Saudi Gazette reports on that a second person has died as a consequence of swine flu in Saudi Arabia. This fatality, of a non-Saudi, also occurred in the Eastern Province, where a young man died last week. While the article refers to rumors about the flu, it does not given any examples.

2nd swine flu death in KSA

RIYADH – A 28-year-old Indonesian woman died of swine flu in Dammam Thursday, the second death in the Kingdom.

The woman was admitted to Dammam Central Hospital on Monday (July 27) and was diagnosed as having A-H1N1, said a Ministry of Health statement.

She was placed under qualitative treatment, but her condition deteriorated and she died Thursday morning at 9.00 A.M., said the statement.

The ministry reiterated that it will provide information with all transparency on swine flu, and appealed to all residents not to follow rumors.

July:31:2009 - 09:29 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi media report on a sudden sandstorm that swept down from Iraq into the country’s Eastern Province. The storm greatly reduced visibility and led to several fatal traffic accidents. The Arab News article notes that while there was no official warning given by Saudi meteorologists, long-time residents realized that a major sandstorm in Iraq and Kuwait would be on their doorsteps within hours. Sadly, not everyone is a long-term resident of the region.

Six die as sandstorm blinds EP
Siraj Wahab | Arab News

ALKHOBAR: A heavy sandstorm blinded much of the Eastern Province on Thursday and claimed at least six lives in two separate traffic accidents.

“Five people died in a head-on collision on a highway in Hafr Al-Batin,” said Eastern Province Traffic Department chief Ali Al-Suwailem. The victims remained unidentified at the time of going to press.

“The accident took place in the morning hours and occurred at a time when the sandstorm was at its peak, and visibility was only a few yards,” the police chief added.

The other accident took place in Alkhobar resulting in one death. “Here, too, the accident took place in the morning,” Al-Suwailem told Arab News, “and low visibility was the reason for the crash.”

Saudi Gazette reports as well and includes a photo of the accident in Hafr Al-Batin:

EP hit by sandstorm

July:31:2009 - 09:25 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Here’s an interesting piece from The Washington Post‘s ‘On Faith’ online section. It’s about how the US Constitution’s prohibition on the state’s promoting of religion might be interfering with efforts to support those who promote moderate Islam. The focus is on programs selected for funding by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in Islamic countries.

I have to come down on the side of the agency’s attorneys: Using US tax dollars to promote any form of any religion is simply outside the bounds of the US Constitution. Religion and the US state have a line drawn between them that should not be broached. The article notes a practical difficulty in any such program as well: If a particular view of Islam is seen as coming from a non-Islamic source, it will be automatically considered illegitimate by Muslims.

In Fighting Radical Islam, Tricky Course for U.S. Aid
Separation of Church and State at Issue
Colum Lynch

Three years ago, while working for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Kyrgyzstan, Clifford H. Brown came across an idea that he thought could help stem the spread of radical Islam in the Central Asian nation.

The University of Montana had proposed translating Islamic writings from Persian and Arabic into the local Uzbek and Kyrgyz languages. Brown hoped the translations could have a moderating influence at a time when a conservative Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, was expanding its influence in the region.

“Islam has a large body of moderate literature saying, for example, that suicide is a sin against Allah,” he later wrote in a paper describing his efforts to fund the initiative. “Not a bad idea, I thought at the time.”

But USAID lawyers rejected the proposal, saying that using taxpayer funds would violate a provision in the First Amendment barring the government’s promotion of religion. The agency also prohibited Brown from publishing the opinion piece, which laid out his case for the proposal, according to Brown and a senior USAID official. A USAID lawyer said publication of the paper would have violated government restrictions on disclosure of privileged information.

July:31:2009 - 09:15 | Comments Off | Permalink

Thanks to reader ‘ratherdashing’ for bringing this piece to my attention. Middle East Online reports that Saudi Arabia is picking up the tab for the UN’s FAO summit on food security. This is interesting because certain NGOs are expressing dismay at the efforts of Saudi Arabia—and other countries—to purchase farms and farm production in other developing countries. These NGOs see the efforts as nefarious, somehow, and an undue exertion of financial power.

Saudi Arabia to bankroll UN food summit

ROME – Saudi Arabia is picking up the tab for a United Nations summit on food security to be held in Rome in November, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said Thursday.

King Abdullah offered to cover the estimated 2.5 million dollar (1.78 million euro) cost of the World Summit on Food Security when FAO director general Jacques Diouf visited Saudi Arabia on July 17-20.

July:31:2009 - 08:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

The US Department of State’s public diplomacy website,, takes a look at educational and cultural exchange programs between the US and Saudi Arabia. The article is, to my eyes, surprisingly Obama-oriented. These and similar programs have been going on for decades. These specific programs were mostly planned last year, before Mr. Obama became President, if they follow the same system as was in place when I was heading the Public Diplomacy office in Riyadh.

All that put aside, the article does give a glimpse of the range of exchange programs now in place.

Exploring Shared Values of Education and Exchange
U.S. and Saudi Arabian exchange programs foster understanding
Carla Higgins

Washington — Education is one the most important components of the Obama administration’s policy agenda, and President Obama has identified several goals for improving education in America. “There is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God-given potential,” he said recently.

The president said in his June 4 speech in Cairo, Egypt: “The source of America’s prosperity has never been merely about the accumulation of wealth, but how well America educates its people. Education is a prerequisite for success in a 21st-century world where jobs can be shipped wherever there’s an Internet connection, and where your best job qualification is not what you do, but what you know.”

President Obama also seeks to promote partnerships and exchanges with communities around the world. Technology provides the chance for youth around the globe to learn from America, and in turn, for America to learn from them. Where once students had to travel to the United States to earn a degree from an American university, today they can get a U.S. degree without leaving Saudi Arabia. (See Distance Education on the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia Web site.)

One program not mentioned, though still conducted with partial State Department sponsorship and funding, is the US-Saudi Women’s Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, I’ve already written about. The Forum now has a 24-page document on ‘The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur’ posted at its website. The document can be viewed online or downloaded in either PDF or plain text. Note that downloading requires registration with Scribd, or an ‘OpenID’.

July:31:2009 - 08:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

Here’s an interesting piece from the UK’s Guardian public, online op-ed section, ‘Comment Is Free’. The writer wonders why there is no Arab science fiction. She offers here ideas—commenters have additional ones. I happen to like science fiction quite a bit. Something I’ve noticed, as I’ve been catching up on SF that I missed while being busy with a career, is that Islamic and Arab cultures are very prevalent in science fiction over the past 10-12 years. The portrayal of those cultures is not always positive, but it’s certainly there. From books like the original Dune to the more recent The Years of Rice and Salt Arab and Islamic cultures are taken seriously… by Western writers.

I think the writer, Nesrine Malik, makes two mistakes however. Tales like One Thousand and One Nights are not really Arab in their origins. They are imports from India and Iran, modified and translated for Arab readers (of a vastly different age). Second, her proposed novel, posited on the political supremacy of women in a future Saudi Arabia, is not terribly well thought out, as several of the commenters make clear.

Still, the article and comments (barring a few ignorant ones) are worth reading and thinking about.

What happened to Arab science fiction?
Nesrine Malik

When I was a child, I was an avid fan of science fiction. The Foundation and Dune series in particular were engrossing in their depiction of a human race trying to re-establish itself after upheaval. Despite its geeky stigma, sci-fi seemed to me a genre with a philosophical belief in the tenacity of humanity and the potential of the mind. I was disappointed to find that while Arabic and Middle Eastern literature seemed replete with fantastical anthologies such as One Thousand and One Nights where mystical creatures abound, there appeared to be a dearth of truly futuristic science fiction works rooted in Arab or Muslim culture.

During Ramadan, it is customary for most Arabic TV channels to show high-budget historical dramas focusing on some revered warrior such as Khaled ibn-al-Walid (known as the Sword of God) or medieval soap operas outlining the shenanigans of those cheeky Muslim caliphs and their concubines during the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad or the Umayyad period in Andalucia. While rich in culture, history and characterisation, these works went over familiar ground and fostered an identity fixated on a charismatic past.

It is understandable that in the absence of an Arab equivalent of a Neil Armstrong or Yuri Gagarin we must look for inspiring figures from the past, but this is part of a general malaise in a culture that harks back to the Golden Age when Arabs and Muslims were in the ascendancy, commanding an empire that stretched from India to Spain. The focus is on recapturing that, and not looking forward to a new modern incarnation. Add to this a sense of fatalism and helplessness inculcated by years of social and political stagnation and you have a recipe for suspended imagination; so little has changed in the Arab world over the past few decades that one could be forgiven for thinking that nothing ever will.

July:30:2009 - 09:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (13) | Permalink

The first Saudi death from swine flu is causing alarm just short of panic in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, Arab News reports. Those interviewed say that they lack information about what they should be doing; medical centers in the area say that as they do not do the testing for the A/H1N1 virus themselves, instead sending samples on to Riyadh for identification, they don’t have much information to offer. International efforts to come up with a vaccine specific to swine flu are just entering their human trial stages. Until a vaccine becomes available, reliance is being placed on Tamiflu and Relenza, drugs that treat the flu, not prevent it. Tamiflu seems to be in ready supply in the region, though there is concern over reports that there are resistant strains of the virus for which it provides no effect. Saudi priorities for vaccination parallel those in other countries where pregnant women are at the head of the list of those to receive vaccinations when available.

Swine flu death raising concerns
Siraj Wahab & Molouk Y. Ba-Isa | Arab News

ALKHOBAR: The death of a 30-year-old Saudi man at Al-Mouwasat Hospital in Dammam on Saturday because of swine flu has created alarm among citizens and expatriates alike.

Although people have not pressed the panic button yet, there is definitely a sense of unease. The private and government medical fraternity here in the Eastern Province is doing all it can to calm the frayed nerves of the population. Understandably, hospitals are refusing to reveal any new cases.

Officials of at least three major hospitals and two prominent polyclinics in Dammam and Alkhobar refused to either confirm or deny existence of new swine flu cases.

The standard reply by hospital administrators these days is “no comment.”

Across the Gulf from the Eastern Province, Agence France Presse reports:

Iran may ban Mecca pilgrimages over flu scare

Saudi Gazette is reporting that the government is increasing the supply and presence of thermal imaging cameras to identify those suffering from high fevers, a symptom of the flu. The article notes that this is not a perfect method, with a success rate between 60%-70%. The cameras completely miss those who might be in an incubation stage. Even with identification of those with fever, it still remains necessary to identify the cause of the fever. That can include many things besides the swine flu.

Thermal cameras, more medics to limit flu spread

July:30:2009 - 07:46 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Interesting piece in Arab News on how many expat workers, most of them from Arab and S. Asian countries, hope to obtain Saudi citizenship. It’s quite true that after working in a foreign country for ten or twenty years, or even more, it’s difficult to go back to one’s ‘home country’. Things have changed so much that it’s nearly impossible to fit in. The article, by Siraj Wahab, points out some of the distinct benefit that come with Saudi citizenship, but not everything is suddenly wonderful, either. If you’re interested in Saudi society and how semi-foreigners (‘counterfeit Saudis’ as they’re sometimes called) try to fit in, this is worth reading in full.

It’s another kind of Saudization
Siraj Wahab | Arab News

ALKHOBAR: They dream of Saudi citizenship, but often find the reality to be different from their expectations.

For many longtime expatriate workers and families who often know no other home, Saudi citizenship seems like the bond to forge a lasting relationship with their chosen homeland. The perception is that once you become Saudi, doors open for you and you suddenly become well off. For hardworking entrepreneurs anxious to start businesses in the Kingdom, this may be true, but for the majority of expats-turned-Saudis, this turns out to be more in the realm of myth.

This conclusion was drawn on the basis of interviews with some of those expatriates who have become Saudis. The case of foreign women wanting to become Saudis is totally different. Their quest largely is driven by fear. “What if my Saudi husband divorces me? I will have no option but to leave everything behind. My husband can deport me instantly.” So what are the benefits of becoming a Saudi national? First and foremost is that you are no longer at the mercy of your sponsor. He cannot threaten to deport you if you have a disagreement, and you can seek other employment if he treats you badly.

You also put concerns about resident permits or iqamas, behind you.

July:30:2009 - 07:28 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Something not really known by non-Muslims is that the bulk of the support for pilgrims during Haj and Umrah comes from private companies. The companies, generally licensed by the government, provide the food, housing, and often transportation pilgrims require, all for a fee. Now, according to Arab News, the companies are also being asked to play a role in preventing an epidemic of swine flu from breaking out during the various pilgrimages.

War declared on flu as Haj season nears
Galal Fakkar I Arab News

JEDDAH: More than 500 companies and establishments providing services to pilgrims and visitors have adopted a number of precautionary measures to protect their employees and customers against swine flu during the Haj and Umrah seasons.

Saad Jameel Al-Qurashi, chairman of the National Committee for Haj and Umrah (NCHU), said these companies and establishments have approved a number of preventive health steps against the pandemic in collaboration with other concerned parties, including the ministries of Health, Haj, Islamic Affairs and officials from the Makkah municipality.

A workshop was held in Makkah on Tuesday with the participation of more than 20 specialists to discuss the precautionary measures that might help reduce the possibility of getting the virus. Al-Qurashi said the workshop was part of efforts by the Makkah chamber to provide the staff involved in the Haj and Umrah services with all the data concerning swine flu, means of avoiding it and ways of providing a safe working environment.

Following the death of a Saudi from swine flu a few days ago, the government has ordered hospitals to expand their testing of patients exhibiting certain symptoms. It is also looking into the case of the Saudi fatality to see if the hospital had taken the right steps to identify his health problems, reports Saudi Gazette

MoH orders hospitals to step up swine flu checks
Faleh Al-Dhubyani

JEDDAH – The Ministry of Heath has instructed hospitals to test all cases of bronchitis and patients suffering from breathing difficulties for swine flu following the Kingdom’s first death from the virus in a Dammam hospital Saturday.

According to an official the ministry move is to “increase caution” in hospitals and does not call into question the effectiveness of the ministry’s WHO-certified immunizations.

CNN, meanwhile, goes a little over the top in its reporting. There’s not any particular ‘scramble’ going on as this has been the focus of great attention for several months. I don’t see any sense of panic in the Saudi reaction, something that the word ‘scramble’ suggests.

Saudis scramble to stop Hajj swine flu crisis

July:29:2009 - 09:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Somehow, I don’t think that T.C. Williams High School in suburban Washington, DC will come under quite the opprobrium as the Islamic Saudi Academy. T.C. Williams is where Daniel Boyd, an American recently indicted for supporting terrorism studied as a youth. Boyd, is indicted along with two of his sons and several others; one person remains at large.

The Voice of America carried a version of the story last night:

VOA News – 7 Men in N. Carolina Charged with Terror Plot

U.S. federal authorities have charged seven men in the southeastern state of North Carolina with plotting to carry out terror attacks abroad.

A father, 39-year-old Daniel Boyd, and his two sons, ages 20 and 22, are among the defendants. All are charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, and conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim and injure persons abroad.

The Justice Department said Boyd traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan between 1989 and 1992 for military-style training in terrorist camps, and following the training, allegedly fought in Afghanistan.

It said Boyd traveled to Gaza in March 2006 and attempted to introduce his son to individuals who believed that “violent jihad was a personal religious obligation.” The Justice Department said Boyd and several other defendants left the United States for Israel in 2007 to engage in “violent jihad,” but their efforts failed and they eventually returned.

Boyd and several other defendants face weapons charges. Authorities allege Boyd and others practiced “military tactics” and using weapons in North Carolina.

If convicted, the seven face life in prison.

The Washington Post carries a longer story, with more details. Some of those details raise questions about just what the government attorneys are doing. Citing the fact that Boyd became a jihadist in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, obfuscates the fact that the US government liked jihadists just then, it even sent them money and munitions. Other details, such as a trip to Israel in 2006, his alleged stockpiling of armor-piercing ammunition, and battle training camps are considerably more serious. The article notes that Boyd had been pushed out of his local mosque for his extremist views. The article takes a stab at providing what might be a psychological explanation for Boyd’s actions—the death of a son a few years ago—and seems to be an effort to grab all the information available on him, which is not very much at this time.

At The Washington Post, you’ll also find two short video clips (each with a 14-second ad you must watch before getting to the actual videos). One reports on the story, the other on his wife’s statement to the public through the Muslim American Society.

Terror Suspect Daniel Boyd Seemed to Have Typical Suburban Life
Carrie Johnson and Spencer S. Hsu

Daniel Patrick Boyd, once a defensive lineman at T.C. Williams High School, is an unlikely symbol of the homegrown terrorist threat. The son of a Marine, Boyd spent his early years in the Washington suburbs living a typical American childhood. Recently, he blended with his family into a picturesque suburb of Raleigh, N.C., where he gardened and was friendly with his neighbors.

But law enforcement officials, including four SWAT teams that deployed to Boyd’s home this week, point to the Muslim convert as the latest example of a radicalized American who exported jihad. Boyd, 39, is scheduled to appear in federal court in North Carolina on Thursday with his two sons and four other young men he allegedly instructed in militant techniques.

July:29:2009 - 08:46 | Comments & Trackbacks (13) | Permalink

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, the Jordanian-American convicted of taking part in a plot to assassinate the President, was sentenced to 30 years in jail back in 2005. He appealed his sentence and, in a severe rebuke by the court, has had his sentence increased to life in prison.

Abu Ali has two connections with Saudi Arabia. First, he was a graduate of the Islamic Saudi Academy in northern Virginia, a fact that those who wish to shutter the Academy are quick to mention. Second, Abu Ali was originally arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2003, in a sweep of those suspected of having taken part in that year’s bombings of residential compounds. After 20 months in a Saudi prison, he was repatriated to the US. Abu Ali, his family and attorneys allege that he was tortured in the Kingdom and forced to make a false confession. He became the poster child for several human rights organizations who assumed his allegations were accurate, a view the courts did not accept. The Washington Post reports…

Va. Man’s Sentence Increased to Life in Terror Plot
Jerry Markon

A Falls Church man convicted of plotting with al-Qaeda to kill President George W. Bush was resentenced to life in prison Monday after the judge said his release would threaten “the safety of the American citizenry.”

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali had been given a 30-year prison term after he was convicted in 2005 of joining an al-Qaeda conspiracy to mount a series of Sept. 11-style attacks and assassinations in the United States. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld the conviction last year but sent the case back for resentencing, indicating that the sentence should be more severe.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee obliged on Monday, saying he had reevaluated the case and concluded that the danger of ever releasing Abu Ali is too great. “I cannot put the safety of the American citizenry at risk,” he said, citing Abu Ali’s “unwillingness to renounce the beliefs that led to his terrorist activities.”

July:28:2009 - 08:53 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette has two pieces that relate, indirectly, to the Mazen Abdul Jawad controversy. Both, however, relate directly to Saudi attitudes toward sex.

Reporting on a survey—methodology unknown—the paper carries a release from the Saudi Press Agency. To my eyes, this survey appears more to gauge attitudes rather than actuality. Putting ‘nude photography’ ahead of domestic rape as social issues to be confronted seems, well, odd to say the least. In fact, unless the nude photography is coerced, I’m rather baffled as to how it can be considered sexual abuse in the first place.

Nude photography is ‘most widespread’ form of sexual abuse

JEDDAH – Twenty-one percent of 2,040 respondents from around the Kingdom to a field study on sexual abuse said that “nude photography” was the most widespread form of sexual abuse, while 16 percent described husbands forcing their wives to have sexual intercourse as “very widespread” in society.

The study, conducted by the Ro’ya Center for Social Studies in the Qassim town of Al-Rass on both sexes across the Kingdom, cited 15 percent of those surveyed as regarding rape of females and males as “very common” and 41 percent as believing it “happens rarely.”

The second piece deals with the silence of rape victims. It focuses primarily on the state of female Filipina domestic workers. This isn’t surprising as the writer, a Filipino, would have much easier access to this group than to Saudi women. The attitudes of the victims, Filipina or Saudi, however, are much the same. The only difference would be that Saudi women bear the additional weight of carrying their families’ ‘honor’. This is a burden which, by itself, is enough to encourage one to keep quiet.

Many rape victims prefer to keep mum
Joe Avancena

DAMMAM – Solita, a Filipina housemaid, is a victim of rape. A mother of three, the youngest is not more than a year old, she looks frail and in deep trauma.
She escaped from a local employment agency here, where she was kept for months with other women domestic workers, after she was raped by the owner of the employment agency who recruited her in Manila.

She sought the help of the Philippine Embassy, and is now being sheltered in a safe house of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Eastern Province.

“I just want to go home and forget the whole thing – that I was a victim of rape,” she said. “I will keep to myself the bad experience I had; I will forever keep silent and let God’s judgment be delivered upon the person who molested me,” she told Saudi Gazette.

July:28:2009 - 08:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink
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