Oops! Looks like someone fell down on his numeracy tests! The German Press Agency reports on a story carried in the Saudi Arabic daily Al-Watan about a member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice who a two too many wives! I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for this that the Commission will be offering post haste…

And I suspect there was more than a little laughing going on in the offices of the UAE’s Khaleej Times when it selected this story to run on its pages.

Saudi vice squad member held for having six wives

RIYADH – A member of Saudi Arabia’s religious police was arrested for having six wives, two more than allowed under Islamic law, a local newspaper reported on Thursday.

The 56-year-old man, who is an employee of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, is under investigation in Jazan province, south-west of the kingdom, according to the Saudi daily al-Watan.

The commission is in charge of enforcing the strict Wahhabi version of the Islamic sharia law.

The man denied the charges and said he had divorced two spouses, and was only keeping four wives, which is allowed under sharia.

The sixth wife, who was arrested along with her husband, said she was not aware that he had five other wives.

July:31:2008 - 11:49 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that due to global inflation and fluctuating international exchange rates, Saudi students studying abroad will receive a 15% increase in their stipends. Another increase is being discussed.

I’m bemused by the fact that the raise comes in reaction to reports that Saudi students may actually be working to help defray their expenses. It is the norm in the US for students to hold part-time (and sometimes full-time) jobs while in university. There’s nothing quite like having to work in the real world to prepare students for, well, working in the real world. I’m sure, though, that the students won’t object to getting a bit more money in their pockets: I’ve never met one who did!

Studying abroad stipends to be increased, official

Riyadh – A senior education official denied claims that students studying abroad on government scholarships have been forced to take up jobs as baby-sitters and dishwashers because of low monthly stipends.

Ali Al-Attayia, the General Supervisor of Financial and Administrative Affairs, at the Ministry of Higher Education, said to combat fluctuating exchange rates the stipends have been increased by 15 percent. He also said another plan to further increase the student stipends, has been submitted to the higher authorities.

July:31:2008 - 08:40 | Comments & Trackbacks (14) | Permalink

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has decided, at least in Riyadh, that having pets leads to the harassment of women. Thus, they will be banned in the region. It will now be against regulations to buy or sell a cat or dog, to keep a dog within a home, or to take either for a walk. The issue really seems to be the ‘emulation of Western culture’, as two articles in Arab News point to hadith in which animals are seen favorably.

The first piece is essentially a news report, though it quotes various people supporting the ban or scoffing at it. One commenter goes on to note that this will be yet another regulation laid down but unenforced.

Vice cops enforce ban on cats and dogs

The second piece, by Abeer Mishkhas (who is also cited in the first) derides the decision as a poor use of Commission resources. She notes that misusing pets to annoy people should not lead to the banning of pets, but to efforts to correct the annoying behavior.

Cats, dogs the new threat to morality

July:31:2008 - 08:33 | Comments & Trackbacks (17) | Permalink

The director general of the Saudi Academy dodged a legal bullet when he plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of ‘failure to report’ an allegation of child abuse. With his plea, the state agreed to drop the more serious charge of obstruction of justice. It appears, from this The Washington Post report, that the director general truly did not realize his obligation under the law. Ignorance is not much of an excuse, but it appeared to provide some mitigation.

Saudi School Director Admits Failing to Report Abuse
Tom Jackman

The director general of a controversial private Islamic school in Fairfax County has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to report child abuse and was fined $500.

Abdalla I.M. Al-Shabnan, head of the Islamic Saudi Academy on Route 1 in the Mount Vernon area, was arrested last month by Fairfax police after allegedly being informed of the possible sexual abuse of a 5-year-old student at the school. School authorities are required by law to report alleged child abuse within 72 hours.

Al-Shabnan was charged with misdemeanor counts of failing to report child abuse and obstruction of justice. In a plea agreement, Al-Shabnan pleaded guilty July 24 to the failure to report charge and Fairfax prosecutors agreed to dismiss the obstruction charge, according to court records.

July:30:2008 - 21:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

Interesting report out of the US Government Accounting Office. The GAO was asked by Congress to take a look at the incidence of abuse of domestic workers by members of international diplomatic staffs assigned to the US, either as representatives to the US or as members of international organizations in the US. The report, a 50-page PDF document, notes that there is indeed abuse though the exact numbers are hard to identify. It did identify 42 individuals claiming abuse that falls under the ‘trafficking in persons’ laws but notes that this is probably too low a figure.

Diplomats hold different levels of ‘diplomatic immunity’ according to their job titles, presence on the Diplomatic List, as well as bilateral agreements with the US. This complicates the ability to investigate allegations by law enforcement or other governmental agencies. Further, the threat of retaliation may well inhibit employees from pursuing legitimate claims of abuse.

The report notes that while the US Dept. of Justice and State Dept. generally work well together, it often takes a long time for State to provide legal guidance on just what investigative practices are permitted under the various treaties governing diplomatic immunity.

The report looked at four countries with high numbers of domestic employees being given visas to accompany their employers to the US: Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Peru, Qatar. Surprisingly, the Philippines has the larges number of such employees, representing 10% of the global total. Saudi Arabia had just under 2.8%, Peru 5.3%, and Qatar 2%.

The report found, additionally, that US Consular Officers did not fully and uniformly understand or comply with regulations governing the issuance of A-3 or G-5 visas for domestic employees of embassy or international organizations respectively. The report lists the items required to be included in employment contracts for these employees:

• a guarantee that the employee will be compensated at the state or federal minimum wage or prevailing wage, whichever is greater;
• a statement by the employee that he or she will not accept any other employment while working for the employer;
• a statement by the employer that he or she will not withhold the passport of the employee; and
• a statement indicating that both parties understand that the employee cannot be required to remain on the premises after working hours without compensation.

The report concludes with recommendation for both State and Justice aimed at providing better protection of domestic workers employed by foreign diplomats in the US, as well as appendices that list the various types of diplomatic immunity and responses from State and Justice to the report.

You can read or download the entire report:

U.S. Government’s Efforts to Address Alleged Abuse of Household Workers by Foreign Diplomats with Immunity Could Be Strengthened

July:30:2008 - 10:59 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Saudi-sponsored Madrid Conference on (Religious) Dialogue is not the only effort to bring together those of different faiths. Christian Science Monitor reports on an initiative at Yale University, this one being sponsored by the Jordanian government, that seeks to continue the dialogue, this time on a theological level. The article notes that Saudi King Abdullah’s Madrid effort opened a door of legitimacy for other Muslims to start up or take part in dialogues of their own locally. The intent of all, though, should be the search for a better understanding among the faiths and putting an end to harmful stereotypes.

This week, a global bid to connect Muslims and Christians
Faith leaders’ quest for understanding, commonality begins Tuesday at Yale
Jane Lampman

Top-tier religious leaders in the Muslim world are emerging as major proponents of dialogue with Christians and other world faiths. With two distinct initiatives this month, they are breaking new ground and sending signals to Muslims and others globally that interreligious understanding and joint action are Islamic values.

Those involved see the initiatives, if sustained, as breaking down misperceptions, strengthening mainstream religious voices on the world stage, and diminishing the influence of extremism.

This week, Yale University hosts the first of four meetings between prominent Muslim and Christian leaders from across the globe, with discussions rooted in foundational principles of the two faiths. The conference beginning Tuesday is the first fruit of “A Common Word between Us and You,” the letter sent last fall by 138 Muslim leaders from 40 nations to the leaders of the world’s Christian churches.

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

Italian news agency AKI reports that Saudi authorities have, for the second time in two months, broken up what’s alleged to be some sort of ‘rave’ by gays in the Eastern Province. Drugs and alcohol are claimed to have been involved, naturally. I can’t figure out if this is some new crackdown by religious authorities or there’s actually a problem in Qatif.

UPDATE: In re-reading the article, there’s no proof that those arrested were actually gay. Alleging that they were would certainly provide social ‘cover’ for the arrests, along with the allegations of drug and alcohol, but we only have a very sketchy story that says 55 people were arrested. In fact, they may have been arrested for very different reasons that the authorities choose to keep hidden at the moment (or forever, of course). Does anyone out there have better information?

Police arrest 55 at ‘gay’ party

Riyadh, 30 July (AKI) – Saudi religious police have arrested 55 people at a party allegedly held by homosexuals at a farm in Qatif province in the east of the country.

According to a report on the Arab satellite TV channel, al-Arabiya, two young men were allegedly found wearing women’s make up and dancing on stage together.

The detainees were all handcuffed when they were arrested. Saudi police said during their search they found drugs and alcohol and other items that are prohibited under the country’s strict Sharia law.

A similar police blitz was carried out more than a month ago at another farmhouse in the same area where 21 alleged homosexuals were arrested. Some of those arrested were Filipinos and Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia.

July:30:2008 - 08:58 | Comments & Trackbacks (22) | Permalink

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Saudi columnist and businessman Hussein Shobokshi laments that labor laws in Arab countries unduly favor the employee over the employer, including government agencies. Perhaps it is a remnant of anti-colonialist, socialist thinking, but the fact is that it’s nearly impossible to fire a local employee no matter how poor the quality of his work. The result is not only a poorly operating organization, he argues. It also provides a good reason for foreign capital to stay out of the region.

Arab Labor Market: Overhaul Required!
Hussein Shobokshi

There is general movement in Arab states towards liberating their economies and opening up their markets to encourage an effective and just capitalist climate that could pave the way to economic growth and increased revenues.

Various states have succeeded in developing their systems and legislation that had once posed obstacles for investors. However, despite this optimistic and improving climate; the problem with the ‘inflexible’ labor systems still remains. Such systems tend to side with employees at the expense of enterprise owners or governmental administration in a manner that entails gross injustice to employers in many cases.

It is both strange and unreasonable that Shariah law and legislation would allow a man to divorce his wife very easily and yet not allow employers to dismiss their employees. As such, the role played by labor ministries has become an impossible one since there is a difference between the demands of employing cadres, which is an undisputable requirement and a critical ethical requirement, and the imposition of barriers on the institutions that are required to do so.

Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve, once said that the secret behind the success of the American economy lies in the ability to fire people. This means that companies have no shortage of new blood which ensures the flow of ideas and better performance. Many businessmen believe that the policies adopted by labor ministries impede progress and advancement.

July:30:2008 - 08:50 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on a shortage of diesel fuel that is hitting date farmers and others. The article is not clear on just what’s caused the shortage and gives only the farmers’ side of the story: they can’t get sufficient diesel fuel to run the water pumps necessary for irrigation. The farmers are angry and are looking to be compensated for their losses. Some are leaving farming as a career as a result.

Farmers struggle to operate amidst diesel shortage

Al-QASSIM – Farmers are enraged with the shortage of diesel which is affecting their agricultural produce.

Farmers use diesel to pumping water from wells to irrigate their crops.

Consequently crops are drying up in many farms and it being the peak season insufficient water is being pumped. Dates in particular are being affected because they require a lot of water early in their development stages.

Farmers and landowners from Al-Qassim and Hail regions intend to file a complaint and seek compensation from companies which have exacerbated the crisis..

“Saudi Aramco tops the list of companies that will be asked to pay compensation,” said Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah Al-Twaijri, Deputy Chairman of the National Committee for Dates and Date Palms in the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Arabic daily Al-Watan reported.

Al-Twaijri said the Kingdom faced no shortage of oil but it was the company’s incompetence and lack of transparency, which is behind this crisis at a time, considered to be the golden season for producing dates.

July:30:2008 - 08:42 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News republishes an article from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh that complains about the kinds of jobs being ‘Saudized’. According to the writer, it’s only low-paying, low-status jobs like those of waiters and drivers that seem to be pushed by the various ministries. I think he makes a fair case. There is indeed a good argument to be made that labor in Saudi Arabia—at all levels, in my view—is undervalued. Salaries are quite low, even for university professors or medical professionals, requiring many to take on second jobs to make ends meet. Entrepreneurs tend to do well, at least when they don’t fail at their endeavors, but those on salaries should be making more.

With ultra-cheap labor available for import from South and South East Asia and Africa, however, there’s little pressure to improve pay scales.

Al-Gosaibi, a waiter; Al-Seraisry, a driver
Jameel Al-Badawi | Al-Riyadh

IT is obvious that the policy of Saudization is only targeting low-level jobs. The Ministry of Labor is doing things this way because it is the easiest way to employ large number of citizens who have been on waiting lists for a long time.

There was no reason for Labor Minister Ghazi Al-Gosaibi to dress and work as a waiter in a local restaurant in order to convince Saudis to take such low-status jobs. What he needed to do was to look at what the job would give them as the salaries offered do not even cover their transportation expenses?

The problem does not lie in the unwillingness of Saudis to do such jobs. Rather it is in what such jobs will give them in return financially at a time when the cost of living is continuously rising.

July:30:2008 - 08:35 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports on the success of an experiment in legal reform: reconciliation committees set up in Jeddah to try to resolve cases before they get to the overloaded courts. The article points to considerable success in dealing with issues like marital disputes and claims for blood money (diyah) and the thought of expanding the program not only to other regions, but to expand its scope to include other types of (unspecified) family issues.

Getting people to resolve issues without having to go through the time and expense of formal court cases is not a bad thing at all. It also helps to avoid the sometime arbitrary-seeming decisions handed down by some courts. But there is a danger that cases that should be heard in courts, with all the publicity that attends, can be buried from society’s view. As the Saudi government often points out in regard to capital punishment, ‘Justice must not only prevail, it must be seen to prevail’.

Reconciliation panels ease pressure on courts

JEDDAH: Following the continued success of the Reconciliation Committee at Jeddah’s General Court, the Ministry of Justice is mooting whether to introduce similar committees at courts across the Kingdom.

A massive backlog of cases and a shortage of judges have in recent years lent greater importance to the work that reconciliation committees do in settling disputes. These committees look into cases, especially those dealing with cases relating to blood money and marital disputes, before they reach judges.

According to a recent report in Al-Madinah newspaper, there are 266 judges working in the Kingdom’s 662 courts. The judges each year handle around 72,000 cases, including 12,000 criminal cases.

A report by the Social Center for Cordiality and Guidance, an organ affiliated to the General Court, said the Reconciliation Committee in Jeddah managed to solve 76 percent of the 8,500 family disputes that it looked into in the past three years. It also counseled 85,000 people via telephone, organized 158 family and marriage training sessions and distributed 60,000 awareness fliers.

July:30:2008 - 08:28 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

The Saudi government, at least in Madinah, is cracking down on corruption according to this Arab News piece. While the article does not go so far as to name names, it is specific enough in naming the job titles of those involved to permit anyone interested to figure out just who’s being charged.

Only rarely does the Saudi media publish the names of miscreants, particularly Saudi miscreants. The major exception has been in dealing with domestic terrorism. Otherwise, names tend to disappear into a fog of anonymity whether through a sense of shame, a cultural preference to avoid confrontation, or simply good business to not offend someone with potentially better connections than the papers.

8 health officials accused of graft
P.K. Abdul Ghafour | Arab News

JEDDAH: Eight health officials in the Madinah province have been accused of taking bribes from 13 Saudi and foreign businessmen. The bribes were taken for granting licenses to open new pharmacies or shifting them to other places or transferring their ownership to other investors.

The eight, who face corruption charges by the Control & Investigation Board (CIB), are the director of medical licenses department, the director of health affairs, the director of administrative and financial affairs, two employees at the medical licenses department, a primary health care employee, a public relations manager and a retired health official.

The CIB has handed over the case to the Administrative Court after charging the eight with bribery and corruption, Al-Eqtisadiah Arabic daily reported yesterday, quoting informed sources.

Under Saudi law, government officials convicted of accepting bribes could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined SR500,000.

July:30:2008 - 08:15 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink
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