The weekend in Saudi Arabia falls on Thursday and Friday. For most of the Arab world, it falls on Friday and Saturday. For the rest of the world, it’s Saturday and Sunday. The disjunction of the weekend has serious effects on just about every facet of Saudi life that has an international component. A question that arises late on a Wednesday in the West might not be answered until four days later, after the Saudis enjoy their weekend and the Westerners theirs. A four-day gap is not, in most cases, useful.

Proposals to shift the Saudi weekend to Friday and Saturday are again raising their heads in the Kingdom. The point has been argued for many years now. This time, it’s being pushed with more urgency. It would appear that Friday, as the Muslim holy day, is going to have to be one of the two days of the weekend, but by making Saturday the other weekend day, the gap between the Kingdom and the West is reduced to three days. It would put Saudi Arabia in sync with other regional states as well.

There are no valid religious arguments against moving the ‘other’ weekend day to Saturday, nor are there any important historical or traditional ones. The two-day weekend is a modern invention in the Kingdom, dating only to the 1980s.

With economic growth vital to the future of Saudi Arabia, it is indeed time to simply decide to change, then announce the change.

Call to move Kingdom’s official weekend
to Friday and Saturday gaining pace

JEDDAH: There are calls to move the Saudi weekend to Friday and Saturday to increase business between the Kingdom and the rest of the world, Al-Riyadh newspaper reported.

This proposal has been presented and debated in the Shoura Council before, but no action was taken.

The issue was debated again after the return of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah from his medical trip, and the following Saturday was made a holiday.

Many people agreed that there are more economic benefits to making Friday and Saturday the weekend, claiming it would not contravene religion and tradition.

Khaled Al-Harthi, a financial adviser, believes that it is important in the era of globalization to be linked with the rest of the world as much as possible.

March:30:2011 - 08:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Writing in this Arab News opinion piece, Saudi lawyer and columnist Khalid Alnowaiser lectures Western governments on the contradictions and inconsistencies in expressing concern for universal human rights and their policies of supporting autocratic governments. He cites the examples of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen. Notably absent from his list is Bahrain. I wonder if this is just a slip of the pen, a differential analysis, or perhaps another matter of inconsistency?

I suspect—though I don’t wish to put words in his mouth—that Dr. Alnoaiser would say that it’s a matter of Bahrain not being like the other countries, that external interference is the differentiating factor. To an extent, that’s true: Iran certainly seems to be poking its fingers into this particular pie. But the Bahrain protests did not start out as a sectarian or international issue. They started because of a clear unfairness that was seen by both Sunni and Shi’a Bahrainis. Once the government reacted—sadly, with force—then it opened the door to Iranian opportunism. I think Dr. Alnowaiser would have made a far stronger case had he included Bahrain into his lecture.

Human rights: West’s moral imperative

WHEN I refer to the West, I am only speaking of Western governments and not their people.

There are so many Westerners (regardless of their religion, background, upbringing and cultural orientation) who are advocates of universal human rights. Yet, they realize that human rights are violated daily in every part of the world, including their own nations. I have great respect and admiration for Westerners, having spent the most enjoyable and productive time of my life in the United States and the United Kingdom.

However, I am compelled to write about the subject of human rights because of recent political events in such Arab countries as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. I am an unapologetic human rights activist who dreams of humane treatment of all peoples wherever they may live. It is no surprise to see dictator after dictator losing political control when their countries continue to tolerate repression, corruption, and human rights violations.

Yet, the question remains: Who is responsible for allowing these dictators to remain in power and survive for decades while human rights are violated day after day? Although the answer is not simple, it is certain that the people who subject to these dictatorships and the West bear joint responsibility. However, citizens of these repressive regimes really are powerless given the unbelievable security forces that each dictator possesses and the fact that many are brainwashed by dictators who, without exception, control education, culture, media and the political and economic milieu.

March:30:2011 - 08:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Permalink

In the next step of the legal process, Khalid Aldawsari (Al-Dosari) pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges. The judge has set his trial to start on May 2nd.

Aldawsari pleads not guilty in federal court

A Saudi national arrested last month on suspicion of plotting attacks against the United States pleaded not guilty Monday in federal court.

Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, 20, declined to have read the indictment in which a grand jury earlier this month charged him with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

U.S. Magistrate Nancy Koenig set the case for trial May 2.

Aldawsari faces up to life in prison if convicted.

March:30:2011 - 07:19 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports on the latest news concerning the Saudi municipal elections to be held in April. The story states that the number of municipal councils is being increased from 179 to 285, a nearly 60% increase. Concordantly, the number of polling stations will also be increase.

But women will not be permitted to participate. ‘Participate’ is not more closely defined: does it mean that they can’t vote, can’t run as candidates, or both? I think we know the answer to that one.

The excuse given is, “We are not ready for the participation of women….’

Dude. It’s been nearly six years since the last election, at which women were not permitted to vote either. What have you been doing in the meantime? It’s not as though the issue never came up. In fact, back then it was promised that women would take part in the next elections. So what happened, what new, complicating issues arose? Why aren’t you ready? Really, it’s time to pull the thumb out and at least pretend you’re catching up with the rest of the world. Yes, women’s participation in elections did take time to develop in the West. That doesn’t excuse the obstructions that are happening now in the Kingdom. You’ve nearly a hundred years’ of other people’s experience in women’s suffrage, and close to 50 years’ of that includes both Arab and Muslim societies. What’s the problem here, if it’s not abject fear of women?

But it’s again promised that women will be allowed to participate in the next elections. With the exact promise so clearly broken, why should it be trusted this time around? And also again, how about refining that definition of ‘participate’?

Election chief: We’re not ready for women’s suffrage

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced Monday that it was not yet ready for women participating in next month’s municipal elections as voters or candidates. “We are not ready for the participation of women in these municipal elections,” Election Commissioner Abdul Rahman Al-Dahmash said.

Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, Al-Dahmash, however, promised that women would be allowed to participate in the next elections.

He cited a number of procedural reasons for the ban on women voting. “Participation of women in elections took place in most advance countries gradually,” he pointed out.

He said the municipal elections would take place on April 23 all over the Kingdom at the same time. A person is allowed to vote only once in favor of a candidate in his constituency, he said.

Al-Dahmash urged Saudis to elect qualified people to the councils in order to strengthen local bodies. “Municipal councils allow a large number of citizens to participate in the management of municipal services,” he said. The number of municipal councils in the country has been increased from 179 to 285 and polling stations from 631 to 855, he pointed out. The commission is now in the process of preparing a list of voters.

March:29:2011 - 07:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that the Saudi Ministry of Interior is warning citizens of the various routes being used to launder money for terrorist financing. These include the stock market, electronic fund transfers, and even festivals. While the ‘festivals’ involved are not identified, it would appear that these are trade-oriented shows, where money and equipment are moved around and might ‘disappear’ in the process of coming and going. It’s good to see that Saudi Arabia is working with the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) to close these channels. It’s taken rather long to do so, however.

Festivals, stocks used for money laundering, terror financing

RIYADH: The Ministry of Interior has revealed that e-transactions, stock markets and festivals are being used regularly for money laundering and terrorism financing.

It called on financial and other institutions to have the necessary internal controls in place to counter these criminal acts, including ways to identify their customers.

A learned source told Okaz/Saudi Gazette money laundering can be done in various ways including dividing large amounts of money into small amounts which can be deposited easily in bank accounts or be used to trade in stocks or bonds without arousing any suspicion.

The source reiterated that the most commonly used money laundering methods are e-transactions, money orders, traveler’s checks, depositing money at ATMs and setting up fake companies. He said money launderers often have agents working inside financial institutions to help them with their transactions.

March:28:2011 - 06:12 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Not the 2003 war, the 1991 Gulf War, Desert Storm.

Saudi Gazette carries a Saudi Press Agency report that the Saudi Presidency for Meteorology & Environment is going to spend SR 700 million (US $187 million) to clean up areas in northeastern Saudi Arabia damaged by the 1991 war. It appears the focus will be, primarily, on coastal areas affected by the oil intentionally dumped into the Gulf by Saddam Hussein as he destroyed Kuwaiti oil facilities. Further good news is that there will be some jobs for Saudis created as a result of the effort.

SR700m contracts to rehabilitate areas damaged
by 1991 Gulf War

JEDDAH: Prince Turki Bin Naser, head of the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment, has signed SR700 million worth of contracts for rehabilitating areas in the north and east of the Kingdom that were damaged in the 1991 Gulf War.

The contracts, signed Sunday in Prince Turki’s Jeddah office, were struck with international and local companies specialized in treating coastal lands and using laboratories for quality assessment.

Prince Turki emphasized that the work must be completed on time and to specifications and standards stipulated in the contracts.

Qualified Saudis will be recruited to work in these projects, some of which will take two years to complete, he added.

“We will include articles and programs to qualify and employ Saudis in meteorology and environmental fields in each future contract,” he said. SPA

March:28:2011 - 06:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The United States, despite a problem with illegal immigrants, still opens its doors to legal immigrants. Because the country values diversity, it offers a special visa application procedure to those seeking to immigrate from countries that do not have a recent history of large numbers of emigrants to the US: the Diversity Visa Lottery Program.

This year, the lottery was open to all save residents of Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam. Those countries had over 50,000 emigrants to the US in each of the past five years. Results of the lottery drawing, done by computer, will not be announced until late April or May of this year.

It seems a simple truism, sadly, that where there’s a good thing, there are those who seek to criminally nibble around the edges through a variety of scams. Saudi Gazette reports that the US Embassy in Riyadh has issued a press release warning of the newest round of scams seeking to prey on those whose hopes might get the better of them. The warning points out that the program is not conducted via e-mail. Winners find their status at a secure State Dept. website; follow-up instructions are sent by regular (i.e., ‘snail’) mail. No processing fee—the goal of the scam—is charged for entering the lottery, though there may be fees charged by the local US Embassy, as with any other visa application. But applicants are informed of those, face-to-face, not through e-mail. It’s both interesting and distressing that the top Google search results for ‘Diversity Visa Program Winner’ go to scammers.

US Embassy cautions against Diversity Visa scams

RIYADH: The US Embassy, in a press release Sunday, said that fraudulent e-mails, websites, and print advertisements offering visa services are on the rise, and it reminded Saudi citizens and residents in the country to use caution when working with private entities to apply for visas to the United States.

Fraudulent emails stating a recipient has won the US Diversity Visa (DV) lottery frequently circulate on the Internet, according to the statement. While at first glance these messages may appear to be official US Government communications, they are actually not; they come from a fraudulent source, it said, adding that “the US Embassy and consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran would like to warn the public to use extreme caution in replying to or providing any information requested via emails or other forms of communication claiming to be from a US Embassy or Consulate”.

The most recent results, for the 2010 Diversity Visa lottery, can be found here, broken down by region and country 104 Saudis won. From the results, it seems pretty clear that those countries who had the most applicants also had the most winners.

March:28:2011 - 05:37 | Comments Off | Permalink

There is general agreement across Saudi society—and in the halls of government—that the Saudi education system is not what it ought to be. Various attempts have been made to improve it and to simply keep up with the exploding numbers of children entering the system. Simply throwing money at the problem, not surprisingly, hasn’t solved the issue, as Saudi Gazette/Okaz report.

Even with a passing grade of only 50% required to don the cloak of ‘teacher’, around 40% of those taking their final teacher qualification exams have failed them. It would appear that teachers’ education is suffering from the same defects as the rest of the education system. Saudi students, especially those studying in order to enter the job market, tend to be highly motivated in their studies. They know that if they don’t succeed, the job prospect is bleak at best. They’re not going to be getting scholarships to study abroad for advanced degrees, either. So, if they are failing standardized exams, the problem is most likely to be found in the system.

40% of aspiring teachers fail tests

RIYADH: Around 40 percent of university graduates have failed the teacher examinations for the 2011-2012 intake, according to the National Center for Evaluation and Assessment.

Head of the center Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah Al-Mishari said that out of 30,000 examinees sitting the examination – known as the “Qiyas” test – 12,000 failed to achieve the 50-percent average mark required by the Ministry of Education across all subjects and the 50-percent required in specialized subjects.

March:27:2011 - 08:01 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia has a serious unemployment problem. There are at least half a million Saudis who are out of work, and that’s counting only the men. With more than half of the Saudi population under the age of 35, and more coming into the job market every year, the shortfall of jobs can only grow in proportion to job-seekers… if nothing is done to address the problem.

Today’s Arab News has several article that look at the issue from different perspectives. The first considers ‘Saudization’, the government program to replace foreign workers with Saudis. With tens of millions of foreign workers in the country, comprising somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of all those living in the Kingdom, this seems a logical place to start. Not good news for the foreign workers, of course, but they are not the government, nor Saudi society’s, primary concern.

One of the factors that had led to a general failure of the program has been employer resistance. Foreign workers seem to be more highly motivated to take jobs, any jobs. They put up with often abusive working conditions, inferior pay, don’t have the connections to make a fuss, and receive not-very-high levels of support from their own embassies. As an employer, what’s not to like about this? Replacing those workers with Saudis, who have a spotty record of work ethics, want more money, want decent working conditions, and just may be better ‘connected’ than the employer is not a selling feature.

Recognizing this, the Saudization program is being re-energized following the King’s decree a couple of weeks ago. Carrots and sticks are involved.

New Saudization plan in two weeks

JEDDAH: The Labor Ministry will announce its new Saudization plan within two weeks, including the mechanisms to enforce the plan and punishments for companies that show negligence in implementing the program, according to Hattab Al-Anazi, spokesman of the ministry.

Speaking to Arab News, he said the plan is being prepared following a royal decree issued by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, which called for intensive efforts to solve the country’s unemployment problem immediately.

Al-Anazi indicated that the plan could prevent defaulters from recruiting foreign workers once and for all, their licenses may not be renewed and would be denied the ministry’s services.

“At the same time, the companies that cooperate with the Saudization plan would get more benefits and incentives,” Al-Anazi said.

Being a Saudi with a job is not all skittles and, well, ‘Saudi champagne.’ Employers still hold most of the cards, even if—or perhaps particularly if—they are major companies. The paper reports on demands being made to introduce some form of trade union structure to argue for workers’ rights, salaries, and working conditions. At present, collective bargaining is prohibited by Saudi law. Trade union movements remain tarred by their earliest manifestation when they were closely aligned to Nasserite politics. More recent observation of trade unions in other Arab countries has not endeared them to the government as various teachers’ unions and lawyers’ unions have tended toward the farther reaches of socialistic thought and radical politics.

Still, there is a valid argument that private sector employees be permitted to speak for themselves and identify those work-related issues they believe need correction.

Saudis in private firms demand trade union

JEDDAH: Saudi workers in the private sector are demanding the establishment of a workers union or a similar body to protect their rights.

While collective bargaining is illegal in Saudi Arabia, some Saudis are saying they should be able to form a body based on the model of the Saudi Journalists Association or the Saudi Retirees Association and that it should be governed by an elected body. Business owners would be banned from being members of such an organization under this proposal.

Nasser Al-Jadaani, a car company worker, said workers need their own advocacy group to fight for their rights to have a minimum wage, incremental salary increases and merit-based promotions and annual bonuses.

“Currently we are at the mercy of company managers who would grant us a salary hike or bonus only if we grovel,” he said. “Under this humiliating situation, dedicated Saudi workers are sidelined and they remain forever at the salary on which they started work. They will never get any promotion while those who flatter the bosses are given pay raises and bonuses.

What’s a more vulnerable position than being a foreign worker in Saudi Arabia? Being a foreign worker without documentation.

Last September, the Saudi government offered amnesty—and an exit visa—to foreigners whose visas had expired. This applied to a variety of cases, usually people who had over-stayed their Umrah visas. It did not cover people who had run away from their jobs nor those who had broken other laws. The result is between 100K and 150K foreigners stuck in the Kingdom.

Thousands of foreign workers in limbo after amnesty ends

RIYADH: If estimates of Asian and African embassies are to be believed, there are still between 100,000 and 150,000 illegal workers in Saudi Arabia, mainly “huroob” (runaway) cases not covered by the six-month general amnesty that ended recently.

Several embassies, which approached senior Saudi officials with request to include huroob cases in the amnesty, have no idea as how to deal with this new problem.

“Clearly the system of general amnesty announced by the Kingdom did not cover all categories of illegal workers,” said an African diplomat.

“The Jeddah-based Indonesian Consulate General could issue only 3,000 outpasses, mostly for Umrah overstayers,” said Didi Wahyudi, a consulate spokesperson.

March:27:2011 - 07:50 | Comments Off | Permalink

Do Saudi women have their full suite of human rights? I think the answer is pretty clearly, ‘No!’ How short they fall, though, depends on just who you ask. Those asked that question in this Arab News article answer in a variety of ways, from ‘almost there’ to ‘not even close’. The biggest issue is that Saudi women are still considered incompetent to handle their own lives and affairs. Some male guardian is still necessary to provide permission for a whole array of what most of the world considers ordinary matters.

The women note that government has made gestures toward improving the status of women, but that the whole of society needs to get behind the issue. While, for example, the government retracted its ban on women staying alone in hotels, the hoteliers (or their staffs) still give women a hard time, sometimes just refusing their requests.

I don’t think that Saudi women can wait for enlightened males to give them their rights. The women are going to have to find ways to force the issue.

Note that none of the women interviewed here put driving or having to wear an abaya or hijab on their list of things to do. Those are not their major concerns. Being treated as adults is.

Have Saudi women achieved their rights?

RIYADH: On March 8 the world celebrated International Women’s day. Some women across the world either expressed satisfaction at achieving some or all of their rights whereas others expressed aspirations to achieve them. It became clear that women are still demanding their rights and expecting to seem them materialize.

Celebrations within the Kingdom were rather humble and took the form of women simply stating the achievements of Saudi women. The question, however, remains whether Saudi women have actually achieved their rights or at the least some of them.

According to Thurya Abed Sheikh, a PhD holder, founding member of the National Society for Human Rights and vice president of the Al-Wafa Philanthropic Society for Women, Saudi women have “almost” achieved their rights.

March:27:2011 - 07:16 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette/Okaz report on new measures being taken by the Saudi Ministry of Justice to employ women and to ease women’s plight in their interaction with the courts. The measure look to creating some 1,000 jobs within the various courts to cut through the official and cultural red tape that requires women to have a male relative or other sponsor serve as intermediary to the courts. Some judges simply refuse to talk with a female; others will do so only through her sponsor, even if she’s standing in front of the judge. This new system would create sections that deal exclusively with women’s complaints and, since this is Saudi Arabia, would be staffed exclusively by women. One thousand jobs isn’t much, but it’s better than no jobs, I suppose.

What’s not reported in the article is how these new female government employees will be empowered to speak directly to judges. Or is it that they, too, will need a male intermediary? Perhaps there’s a new category of jobs for men hidden in this!

Justice Ministry to create 1,000 jobs for women

RIYADH: The Ministry of Justice is making arrangements to create 1,000 legal, administrative, social and religious jobs for Saudi women next year, said Dr. Hamad Al-Subah, Acting Undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice and Director General of Financial Affairs.

He said the selected candidates will work in 450 courts and notaries public in different parts of the Kingdom.

The ministry has sent a questionnaire to the heads of the Shariah courts and notaries public seeking their opinions on the tasks they want assigned to women.

March:26:2011 - 09:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Arab News reports that some Saudis are getting tired of being left holding the bag after they guarantee a loan to friends and family only to have that friend or family member walk away, after they’ve gathered the fruit of the loan. Welcome to the world!

Saudi society is particularly prone to a form of family blackmail because so much weight can be brought to bear on one who might have some money to help less fortunate family members. To not help is to damage the reputation of the family as well as that of the person with tight purse strings. So, with the sword of family reputation being held over his head, it’s hard to say, ‘No’ when a cousin comes begging. But saying, ‘No’ is what’s often necessary unless the lender chooses to simply accept that he’s going to be stuck with the financial responsibility.

Getting used to saying, ‘No’ is hard, no matter the society, but from ancient China, through classical Greece, to the modern day, people have realized that friendship can indeed become too costly.

Want to be guarantor for loan seeker? Think again!

DAMMAM: For two years, Abu Hashim has been paying monthly installments of SR2,500 for a car that he does not own.

As for Ahmad Al-Baraheem, he takes out SR1,800 from his salary to pay off a bank loan from which he did not receive even a single riyal. There are several other examples in which guarantors who pledged to clear loans of others have been left to pick up the pieces. Normally, a guarantor agrees to clear another person’s debt should that person default.

The borrower’s failure to promptly repay the loan puts the guarantor in an awkward position.

Most of these guarantors are either close relatives or friends of the borrowers. These guarantors have become victims simply because they lent a helping hand to their relatives and friends in their hour of need.

The holy passion of friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money.
— Mark Twain

March:26:2011 - 08:46 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink
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