‘Saher’ is the traffic monitoring system the Saudi government has implemented to make the country’s roads less hazardous. It combines cameras and radar to track speeding as well as the running of red lights. It is not very popular, but it does save lives and resources, this article from Saudi Gazette reports.

In the US, radar and laser speed-monitoring has been in effect for decades. Red light cameras are relatively new and there are grave questions about whether they truly serve to reduce accidents (there is conflicting research) or are just mechanisms through which government extracts extra money from drivers’ pockets. Some cities and states in the US, in fact, have passed laws – or had laws imposed on them through referenda – that ban red light cameras.

In the Kingdom, though, they seem to be having an effect. The piece states that since the introduction of the Saher program in August, 2010, Jeddah alone has seen a 35% decrease in road deaths, a 36% reduction in accidents, and a 38% reduction in injuries. Those are significant numbers.

The program has also been used, the paper reports, to track stolen vehicles as well as ‘suspicious’ ones, i.e., those being used by potential criminals. Those uses, though not major, are just a bonus. Anything that makes driving in Saudi Arabia less hazardous should be applauded.

Saher, a savior on the Kingdom’s roads
Amal Al-Sibai | Saudi Gazette

Were you furious when you were cruising down Jeddah’s Madinah Highway, and were discreetly clicked by a Saher camera? And you raged with anger when you were fined SR300.

Well, don’t be furious because it may affect the ‘cool show’ you are trying to put on by cruising and screeching in your fancy cars, but in reality Saher is saving lives of many such drivers and innocent victims of such sordid show.

A recent study by the Jeddah Traffic Police revealed that the introduction of Saher camera has significantly contributed to the safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians. The immediate and costly penalties incurred on traffic violators have improved the driving behavior of many motorists, for they fear being clicked by Saher and slapped with heavy fines.

January:31:2012 - 10:03 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that 8% of the Saudi government’s workforce absented itself without leave on the first days of work following school holidays this year. Students, too, in an unstated number, found better things to do than return to class. Now, the report says, the government will be cracking down, deducting salaries and taking other punitive action. Absenteeism from school will also be noted and likely become a factor in scholarships and school selection processes.

The government is pretty generous, by many standards. It’s also pretty wealthy. But even the wealthiest countries legitimately oppose paying for non-performance.

CIB found 8% govt staff absent from work last week

DAMMAM — Eight percent of all government officials in the Kingdom were absent from work last week. This came to light after investigators from over 20 branches of the Control and Investigation Board (CIB) made surprise visits to ensure that officials were at work.

The field teams noted that the absences coincided with school holidays.

A source said the percentage was normal for this time of the year. The CIB will initiate disciplinary measures including salary deduction and notifications on absentees to curtail the occurrence of this negative phenomenon.

According to the field reports, most officials absent themselves on the first day of work to avoid traffic congestions and waking up early. Authorities say that strict penalties will now be imposed on those who don’t show up for work without permission, Al-Yaum Arabic newspaper reported.

January:31:2012 - 09:47 | Comments Off | Permalink

In his Arab News column, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim contrasts the Titanic and Costa Concordia accidents. He further throws in his own experience as a ship’s captain, noting that while ships of different kinds have different missions and different operating rules, safety is – or should always be – paramount.

He offers the question, ‘What would have happened had the Costa Concordia been farther from shore?’ That’s a good question. He could also have asked what would have happened if the ship had been in colder waters, the North Atlantic or Pacific. Even in winter, the Mediterranean Sea is warm at least relative to those waters fed from the Arctic, where even two minutes’ immersion can bring about death.

Whatever the specifics behind the Costa Concordia incident, it clearly shows a certain level of negligence in leadership as well as training. People often undertake thrilling, exciting, and dangerous activities. Taking a cruise is not generally considered among those activities, though.

It’s not hard to draw an analogy between ships and statecraft; we often refer to the Ship of State, in fact. Governments act as the captain and crew of metaphorical vessels. They are charged with moving their citizens from one place in history to the next. There are shoals and reefs, the odd, uncharted rock in the sometimes hazardous seas in which governments sail. They need able captains and vigilant, well-trained crews just as much as any vessel on a sea. When they founder, it’s not just a few hundred or even a few thousand who are at risk.

Tale of Costa Concordia and the Titanic
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

The Titanic hit an iceberg on the night of Sunday, April 14, 1912.

It sank on April 15. It took with it 1517 lives. The collision was avoidable, but a series of mistakes, overconfidence and the search for fame all contributed to the tragic incident. The captain wanted to beat every maritime record in regard to the Atlantic crossing. The radio operator was under pressure to satisfy the elite passengers with their communications with their families, friends and business associates. And he didn’t pay a lot of attention to the warning massages from different ships about the presence of large icebergs. This was 100 years ago. There were no modern radars, no GPS, no satellite communications and no advanced method of iceberg tracking. And still, no excuses were given to the ship’s captain or the company that operated the Titanic. If the Titanic didn’t hit an iceberg and reached New York Harbor in four days, the captain Edward Smith would have been Neil Armstrong and Charles Lindbergh put together. This was in 1912. So, why one hundred years later did the Costa Concordia capsize when it was equipped with the most sophisticated state-of the-art navigation equipment, radars, GPS, updated charts and back-up systems? These two ships, 100 years apart, simply went from fame to shame.

January:31:2012 - 09:34 | Comments Off | Permalink

New research based on mitochondrial genes is suggesting that when mankind first left Africa, it did not move through the Levant, as previously thought, but across the lower Red Sea into southern Arabia. The report notes that ‘direct genetic evidence’ is thin on the ground. Physical evidence is even thinner as little exploration has been done – or been permitted to be done – until quite recently. I know that if I were a paleontologist, I’d be very interested in pursuing research in the area. Unfortunately, the current political situation in Yemen is not conducive to conducting that research. It should be possible, though, to look into southern Saudi Arabia, given the right partnerships with Saudi institutions.

Following Genetic Footprints out of Africa:
First Modern Humans Settled in Arabia

ScienceDaily (Jan. 26, 2012) — A new study, using genetic analysis to look for clues about human migration over sixty thousand years ago, suggests that the first modern humans settled in Arabia on their way from the Horn of Africa to the rest of the world.

Led by the University of Leeds and the University of Porto in Portugal, the study is recently published in American Journal of Human Genetics and provides intriguing insight into the earliest stages of modern human migration, say the researchers.

“A major unanswered question regarding the dispersal of modern humans around the world concerns the geographical site of the first steps out of Africa,” explains Dr Luísa Pereira from the Institute of Molecular Pathology and Immunology of the University of Porto (IPATIMUP). “One popular model predicts that the early stages of the dispersal took place across the Red Sea to southern Arabia, but direct genetic evidence has been thin on the ground.”

January:30:2012 - 09:28 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Writing for Asharq Alawsat, Amir Taheri reviews an interesting looking book that explores the contours of blasphemy laws and where they collide with the concept of free speech. The book argues that the complaints about ‘lack of respect’ or calls for enforcement of blasphemy laws actually inverts the idea of ‘respect’. Respect only exists as a reciprocal social agreement, with both sides respecting the opinions of others. It does not guarantee against hurt feelings or a sense of being offended.

I’ve not read the book, but based on the review, it looks to be one worth reading.

The concept of the sacred in modern times
Amir Taheri

The Future of Blasphemy: Speaking of the Sacred in an Age of Human Rights By: Austin Dacey, 208 pages, $15, Continuum, 2012

After decades of being regarded an obscure, if not discarded, concept, blasphemy has made a spectacular comeback as a hot issue with international dimensions. Efforts to criminalise blasphemy are well advanced in the United Nations with talks of an international treaty. The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Vatican have become objective partners in lobbying for such a treaty.

In its convoluted style, the European Court of Human Rights has endorsed the concept.

In recent years, blasphemy has also been at the centre of court cases in France based on lawsuits brought by Catholic and Muslim clerics.

But what does constitute blasphemy?

January:30:2012 - 09:16 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

It is a fact – sad though it may be – that private sector employers are not terribly keen on hiring Saudi workers. Part of the dislike is a difference they see in work ethic. Another part is that foreign laborers can be forced to work like donkeys and paid very little while doing so. To address this, the government is looking at making Saudi employees even less attractive. It is investigating the possibilities of decreasing private sector work hours, from 5.5-6 days per week to a 5.0 workday week. It would reduce work hours to 35 per week. According to Saudi Gazette/Okaz, it would enforce more strictly laws protecting Saudis’ jobs. It would offer six weeks of vacation time and extend the three-day ‘Eid breaks to a full week, in consonance with that enjoyed by government employees.

All these measures would indeed make jobs more attractive to Saudis. They would not, however, make them competitive with foreign workers who will still work for less. These measures, then, would not at all address the problems of unemployment by themselves.

What might help is an across-the-board minimum salary law, requiring that all those in any particular type of work receive the same basic pay for the same work, foreign workers and Saudis alike. Efforts like the Nitiqat program to force employment of Saudis and the pushing out of foreign workers would also have to continue.

Left unaddressed, however, is the economic consequence of doing all of this. Replacing a $400/month worker with an $800/month Saudi worker will not make things cheaper. Offering bountiful vacations in which no work is being done will not improve production, no matter the good or service. Are Saudi citizens willing to pay substantially higher prices for things they already enjoy? Will the government be forced to increase or expand subsidies? The media is already full of complaints about inflation being brought on by the current global economy’s woes, with higher prices resulting from the higher costs of oil and petrochemicals. While Saudi Arabia is rich as a nation, Saudi citizens are not uniformly rich. And even the government is not infinitely rich. At some point, no more can be subsidized nor subsidies raised. Then what? Will all the workers tempted into jobs by the carrots then discover a stick to keep them at work?

Pvt sector work hours may be cut to attract Saudis
Muhammad Al-Enezi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

DAMMAM — A new committee composed of members from different ministries will look into the disadvantages Saudi citizens face while working in the private sector.

Hattab Bin Saleh Al-Enezi, spokesman of the Ministry of Labor, told Okaz/Saudi Gazette, Saturday that private sector employees can expect more advantages, particularly in terms of the number of working hours, days off per week, and number of annual holidays, in order to encourage Saudis to work for the private sector.
He said this will see a significant decline in the number of Saudis quitting the private sector to work for the public sector every year.

“The Ministry of Labor rejects unfair termination of any Saudi employee in the private sector and will reinstate any Saudi whose contract has been terminated unfairly,” Al-Enezi said.

Many Saudi employees in the private sector want two days off in a week, seven working hours per day, and 45 days annual vacation, as opposed to 30 days, and longer Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha holidays like those given to employees in the public sector.

January:29:2012 - 11:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Yesterday, Twitter, the social networking tool, announced a new policy on censorship. The change ignited an Internet firestorm, including Twitter accounts set up to lambaste the decision.

In its announcement, Twitter explained that as a company with global reach, it falls under the purview of multiple laws. Many of these laws are not consonant with US laws and understandings on matters like freedom of speech, nor of many other countries. Nevertheless, it has to abide by local rules or face local consequences, including being blocked entirely within a country and possibly facing criminal charges. It cites French and German laws that prohibit – and criminally punish – anything construed as pro-Nazi as examples. Of course, there are countries that ban much more broadly than that, including repressive countries and countries that try to stifle public discontent by blocking their voices.

Up til now, Twitter, under the orders of a government, could only block a particular Twit across the whole world. It now has the capacity to block its being seen only in the country that claims offense. That means that while the people of Country X may not be able to see a message originating in Country X, the rest of the world can see it. Further, Twitter promises that it will block a Twit only after it has been published and a government calls for its removal and that it will publicly note that the government has called for its removal. In other words, it won’t simply ‘disappear’ the Twit.

While this is not ideal in terms of the utterly free flow of information, it adds considerably to the quality of transparency. No more will we be faced with situations like those that arose in Saddam’s Iraq where, for instance, CNN operated on a policy of self-censorship but never reported that fact to the public. Here, at least, the public will know when a government is exerting its heavy hand.

The UK’s The Guardian has a piece on the Twitter decision stating that calls to boycott Twitter may not be in the best interest of those interested in the actual free flow of information.

Twitter boycott? No, let’s trust it
Censorship fears are misplaced, tweets from the Middle East will still buzz around the world
Mohamed El Dahshan

When Twitter announced it was giving itself the ability to censor particular tweets or users in certain countries, the immediate reaction among users of the network in the Middle East – as elsewhere – was: #sh*t.

Without overplaying its importance, Twitter has proved to be an invaluable tool for activists, enabling them to find up-to-date, accurate information and news, to publicise and to communicate among themselves, particularly in times of crisis. The hashtag #egypt was the most widely used on the social network in 2011, and a Dubai School of Government survey estimates Egypt had the largest number of active Twitter users in any Arab spring country.

Such is the fear of governments from social networks, particularly Twitter, the service has repeatedly been blocked in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

January:28:2012 - 09:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

I’ve been interested in typography – the means through which language is made visible by the use of type. My interest surely started when I was a child and my father was responsible for the editing of a monthly magazine. There were always type specimen books around the house, each with hundreds of different type faces… the original face books, I guess.

My interest took on a more professional angle when I set type to earn a living while in college and then did my own magazine editing. In any event, I am pleased to discover a new typeface, Nassim, the first face for which Arabic and Latin alphabets were developed at the same time and selected as one of the best typefaces of 2011.

The faces, alas, are really for commercial use; licensing them is a costly proposition. To purchase licenses for both Arabic and Latin alphabets, in four weights, runs over US $700. They’re not really useful on the Internet, anyway, as at present they can only be embedded in Java script applications, which I avoid on this blog. Still, the face is very nice, I think.

Reviewed by Thierry Blancpain

Nassim is a rarity in that its contemporary Arabic and Latin alphabets were developed synchronously. That multi-script process is what drives this idiosyncratic design at its core.

For a typeface designed for news, the variety in its shapes is at first sight astounding. But it makes all the more sense the longer you look at it. Early in his process, Titus Nemeth looked at the strong resemblance of the blackletter bastarda model to Arabic type. This search for a parallel between the Latin and the Arabic is a constant in the calligraphically inspired bi-script development of Nassim. The low stroke contrast, strong, asymmetric, and sturdy serifs, and a rather tall x-height informed the design of the Latin.

January:27:2012 - 08:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Yesterday, Saudi Gazette reported that 224 farms in the Jeddah area were using raw sewage for irrigation. Today, Arab News reports that the problem extends to the Mecca region as well. The article points out that there are ‘illegal farms’, usually run by ‘illegal aliens’, that is, visa overstayers, sometimes with the witting assistance of the Saudi land owners. This really doesn’t put ‘delicious’ into the food.

Veggie farms using sewage destroyed

MAKKAH: The Al-Umrah branch municipality in Makkah has destroyed nearly 25,000 square meters of illegal farms irrigated with sewage, a municipal official said recently.

“Laboratory tests revealed the produce of these farms such as watercress, radish, capsicum and beans was highly contaminated,” said chairman of the branch municipality Hassan Khankar.

He added the farms and their produce were destroyed in collaboration with officials of the Makkah governorate.

He added the municipality would continue inspections to discover if vegetable farms were using polluted water for irrigation.

January:27:2012 - 08:15 | Comments Off | Permalink

An op-ed in Arab News calls current Saudi efforts to thwart corruption inadequate. The writer points out that even following a Royal Decree and the establishment of a Royal Commission to address corruption, it continues. The problem, she says, is that the measures taken so far only call for people to behave properly. If they thought it in their interest to behave properly, corruption wouldn’t be happening in the first place. What’s needed is stronger words, stronger punishments, stricter implementation of existing regulations, and more participation by citizens to report it.

Opinion: ‘Together against corruption’

For those of you who are familiar with local news, the issue of corruption has become commonplace.

If you don’t read about it in media outlets, you will infer it through the Jeddah Floods… And if you can’t infer it, then you probably experience it in your occasional interaction with public institutions as and when you need their service.

Corrupt and unethical behavior is so entrenched in our system that we actually need a royal decree to combat it. And ironically enough, even this highest mandate commissioned to eradicate corruption “once and for all” seems impotent against its spread.

January:27:2012 - 08:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette runs a Reuters article on the power of tribalism in Saudi society and politics. It reports that some see that power rising; others dispute this. They see that the efforts of King Abdulaziz to settle the Bedouin led invariably to a decrease in their power.

It’s clear, though, that the tribes still have some residual power. Over the past few years, there have been notorious cases where tribalism has been used to disrupt existing marriages, to the embarrassment of Saudis in general. While Saudi history was build on tribalism and the Bedouin ethic, change has happened. Saudi society is now predominantly urban; skills needed in the past are no longer relevant. That does not mean that the values of the past are necessarily defunct, but they have a much harder time asserting their assumed worth for a modern society.

Tribalism still lingers for some
Angus McDowall — Reuters

RIYADH — The gentle clicking of Sheikh Abu Samir’s prayer beads as he lounged against a bolster in his camel-hair tent evoked the wilderness of Saudi Arabia’s desert, not a dusty camel market beside a Riyadh motorway.

The Kingdom’s Bedouin might have forsaken a desert lifestyle that brought more hardship than riches, but their tribal identity retains a lingering influence in modern Saudi life and one that some Saudis believe may be enjoying a revival.

“(Tribal feeling) is growing,” said Saad Al-Sowayan, a Saudi anthropologist who specializes in Bedouin oral history.

While experts debate whether that is true and why, the authorities, whose success in building a modern state was in part dependent on settling the Bedouin and ending centuries of infighting, have shown themselves concerned enough to take steps to curb any resurgence of tribalism.

The government two years ago closed a television station after it broadcast poems glorifying tribal rivalry, according to local media.

“The tribes are still strong,” said Abu Samir, a chief in the Otaiba tribe, as he drank tiny thimbles of Arabic coffee with companions in a tent among the pungent animal pens of the camel market. “But the olden days were better.”

“You cannot expect tribalism to disappear over one, two or three decades. It takes longer than that,” said Khalid Al-Dakhil, a political scientist in Riyadh.

January:26:2012 - 09:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Dr. Ayed Al-Qarni, a latter-day liberal on several social issues and popular author, has been caught plagarizing the work of a young Saudi writer. He was fined a significant sum – SR 300K or US $80,000 – and the offending work was pulled from the shelves of bookstores and libraries. He also wrote somewhat of an apology.

His apology seems a bit insincere, however, as he appears to go to great lengths to explain how the unacknowledged lifting the work of others has a long tradition in Islamic culture. It may be that he is sincere in his belief, but that belief has been superseded by copyright law around the world. I guess it’s just another aspect of the change being forced on Saudi Arabia by belonging to an interdependent and closely linked world.

Ayed Al-Qarni fined SR300K for plagiarism
Naeem Al-Hakeem | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – The Ministry of Culture and Information has fined the well-known author and intellectual, Dr. Ayed Al-Qarni, SR300,000 for plagiarism.

The ministry’s Intellectual Copyright Committee found that Al-Qarni had copied some chapters from a book “Thus they defeated the desperate” authored by Salwa Al-Aededan, a young female Saudi writer. He had copied the chapters without acknowledging the source of the material.

Al-Aededan subsequently lodged a complaint against Al-Qarni.

The ministry ordered that Al-Qarni’s book be removed from bookshelves in the country.

In a 1,000-word message to the young female author on his website, Al-Qarni appeared to apologize and admit his mistake, and at the same time tried to defend his actions.

“People of knowledge usually benefit from each other without referring to the source,” he wrote.

January:25:2012 - 09:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink
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