direct involvement of the United States is impossible. The assurance that it is going to be a comprehensive peace that is pursued, to tackle the main issues of borders, Jerusalem, refugees, is certainly one of the elements.

November:26:2007 - 19:22 | Comments & Trackbacks (12) | Permalink

Middle East news aggregator Middle East Transparent posts an exclusive interview with ‘Qatif Girl’ who describes the events that led up to the infamous judgment against her.

Her version of what happened is at decided difference from what the Ministry of Justice and the Qatif court have suggested. It’s also different from what many other media have reported. Definitely worth reading in full.

[Thanks to Solomon2 for his comment pointing to this article.]

Exclusive: Saudi Rape Victim Tells Her Story
Victim to Receive Whipping and Jail for Being in Nonrelative’s Car When Attacked

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice is defending a sentence of 200 lashes for the victim of a gang rape, punished because she was in the car of a male who wasn’t a relative when the two were attacked. In exclusive testimony obtained by ABC News, the young woman told her story of what happened and how she was treated in the months that followed.

“Everyone looks at me as if I’m wrong. I couldn’t even continue my studies. I wanted to die. I tried to commit suicide twice,” she said of her experience just after the attack.

The woman, known anonymously in the Saudi press as “Qatif Girl” for the eastern province town where the crime took place, was originally sentenced to 90 lashes for being in a state of “khalwa” — retreat with a male who’s not a relative.

But the General Court of Qatif increased the punishment to 200 lashes and six months in jail after she took her case to the press. Authorities deemed it an “attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media,” according to Saudi Arabia’s English-language newspaper Arab News.

The seven attackers were convicted of rape with sentences that ranged from two to nine years in prison, according to Arab News. In a December 2006 interview in Khobar, Saudi Arabia the woman gave a full account of her testimony to Human Rights Watch, describing the incident as she did before the court. She was meeting a male acquaintance, a former boyfriend, when the attack took place.

Ordeal Began With a Photo “I [was] 19 years old. I had a relationship with someone on the phone. We were both 16. I had never seen him before. I just knew his voice. He started to threaten me, and I got afraid. He threatened to tell my family about the relationship. Because of the threats and fear, I agreed to give him a photo of myself,” she recounted.

“A few months [later], I asked him for the photo back but he refused. I had gotten married to another man. He said, ’I’ll give you the photo on the condition that you come out with me in my car.’ I told him we could meet at a souk [market[ near my neighborhood city plaza in Qatif.

"He started to drive me home. &We were 15 minutes from my house. I told him that I was afraid and that he should speed up. We were about to turn the corner to my house when they [another car] stopped right in front of our car. Two people got out of their car and stood on either side of our car. They man on my side had a knife. They tried to open our door. I told the individual with me not to open the door, but he did. He let them come in. I screamed.

November:26:2007 - 19:07 | Comments Off | Permalink

Tourism in Saudi Arabia is going to be of limited interest to most global travelers for quite some time. There is, nevertheless, an effort to promote tourism in the country. Muslims taking part in Hajj or Umrah visits, for example, might be persuaded to spend more time in the country to see what’s there beyond religion. Westerners are unlikely to make use of tourist visas, though, because Saudi culture is pretty antipathetic to the ‘Club Med’ mentality.

Eco-tourism seems to be an open niche. Khaleej Times from Dubai notes that the Supreme Commission for Tourism is working to make the Harrah Rahat volcano accessible to tourists. This volcano last erupted in 1256, approaching close to the gates of the Medina. [See this Aramco World magazine article for more, including photos.]

The Saudis are also working on developing Jeddah’s historic sites, the newspaper reports. As one of the principle gateways to Saudi Arabia, and open to non-Muslims, Jeddah has great potential for attracting tourism.

Saudi making all-out efforts to promote tourism sector
Habib Shaikh

THERE is undoubtedly a big crater (gap) between tourism in Saudi Arabia and other countries. Realising the importance of tourism to the national economy, in creating jobs for Saudis, and in promoting understanding, the kingdom has been making all-out efforts to promote the hospitality industry, spearheaded by the Supreme Commission for Tourism (SCT).

Significantly, in its latest bid, SCT plans to make a crater — the Harrah Rahat (Rahat Volcano) an eco-tourism centre. Harrah Rahat on the 916 metres high Jabal Lamsa plateau near Madinah is a volcano crater with an enormous surrounding licorice-black lava field.

“Harrah Rahat is one of the most spectacular natural sites in the kingdom,” said Yusuf Al Mozaini, head of the tourism department in the Holy city of Madinah. “In terms of volcanic studies the site is immensely significant.”

He said that the tourism department, local municipality and the Saudi Geological Survey are currently working to preserve the natural features of the Harrah.

November:26:2007 - 11:22 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Tariq Alhomayed, Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Alawsat, offers up his ideas about why Saudi Arabia has agreed to attend the Annapolis Peace Conference. Scheduled to start tomorrow, the conference is intended to move the issue of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to some significant degree. The Saudis think that is possible—and necessary.

The Saudis in Annapolis
Tariq Alhomayed

A non-Saudi official asked me during a telephone conversation a few days ago; “do you think the Saudis will actually not participate in the Annapolis summit? Brother Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) was right when he said that Annapolis was not for normalization… What is the story?”

I answer that I could not speak on behalf of all Saudis, but I could analyze the situation stating that, in addition to what was published in the American press and specifically in the “Washington Post” about the existence of Saudi conditions and the information issued by Washington confirming these Saudi conditions, then I must say that it is clear that Saudis are played the attendance game with a great deal of diplomatic professionalism; similar to a basketball game, where diplomacy will be used until the final millisecond of the game.

Despite the conference date drawing near and the Saudis leaving the door open to speculation regarding their attendance or absence; I had always considered it more likely that Saudis would attend the conference if some conditions were met. Abu Mazen’s words are true, Annapolis is not in a state for normalization and sitting on the negotiating table in Annapolis is much easier than sitting on the Madrid Conference negotiating table in the nineties.

And there is a need for Saudi attendance since Saudis had presented their own “Peace initiative” and Israel should never win the game because of Saudi or Arab absence, especially if the objective behind such conferences is to score points. It is enough to remember the Wye River negotiations and what had been said and what’s still being said in this regard.

November:26:2007 - 10:22 | Comments Off | Permalink

The British newspaper Economist reports that the case of ‘Qatif Girl’, in addition to other bizarre cases like the forced divorce of couples based on tribal differences, have caused Saudis to start questioning the justice available through their judicial system. It notes, correctly, that basic decency might provide a proper leavening for puritanical zeal.

The legal reforms announced earlier this year really need to be taken up as a matter of urgency. Cases like that of ‘Qatif Girl’ hurt not only the perception of Saudi Arabia by foreigners, but now by Saudis themselves. Without faith in their legal system, ordinary Saudis will start looking for a replacement, if only out of self-interest.

[Thanks to Aqoul and Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic for the links. New visitors might like to try searching on various topics like (Qatif Girl) or (Legal Reform).]

Double indemnity
A bizarre application of the law

AS CLASSIC film buffs know, a double indemnity is an insurance policy that pays double when the insured person dies in an accident. But in Saudi Arabia, the principle appears to apply to rape victims who have the temerity to appeal, after they have been convicted along with their aggressors.

Last year a 19-year-old woman in the eastern town of Qatif appealed against a sentence of 90 lashes for the crime of khulwa (seclusion) with a man who was not related to her. Her lawyer argued that meeting a former friend in a shopping-centre car park, to retrieve a photo of herself that she feared would upset her fiancé, was scarcely so grave an offence. Moreover, this “crime” was far outweighed by the fact that the two friends had been interrupted by seven youths, who abducted them at knife-point and allegedly gang-raped both of them, repeatedly.

An appeals court recently overturned the Qatif judge’s ruling, doubling the alleged rapists’ sentences to between two and 11 years in jail. But it also more than doubled the rape victims’ sentences to 200 lashes, adding six-month jail terms. To add further insult, it barred the woman’s lawyer from the court, suspended his licence and referred him to a disciplinary board.

Saudis generally respect their legal system, which is, in theory, wholly based on Islamic principles. Still, certain rulings are increasingly raising questions about the fairness of the 700-odd judges, schooled exclusively in the Wahhabist version of Islamic law, who run it. The Qatif case is only one of many to have raised eyebrows.

November:26:2007 - 09:02 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports that the Saudi government has released 1,500 reformed extremists. The article does not identify the individuals nor provide much detail on when, where, or how they were detained in the first place. Thus, it’s not clear if any of these include former Guantanamo detainees, nor if they were involved in any violent acts within the Kingdom. The article does, however, notethe composition of of the various groups involved in the rehabilitation programs.

Over 1,500 Extremists Freed After Repenting

RIYADH, 26 November 2007 — Saudi authorities have released more than 1,500 reformed extremists, who were detained on charges of embracing and spreading takfeer (the ideology that brands other Muslims who disagree with them as infidels).

The extremists, under the guidance of the Ministry of Interior, had undergone lengthy counseling, according to Muhammad Al-Nujaimi, a member of the Counseling Committee and professor of comparative jurisprudence at the King Fahd Security College.

Al-Nujaimi told Al-Watan newspaper that the Counseling Committee, which is the brainchild of Prince Muhammad ibn Naif, assistant minister of interior for security affairs, was established in 2004 with the approval of Interior Minister Prince Naif. The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance jointly supervise activities of the committee comprising 100 members. Members include religious scholars, preachers, specialists in religious doctrine and law, psychologists and social workers.

November:25:2007 - 23:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

Interesting piece at Saudi Debate on whether or not the Saudi media has gained any freedom over the past few years. The author thinks not. I disagree.

I think the reporting that followed the death of schoolgirls in a fire at their Mecca academy in 2002 marks a major turning point in how the Saudi media works. The newspaper articles—notably those from Al-Watan, but including most other papers—crossed a line that had been sacrosanct: criticism of the religious establishment. Not only the the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and and its dependent Presidency of Girls’ Education come under direct attack, the attacks led to results. The Presidency was abolished and the Ministry lost its hold over girls’ education. There was push-back from the authorities after several weeks’ worth of teeing-off on the religious establishment. There was also some very strong public criticism of the media—up to and including death and bomb threats. But a major line was crossed.

We can see the effects of that crossing in the Saudi media’s reports on cases like that of ‘Qatif Girl’ and complaints about court decision involving divorces over social pedigree. The courts, though subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, are nevertheless religious courts, ruling solely on the basis of Sharia law. We see it too in the unprecedented situation in which religious policemen are being taken to court and charged with crimes. Not only would this have been unthinkable 10 years ago, it would have immediately resulted in the jailing of editors and writers.

There are still areas in which the Saudi media dares not to tread. Direct criticism of the Al-Saud or of government ministers isn’t happening. You will see not articles in the Saudi media that question the legitimacy of the government, nor that question Islam. But what we do see are articles suggesting that there are political reforms both desirable and possible. We see articles in which the writers, or those being reported upon, seek to break the knots that link traditional or cultural values with religious values.

I do not think the Saudi media is ‘free’. I think it has gained ground and that it is pushing the limits in areas in which it can reasonably do so. Goading authorities into shutting down media doesn’t gain ground; it gains accolades, praise, and pity from other, non-Saudi journalists.

Saudi media must get its house in order if independence is ever to be gained
Abdelaziz Al-Khedr

Last month, Abdullah Attariqi, a member of the Saudi Shura Council, raised in a series of articles in Al Watan, the idea of the accountability of the press. His comments generated a range of responses from writers and journalists decrying the idea of such accountability, not least because the suggestion that it existed had been suggested by a media figure with a long experience of working in the press.

Most of the reactions emphasised the need for the freedom of the press, and its right to criticise the Shura Council and the departments of government.

However, the discussion and criticism raised by some writers focused on the crisis in our society – a society which still lacks the most fundamental capacity to form independent social consciousness and the ability to influence officialdom on any issue – large or small.

But the issue is not simply a matter of being able to talk in nice prose about press freedom, or whether government departments can or should be legally criticised according to local traditions whose limits are known to everyone and cannot be over-stepped.

Nor is the problem one of debating clauses in the press code, or amending them to make them more independent. This will change nothing as long as the official mentality and elitist view continues to ignore the fundamental question of press freedom. Our press has been and continues to be governmental in its media message. The difference between one newspaper and another is: which message is more governmental and official than the other?

As for the independence enjoyed in many countries, despite all developmental change, we have achieved no movement that deserves to greeted in this regard.

This fact is not only recognised by the elite but by the man in the street also. The problem is not in fact with the officials – whose nature and right we understand in controlling and directing the message of the media – but in the absence of the awareness and the enthusiasm of the media elites themselves, in dealing with this issue which affects its own performance and credibility in advocating reform and fighting corruption.

Regardless of all that is said of change in the level of media freedom and its development in Saudi Arabia, the reality is that there is a limited margin of such freedom – which was won many years ago.

November:25:2007 - 17:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

The French are attempting to sell a high-speed train link between Jeddah, Mecca, and Medina, reports Saudi Gazette. The distances are sufficient to have this sales pitch make sense, and moving millions of pilgrims among the cities is a real problem. The French believe their system can stand up to the climate. Whether it makes economic sense is still being debated.

French Talk High-Speed Rail Network for KSA
Shahid Ali Khan

RIYADH – The French railway officials who recently did a test run of the world’s fastest train, is ready to implement a railway network project and introduce a high-speed train to ply Jeddah-Makkah-Madina for the fast and comfortable transport of millions of pilgrims coming for Haj and Umrah every year.

Francois Lacote, Senior Vice-President of Alstom Transport, said that the project will allow pilgrims to travel in a 500-seat, double-decker, high-speed train that can run up to 400 km/hour between Madina-Makkah-Jeddah. “The train can reach the Madina-Makkah destination in just 90 min.,” he said.

Lacote, France’s 2007 Engineer of The Year for developing the high-speed train, cheerfully presented the test run – captured on film – to those who attended the French Technology Exhibition in Riyadh on Saturday.

Engr. Fahad Al-Sultan, Secretary General of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said that the authorities in charge of the transport system in Saudi Arabia will definitely benefit from the fast and efficient railway network that the French company will build.

“And if the high-speed train is to ply Riyadh-Jeddah, the journey will just be a matter of two hours,” he said, after watching the presentation of Alstom Transport.

Around 43 leading French companies from the electricity, electronics, telecommunications, environment, water, health, security, transportation, IT, equipments and industries, finance, services and tourism sectors are participating in the show for business visitors.

November:25:2007 - 15:55 | Comments Off | Permalink
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