For its own rational, national, and purely financial reasons, Saudi Arabia has been warning for years that too high a price for oil would have detrimental effects for oil producers. And so it is proving to be. American National Public Radio (NPR) has this piece about oil production in the Badlands of the state of North Dakota. New technologies, coupled with the potential for high profits, is turning parts of the US into the boomtowns once seen in Alaska, Texas, and – at the start of the Oil Age – Pennsylvania. The report says that in another five years, according to the bankers Goldman Sachs, the US could surpass Saudi oil production.

New Boom Reshapes Oil World, Rocks North Dakota
NPR Staff

A couple months ago, Jake Featheringill and his wife got robbed.

It wasn’t serious. No one was home at the time, and no one got hurt. But for Featheringill, it was just the latest in a string of bad luck.

“We made a decision,” he says. “We decided to pick up and move in about three days. Packed all our stuff up in storage. Drove 24 straight hours on I-29, and made it to Williston with no place to live.”

That’s Williston, ND. Population — until just a few years ago — 12,000. Jake was born there, but moved away when he was a kid. He hadn’t been back since.

“We came in right through the stretch of where the Badlands is,” he remembers. “And then you come into the town. So many trucks. Semi trucks and four-wheel-drive pickups — for a mile straight. You’ve never seen so many trucks in your life.”

Those trucks were in North Dakota for one reason — the same reason Featheringill had decided to move his wife and three kids to a remote section of western North Dakota.

Oil.

Two years ago, America was importing about two thirds of its oil. Today, according to the Energy Information Administration, it imports less than half. And by 2017, investment bank Goldman Sachs predicts the US could be poised to pass Saudi Arabia and overtake Russia as the world’s largest oil producer.

Places like Williston are the reason why.


September:30:2011 - 08:35 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports a story from the Arabic daily Al-Watan about efforts to get Saudis into blue-collar jobs. That starts, of course, with vocational training. Here, it’s being done by a private business-government agency cooperative. Training Saudis to take jobs now being done by expat workers isn’t easy. First, the Saudis demand higher wages than the minimal wages the foreign workers get, better benefits, too. Then there’s the slow haul of readjusting expectations so that manual labor is seen as at least as honorable as white-collar, management jobs.

As fewer of those white-collar jobs exist, and those making higher demands for quality, it is dawning on many that not everyone needs a university education. That’s a realization that’s starting to dawn on Americans, too, as US higher education suffers from its own bubble where the expectation of return on investment in schooling is not being met.

Training Saudis to be carpenters, mechanics

JEDDAH – The Program of the General Administration for Strategic Partnerships, run by the General Corporation for Technical and Vocational Training (GCTVT), has announced that the number of it’s trainees has reached over 20,000.

The program works in partnership with private businesses to provide Saudi workers with skills in carpentry, refrigeration and air-conditioning, general mechanics, metal plates, construction, tile laying, plastering, scaffolds and painting, according to a report published in Al-Watan newspaper.


September:30:2011 - 08:27 | Comments Off | Permalink

Reuters is reporting that the US Embassy is warning about a plot to kidnap Westerners in Riyadh. There aren’t a lot of details in the warning, the full text of which can be found here [2-page PDF document].

U.S. warns on possible Saudi abduction plot
Andrew Quinn, Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia warned on Wednesday that a terrorist group may be planning to abduct Westerners in the capital, Riyadh, and urged U.S. citizens to exercise caution.

“U.S. Embassy in Riyadh advises U.S. citizens in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that we have received information that a terrorist group in Saudi Arabia may be planning to abduct Westerners in Riyadh,” the embassy said in a message posted on its website.

“The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh reminds all U.S. citizens to exercise prudence and enhanced security awareness at all times,” the message said.


September:29:2011 - 15:47 | Comments & Trackbacks (9) | Permalink

We know that Saudi Arabia has lots of oil. It has even more sunshine, a fact that the Saudis have not missed. Saudi Gazette reports that the country’s first solar electric generation plant is about to open on the Farsan Islands in the far southwest. The Farsan Islands are remote. Until recently, they were known only to fishermen and a few international SCUBA divers. The islands are now part of a wildlife preserve, both under water and on the surface, where numerous species of birds and fish as well as gazelles and dugongs are being protected. But it is also undergoing rapid development and urbanization. To meet the need for electricity, the government, through the Saudi Electric Company, is relying on solar power rather than trying to pipe or ship oil.

SEC to launch first solar-powered electricity plant

JIZAN — The Kingdom’s first solar-powered electricity-generating power station is set to be launched Saturday.

The station, located on Farasan Island, in the Kingdom’s Southern region, will be launched by the Saudi Electricity Company and is expected to have an annual production of 864,000 kilowatt hours, officials said.

The power source is financed by Showa Shell Sekiyu, a Japanese company that seeks to generate clean energy on the island, said Abdul Salam Al-Yamani, Vice Chairman of Public Affairs at Saudi Electricty Company.


September:29:2011 - 08:13 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Saudis interdicted a glider in the north of the country last week. It was making an attempt to smuggle nearly 400 pounds of the drug Captagon, also known as Fenethyline, an illegal stimulant drug popular throughout the the Arab world. As a result, the government has temporarily banned all glider flights in the country. It is likely that a more focused ban, applying to only the border regions, will replace it. That’s not great news for Saudi pilots, though, as the mountainous areas best suited for gliding are in border provinces.

While the drug smuggling problem is serious enough, Arab News reports that security officials did not miss the implications – smuggling arms and explosives.

Ban on gliders after drug bust
MD AL-SULAMI | ARAB NEWS

JEDDAH: Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior Prince Naif on Wednesday instructed officials to ban gliders in the Kingdom until further notice.

The directive came after a group of drug smugglers last week used a glider to bring 172 kg of Captagon pills, into the Kingdom.

The Saudi Aviation Club, meanwhile, instructed all training schools and shops selling aviation materials not to use or sell gliders and its spare parts from Wednesday.

Speaking to Arab News, a number of club members expressed indignation over the use of gliders for drug smuggling.

Informed sources said new laws regulating the use of gliders would ban them from flying in areas close to the border in order to prevent its use for drug trafficking and terrorist operations and flying wanted terrorists inside and outside the Kingdom.


September:29:2011 - 07:43 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Many societies seem to suffer from split personalities: They say one thing while doing another. In this, Saudi Arabia is no different, but its ‘personality’ splits tend to be flamboyant. One day after King Abdullah grants women political rights, a judge in Jeddah sentences a woman to 10 lashes for the audacious crime of driving a car. Is this the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing? Or is it a judge getting his petty revenge on a government whose policy he dislikes? In either case, I’m sure this sentence is going to be overturned.

Arab News reports that Saudis and expats are not at all happy with the sentence…

Outrage over flogging sentence against woman driver
MARIAM NIHAL | ARAB NEWS

JEDDAH: The lashing punishment handed to Shayma Jastaniah for flouting the driving ban has caused outrage among Saudis and expatriates living in the Kingdom.

Shayma, in her 30s, was found guilty of driving without permission and sentenced to 10 lashes on Tuesday, a day after Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah granted Saudi women the right to vote and run for municipality council positions and sit on the Shoura Council as full members.

Sources close to Shayma’s family said she had appealed the sentence.

Muna AbuSulayman, social activist and United Nations goodwill ambassador, told Arab News the timing of the sentence is “catastrophic from a PR point of view,” as it came so soon after the king’s announcement.

UPDATE: : As expected, this sentence has been overturned by the King, or at least reportedly so. The BBC reports:

Saudi woman driver’s lashing ‘overturned by king’

[Thanks to Saudi Jawa for tipping me off.]


September:29:2011 - 07:32 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

King Abdullah’s decree granting Saudi women political rights is seen by many as a milestone. By others, it is seen as not much of anything, given the limited political power of even Saudi men. Both are right to a degree.

Saudi society seems to want modernization, but without change. That, of course, is impossible. So figuring out which changes are acceptable is the issue. As a conservative society, even among the liberal modernists, change is hard to take sometimes. Society is based on rules that worked well for over 1,400 years, only to be increasingly challenged as modernization and change crept or swept in. Starting with the discovery and exploitation of oil in the late 1930s, Saudi society has been forced into adapting to a world it scarcely knew existed outside it borders. Cosmopolitan areas like the port cities of Jeddah and Dammam had always had relations with the outside world, as had Mecca and Medinah, destination cities for Muslim pilgrims from around the world. The interior, however, was pretty much shut off. When the new came there, it was shocking and often strongly resented. Radio, TV, women’s education, the Internet… these and much more were the subject of rejection, and often violent protest. While the medium might have been seen as utilitarian progress, what it brought with it was not always welcome and was often feared.

The Saudi government, while a monarchy, is far from an ‘absolute’ monarchy. The King cannot simply issue a decree and be done with it. Instead, he has to find consensus among different power groups: the Al-Saud family, the religious establishment, the merchants, the tribes, the technocrats. Each of these groups has its own agenda – often competitive and contradictory – and their interests have to be considered, their consent received before a decree is issued. This is a traditional form of checks and balances, but since it is not operating from a written constitution, it moves in staggers and halts. Change comes to Saudi Arabia at a glacial pace, if not a geologic pace. But change, like a glacier, moves ever onward.

Below is an assortment of assessments of the King’s decree, some positive, some not.

» Continue Reading


September:28:2011 - 08:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (14) | Permalink

Financial Times is reporting that Yemeni President Saleh tricked the Saudi government with a quick bolt back to Yemen. The story is certainly plausible. Once one goes into exile in Saudi Arabia, the door is usually shut on leaving. Exceptions have been made for medical emergencies, but the Saudis tend to not like those to whom they offer sanctuary to abuse it. Political statements are barred and returning to the country one fled is almost never permitted.

I suspect Saleh will not find a welcome if he needs to go running again…

Yemen president accused of tricking Saudis
Anna Fifield in Washington, Roula Khalaf in London and Abigail Fielding-Smith in Beirut

Yemen’s president appears to have tricked his Saudi hosts when he unexpectedly returned home last week, exacerbating the stand-off between his regime and the country’s pro-democracy protest movement.

According to a senior US official, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been undergoing medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, “bolted the kingdom under the pretence of going to the airport for something else”.

Neither the US nor the Saudis were aware of his planned departure, said the official, calling it a “clever, canny” trick by the president. “We are not happy at all,” he added.


September:27:2011 - 22:47 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

The full consequences of King Abdullah’s granting political rights to Saudi women won’t be known for years. In the short term, though, they’re already starting to be seen. Tweets and Facebook pages are relating that Saudi women are already feeling empowered, even though their political rights won’t kick in for another few years. Saudi Gazette reports that now, after the decree, the Shoura Council is prepared to fully take up the issue of women’s driving, a responsibility the Council has been dodging for years.

Shoura reconsidering women driving issue

AL-KHOBAR — In view of the popular campaign for allowing women to drive in the Kingdom, the Shoura Council is thoroughly reconsidering the issue, said Dr. Misha’l Mamdooh Al-Ali, Chairman of the Council’s Human Rights Committee.

Allowing women to drive does not conflict with Islamic law, he said, adding that the majority of people oppose women driving based on tradition and customs. “It has nothing to do with religion,” Al-Ali was quoted by Al-Hayat Arabic daily as saying.

Many Saudi women say their driving does not contradict the Shariah and there is no religious reason that prevents them from driving, he added. He said these women have appointed a lawyer to follow up the issue at the Shoura Council.

Whether it’s a matter of reaction to the decree or just bad timing, Jeddah authorities are reported to be preparing to try a woman, Najalaa Harrir, for driving and publicizing her driving. This is something that always puzzles me as a Westerner. To be tried for a crime means that one has violated a law. But there is no law against women’s driving – just ask the King! So if one hasn’t broken a law, then what’s the basis of the trial? Associated Press reports:

Saudi authorities to try woman for violating ban on female drivers

UPDATE: A reader helpfully notes that at least the woman being charged could be charged with driving without a license. Because women cannot get drivers licenses in the Kingdom, by default she would be in violation of that particular law: Catch 22 situation. Many Saudi women hold licenses from other countries, but those are not valid within Saudi Arabia, for men or women. As there are many Saudi males who are caught driving without licenses – including 10- and 12-year-old boys – who are not sentenced to lashes, I expect that this punishment will be voided.


September:27:2011 - 07:38 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Fittingly, Saudi media gives extensive coverage to King Abdullah’s decision to grant women political rights. Asharq Alawsat provides the text of the King’s statement to the Shoura Council. Arab News looks at the measure and tries to gauge its impact. I expect much more commentary as writers have time to digest the statement.

This decree is, for Saudi Arabia, what the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution was for America. It grants equal political rights to women as men already had. Now, Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, not a republic, so the breadth of those rights is not at all the same. I would argue, though, that having established a basis of equal political rights, when Saudi Arabia does shift its form of government to a more representative one, women will be fully included in whatever form it takes. In the shorter term, I expect that women in political position, whether appointed to the Shoura Council or elected to Municipal Councils, will not be satisfied with the status quo.

Editorial: A giant leap

Membership in Shoura Council will prove a decisive step toward women’s empowerment

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s announcement that women will become members of the Shoura Council (consultative body) and will be allowed to vote and contest the municipal elections is an extraordinary development.

The king, who is quietly leading the incremental changes at a measured pace, urged his countrymen to meet the challenges and obstacles on their path and work hard to overcome them. He said the Kingdom aims to achieve balanced modernization that conforms to Islamic teachings and values while emphasizing the key role played by women in Islamic history.

Change has been slow, but the king has accelerated the reform process by working within a consensus that takes into account the varied viewpoints in the Kingdom. The sagacious king has bided his time in bringing about these changes, thus highlighting his vision with clarity and determination.

A dream come true for the other half
RIMA AL-MUKHTAR | ARAB NEWS

JEDDAH: Prominent Saudi women welcomed Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s decision to allow women to become members of the Shoura Council as well as vote and run for municipal councils.

The Khadija bint Khuwailid Center, based at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, first made a recommendation to politically empower women in 2007, according to the center’s Executive Director Basma Omair.

“We demanded Saudi women’s participation in the Shoura Council and the Council of Ministers in 2007. In 2011 we demanded the right for women to vote and enter the municipal council elections among other recommendations,” she said.

“Now these dreams have turned to reality after the king’s decision to empower women.”

Saudi society to change forever
ARAB NEWS

JEDDAH: Chairman of the Municipal Election Commission Abdul Rahman Al-Dahmash said the participation of women in the next election as voters and candidates would strengthen the Kingdom’s electoral experience. He hoped the spirit of the National Day would encourage all Saudis to participate actively in the Sept. 29 elections.

Jedaie Al-Qahtani, spokesman of the commission, described the king’s announcement as historic. “It allows women to participate in municipal elections on an equal footing with men,” he pointed out. He said the decision came in line with the king’s desire to involve all members of the society in nation-building efforts.


September:26:2011 - 07:25 | Comments & Trackbacks (9) | Permalink

While it comes too late for the Municipal Elections scheduled to take place next Thursday, Saudi women have been given a suit of political rights that would have been unimaginable ten years ago. They will be permitted to vote for candidates and to stand as candidates themselves, staring with the 2015 elections. Further, they will be appointed to the Shoura Council.

To make this announcement, King Abdullah had to get buy-in from the religious establishment – I’ll bet those discussions were interesting! And he did. This is a major step forward for both women and Saudi society as a whole. Political participation has been far higher on the ‘to-do’ list of Saudi women than driving, but their presence in the political sphere is likely to have an effect there as well. At the least, they will be able to break through the ‘let’s not talk about it’ barrier in the Shoura Council.

Saudi Arabia gives women right to vote
Saudi women will have the right to stand for office and vote in future local elections, says King Abdullah

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has said women will have the right to stand and vote in future local elections and join the advisory Shura council as full members.

“Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama [clerics] and others … to involve women in the Shura council as members, starting from the next term,” Abdullah, 87, said in a speech.

“Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote,” he added.

Liberal activists in the country have long called for greater rights for women, who are barred from travelling, working or having medical operations without the permission of a male relative and are forbidden from driving.

The changes will come after elections on Thursday, in which women are barred from voting or standing for office.


September:25:2011 - 12:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Vaccination against Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) was at the center of a cause célèbre when a British doctor published a fraudulent study purporting to link the vaccine with autism. That controversy led to many parents refusing to vaccinate their children which, in turn, led to outbreaks of the diseases and deaths of unvaccinated children in countries in which the diseases had been controlled for decades. It also led to some countries holding back on their own vaccination programs. Saudi Arabia was one of those. It did not ban the vaccination, but neither did it encourage it or make it part of the national public health program.

That is now being reversed. Arab News reports that the Kingdom is now instituting a country-wide, mass MMR vaccination program, seeking to immunize five million children, from primary schools through universities. Following a successful effort to immunize against polio completed a few years ago, the government seems ready to address the issue of childhood diseases that are preventable through vaccination, or at least limitable. Given that Saudi Arabia, destination of millions of pilgrims from around the world, offers an environment conducive to imported disease, this is a wise precaution. It may come that the Saudi government adds MMR to the vaccinations it requires of future pilgrims, as it does for yellow fever and a few other diseases, but at present it does not. The best preventative, then, is to make the population as resistant as possible.

MMR vaccines to 5 million students from today
MD RASOOLDEEN | ARAB NEWS

RIYADH: A five-week national program to immunize 5 million students against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) will begin throughout the Kingdom on Sunday, the Ministry of Health announced in Riyadh on Saturday.

Ministry spokesman Dr. Khalid Al-Mirghalani said the program, which is being carried out by the ministry in coordination with the ministries of education and higher education, will cover all schools and universities in the Kingdom.

Last week, Education Minister Prince Faisal bin Abdullah and Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah launched a campaign throughout the Kingdom to raise awareness among parents, teachers and students of the importance of vaccinating against the diseases.


September:25:2011 - 07:50 | Comments Off | Permalink
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