Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia established a controversial licensing regime for electronic media. Its scope covers everything from electronic newspaper to personal blogs. The government has never put forth a good explanation of why this permitting is necessary; it seems to be only an attempt (a futile one at that) to control information. At best, it only provides a way to get to those who write material the government finds objectionable. That is a process that is so open to abuse that it should never have been accepted.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that online newspapers are signing up, though. I guess it’s prudent to stay within the law, even if the law makes no sense.
I consider the licensing to be an entirely retrograde step by the government. Instead of trying to control the message, which it cannot do, it should be doing away with its Ministry of Information. I suppose the Ministry provides much-needed jobs, but it doesn’t provide any sort of useful product or service that could not be provided by the private sector more efficiently.
140 online newspapers permitted in Kingdom
Abdul Rahman Al-Shamrani
TABUK: The Ministry of Culture and Information has so far issued permits for 140 online newspapers, according to Tariq Muhammad Al-Eid Al-Khatrawi, Director of the ministry’s Electronic Media Department.
He said websites are given six months, after the modified regulations were published in Umm Al-Qura official newspaper, to obtain permits.
“The number is increasing,” he said, adding that electronic newspapers and magazines are obliged to obtain permits according to the new electronic publication regulations.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report on the legal representation being provided to the Saudi student, Khalid Aldawsari (the more usual transcription, Al-Dossari, is used in the article). His attorney, Rob Hobson, says that he has several lines of defense, but does not divulge them to sources. That’s typical, particularly when one is not attempting to try the case in the court of public opinion. I will be interested, though, to see what those defenses are. Of course, an indictment is only a collection of allegations; it is not evidence. Evidence will be forthcoming at trial and be put before a jury. Over the years, US juries have convicted some accused of terrorism, but have also acquitted many. This case is by no means a ‘done deal’.
Saudi Ambassador following Al-Dossari case ‘step by step’
FAHEEM AL-HAMID & MUHAMMAD AL-MADDAH
WASHINGTON: Sources at the Saudi Embassy in Washington have said that Ambassador Adil Al-Jubair is personally following the case of Saudi student Khalid Al-Dossari, who is accused of planning to use chemical weapons to attack targets in the United States of America.
The second hearing in the case, which is taking place in Texas and includes among the charges the intention to target former US President George W. Bush’s house, has been set for March 11.
The sources told Okaz/Saudi Gazette that the Saudi embassy is following the case “step by step” with the American defense lawyer it appointed, Rob Hobson, and helping Al-Dossari with “all his requests and providing his needs and checking on him in prison”.
Reuters reports that the Saudi government is converting some 90,000 temporary government jobs into permanent ones. This, of course, provides some job security for a whole lot of people. But creating government jobs runs counter to the governments efforts to expand the private sector. This action may provide a useful stop-gap measure and relieve some pressures to reform, but it hardly suffices.
The article mentions protests planned for next month, attempts to ease the housing expense and availability shortage (including the observation that too much land might be in the hands of too few people), and other reforms. None of the reforms announced so far, however, include political reforms. The clock is ticking on this and somebody better be paying attention if Saudi Arabia wants to continue avoiding the unrest that’s sweeping the region. Handouts buy time, but only so much.
Saudi king orders more state jobs and faces reforms calls
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
REUTERS: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has ordered that state employees on temporary labour contracts be given permanent jobs, in another apparent bid to insulate the kingdom from a wave of protests in the Arab world. Skip related content
The top oil exporter has so far escaped major protests against poverty, corruption and oppression that have spread through the region, toppling entrenched leaders in Egypt and Tunisia and reaching neighbours Bahrain and Oman.
Abdullah returned home on Wednesday from three months of medical treatment abroad for back treatment and unveiled benefits for Saudis worth around $36 billion (22 billion pounds) to address social pressures such as unemployment and housing.
On Sunday, the king, who is around 87, also ordered all Saudi nationals in temporary public sector jobs be given permanent employment, state news agency SPA said.
SPA gave no details but Banque Saudi Fransi Chief Economist John Sfakianakis said some 90,000 would benefit.
Arab News writes about a website—apparently a private endeavor—that permits Saudi nationals and expats to post their gripes about life in the Kingdom. The site, Shakwa, Arabic for ‘complaint’, doesn’t yet have an English-language (or other) facility, somewhat limiting its utility to expats. But it’s drawing attention. The report notes that the new site isn’t ‘licensed’ under the new Saudi electronic media regime, but the owner has applied for a license.
If the Saudi government is smart, it will not only license the site, but make it part of the government’s daily reading. I’m sure that there will be trivial and unfounded complaints; there always are. But learning just what things are getting under people’s skins—and then doing something about them—is a good way to prevent mass unhappiness.
Site lets public air grievances about services
FATIMA SIDIYA | ARAB NEWS
Published: Feb 26, 2011 23:09 Updated: Feb 27, 2011 00:26
JEDDAH: A website has been launched for members of the public to lodge complaints about the services offered by different government departments and private companies and suggest solutions to resolve them.
The website, which also has a section for expatriates, received over 1,000 visitors on its second day and some 180 complaints. The site — shakwa.net — is the brainchild of Mohamad Al-Deheme, a 24-year-old Saudi computer programmer.
Al-Deheme said the site has been launched to receive complaints from members of the public. “Our theme is ‘hand in hand with officials to develop our Kingdom,’” he said, adding that the site is for both Saudis and expatriates.
The link below goes to Entertainment Space, an odd website that provides links to a large variety of international radio and TV broadcasts. The links are of mixed quality, with many of them ending up lost in the voids of cyberspace. The majority of the TV stations appear to be of the ‘community broadcast’ type, though there are many focused on sports or films. This particular link, to Saudi 1 TV does work. For the moment, anyway. This won’t be among my ‘go-to’ sites, but it might be useful (or entertaining) from time to time.
Khalid Aldawsari, alleged to have been planning to build and plant bombs in various locations in the US, made his first appearance in a Texas court today for his arraignment, a step in the legal process at which a defendant offers his plea of guilty or not guilty. Aldawsari pled not guilty. In mid-March, another hearing will be held at which it will be determined whether Aldawsari should be held in jail until his criminal trial or if he might be release upon the payment of a bond.
This article is interesting in that the correspondent interviews Moody Al-Khalaf, Director of Culture and Social Affairs, herself a former writer for Arab News. She points out that Aldawsari was on a scholarship offered by Saudi Basic Industries (SABIC), not a direct foreign student scholarship offered by the government. With over 10,000 Saudi students in the US, all it takes is one like this (or Homaidan Al-Turki, I’d add) to blacken the names of all of them. Of course, law abiding, peaceful students don’t often merit media coverage, so there’s a built-in bias when it comes to media reports. But it’s still useful to remember that it’s the atypical that makes the news, not the ordinary.
I’ve no idea whether Aldawsari is guilty of the crimes for which he has been arrested. That’s for a trial to conclude. If the criminal complaint filed against him is at all accurate, then I’m truly grateful not to be in his shoes.
Saudi student appears in US court
BARBARA FERGUSON | ARAB NEWS
WASHINGTON: Khalid Ali M. Aldawsari, the college student from Saudi Arabia accused of buying chemicals online as part of a plan to blow up key US targets, including the home of former President George W. Bush, appeared in federal court in Texas on Friday.
Aldawsari was arrested late Thursday by FBI agents in Texas on a federal charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction in connection with his alleged purchase of chemicals and equipment necessary to make an improvised explosive device (IED) and his research of potential US targets.
Aldawsari made his initial appearance in federal court in Lubbock on Friday morning.
Legally admitted into the United States in 2008 on a student visa and is enrolled at South Plains College near Lubbock, Texas. Aldawsari faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
UPDATE: According to this report in Saudi Gazette, the Saudi Embassy is indeed taking care of Aldawsari’s legal representation. I’m not aware of any instance in which the Embassy has refused to provide this support, no matter the alleged crime. The Saudis see this as appropriate support of Saudi nationals. Note that countries like the US and the UK do not provide this kind of support, limiting what they do to ensuring that the legal process is followed rather than paying for lawyers.
According to news reports—including this one from Arab News—Saudi national Homaidan Al-Turki has received a sentence reduction in his conviction on multiple counts of abusive behavior toward a domestic employee while in the US. The article states that the original sentencing judge made an error when he sentenced Al-Turki to 28 years in prison; the law only permitted a sentence of between four and twelve years. That was corrected today, with a new sentence of eight years imprisonment being assigned.
With consideration of his good behavior while in prison and his health problems—a claim supported by the prison superintendent—it is likely that Al-Turki will be released from prison in the next couple of years and then deported back to Saudi Arabia.
News reporting on legal issues tends to be generalized, not citing specific arguments, rules, or law that pertain to a given case. So far, I’m unable to find court documents about this action, so I’m forced to rely on what I consider to be less-than-fully-reliable reporting. As I’ve been following this case for the past five years, I’m interested in the details. When I find them, I’ll write them up.
Saudi student in maid abuse case wins reduced sentence
WALAA HAWARI | ARAB NEWS
RIYADH: Humaidan Al-Turki, a Saudi research student who was convicted in 2006 in the United States for abusing his maid, won his appeal to get his sentence reduced. He received a revised sentence of eight years, instead of the 28-year punishment he was handed by a Colorado court, on Friday.
Al-Turki, 36, was convicted of sexually assaulting his Indonesian housekeeper and keeping her as a virtual slave for four years.
Al-Turki’s lawyers on Friday succeeded in convincing the court hearing the appeal. The lawyers lodged an appeal to revise the 28-year sentence that he was handed, saying it contained a legal error.
The lawyers, according to family spokesperson Fahd Al-Nassar, had submitted documents and supporting letters requesting the case to be dropped or the sentence to be reduced.
The district attorney had admitted that the judge presiding over the case was only allowed to issue a sentence between four and 12 years. The general attorney also suggested changing the 20-year sentence to life, which was also rejected by Al-Turki’s lawyers.
This Asharq Alawsat article provides us with another reason why the Saudi divorce rate is high and the number of Saudi women choosing not to marry is climbing. The men are stripping their working wives of their earnings! The research being reported is coming from Umm al-Qura University, a bastion of conservative religious instruction and the first higher education institute in the Kingdom. It is not famed for its liberal social attitudes. If it is identifying a social issue that needs addressing, then it will be heard. Of course, the men thriving on the mulct can be expected to put up an argument. They’ve lost their ability to try turning it into a argument with religious sanction, though…
60 % of Saudi men financially exploit their wives
Abha, Asharq Al-Awsat – A study by Saudi Arabian social researcher at the University of Umm al-Qura, Dr. Mahmoud Kisnawi, claims that 60 percent of Saudi Arabian husbands financially exploit their wives.
The study argues that many working wives allowed their husbands to take advantage of their salaries, under the pretence of ensuring family stability, despite the wives religious and legal right to her complete salary.
Dr. Kisnawi confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that 60 percent of husbands utilize their wives salaries to enter the real estate market or complete the construction of a home, without taking into account the needs and desires of the wife. He added that this phenomenon contributed to the increase in divorce rates in Saudi Arabia.
Kisnawi added “in some cases, husbands have demanded that their wives provide them with large amounts of money so that they can complete the construction of their home. However these husbands may be deceiving their wives and want to complete construction in order to marry a second wife, with this [second] wife living in the home bought by the first wife’s salary. This causes psychological trauma to the [first] wife and causes her to lose her trust in the sanctity of marriage, and as a result she would [therefore] seek separation and divorce.”
While Saudi Arabia tends to offer sanctuary—and political asylum—to deposed Muslim leaders, Mu’ammar Qaddafi will not be one of them. Not only does the Libyan leader have a long history of attempting to thwart the Saudis in assemblies such as the Arab League, but back in 2004 he contracted a ‘hit’ on then-Crown Prince Abdullah. Before and since, he and the Saudis, and King Abdullah in particular, have had some angry words. There’s no friendship in this ‘sisterly relationship’.
I suppose, though, that if Qaddafi could find no other place to go, the Saudis might take him in, but they wouldn’t be happy to do so. Nor, I suspect, would Qaddafi be any sort of pleased to ask the favor.
On another note, this post from The Economist‘s language blog ‘Johnson’ discusses the problem Qaddafi’s name presents to transliteraters of Arabic-to-English and why his name has dozens of different spelling in languages other than Arabic…
The problems seem to have two sources: first, Qaddafi’s name has two letters that don’t appear in European languages and second, there’s a big difference between how a name is written and how it is pronounced, particularly when you get to Arabic dialects. The US Library of Congress records 72 spelling variants. Combined with different ways news organizations tangle with the word, there are at least 112.
The unrest in Libya—a major oil supplier to Europe—has caused oil prices to skyrocket, reaching almost $120/bbl yesterday. The Saudi government said that it would be able to make up whatever shortfall occurred as the result of Libya’s trouble, a move that led oil prices to drop a bit today. The oil market has grown so big over the past decade that Saudi Arabia is only barely able to provide this buffer, but for the moment, it can. With the global economic recession still lingering, it’s good that it can do so as high oil prices will depress economies already in bad shape.
Arab News carries this Reuters report from London:
LONDON: Oil surged more than 7.5 percent to its highest since August 2008 on Thursday on concern that the uprising in Libya would affect crude stocks.
Brent crude oil for April spiked up $8.54 a barrel to a peak of $119.79 before easing to around $114.40 by 1450 GMT. US crude futures for April rose as high as $103.41. They were up $1.70 at $99.80 at 1450 GMT.
Unrest in the world’s 12th-biggest exporter has cut at least 400,000 barrels per day from Libya’s 1.6 million bpd output, according to Reuters calculations.
ENI Chief Executive Paolo Scaroni said Libyan output had fallen much more dramatically, estimating it was putting 1.2 million barrels per day less into the market.
Saudi Gazette runs this abstract of wire service reports:
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is willing and able to plug any oil supply gap and has the capacity to provide all types of oil, including the light, high-quality crude produced by OPEC member Libya, senior Saudi sources said Thursday.
World oil prices have surged towards $120 a barrel as unrest grips Libya. Italian oil major ENI said Thursday the nation’s output had fallen by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd).
Traders and analysts have said the loss of virtually all Libya’s production is particularly serious because it is high-quality, easy-to-refine oil in contrast to the heavier crudes often associated with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
“Saudi Arabia is willing and capable of supplying oil of the same quality, either Arab extra light or through blending,” one of the sources said.
“OPEC stipulates that it is able to supply all types of oil if needed,” the source added. “There is no reason for the price to go higher.”
Okay, I think the stupid stuff young Saudi drivers get up to is dumber than a sack of rocks. But I have to say that I’m impressed by this one.
I think it’s the height of stupidity, but it’s still amazing.
While this Saudi student’s plot to use a weapon of mass destruction didn’t succeed, he is certainly succeeding in insuring that Saudi students in the US get more trouble than they already have. I suppose one good aspect of this is that he is not in the US on a Saudi government scholarship, but one from a private industrial company (Saudi-ARAMCO perhaps?).
I have one quibble with this Associate Press report, however. It says that the combination of nitric and sulfuric acids ‘are combined to make [the explosive] TNP.’ This is not accurate. At best, they comprise only components of a stage of developing that explosive. This is not to mitigate Mr Aldawsari’s actions, but to point out erroneous reporting.
Saudi man charged with plotting terrorist attack
ADAM GOLDMAN and BETSY BLANEY, Associated Press
LUBBOCK, Texas – A young college student from Saudi Arabia who studied chemical engineering in Texas purchased explosive chemicals over the Internet as part of a plan to hide bomb materials inside dolls and baby carriages to blow up dams, nuclear plants or the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush, the Justice Department said Thursday.
“After mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad,” the student wrote in his journal, according to court documents.
One of the chemical companies, Carolina Biological Supply of Burlington, N.C., reported suspicious purchases by Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, 20, of Lubbock, Texas, to the FBI on Feb. 1. Within weeks, federal agents had traced his other online purchases, discovered extremist posts he made on the Internet and secretly searched his off-campus apartment, computer and e-mail accounts and read his diary, according to court records.
Aldawsari, who was legally in the U.S. on a student visa, was expected to appear in federal court on Friday. He was charged Thursday with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. Aldawsari entered the U.S. in October 2008 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to study chemical engineering at Texas Tech University, then transferred earlier this year to nearby South Plains College, where he was studying business. A Saudi-based industrial company, which was not identified in court documents, was paying his tuition and living expenses in the U.S.