Parts of Saudi Arabia’s government seem to be fulfilling the adage about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Here, it’s a lack of coordination between the offices of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Mecca and in the Eastern Province, on the other side of the country.

Saudi Gazette republishes a piece originally appearing in the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh noting that the Hai’a in Mecca act to prevent women from working as cashiers. Those in Dammam, the major city of the Eastern Province on the Gulf, permit it. Not only do they permit it, they acknowledge that they are in no position to gainsay regulations put down by the competent authorities, here, the Ministry of Labor. What a difference 900 miles makes!

Female cashiers and the Hai’a
Abid Khazindar | Al-Riyadh Newspaper

I previously wrote an article about the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Hai’a) ordering the owner of a store in Makkah to fire female cashiers he had spent time and money training and hiring. The order to hire the cashiers came from another government department that is authorized and responsible for making employment decisions.

It was clear that the Hai’a did not have the right to issue such an order as it constituted an unjustified interference in a situation that did not concern it. The Hai’a did not comment on the issue and I was the only one who wrote about it.

Recently, I read a newspaper report in which the Hai’a in the Eastern region assured female cashiers working in Dammam that it would not interfere in their work. The statement was made after women voiced concerns that they might lose their jobs. The official spokesman of the Hai’a in the Eastern region, Ahmad Al-Shehri, said that the permit for women to work as cashiers is issued by the Ministry of Labor and the Hai’a will not interfere in the affairs of the ministry.

He added that the Hai’a does not have the right to question any commercial establishment on women’s employment if the Ministry of Labor granted them a permit to work legally and in accordance with government rules and regulations.

It is clear that there is a difference in the performance of the Hai’a in Makkah and the one in the Eastern region.

The central administration should work to fix this problem so that there aren’t any more contradictions.

June:30:2012 - 10:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya reports that the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is seeking official classification of Arabs as an ethnic minority from the US Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). Achieving this status would open the door to certain kinds of loans as well as preferred status when it comes to bidding on government contracts. I don’t think that the group is any less deserving than other minority groups. Recognition would help small businesses grow.

Decision to list Arab Americans as ‘minority’ postponed
Dina al-Shibeeb — Al Arabiya

The decision to enlist members of the Arab American business community as socially or economically disadvantaged has been postponed by a business development agency hearing the case.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the largest grassroots civil rights organizations in the United States for Arab Americans, was expecting the U.S. Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) to make a final verdict on whether Arab American business people can be categorized as a minority on Wednesday, but the decision was postponed.

“The date has been moved up 30 days to late July,” said Abed Ayoub, Legislative Director of ADC, in an email to Al Arabiya.

Groups that are eligible for MBDA services included Hasidic Jews, Asian Pacific Americans and Asian Indians who have eligible for assistance from the MBDA.

If ADC’s petition passes through, more grants and funding will be funneled to the Arab American business community.

There will also be more contracts for the community that can be applied on the federal, local and state levels, Fay Beydoun, Executive Director of Arab American Chamber of Commerce, told Al Arabiya.

“It is a great move, we hope [the petition] goes through,” she said. “It will give more support to Arab Americans.”

June:28:2012 - 06:07 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Saudi Arabian owned Al-Arabiya reports on a new Gallup poll [full poll available here, in PDF format] conducted in Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya, from 2009-2011. The reports finds that those who consider religion important to politics are also slightly more liberal when it comes to women’s rights.

Women’s rights not blocked by religion in Arab world, claims survey

Religious views do not stand in opposition to women’s rights in the Arab world, says a survey of men and women from across the Middle East. The survey, conducted by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, shows that no correlation exists between people’s attitudes towards Shariah law and their level of support for women’s rights.

The results show that other factors impact women more.

“The biggest challenge facing women wasn’t so much the rise of Islamist parties but the rise of a sense of insecurity and the plummeting economy,” said Dalia Mogahed, a senior analyst who oversaw the study.

The study asked questions that broadly defined women’s rights, such as: “Do women and men have the same right to education and employment?” and “Do women have the right to initiate divorce?” In fact, survey participants who advocated for Shariah law were more inclined to support a woman’s right to initiate a divorce.

The goal of the Gallup study was to test the assumptions people in the West and in the Arab world make about religion and rights.

June:27:2012 - 06:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (14) | Permalink

It’s gets pretty darned hot in Saudi Arabia. It does not reach 70°C (158°F), however, as the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) affirms in this Arab News article. Apparently, websites have been claiming the contrary.

Temperatures make a difference in the Kingdom. When they get too high, outdoor labor is prohibited. Still, the highest temperature officially recorded in Saudi Arabia was 52°C (125.6°F) recorded in June, 2010. Even assuming a ‘fudge-factor’, that’s well below the claim. In fact, 70°C is the temperature at which only thermophile bacteria – as found in volcanic springs – survive. The Kingdom is hot in the summer, but not that hot.

70 degrees C ‘not possible’

The Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) has denied media reports that temperatures this summer could exceed 70 degrees Celsius. The presidency was responding to reports last week that speculated temperatures might break existing records.

A PME statement said: “There is no truth whatsoever to these reports. Temperatures recorded in various parts of the Kingdom this season ranged between 44 and 49 degrees.” It added the highest temperatures, around 52 degrees Celsius, were registered in Jeddah, Al-Ahsa and Hafr Al-Batin.

The PME warned against issuing such reports because they could cause unjustified public scare, particularly as the fasting month of Ramadan this year falls during summer.

“We register temperatures according to the guidelines laid down by the World Meteorological Organization,” it added. The presidency said according to these conditions, temperatures must be taken in a shaded place that is well ventilated, two meters above sea level and away from the direct sunlight, buildings and tall trees.

According to a PME report, summer in the Kingdom and the entire Northern Hemisphere started on June 21 and would continue until Sept. 22. The PME said the highest temperature during this period would not exceed 49 degrees Celsius.

June:26:2012 - 07:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Back in November, 2011, the government of Saudi Arabia began hinting that it might permit female athletes to represent the country in this summer’s Olympics. In March of this year, it announced that it would. April saw it back off a bit, saying that while it would permit them to take part, it would not actually support them in their efforts.

Come June, and it now appears that female athletes will receive support as well. The Wall St. Journal reports:

Saudi Arabia to Let Women Compete in Olympics

Saudi Arabia, the only major nation to ban women athletes from its national Olympics team, apparently reversed course amid international pressure on Sunday, saying that qualifying Saudi female athletes could compete in London under the auspices of the Saudi Olympic Committee.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is looking forward to full participation” in the Olympic Games, the Saudi Embassy in London said. “The Saudi Olympic Committee will oversee participation of female competitors who qualify.”

The announcement opens the way for Saudi women athletes to compete for the first time in the history of the adult Olympic Games.

The concession also marks a rare official broadening of the rights granted to women in one of the world’s most conservative nations. Women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to hold Saudi driver’s licenses. The country’s conservative religious bloc discourages women’s sports and women’s gyms, and the relatively few women’s sports teams in the country typically can’t compete before mixed public crowds of men and women.

But with the London Olympic Games due to start within weeks, only one female Saudi athlete, show-jumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas, is generally considered to be trained and ready to compete at the level of the Olympics.

Ms. Malhas in 2010 became the first Saudi woman to compete in the Youth Olympics, where she won a bronze.

In its report, the BBC notes the intense discussions held among senior officials and sees this move as yet another, small step by King Abdullah to bring women fully into Saudi society and politics.

London 2012 Olympics: Saudis allow women to compete

[HT to commenter 'Sparky' for the lead.]

June:25:2012 - 06:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

In the past, Saudi Arabia has complained about the role of speculators on the oil market, that they have frequently driven the price of oil much higher than the market actually warrants. Now, the Saudi-US Trade Group (SUSTG) reports that Saudi ARAMCO will be taking part in oil trading itself. This would engage the company, to paraphrase a Reuters report, in the business from the well head to the pump plaza at gasoline stations.

In Major Shift, Saudi Aramco Dabbles in Oil Trading
SUSTG Analysis | Lucien Zeigler | 6.11.12

Saudi Arabia has long been a dominant force in global oil markets, “but has never been an oil trader.” That changed on January 1st, 2012, when Saudi Aramco began operations at Aramco Trading, a wholly owned company subsidiary.

The new Aramco Trading marks an expansion in Aramco’s downstream investment portfolio in the Kingdom and overseas, according to the company. “Formally established as Saudi Aramco Products Trading Company, the new entity will replace the Product Sales and Marketing Department (PSMD) in importing and exporting refined petroleum products, commonly known in the industry as “system balancing” of refined petroleum products,” the company noted on its Web Site.

he Dammam-based trading subsidiary has 80 employees and “will represent the company’s interest in sales and purchases of refined petroleum products such as condensates, naphtha, gasoline, middle distillate fuels, fuel oil and residual products and bulk petrochemical products,” Aramco said.

The change for Aramco amounts to a “significant cultural change,” Reuters noted, pointing to comments made by Aramco Trading CEO Said al Hadrami in Bahrain this week.

“At a time when the West’s commercial oil majors are turning their back on refining operations, …Saudi Aramco is seeking to become the world’s largest integrated energy company – handling every stage of the supply chain from well to forecourt,” Reuters reports. Citing a senior Saudi oil executive, the outlet reported that the decision to set up Aramco Trading was a logical step:

June:25:2012 - 05:56 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

While a certain amount of puffery might be discounted from these stories from a British retail marketing consultancy, the gist is surely accurate. Saudi Arabia likes fast food. In addition to domestic chains like Al-Baik and Taza, the country is a magnet for international chains. While decidedly convenient, fast foods may not be exactly the best choice in a country with serious diabetes, obesity, and other over-nutrition problems.

Dairy Queen is about to make a splash, opening the world’s largest ice cream shop. I find this mildly amusing as Dairy Queen closed its sole presence in my city several years ago. Demand for their product has not been high enough for anyone to take a second chance on it. That’s probably not because people are terribly health conscious, though. It’s more likely that there’s too much competition.

Dairy Queen opens world’s largest store in Saudi Arabia

Dairy Queen, the US ice cream chain owned by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, has opened its largest store in the world in Saudi Arabia.

The company has unveiled a two-storey, 7,500 sq ft restaurant in Riyadh, one of three locations that opened in the city this month to mark the start of aggressive expansion plans.

The fast-food retailer plans to build five more locations by the end of the year, and to have 32 locations across the kingdom by 2015 under a franchise deal with retailer Al Safwa Food Group.

The store, which can seat 240, will serve the chain’s signature Blizzards, sundaes and burgers, the company said in a statement.

Dairy Queen already has stores in Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, part of an 841-store chain outside the company’s home market of the US.

The source also reports that Saudi Arabia represents a huge market for fast foods. And the merchants are coming, from around the globe, from Canada all the way down to New Zealand.

Saudi fast food market to hit $4.5bn by 2015

Saudi Arabia’s fast food market is expected reach a value of $4.5bn in the next three years, driven by high demand among young, affluent citizens, according to a report by Euromonitor.

Restaurant chains providing hamburgers and popular deserts will see the biggest surge in sales, accounting for nearly 20 percent of food service transactions in the Kingdom by 2015, the market research firm said.

“Fast food outlets have become important social spaces for a growing cohort of Saudi young people,” said Michael Schaefer, head of consumer foodservice research at Euromonitor.

“Future expansion will be driven by those operators which offer a combination of indulgence and inviting, comfortable outlets; with hamburgers, ice cream, and sweet baked goods all in high demand.”

June:24:2012 - 00:10 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Arab News reports on a study that finds enormous unemployment among women in Saudi Arabia. Given that Saudi women comprise the majority of university students and graduates, this indicates – if nothing else – a waste of resources being spent on education in the Kingdom.

But it is more than just monetary waste. The human potential is also being wasted. In the piece, women complain that they are shunted into jobs that are deemed ‘socially appropriate’ for women, with other jobs, including those in which they have degrees, being set aside for males.

The picture is a complicated one. It’s not just whether one has a degree, for grades also count. Women with mediocre grades aren’t going to be hired simply because they managed to get their diplomas. Other women find that their husbands forbid them to work, insisting that they take on their wifely duties of producing children and maintaining the home. But it a fact that the women face enormous barriers when it comes to finding jobs. Tradition has indeed laid a dead hand on their progress and needs to be reinterpreted in a way that allows 50% of the Saudi population to flourish on their own terms. The beneficiaries of this would not only be the women in question, but Saudi society and the Saudi economy.

Social customs keep Saudi women jobless

A recent study conducted by Booz & Company has found that 78.3 percent of female university graduates are unemployed with more than 1,000 of these women holding a doctorate degree.

The report blamed the national education system for failing to prepare Saudi women for competitive roles in the labor force, which resulted in largely limiting them to traditional fields such as teaching and service businesses.

As a result, Saudi women are seeking employment outside the kingdom. As many as 300 Saudi graduates having already accepted teaching positions in Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, the report said.

June:23:2012 - 07:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette takes a look at youth culture in Saudi Arabia today and sadly shakes its head.

One article focuses on the growth of Emo culture among young teens. Now, this is truly something that can be blamed on Washington, DC, as Emo music got its start there in the 1980s as an offshoot of Punk music. The music spread across the US and, by the early 2000′s had developed a subculture with its own look in style and fashion and its own nihilist-lite philosophy (if you can call it that). Now, in the US, it’s seen as a vaguely amusing – or bothersome – trend taken up by angst-ridden teens intended to show their disaffection from contemporary life.

Disturbing trend appearing among teens in Kingdom
Amal Al-Sibai | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – Most parents agree that living in Saudi Arabia has several advantages when it comes to raising kids, however, with everything good comes a little bad.

Many families living in the West tend to move to Saudi Arabia or another Muslim country once their children grow up to provide a safe environment devoid of harm and other obscenities.

… Teenagers in the Kingdom are also not immune to adolescent woes due to advances in modern technologies, excessive access to the World Wide Web from smart phones, children have doors opened to the entire world.

School counselors from several cities throughout the Kingdom have recognized and reported to the Ministry of Education the appearance of a new trend among Saudi and expat students, and that is the emo culture adopted primarily from teenagers living in the west.

Keeping up-to-date with fashion is not a crime but over indulging in them becomes a serious problem in addition to overriding behaviors teenagers show off when imitating the culture from the West.

Usually these kids are overly emotional, sensitive, shy, withdrawn, prone to depression, and move towards the rebellious non-conforming side.

The paper takes on a more troubling trend when it editorialize against the way young Saudi males drive their cars. Likening these drivers to murderous terrorists, the editorial calls for something to be done and be done urgently. The paper claims, and I’ve no reason to disagree, that Saudi Arabia has the highest automobile fatality rate in the world.

There are plenty of YouTube videos of young Saudis taking part in drifting and other stunt driving on public roads. There’s a recent one, too, of an accident that resulted in bodies and dismembered limbs flying from a rolling car. That only the passengers and driver of that particular car were injured and/or killed is miraculous as they undertook their stunt on a crowded highway.

Tougher licensing and more intensive driving instruction – including the philosophy of safe driving – might help. But youths around the world are imbued with a sense of immortality and the belief that bad things only happen to other people. Whatever they might be taught about safety has a high likelihood of being forgotten or ignored once they’re behind the wheel.

Highway terrorists

If a young man, maybe even a boy, walks in to a busy shopping mall with a gun, and begins firing wildly, not aiming at anyone in particular, but nevertheless killing and maiming people, he would be branded a murderer, maybe also a terrorist or a madman, if indeed there is a difference. His punishment would be every bit as severe as his crimes.

However, what about the other weapons that young men and even children regularly use in public, killing and maiming indiscriminately? What about youths in cars?

In terms of traffic deaths per head of population, the roads in Saudi Arabia are the most dangerous in the world. In large measure this is because too many motorists drive their vehicles dangerously, without any consideration for other road users, not least pedestrians. And the major offenders among this deeply anti-social group of motorists, are young men.

It is considered cool for an adolescent to load a powerful automobile with his friends and then drive flat out through busy urban streets or weave his way through traffic on a multi-lane highway. The adrenalin rush for these kids, because that is what they still are in terms of their behavior and understanding, children; the adrenalin rush for these kids is clear.

But equally clear to everyone, except them, is that there is a severe risk, not only to their own lives, but to the lives of other road users.

June:22:2012 - 07:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (10) | Permalink

Too many elements of Saudi Arabia’s complex society are unable to come to terms with the idea of women working alongside men. As a result, a convoluted system of ‘separate-but-equal’ facilities has developed over the decades. Never mind the lack of efficiency this entails, or the additional costs it imposes, men and women just cannot be trusted to be in the same place without moral danger arising.

Saudi Gazette reports that the latest measure to continue (or even expand) the concept is being discussed. In addition to the ‘industrial cities’ the Saudi government has established around the country, there are now plans to create four industrial cities for women only. That means that only women would be working in whatever factories were contained within the walls – there will certainly be walls – of these large compounds. Some sort of interface will have to be developed to allow the products to be distributed outside the plants, of course, as women won’t be driving the delivery trucks due to another quirk in Saudi views on women.

As the history of ‘separate-but-equal’ in the United States demonstrated, the ‘separate’ part is the easy part. Maintaining equality is difficult. While Saudi culture exalts the place of women in the family, it does not do so in society at large. They are a population that must be protected, but also to be protected from. With high oil revenues, the country can continue the profligate spending necessary to maintain this system. Whether it can be maintained in the face of alternative energies developing or a drop in oil prices? That’s a good question.

Industrial cities for women

RIYADH — The Ministry of Commerce and Industry is currently studying a proposal to set up four industrial cities in Riyadh exclusively for women.

The Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) has conducted feasibility studies on the projects and submitted them to the ministry for final approval. The cities will be fully devoted to manufacturing consumer goods.

Saad Al-Mogil, chairman of the National Committee for Industries at the Saudi Council of Chambers and RCCI’s deputy chairman, said the four cities, to be located on western, eastern, southern and northern fringes of the capital city, would cover many industries.

He said by this step the chamber virtually intended to distribute huge industrial projects all over the city to offer comprehensive services to all residents of the city besides opening new avenues of employment for Saudi women.

Al-Mogil said the new industrial cities would be on a par with 26 existing industrial cities spread across the Kingdom. It is expected that the ministries of Commerce and Municipal and Rural
Affairs will work together to execute this vital project, he added.

Al-Mogil said the four industrial cities, to be run exclusively by businesswomen, would serve as a hub for women’s industries, such as readymade clothes, tailoring, confectionery, gold jewelry, assembly units for electronic appliances such as radio, television and computers.

June:21:2012 - 07:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that Saudi Arabia’s ban on the hiring of Filipino or Indonesian citizens as domestic labor remains in effect. The Arabic daily Al-Watan has reported that talks on the issue are taking place, but the embassies of the two SE Asian countries don’t seem to be aware of them.

No breakthrough in lifting ban on Indonesian, Filipino maids
Fatima Muhammad | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – A source at the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh told Saudi Gazette on Tuesday that there has been no breakthrough in the lifting of the ban on recruiting domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia. The source added that although many of its citizens hoped to get jobs in the Kingdom, they still have other markets open to them.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Labor said the ban is in place because of the two countries’ “illogical” and costly recruitment demands. Asked if they had finalized any new agreements with the Saudi side, the source said the Ministry of Labor should be asked about any advancements. Saudi Gazette attempted several times to reach the Ministry of Labor’s spokesperson but he was unavailable for comment.

… Hendrar Pramudyo, an official at the Indonesian Embassy in Riyadh, previously said the Indonesian government “wants a guarantee from the receiving country that the rights of our nationals will be protected appropriately by local law, in accordance with international standards.”
When the two Far East Asian countries refused to send its citizens to the Kingdom until the rights of their workers were guaranteed, the Saudi Ministry of Labor responded by issuing its own ban and criticized the demands of the Indonesian and Philippine governments as excessive and unreasonable.

June:20:2012 - 06:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

In addition to naming Pr Salman as the new Crown Prince, King Abdullah named Pr Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the last of the Sudairi brothers, as Minister of Interior. He has held the position of Deputy Minister of Interior since 1975. Pr Ahmed has been busy, but his activities have been low profile for the most part. He is considered responsible for the building of the security fence between Iraq and Saudi Arabia and likely of that between Yemen and the Kingdom. According to Wikipedia, he came out against women’s driving in a statement made during a 2011 press conference.

Pr Ahmed bin Abdulaziz

Salman named Crown Prince, Ahmed Minister of Interior
Saudi Gazette

TAIF — King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, named Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, Defense Minister, as Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister Monday following the death of Prince Naif.

Prince Ahmed Bin Abdul Aziz was appointed Interior Minister.

… Prince Ahmed was appointed Deputy Minister of Interior in 1975.

Prince Ahmed, who was born in 1941, received primary and secondary education in Riyadh. Then he went to Redlands College in the United States for university education in 1962.

Prince Ahmed graduated from the university in 1968, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in management.

In June 1971, King Faisal appointed Prince Ahmed as the Deputy Governor of Makkah.

His main function as deputy interior minister was to deal with the different provinces of the Kingdom. He is also operational head of the Special Security Force. This force was established in 1979.

June:19:2012 - 07:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink
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