Capital punishment as a punishment for murder is a fact in Saudi Arabia, where executions by decapitation are conducted in public. There is the possibility of the condemned receiving a pardon, described as a ‘miracle’ in this Arab News article, but it doesn’t come from the state and it doesn’t come through the courts. Following the dictates of Shariah law, it comes, if it comes, through the mercy of the family of deceased. Waiting for that mercy, praying for it, takes up a lot of the time for the condemned.

Wait for sentencing is worse than death

RIYADH: People awaiting their fate on death row in the Kingdom have a saying — waiting for death is worse than death itself.

A reporter from a Riyadh newspaper entered a local prison and spoke to a number of killers who are waiting either for their sentence of death by sword to be carried out, or the miracle of a pardon from their victims’ families.

The first prisoner the journalist met was a Saudi man in his cell reading the Qur’an and looking remorseful. He said he had murdered his neighbor.

“I had a nice neighbor living in front of my house. We met everyday on my way to and from work. We used to visit each other all the time. But he had bad children who abused my kids and beat them up all the time. I complained to him many times and he promised to do something about it.”

One day one of his children came home with blood on his face, claiming two of the bullies had beaten him up. That was when the father finally confronted the neighbor with a knife.

“When I complained he simply said that if I did not like it I should move to another neighborhood. I lost my control and stabbed him many times.”

October:25:2009 - 07:48 | Comments Off | Permalink

The turbulent wake of the ‘Saudi Sex Braggart’ case is continuing to wash up on the shores. US TV network MSNBC carries this report on the conviction of a female Saud journalist for her part (apparently as a producer) in the program broadcast over LBC, a Saudi-owned, Lebanon-based satellite channel:

Saudi female journalist sentenced to 60 lashes

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – A Saudi court on Saturday convicted a female journalist for her involvement in a TV show, in which a Saudi man publicly talked about sex, and sentenced her to 60 lashes.

Rozanna al-Yami is believed to be the first Saudi woman journalist to be given such a punishment. The charges against her included involvement in the preparation of the program and advertising the segment on the Internet.

Abdul-Rahman al-Hazza, the spokesman of the Ministry of Culture and Information, told The Associated Press he had no details of the sentencing and could not comment on it.

Arab News also reports on the story. It focuses more on the unhappiness of Saudi journalists that a media offense, by a journalist, is being handled by the criminal courts rather than the Disputes Committee of the Ministry of Culture & Information. This, they argue, goes directly against a royal decree—and thus, Saudi law.

The roles and privileges of the media are being examined in many countries, including the US where Congress is considering a federal ‘shield law’ for journalists, something granted to them by numerous states, but not the federal government. In Saudi Arabia, where the media is struggling to escape government captivity and censorship, the fights has more immediacy.

Saudi woman journalist sentenced to 60 lashes
Muhammad Humaidan | Arab News

JEDDAH: A Saudi woman journalist has been sentenced to 60 lashes for her involvement in the LBC program “Bold Red Line” aired in mid-July, Suleiman Al-Jumaie, the lawyer representing Mazen Abdul Jawad, the prime offender in the case, told Arab News on Saturday.

“The journalist, R.A., the seventh accused in the case, accepted the verdict issued by Judge Muhammad Amin Mirdad of the Jeddah Summary Court. Her acceptance deprives her of the right to appeal,” Al-Jumaie said.

R.A. was accused of being an accomplice to Abdul Jawad who provoked a furor because he boasted on TV about having premarital sex and also provided explicit sexual descriptions and told how to pick up girls and women. His statements have been viewed as publicizing and promoting sinful behavior and violating Saudi social norms on the issues of dating and premarital sex.

Arab News also runs a story on media freedom and the debate Saudis are having about it. Surprisingly, the debate isn’t just focused on liberal media, but also on religious TV channels that some see as extremist:

Saudis debate controversial question of media freedom

October:25:2009 - 07:41 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Here’s a nice piece on women and education from Mshari Al-Zaydi, in Asharq Alawsat.

Al-Zaydi says the world—Saudi Arabia included—is undergoing transformation. Change is the only constant in life. In order to stay on top of change, societies must change as well, not remain locked into some idealized culture. Change is built into the human system, it’s not an import from foreign climes. He provides examples of female thinkers, and their male supporters, from the earliest days of the modern Saudi state, back in the 1930s.

He also points to the awkward need that pushes women in modern Saudi society: more than 90% of them have no jobs! [Note: I rewrote that sentence for clarity, thanks to a tip from a commenter.] The nay-sayers and those who would lock Saudi society into a cultural straight jacket need to back off and get with the modern world if Saudi Arabia is to compete and if it is to treat its women fairly.

This is the Saudi Woman
Mshari Al-Zaydi

Saudi society as a whole is in a state of effective movement and activity that is attracting the attention of foreign and local observers. The issue of women’s rights is part of this activity and “natural” interaction [taking place within Saudi society]. This is a raw fact that has nothing to do with our assessment of the situation, or whether or not we admire such activity and development. Generations of Saudi girls have been educated since the procession of formal education began back in 1960 following a royal decree that was issued by King Saud granting girls the right to education.

The decision was protested at that time by certain currents, but the march went on and Saudi girls took part in formal education. Some of them were even sent to study abroad and within a few years Saudi Arabia had its own female doctors, bankers, engineers and businesswomen.

Every stage of personal “development” was met with opposing apprehensive voices repeating the same old arguments and expressing the same old fears. But the ship of women’s rights would, in most cases, sail through those obstacles, leaving those fears to dwindle or recoil in some distant corner until a new stage approaches.

Today, in the midst of all the grand transformations that have taken place within the large Saudi society since the revolutionary rise of the internet and satellite television stations, and considering the large numbers of young Saudi men and women in comparison to the overall Saudi population, and in light of the inability of the public sector to incorporate women in public and private sector jobs, or let us say the limitation of such incorporation due to its same old fears and problems related to the structure of the labour market in general, which have affected both young men and women equally, in light of all of this, we have come to face a serious issue concerning women, one that stands out on its own and is backed with facts and figures.

October:24:2009 - 08:06 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

The furor raised by Sheikh al-Shethri’s complaint about the co-educational nature of King Abdullah University of Science & Technology didn’t end just with his being removed from his official positions. Now, the Grand Mufti of Egypt and Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradawi, a noted Saudi Egyptian conservative sheikh with a large follwoing in the Kingdom, are on record saying that al-Shethri was wrong. Saudi Gazette reports:

Grand Mufti of Egypt & Qaradawi laud Kaust

The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Al-Jum’ah, has praised King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Kaust) and cited several Ahadith to justify his position on the permissibility of coeducation.

Al-Jum’ah’s remarks come only days after the head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradawi, offered his full support to the university and its goals.

The backing from two of the world’s most prominent scholars follows recent backing from members of the Board of Senior Ulema in the Kingdom who have lauded the university as a “beacon of knowledge” that will “restore the Ummah to the forefront of science”.

Saudi Gazette also carries a piece by Sheikh Al-Qaradawi extolling the virtues of KAUST.

October:24:2009 - 05:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Now here’s a truly bizarre story reported by Arab News. Polls of Saudi doctors indicate that they would neither take swine flu vaccinations nor permit their children to have them.

That’s pretty shocking, I think, but then I notice that the polls were conducted by I’m not at all convinced that this is an organization that should be doing polling on medical issues, particularly ones wrapped up in genocidal conspiracy theories. The report does not say how representative the polls were, but I’m hoping that they’re gravely unrepresentative.

Poll: Doctors will not give H1N1 shots to their kids
Muhammad Humaidan | Arab News

JEDDAH: About 80 percent of doctors and medical practitioners who took part in a recent survey said they would not take the anti-swine flu vaccine and would not give it to their children.

Dr. Saleh Al-Suqair, an internist and member of the teaching staff at King Saud University in Riyadh, said the survey was carried by website. The survey was carried out among medical consultants, university professors and medical students.

The website has published three surveys, the first covering 60 consultants and medical professors who were selected randomly from Saudi hospitals and medical colleges. The survey focused on the opinions of internists, pediatricians and family doctors.

October:24:2009 - 05:25 | Comments Off | Permalink

Here’s a piece from the ‘Live Science’ website that I found interesting. It takes a look at extremism and why people tend to hold extremist views. The research is of an admittedly small sample size and its extension to other forms of extremism is yet to be studied. I think it offers an intriguing insight, however.

Why Extremist Views Dominate

For many people — more than you might think — public and political dialogue seems dominated by extreme views that don’t resonate.

A new study suggests a possible reason: People with extreme views seem more willing to share their opinions than others, but only if they believe, even falsely, that their views are popular.

However, the research looked at only a narrow topic range and involved just college students, so more study would be needed to reveal whether the findings apply broadly to other age groups and beliefs.

Still, the findings are intriguing.

October:23:2009 - 08:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia’s efforts at top-to-bottom reform of its legal and judicial system is continuing apace. Here, it reports (via the official Saudi Press Agency) that new regulations are being put in place to organize the operations of the judiciary, including ways in which the public can complain about judges’ behavior and for judges to issue their own complaints.

New body for judicial probes

RIYADH: A new organization is to be set up to deal with judicial investigations, the Saudi Press Agency reported. It comes after the Supreme Judiciary Council conducted a review and approved new statutes to be implemented with immediate effect.

The new statutes constitute five sections, including general definitions and regulations, the general administration for investigations, investigations and objections and complaints and inquiries. It is the second one that allows for a new general administration body to be set up, allowing special investigators to be appointed. The statute clearly defines the qualifications and duties of an investigator, who should not be below the rank of a court’s chief judge.

The section also outlines how to complain against a judge. It also allows a judge to voice his complaints. Public notary offices will come under the statutes of judicial investigation.

October:23:2009 - 07:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The cartoon below, appearing in Saudi Gazette, illustrates an interesting aspect of Shariah law as practiced in Saudi Arabia.

Rarely is it the case that an individual is found wholly responsible for a traffic accident. Usually, blame is apportioned among all involved, apparently on the theory that if both had not taken actions to be at the precise location and time of the accident, it wouldn’t have happened. Here, a young Saudi driver is pleading with a policeman to say that the lamp pole was 50% responsible for his having run into it.

Credit: <em>Saudi Gazette</em>

Credit: Saudi Gazette

October:23:2009 - 07:32 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

The online publication ‘The Long War Journal’ takes up the recent shootout in Jizan in this piece:

Another former Gitmo detainee killed in a shootout
Thomas Joscelyn

On Oct. 13, a former Guantanamo detainee named Yousef Mohammed al Shihri was killed in a shootout at a checkpoint along the Saudi-Yemeni border. Al Shihri and his accomplices were stopped by Saudi security forces after their suspicious behavior drew attention.

Two of the travelers, including al Shihri, were reportedly dressed as women. Saudi security personnel decided to search the al Qaeda car and its passengers, but al Shihri and the others opened fire. Al Shihri and one other al Qaeda member were killed in the shootout, while a third was arrested. One Saudi security officer was also killed.

Al Shihri’s death comes just weeks after one of his al Qaeda colleagues, Fahd Saleh Suleiman al Jutayli , was similarly killed in a shootout between the Yemeni Army and Houthi rebels in northern Yemen. Shortly thereafter, Al Shihri called his family in Saudi Arabia to tell them of al Jutayli’s death and to ask them to inform al Jutayli’s family.

Saudi Gazette has its own summary. It points out that certain Saudi families seem to produce terrorists, that the number of Saudis becoming involved in terrorism is dropping so that more foreigners are being recruited, and that Al-Qaeda is lying about its resources, among other things:

Al-Qaeda lied about funds, seeks recruitment of foreigners in Kingdom

‘Family home half the breeding ground for terrorism’

TAIF – Al-Qaeda analyst Faris Bin Hizam has said that the arrest of six Yemenis following last Tuesday’s killing in Jizan of wanted militants Yousef Al-Shehri and Raed Al-Harbi shows the organization’s increasing failure to recruit from Saudis inside the Kingdom.

Speaking to Al-Madina newspaper Monday Bin Hizam said the arrest showed the group was “resorting to non-Saudi elements”.

“Two of the six arrested intended to carry out suicide attacks, possibly in Jeddah and its environs, as shown by the presence of two explosive belts in the Chevrolet/GMC Suburban vehicle the two killed militants used before managing to reach Jizan town and also the large quantity of weapons which were beyond Al-Shehri and Al-Harbi’s need,” Bin Hizam said.

Al-Shehri and Al-Harbi had, according to Bin Hizam, put on their suicide belts securely, showing that they intended to commit a suicide attack and were not merely using them in case they were engaged by security forces.

October:23:2009 - 07:22 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

One area in which Saudi Arabia has sadly lagged in development is in the simple act of assigning addresses to buildings. Unlike most of the world, where streets have names and buildings are numbered along those streets, Saudi houses and buildings have never had official identification numbers. In most of the world, houses will be numbered, from lower to higher, along the course of a street. There are exceptions: In Tokyo, for instance, buildings are numbered according to when they were constructed; in the UK, it’s easy to get turned around on streets that seemingly change their names at will and throw the rules out when it comes to houses located on the different sides of parks. But usually, once you’ve found a street, finding a particular address is a matter of going up or down the street.

In Saudi Arabia, it’s been a matter of knowing landmarks (which are constantly change) that point you to a particular building. Mail delivery has generally been a matter of going to the post office at which you hold a box for incoming mail.

Now, the Saudi Post has agreed upon a formal numbering system for all buildings as Saudi Gazette reports. The system is seen as critical in the delivery of government services, as an adjunct to e-government. It should also play a helpful role in providing emergency services, so that fire trucks and ambulances can find a location promptly, no longer depending on ‘local knowledge’ of an area.

Saudi Post numbering system OK’d
Jassim Alghamdi

JEDDAH – The Saudi Standards Commission has approved the procedures followed by the Saudi Post and has made them the mandatory standards for the numbering of buildings and establishments in the Kingdom. These standards will now be applied in all provinces, cities and villages in the Kingdom and are the first of their kind in Gulf and Arab countries.

The approval was made after the commission formed a committee which prepared the technical regulations for these standards.

October:23:2009 - 07:11 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Arab News reports on Shoura Council member Najeeb Al-Zamil’s belief that Saudi Arabs have an attitude problem: they think a little too highly of themselves and without cause. He thinks that Saudis—and expats—need to do a better job of talking with one another, of dropping the fences that separate them. Only then can Saudi Arabia begin to address its image problems outside the Kingdom. He’s got a point.

Shoura member: Saudis need attitude adjustment
Siraj Wahab | Arab News

ALKHOBAR: Well-known columnist, prominent businessman and Shoura Council member Najeeb Al-Zamil has urged his fellow Saudis to open a channel of communication with expatriates in order to improve the image of Saudis.

“Now is the time to be honest about ourselves. Yes, we Saudis suffer as a result of media manipulation and Western stereotypes, but then, why is it that we are misunderstood and hated by people living among us?” he asked recently during an exclusive interview with Arab News.

“These expatriates who have come here to make a living and to improve their lives — why do they not like us? Things are so bad that if you are Saudi and you smile, people get confused. ‘Are you sure you are Saudi?’ they ask. And if you tell them, ‘Yes I am a Saudi,’ they say: ‘No, come on! Maybe your mother is from Palestine or Sri Lanka or Africa.’ This is because Saudis are known for always putting on a grim face. Of course we cannot control the global media. But why do these people who work and live among us, why do they have this bad opinion of us? Why? I am a businessman. Expatriates who work for me — they see me more than their wives or their families back home, and yet they don’t like us.”

Al-Zamil says this requires some serious consideration on the part of Saudis. “We have to think about this rotten state of affairs. If you are a doctor, then you cannot heal a patient or treat him unless you have correctly diagnosed the problem or the disease. The problem is with us — with our attitude,” he said.

October:22:2009 - 05:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

In his column in the American newspaper USA Today, Jonathan Turley, Professor of Law at George Washington University in Washington, DC, takes grave exception to a recent action of the Obama administration in signing on to a UN effort to restrict speech critical of any religion. I share his misgivings. Most of the comments to the piece do as well.

If this was indeed an attempt to find favor on the ‘Muslim street’, it is seriously misguided. If it was the result of carelessness on the part of negotiators, then they need to be reminded of the First Amendment of the US Constitution that protects both religious freedom AND freedom of expression.

blasphemy laws
Jonathan Turley

Perhaps in an effort to rehabilitate the United States’ image in the Muslim world, the Obama administration has joined a U.N. effort to restrict religious speech. This country should never sacrifice freedom of expression on the altar of religion

Around the world, free speech is being sacrificed on the altar of religion. Whether defined as hate speech, discrimination or simple blasphemy, governments are declaring unlimited free speech as the enemy of freedom of religion. This growing movement has reached the United Nations, where religiously conservative countries received a boost in their campaign to pass an international blasphemy law. It came from the most unlikely of places: the United States.

While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any “negative racial and religious stereotyping.” The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month, but it is the exception, not the rule that worries civil libertarians. Though the resolution was passed unanimously, European and developing countries made it clear that they remain at odds on the issue of protecting religions from criticism. It is viewed as a transparent bid to appeal to the “Muslim street” and our Arab allies, with the administration seeking greater coexistence through the curtailment of objectionable speech. Though it has no direct enforcement (and is weaker than earlier versions), it is still viewed as a victory for those who sought to juxtapose and balance the rights of speech and religion.

A ‘misused’ freedom?

In the resolution, the administration aligned itself with Egypt, which has long been criticized for prosecuting artists, activists and journalists for insulting Islam. For example, Egypt recently banned a journal that published respected poet Helmi Salem merely because one of his poems compared God to a villager who feeds ducks and milks cows. The Egyptian ambassador to the U.N., Hisham Badr, wasted no time in heralding the new consensus with the U.S. that “freedom of expression has been sometimes misused” and showing that the “true nature of this right” must yield government limitations.

October:21:2009 - 09:52 | Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Permalink
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