There’re too many competing demands on my time at present to keep up daily posting. That, I fear, will be the state until I’m back in Florida next week.

I’m reading your comments and will be replying as frequently as I can, but social and family obligations are taking priority at the moment. Please do keep commenting and don’t hesitate to raise new issues. Consider the comment section for this post to be an ‘Open House’!

Thanks for your patience.

December:31:2009 - 10:47 | Comments & Trackbacks (14) | Permalink

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is making itself heard around the world these days. The Saudis have been aware of the organization since the Saudi branch of AQ merged with the Yemeni-based organization back in 2006, and particularly since it set up the attempted assassination of Pr. Mohammad bin Nayef a few months ago. Now, the Nigerian who attempted to destroy an American airliner en route to Detroit is claiming that he was acting on orders of the group. The validity of his claim is yet to be determined, but there is nothing apparent to contradict the claim at this point.

The Washington Post runs several pieces today on the attempt, including an editorial. A new Associated Press story appears on the paper’s website, too new to have made the print editions:

Al-Qaida group says it was behind jetliner attack

WASHINGTON — Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula on Monday claimed responsibility for the attack on a U.S. airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day, saying it was retaliation for a U.S. operation against the group in Yemen.

Federal authorities met Monday to reassess the U.S. system of terror watchlists to determine how to avoid the type of lapse that allowed a man with explosives to board the flight in Amsterdam even though he was flagged as a possible terrorist.

In a statement posted on the Internet, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula said 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab coordinated with members of the group, an alliance of militants based in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

A story that did make it into the print edition calls notice to the AQAP. This should be news only to those who weren’t paying attention to the region, including the border clashes between the group and the Saudi military:

Al-Qaeda group in Yemen gaining prominence

The Post‘s editorial is strongly condemnatory of anti-terrorism efforts that failed badly enough to permit this incident to take place.

Unconnected dots, yet again, on a terror attempt

THE THWARTED Christmas Day airplane bombing raises three causes for alarm. First, it illustrates a screening system that remains porous enough to let a suspect board with the same explosive shoe-bomber Richard Reid attempted to use in 2001. Second, it exposes a terrorism bureaucracy too clumsy to catapult the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, at least to a higher level of preflight scrutiny after his father came forward with warnings that he might pose a danger. Third, if it is true that the suspect received explosives training from al-Qaeda in Yemen, the incident underscores the emergence of that troubled nation as a training ground for terrorists. To that initial list, we would add a fourth: the disturbingly defensive reaction of the Obama administration.

Unfortunately, this incident will have ramifications for those whose lives involve airlines. Already, stricter screening is in place for both international flights ending in the US and for US domestic flights. Air travel is becoming more onerous, more time-consuming, and far less a pleasure than once it might have been.

The complaints of some (including the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU) about new screening technologies’ being too intrusive—here, the complaint is about full-body scanning, either through X-rays or radio waves, and how it demeans the traveler to have his/her entire body seen through clothing—are likely to fall on deafer ears. There’s nothing quite so demeaning, in my opinion, than becoming a collection of body parts spread across several square miles of land or sea because a bomb was permitted aboard my plane!

December:28:2009 - 16:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (114) | Permalink

at least for a while!

Obligations over the Christmas holiday have kept me from writing as much or as often as I usually do. Some might see this as a good thing; others, perhaps not.

I will be writing consistently for the next few days, before I head back to Florida. Next Monday and Tuesday are likely to be blanks, as far as posting is concerned, while I drive back and recover from the effort.

December:28:2009 - 15:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

The Saudi media is reporting that some 40 individuals—government officials, contractors, and others—have been ‘detained’ for their roles in the Jeddah flood catastrophe. Whether these are the only ones responsible (unlikely) or the most responsible is open to question. Questionable, too, is whether these individuals are the ones most ‘detain-able’ through lack of high-level connections.

Arab News, in its report, explains that the detainees are not yet accused of action or inaction that led to the flooding, but that they are being questioned about their roles and about the situation in general:

40 detained for flood catastrophe
Muhammad Humaidan | Arab News

JEDDAH: More than 40 people including government officials, contractors and engineers have been detained for questioning in connection with the Nov. 25 Jeddah floods.

The high-level committee in charge of investigating the deluge summoned seven senior officials and employees at the Jeddah municipality for questioning on Sunday.

The officials included assistants to the mayor and those in charge of some service departments. They were called to submit their views on the deluge and the reasons why it occurred. Arab News obtained the names of the seven being questioned, but reserved the right to name them.

Informed sources said the municipality has put all of its resources under the committee’s disposal, adding that it will not show any negligence in providing information required by the panel.

The Saudi Gazette/Okaz report is briefer. It does highlight that the matter of deeds for properties in the flood-stricken areas is being investigated.

JEDDAH FLOOD PROBE : Top municipal officials held

I continue to believe that the public reaction to the flooding is pushing government action in a way similar to that which followed the 2002 fire at a girls school in Mecca. Accountability, at least in one sector, is being demanded.

December:28:2009 - 15:47 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

I’m currently traveling up the east coast of the US to Washington, DC for the holidays. I won’t be posting while driving. I’ll likely not post while recovering from a thousand miles of road noise and vibration, either, so check back on Wednesday Thursday for new material.

December:21:2009 - 19:57 | Comments & Trackbacks (26) | Permalink

The rumors about possible side effects of anti-swine flu vaccine seem to have exacted a toll in Saudi Arabia. This piece from Alarabiya TV reports that parents have largely refused to take advantage of the Saudi vaccination program. Fears that side effects include male impotence or sterility have their own potency.

Saudis refuse to give their kids swine flu vaccine
Mohamed Otaif

A startling majority of parents in Saudi Arabia have refused to allow the government to administer the swine flu vaccine to their children due to fear of negative side effects.

The Saudi Ministry of Education distributed more than 10 million forms for parents to sign to authorize the vaccination of their children in kindergarten and elementary schools.

But more than 80 percent of the forms were returned with a rejection with fear of side effects believed to be the most likely reason as the form does not require a justification for the rejection.

According to the form, the vaccine is safe and side effects are only nausea and a slight rise in body temperature in addition to the fatigue for a couple of days, which makes it no different to other vaccines for other diseases.

December:21:2009 - 09:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (12) | Permalink

Saudi media give themselves a bit of a pat on the back—and a deserved one!—for their coverage of the Jeddah floods. Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that citizens of the flooded regions appreciate the coverage and believe it made a difference in government response. They think, too, that the coverage will lead to cleaning up the ‘shortcomings’ of government. Insha’Allah.

Media highlights flood tragedy and exposes shortcomings: Residents
Ibrahim Alawi

JEDDAH – Residents of the Quwaizah and Al-Sawaed districts have welcomed the media attention on their flood-hit neighborhoods as it has helped to highlight the human tragedy that took place.

Some residents said that the media coverage had also helped to expose many shortcomings by the authorities in preparing for the floods.

Resident Saleh Al-Sulami said that shedding light on the tragedy made the relevant government bodies work harder to relieve the suffering and correct problems.

He said the coverage in Quwaizah, Al-Sawaed and other districts had helped to highlight the effects of the disaster.

December:20:2009 - 09:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette/Okaz report on the latest development in Saudi Arabia’s efforts to codify its legal system. Here, the issues concern arrest and detention as addressed in a draft law not being studied. It would prohibit police from getting involved in ‘private’ cases—that is, civil suits—unless they were invited in or unless the issue rose to the level of great social concern. The detention periods prior to trials appear to be briefer, sometimes just a matter of days, but can still extend to six months through a process of renewals of detention orders. After that period, the accused is either to be tried or released.

New draft law of punitive proceedings
Adnan Shabrawi

JEDDAH – The new draft law of punitive proceedings being studied by the Experts Commission of the Council of Ministers contains significant amendments of articles currently being applied.

The new amendments state that the Commission for Investigation and Prosecution (CIP) has no right to file a punitive lawsuit or conduct investigation on private cases without the permission or the request of the plaintiff unless the CIP deems the case to be in the public interest.

Article 112 in the new draft states that on the basis of the recommendation of the Chairman of the CIP, the Minster of Interior determines which major crimes or felonies necessitate detention.

It also requires that all felonies be defined by the Minister of Interior and published in the official gazette to enable the public to know about them.

December:20:2009 - 09:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

Getting people to report domestic abuse in Saudi Arabia is the greatest hurdle in trying to deal with it, this Arab News article says. Both social and cultural barriers stop people from reporting it, or sometimes even acknowledging it. The police disagree, saying that they deal with it properly. That may be, but they can only deal with the issues brought to their attention and Saudi society, for numerous reasons, tends to avoid looking too closely into other people’s business.

Except that’s not true, either. In fact, there’s a whole government organization—the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—whose sole business is taking care of other people’s business. Their curiosity, though, seems to stop at the walls of a private home. What goes on inside, if it doesn’t involve sex, drugs, or rock ‘n’ roll, and witchcraft, just isn’t their concern, apparently. Curious, that.

Domestic abuse goes unreported due to sensitivity
Laura Bashraheel | Arab News

JEDDAH: Cultural sensitivity in the Kingdom plays a vital role in ignoring crimes of a serious nature such as domestic abuse. The fear of scandal and the presence of a domineering male, offer little hope for victims. In recent years however, domestic abuse cases were given massive coverage by the media, encouraging the abused to contact police.

The official spokesman of police in Hail, Abdul Aziz Al-Zunaidi, said social and cultural barriers are not considered an impediment to police intervention in extreme cases of domestic violence.

Normally, police have to follow procedures when acting on a domestic abuse case. Their intervention usually ends after delivering the case to the Investigation and Prosecution Board or family protection organizations. Also, police cooperate with several committees within the Ministry of Social Affairs.

“There is cooperation between police and the branch of the Ministry of Social Affairs in Hail to study the papers referred to them by the Ministry of Education, the Department of Health Affairs, the Investigation and Prosecution Board and other government agencies,” said Al-Zunaidi.

However, women and children still find it difficult to report abuse to the authorities or accept there is a problem in the first place.

December:20:2009 - 08:37 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Arab News editorializes on the recently concluded Copenhagen Climate talks finding that all that was accomplished was to kick the ball down the road. It says that delegates seemed more than willing to simply sign an anodyne agreement and get out of Denmark, though what little that was achieved seems to have annoyed developing countries to no end.

Editorial: Copenhagen Accord

AFTER 12 days of wrangling, the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen effectively ended with an agreement to agree at some later date. It, therefore, was not simply all the hot air generated in hours of often-furious argument that has damaged the climate change issue. The way in which realpolitik asserted itself to the detriment of the vast majority of the 192 countries that turned up to have their say, left many very unhappy delegates heading for home Saturday night.

In the end it all came down to US President Barack Obama. He flew in aboard Air Force One, lectured the summiteers about the need to reaching an agreement but offered no further concessions on behalf of a wary United States. Then he went into private conclave with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, which meeting was later extended to include three other key countries, India, Brazil and South Africa and within hours there emerged the Copenhagen Accord. A shell-shocked summit, less a few delegates who had already flown home in disgust, wearily endorsed the deal Saturday night and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lauded the breakthrough.

But how real is a deal that has no reference to legally binding targets, plumps for a 2 degree Celsius limit when many countries claimed 1.5 degrees was the maximum that should be allowed, promises $100 billion a year to developing countries without saying who is going to pay these immense sums, fails to agree on any firm monitoring process and gives no firm framework on the much-touted carbon-trading markets?

The editorial points out that the science of global warming was pushed to the background in favor of the politics of global warming. It notes that support for major actions to combat it is plunging among Americans on the heels of the ‘Climategate’ reports. The Rasmussen polling organization finds that American attitudes are shifting significantly, with 50% now believing that global warming is the result of ‘long term planetary trends’. If that is the case, then there’s nothing much a treaty is going to do to stop it; massive restructuring of economies around the world won’t either.

A Wall St. Journal blog reports that the OPEC countries, led by Saudi Arabia, had raised a ruckus before the conference on the issue of being made whole for any losses to income that resulted from political decisions which would harm their economies. As it turned out, OPEC was largely silent because nothing from the conference ended up in the least threatening.

December:20:2009 - 08:20 | Comments & Trackbacks (22) | Permalink

This Arab News article pushes a rather sharp stick into the eye of those who think Saudi women incapable. It also shows how feeble the arguments against women’s driving are.

Perhaps the King can hold a special award ceremony for her. He’s in favor of women’s driving, but doesn’t want to get too far ahead of where society stands on the issue. Ms. Al-Mutairy’s example could be a good push in the direction of opening the streets to Saudi women.

Girl defies ban on driving to save many lives

JEDDAH: A teenage girl defied a Saudi ban on women drivers to save her father and brother from the Nov. 25 floods. Malak Al-Mutairy took some rope and drove her father’s GMC to the low-lying Qous Valley where water had nearly submerged the car her family was standing on top of.

She parked her car at an elevated position on the road and waded into the water as far as she could before throwing the rope to her brother, Al-Madinah newspaper reported.

The brother tied the rope on the car and then Malak slowly towed the vehicle out of the water. When her brother fell into the water she returned to help him. Her father Fawaz Al-Mutairy, and brother Faiz were overwhelmed by the floods on their way to buy sacrificial animals for Eid Al-Adha.

There were other submerged cars with people inside them crying for help. Despite her father’s pleas not to return, Malak managed to tow eight more cars with dozens of people inside to safety.

December:19:2009 - 07:52 | Comments & Trackbacks (40) | Permalink

It was only a couple of days ago that Carol, at American Bedu blog, was writing about farwa, fleecy garments worn by many Saudis in wintertime.

<em>Farwa</em>, sheepskin lined coat

Farwa, sheepskin lined coat

A government office in Baha has banned the wearing of farwa in the workplace, however. According to this Saudi Gazette/Okaz piece, it’s because it reduces efficiency because of its bulk. Further, it’s not needed in heated offices. Perhaps this office just needs to invest in some coat hooks on which chilled employees can hang their garb until it’s time to go back outdoors…

I admit to being puzzled by the description of the farwa as an undergarment. Does the word have a very different meaning in Baha?

Winter clothes banned at work
Abdul Khaliq Nasser Al-Ghamdi

AL-BAHA – Staff at a government office in Al-Baha have been instructed not to wear the traditional fleece undergarment, known locally as a “farwa”, in the workplace as managers believe it to impede efficiency.

The farwa fleece, worn during the winter season and popular in the southern mountain regions where temperatures can drop to 10 degrees, was cited in a circular describing it as “improper and impractical during working hours”.

“It confines the movement of those wearing it and in consequence leads to the tasks required of them being delayed and performed improperly,” the circular said.

The notice asked staff to find more suitable alternatives to the favored farwa fleece, but added:

“There is not even any need to wear the farwa in the first place, given that all offices are equipped with heating systems.” – Okaz/SG

December:18:2009 - 08:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (9) | Permalink
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