Arab displeasure with the Syrian government continues to mount. Arab News reports that the Saudi government is urging its citizens to leave the country ASAP. Turkey has imposed new sanctions, though it is taking measures to ensure humanitarian concerns are addressed – it is not, for example, fooling around with electricity and water supplies to the country. It will, however, stop all weapons shipments to Syria. As those primarily originate in Iran and Russia, Turkey is taking a significant risk in its regional politics.

The UAE will ban, from next week, flights to Syria originating there. Shutting down international air travel, naturally, has expat Syrians worried. Arab News also reports on their distress.

Saudis urged to leave Syria; OIC meet today

RIYADH: The Kingdom urged its citizens on Tuesday to leave Syria as soon as possible to avoid getting caught in a government crackdown on popular protests, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

“The Foreign Ministry renewed its warning to citizens currently in Syria to leave swiftly and asked those planning trips there not to travel now due to the unrest witnessed by the Syrian arena,” the agency said.

One Saudi had been killed by Syrian government forces in the restive city of Homs earlier this month.

November:30:2011 - 09:37 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia takes its responsibilities toward the safe and peaceful accomplishment of Haj seriously. Over the years, the government has worked to expand the areas used in performing the annual pilgrimage and to make them safer. But the area is finite and the number of pilgrims grows year by year.

The latest effort will be exerted on expanding the area of the mataf, the space in which pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba. This expansion, as reported in Arab News, looks do-able, but it also seems to be the last possible expansion before architects start looking to the third dimension. Already, there are designs that would create terraces above the current area to permit more people to engage in their walk around the black cube at the same time.

Naif presses for mataf expansion

JEDDAH: Crown Prince Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior, on Tuesday called for the quick implementation of the mataf (the circumambulation area around the Holy Kaaba) expansion project designed to accommodate 130,000 pilgrims at a time.

The crown prince made this comment while chairing a meeting of the Supreme Haj Committee at his office in Riyadh. The meeting discussed all aspects of the project, especially how to tackle a temporary reduction of the mataf’s capacity while the project is being implemented.

The project will increase the mataf’s capacity from 52,000 to 130,000 pilgrims when completed, said an official statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency. The work on the project has already started.

November:30:2011 - 08:55 | Comments Off | Permalink

Freedom of Speech is a fundamental human right. It is coming under concerted attack, according to this piece from the independent Danish think-tank CEPOS. The author argues that what it cannot do directly – that is, criminalize criticism of Islam – nations and organizations like the Saudi-based OIC try to do indirectly through the UN. The author has some harsh, but deserved words for the US government’s seeming acquiescence in these efforts.

Defending free speech at the United Nations
Jacob Mchangama, Chefjurist i CEPOS

Freedom of speech is under physical and legal threat not only from terrorists but also at the UN. Two US-based Islamists planned to kill a cartoonist and the editor of Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten responsible for publishing cartoons depicting Muhammad in 2005, it was revealed a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, at the UN, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) delivered another blow with a resolution on “combating defamation of religion,” which was passed by a committee of the UN’s General Assembly on 12 November.

While the tactics employed by terrorists and the OIC are obviously different, the purpose is essentially the same: to ensure that criticism of Islam is censored. And it is working.

Following news of the foiled attack against Jyllands-Posten, leading Danish newspapers refrained from reprinting the Muhammad cartoons despite doing so last year when another attack on the cartoonist was foiled. While the editors have explained this omission as a matter of “responsibility,” fear would seem more likely. That was, after all, the reason why Yale University chose to omit pictures of Muhammad in a book called The Cartoons That Shook the World. Thus, grotesquely, a book dedicated to investigating “the conflict that aroused impassioned debates around the world on freedom of expression, blasphemy and the nature of modern Islam” does not contain the very cartoons which were at the core of the book’s subject matter.

From Salman Rushdie to Jyllands-Posten, death threats have had a chilling effect on discussion, let alone criticism, of Islam.

The efforts to ban criticism of Islam through human rights law at the UN are not yet legally binding but they are making progress.

November:29:2011 - 06:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Permalink

CNN takes note of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to develop solar power. Citing both high oil prices and rapidly increasing demand for electricity in the Kingdom, the article also notes that aspirations don’t always lead to fulfillment. Solar power is still not highly efficient and natural gas provides real competition when it comes to efficiency and cost-effectiveness. That goes to explain why the Saudis are also hot on developing their gas resources.

I confess, I do like the trope that ‘Saudi Arabia will become the Saudi Arabia of X’, a humorous twist on the usual.

Saudi Arabia poised to become solar powerhouse
Steve Hargreaves

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The United States may be known as the Saudi Arabia of coal thanks to its large deposits. But under an expected investment push, Saudi Arabia could soon become the Saudi Arabia of solar power.

Early next year the oil rich kingdom is expected to announce a plan to get up to 10% of its electricity from the sun by 2020 — a more aggressive national policy than what’s in place in the United States.

The reason is mostly economic. The Saudis currently generate over 50% of their electricity by burning oil, which can consume up to an eighth of the country’s total oil output.

That made sense when oil was $10 a barrel. But at $100 a barrel it makes more sense for the Saudis to install solar panels and sell their oil on world markets.

Moreover, their electricity consumption is set to double by 2020.

November:29:2011 - 06:15 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Writing in Arab News, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim wonders why the Kurds, with a population that numbers in the tens of millions, are largely invisible. They’re not entirely invisible. Jebel Akrad, Mountain of the Kurds, is one of Damascus’ backdrops. The Ayyubid Dynasty – established by Saladin (Salahiddin), his brothers, and their descendants – is still taught in schools.

For an ancient people, though, they are rather unique in not having their own state. Despite some efforts, primarily after WWI, Kurdistan never happened. Instead, with the exception of the well-organized Kurdish area of post-Gulf War Iraq, Kurds remain minorities in Syria, Turkey, and Iran.

Kurds, a proud people without a nation

No one wants them to be in their territory, yet no one wants to give them their own territory

The Kurdish people have enjoyed the highest form of freedom for thousands of years. They mainly lived in northern Syria, east of Turkey, west of Iran and north of Iraq. They enjoyed the ability to move from place to another without any restrictions. They were one people, one language and one form of life. The number of Kurds all over the world is over 30 million. But, they don’t have a nation. Before World War I, they didn’t need one. They were free to wander around. They are Muslims. But not Arabs. And it should have made no difference. Islam has no nationality. But, the Kurdish people are different. No one wants them to be in their territory, yet no one wants to give them their own territory.

With my humble knowledge, I will only talk about the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran; not the Kurds scattered all over the world. Books will be needed if you write about the Kurds. They were subjected to relocations and they were considered a lower class in all the nations they lived in. The Turkish territories are the most beautiful part of these countries. After the World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, new nations were created. No one single piece of territory was given to the Kurdish people. And the Kurds couldn’t move through the borders of these new nations. And even though the 1920 Treaty of Sevres was intended to introduce new states including one for the Kurds, it never saw the light. And after the takeover of Turkey by Kamal Attaturk, the Kurds were not even allowed to speak their language. It was a crime to say the words Kurd or Kurdish. And it wasn’t until the 1990s when the Turkish people heard the word Kurds.

November:29:2011 - 06:06 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Google, it appears, is stretching its reach far beyond being a mere search engine. Gulf News reports that Google will serve to moderate the latest installment of the National Dialogue the Saudi government is conducting with its citizenry. Google has done this in Egypt and Tunisia before, but this is certainly a first in the Gulf.

Google to moderate e-dialogue
Jumana Al Tamimi, Associate Editor

Dubai: After launching cyber-interaction initiatives between citizens and high-ranking figures in both Egypt and Tunis, Google will be moderating the ‘Kingdom’s Dialogue’ in Saudi Arabia starting from next Monday.

The initiative, which is being launched by the King Abdul Aziz Centre for National Dialogue, is the first of its kind in the kingdom.

Interested people will post their questions on the web page of the ‘Kingdom’s Dialogue’. The most popular questions will be forwarded to the first ‘guest’ Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah Al Saud, the Kingdom’s Minister of Education.

By Thursday’s morning, 2,329 people had submitted 2,128 questions with 17,702 votes having been cast.

November:28:2011 - 08:12 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette runs an interesting article on the social problems faced by female doctors in Saudi Arabia. Some – such as the social view of women working in a mixed environment and dealing with male bodies – are pretty much restricted to Saudi socio-religious views. Others, such as difficult hours, are global. The pros and cons get a going over.

Pitfalls of being a female doctor
Doha Ghouth | Saudi Gazette

Each year more and more women enter the medical field to help their community, save lives and do their bit to make the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a better place for all. Yet everyday these doctors are challenged and subjected to intense speculation on their work environment and their lifestyles. Now many of these women are wishing the society they serve would give them a break.

Dr. Afaf Tawfiq, an Obstetrics and Gynecology consultant at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, spoke about the obstacles she faces while juggling a married life, children and a residency program.

November:26:2011 - 09:18 | Comments Off | Permalink

The reporting on Saudi Arabia’s new unemployment benefit program, Hafiz, has lacked clarity and transparency. Saudis have commented about their lack of knowledge of just what qualifications are necessary. They are also, according to this Saudi Gazette piece, not pleased with the age limit imposed. They note that a maximum age of 35 cuts out many women who, due to family obligations, have been forced out of the market for years and now find themselves too old. The article states that 70% of those qualifying for the Hafiz program are women.

The article says that the unemployment benefit will be granted for one year. I’m not sure that that’s the actual case as it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The chronically unemployed and unemployable aren’t going to disappear after 12 months.

The article’s focus, though, is on training programs that will be provided those who do not qualify for unemployment payments. Without mentioning what sorts of jobs will be trained, this aspect also lacks transparency. Putting people in jobs is good, but only if the people think the jobs are good and the salaries sufficient.

Saudis not covered under Hafiz to be trained

TAIF — Unemployed Saudis over 35 years of age, who do not qualify for the government’s SR2,000-a-month unemployment allowance, known as Hafiz, will get skills training paid for by the state, said Adel Fakieh, Minister of Labor.

Writing on his Facebook page, Fakieh said the training and other services will be provided by the Human Resources Development Fund (Hadaf). He said Hadaf provides world-class support and assistance so that Saudis can find suitable jobs and earn a decent living.

November:26:2011 - 09:07 | Comments Off | Permalink

Come January 4, only women will be permitted to sell lingerie and women’s accessories in Saudi Arabia. This is expected to create over 150K jobs, taking them away from foreign workers and putting them in the hands of women. It will also put an end to the embarrassment women feel in discussing their intimate apparel – or worse, having their bodies discussed by strange men.

Selling lingerie is more complicated than selling shirts or socks. Manufacturers have stepped in to provide training for the new saleswomen, a smart move.

150,000 jobs await Saudi women in sales outlets

TAIF: Saudi Arabia’s market for lingerie and women’s accessories is ready to take in thousands of qualified Saudi saleswomen, replacing foreigners who have been dominating the sector.

When the new legislation to replace foreigners with Saudi women at lingerie and women-only shops comes into effect on Jan. 4 (Safar 10), it is expected create about 150,000 job opportunities for jobless Saudi women, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported on Thursday.

A large number of young Saudi women are qualified to take up challenging careers at these shops, thanks to the online campaign and initiatives launched by some Saudi women.

The campaign titled “Enough With Embarrassment” launched by Fatima Qaroub in 2005 is the most prominent among them. A large number of lingerie shops have agreed to the demands of the campaigners to employ female staff.

November:25:2011 - 02:09 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Arab News asks whether males, who are supposed to be the guardians of women, are up to the task. And if they’re shirking their responsibilities – as some clearly are – what’s the point in having guardians?

The article notes several cases where males, fully competent, simply choose to not take up their duties to support and protect the females in their families. As a result, women have to step up.

Is guardianship going from men to Saudi women?

JEDDAH: In Islam, men are the guardians of women. However, in Saudi society, which follows the principles of Islamic Shariah, the concept of guardianship has undergone some drastic changes. Here, at least in some cases of practical life, women have to take over guardianship of the household. In most such cases, women rise to the occasion in shouldering responsibilities when the male members of the family fail to carry out their designated responsibilities.

These women show some masculine features in this respect. They are resolute, resourceful and even magnanimous enough in shouldering such tasks. There are cases of families where women become breadwinners despite the presence of male members who sit idle without performing their responsibilities.

November:25:2011 - 02:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

There’s a twist to the story of the fire at the girls school in Jeddah that led to the death of two teachers and more than 50 students injured: the fire was intentionally set by a group of girls. Saudi Gazette reports that four of the five girls involved have confessed.

This causes some consternation among officials. The girls are legally considered minors, being 15-year-olds or even younger. Saudi law is not well-established when it comes to punishing minors, even for major crimes. The article notes that they could face prosecution, that they could be sent to a house of correction for educational and psychological rehabilitation, and that their parents could be held responsible for the payment of blood money for the deaths and injuries.

An interesting point arises in this case… if they girls are considered too young to be criminally culpable, how can 10- or 12-year-olds be considered suitable for marriage?

Civil Defense: 5 students responsible for school fire

JEDDAH – Five students were found responsible for setting a fire which got out of control and engulfed parts of Bara’em Al-Watan School, resulting in the deaths of two teachers and injuries to at least 56 pupils, the Civil Defense Administration in Jeddah Governorate has concluded in its report.

Four of the five school girls have confessed to deliberately setting the fire, said Brigadier Abdullah Jeddawi, Director of Civil Defense in Jeddah, announcing the results of the investigation, Wednesday.

The girls are believed to have set fire to a bunch of old newspapers in the school’s basement in order to set off a fire alarm. The confessions were attested in the Jeddah General Court and registered in the presence of members of an investigative committee, school personnel and the guardians of the four students.

Arab News runs a story on the topic noting that some parents believe that although the girls did start the fire, the school is the responsible party. The school, they argue, acting in loco parentis should not have allowed the girls the opportunity to start the fire.

November:25:2011 - 01:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Well, here’s a story you don’t see often in Saudi Arabia. A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has been sentenced to 158 lashes for harassing a woman over the phone. How the number 158 was determined is an interesting question that will have to go unanswered.

It is right, however, for the Commission to report this. If they seem above the law – and they often do seem above the law – they lose respect and support of the public. By acknowledging their missteps, or those of their members, they get to keep that respect and support.

158 lashes for Hai’a member for harassing Saudi woman
Khalid Al-Jabri | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

MADINA – A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a) has been sentenced to 158 lashes and 50 days in jail for harassing a Saudi woman.

The Madina court issued the verdict after hearing that the man subjected the woman to an intense harassment campaign over the phone. A Hai’a official said: “The Saudi woman lodged a complaint against the Hai’a member. The Hai’a will take the necessary measures according to the regulations and uphold what is right even if it is against one of its employees.”

November:25:2011 - 01:37 | Comments Off | Permalink
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