Saudi Gazette reports that the government of Saudi Arabia is taking interest in what it sees as a rising incidence of iodine deficiency in children. This can have a profound affect on the mental development of children as well as lead to adult disorders like goiters. Iodine deficiency is rare among peoples living along coasts due to their consumption of sea foods, naturally rich in iodine. Inland areas, though, are prone to chronic effects unless measures – such as adding iodine to table salt – are taken. This is exactly the step the Saudi government is considering.

Iodine deficiency affecting students’ learning

JEDDAH – The ministries of Education and Health have expressed concerns about the rate of iodine deficiencies amongst Saudi schoolchildren which can cause mental retardation and goiter. The ministries are now launching a campaign that will free the Kingdom’s citizens from the disease.

Under the campaign, a Ministry of Health team and directors of education will probe the rate of iodine disorders IDD among school children and discover the number of families using iodized salt.

This article caught my eye as I’d just finished reading Salt: A World History, which I highly recommend. While everyone understands the importance of salt to human survival, I was surprised to learn what an important role it played in politics, war, and economies since prehistoric times.

February:29:2012 - 09:22 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia is continuing to expand its economy through diversification. Saudi Gazette runs a release from the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) noting that all concerned ministries and corporate entities are lined up to support the development of a new ‘Mining City’ in the north of the country. A report from the Delegation for German Industry in Saudi Arabia and Yemen (AHK) notes that SR26 billion (US $7.7 billion) is being made. The city, near the Saudi border with Jordan, will produce phosphates and derivative products and ship them by rail to Ras Al-Khair Port in the Eastern Province. When operating, the City is expected to bring in SR15 billion (US $4 billion) annually.

There are a lot of jobs involved in creating, populating, and operating such a massive endeavor. Let’s hope that most of the jobs go to Saudis and not just manual laborers brought in from third world countries.

Ministers pledge to support upcoming mining city in north

RIYADH – The ministers of finance, commerce and industry, water and electricity, and labor have emphasized the importance of the newly planned ‘Waad’ Mining City in the Northern Border region and pledged all-out support to make it a reality.

Speaking to Al-Jazirah Arabic daily, Minister of Finance, Dr. Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf said the city would contribute to the Kingdom’s efforts to diversify resources and boost the national economy.

“We’ll support this project by allocating the money required for its infrastructure facilities,” Al-Assaf said.
Minister of Water and Electricity Abdulah Bin Abdulrahman Al-Hussayen said his ministry would support the new city by providing it with a high voltage power network backed by transformers.

“We will also make optimum use of groundwater to meet residential and industrial water requirements,” he added.
Minster of Labor Adel Fakieh said his ministry would work with the Ministry of Petroleum and Minerals and Maaden Company to meet the city’s manpower requirements by training Saudis to take up important positions there.

Minister of Commerce and Industry Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabeah said the Saudi Industrial Property Authority (Modon) would design the new city and its residential and commercial areas.

“We’ll make every effort for the successful implementation of this vital project.”

The Waad Mining City, to be located northeast of Turaif, will attract an initial investment of SR26 billion.

February:28:2012 - 07:53 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Another of those frustrating articles from the Saudi media. Arab News reports that the Shoura Council has approved a new anti-money laundering bill, but gives very little detail about what it covers. Until 2003, the Kingdom had no formal anti-money laundering laws; Shariah law could be used in some instances to halt it, but coverage was less than spotty. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the involvement of Saudi nationals in it changed things a bit. Both internal and external pressures put on the Kingdom led it to introduce more specific rules, but starting from zero has meant both a lengthy process and a steep learning curve.

Saudi Arabia, as part of the GCC, takes part in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and cooperates internationally. It is an independent member of the MENA-FATF, a regional subdivision. Imposing a new system of regulations, however, has not been entirely smooth. A 2010 Mutual Evaluation Report on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism [293-pg PDF] identified gaps in Saudi law and regulation. These new laws appear to be an attempt to close the gap. Last year, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior issued a brief manual [44-pg PDF] on money laundering and terrorism finance that essentially gives the topics to be addressed and the forms through which reporting is to be done, but there is grossly insufficient detail that would help someone actually do any sort of effective monitoring. It is clear that a great deal of training across a wide field of economic activity will be needed. Perhaps these new laws address the issue as well, but it’s impossible to tell from the news story.

Shoura OKs anti-money laundering act

RIYADH: The Shoura Council approved a draft anti-money laundering act after making amendments to it yesterday.

The ninth regular session of the council was presided over by its Chairman Abdullah Al-Asheikh. The proposed draft act was presented by the council’s finance committee.

Following the sitting, Shoura Council Secretary-General Muhammed Al-Ghamdi said the approval clearly indicated the commitment of the Kingdom toward combating money laundering.

Al-Ghamdi recalled earlier that Shoura Council members had detailed consultations with senior officials of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) to get more information about its regulations against money laundering.

February:28:2012 - 07:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

The floods that wracked Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, back in 2009 appear to have left some Jeddawis quite nervous. Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that the Directorate of Civil Defense for Jeddah has had to quash rumors that one of the city’s districts was to be evacuated in the face of possible heavy rains. The ever-popular grapevine seems to be working in the Kingdom, now augmented by social media technology.

Evacuation reports false, says Jeddah Civil Defense
Ibrahim Alawi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – Reports on Jeddah’s Al-Naseem District residents being evacuated due to severe weather forecasts are false rumors, said a top Civil Defense official here Saturday.

“False information has been circulated that Civil Defense vehicles were at Al-Naseem District evacuating people and students from their homes and schools. This is wrong. They are sheer rumors,” said Brig. Abdullah Jadawi, Director of Jeddah Civil Defense.

He called on public to double-check information and not believe in false messages that frighten people and create panic.

February:27:2012 - 08:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

There seems to be an interesting game of hot potato getting underway with Saudi Arabia’s Ministries of Education and Higher Education. Secondary school graduates are coming to university not quite ready for the difficulty and intensity of the course work. Some universities have a ‘foundational year’ in which student shortcomings are addressed before the students start their actual course studies. Not all do, though. It’s now being suggested that current three-year secondary schooling be expanded to four years, Saudi Gazette reports.

This would, at considerable expense, seek to raise intellectual achievement across the board, for both university-bound students as well as those who end their eduction after graduating high school. Having foundation years provided by the universities might better serve to customize the needed educational achievement for particular lines of study. This would be at a lower cost as not everyone gets into, or wants to get into, university. No matter which ministry ends up with the students, though, there will be significant costs associated. If nothing more, additional classrooms will be required, teachers hired, and administration procured. This, of course, says nothing about how students and parents might feel about it.

Officials considering adding one more year to school
Saudi Gazette

RIYADH – The preparation year that Saudi high-school graduates undergo before joining a university may soon be replaced by an additional year of schooling in the secondary grade.

Officials at the ministries of Education and Higher Education are discussing these proposals, Al-Watan newspaper reported Sunday.

Dr. Abdul Fatah Mashat, Dean of Admissions at King Abdul Aziz University said that these plans were discussed by officials responsible for general and higher education.

“It’s a first step to study the possibility of adding an extra year to secondary education instead of a foundation year for university education.”

February:27:2012 - 07:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The case of Hamza Kashghari, the Saudi journalist who took to Twitter to express his doubts about religion, is energizing free-speech advocates. Saudi Arabia’s reaction to Kashghari’s Tweets shows a particular disregard of rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But it is not the only country that threatens people’s right to express themselves.

Courts in India, for example, are requiring various online media like Google and Facebook to censor content that might be objectionable to various religious groups. The courts threaten to shut down the services if they do not develop ways to block content that offends, blasphemes, or otherwise annoys.

Indian court forces Facebook, Google to censor content

The Delhi High Court has ordered 21 companies, which have already been asked to develop a mechanism to block objectionable material in India, to present their plans for policing their services in the next 15 days. Prosecutors said they would provide the companies with all relevant documents, as the government has asked for a voluntary framework to keep offensive material off the Internet. Google and Facebook both said they have already complied by removing objectionable content.

February:15:2012 - 08:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia has created an unnecessary problem for itself. In the name of fairness and development, it permits women to attend law school and obtain their degrees. In the name of the social preference toward keeping men and women separate, it doesn’t permit women to actually practice law in the courts. What results, as this Arab News article reports, is rising levels of frustration as women, eager to dive into the trenches of law, are thwarted before they walk in the door.

The Ministry of Justice – responsible for the courts and law in general – dangles the carrot of ‘jobs, soon’. When pressed, though, all it has to offer is jobs as mediators. Mediators need common sense more than they need profound expertise in law, so the female lawyers aren’t exactly thrilled with the prospect.

Women to work at Justice Ministry’s offices ‘soon’

JEDDAH: Saudi women law graduates on Tuesday expected a promise from Minister of Justice Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa to give them licenses to start working as lawyers. Instead, he promised them they would be allowed to work at reconciliation offices without any mention of the actual practice of women lawyers at Saudi courts.

These women graduated from law and Shariah specializations at seven colleges and universities throughout the Kingdom that had started programs for women in 2008.

Al-Issa was answering a question from law graduate Bayan Zahran, who asked about the ministry’s efforts to enroll women law graduates into the ministry. “We have a huge project to initiate certified reconciliation offices. We are waiting for the system to be implemented, after which women will be able to work there to reduce the number of cases passed on to courts,” the minister said. “Some cases might need only a suggestion or consultation, and we expect these offices to solve the disputes, especially in personal affairs.”

February:15:2012 - 07:49 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

An event unremarkable in 99% of the world is news in Saudi Arabia. For the first time, male instructors will be teaching Saudi women face-to-face. Until now, male instructors had to either teach through closed circuit TV, through piped-in sound, or some other machination to prevent them from being in the physical presence of female students. Now, though, with so much government emphasis being given to employment issues, the barriers are being eroded, as Arab News reports. Perhaps, too, some attention is being paid to the fact that ‘separate but equal’ is at least twice as expensive as integrated classes.

TVTC allows male instructors in women training institutes

RIYADH: The Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) has, for the first time, allowed male instructors to teach in women’s training centers.

Male trainees should have a separate place if a training program were combined, business daily Al-Eqtisadiah reported Tuesday quoting official sources.

The sources said all services to men, including handing over certificates, will take place at the training site and not the women’s training center.

UPDATE: : It seems that some readers found this post confusing. So let me clarify…

In some private universities, male instructors have been permitted to address female students directly. This has not been common practice in state sponsored schools. Private educational institutions, on all levels, have some latitude to make their own rules; state schools stick to unitary curricula, pedagogic methods, and all social norms that seem to carry the force of law.

February:15:2012 - 07:41 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink

I’m going to be heading north today for about a week. I’ll be doing some consulting and attending to family business and will not be constantly blogging. While I’ll keep my eyes on Saudi affairs, posting will likely be lighter than usual.

February:15:2012 - 07:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

An interesting piece in Asharq Alawsat today, doubtlessly written to address the matter of Hamza Kashghari.

The writer, identified as a writer and expert on Islamic affairs, starts out with a call to moderate opinion. He states, correctly, that what goes on in the heart of man is unknowable to other men; only God knows what truly is to be found there. He wastes little time, however, in jumping to the fact that once a person – atheist, apostate, doubter – opens his mouth or acts upon his inner belief, he becomes responsible for people’s reaction to his words or deeds and accountable for them. This, too, is mostly true. If words offend, then words can certainly be used to defend or push back or even severely criticize. Words are not so special that they are immune to other, critical words.

The writer is coming from an intellectual plane where the truth of Islam is obvious, that any questions about it must be for reasons of some sort of enmity. He doesn’t entertain the idea that questions about religion have existed as long as religions have existed. But even here, as long as one keeps one’s mouth shut and fingers off the keyboard, that’s sort of okay; it’s between you and God.

But what, beyond criticism, social opprobrium, and shunning is the ‘correct’ response from society? Here, he doesn’t really venture. Are calls for Kashghari’s death appropriate? If Kashghari repents, and he says that he did err in posting what he did, who is to gainsay him? Wouldn’t it require ‘looking into his heart’ to determine whether his contrition was real? Or here, for this particular sin, does that not matter? Having sinned, he must pay the consequences, never mind what Islam says about forgiveness?

Dr. Al Rekabi errs himself, however, in the conclusion to his piece. He asserts that over the centuries, ‘Islam has only grown stronger.’ Is that actually the case? It’s clear that the number of Muslims has grown around the world, but is that the right measure to use when assessing the ‘strength’ of a religion? I could argue that respect might be a better measure. The actions and deeds of extremists, acting in the name of Islam, whether terrorists or narrow-minded judges have actually damaged Islam, have weakened the respect it has had over the centuries. Showing harsh reaction to things most – or at least much – of the world considers minor, even inconsequential, does not demonstrate the ‘strength’ of Islam. It only shows that it can be used to intimidate and create fear. The ability to create fear is considered strength only in the hands of people like Syria’s Al Assad or the Soviet Union’s Stalin. Maybe they were/are strong? But that kind of strength is not and should not be a goal for people who seek peace in this world or the next.

Atheists must assume their intellectual and social responsibility
Dr. Zein Al Abdeen Al Rekabi

Why do we see the obstinate persistence in reviving the tendency towards atheism? Why is there a drive to resurrect this trend from its grave, after it had been killed and buried by scientific fact, particularly the science of physics?

Before answering this question, I call upon the readers to reflect deeply and intelligently on the following facts:

Firstly, a person’s mind – according to Islam – is safeguarded from inspection and incrimination, for what is in one’s mind always remains “concealed”.

February:14:2012 - 08:05 | Comments & Trackbacks (14) | Permalink

In an op-ed piece for Arab News, Saudi attorney Khalid Alnowaiser comments that the role of Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice needs to be re-examined. Currently, he says, the religious police operate in a way that violates basic human rights as stated in both the International Declaration of Human Rights and the Arab Declaration. They violate international treaties to which Saudi Arabia has agreed be bound.

He offers a list of the types of violations that occur as well as a brief list of how the conduct of the Haia should be limited. One of his suggestions – that the religious police restrict themselves to dealing with online issues rather than on the streets – strikes me as superfluous, though. The unfolding tale of Hamza Kashghari indicates that there are enough hyperalert monitors already in place.

Policing the religious police in Saudi Arabia

Recently, the Saudi government appointed a new president for the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice who is known to be a more open-minded and progressive thinker.

However, the problem is not so much with the individuals on the commission but with the institution itself and how it operates.

For example, its executive bylaws in many respects are vague and have allowed some of its members to violate basic human rights, including in some cases the physical and verbal abuse of Saudi citizens.

Unfortunately, the commission’s executive bylaws outlined its powers and functions in only a general way, allowing too much license in how its mission was to be achieved.

As a result, this has led to the violations that are committed by the commission’s members. Indeed, the commission seems to exercise its power in excess of proper limitations and in violation of individual freedom. But let me be clear: I am not talking about the ritual of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stated in the Qur’an which must be respected and followed by all Muslims, but about the unacceptable activities of the commission’s members.

February:13:2012 - 08:29 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

In what will come as a shock to more than a few Saudi clerics, the Minister of Justice states that ‘Salafism is not Islam’. He goes on to call it merely a ‘descriptive approach’ to Islam, but that it is one of moderation.

This Arab News interview with the Minister ranges across the legal spectrum. Noting that 60% of court cases involve family matters, he suggests that more work needs to be done in finding ways to resolve disputes without violence or involving the courts. That, of course, means educating the public and trying to shift social conventions. There’s a lot of that needed these days, unfortunately.

Salafism is only an approach, says justice minister

RIYADH: Minister of Justice Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Kareem Al-Issa said Salafism should not be interpreted as Islam at Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh.

The minister said in reply to a question by the rector of the university: “Salafism is only a descriptive approach, not a name. This means we obey the ancestors’ belief and values in understanding Islam, which is a moderate approach practiced by the late King Abdul Aziz who founded our Kingdom based on this approach.”

During the lecture attended by the rector of the university, deans, teaching staff, students and some experts, the minister dwelt at length on the subject of social work in the courts. He called on people to resolve all struggles and fights in a peaceful way without resorting to violence or without going to the court.

February:13:2012 - 08:16 | Comments Off | Permalink
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