Having huge oil reserves is an entirely different matter than having huge quantities of oil ready to ship, this piece from The Washington Post usefully reminds us. It takes a look at work now underway at the Al-Khurais oil field, west east of Riyadh, at the cost of $10 billion, intended to produce another 1.2 million barrels of oil per day. Producing oil is a bit more complicated and expensive than simply sticking a pipe in the ground and waiting to reap the profits…

Giant Saudi field is key to boosting oil output
Sebastian Abbot

KHURAIS OIL FIELD, Saudi Arabia — This massive oil field surrounded by the desolate sands of Saudi Arabia’s vast eastern desert feels like the middle of nowhere.

But what happens over the next year at Khurais, one of Saudi Arabia’s last undeveloped giant oil fields, could hold the key to what drivers will pay at the pump for years to come.

Under way at Khurais and two other smaller fields nearby is what Saudi Arabia calls the single largest expansion of oil production capacity in history.

June:30:2008 - 09:48 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh that comments on how Saudi civil society crushes individuals who make a mistake. It focuses on a young woman who had been blackmailed for 14 years following some (unstated) indiscretion on her part and calls for reform in social attitudes.

With so much emotion and passion tied up in ‘honor’ and ‘face’, there’s scant room to err in Saudi Arabia. A minor flirtation, an unwise phone call on the part of a teenager can have life-long effect. The rigidity of Saudi society could certainly use some loosening up. Perhaps people might recognize that they deal, not with perfection and ideals, but with fallible humans.

Long-term blackmail
Haya Al-Manie | Al-Riyadh

I pondered a great deal over the story of a poor woman who lived in fear for over 14 years. The woman had been blackmailed for the entire period and had been pressured to hand to her blackmailer over SR800,000, which is an enormous amount of money. This was the price she had to pay for her security.

I was happy to learn that the woman was not heavily involved with this man and that her contact with him was only limited to some pictures she had passed to him.

While reading this piece of news, I was left to wonder who was responsible for her life of fear. Was it that she was ignorant when she was young and irresponsible? Was she in this situation on account of her family? Were the social welfare institutions to blame? I simply cannot imagine how a girl could live in such fear for over 14 years. Living in fear for such a long time could kill a person. I advise her family to treat her psychologically to ensure she can live a normal life and not suffer from mental problems in the future.

Saudi Gazette, meanwhile, reports on an instance of a woman blackmailing a man with indiscreet photos of himself, made when he was interested in pursuing a relationship with her. He changed his mind: she didn’t. Blackmail ensued…

Commission approached against girl blackmailer

June:30:2008 - 09:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (16) | Permalink

Arab News offers this encomium of King Abdullah, on the third anniversary of his ascension to the Saudi throne. The piece points to several of the King’s achievements, including his efforts toward political, social, and economic reform. The article has an air of ‘pro forma’ about it, but it’s still useful to note that King Abdullah has made a significant difference for Saudi Arabia.

Three years of reform and progress
P.K. Abdul Ghafour | Arab News

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia marks today the third anniversary of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s ascending to the throne. During the last three years, the Kingdom has achieved unprecedented progress in economic, social, educational, health, agricultural and industrial sectors.

Abdullah, who became king on Aug. 1, 2005, (Jamad Al-Thani 26, 1426), brought about remarkable changes in the administration, realizing the hopes and aspirations of both Saudis and expatriates. He has been successful in enhancing Saudi Arabia’s global standing by building strong relations with influential countries and through his balanced policies.

Saudi Gazette‘s contribution is similar: http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.con&contentid=2008063010533

June:30:2008 - 09:21 | Comments Off | Permalink

Last week, media around the world reported on Saudi Arabia’s anti-terror efforts resulting in the detention of over 700 militants this year alone. Asharq Alawsat‘s Turki Al-Saheil furthers the reporting to note that these detainees were seen to be very much involved with Al-Qaeda.

Saudi Minister of Interior, Pr Nayef, acknowledges that Saudis made up the majority of those arrested: 90% of terror suspects were Saudis: Naif

Cells Were in Contact with Major Al-Qaeda Leaders- Official
Turki Al-Saheil

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Major General Mansur al-Turki, the Saudi Interior Ministry’s security spokesman, has disclosed that the plans of the terrorist cell which intended to target oil and security installations in the Eastern Province had reached advanced stages and sought the help of elements from Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Africa to carry out these attacks.

He reported that the arrests of all 701 terrorist elements which Saudi Arabia announced yesterday were carried out without any worthwhile resistance and said: “We were able to arrest them before they could carry out any action which might drag us into armed confrontations with them.” He attributed the absence of any confrontations during the security operations that led to the arrest of hundreds of Al-Qaeda organization elements inside his country to two main reasons. The first is the “professionalism with which the security organs dealt with them” and the second is the “success of the security men in reaching the terrorist elements before the readiness stage which directly precedes implementation.” Maj. Gen. Al-Turki underlined his country’s determination to combat terrorism which he said “is a quest that has not stopped since the May 2003 events and until the issuance of today’s (yesterday) statement.” He referred to the Saudi Interior Ministry’s announcement that one group arrested had direct connection with the elements with which Saudi security engaged before five years when they formed a (financial and logistical) support cell for the terrorism. He said this group was known to the security organs and was brought down during the series of arrests of the past six months.

The security official talked about the big role played by the country’s society “which helped foil the terrorists’ plans” and said “every security action is essentially based on a single piece of information. The citizens had naturally a big role in providing it.”

Asharq Alawsat‘s Editor-in-Chief, Tariq Alhomayed, tries to answer the question, Why does Terrorism Exist in Saudi Arabia?

He argues that Islamist terrorism went on basically unnoticed in the 1990s as it was seen as a low-level, world-wide activity. It was not taken seriously until 9/11 (and particularly not until after the 5/12 bombings in Riyadh). He states, too, that too many Arab states turned a blind eye, willingly, to terrorists because they served those states’ interests in the political turmoil of the period.

The former Editor-in-Chief, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, has his own views on the matter: Shock of The Seven Hundred. He, too, notes that terrorism is still an attractive option to certain states in the region. More usefully, he points out that there are fixes to the problem, starting with decent education and decent economic prospects for youth.

Yet another Asharq Alawsat piece points out that getting intolerance out of the mosques is a necessary step, even if insufficient to resolve the problems: Official Stresses Importance of Keeping Mosques Hate-Free

My take is that for many years, officials simply were not paying attention to what was going on beneath their noses. They accepted extremist thought in the schools and mosques because it didn’t seem to be hurting anything and, besides, to criticize a ‘good Muslim’—i.e., an extreme conservative—would be interpreted as the actions of a ‘bad Muslim’.

June:30:2008 - 09:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

Well, I’ve replaced my modem, network card, all the cabling… and still no connection. That means that the power surge that took out the network card also did damage to the motherboard.

This being both Sunday and Florida, it means I’m going to have to wait until tomorrow to get it replaced.

It’s a pain every which way, but I can’t speed the process. Maybe 15 years ago I’d have been willing to get in the box and pull all the cables, wires, jumpers, etc., but not today. I’m happy to have a professional do it, though I’d be even happier if it were all cost-free, of course.

I’m now on a friend’s circuit and equipment, but that’s not going to work for extensive blogging. I again ask your forbearance with the delay.

June:29:2008 - 13:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Apologies to all, but a stroke of lightning struck a little too close to me the other night. Even though everything was on surge protectors, a lot of my equipment got fried. I’m replacing it now—ouch!—but I won’t be able to get a technician around until tomorrow. He’ll work to get the Internet working again through the various cables.

I’ll be back as soon as possible, reporting on stories like the Saudi announcement of 700+ anti-terror arrests this year and Rep. Frank Wolf’s call for more scrutiny of the Saudi Academy. Until then, though, there’s a lot of non-Saudi news taking place that’s worth your attention!


June:26:2008 - 14:57 | Comments & Trackbacks (13) | Permalink

Financial Times offers this interesting analysis of Saudi King Abdullah’s efforts to promote religious tolerance. The piece notes that while inter-faith dialogue is important, perhaps more important is intra-faith dialogue: Getting Muslims of different sects talking with each other calmly.

The article notes the great resistance the King is facing in the more radical of the fundamentalists. Some, the report says, intentionally avoided last week’s conference in Mecca because they disdained its goals. Some people are calling for the fundamentalists to be reformed. Others are calling for their heads to be knocked together until some sense can creep in. Worth reading.

King Abdullah seeks stability by reaching out on religion
Andrew England

A photograph of King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s ruler, walking through a palace in Mecca flanked by two other notables was no doubt exactly the type of image the kingdom’s leaders hoped to portray. Clearly, too, it was one intended for both internal and external consumption.

To the king’s right was a beaming Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al al-Sheik, Saudi Arabia’s top Sunni religious leader, while to his left was Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president of Shia Iran. Together the trio represented the Middle East’s powerhouses – two nations with a history of fraught relations but that lay claim to leadership roles for the Sunni and Shia communities respectively.

The snap was taken at a conference in Islam’s holiest city this month that brought together some 500 Muslim leaders and scholars from around the world. The meeting was intended to assemble often fractious groups and present a united front.

Saudi Arabia is known for the religious intolerance of its puritanical brand of Wahabi Islam. But King Abdullah, tired of what many in his country see as a constant barrage of Islambashing since the attacks of September 11 2001, is hoping to change that image. His latest initiative is to foster dialogue between Moslems and Christians and Jews. The idea, a Saudi official says, is for the Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – to explore their shared values to positive effect.

But, before serious wider dialogue can happen, Muslim leaders recognise they have to put their own house in order and that means going some way to healing the divisions between Shia and Sunni communities – tensions that have been exacerbated by the sectarian violence in Iraq and Lebanon. Those factors, combined with Iran’s rising influence in the Middle East, have brought the spectre of a widening Sunni-Shia conflict to the uppermost of the minds of many Arab leaders.

June:24:2008 - 14:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (10) | Permalink

Gulf News runs this story about Saudi Minister of Labor Ghazi Algosaibi and his personal effort to get young Saudis to recalibrate their expectations in work. By serving burgers, he’s demonstrating that honest work is dignified and you shouldn’t be expecting more. With many Saudi youth woefully equipped to move into demanding jobs, they need to start somewhere. Avoiding available jobs because only third-world employees do them is no longer an excuse. Saudi women have already taken significant steps in this regard, with some even wanting to take up jobs as domestic servants, but the barriers Saudi culture puts up have been significant. Saudi society could use a little ‘attitude adjustment’ if it truly seeks to deal with the problems it faces.

Saudi Arabian minister serves burgers to get nationals to work

Riyadh: A Saudi Arabian minister served as a waiter at a fast-food restaurant to encourage Saudis to take jobs they think are beneath them, according to media reports on Tuesday.

Labour Minister Ghazi Algosaibi surprised customers in a popular restaurant in Jeddah by serving hamburgers for three hours, Saudi media reported.

“The beginning will always be tiring and difficult, but young people can realise their ambitions if they are persistent and work hard,” Algosaibi told the Al Watan newspaper.

Algosaibi is considered the champion of the “Saudisation” of the workforce.

Many Saudis prefer to work in the government sector than take many menial jobs done mostly by the expatriate labour force.

June:24:2008 - 12:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

This report in The Washington Post on the Saudi Academy is amusing, in a macabre sort of way. Fairfax County in Northern Virginia, where the academy is located, is clearly feeling heat from it decision to renew the Academy’s lease on its school property following the report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. So, it’s decided to get out of the crossfire and let two government entities, the Commission and the Department of State, sort out the issue. I’m sure State is trilled to be handed this hot potato.

Board Seeks Input On Islamic School
Amy Gardner

Fairfax County leaders asked U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday to determine whether the county should continue leasing property to the Islamic Saudi Academy following controversy surrounding the school’s teachings.

With unanimous support from the county’s Board of Supervisors, Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) sent a letter to Rice “formally requesting” that the State Department provide direction regarding the county’s one-year lease renewal, approved last month, with the Saudi Arabian government for operation of the academy.

“As a local governmental entity, Fairfax County is not capable of determining whether textbooks, written in Arabic, contain language that promotes violence or religious intolerance, or is otherwise offensive to the interests of the United States,” Connolly wrote. “The county simply does not employ the linguists and scholars required to make such a determination, and more important, such an effort is well beyond the scope and responsibility of local government.”

June:24:2008 - 11:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

This piece from The Los Angeles Times is interesting in that it a) points blame at oil consumers rather than oil producers and b) it calls for changes in people’s behaviors to ‘get out from over the barrel’ caused by producers.

Something the piece seems to neglect, though, is that petroleum use is far more than simply what we put into gas tanks. We depend on petroleum in almost all aspects of our lives, from the plastics we use to the synthetic fibers we wear. It’s used in making fertilizers and pesticides, in shipping our foods to disposing our wastes. Even if we stop burning it in vehicles, we’re still going to be dependent on oil supplies until there’s no more oil to be had. Then we’re going to have to synthesize oil or find substitutes. Petroleum use is here for the long haul. Burning it in cars and factories is perhaps the least important use, though that use is critical today.

Big Oil isn’t the big problem
Government efforts to go after the producers won’t get us anywhere
Jacob Heilbrunn

Here we go again. Soaring oil prices have sent Washington politicians into overdrive to come up with a variety of legislative plans that aim to lower the cost of energy by targeting oil companies. Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, for example, has declared: “I’ll make oil companies like Exxon pay a tax on their windfall profits, and we’ll use the money to help families pay for their skyrocketing energy costs and other bills.” It may sound good in theory, but if history is any guide, this is a pipe dream. The real danger isn’t that Congress will do too little, but too much.

The recent past suggests that, in fact, efforts to influence the supply of energy can actually boomerang, driving up prices and consumption. Rather than demonize Big Oil, lawmakers should focus on tamping down demand.

… More prosaically, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced that for six straight months, Americans have driven fewer miles compared with last year. And Americans aren’t the only ones cutting back. China has stated that it will increase the cost of its subsidized fuel, which should slow the growth in energy use.

But more can be done. The approach of the United States and other oil-importing countries shouldn’t be to create apprehensions among the Saudis and other exporters about the lessening demand for gas, it should be to scare them silly. Such fears prompted Saudi Arabia to declare on Sunday that it will increase production by 200,000 barrels a day to try to keep prices from going even higher.

After bungling the energy challenge in the 1970s, America now has a second chance to liberate itself. It should embark on a program of conserving energy, encouraging new technologies and developing alternative fuels, from solar to nuclear power, that will help wean it from its dependence on foreign oil.

June:24:2008 - 10:33 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

As the crisis of a water shortage in the Hijaz deepens, the Ministry of Water & Electricity is trying to come up with new solutions. This piece from Saudi Gazette—translated from its sister paper, the Arabic Al-Watan—discusses the Ministry’s plans for new damns to be built in the mountainous Asir region to hold water for use in the coastal cities. The Asir is that part of Saudi Arabia that is completely different from the stereotype of the ‘desert kingdom’. The mountains support green pastures and terraced farming with copious rains from the monsoons. They even get snow during the winter occasionally. But building dams is not something peninsular Arabs are noted for. Seemingly, the last major dam building project was the Marib Dam, in Yemen (which share the climate of Asir), updated in 1986. The original is claimed to have been built by the Queen of Sheba.

Minister assures radical steps to end water woes

ABHA – Radical measures are in the cards to resolve the water problem plaguing many parts of the Kingdom, Engineer Abdullah Al-Hussayen, Minister of Water and Electricity, has said.

The projects include Al-Shu’aibah-3 plant and Beesh Valley dam which will produce more than 70 million cubic meters per year, Al-Hussayen said after an inspection tour of the water allocation plant here on Sunday.

Once Al-Shu’aibah plant is operational, water shortage will be a thing of the past, he said adding that the problem in Asir was largely due to the breakdown of the desalination plant there, Arabic daily Okaz reported.

His ministry is looking at the option of building more dams to ameliorate the situation, Al-Hussayen said.

The second phase of Al-Shaqiq Project will be operational in about 30 months. “The problem will completely end then,” the minister said.

He said the desalination plant in Otud area will hopefully be reopened after the rainy season in Asir. “The region enjoys a lion’s share of the proposed dams,” he said.

“The water storage capacity will reach 1,800 million cubic meters, which is twice the capacity of 50 years ago”, he said. The long-term projects include building dams on large valleys, embedding agriculture and prohibiting unlicensed digging of wells, he said.

June:24:2008 - 09:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Arab News runs an article translated from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh that projects the end of oil and its possible consequences for Saudi Arabia. The piece isn’t particularly deep, but it does raise issues about how the landmark profits now flowing into the Kingdom are being spent. The writer suggests a national investment fund, held in the name of current and future citizens as a good way to spend at least part of the money.

What do we do without oil?
Rashed Al-Fawzan, Al-Riyadh

WHAT do we have except oil? This is a serious question, which I did not invent. This question worries many people, yet it remains unanswered. The deepening oil crisis has increased people’s worries and leads us to ask what alternative sources of income we have.

We all know that oil comprises 85 percent of the Kingdom’s GDP.

Oil is getting expensive, something that is leading to an increase in prices of other commodities.

Most of the money generated from oil has been spent fighting inflation. However, we are led to ask where the money left over is spent.

It is unclear where the surplus cash is invested. The world fears energy sources may run out, something that is driving up the price of oil. Prices will continue to increase unless new oil fields are discovered. The finding of a new oil field would ease people’s fear; however, there have been no major discoveries in recent years.

June:24:2008 - 08:46 | Comments Off | Permalink
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