The Saudi government’s quest to get more Saudis into work has two possible solutions: create tens or hundreds of thousands of new jobs or replace foreign workers currently employed in the country with nationals. The first is all but impossible, so it is necessarily the foreign workers that will be pushed out. This is not new knowledge; it’s been known for decades.

The new Saudization project, Nitiqat, is the first of the attempts to have teeth. It penalizes Saudi employers if they do not make sufficient efforts to put Saudis on their payrolls in a productive fashion. (In the past, employers often had Saudis on the payroll, but they were being paid solely for their nationality, not any work function. Some enterprising Saudis even made a living by being notional employees of several companies at a time.)

The Nitiqat teeth are starting to bite foreign workers, Arab News reports. They are being fired and are discovering it impossible to find new employment in the Kingdom. Some are starting to look at other GCC countries – a bad plan as the GCC governments are beginning to coordinate their foreign hiring. Others are breaking the law by working with illegal or no documents.

The situation is especially difficult for foreigners who came to the Kingdom as children, on their parents’ visas; grew up; and found jobs they’re now being kicked out of. They are foreigners in Saudi Arabia and they’re foreigners in their ‘home’ countries in which they’ve spent very little time. The Saudi government isn’t particularly concerned about where they go, nor should it really be concerned. That there’s no good solution is one of the effects of modernization and change. Individuals get the short end of the stick while a national economy tries to get itself under control.

Nitaqat: Expats feel the pinch
SARAH ABDULLAH | ARAB NEWS

JEDDAH: The recent introduction of the Labor Ministry’s Nitaqat system, meant to increase employment among nationals, has proven beneficial for Saudis, but at the cost of expatriate jobs, many foreigners in the Kingdom say.

“I was recruited to work in Saudi Arabia by a construction company in the engineering sector, but have recently been fired to make way for Saudi employees,” Mario (not his real name), a Filipino working in Jeddah for the past four years, told Arab News.

He explained that he became so desperate to find an alternative job that he recently accepted to illegally work as a salesman for a local telecom company.

Mario also explained that he knew foreign workers of several nationalities who were suffering under the circumstances, one of whom was his own wife.


October:31:2011 - 11:19 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that 50% of adult Saudi women, between the ages of 30-45, are overweight. Its story notes that both unhealthy diets and lack of exercise are to blame.

‘Unhealthy’ diet doesn’t only mean junk food. The Saudi diet has changed incredibly over the past 50 years, ever since the country became ‘rich’. Foods rich in fats and sugars which had been eaten only a few times per year became daily fare once they could be afforded. Consumption of meat skyrocketed; honey, once the only available sweetener, was supplemented by a vast array of sugars.

During the same period, women of any means ended up with less exercise. Part of that was due to the widespread hiring of maids and other domestic workers to handle all the calorie-burning housework. Another fact, only alluded to in the article, was that women were actively and passively discouraged from undertaking any sort of rigorous exercise. While there are a few health clubs open to women, as the article notes, they are expensive and hard to find. Equally important is that women, starting as school girls, are kept away from athletic activities. There is only now a realization that sports in school is important to continued physical health. Until very recently, those activities were aggressively banned by religious authorities based on a very peculiar interpretation of the ‘role of women’ in society. The number of athletic team sports for women can be counted on one hand and stand out, when reported, as groundbreaking – and rather strange.

Diabetes, often the result of inactivity and poor diet, is rampant in the Kingdom. Its costs, both monetary and social, are enormous. But that is not the only potential consequence. Poor, overall health, heart disease, and others loom over the generations of women who have been kept sedate, like cage-reared poultry.

Overweight Saudi women: Who is responsible?
Faiza Rizvi | Saudi Gazette

The modest flowing abaya makes it less obvious, but the truth is that two-thirds of Saudi women are overweight. Several studies have been conducted regarding this issue, including a survey conducted last year by King Fahd Health City in Riyadh, which declared that half of all Saudi women between 30 to 45 years of age are overweight. But what is the reason behind their rapidly increasing weight? Are the women themselves to be blamed or is it just the unhealthy lifestyle of the Kingdom? A group of young researchers resolved to find out in an extensive study carried out across the Kingdom, in which over 1,000 overweight Saudi women were interviewed. Lack of exercise and excessive consumption of unhealthy food topped the list of factors responsible for the rapidly increasing weight of Saudi women.

“Sitting at home all day with nothing to do and having maids carry out all the household work tends to make one fat,” said a Saudi housewife, a participant in the survey. She complained that there are not enough fitness centers for women in the Kingdom and that the few that do exist are too expensive.


October:30:2011 - 08:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

‘Lady Al-Qaeda’, the first Saudi woman to be convicted to crimes in support of terrorist operations in the Kingdom, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Arab News reports that she was convicted of a multitude of crimes ranging from harboring terrorists and raising funds for them to her declaring Saudi Arabia an ‘infidel state’.

The article also mentions another trial – this time, of a preacher/teacher – who is facing his own array of charges, including fitna, sowing discord in the country, through his writings and other activities.

‘Lady Al-Qaeda’ sentenced to 15 years in prison
MD AL-SULAMI | ARAB NEWS

JEDDAH: A special criminal court has sentenced a Saudi woman dubbed as Lady Al-Qaeda to 15 years in prison after she was convicted of taking part in various terrorist activities.

The court also prevented 37-year-old Haila Al-Qaseer from traveling abroad for 15 years after she is released. The sentence will be backdated to when she first entered custody.

The court had found Al-Qaseer guilty of declaring the state as infidel, giving refuge to wanted terrorists, instigating people to carry out terrorist attacks, and possessing two guns without license and handing them over to terrorists to attack security officers.

The defendant was also accused of financing terrorist operations and collecting more than SR1 million for the purpose. She had sent the amount to Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. She had also contacted Al-Qaeda members in Yemen and Afghanistan.


October:30:2011 - 08:42 | Comments Off | Permalink

The ancient law of ‘eye-for-an-eye’ thrives. ArabianBusiness.com carries this Reuters story about Sheikh Awad Al-Qarni’s offer to reward any Palestinian who kidnaps an Israeli soldier. The offer is to reciprocate the offer by an Israeli family to reward anyone who captures the Palestinian – released in the recent prisoner exchange – who killed a family member.

Both are idiots. Both offers are far outside current laws in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the lawful world.

Saudi cleric offers cash prize for Israel soldier kidnap

Reuters – A prominent Saudi cleric has offered to pay $100,000 to any Palestinian who kidnaps an Israeli soldier, according to his Facebook page.

Awad al-Qarni said he had made the offer in response to a similar reward promised by an Israeli family for anyone who catches the person who killed one of its members in 1998, following the exchange this month of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for the captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

“The media reported the news of the Zionist occupiers paying a huge sum to anyone who killed the freed Palestinian prisoners,” Qarni, who is well known in Saudi Arabia for his outspoken views but is not part of the official clerical establishment, said on his Facebook page.


October:30:2011 - 08:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

After all the encomiums following the death of Pr Sultan last week, one might think the Saudi media might be running out of positive adjectives. Not a chance…

Today, the media is filled with multifaceted praise for the new Crown Prince, Naif. Certainly, Naif has been successful in leading Saudi Arabia’s war on terror. It has been a while since any attacks were made within the Kingdom and the few attempts have been amateurish. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been chased out of the country and now operates out of the lawless areas of Yemen.

The papers also note, unsurprisingly, that world leaders and their ambassadors are all praising the choice of the new, ‘visionary’ Crown Prince. It never hurts to be on the good side of a future ruler. I’m sure that businesses, particularly those with government contracts, will be taking out full page ads commending the prince and his selections.

It is to be noted, though, that his selection is the first to be made by the Allegiance Council, created in 2006 to address issues of succession to the throne. The Council worked smoothly, taking only a matter of days to make its selection. This bodes well for its next big challenge. When the current king dies, whenever that happens, the Crown Prince will succeed him. A new Crown Prince will need to be named. Based on its sole action to date, it looks as those that process will move effectively as well. Absent any abrupt changes in Saudi politics, it should also go smoothly.


October:29:2011 - 08:40 | Comments & Trackbacks (21) | Permalink

Here’s one that strikes me as more appropriate for the Annals of the Obvious than any great medical discovery.

Saudi women, who spend their lives either indoors or, when outdoors, covered in head-to-toe black garments, suffer Vitamin D deficiencies. In humans, Vitamin D is manufactured by the body, but only when it is exposed to sunlight. Indoors or under an abaya, there’s not a whole lot of sunshine hitting Saudi women’s skin.

Of course, it not just Saudi women who can contract the deficiency: last year, American actress Gwyneth Paltrow notoriously came down with osteopoena as a result of her own Vitamin D deficiency. Seekers of pallid complexions are indeed in danger.

But no other population so systematically keeps women from sunlight as a matter of cultural preference. The lack of sunlight can be mitigated by Vitamin D supplements, but forcing people to pay for something that is available for free strikes me as, well, odd. Maybe some of the effort dedicated to solar energy might be spent on finding abayas that permit sunlight to be transmitted through them. There are such bathing suits and shirts available, so I would think it would be easy enough to cut that material differently.

Vitamin D deficiency threatens 80% of Saudi females
Dr Ahmad Al-Ali | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – A Saudi doctor has warned that “Vitamin D Deficiency Syndrome” is threatening Saudi women and school girls in particular.

Chairman of the Saudi Association for Endocrinology and Metabolism Dr Ataallah Al-Rehaili said that a study conducted by a team of specialists at King Saud University showed that 80 percent of Saudi female students suffered from vitamin D deficiency.

This causes kidney and liver diseases and loss of hair in women, bone pain and muscle weakness, palpitations, sleeplessness, weak memory and general weakness. Yet even without symptoms, a lack of the vitamin can pose health risks.

In a lecture delivered at the Riyadh Forum, he said that vitamin D deficiency was widespread in the Kingdom and the safest source of 90 percent of the vitamin was sunlight.


October:27:2011 - 19:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (12) | Permalink

It doesn’t come as a surprise, but perhaps to the disappointment of many. The Allegiance Council has indeed named Pr Naif, Minister of Interior, to the position of Crown Prince and thus next in line to assume the Saudi throne. Some had hoped that the Allegiance Council would take this opportunity to skip to the next generation of Al-Saud, but it was not to be.

There is no question that Naif has great experience within the Saudi government. According to Saudi Gazette, starting at around age 20, he became Governor of Riyadh Province. Two years later, he was named Deputy Minister of Interior, a position he filled until 1970. Then, after serving as Minister of State for Internal Affairs for five years, in 1975 he became Minister of Interior, the job he continues to hold.

Criticisms of him include his strongly fundamentalist religious and political views. He has been slow to acknowledge unpleasant truths. Years after Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks, for instance, he various claimed that no Saudis could have been involved or that it was all an Israeli plot to cast blame on Saudis. This worries some. They do not know whether he will continue the widespread reforms undertaken by King Abdullah as he does not seem to see the need for reforms. He is not on record as supporting women in their quest for equal rights with men.

This may change while he stands second in line, of course. But even here, the signs are not favorable. He has been filling that second position without official title for the past couple of years as Pr Sultan’s health failed. There are no reports that he actively opposed reforms, but neither has he publicly supported them.

I fear the pace of change in Saudi Arabia is going to be moving into an even lower gear not too far into the future. That’s a problem that is acutely Saudi, but peripherally concerns the world as Saudi interest and influence are so widespread.

King Abdullah appoints Prince Naif as crown prince
ARAB NEWS

RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has appointed Prince Naif as the crown prince and deputy premier, the Royal Court statement said late Thursday.

Prince Naif was the second deputy premier and interior minister in the Council of Ministers. He will continue to head the Interior Ministry along with his new positions.

Prince Naif, who has been the second deputy premier since 2009, was born in Taif in 1933 as the 23rd son of the founder of the Kingdom — King Abdul Aziz. He was educated in the princes’ school, in addition to receiving instruction from his father and eminent religious leaders.


October:27:2011 - 18:57 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on Qatari involvement in the revolution in Libya. It had been widely reported that Qatar had sent a significant portion of its air force to take part in NATO-led air actions. Now, we’re learning that it also had hundreds of troops on the ground, functioning mostly as trainers for various groups and handling communications for many. According to international reports, Qatar is reaping some benefits of its involvement.

Did Saudi Arabia miss a chance in Libya? Perhaps, but their relations with Libya are more complicated than Qatar’s. The fierce enmity between Saudis and Libya’s leader could have been portrayed as simple revenge, not a cloak the Saudi government wants to wear. I think, too, that Saudi Arabia’s mixed emotions about ‘Arab Spring’ counseled a ‘stand by and watch’ stance. I would be interested in learning how well Qatar kept Saudi Arabia informed of its actions, though…

‘We had boots on ground in Libya’
QATAR’S SENSATIONAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

DOHA – Qatar revealed for the first time Wednesday that hundreds of its soldiers had joined Libyan rebel forces on the ground as they battled troops of veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi.

“We were among them and the numbers of Qataris on the ground were hundreds in every region,” said Qatari chief of staff Major General Hamad Bin Ali Al-Atiya.

The announcement marks the first time that Qatar has acknowledged it had military boots on the ground in Libya.

Previously Qatar said it had only lent the support of its air force to NATO-led operations to protect civilians during the eight-month uprising, which ended when Gaddafi was captured and killed last week.


October:27:2011 - 08:33 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

In his column at Arab News, Abdulaleef Al-Mulhim writes about the value of cultural exchanges. He reports on a concert he attended earlier this month in Dhahran – I’m assuming he means at ARAMCO – starring country-folk singer Mary McBride. You may take the foreigners from the American West out of ARAMCO, but apparently, you can’t take the American West’s musical tastes out!

Because of cultural and religious antipathy toward performing arts in Saudi Arabia, it is indeed rare to find a foreign, female musician performing. When I was the Branch Public Affairs Officer in Dhahran in the early 1980s, it would have been impossible. My office tried to get performing artists into the country, but it was difficult. For some reason, Saudi Arabia did not warm the cockles of their hearts. More difficult was the Ministry of Culture and Information, which simply did not want to take the chance of being criticized for making a mistake. Then there was finding a venue. I managed to get one performing artist into the country, a lute player who understood the historical and musical relationship between the lute and the oud. Sports trainers were a bit easier to bring into the country. Attempts to bring in female trainers or performers were shot down by the Ministry, consistently and quickly. This was for public performance, of course. Private performances had a different set of rules, but as USG-sponsored visitors were intended for wide, local audiences, that wasn’t a factor in our programming.

Things are improving a bit in the Kingdom. Performances are still single-sex – except, again, in private venues. But you now do find Saudi and foreign musicians performing publicly. Even if McBride’s show was in ARAMCO, and thus ‘private’, that it can be talked about in public is an advance on what went before.

McBride and the Saudi melody
Abulateef Al-Mulhim

I wrote an article in The Arab News on June 1, 2011 titled, “America’s nuclear heads and the Big Mac.”

In the article I talked about how the rock and roll singer Chuck Berry can bring people together from different nations more than any Washington D.C. politician. And I noticed that singers can make wonders when they put smile on the face of people with their melodies and words, even if the audience doesn’t understand the song if it is in a different language.

I have attended a lot of concerts, especially in New York City. Madison Square Garden was my favorite place. I saw singers like Fats Domino at Madison Square Garden and was in Washington D.C. when the Beach Boys sang on July 4, 1980 and many more concerts. The singers, athletes and actors are the best link between people of different backgrounds. Winter Olympics speed skater Eric and Beth Heiden connected the state Wisconsin with Norway. The Beatles were the best British ambassadors to the world. Spain News is watched very closely because of Barcelona football team. McDonald’s invaded the world with no casualties.

But now, who is Mary McBride? She is a young American singer from the south, but sings with a New York Rhythm. She makes loud rock and roll song smooth as a gentle breeze. I saw her in a concert a long time ago in the US. And a friend of mine asked me if I can imagine seeing this singer in Saudi Arabia and wearing an abayah. I just laughed and was close to put some money as a bet that this will not happen. I was glad I didn’t put any money. Because on Wednesday, Oct. 12, I was looking at her straight in the eye when she was singing. Not in New York, but in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. And on Friday, Oct. 14 I saw a picture of her wearing an abayah in the Saudi Paper Alyaum in which I write a daily column. I said to myself, the world can’t get any smaller.


October:26:2011 - 08:39 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

The funeral of Crown Prince Sultan is now over – though foreign dignitaries are still coming into the country to pay their condolences. There’s not a whisper of speculation in the media about whether Pr. Naif will be named Crown Prince. Saudi media are getting back to their ordinary business. Haj is just a few days away and papers are carrying stories about improvements in facilities and services; they’re also carrying warning about those who try to break the rules of Haj, from illegal entry to the holy cities to attempts at political activity.

Saudi Gazette is reporting on the terrorism trial of those accused of participating in the attacks on residential compounds in Riyadh, in May, 2003. These attacks were the first signal recognized by the Saudi government that it had a very real terrorism problem of its own. Before then, terrorism was generally something that happened in other countries. And, even if a few Saudis might have been involved, it simply wasn’t seen as a Saudi problem. For the first time, Saudi nationals, including the son of the Mayor of Riyadh, were killed in the attacks, along with foreigners, including Americans in the country on contract to the Ministry of Defense. Suddenly, the chickens had come home to roost.

Riyadh blasts terror trial continues

RIYADH — The Specialist Penal Court Monday continued hearing the defense of 11 men accused of belonging to an Al-Qaeda terrorist cell. The men are charged with bombing three foreign housing compounds in Riyadh in 2003. The cell which was led by Turki Al-Dandani is also alleged to have carried out attacks on military bases, industrial and oil installations.

The bombing attacks resulted in the killing and wounding of 239 people including many innocent women and children.

The attack occurred late on May 12 when five vehicles packed with explosives and terrorist hit squads attacked the Durrat Al-Jadawel, the Al-Hamra Oasis Village and the Vinnell Corporation Compound residential areas in the capital.

At the Durrat Al-Jadawel, a car packed with explosives and five or six terrorists shot at and killed a Saudi Air Force policeman and an unarmed Saudi civilian security guard. However the terrorists’ bomb suddenly detonated, killing all of the attackers and a Filipino worker.

At the Al-Hamra Oasis Village and the Vinnell Corp. compound, the assault teams detonated both of their bombs, devastating the compounds and then opened fire and killed a number of residents.


October:26:2011 - 07:48 | Comments Off | Permalink

The late Pr Sultan bin Abdul Aziz was buried outside Riyadh today. ‘Maktoob’, the Middle East news portal from Yahoo.com, carries this Reuters report discussing the issue of Saudi succession, though with no greater information that what everyone else has. The report does include a brief video of the prince’s body arriving back in Saudi Arabia and being met by a crowd including his brothers and half-brothers.

Saudi Arabia to bury Crown Prince Sultan, name heir
Angus McDowall, Reuters

DUBAI (Reuters) – The funeral of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Sultan on Tuesday sets the stage for King Abdullah to appoint a new heir, widely expected to be veteran Interior Minister Prince Nayef, a move that would emphasize stability in the world’s top oil exporter.

At stake is the direction of a major U.S. ally attempting to reconcile its conservative traditions with the needs of a modern economy and a young, increasingly outward-looking population.

“In the political system this is an important event, but the system is designed to ensure continuity,” said Jarmo Kotilaine, Chief Economist at National Commercial Bank in Jeddah. “Economic policy is put in place over a much longer period and is not likely to change at all.”

In his six-year-old reign, King Abdullah has pushed changes aimed at creating jobs by liberalizing markets and loosening the grip of religious hardliners over education and social policy.


October:25:2011 - 08:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

Unemployment throughout the Arab region is a tremendous problem. When it comes to youth unemployment, it’s even worse. Saudi Gazette carries a Reuters story reporting that according to the World Economic Forum, currently meeting near the Dead Sea in Jordan, youth unemployment in the region is at 25%; in the developed world, it’s only (only!) 17%. If ‘Arab Spring’ is to turn into an ‘Arab Summer’, jobs need to be found and economies put on their feet.

The forum suggests that only major, structural reform throughout the region will do this. There are a variety of reforms needed, from education to transparency, from getting a handle on corruption to privatizing national industries. Even the state-owned oil industries should be privatized, a forum report concludes.

Now that is major, structural reform and not of a kind that would likely find favor with the Occupy (the World) proponents…

Arab business forum calls for structural reform to create jobs

DEAD SEA, Jordan – Only structural reform could remedy “root causes for the current events” in the Arab world – and create work for an estimated 2.8 million youngsters entering the region’s job market each year, a report on Arab competitiveness released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Dead Sea Sunday said.

Proposed reforms range from improving infrastructure and education to creating transparent capital markets and ending discrimination in labor markets.

Youth underemployment stands at 25 percent in 14 Middle East and North Africa nations, versus 17 percent in high-income OECD countries, the report said. The gap was much wider for women.

Arab economies are also plagued by “high levels of undue influence and corruption”, it said.

“Sustainable job creation is further hampered by the disproportionate weight of the public sector in the region’s economies,” the report said, adding that Egypt’s public sector accounts for 70 percent of non-agricultural jobs.

It said the region only has 0.6 new firms per 1,000 working age people, compared to about four per 1,000 in the OECD.

“Reducing unemployment will have to focus on three groups that are disproportionately affected – the young, the educated and women,” the report said.

Mohammad Al-Barwani, chairman of an Oman-based holding company, said governments should assume a solely regulatory role, including in state-dominated sectors such as oil.


October:25:2011 - 08:02 | Comments Off | Permalink
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