According to this Arab News article, Saudi access to the Internet won’t be back to normal for another 10 days, or maybe more. Not only is about 50% of the Kingdom’s on-line population affected, but users from India through Egypt are without access. These days, that’s a hard burden to bear, even for individuals. Companies that rely on the interconnectivity of the World Wide Web must be frantic. I wonder if there’s some sort of insurance one can purchase to protect against business losses?

The piece also points out that home users of broadband will see their access diminished as ISPs will be shifting the load to permit businesses to continue.

Internet Disruption May Last 10 Days
Molouk Y. Ba-Isa, Arab News

ALKHOBAR, 1 February 2008 — Disruption to communications in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East and South Asia continues due to a cut in two submarine cables in the Mediterranean Sea.

Both the FLAG and SEA-ME-WE 4 undersea cables have been cut, off the coast of Egypt near Alexandria. Some reports claim that the cut was caused by a ship’s anchor, but neither cable operator has confirmed the reason for the outage.

Regarding the SEA-ME-WE 4 cable, a spokesperson for Alcatel-Lucent said: “Cable damages of this kind normally happen because of seismic activity, earthquakes or anchoring issues. Until the cable is brought back to the surface, the exact cause cannot be determined. The maintenance consortium responsible for repair is taking the needed steps.”

There is no definite time specified for the repair but early indications are that at least 10 days and perhaps two weeks will be needed to bring both cables back to full service. The Fiber-Optic Link Around the Globe (FLAG), is a 28,000 km long submarine communications cable owned by India’s Reliance Communications Ltd.

January:31:2008 - 21:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

‘Saudi Debate’, a website frequently cited here, has changed its name to ‘Arab Life’ and has unfortunately gone to a subscription business model, severely limiting its availability and utility. When more and more of the major media are dropping their pay walls, the move is retrograde.

They do have a piece on ‘Qatif Girl’ and how that case is an affront to Islamic law as understood by most Muslims. I recommend reading it in full and thank ‘alwaleed’ for pointing it out in a comment.

Saudi judge ignores Quranic rights in harsh decision over the ‘Girl of Qatif’
Khalid Chraibi

In a memorable scene in Ingmar Bergman’s movie Wild Strawberries, Isak, the central character, dreams that he is standing in court, waiting to be sentenced. But he has no clue as to the charges against him. When the judge declares him guilty, he asks, bewildered: “Guilty of what?” The judge replies flatly: “You are guilty of guilt”. “Is that serious?” asks Isak. “Unfortunately,” replies the judge.

The verdict in the case of the ‘Girl of Qatif’, as the incident has become known worldwide, is as bewildering to most people as the judge’s verdict was to Isak. How can a young bride of 18 who has been subjected to the harrowing experience of being blackmailed by a former ‘telephone boyfriend’, then gang-raped 14 times in a row by seven unknown assailants, be further brought to trial for the offence of khalwa and condemned to 90 lashes? How does one justify raising the punishment to 200 lashes and 6 months in jail when she appealed the first sentence?

The case had all the necessary ingredients to become an instant cause célèbre, when word of it reached the global news agencies. It received very large coverage in the media, with the verdict being criticized by commentators, politicians and citizens in all walks of life, within the region and in far away countries.

Amnesty International protested against the flogging verdict (which was also applicable to the men involved in the case), observing that “the use of corporal punishment constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.” It added that “the criminalisation of khalwa is inconsistent with international human rights standards, in particular, an individual’s right to privacy.” The sentence against the ‘Girl of Qatif’ and the boy who sat with her in the car “should therefore be declared null and void”.

The Saudi authorities were perplexed and incensed by such criticisms. As far as they were concerned, the court sentence against the ‘Girl of Qatif’ was made in application of the Shari’ah as it has traditionally been interpreted in the country, and raised no particular or unusual issues.

The Saudi Ministry of Justice observed, in a statement, that the girl went out to meet her male acquaintance “without a mahram, a legal guardian, and exchanged with him forbidden affairs through the illegal khalwa. She knows that khalwa with an unrelated man is forbidden by Shari’ah and by doing this she has broken the sacred matrimonial contract.” Her punishment is thus perfectly justified in Islamic law.

But, the ‘Girl of Qatif’, her husband and her lawyer questioned several points in the Ministry’s statement, as well as the legal grounds on which the sentence was based.

According to them, the girl had not put herself in this situation of khalwa out of her own free will. She and the boy who was raped with her had been chatting regularly on the phone for two years, since they were both 16, but without meeting. Somehow, the boy obtained her picture. When she got married at age 18, she wanted her picture back, and the boy agreed to do that, if she met him in his car, in a public mall. After returning her picture to her, the boy volunteered to drive her home but, on their way, they were overtaken by another car, which compelled them to stop. They were kidnapped and taken to a deserted place, where the boy and the girl were separately subjected to a gang-rape.

January:31:2008 - 15:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Abeer Mishkhas, who writes for Arab News, has a commentary in today’s issue of The Guardian. She notes how Saudis are beginning to find their public voices through new media, particularly the Internet. Interesting piece, definitely worth reading.

Vox pop in Saudi Arabia
Long fearful of expressing their opinions, ordinary Saudi citizens are beginning to find a voice – thanks to the internet
Abeer Mishkhas

Voicing an opinion publicly can seem a simple, even normal practice for people in the western world. But in a country like Saudi Arabia, it is not exactly the simplest thing to do. In a country that does not believe in the voice of the individual, where women – who account for half of the population – are voiceless, expressing an opinion can be become a privilege. A privilege that is given only to the people who know how to stay within the system.

In newspapers, on TV, in educational organisations, people are expected to keep clear from the thorny issues. They can express all the opinions in the world but they have to know in what areas to voice them; they can talk endlessly about football, or they can vent their energy in religious discussions, but they know that there are limits to what they can say. They can only say the acceptable, and if someone dares to cross the unseen but glaring red lines, he (more rarely, she) will be pushed not too gently back behind those lines. There can be a very high price to pay.

In such an atmosphere, political dissent is not tolerated; criticism of the way the government is running things is out of the question. The prohibited areas start from the top heads in government, and never end really, because in every organisation there is always a top person who does not like criticism. Even in schools, children are taught to obey, and not to argue.

This system worked for many years. People learned how to live with it, and those who did not wish to live according to the rules had to face severe consequences. But things do change, and there is nothing more interesting than observing that change taking place.

In the past 10 years, this whole habit of “self-censorship” has been shaken to its core. Slowly the internet has crept into the lives of people, accompanied by a wide variety of satellite channels.

January:31:2008 - 12:31 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

The Israeli daily Jerusalem Post runs an opinion piece from a Saudi who responds to the anti-Saudi (and generally anti-Arab) rhetoric of the paper’s columnist Caroline Glick. The writer, a woman who prefers to remain anonymous, points out where Glick is, at best, misinformed about the country and ends with an invitation for her to visit Saudi Arabia.

Letter from Saudi Arabia
By H.A.

Hello Caroline Glick, I am a 20 year old female living in Saudi Arabia. My family and I used to live the United States for 13 years, until we decided to move back to be closer to our relatives. The other day, I was searching for articles on Google and I came across your op-ed on Laura Bush’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

I am sorry to say but I was very disappointed with your article. You said things that are not true about my country. For instance, you mentioned that women in Saudi have no choice on who they marry, and that men can marry up to four women and divorce them just in a matter of words.

We do have a choice on who to marry. You do realize we live in the 21st century?! Both my sisters and brother knew their spouses before they were married, and I come from a relatively religiously committed family. My mother and father met through family outings in Saudi Arabia in the 50′s. While it is true that men can marry up to four women, there are still consequences that comes with it.

First, this is a part of our religion which gives no one the right to mock us about it. Second, no sheikh (the equivalent to a priest) will allow a man to marry a second or third wife without conducting an interview with him to see what his reasons are. For instance, my uncle recently married a second wife. This second wife was a woman who’s husband died and was in financial debt. My uncle did what he thought was right, after asking for his wife’s blessing. If he had not received this blessing he would not have done it. Nor would he have done it if he had not realized how bad the situation this woman was in.

January:31:2008 - 12:24 | Comments & Trackbacks (13) | Permalink

The Washington Post reports that at least some Saudi women are optimistic about the future of women’s rights in the Kingdom. They point to reforms already effected by King Abdullah and expect to see more. They even think that women will be given permission to drive by the end of this year. I certainly hope they’re right.

Saudi Women See a Brighter Road on Rights
Group Says King May Lift Driving Ban by Year’s End
Faiza Saleh Ambah

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 30 — Buoyed by recent advances in women’s rights, advocates for the right of women to drive in Saudi Arabia — the only country in the world that prohibits female drivers — say they believe the ban will be lifted this year.

The women’s group has collected more than 3,000 signatures in the past five months and hopes that King Abdullah will issue a royal decree giving women the right to drive.

Since taking the throne in 2005, Abdullah has championed women’s right to work and often takes official trips overseas with delegations of female journalists and academics. The king has said that he does not oppose allowing women to drive but that society needs to accept the idea first.

“I think the authorities want people to get used to the idea and will lift the ban before the end of the year,” said Wajeha al-Huwaider, 45, an educational analyst and co-founder of the group.

January:31:2008 - 12:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Saudi columnist and businessman Hussein Shobokshi reports on a recent international survey of education. Arab states, particularly Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Palestine, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia fall at the bottom of the list for quality of the education they offer their children. Something needs to be done urgently.

An Alarming Report
Hussein Shobokshi

It is no longer a “novelty” nor does it come as a surprise when we are reminded that education is one of the most critical aspects for the development of states and that it is the most crucial indicator of progress and success. Nations and their people have been assessed and evaluated in accordance with the success, efficacy and performance of their education systems.

Recently, a neutral and independent report was issued by Mackenzie and Associates in which the prominent organization conducted a survey on education in the Arab world and compared it to other states in terms of status and conditions. In truth, the figures that were presented in the report are alarming and foreshadow a huge disaster.

According to the report, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisian, Egypt, Bahrain, Palestine, Morocco and Saudi Arabia rank low in comparison to other states worldwide, and are moreover significantly below the international average when it comes to subjects such as mathematics and science.

The same report also reveals that children in the eighth grade (employed as a benchmark general average) in the Arab world failed to demonstrate that they had any competent skills in mathematics. Also, the grave discrepancy between the performance of males and females in education was highlighted, in addition to the frailty of the educational institutions that offer technical and vocational training.

January:31:2008 - 12:02 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News columnist Samar Fatany breaks new ground in her call for the codification of Sharia law. It’s not quite what you’d expect to read in a Saudi paper, actually. But I think she is absolutely right that as part of the reform of the Saudi legal system, laws—including religious laws—must be codified.

As it now stands, going into a Saudi court is something of an exercise in the belief of the benevolence of random selection. What verdict come out is conditioned by the idiosyncrasies of the judge. Find the right judge and you’ll get the right decision. Get the wrong one and you end up with results like that of the ‘Qatif Girl’ case.

Let Us Codify Shariah Laws
Samar Fatany

The judicial system has often been criticized at home and abroad for its failure to administer justice, largely due to inadequate legal procedures, red tape and rigid interpretation of Shariah law by some of the appointed judges.

Many legal experts have pointed out that the problem with the current system is both qualitative and quantitative. Courts are overburdened, and there is an acute shortage of judges; therefore, courts may take years to rule on simple cases of divorce or family disputes. Furthermore, bureaucracy and red tape create further delays.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah announced a major project to reform the judicial system, and SR7 billion has been allocated to upgrade courts and to train judges in an attempt to reform the entire judiciary. Planned changes include establishing special criminal courts and family courts along with courts for issues related to traffic, the economy, business and sports.

The Ministry of Justice has defined the new jobs that will be available with the start of the specialized courts this year. The ministry will also provide legal training to guarantee more qualified judges and lawyers.

However, Muslim scholars believe that more drastic measures need to be taken to achieve successful reforms.

“To reform the judiciary, we need to reform the Shariah colleges first and upgrade the level of these institutions,” said Dr. Tarek Al-Suwaidan, a prominent Muslim scholar. “There should be a more advanced curriculum, and the teaching standards should be enhanced.”

January:31:2008 - 11:53 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

This year’s unusually cold weather in Saudi Arabia has brought the plight of the poor into public notice. Abeer Mishkhas, writing for Arab News, takes a look at the deaths and misery that have resulted, not just from the cold, but from hunger as well. The stereotype of Saudis, so wealthy that they have gold-plated toilet fixtures, is put to the lie by the simple fact of the extent of poverty. Definitely worth reading.

How Could Such Things Happen in Saudi Arabia?

Four thousand families in Arar live in what looks like shipping containers. The walls are made of wood and the roof is a piece of metal. The houses are open to the weather, whatever it is. When it is hot, the metal roof makes the houses as hot as ovens and when it rains, there are puddles everywhere in the house. Of course, the latest cold wave to hit the country has made things even worse. The people have had to live in actual freezing temperatures made worse by their flimsy houses. This is not an imaginary story; it is a real one that was carried by Al-Hayat newspaper. Needless to say, it shocked many people in Saudi Arabia.

The newspaper also carried interviews with some of the residents. The complaints were quite simple and quite tragic. The people deserve decent lives and they are being forced to live in substandard accommodation with no schools, no medical clinics, and an intermittent electrical supply. Most of the people survive on donations and charity.

How is it that we have known nothing of this bleak situation and those who have to endure it? The story is grim and it took on an extra dose of bitter reality when the same paper published the news of the death of a 15- year-old girl as a result of a recent cold wave in the Kingdom. The girl was asleep in her bed, but the freezing cold seeped through the walls and the metal roof and she froze to death. Masahal — the girl’s name — was not the first victim of the cold in Saudi Arabia, but her death came as a shock because it revealed that poverty levels in her small village were beyond belief, at least for the majority of relatively affluent city dwellers.

The fact that 4,000 families are living in such horrible circumstances makes one wonder about what is being done by officials and the society to narrow the sharp contrast between extreme riches in cities and extreme poverty in some remote villages.

In a country that is considered rich by any standard, there is absolutely no excuse for such situations. In a society that congratulates itself on its piety, it is incredible to hear of people dying of cold or hunger.

January:30:2008 - 22:05 | Comments Off | Permalink

‘Counterstrike’, ‘World of Warcraft’, and similar games are causing some Saudis to worry about the influence of computer games. Nothing much new here, as this is a refrain heard around the world. This Saudi Gazette piece finds all the sources to condemn the games, but apparently hasn’t found those that support it. I suspect that in addition to the generalized concern of parents over what their kids are doing, there’s a strong element of worry that it’s another manifestation of Western culture seeping into Saudi life.

Net Gaming Harming Makkah Children
Khadija Mesha’l

MAKKAH – Internet cafes have become the staple pastime for young people in Makkah replacing almost all the usual activities which existed before internet gaming stole the spotlight.

Makkah has systematically had very few places for young people to enjoy themselves. Sultan Al-Masoudi, 21, said he would have to leave the city in order to enjoy himself.

“In the past, I used to go with my friends to places out of Makkah to play football but now network games takes all the free time I have” he said.

Thamer Ahmad owns one such café and says his regular patrons are not limited to one specific age demographic.

“My customers range from children to adults, sometimes younger children are brought by someone older and they in turn become interested in the games,” Ahmad said

In recent months internet gaming has expanded; starting from a weekend event to now becoming part of the everyday routine. Fouzan Attiah, 20, a frequent internet café patron says he needs to call before he arrives to reserve a spot.

Despite the surge of interested gamers, not everyone welcomes the idea. Parents have grown concerned about the side-effects hours of gameplay have on their children.

Umm Suliman, 45, a mother of four worries about her 13 year old son’s performance at school when he is not at the gaming café.

“My son is addicted to internet gaming and it’s started to impact him at school,” she said. “Not only has it affected his concentration at school but I worry about his health, his eyes are always red when he comes back from the internet cafe.”

Many game developers now, cater their products to having an expanded life in the internet gaming arena. Some games, like World of Warcraft are based entirely on internet gaming playability.
A favorite for the Makkah gamers is Counterstrike. Players are placed on two separate teams and fight each other using an array of weapons. The team-based combat pits a terrorist team and a counterterrorist team against each other with different objectives for each.

January:30:2008 - 10:58 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

A cable connecting much of the Middle East with Europe knocked out much of the Internet service to the region, this AP report says. It notes that Saudi access was off in some areas, but others were having no major problem. This is likely due to the fact that many Saudis rely on satellite systems, completely bypassing the cable.

UPDATE: According to Arab News, an estimated 50% of Saudi Internet users were left without service: Undersea Cable Cut Disrupts Internet Access

Damaged Cable KOs Internet in Mideast

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — Internet outages disrupted business and personal usage across a wide swathe of the Middle East on Wednesday after an undersea cable in the Mediterranean was damaged, government officials and Internet service providers said.

In Cairo, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said the cut in the international communications cable had led to a partial disruption of Internet services and other telecommunications across much of Egypt.

At the Egyptian stock market, IT department engineer Mahmoud Mansour said the disruptions did not affect the operations at the exchange.

Emergency teams were quickly trying to find alternative routes, including by satellites, to end the disruptions, said Minister Tariq Kamel. But service was still slow or nonexistent by late afternoon Wednesday.

January:30:2008 - 10:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Another AP report making the rounds concerns itself with the British government’s thwarted investigation of an alleged scandal involving arms sales to Saudi Arabia starting in 1984. You can find more stories on the issue at this link.

MI6 Urged UK to Drop Saudi Inquiry

LONDON — Britain’s head of overseas intelligence warned that Saudi Arabia likely would stop sharing vital information on terrorism if prosecutors pursued an investigation into alleged corruption in an arms deal, lawmakers disclosed Tuesday.

Ministers were told the inquiry into the BAE Systems PLC arms deal with Saudi Arabia could lead to a withdrawal of Saudi assistance on counterterrorism, according to the annual report of the Intelligence and Security committee. The committee scrutinizes the work of Britain’s intelligence and security agencies.

Britain’s Serious Fraud Office in December 2006 ended the inquiry into allegations that BAE Systems ran a $118.9 million “slush fund” offering sweeteners to Saudi Arabian officials in return for lucrative arms contracts.

BAE has denied the accusations. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a former ambassador to the United States and now head of Saudi Arabia’s National Security Council, has also denied that he profited from the deal.

January:30:2008 - 10:41 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Wire services are running similar stories on a new outbreak of avian influenza, again in Kharj, south of Riyadh. Earlier efforts to cull the flocks there seem not to have worked.

Saudis Kill Poultry After Bird Flu Found

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia said Tuesday it had killed some 158,000 chickens after the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain was found at an infected farm.

The birds were killed in Kharj province, south of the capital, Riyadh, according to a statement by the Agriculture Ministry. About 475 workers were tested, but no human infections were found.

The ministry also said more than 4.5 million fowl have been killed in provinces around the capital, but it did not specify when the killing took place.

Bird flu resurfaced in November in Kharj province, in another blow to Saudi Arabia’s $10 billion poultry industry.

January:30:2008 - 10:31 | Comments Off | Permalink
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