According to this Saudi Gazette piece, coffee shops are the gateway to perdition. It seems that young Saudi women blow off steam in coffee shops and that’s something that just shouldn’t happen in Saudi society! Granted, smoking, even shisha, is not wonderful. But is there really grave danger in having young women laughing and smiling ‘as if it were the most normal thing in the world’? Is laughing in public a sin? a crime?

That this sort of behavior is happening in all-female coffee shops and yet is being condemned strongly suggests to me that some Saudis need to get a life of their own and stop being shocked by other people’s lives.

Schoolgirls fall prey to coffee shop trap
Jameel Al-Harthi

JEDDAH – Women’s coffee shops are no longer just meeting places for friends or refuges for a moment’s escape from the daily routine. Instead, according to some, they have become the haunts of university students and schoolgirls playing truant to indulge themselves in smoking shisha pipes and cigarettes, with women using the locations as impromptu job agencies, and matchmakers seeking willing bribes. Behind the walls of women’s coffee shops, some say, all sorts of things go on.

Salwan Abdullah, a 24-year-old university student, recalls the first time she was invited by a student friend to go to an all-female coffee shop. “I had no idea of what went on in these places, and when we entered the room was crowded with university students and girls from secondary and intermediate school. The air was full of smoke from shisha pipes and cigarettes. There were married and single girls, and women matchmakers going round asking girls if they were looking for husbands and if so what sort of features they were looking for.”

March:31:2009 - 09:11 | Comments & Trackbacks (9) | Permalink

Another unpleasant case in the Saudi courts…

I confess that I don’t understand why this case—which appears to involve two crimes: incest and murder—need be charged under haraba, ‘crime against society’. Incest and murder already exist as clear crimes with more-or-less clearly defined punishments. Whether a 16-year-old should fact capital punishment is another question, however. [See story below]

Death sought for boy who impregnated sister

JEDDAH: The Prosecution and Investigation Board has called for the death sentence to be passed on a 16-year-old Chadian boy who allegedly impregnated his 18-year-old sister.

The prosecution has called for the maximum sentence as the crime falls in the haraba (crime against society) category. The siblings are to appear before a general court in Jeddah in two weeks time once their confessions are authenticated by a summary court, which was scheduled to hear the case on Sunday.

According to court sources, after giving birth the girl drowned her baby in a water tank and, together with her brother, abandoned the body on the roof of their home.

March:31:2009 - 09:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

Those who rape and kill young boys are not sympathetic characters. Even they, though, deserve to face justice in a fair process. Arab News reports on the case of a father seeking justice for his son. When he was 13 years old, the son raped and killed a three-year-old child. The son was taken from his home, held in custody and interrogated, then, three years later, was beheaded. Saudi law—as well as international treaties to which the Kingdom is a party—prohibit the execution of minors, however, and the police procedures followed in the case were sadly wanting. Now the father wants justice for himself and his son and seeks SR 10 million in compensation and prosecution for those responsible for his son’s execution. The police, according to the story, are fighting to avoid all of that.

Laws within a country must be uniform, uniformly understood, and uniformly applied. That was clearly not the case here. This instance provides another example of why legal reform to standardize judges’ understanding of the laws and better educate them in the law is necessary. Reform has started; it must not be delayed.

Al-Hakami decries police pressure to drop charges
Samir Al-Saadi I Arab News

JEDDAH: Police in Jazan have been pressuring the father of a 16-year-old who was found guilty and executed for the rape and murder of a toddler in 2007 to drop charges against them.

Hussein Al-Hakami’s son, Mueed, was executed in 2007 for a crime that he allegedly committed when he was 13. Al-Hakami claims police have been pressuring him for the past three days to sign a document canceling charges against Jazan police.

“They want me to drop the charges. Police have been meeting me for three consecutive days for that sole purpose,” he said. “The king’s orders are very clear. They need to show me where Mueed is buried and ask for a DNA test to prove the body is that of my son … they have done none of this,” he said.

“They have sat down with me every day for the past few days and given me different excuses and incentives to sign a paper to cancel the charges. I don’t care. The police took my son from my home and they are the ones responsible,” he said.

“I am not going to drop the charges. That should be clear to them by now,” he added.

March:31:2009 - 07:59 | Comments Off | Permalink

Dr. Hamid Al-Majid has an interesting piece in today’s Asharq Alawsat. He comments on YouTube, a phenomenon that can be useful or useless, depending on content. It can expose government abuse, but, he cautions, it can also be dangerous when used to expose private sins to a global public. Those sins which affect the public, which are committed overtly, he says, are fair game. Exposing private transgressions—essentially, rumor mongering—is neither fair nor particularly religious. Islam, he says, has strong precedent toward shielding the private sinner from public condemnation as the sin does not comprise the wholeness of the individual.

The Purpose of YouTube
Dr. Hamid Al-Majid

Political leaders, celebrities, and entertainment figures are full of anger at YouTube’s ability to climb their walls and expose their secrets to hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.

In 2005, the idea of this useful but harmful website was launched when a group of friends had a dinner party and filmed some scenes which they wished to share with their friends. They were unable to send these videos via e-mail due to the low upload capacity of e-mail at the time, and so the idea for a website where video files could be uploaded and shared crystallized, and only a year after the website was founded YouTube ranked fifth in the list of most visited websites.

… In our Arab world, despite the [religious] pressures in Islam against unveiling other people’s secrets, our Arab society is one that most enjoys hearing scandalous news, and spreading gossip. It goes without saying that this enjoyment would further increase if the scandal revolved around a famous political, entertainment, or sporting figure. These gossips and scandalmongers have found an easy means to publicize their gossip and slander which is via the YouTube website. What is painful in this regard is that some of these scandalmongers justify their actions on the grounds that the celebrity in question has committed a sin, such as committing adultery, or drinking alcohol [and so a scandal is their just deserts]. However these scandalmongers do not distinguish between those who commit these sins publicly, and those who commit them clandestinely. Originally, Islamic Shariaa Law helped to protect a Muslim and conceal their sins, as was advised by Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] when he said “Whosoever protects a Muslims sin, God will protect [his sin] in this world and the next.” There is also the story of the Prophet’s companion Ma’ez who confessed to committing adultery [and was sentenced to death by stoning], the Prophet [PBUH] told a man named Hajjal of the Aslam tribe “Had you covered him with your cloth, it would have been better for you.”

March:31:2009 - 07:46 | Comments Off | Permalink

Much has been made of the way Saudi charitable donations made their way to terrorist coffers. Some have interpreted this as deliberate actions supporting terrorism. I’ve contended that the simplest way of seeing it, the one that is ‘parsimonious’ in the sense of Occam’s Razor, is sheer incompetence. This article from Saudi Gazette/Okaz suggests that I’m right.

The Saudi Government Auditing Bureau (GAB) has issued a report saying that many ministries and government agencies simply have no idea of how much money they’re spending, where it is, or even where equipment is to be found. Inefficiencies in government are not unique to Saudi Arabia, of course, but it has clearly reached an unacceptable level. While Ministers and their top staffs might be incredibly competent individuals, the same cannot be said for those falling just a few tiers down from the top.

GAB slams failures of govt offices
Mohammad Al-Ghamdi

RIYADH – The General Auditing Bureau (GAB) has criticized government bodies for “continued annual violations” which it has described as “becoming something of a problem”.

The GAB reportedly notes in its report to the Shoura Council due for discussion on Monday, 17 violations, among them increases in mayoralties’ budget allocations, leniency in deducting delay fines, tardiness in sending monthly accounts, failure to conduct periodical inventories of their personnel cashiers, continued use by employees of public assets such as cars, telephones and computers for personal use, and laxness in collecting revenues for the public treasury.

March:30:2009 - 08:21 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Saudi media are reporting that Yemen has rendered five Saudi terrorism suspects back to the Kingdom. One of them, Abdullah Abdul Rahman Muhammad Al-Harbi, is on the Saudi ‘most-wanted’ list.

Yemen extradites suspected terrorists
Ghazanfar Ali Khan | Arab News

RIYADH: Five Saudis wanted on terrorism and sabotage charges have been extradited to the Kingdom by Yemeni authorities, the Interior Ministry confirmed yesterday.

“Yemen had handed over to us five Saudi nationals, but the name of only one — Abdullah Abdul Rahman Muhammad Al-Harbi — figures in the Kingdom’s wanted list,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, referring to the Kingdom’s list of 85 suspected terrorists. “The other four men have nothing to do with the list. Investigations are under way at the moment.”

Yemen extradites five suspects to Riyadh
Abdullah Al-Oraifij — Saudi Gazette/Okaz

RIYADH – Five terror suspects wanted in relation with security issues have been handed over to the Kingdom’s authorities from neighboring Yemen, the Ministry of Interior announced.

One of the five – named as Abdullah Abdurrahman Al-Harbi – is listed among the Kingdom’s most 85 wanted persons.

Ministry spokesman Mansour Al-Turki said that the other four detained were not on the list of 85, but were wanted for their involvement in other security issues.

Al-Turki said that the Yemeni authorities arrested Al-Harbi during a raid on an Al-Qaeda site in the southern city of Taiz.

March:30:2009 - 08:07 | Comments Off | Permalink

According to Saudi Gazette/Okaz, the Saudi Ministry of Education has managed to find reverse gear in a period in which reforms are taking place. Not only is this new directive incredibly inane, but it signals that openness and tolerance for difference are being ignored within a ministry critical to the future of Saudi Arabia. I’m hoping that this directive has come from some lower-level ignoramus who is so wrapped up in his religious beliefs that he’s simply lost the power to reason. If so, then perhaps a grown-up in the Ministry can step in and fix it.

New guidelines on teaching material
Mohammed Al-Enizi

DAMMAM – The Ministry of Education has ordered the erasing of images of pigs and musical instruments from English language teaching materials in privately-owned schools, along with the omission of everything that does not conform to Islamic teachings.

The ministry has also said that permission will be given to use books other than official ministry books only after being informed of the school’s study plan and the stage of education for which the materials will be used.

The Director General of Education at National and International Schools at the ministry, Khalid Bin Saeed Al-Suheim, has asked all regional directors of education to comply fully with the ministry’s request. – Okaz/SG

March:30:2009 - 07:53 | Comments & Trackbacks (9) | Permalink

There’s something about free speech that animates those who lack it and those who support it. The International Free Press Society reports on an art exhibit in Norway which has caused offense to some members of the local Muslim community and fear among some who should be supporting the idea of free thought: librarians.

An Iranian couple, human rights activists in Iran before relocating to Norway, mounted an exhibit of 12 posters, each taking a quote from the Quran that troubles those concerned with freedom of expression and belief. The posters couple the quotations with strongly graphic images (some not safe for work, or Saudi Arabia). The artists’ intent was to raise a debate. To some extent that has happened. To a larger extent, however, it has called into question the commitment of Western states to back freedom of expression and the willingness of Muslim communities to behave with tolerance.

Norway: Artist asked to remove Quran exhibition

At the Telemark county library in Ulefoss, an exhibition was promptly subjected to damage and the library asked the artists to remove it. It is now being shown in Porsgrunn.

The exhibition “Det er ikke forbudt å tenke” (”It’s not forbidden to think”) was assembled at Porsgrunn library yesterday. In a series of 12 graphic images the artist, Ahmed Mashhouri, picked out the most controversial quotes from the Quran.

“My aim is not to insult anybody and their faith. It’s to get a better understanding of the laws found in the Quran. These laws perhaps fit better in the old days, but today they just seem inhuman. I hope that my works will be a wake-up for my dear coreligionists,” he says.

Mashhouri and his wife worked for human rights in Iran. They sought asylum in Norway and now live in Skien. The images were prepared in Norway and translated to Norwegian from Persian and English.

“In discussions people love to hear that such thing aren’t found in the Quran. We want to show that they actually do,” says Mashhouri.

When before Christmas the couple turned to the Telemark library in Ulefoss, they were invited to come.

On December 9th, the exhibit was assembled, but not many hours passed before there was a racket and two-three Muslim women attacked his images. Afterward he was contacted by the library and asked to remove the exhibition.

March:29:2009 - 09:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

In this editorial for Asharq Alawsat, the paper’s Editor-in-Chief, Tariq Alhomayed, points to Iran as the hidden hand behind the activities of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He doesn’t actually name the country, but it’s unmistakable that Iran is meant. He bases his assertion on the televised confession of Mohammed Al-Awfi, one of Saudi Arabia’s ‘most wanted’ terrorism suspects, which said that undermining the authority of the Saudi state was the overall intent of AQ’s actions.

Alhomayed’s assertion is backed to some extent by reporting out of Yemen, as well (See Al-Qaeda in Yemen run by capable states, former operative claims, ht Armies of Liberation). I wouldn’t find this surprising. Iran has had interests in Yemen since pre-Islamic times, has reasons to decrease the power and influence of the Arab Gulf States, and certainly likes operating in the shadows.

To Target Saudi Arabia is to Target Everybody
Tariq Alhomayed

Mohammed Atiq al Awfi, who surrendered himself to Saudi authorities last February, made some interesting confessions on Saudi television last Friday. These confessions revealed some elements of one of the most important aspects of terrorist operations; funding. They also revealed the aim of Al Qaeda’s media strategy.

Al Awfi’s confessions confirmed many matters that were often mentioned but not verified regarding the role that some Arab and regional countries play in funding Al Qaeda whether in Saudi Arabia or Yemen, close to the Saudi borders.

Moreover, al Awfi’s confessions confirmed that all attempts to refine the speech that he delivered when he fled to Yemen were aimed at striking a blow to the efforts of Saudi authorities, which have succeeded tremendously in the fight against terror and have become an international testimony to the professionalism and efficiency of the Saudi security forces.

Al Awfi’s confessions show that the fundamental aim of the states that fund Al Qaeda was to continue to subject Saudi Arabia to the pressure of the terrorist threat, therefore, one the one hand, making Saudi Arabia appear as if it is a country that lacks stability, and on the other hand to attach, and consolidate, the accusation of terrorism to Saudis.

In related news, the UAE’s Gulf News reports that Yemen is cooperating with the Saudis on extraditing wanted terrorism suspects: Yemen extradites wanted militants to Saudi Arabia. It also reports that Saudi oil facilities remain a high-priority target for terrorist attack: Surrendered militant reveals plots to strike oil facilities.

March:29:2009 - 09:06 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

In Saudi Arabia, there are two organizations focused on human rights. One is the Human Rights Commission, a non-governmental NGO. The other, [is] the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) is government related, with its top positions filled by government appointees. It is responsible to the government for its activities.

[UPDATE: Thanks to Ahmed of Saudi Jeans, I'm informed that the Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC) is the governmental organization while the National Society for Human Rights is the non-governmental organization. Saudi Gazette is mistaken in its reporting. I got them confused as well, so no stones are being thrown here...]

This Saudi Gazette story says that government affiliation notwithstanding, the NSHR has done some good and important work. The Society, in its recently released report, the NSHR also alludes to changes in society and government that must be made if Saudi Arabia is to successfully transition into the 21st C. Among those changes is the election of members of the Shoura Council—which is now comprised of those appointed by the King—and quicker action on the ongoing legal reforms.

Human rights report a sign of Kingdom’s leap forward
Abdullah Al-Asmary

ALTHOUGH many question the effectiveness of any government-affiliated human rights body, the newly released report by the National Society for Human Rights leaves no doubt that a new chapter in the progress of human rights in Saudi Arabia has now begun.

The National Society for Human Rights was established in 2004 by a royal decree and its organizational structure, functions and responsibilities are well-defined to ensure full implementation of values and principles of human rights.

One of its guiding principles stresses the importance of promoting the concepts of human rights according to the international human rights standards. It is worth noting that the organization, in exercising its functions, is an independent government body that reports directly to the King himself.

Throughout the past four years, the organization has received a total of twelve thousand complaints: 26 percent of these complaints were administrative in nature, 18 percent regarding prisoners and 8 percent were on family violence.

Earlier this week, the organization had released its report for the year 2008 in which it blamed key ministries and government agencies for lack of cooperation with the human rights organization, inefficiency in carrying out their responsibilities and dire violations of basic human rights.

March:29:2009 - 08:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

It is not at all unusual for government employees, in developing countries, to try to hold down two full-time jobs, a practice known in the US as ‘moonlighting’. Government salaries are notoriously low and a second income is necessary to make ends meet. In Saudi Arabia, which largely precludes a ‘normal’ two-income family where both husband and wife work, that tends to mean that the man tries to handle two jobs.

Also not surprising, efficiency in both jobs tends to fall short of the mark. The practice can also lead to conflicts of interest where the outside job is in the same sector as the government job. Most Western countries put strict limits on the number of hours that can worked on a second job as well as requiring prior permission from management to ensure there are no conflicting interests. Some government positions absolutely exclude ‘moonlighting’.

Saudi Gazette/Okaz report (in English and Arabic) that the government is cracking down. Employees with two jobs will be given a chance to choose which of the two they wish to keep. No longer, however, will they be able to keep both. The loss of an income may provide impetus to efforts toward getting women in the workplace.

One man, one job
Mohammad Al-Enizi

DAMMAM – It will no longer be possible for an employee to hold two full-time jobs. A number of ministries are coordinating to prevent their staff from working for two different employers because it negatively affects the employee’s main job.

This decision comes after some government sectors have complained that employees are not doing their job properly because they cannot manage a main job and a second one.

Preventing employees from having a second job will result in the benefit of creating job vacancies for unemployed people.

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, the Ministry of Education, charity organizations and others have told employees with two jobs that they must choose the one they want.

It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of people working in government sectors in more than one job and earning monthly salaries from each. – Okaz/SG

March:29:2009 - 08:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

Both Arab News and Saudi Gazette report that Prince Nayef, Minister of Interior, was sworn in as Second Deputy Prime Minister. This puts him third in line for the Saudi throne, following Prince Sultan, Minister of Defense, whose health is being questioned these days. Neither report mentions what role, if any, the Allegiance Association played in his nomination or confirmation, however, so unless other reporting comes to light, we just don’t know either way.

Arab News:

Naif pledges greater efforts in the service of nation and religion

Saudi Gazette:

Naif takes oath of office

March:29:2009 - 07:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink
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