Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing states find themselves dancing the Limbo these days. Oil prices are near 10-year lows, a global economic downturn has reduced demand. In trying to balance the market, Saudi Arabia is reducing its production to 7.7 million barrels per day, according to this Reuters report in Asharq Alawsat.

The article notes that the country is able to run a deficit economy, the result of lower production, because of the surpluses it has accrued over the past few years. But it is constrained in just how much production can be cut. Saudi industry and energy production depend on natural gas which, in the Kingdom, is a by-product of oil production. Some plants can switch to burning crude oil rather than gas, the piece says. That would help in clearing excess oil now being unprofitably stored. But there are limits. The article also points out that Saudi management of its fields is both sophisticated and a refutation of the ‘peak oil’ criticisms.

Saudi Could Pump Less Oil Despite Budget, Gas Issues

DUBAI (Reuters) – Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia may cut output more as it seeks to put a floor under oil prices, in spite of the challenges that would pose to domestic energy supply and to its budget.

The kingdom plans to pump in February below its OPEC target of 8.05 million barrels per day (bpd), undershooting what was already a record OPEC supply cut agreed in December.

“The Saudis know that extraordinary times require extraordinary measures,” said David Kirsch of Washington-based PFC Energy.

“If measures are needed to stabilize the oil price and market at lower production levels, they’ll be prepared to take them. They are ready for a year of deficit and they can finance that for longer than other producers.”

As the oil exporters’ group races to match supply with falling demand, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi has said he would do whatever it takes to balance the market.

January:31:2009 - 09:43 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi takes exception to the political use to which the Gaza crisis has been put by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, as did his Editor-in-Chief yesterday. He notes how both falsification of facts and distortion of reality devalue the lives of Gazans killed in the conflict. The groups are, essentially, trying to build themselves up on the bodies of the dead.

Even more dangerous, he writes, is that the groups are trying to use the emotional impact of the conflict—filled with pictures of death and destruction—to drive a wedge between governments and their people. While governments try to step back to analyze the issues and find the proper responses, the groups come close to declaring takfir on them for a) not coming to the immediate rescue of the Gazans, but b) not giving political and financial support to Hamas.

Gaza’s Blood and the Vampires
Mshari Al-Zaydi

It is as if the aim of the blood shed in Gaza and the tears shed by its people was to tell the Arabs and the world: Hamas is who you must talk to!

The head of Hamas politburo Khalid Mishal excelled in declaring the “divine victory” on January 21 during his “divine speech” televised from Damascus, the capital of Hamas. He said, “The time has come for you to deal with Hamas,” (Asharq Al-Awsat, 22 January 2009).

Khalid Mishal, and this declaration of his, was echoed in neighbouring Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Essam el Erian, a prominent figure and theorist in the MB, wrote an article celebrating the victory and exploring the different ways it can achieve regional gains for both Hamas and the Arab resistance camp. He listed the gains that Hamas had achieved (or rather what Hamas failed to achieve vis-à-vis the Israeli military’s brutal indiscrimination), which Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood sought to transform into self-gain to be used against the Egyptian government and all Arab governments that fail to comply with Islamic Shariaa and carry out Jihad in line with its own vision.

January:31:2009 - 09:17 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

So, is this bad news or good news? Bad, as this report suggests. On the other hand, it demonstrates that the Saudi anti-terror effort has had some success as it forces a weakened Al-Qaeda presence in the Kingdom to seek support from Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia and Yemen Merge,
Threaten Attacks Across Arabian Peninsula

Sara Hassan

Al-Qaida groups in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia have announced their intention to merge operations, heightening fears about a resurgence of attacks in the region. The announcement was made in a video recording by al-Qaida’s spiritual leader Aymen al-Zawahri which was broadcast online yesterday, according to Al Jazeera network. Nasir Wuhaishi was named as the new head of the joint al-Qaida group, a former Guantanamo Bay inmate Said al-Shihri was named deputy of the group. According to the video recording, the group would carry out attacks across the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. This comes against backdrop of mounting concerns over increasing number of attacks taking place in Yemen itself and the expected arrival of 83 of Guantanamo inmates over the next three months.

Significance: The announcement is likely to leave leaders in the region feeling increasingly nervous, al-Qaida has long used the increasingly lawless Yemen as a springboard for attacks elsewhere in the region, including Saudi Arabia itself. The announcement is expected to see Gulf countries remain on high alert for possible attacks against Western and government targets. Al-Qaida mergers elsewhere have often resulted in hybrid organisations becoming a more potent force with increased capacity to launch attacks, and have often been accompanied by an ideological shakeup. The oil-rich Gulf monarchies can no longer afford ignore the complex security situation in Yemen, a country long regarded as a breeding ground for terrorism. A more concerted effort on the behalf of such states will now be needed to ensure security in the Gulf.

Copyright 2009 World Markets Research Limited

January:30:2009 - 12:33 | Comments Off | Permalink

Propane gas cylinders—emboubahs—are a fairly simple piece of technology. They can be dangerous, however, when seals and valves aren’t properly handled. Cairo, for instance, has had more than its share of cylinders explode when leaking gas was somehow ignited. Coupled with poor building construction, as seems to be the case reported here in Arab News, can have catastrophic effect.

Credit: <em>Arab News</em>

Credit: Arab News

Gas cylinder blast causes building collapse in Jeddah
Samir Al-Saadi | Arab News

JEDDAH: Three people were injured, one of them seriously, when a small two-story building located in Al-Jamiah district here collapsed as a result of a gas cylinder explosion around 2 a.m. yesterday.

According to officials, the poorly constructed building collapsed due to the impact of the explosion. The Civil Defense reported that preliminary investigations showed cooking gas had spread throughout the ground floor and eventually ignited.

“Twelve people were inside the building at the time of the incident,” said Jeddah Civil Defense spokesman Capt. Abdullah Al-Amri. “Three people were injured and taken to a nearby hospital. One of the injured is in critical condition. Nine other people in the building were pulled out unharmed,” he added.

January:30:2009 - 11:39 | Comments Off | Permalink

As part of its top-to-bottom legal reform effort, the Saudi government is looking at alternatives to the current system of jailing offenders. Now, if one is picked up by the police, it’s very uncertain exactly how one will be treated. People can stay in jail for long periods of time awaiting trial. Worse, even after having served a sentence, one can remain in jail because the bureaucracy doesn’t know what to do. Then there’s the problem of putting young miscreants in the same jails as older ones, in effect, turning jails into a school for scoundrels.

This Arab News article discusses some of the options being discussed, ranging from the offering of bail pre-trial to directing community service instead of jail time. The article notes that there is often too high a price paid for being sent to jail, socially and economically. That’s perhaps so, but neither should law breakers be excused from the responsibility and consequences of their actions. The issue needs a watchful eye.

New jail system aims to reform accused
P.K. Abdul Ghafour | Arab News

JEDDAH: Maj. Gen. Ali Al-Harithy, director general of prisons, said yesterday that a plan was under way to introduce alternatives to imprisonment, including parole and posting bail. The Interior Ministry would soon make public the rules and regulations of the new system, he added.

“The move is not aimed at reducing the pressure in Saudi jails,” Al-Harithy said in comments published in an Arabic daily. “Our objective is much nobler and greater than that. We want to put in jail only those who deserve it.”

Justice Minister Abdullah Al-Asheikh also spoke about alternative punishments recently. “We have already distributed questionnaires among judges to elicit their opinions and proposals on alternative punishments. Many judges favor the idea saying it would contribute to reforming the accused,” the minister said.

There are 104 prisons and 12 reformatories across the Kingdom, the Arabic daily said, adding that about 32,000 of 44,600 inmates in Saudi jails are foreigners. Nearly 4,000 youngsters aged between 12 and 18 are living in reformatories. Fifteen committees have been set up to look after the families of prisoners. The prisons chief said the bylaw of the new system is being prepared carefully with the participation of different agencies in the light of the best practices in developed countries. The alternatives include releasing suspects on bail.

January:30:2009 - 10:31 | Comments Off | Permalink

The mix of news and politics is usually not a good thing, particularly when the politicians can manufacture news at will. Asharq Alawsat Editor in Chief Tariq Alhomayed just touches on the problem in this editorial.

He points out that Hamas politicians make public statements—loaded with emotional cargo—that simply cannot be true. That doesn’t stop news media from reporting them, nor does it stop audiences from believing them. He notes, too, the use of ‘sock puppets’ on various Internet fora, where Arabs assume Israeli names to make outrageous statements or simply invent a fact, the denial of which puts people in jeopardy of physical violence. Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood… they all use it, he claims.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to observers who note the rise of ‘Pallywood’ and ‘Fauxtography’. These are terms used to describe photos and video clips that are posed, mis-captioned, deceptively arranged and then transmitted to the media in order to drive a political agenda. Astute observers note that the same Palestinian women, for instance, may appear in several different photos over a period of months, each time decrying some disaster visited upon her by Israel. Unfortunately, each time she describes a different disaster, with different consequences. Either she’s incredibly unlucky or she’s being used politically. Then there’s the ‘Green Helmet Guy’ who appears carrying dead children after Israeli attacks on Qana (2006) and Gaza (2008/9)… the same dead children. Even the iconic images of Mohammad Durrah, are severely questioned and have been the subject of court cases in Europe, long after they made an impact in the Arab world.

Manipulating the news, of course, is not exclusive to the Arab world. Iran was caught in a poor attempt to cover up a failed missile launch. The former Soviet Union was noted for erasing, in the darkroom, the images of those no longer in political favor. Nor is the US immune. In addition to major newspapers’ picking up and running with the fake Iranian photo, among others, politicians are often on the receiving end of malicious (or sometimes, only humorous) photo manipulations.

It seems that the adage ‘Seeing is believing’ can no longer hold its own weight. If images can be so easily manipulated, how much easier to play with words!

News Laundering
Tariq Alhomayed

What’s worse than money laundering in our Arab world is news laundering.

This happens around the clock without any consequences or supervision. In the world of the internet, satellite channels, and SMS text messaging, it is clear to see that news laundering is widely popular and some media organs are contributing to this whether intentionally or unintentionally.

The simplest example of news laundering can be seen in the comments made by Deputy Chairman of the Hamas Politburo Mousa Abu Marzook during a recent lecture he gave in Damascus. He said, “We lost 1500 martyrs but our strong women and our hard-working sisters gave birth to over 3500 Palestinian babies during the [Israeli] attacks.”

This information was published as a news item on January 19 in one of the Saudi newspapers. That day, I spoke to the Editor of that publication as we were both in Kuwait, and I asked him how that could have happened when the hospitals were being bombed. Do you realize that you are acquitting Israel [of its attacks on hospitals], particularly since the news item could not be corroborated!

He seemed perturbed by the headline and said, “This cheapens Palestinian blood.” However, I was surprised by Abu Marzook’s comments on the Hamas victory, citing this unsubstantiated information, as if life and death had no value at all!

January:30:2009 - 10:05 | Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Permalink

Family and friends condemn the two Saudis who have shown up in Al-Qaeda videos from Yemen. After being transferred from detention at Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia and processed through the rehabilitation program, the two had broken their oaths to avoid terrorism. Saudi Gazette/Okaz interviews the mothers of the two as well as others who all hope that the men see the light before it’s too late.

Al-Oufi, Al-Shihri betrayed our trust: Families, friends
Abdullah Al-Oraifij and Khaled Al-Shalahi

RIYADH/MADINA – The family members and friends of ex-Gitmo detainees, Muhammad Al-Oufi and Sa’eed Al-Shihri, who resurfaced last week in Yemen as Al-Qaeda operatives despite having undergone a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia, have denounced them as “irreversible deviant members of society.”

Al-Oufi’s family has accused his “bad” compatriots of dragging him once again to the abyss of terrorism. After his return from Guantanamo where he spent seven years,
Al-Oufi swore that he would never return to the deviant thought, his family said.

Al-Oufi’s mother squarely blames Sa’eed Al-Shihri for the mess her son is in now. The mother said her son was picked up from his house by Al-Shihri about three months ago.

January:29:2009 - 11:54 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

While polio used to be a scourge of the West. I had classmates paralyzed by the disease, even killed by it. Every summer, public swimming pools would be closed to prevent outbreaks. An active—and mandatory—program to vaccinate children has all but eradicated it. Not so in the developing world, however. Saudi Arabia has been engaged in trying to get rid of the disease and is stepping up its efforts. Under this new campaign, they are offering vaccine to all children—Saudi or or non-Saudi, legal or illegal. Saudi Gazette has the details.

Vaccination campaign in Jeddah starts Sat.
Diana Al-Jassem

JEDDAH – Prince Misha’l Bin Majed Bin Abdul Aziz, Governor of Jeddah, is to launch a five-day vaccination campaign against poliomyelitis from Saturday, Jan. 31
The campaign is being launched with the cooperation of the Ministry of Health.

The campaign is part of the government measures to make the country free of poliomyelitis.

All children below the age of five will be vaccinated,” said Abdulrahman Al-Sahafi, Public Relations Manager of Jeddah Health Affairs Department.

The campaign targets about 215,000 children in Jeddah.

Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children. The virus is transmitted through contaminated food and water, and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system. Many infected people have no symptoms, but do excrete the virus in their faeces, hence transmitting infection to others.

January:29:2009 - 11:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

The Saudi-US Relations Information Service (SUSRIS) has helpfully compiled international reactions to the interview Barack Obama gave to Al-Arabiya TV. The link below goes to a summary, with links to the various items cited. Overall, it seems that the President chose wisely in both using the Saudi satellite TV channel and the interview, Hisham Melhem. I think the President is showing that he’s taking Saudi Arabia very seriously. His call to King Abdullah was among his first calls from the White House. Selecting Al-Arabiya TV over other Arab media also suggests that he sees Saudi Arabia as a moderate country with which the US can partner during his administration.

President Obama Engages the Arab World – Reactions

Editor’s Note:

Veteran journalist Hisham Melham got a phone call from the White House Monday morning, according to Scott MacLeod writing for Time, asking if he would like to chat with President Obama later in the afternoon. The Al-Arabiya interview he had with Mr. Obama was the first since the President’s inauguration last week and it set the marker for a new dialogue between the U.S. Government and the Arab world. He said, “..if we are looking at the region as a whole and communicating a message to the Arab world and the Muslim world, that we are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest, then I think that we can make significant progress.” That message generated a flurry of reactions from the Arab and Muslim world and among analysts.

Today we provide a snapshot of reactions published yesterday and today and links to a video of the interview as well as other related on-line material. We also invite you to visit a new SUSRIS special section ["President Barack Obama and the Middle East'] that will be your resource for articles, interviews, videos, photos, links and more concerning the Obama Administration and America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Middle East region.

According to Time’s MacLeod, “Obama’s aides cut Melhem off before he could finish all his questions,” and that, “As they concluded the interview and shook hands, Melhem recalls, Obama told him, ‘There will be more.’” And so it will be on SUSRIS too.

January:29:2009 - 09:58 | Comments Off | Permalink

For all their pro-active publicity, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice can’t seem to keep its mission straight. Saudi Gazette/Okaz report on an incident in which the religious police in Riyadh took it upon themselves to disrupt a British Education fair, sponsored by the British Council, because it involved ‘intermingling of the sexes’. No Commission authority seems to know anything about the incident, which is being investigated by the Riyadh Emirate.

Probe into Vice cops raid of British universities fair
Abdullah Al-Ghamdi

RIYADH – The Riyadh Emirate on Tuesday ordered an investigation into last Sunday’s disruption of a British Universities Fair at Yamamah College here by members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haya) objecting to intermingling of men and women.
The investigation order was issued by Acting Emir Prince Sattam Bin Abdul Aziz.

Fair supervisor Abdulaziz Al-Sharikh said the vice cops entered the campus late in the afternoon posing as representatives of a government body. College security staff could not stop them.

Once inside, the Haya men went around asking Saudi women to leave the fair at once, he said.

January:28:2009 - 10:37 | Comments & Trackbacks (43) | Permalink

It’s no surprise that bribery—bakshish—is the grease that eases all sorts of transactions in the Middle East. It’s a paltry substitute for wasta, but it works. But it also corrupts society and, depending on the issue, can be a major danger to citizens across the country. While it may be a time-honored tradition, times have changed and the cost to society now outweighs the benefits it provides to the few.

Arab News reports that government officials are facing a major bribery scandal in the city of Taif, with at least 24 municipal employees being charged with being on the take. The problem is so big that there is a need to assign additional judges to hear the cases.

More judges for Taif graft case

TAIF: An administrative court in Jeddah has assigned more judges to look into a graft case involving 24 Taif municipal employees and two others. The reason cited was the large number of individuals involved in the case, which is called the largest bribery case being heard by a Saudi court.

One of the suspects, a municipality employee, has reportedly confessed to taking SR180,000 in bribes for issuing a license to a building that had not fulfilled the stipulated conditions.

January:28:2009 - 10:26 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

I don’t think much of laws that proscribe ‘blasphemy’, nor am I a keen advocate of legal systems that fail to permit the accused to face his accusers or offer clemency through political pull. for that matter, I’m not crazy about the death penalty as it results from judgments passed by human judges and juries, with all the flaws that affect mankind. For Turkish barber Sabri Bogday, accused of blasphemy in 2007 and sentenced to death as a consequence, the results of that flawed system worked in his favor as he was finally repatriated.

Freed Turkish barber reaches home
Ghazanfar Ali Khan | Arab News

RIYADH: A Turkish barber who was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia on blasphemy charges but later pardoned by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and released, left for Istanbul from Jeddah by a Turkish Airways flight on Monday night.

“On arrival at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport yesterday, Sabri Bogday, 31, was received by his wife and family members,” Turkish Ambassador Naci Koru said here yesterday.

Speaking on behalf of the people and the government of Turkey, Koru thanked King Abdullah for the royal pardon. He said that the Turkish barber was welcomed at the airport by a big crowd, including his wife, Muazzez Bogday, two-year-old son Suleyman, and mother Hadra.

The diplomat said that a Saudi court overturned Bogday’s sentence after he repented and asked God for forgiveness. The Ministry of Interior informed us about the release of Bogday last week, said Koru.

January:28:2009 - 10:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
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