In what may signal a shift in Saudi Arabia’s policy concerning nuclear weapons in the Middle East, Pr. Turki Al-Faisal told a British group that the Kingdom will seek its own nuclear weapons if Iran obtains them. The Guardian reports that Pr. Turki was addressing a group at a British airbase used by NATO intelligence.

I have doubts whether this does indicate a shift in policy, but don’t doubt that it is possible. The Saudis have been calling for a nuclear-free Middle East for decades. And while Pr. Turki certainly has his sources within the government, he has not always been on track with government policy. This is seen by his abbreviated tour as Ambassador to the US a few years ago, when he appeared to become out of sync with Riyadh. I don’t doubt, either, that there are members of the Saudi government who do analyze the nuclear problem the same way he does, but there are others—including his brother, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Pr. Saud—who repeat that policy is to avoid nuclear weapons.

Turki is clearly in accord with the way the Saudi government views Iran however. It is seen as a dangerous meddler throughout the region, from Yemen to Syria, from Bahrain to Lebanon. The Saudis feel very threatened by Iran for immediate geopolitical reasons in addition to the historic antipathy based on culture and religious sectarianism.

Riyadh will build nuclear weapons
if Iran gets them, Saudi prince warns

Prospect of a nuclear conflict in the Middle East is raised by senior diplomat
and member of the Saudi ruling family
Jason Burke

A senior Saudi Arabian diplomat and member of the ruling royal family has raised the spectre of nuclear conflict in the Middle East if Iran comes close to developing a nuclear weapon.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, warned senior Nato military officials that the existence of such a device “would compel Saudi Arabia … to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences”.

He did not state explicitly what these policies would be, but a senior official in Riyadh who is close to the prince said yesterday his message was clear.

“We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don’t. It’s as simple as that,” the official said. “If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit.”

Officials in Riyadh said that Saudi Arabia would reluctantly push ahead with its own civilian nuclear programme. Peaceful use of nuclear power, Turki said, was the right of all nations.

UPDATE: Another thought that occurs to me is that Pr. Turki’s statement may be meant as a timely warning to Iran. With Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seemingly fighting to stay in power, the prince may be trying to exert a bit of a Saudi shove to see him out the door, alerting the Iranian powers-that-be of the consequences of keeping him as president. Perhaps the spear-rattling of the Iranian government is finally wearing thin on the Iranians.


June:30:2011 - 00:10 | Comments & Trackbacks (10) | Permalink

Arab News reports that the Saudi government is now banning the issuance of work visas for Indonesians and Filipinos seeking work as domestics servants. The move comes after the Indonesian and Philippine governments enacted new regulations to protect their citizens who would work in the Kingdom. What seems to have annoyed the Saudis most was requirements that called for providing personal information about the would-be employers. That, the article notes, is seen as ‘unfair’. (I applaud the writer for using quotation marks around the word.)

The Saudis are ready to deal with a shortfall of qualified, educated, and intelligent domestic servants with protective governments. It will start recruiting workers from places that don’t care so much and whose citizens are more desperate for the work and hard currency. I guess that if you can’t fix a problem, you try to avoid it as long as possible.

No more work visas for Filipino, Indonesian domestics
GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN I ARAB NEWS

RIYADH: The Kingdom on Wednesday said it will no longer hire Indonesian and Filipino domestic workers, citing strict requirements and “unfair” regulatory provisions imposed by the two Southeast Asian countries.

“The Ministry of Labor will stop issuing work visas for domestic workers for the Philippine and Indonesia from Saturday (July 2),” said Hattab Bin Saleh Al-Anzi, a spokesman of the Ministry of Labor.

Al-Anzi said that Saudi recruitment agents would recruit domestic workers including maids from different countries other than Indonesia and the Philippines. The ministry’s decision comes after some other “labor exporting countries have evinced keen interest” to send domestic helpers to work for Saudi families, said the spokesman, adding that the ban on recruitment will be followed strictly.


June:30:2011 - 00:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

In another half-measure, the Saudi Shoura Council voted to permit Saudi males to marry women from other GCC countries with no reservations. Marrying women from other countries will require approval by committees to be formed in each of the provinces. This is a slight improvement, at least in terms of efficiency, from the current situation which requires approval from the central government. While this Saudi Gazette article does not list the ‘other restrictions’ that may apply, I suspect that they refer to men holding certain jobs within the Saudi government, including the military.

This does not guarantee that the regional committees will approve of more or different marriages, of course, but it does suggest that the time it takes to get approval should be shortened.

The new bill does not address the right of Saudi women to marry foreigners, however. This is still a very tendentious issue within Saudi society.

Shoura approves Saudis marrying foreign women

RIYADH: The Shoura Council Monday approved a bill by an absolute majority allowing Saudis to marry foreign women, according to a report carried by the Arabic daily Al-Hayat. The bill was agreed upon, with certain restrictions, after a lengthy and heated debate among the Council members.

The draft law allows all Saudis to marry women from the Gulf Cooperation (GCC) states because of the relationships between these countries and their common social characteristics.

The bill has adopted a moderate and flexible stance toward the marriage of Saudis to women born to a Saudi mother and foreign father and vice versa.

The bill stipulates that the couple’s marriage should be approved by the emirate in the region which has to set up a committee to study the applications.


June:29:2011 - 08:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink

The Organization of the Islamic Conference is no more. Welcome, instead, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Saudi Gazette carries this story about the change of name and symbol resulting from decisions by the OIC’s foreign ministers’ meeting in Kazakhstan.

The new logo, as seen in the photo accompanying the article, will not warm the hearts of Islamophobes, however. It shows an Islamic crescent surrounding the globe, exactly what they fear. The logo is in keeping, however, with the idea that the new organization seeks global reach.

I’m not sure that re-branding is going to be of much use, though. So far in its 40+ year history, the group seems to have focused mainly on complaining about the plight of Muslims without actually doing anything useful. In other words, it’s been just another talk shop that provides places for governments to send people away for a while, at decent salaries, while causing no harm.

OIC changes name, emblem

ASTANA, Kazakhstan: The Jeddah-based Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Tuesday changed its name to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and unveiled a new emblem at the start of its Council of Foreign Ministers annual meeting in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

The Muslim world’s largest grouping said in a statement that the name change was approved by its 57 members at a conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, of its foreign ministers.


June:29:2011 - 07:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Writing in Arab News, Rashid Al-Fowzan asks whether it is a basic human right to own one’s own home. He says that many Saudis seem to think that it is.

He notes that this is rather impossible, in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. For some reason, he is unable to find what percentage of the citizens of various countries do own their own homes. I’ll help him.

Owning a home in Saudi Arabia is difficult, however. Unless one has a considerable amount of money—and a few ‘connections’ won’t hurt, either—it’s a complicated process to buy land on which to build or to buy an existing home. Real estate prices are very high in popular areas, with some claiming that they’re artificially high. The idea of condominiums and co-ops hasn’t really stuck, at least for residential properties. Even rental properties are hard to find as many who might afford to build them are wary of being able to do so profitably.

The government does have programs to build low-income housing, but that doesn’t address the needs of a middle class. Frankly, I haven’t a clue how to resolve the problem, but problem it is.

Basic right: A house for every citizen
RASHID AL-FOWZAN | AL-RIYADH

Is it Saudi citizens’ God-given right that they should all own houses?

If you ask this question to a Saudi man, he will give a positive answer. It is a fact of life that every male or female citizen should have his/her own home.

It is also a fact of life that this is impossible. It has not happened anywhere in the world. So we will change the question and ask what percentage of citizens should have their own homes?

Answering this question requires a lot of research and study. The matter depends on the income and resources of each country as well as its plans and other details.

I did not come across statistics outlining home ownership in Europe, America or the Gulf countries but they are all in a better position than the Kingdom with regard to citizens owning their own houses.


June:29:2011 - 07:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Talk about perverse incentives!

Here we have a Saudi man whose vision was damaged as the result of an alleged medical mistake. Instead of accepting corrective surgery, he wants to wait, fearing that if his problem is resolved, he will lose his standing to sue the hospital for the mistake.

So, is the Saudi custom of adhering to lex talionis, an eye for an eye, now to be rewritten as ‘a bunch of riyals if I think them more useful than an eye’?

The article laments that this seems to be part of a compensation-seeking trend in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi declines offer to restore eyesight
for fear of losing compensation suit

MUHAMMAD HUMAIDAN | ARAB NEWS

JEDDAH: A Saudi citizen has opted not to undergo an ophthalmological surgery that would restore his eyesight for fear of losing a case against a hospital accusing it of committing a medical mistake that weakened his eyesight.

The man took his case Monday to Saudi broadcaster Ali Al-Alyani, who presents “People Talk” on Rotana radio. The program deals with various problems of people with a view to finding solutions to them.

Al-Alyani told him live over the telephone that he could not do anything for him, because the man had previously presented his case on the program and had refused to accept an offer from a philanthropist to bear the expenses of an operation that would restore his eyesight. The broadcaster said the man feared to lose his case against the hospital if he accepted the offer.

Commenting on the case, Director of Health Department in Jeddah Dr. Sami Badawood told Arab News that it had become a phenomenon to see Saudis and foreigners trying to win compensations for alleged medical mistakes.


June:29:2011 - 07:35 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that 130 new cases of Dengue fever are being reported in Jeddah each week. The infections are no longer restricted to the poorer or outlying areas of the city, but are showing up in the better neighborhoods as well. In fact, no part of Jeddah is free of it.

Dengue fever is spread by mosquitoes in Saudi Arabia. Controlling mosquitoes is the most important control that the government—both the municipality and the central government—can perform. That’s not an easy task, though. On the coast of the Red Sea, Jeddah has a high water table. Almost any digging deeper than a meter results in standing water in the hole excavation. Jeddah’s natural terrain has many low spots where rain water will gather. Too, with most homes having rooftop water tanks, there’s even more opportunity for mosquitoes to reproduce. Even beautification efforts can lead to water in flower beds and on plants. Mosquitoes don’t need a lot of water in which to lay their eggs. Spraying insecticides helps, but is nowhere near a solution.

The Saudi government recognizes that Dengue fever is a serious issue and it is spending money on trying to control it. It appears, though, that the efforts are going to have to be increased.

Dengue fever spreads to upscale Jeddah areas

JEDDAH: The number of dengue fever cases in Jeddah requiring hospital attention has risen to approximately 130 a week, while the number of instances involving only minor symptoms that remain unreported are suspected of being much higher.

According to Al-Yawm Arabic daily Monday, many of the 130 weekly cases have been found in more affluent districts of the city, suggesting that the mosquito-borne virus is spreading from its usual areas of proliferation in unplanned or downmarket areas.

“The recording of cases in affluent areas is due to open areas of water and newly-built sites installing exposed water tanks during construction, and that has attracted mosquitoes,” Sami Badawood, Jeddah Health Affairs chief, told Al-Yawm. “Whereas before cases were mostly found in unplanned districts, now we are seeing it spread to affluent areas. Instances have been registered in Al-Rehab, followed by Al-Salam, Al-Rawdha and Al-Basateen districts.”


June:28:2011 - 09:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Perhaps this Arab News article and one from yesterday about phasing out unskilled foreign workers do not belong together. But perhaps they do…

This article is about Saudi women who are taking jobs as cleaners in commercial settings. Over the past couple of years, there have been pieces about Saudi women working as domestic employees in homes. The point of these is that Saudi women are willing to do the ‘dirty work’ in maintaining a clean environment, at least in some circumstances. The article notes that these women are rejecting the stigma attached to such work, work which in other cultures might put them into the ‘untouchable’ caste.

I’m not sure that breaking down a barrier in perception is going to do a lot for the overall unemployment problem in Saudi Arabia, though. I don’t think women with university degrees are going to be leaping at these jobs, for instance. But these are jobs, society needs for them to be done, and employers are willing to pay some sort of salary to those willing to do them. There are many Saudi families for whom an extra thousand riyals (US $260) per month makes a huge difference, even if it doesn’t lead to lifestyles of the rich and famous.

It is important that these psychological and/or social barriers be broken down, even if incompletely. The difficultly is that most people do draw a line about which jobs they simply will not take. Smelly job, sweaty jobs, jobs that put one in contact with disagreeable materials… the world is full of these kinds of jobs. And there is no question that these jobs need doing. Society should reward the plumbers and street cleaners, those who keep restaurants hygienic and hospital corridors disease-free. The detritus of modern life does not remove itself from the environment, alas, so someone must do it.

Still, there is a social price to pay in doing these jobs, a price that many choose to avoid. Should there be social opprobrium placed on those willing to do the jobs? No, there should not. But, people being people, there is. People don’t want their children marrying ‘below their station’, as it was once put. On the other hand, there are the facts of real life. A bit of extra income, so long as the source is legal, can make the difference between sending children to school with sufficient books and papers or not. It can mean being able to buy medicines for one’s parents or children.

I do applaud these women for not letting social traditions get in their way. They are doing what needs to be done, honorably. They serve, too, as good examples for men who think manual labor is far beneath them. A change in that attitude is going to be important if the country is to get rid of unskilled foreign labor.

Sweeping stigma under carpet,
Saudi women burnish cleaning profession
GHADAH SALEH | ARAB NEWS

ABHA: Saudi women no longer consider cleaning work as a job beneath them, according to many in the profession.

A large number of young women are cleaners at several schools, colleges and other institutions in the southern Asir province.

They have become role models for Saudi women job seekers who can potentially take advantage of the vast job opportunities available in this field.

Apart from supporting their families, these women are instrumental in elevating the status of a cleaner to a dignified profession, as well as confronting the deep-rooted stigma prevailing in Saudi society toward this type of work.


June:28:2011 - 08:12 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

In its report on the most recent meeting of the Shoura Council, Arab News states that the Council has decided that Saudi women should vote in future elections for Municipal Councils… but not the one currently being organized. The report—and perhaps the Shoura Council itself—doesn’t provide discussion of the issue, only the fact that this is the intention of the government. Of course, the Council’s decision must still be accepted by the Cabinet and King. While I’m pretty sure the King would back this, I’m not sure that the entire Cabinet would. There are very conservative members of the Cabinet who still question whether women have a role in the public sphere.

Still, this is an advance. It only needs to be put into effect.

Shoura passes amendment to allow women’s franchise
MD RASOOLDEEN | ARAB NEWS

RIYADH: A majority of the Shoura Council members voted for an amendment to a draft resolution on Sunday to allow women to vote in the municipal elections.

There was a difference of opinion on an article in the annual report of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, which was tabled Sunday during the council’s 44th regular session, chaired by the Shoura Council Vice President Bandar Hajjar.

The voting took place during a closed-door session.

Women will not be able to either vote or contest in the upcoming elections in September for half of the members of the country’s municipal councils.

“This was a general recommendation,” Mohammed Almuhanna, media spokesman for the Shoura Council, was quoted as saying in an earlier statement. “It has nothing to do with the current elections but is rather a recommendation for future elections.”

Hundreds of women around the Kingdom have joined an online campaign called Baladi, Arabic for “My Country”, in protest at their exclusion from the municipal elections.

In April, dozens showed up at voting registration centers in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam to demand their right to vote but were turned down by officials.


June:27:2011 - 07:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Adel Fakeih, Saudi Ministry of Labor, has let loose a fox in the hen house. According to this Arab News report, the Minister—in less than felicitous terms—said that the country will be instituting new laws and regulations to ease unskilled foreign labor out of the country. The hope is that they will be replaced by Saudi nationals, under the aegis of the new Saudization plan known as Nitaqat.

As one might imagine, this statement has many foreign workers in a tizzy, not knowing how they will be affected. And, as one might also imagine, the devil is in the details. How, exactly, will ‘unskilled labor’ be defined? If it is those who lugs concrete and stone around construction sites, dig holes and fill them in, are there really Saudis lining up to replace them? Salary and living conditions, as one of the many commenters to the newspaper article note, are not exactly those to which young Saudis aspire.

I don’t think there’s any question that the government and society are realizing that they’re paying an awful lot of money to others to do work that might be done by Saudis. There’s not doubt that the country is facing a massive unemployment problem. There’s also no question that these foreign workers have done much to make Saudi Arabia a better place to live and work.

The Minister, at least as reported here, did not discuss any details or timelines. Without that information, it’s really hard to see just what he meant. It’s not hard, though, to find portents of discomfort for foreign workers.

Ministry drawing up rules to phase out unskilled foreigners
ARAB NEWS

JEDDAH: The Labor Ministry is working on new rules and regulations aimed at phasing out unskilled foreign workers from the Kingdom so as to replace them with Saudis, Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper quoted Labor Minister Adel Fakeih as saying on Saturday.

The minister made the statements in a speech at the graduation ceremony of the eighth batch of the Saudi-Japanese Automobile High Institute (SJAHI) in Jeddah. Ali Al-Ghafees, governor of the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, read out the minister’s speech on his behalf.

“It is obvious that the unskilled foreign labor has invaded the country and are being detrimental to the economy of the country and the citizens,” the minister said.

The announcement came as the Saudi authorities are making serious efforts to nationalize the job market by strictly enforcing the Saudization regulations in the private sector.

Fakeih pointed out that it was the responsibility of the ministry to get rid of these unskilled laborers through codification of laws and regulations.


June:27:2011 - 07:09 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Samar Fatany has a good piece in today’s Arab News. She gives a brief history of the back-and-forth that efforts toward reform and modernization have faced in Saudi Arabia. She correctly states that for many, any change is seen as bad and, likely, sinful, that is, against Islamic principles. She also states that these objections are spurious.

I’m not sure that the fight against modernization of any form is a struggle over power. I know that that’s a preferred dialectic, but I think it wrongly excludes the fact that for many people, change—any change—is psychologically scary. Saudi society is conservative, it likes its traditions. It tends to fear the unknown, not an unusual response in a culture that managed just fine for nearly 1,500 years with little significant change. Its xenophobic traits developed when intellectual challenges were largely avoided by simply banning them and casting them out of the area. Excepting Mecca and Madinah—sites of pilgrimage by many foreigners—and the coastal cities of Jeddah and Dammam—cities that owed their existence to international trade—most of what was to become the Kingdom was largely cut off from any intercourse with ‘the other’. Fixed ways and fixed mindset developed and were appreciated for their identity-confirming uniqueness.

Ms Fatany does not seem to recognize, though, that there are Saudis who would be very willing to have most, if not all ‘modernizations’ repealed and the country set back to the way it was in the 7th C. CE. They would give up telephones and television, perhaps even printed books, if doing so would permit them to live a life of simplicity and to avoid the complexities and confusion that change engenders.

I do not doubt for a minute that there are those who do analyze change with a view that concerns their loss or gain in power. I think resistance to change i more fundamentally based in fear of the unknown.

Whatever the cause, it is the case that the Saudi government, through several strong kings, has forced change upon society. Radio, TV, cameras, cell phones, the Internet… all have had to face protest—sometimes violent—from those who do not want change. King Faisal was assassinated by a relative whose brother was killed in an anti-TV riot. Even the formation of King Abdullah University for Science & Technology (KAUST), which had many ‘innovations’ received strong opposition from conservatives.

Fatany points to the reforms enacted by King Abdullah, as she should. He is the current manifestation of the Saudi government pushing its citizens in directions they need to go, whether they like it or not. The future of the country will depend on change. He is unable, however, to effect all the changes necessary because he must deal with those who, in their hearts, cannot see any good resulting from change.

Extremists need a dose of reality
Samar Fatany — ARAB NEWS

We can’t be a global leader and medieval backwater at the same time

The Saudi leadership has pushed for modernizing the country since the 1950s. However, what slows progress always is the religious extremists who resist any change in the traditional lifestyle.

Innovations always would be initially resisted and labeled as “Bidaa,” meaning an un-Islamic practice, before finally being accepted by society. For example, the introduction of photography, and television were met with great resistance before they were accepted or tolerated in the 1960s. They perceive any change as a threat that would undermine their authority and control. Their ideology still remains the same — intolerant of any change.

The resistance to modernize Saudi Arabia by the religious scholars during the early rule of King Faisal was far greater than it is today, yet he continued to modernize the country and defied the fundamentalists without compromising Islamic values and principles.

King Faisal had several major encounters with the extremists including introducing education for women and girls, establishing the first television station, lifting the ban on music and songs and introducing pension and social insurance programs.

In 1964 King Faisal launched the first television station. The TV station was met with even stronger condemnation to the extent that there was an armed attack on the station.


June:26:2011 - 09:32 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Until quite recently, credit cards were not considered acceptable in Saudi Arabia. The problem was that credit cards, which are generally used to procure revolving debt—that is, they allowed sales which were not paid for, in full, immediately—which traditionally involved the issuing banks’ charging interest. Charging or paying interest is forbidden in Islam. Starting a few years ago, bankers and Islamic scholars around the world found ways to make something that worked much like a traditional credit card, but had different mechanisms to avoid the riba or interest/usury problem. Various banks around the Islamic world, operating under different schools of Islamic law, came up with different solutions. Now, a wide variety of cards are available, all compliant with Shariah financial law. One bank, for example, the Saudi Al-Rajhi Bank, offers a dozen different kinds of cards ranging from fully pre-paid cards to fee-based cards.

The existence of credit cards can certainly be a boon. If nothing else, it allows people to not carry large sums of cash and, if traveling internationally, to avoid constantly exchanging money at various rates. But credit cards can also be a bane, as this Arab News article notes.

The first thing a credit card does is make financial transactions less transparent. If you pay cash, you physically count and see the currency changing hands. With a card, it all becomes more abstract. This can be a problem with any credit card, Shariah-compliant or traditional. What you don’t see has a way of becoming unreal, at least until the bill arrives. This is a lesson young Americans learn pretty quickly and often painfully, usually while in university or just out of secondary school, though sadly not in any sort of classroom. The same thing seems to be happening with Saudis who are new to the game.

The bottom line, of course, is to read the fine print in the contracts. Banks generally do not engage in illegal practices—such as charging interest on Shariah-compliant credit cards—as that would put them out of business. But banks, in the business of making money, will certainly work to maximize their own profit. They are not charities, after all, they’re banks. It is up to the consumer to read the details of the contract and to learn what fees are charged under what circumstances. Translating words into plans of action, however, is difficult. But probably not as difficult as having a bank come after you because you haven’t paid your bill!

Credit cards: Boon or bane?
ARAB NEWS

JEDDAH: Many Saudis who spend their vacations abroad see their credit cards as a godsend when traveling, at least until they are confronted with their high bills when they return home.

Al-Madinah daily interviewed a number of vacationers to get their views on the usefulness of credit cards.

“When I planned to spend my vacation in a foreign country last year I wanted to make sure that I did not experience any financial difficulties,” Saudi youth Mustafa Bakri told the newspaper.

“So I took out a credit card from my bank that allowed me to withdraw money from any country. However, I realized my folly when I returned home. I owed a lot of money to the bank, much more than what actually I used. I believe the bank added interest and many other fees.”

Bakri added that a good part of his monthly salary was still being allocated to pay off the bill. He said banks always encourage customers to take credit cards.

Ibrahim Al-Hajiri, another youth who went on vacation with a credit card two years ago, said he will never use them again.


June:25:2011 - 08:06 | Comments & Trackbacks (9) | Permalink
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