The courts in Saudi Arabia sure do love those ‘separate but equal’ laws. Al-Arabiya TV carries this Agence France Presse report that a court in Riyadh has pulled back a Ministry of Labor authorization for men and women to work together in sales at the same enterprise. Saudi women must be protected! It seems that the courts believe that it is better that a woman not work if she might face problems from a male co-worker. Has the court given any thought to, oh, punishing men to act like jerks on the job? Why are women being punished – and indeed they are, by being kept out of gainful employment – when it’s men who are behaving badly?

Saudi court overturns circular allowing men and woman to work together in shops

A Saudi court overturned on Wednesday provisions of a labor ministry circular that allowed saleswomen to work alongside men in shops, a lawyer told AFP.

The court in Riyadh “abolished part of the decision by the ministry of labor which allowed shop owners to employ men and women in the same place,” based on a law suit filed by businessman, lawyer Mohammed al-Zamel told AFP.

Zamel said the ministry had misinterpreted a 2011 royal decree in which King Abdullah limited work in lingerie shops to women only.

“The king’s goal from that decree was to allow women to buy their underwear from shops run by women to prevent embarrassment” and not to allow men and women to mix at work.

“Many women (working alongside men in shops) resign from work because of harassment and due to the late working hours,” he said.

In June 2011, the king issued a decree limiting work in lingerie shops to Saudi women in a bid to reduce high female unemployment in the conservative kingdom.

He also made employment at certain industrial facilities, including drug manufacturers, exclusive to women.

May:31:2012 - 09:22 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

Christian Science Monitor takes a look at the efforts being made in various countries to find a way to redeem violent jihadists. It notes Saudi Arabia’s long-standing program, but also looks at those in countries like Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Philippines, as well as American and other ‘deradicalization’ projects.

Are terrorists beyond redemption?
The record shows that some radicals can be persuaded to give up the gun when inducements and local conditions are right. The Pentagon recently spent $4.5 million to find out more
Dan Murphy

Terrorists are often described as beyond reason, beyond redemption. But the reality, as recent and not-so-recent history shows, is very different.

The record shows that some radical groups can be persuaded to give up the gun when the combination of inducements and local conditions is right. It’s an imprecise prescription. But a combination of the heavy stick of the state, followed by giving militant leaders positive incentives to rejoin a society they often come to regret having left, seems to be at its core.

Now, scholars and researchers are looking to tease out common patterns from global successes. The Pentagon recently gave a $4.5 million grant to a group of psychologists based at the University of Maryland to conduct a five-year study on not only how to deradicalize militants, but perhaps also find ways to intervene with potential recruits before they sign up.

Another article takes a closer look at the Saudi reform program:

For Saudi ex-jihadis: a stipend, a wife, and a new life

May:29:2012 - 07:49 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Washington Post runs an Associated Press article about a computer virus that’s newly discovered. The virus, called Flame, has actually been loose in the world for the past two years, but had not drawn the attention of Internet security companies or offices because it did not target banks or financial records and did not seek to simply crash the targeted computers. Instead, the virus – described as the most complex computer attack yet known and ’20 times more powerful than STUXNET, the virus that famously compromised computers in the Iranian nuclear program – sits quietly in the background, transferring specific information, apparently upon the request of those who spread it.

Iran seems to be the target, but the virus has appeared in other countries, including Saudi Arabia.


Russian firm: Iran victim of powerful new cyberattack

JERUSALEM (Associate Press) — A Russian-based internet security firm says a powerful computer virus with unprecedented data-snatching capabilities has attacked machines in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Iran has not disclosed any damage done by the new spyware virus, dubbed “Flame.” Its origin has not been identified, but Israel’s vice premier fueled speculation that his country, known for its technological innovation and tireless campaign against Iran’s suspect nuclear program, unleashed it.

Russian digital security provider Kaspersky Lab, which identified the virus, said in a release posted on its website late Monday that “the complexity and functionality of the newly discovered malicious program exceed those of all other cyber menaces known to date.”

It said preliminary findings suggest the virus has been active since March 2010, but eluded detection because of its “extreme complexity” and the fact that only selected computers are being targeted. Flame’s primary purpose, it said, “appears to be cyber espionage, by stealing information from infected machines” and sending it to servers across the world.

According to Kaspersky, the virus collected information not only in Iran, but also in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Iran, however, was far and away the country most affected, it said.

May:29:2012 - 07:15 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that those who wish to be journalists in Saudi Arabia will face government tests to determine if they have sufficient skills to do so. This is wrong.

While good journalism calls for a number of skills, journalism is not a profession like medicine or law*. What is required to be a good journalist is not taught in universities, though many have journalism degree programs. Good practices are not established by government, but instead by the medium in which a journalist works. Some skills, like interviewing or photography, are essentially the same whether they’re done for print or TV media. Respect for objectivity, of course, is also a cross-platform virtue. These can be learned outside of a classroom, though, and are subject to some modification by specific media. The New York Times, for example, has some editorial standards different from those of The Washington Post or the The Times of London. These are things that are learned on the job. A sports writer is expected to have a different approach than one writing about economics or national security.

When government steps in to appraise the professionalism of journalists, though, there is nothing but mischief afoot. It is all too easy for a government official to find a point of view to which he objects to be ‘unprofessional’. Rather than having to argue about an issue, government can simply ensure that those with whom it disagrees are not permitted to write an argumentative piece in the first place. This opens the door to censorship, and most efficiently at that.

This is particularly distressing when one sees how the Saudi government seeks to include even online writing in blogs or Facebook as ‘journalism’. Will Saudi bloggers have to show up at some government building to have their professionalism verified by a government agent? And what about anonymity? If only those whom the government licenses are permitted to speak or write, then many will simply take the message that the government does not want to hear from them. Or will punish them for unwanted opinions.

I do realize that there is a lot of bad journalism out there, a lot of unprofessionalism. That situation will not be improved by banning the ‘unprofessional’, however. It will be improved by promoting more and better quality journalism, something that is achieved by not tightening bounds, but loosening them. People are not, on the whole, stupid. If they take even moderate measures, they can distinguish good journalism from bad.

Rather than licensing reporters, it would be better to license readers and viewers. Offering courses in logic and especially critical thinking in high schools and universities would do far more to help the flow of valuable communications and reduce the value of unprofessional writing.

Journalists wary of skills test
Fatima Muhammad | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Since the announcement last week that journalists working for media organizations in the Kingdom ought to undergo tests to determine their eligibility to work in the profession, questions have arisen on the nature of these examinations and how journalists will be evaluated.

Meanwhile, expatriates working in the field are in a quandary. Many of them are unsure whether they can continue working in the field or not.

The decision which has restricted journalism jobs to those registered with the Saudi Journalists Association (SJA) aims to ensure professionalism in the media sector.

Abdul Aziz Khoja, Minister of Culture and Information, has called for beginning implementation of last Monday’s Cabinet decision. Khoja said the decision became binding the moment it was approved by the Council of Ministers. He pointed out that “journalism is a serious and sensitive profession and a very big responsibility, but at present there are many unprofessional people who contribute fabricated reports or stories with inaccurate data creating problems for ministries and other institutions, and causing confusion in the minds of people.”

*There is a movement in the US to consider greatly modifying law school. The maximalist version is to do away with law schools entirely, reverting back to ‘reading law’ and working as an apprentice within a law office. Less extreme are ideas of separating law into different functions and specializations, many of which being addressed by one- or two-year programs in reformed law schools. Consistent across the calls for reform is to do away with the American Bar Association’s role as an accrediting agency, leaving it to individual states to determine minimum qualifications.

May:28:2012 - 06:54 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s discomfort with the idea of women taking part in sports is well known. The arguments against it are social, though cloaked in religious reasoning. James Dorsey, who writes The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, points out that not even all ‘Wahhabis’ are alike. Qatar, a state also dominated by the strict interpretation of Islam that prevails in Saudi Arabia, is sending women to the Olympics while the Saudi government has all but pulled back its permission for women to participate.

Qatari Olympic women athletes spotlight Wahhabi schism
James M Dorsey

The question for Qatari sprinter Noor al-Malki is not whether she will be part of the first group of Qatari women to ever compete in a global sports tournament at the 2012 London Olympics but how she will handle the fact that the competition will take place during Ramadan.

The question whether Ms. Al-Malki would be able to compete was resolved when Qatar, alongside Saudi Arabia and Brunei the only nation never to have been represented by women in a global sporting event, decided last year to allow women to compete in the London Olympics.

The decision was the result of Qatar’s concerted effort to become a sports power and mounting international pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), not to allow countries to compete that discriminate against athletes on the basis of gender.

It saved Qatar, already threatened with a global trade union campaign against its hosting of the 2022 World Cup because of the conditions under which it employs foreign labour, from becoming the target of yet another attack on its reputation, already dented by controversy over its successful campaign to win the right to host the World Cup. The bruising debate over the soccer tournament bid contributed to the International Olympic Committee’s decision to eliminate Qatar as a candidate for the 2020 Olympics.

It’s not just on the Olympic front, though, that Muslim women face challenges. Al-Arabiya reports that FIFA, the international soccer/football federation, is expressing qualms about the intrinsic safety of the hijab worn in women’s competitions. There is concern that the zippers used to fasten the hijab so that it doesn’t dislodge during active play represents a danger of cutting the wearer if a ball or another player makes contact. There’s also a worry that a hijab, grabbed from behind by an opposing player, could lead to broken necks or even death. FIFA’s expression of concern has riled some:

Prince Ali stunned by FIFA experts’ hijab knock back

May:26:2012 - 08:35 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Mshari Al-Zaydi writes in Asharq Alawsat about how tourists dollars are disappearing from countries riven by Arab Spring. In choosing to avoid areas of political conflict, often accompanied by violence in the streets, tourists end up depriving local economies of major sources of income. Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria – and now spilling over into Lebanon – depend heavily on tourists, not only for their direct spending, but also for the thousands of jobs they sustain. The politics of the region may be getting sorted out, but there is a very real cost being paid while the politicians argue.

The death of Arab tourism
Mshari al-Zaydi

One of the common features that can be seen in Egypt, Tunisia and Lebanon, and perhaps also Syria to a large extent, is that tourism is viewed as a major resource for the national economy.

Another common feature of these countries is the fact that they are experiencing tremors, or rather political and security earthquakes, which means that tourists have fled and there is now a drought in the tourism market; a sector where security is considered an essential requirement rather than a complimentary condition.

Last week was a wretched one for tourists and tourism inside Lebanon, and even outside of it for some Lebanese.

After the unrest in Tripoli and Beirut, the imprisonment of an Islamic activist hailing from Tripoli, the death of a Sunni sheikh, and what was reported about a Qatari national being arrested in the midst of the security tensions there, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait all issued warnings to their citizens about the danger of the security situation in Lebanon, which constitutes a painful blow to the Lebanese tourism market as we enter the summer.

An example of what’s keeping tourists away is provided by this article from Al-Arabiya:

Tunisian Salafi Islamists riot, clash with police

May:26:2012 - 08:15 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on the YouTube video of a Saudi woman’s confrontation with religious police in a Riyadh mall. According to the report, the video has also been noticed by the Arabic daily Al-Hayat, which learned that the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice are looking into the matter.

Video of Hai’a staff arguing with girl goes viral

RIYADH – A video of a girl and a member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice arguing over why she had manicured nails has gone viral and ignited a debate over the way commission members should deal with people in public places.

The video, shot by the girl, and uploaded on the popular video-sharing website Youtube, shows a commission member ordering the girl to leave the Hayat Mall in Riyadh on account of her manicured nails. The two become engaged in a heated argument with the girl telling the commission member he has no right to look at her nails.

“You don’t see a strand of hair from other girls while you are showing off your manicure in a public venue… this is my duty to tell you this,” said the commission member to which the girl replied, “Why are you chasing me? The government said no more chasing! Your duty is to advise people… why are you looking at my manicure? I will never leave the mall!”

At one point, the girl sought the help of two of the mall’s security guards.

[Note: the video link above comes through the MEMRI channel and carries its translation of the exchange. I'm currently unable to find the woman's own YouTube submission. If anyone can point me to it, I'll swap out the link.]

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Saudi Jawa, I’ve replaced the link to now point YouTube. The link was at Ahmed Al-Omran’s Saudi Jeans blog.

May:25:2012 - 07:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia has an enormous amount of potential solar energy. Vast areas receive intense sunlight throughout the year, little encumbered by clouds or rain. As a result, the Kingdom is planning on spending over $100 billion to develop this alternative energy source.

But the Kingdom also has a few factors that work against the collection of solar energy, dust being one of the biggest. As it is a desert country, and has been for thousands of years, the sands of its deserts have been ground down, creating huge amounts of dust that is picked up by the slightest breeze. There’s no part of the Kingdom – except, perhaps, in the mountainous Asir – that is not subject to mammoth dust storms.

Heat, too, presents problems, particularly when it comes to efficiency and energy storage. The effectiveness of solar collectors can be reduced as much as 20% due to heat factors alone. And then there’s the matter of energy storage. Energy converted from sunlight needs to be stored until it is needed. That implies batteries of some sort and batteries just don’t do well when they’re kept hot. Battery technology is one of the ‘next horizon’ opportunities for businesses, with new developments coming along, but at a much slower rate than other technologies. For now, they’re a problem. Saudi Gazette runs a piece reporting on the issue:

KSA battles excess heat, dust to build solar power

RIYADH/DAMMAM — Saudi Arabia is getting serious about overcoming the technical and financial hurdles for tapping its other main resource: sunshine.

Thousands of solar power panels have sprung up across Europe over the past few years, thanks to generous subsidies that make the technology an attractive alternative to conventional energy.

Saudi Arabia too, wants to generate much more solar power as it lacks coal or enough natural gas output to meet rapidly rising power demand.

Doing so would allow it to slash the volume of oil it burns in power plants bankrolled by billions of dollars worth of saved oil earnings.

“At world market prices, solar is competitive if you use crude oil to generate electricity,” said Maher Al-Odan, a senior consultant at King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Research (KA-CARE) which was set up to plan Saudi Arabia’s energy mix.

Saudi Arabia has said it wants to become a major solar producer before, but its investments amount to much less than 50 megawatts versus several countries which have added thousands of megawatts a year.

This month, KA-CARE set forth a much more ambitious plan, recommending that the kingdom aim to get more than a third of its peak-load power supply, or about 41 gigawatts (GW), from the sun within two decades at an estimated cost well over $100 billion.

May:24:2012 - 10:48 | Comments Off | Permalink

A reader pointed me to a very strange article he’d come across:

Saudi Arabia bans English language.

As this made no sense, I took a look to see what it was all about.

I’m not sure how an article could come out wrong-headedly. The article it cites, from the UAE’s Gulf News, says nothing about dropping English. Instead, it reports that the Saudis are insisting that the Hijri or Islamic calendar be used for dating purposes on all official and business documents. This does makes sense because the Hijri Calendar is indeed the national calendar. Translations from one calendar to another already create problems when they’re necessary. Performing those translations when not necessary just creates more problems.

The Gulf News article also quotes an unnamed Saudi daily saying that hotels and the like should use Arabic to greet customers on the phone. That’s a suggestion, not a ban. It makes sense, too, because Saudi Arabia’s population speaks Arabic, though English has certainly become an unofficial second language.

English is the language of instruction at both King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. It is taught in Saudi public schools starting at the fourth grade.

Two recent articles in Arab News also stress the importance the Kingdom and its residents place on English:

Kingdom expands English education

English the ‘preferred language for business’

May:23:2012 - 04:36 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs an interview with Michael Petraglia about the archeological potential of Saudi Arabia. I had the pleasure of hosting Professor Petragli during his 2001 visit to the Kingdom as part of the Fulbright Exchange Program. His study includes not only human habitation patterns in the Middle Paleolithic period, but also how climate change affected them. Using satellite imagery, it’s been determined that vast rivers and lakes were found in Arabia in the prehistoric past. How humans reacted to the frequent wet and dry periods, which are currently in a dry span, may have bearing on how we adapt to the changes we are now experiencing.

Archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia are world-clas
Mohammed Al-Shafey

London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Professor Michael Petraglia is Co-Director of the Centre for Asian Art, Archaeology and Culture and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. He specializes in Palaeolithic archaeology and the evolution of human behavior and cognition. His primary geographic areas of interest are the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent and Eastern North America.

Professior Petraglia is currently leading the 5-year long “Paleodeserts Project” (2012-2016) in collaboration with multiple universities and institutions in Saudi Arabia, the UK and Europe, as well as with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities. The project will study the effects of environmental change in the Arabian Peninsula over the last two million years. In particular, it will focus on how long-term climate change affected early humans and animals who settled or passed through the region, and what responses determined whether they were able to survive.

Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Professor Petraglia to discuss his current research project. He revealed why the Arabian Peninsula is such an archaeological source of interest, and why there have been so few studies before in this area. Professor Petraglia also outlined his initial findings, as well as the significance of this research with regards to the issue of climate change in general.

The following is the text of the interview:

May:21:2012 - 09:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

Development is going on at such a rapid pace in Saudi Arabia that the government has to play catch-up with infrastructure. Two articles in today’s Arab News point to how the government in Jeddah has lagged behind the growth curve.

The first reports on efforts to connect more than 100K homes in the northern part of the city with the municipal sewage grid. Currently, these houses use septic tanks. Septic tanks can be adequate, but cost-cutting builders and the geology of the region make them less than optimal. In fact, they frequently present a major health issue through overflows. But, because there are large gaps in planning and regulation, houses get built before the infrastructure is in place.

Network of sewers to be connected to 132,000 city homes
Jeddah: Badr Al-Qahtani & Naif Al-Turki

The National Water Company (NWC) has started installing sewer lines at homes in Jeddah’s north-central area and said it would finish connecting 132,000 homes to the municipal sewer system by the end of 2015 as scheduled, when the phased operation of the system is set to start.

The company says it will finish installing sewer lines in 25,000 houses this year.

While residents in the city’s north-central area have welcomed the news they hope the projects will be completed on time, so that the current practice of calling the septic tanker to clean up the tanks could be done away with.

Similarly, the area’s water distribution system has not kept up with development. Many, if not most houses in the Jeddah region have to store water in individual, roof-top water tanks. The homes may have connections to the municipal water system, but private water company trucks drive around, filling the tanks. During periods of water shortage, houses can go without access to drinking water for weeks or months. Sanitary issues with the tanks present another problem.

Now, the municipality is in process of developing storage tanks for entire regions of the city. Direct pipelines from the numerous desalination plants will connect with massive concrete tanks. Exactly how the water is to be distributed from these central tanks, however, is not discussed. It’s likely that distribution will continue to be done by tanker trucks. This is inefficient, but more easily done than tearing up the city to lay water pipes. It’s a solution, but not a really great one, just one that can be done now.

Strategic water storage plan for Jeddah
Jeddah: Arab News

The National Water Company (NWC) has drawn up a strategic water storage project for Jeddah that will store 1.5 million cubic meters. The project will cost about SR 500 million, business daily Al-Eqtisadiah reported yesterday, quoting the director general of the NWC in Jeddah.

According to Abdullah Al-Assaf, the project would be completed within 24 months once the contractor received the land alloted for the purpose. “This is the first phase of an integrated project for storage of about 6 million cubic meters of water in Jeddah at a cost of more than SR 2.2 billion. The entire project will be completed within 3 to 5 years,” he said.

May:21:2012 - 08:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

The case of Ahmed Jizawi (spelled ‘Jizawee’ in this Saudi Gazette article) raises an interesting issue. I’m not writing so much about his arrest for drug trafficking, but about how we, as humans, tend to prefer tidy and clear definitions while in life, most definitions are all but tidy or neat.

Here, we have people, including the Government of Saudi Arabia, alleging that Jizawi was smuggling drugs into the Kingdom. They say they he was caught with 23K tablets of the prescription drug Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication that is popularly used for recreation in the Arab Gulf States – illegally, of course.

Others, however, point out that Jizawi is an important human-rights attorney, working to alleviate prison conditions in Saudi Arabia. His arrest, these claim, is nothing but an expression of Saudi animus toward human rights.

So, which is he? How are we supposed to think or feel about his arrest? Is his arrest a sign of heavy-handed government oppression? Is he a drug smuggler who acts to corrupt societies?

Null-A, or non-Aristotelian logic, suggests that we don’t actually have to make a choice: he can be both at the same time. Jizawi, like all humans, is multidimensional. In addition to being an attorney and an alleged drug-dealer, he’s also male; he’s possibly married; he’s possibly a father; he’s Egyptian; he’s an Arabic-speaker; he likes or dislikes kushari or ful medames. To understand him means that one has to understand, or at least acknowledge, many of his dimensions.

So, what do we know about him? We do know, as a fact, that he’s an attorney. We are learning, though the evidence mentioned in the article, that he also appears to be a drug-trafficker. How do we treat him or think about him, then? I can only conclude that he’s a person with very serious legal problems at the moment, no matter what he may be in other dimensions. He’d hardly be the first person to combine admirable behavior with despicable behavior.

He presents, however, another example of how reductionist thinking, the insistence of seeing all things as black or white, presents its own problems as we try to understand the world around us. We are surrounded by attempts made by governments, media, our friends and families to force us to choose one or the other interpretation of events when in reality they are far more complicated. We have to make the effort to see the complexities of life and hold back on premature judgments.

Huge remittances and telephone calls further expose Al-Jizawee
Muhammad Talib Al-Ahmadi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Egyptian human rights lawyer Al-Jizawee, now under detention in the Kingdom on charges of trying to smuggle 23,380 Xanax narcotic tablets, has been further exposed with the revelation that he received huge sums of money in Egypt through his contact in the Kingdom, sources said Sunday.

Al-Jizawee was arrested at Jeddah airport in March.

Huge remittances to Egypt where Al-Jizawee was the beneficiary were revealed in the investigation dossier completed by Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) after several sessions of questioning Al-Jizawee and two other suspects involved in drug trafficking.

The Emirates Pharmaceutical Company which was supplying medicines to Al-Jizawee was found to be nonexistent with its commercial and health registrations forged, the BIP dossier claims.

Investigations, sources said, revealed that the other Egyptian implicated in the case was working as a driver in an investment company in the capital and was not a pharmaceutical technician and an agent of the bogus company as was claimed earlier.

May:21:2012 - 08:34 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
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