For those who follow the Gregorian calendar, I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year!

The Islamic New Year, 1 Muharram, 1429, comes in ten days, so I’ll repeat my regards then!

December:31:2007 - 23:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Gulf News from Dubai carries this story about the government of Sri Lanka’s mandating a 65% raise in the amount paid as salaries to Sri Lankan maids in the Kingdom. States sending laborers to Saudi Arabia are increasingly demanding higher salaries for their citizens, seeking to reduce abuse on the theory that people take better care of things (and people’s services) for which they pay more.

Sri Lankan maids’ wages up by 65%
Mariam Al Hakeem

Riyadh: Following the earlier salary increase for housemaids taken by the Philippine and Indonesia governments Sri Lanka is planning to increase the salaries of its housemaids working in Saudi Arabia by about 65 per cent effective at the start of 2008.

The chairman of the Saudi and GCC recruitment committees, Sa’ad Al Baddah, said this move was expected from Sri Lanka and other countries after earlier decisions taken by both the Philippines and Indonesia regarding the increase of their housemaids’ salaries.

Speaking to reporters, Al Baddah asked Saudis to wait before they start the process of recruitment of housemaids from Sri Lanka. He underlined that coordination was underway between the Saudi Recruitment Committee and other local agencies on one side and GCC recruitment committees on the other, to put an end to the wave of hiking housemaids’ salaries by respective countries.

Saudi Gazette reports on the story, too: Hiring of Lankan Maids to get Costlier. It notes that the new minimum wage will be 450 Saudi Riyals (US $120.00) per month, for both maids and drivers.

December:31:2007 - 11:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News runs this piece on the case of a Saudi imam who threatened to kill an official in the Ministry of Islamic Affairs because the Ministry had told him to tone down his sermons. The imam was found guilty in a trial that sentenced him to jail and a flogging, but is now appealing his sentence.

It’s an interesting look at the problems Saudi Arabia is having in trying to regain control over clerics to whom it had ceded too much power in the past.

Imam Sends Death Threats to Official
Raid Qusti, Arab News

RIYADH, 31 December 2007 — The Kingdom’s Cassation Court (appeals court) will hear the case of a Saudi imam who was jailed by a court in Hail. The imam allegedly threatened to kill the head of the branch of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Hail. The head had suspended the imam from his duties for using anti-Western slogans in his sermons.

The ministry asked the imam several times to refrain from using political slogans but the imam was adamant and refused to obey. He was then summoned to the ministry and removed from his position.

After a quarrel with a ministry official and the failure by others to mediate and have the imam reinstated in his job, the imam sent death threats to the official on his cell phone. The official then filed a lawsuit against the imam at the religious court in Hail.

December:31:2007 - 10:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

While the concept of ‘Ministry of Information’ is one well past is sell date, most Arab governments demand one in futile attempts to control the flow of information. I suppose that if one insists on having such a ministry, then it might as well try to serve a useful purpose.

Bringing the media up to speed on security issues, giving them a functional understanding of the issues and vocabulary, how operations work, what sorts of information can be made public and when are all good things. That this presupposes some high level of transparency by the government is an issue not addressed in this Khaleej Times article about recent Saudi efforts to enlist the media in the struggle against terrorism.

Bid to get media and regional govts closer
Habib Shaikh

JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia has taken the initiative to close the gap between the media and media departments in governments in the Arab world.

According to Interior Minister Prince Nayef, through productive cooperation and mutual understanding, the media and governments could form the most important elements in confronting the effect of changes in the region.

“Those changes have had an effect on Arab communities, both directly or indirectly, affecting the foundations of Arab society’s ideologies, politics, social lives, people’s behaviour and directions,” he said.

The interior minister inaugurated a meeting of private and government-owned Arab media organisations in Riyadh recently. It was attended by Arab media relations security representatives and representatives of government and private Arab media organisations.

December:31:2007 - 10:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Here’s an interesting—and optimistic—piece from The Los Angeles Times on how the architectural design of mosques is working to unite people of different faiths. The article focuses mainly on mosques in Boston, MA and London, UK, both sites of harsh protest about the construction of mosques by various groups, but also the support given to the construction projects.

Saudi Arabia enters the picture not only through architects like Sami Angawi, but because much of the funding for construction comes from the Kingdom. And when people put ‘Saudi Arabia’ and ‘money’ together in the same sentence, many reach the conclusion: terrorism.

The article is worth reading in full.

Mosque designs frame divide between modern, traditional
Architects are caught in a widening divide between religious traditionalism
and modern innovation. Add to that the political and community pressures

Christopher Hawthorne,

BOSTON — PERHAPS the most direct way to describe the new Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, among the largest mosques built in this country since the 2001 terrorist attacks, is to call it conservative twice over. Designed for a site in the Roxbury neighborhood by Boston firm Steffian Bradley and Saudi Arabian architect Sami Angawi, it is full of references to centuries-old Islamic landmarks, including a row of peaked arches at street level and a 140-foot-tall minaret. In classic New England style, it’s also wrapped entirely in red brick.

In its combination of pride and caution, the 60,000-square-foot building — delayed by controversy and a pair of lawsuits, and finally set for completion early next year — has a good deal to say about the uneasy relationship between Islam and the West and the future of mosque architecture in the U.S.

December:31:2007 - 10:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

In its on-line version, The Washington Post republishes an article from ‘PC World’ magazine noting the arrest of Saudi blogger Fuad Al-Farhan. Al-Farhan’s arrest is attracting international attention, including that of organizations as the Committee to Protect Journalists. The piece states that Al-Farhan’s posts on religious extremism may have been the cause of his arrest.

Saudi blogger arrested, held without charges
A Saudi blogger whose writings were critical of religious extremism has reportedly been detained by Saudi Arabian officials, according to advocacy groups

Saudi Arabian officials have reportedly detained a blogger whose writing has criticized religious extremism in the country, according to the two press freedom groups and a regional human-rights organization.

Blogger and IT professional Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, 32, was taken into custody on December 10, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported on Wednesday. His Arabic-language site now has a “Free Fouad” banner in English across the top.

In a letter sent to friends shortly before his arrest, al-Farhan wrote that he had been told that the interior ministry was investigating him and would pick him up within two weeks. At the time he described the worst case as being jailed for three days, but he was still being held without charge as of Friday, according to Joel Campagna, Middle East program coordinator for the CPJ in New York.

The article does not note the website set up to support Al-Farhan, Free Fuad.

December:30:2007 - 12:41 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs this interview with Omar Daghayes, a Saudi national held at Guantanamo until released to British authorities las month.

Ex-Guantanamo Detainee, Omar Deghayes Talks to Asharq Al-Awsat
Mohammed Al Shafey

London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Libyan national Omar Deghayes, one of three British residents who were recently released from Guantanamo, has declared that from the first day of his detention over five years ago he was certain that God would end his ordeal.

Deghayes, who had moved temporarily to Pakistan with his Afghan wife and child, was arrested in 2002, along with his family, by bounty hunters in Pakistan.

Deghayes was held in Guantanamo after being accused of appearing on a Chechen rebel training videotape seized by the Spanish Government, which led him to being placed on the list of the top 50 terrorists in the world; however he was later cleared after facial recognition experts declared it was not him on the video.

Deghayes was arrested upon arrival in England, but was later set free by a British court on a 50,000-pound bail and is under continuous electronic surveillance. He now lives with his family in the coastal city of Brighton.

The following is the full text of the interview:

Meanwhile, The Washington Post runs a piece based on wire stories about 10 more Saudis being released and repatriated to Saudi Arabia: Pentagon Releases 10 Saudi Detainees

December:30:2007 - 12:27 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News translates an op-ed from the Arabic daily Al-Madinah in which the writer counts the numerous ways in which Saudi women not only “don’t count”, but in which they have an apparently negative value to Saudi society. Worth reading for this very strong viewpoint.

Saudi Woman Is Always Guilty!
Dania Al-Ghalib, Al-Madinah

The Saudi woman is guilty. She is guilty of being born in a male-dominated society. Her fault is that she grows up in a society that stigmatizes her sex as a sin. She is held accountable because society believes she is underaged — even if she is in her 60s — and implements a guardianship system over her as if she were a second-rate citizen. It is very common for a Saudi woman — a widow or a divorcee — to have her young son as her guardian and she needs his written permission to carry out official paperwork. He is in control of her life and her destiny.

The Saudi woman can be blamed for living in a male-dominated society that opposes many rights for women despite the fact that the Prophet (peace be upon him) — the best of all humans — consulted a woman and listened to her advice. The Saudi woman is guilty of living in a society that confuses tradition with Islamic obligations and idolizes what it sees as the latter to the extent that when she wants to discuss or object, she is accused of rebellion. Her fault is that society considers her an item of her guardian’s property. He can do anything he desires with her without asking her opinion or even listening to her.

December:29:2007 - 12:28 | Comments & Trackbacks (12) | Permalink

The case of the death of Salman Al-Huraisi, allegedly beaten to death by members of the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (aka, the religious police) is indeed a high-profile one. But it does not raise public sympathy as did the case of ‘Qatif Girl’. Al-Huraisi was caught up in a raid on his family’s home where alcohol was being manufactured, according to various reports. For many Saudis, that’s provocation enough for whatever happened to him.

His family—and now human rights activists—disagree, stating that over-reaction and over-reach by the religious police led to Al-Huraisi’s death. They have appealed a lower court’s verdict to the Saudi Court of Cassation, seeking to have that verdict overturned and members of the Commission found guilty of homicide.

Raid Qusti covers the story for Arab News in an article worth reading.

Huraisi Case Goes to Appeal; Rights Advocate Teams Up With Lawyer
Raid Qusti, Arab News

RIYADH, 29 December 2007 — The high-profile case of Salman Al-Huraisi, a 28-year-old Saudi hotel security guard who died as a result of alleged beatings by two members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, has been transferred to the Cassation Court, the Kingdom’s court of appeals. A ruling is expected within a month.

Raif Badwi, a human rights advocate, has teamed up with the family’s attorney, Yahya Al-Huraisi, to appeal the lower court’s decision on Nov. 28 dropping all charges against two defendants in the murder case — both of them Commission members.

Badwi is expected to highlight the case from a human rights perspective and underscore the conclusion made by the General Investigation and Prosecution Authority (GIPA), the Kingdom’s equivalent of a district attorney’s office, which had declared the two agents culpable for Al-Huraisi’s death.

“The ruling (by the lower court) implies what I refer to as a ‘license to kill’,” Badwi told Arab News. “If the Cassation Court does not overturn the lower court’s decision and there is no intervention from higher authorities, this basically means that these people can enter anyone’s house in the name of religion, humiliate them physically and mentally, take them to a station and even kill someone and get away with it.”

December:29:2007 - 12:19 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

This article from Khaleej Times is causing some consternation among US bloggers, though why I really can’t tell. Nanodot, which features news on nanotechnology, has a post: Saudi Arabian nanotechnology: it’s different, favorably cited by the big-foot of bloggers, Instapundit. But the piece only says that in the rest of the world, nanotech research is directed by ‘government research agency, university, or CEO, and funded by that agency, university, or corporation.’ And that’s exactly what’s happening here, except that what’s being announced in the news report is that ‘a government research agency’ is what’s being established; no technology is being promoted or researched.

Feigning shock and horror that Saudi Arabia wants to enter the nanotech world can only be seen as ‘Saudi bashing,’ something all too prevalent among certain blogs. That’s a pity.

Saudi Arabia plans to set up nanotechnology institute

JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia plans top set up a nanotechnology institute. The proposal has been approved by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, according to Dr Abdullah Al Othman, rector of King Saud University (KSU).

To be located on a two million square metres facility in Riyadh Techno Valley, it will be named after King Abdullah, and serve as an advanced technology research centre for KSU.

Al Othman said that Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defence and aviation, has donated SR30 million for the recruitment of top research scientists from all over the world. He spoke at the start of the three-day Seventh Saudi Engineering Conference, which was inaugurated by Interior Minister Prince Nayef on behalf of Crown Prince Sultan at KSU’s auditorium in Riyadh recently.

December:29:2007 - 11:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

In his last column of the year for Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi looks at the way Saudi Arabia is facing up to—or, more properly, avoiding facing up to—the facts about terrorism in the country. While the media repeats Ministry of Interior reports on the capture of extremists and the interruption of plots, not much is being said about why terrorism seems to attractive to a swath of Saudi youth. Definitely worth reading.

Happy New Terrorism!
Mshari Al-Zaydi

After every announcement made by Saudi Arabia that a fundamentalist terrorist group has been arrested the same question follows: what is the failing?

On 23 December, it was announced that 28 militants were arrested. This means that over the past two months the Saudi Ministry of Interior has repeatedly announced that it has detained groups of terrorist suspects affiliated to Al-Qaeda.

Last month, the ministry stated that 208 suspects were arrested, which followed the arrest of a terrorist network that was comprised of 172 people. Earlier in the year; January 2007 to be more precise, 10 Al-Qaeda financial supporters were detained in Saudi Arabia.

This is a brief glimpse into the ongoing terror sweeps that are executed by Saudi security, which brings to mind the “long-winded talk” about intellectual and educational confrontation and the repeated campaigns calling for ‘al Munasaha’ committees (advisory committees).

Many have spoken of the crippled state of the organization’s ideology  not of its soldiers and cells.

In my opinion, the media clamor that surrounds any great successes [in combating terrorism] and the preoccupation with propagating them has reached a point that has made states, Eastern and Western alike, scramble towards these ‘reformers’ with the intention of exporting the experience.

However; the reality on the ground away from this media parade is that we are barely skimming the surface and not reaching the core of the matter. The reason is clear: Some people are deluded into believing that intellectual confrontation will lead to posing daring questions, the repercussions of which public opinion could not handle. Questions such as: Is the present religious discourse capable of counteracting Al-Qaeda’s ideology and preventing its impact on societies? Do we suffer from an inherent social and religious extremism that has facilitated the spread and impact of Al-Qaeda on those whom it has influenced?

Such questions are always answered in an evasive manner rather than a critical one. Meanwhile, if these questions are not answered frankly this confrontation against ‘terrorist ideology’ will be prolonged and perhaps even evolve in an unprecedented manner that we cannot imagine. I do not claim to have the answers to these questions; however, I am calling for a new way of thinking in Saudi Arabia with which to approach this dilemma that has been destroying society since Al-Qaeda was struck in May 2003.

December:29:2007 - 11:27 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing in Arab News, Tariq Al-Maeena summarizes the case of ‘Qatif Giirl’ and the way in which Saudis understand it and the King’s pardon. He says that this case—and others similar to it—point out the serious flaws in the Saudi judicial system and the urgent need to get if fixed.

Reflections on the Qatif Saga
Tariq Al-Maeena, Arab News

When the Qatif story first broke out in Arab News some weeks ago, it threatened to upstage an important international event being held in the capital city of Riyadh. That was the OPEC summit that was convening with the attendance of heads of state, which included Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran.

And while the OPEC summit did provide enough fodder for a slew of international journalists and media personnel with colorful dialogue provided by both Chavez and Ahmadinejad, it was the story of the Qatif girl that captured most of the attention of the foreign press.

And as the story circulated through domestically, wire services across the world were beginning to pick up on what they saw as a sinful travesty of justice where the rape victim was condemned along with her attackers. Her crime? Being alone in an area with a non-related male.

December:28:2007 - 10:56 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink
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