Saudi Arabia’s quest to make ‘Separate but Equal‘ work in the matter of the sexes, is moving right along. Arab News reports that plans have been approved to start construction in Hofuf on the first of women-only industrial cities.

While the idea makes sense given Saudi attitudes toward men and women working in the same place, it makes little economic sense. Whatever products the women will be making will necessarily be more expensive than were they to be made by men or in a mixed environment. The women-only aspect means that the factories – and the cities themselves – will require special security measures to keep the sexes apart. There will also have to be special methods and spaces used to handle the points of interface, where the outside and the inside necessarily meet. Materials being delivered by male drivers, for example, are going to require some mechanism to move things from trucks onto production lines. And at the end of the process, products are equally going to have to be sent out into the world. It’s not hard to imagine ways this could be done, but it has to be acknowledged that the extra steps, equipment, or real estate needed to do so must increase the costs of production and the price of the finished products.

The Saudi government, flush with cash at the moment, could provide subsidies to offset the artificially increased costs and prices, but that’s not really a long-term solution. The solution, I think, will only come when Saudi attitudes toward women make a marked change. Until then, we can acknowledge that some women will be finding jobs that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

Women-only industrial cities welcomed
JEDDAH: SARAH ABDULLAH

Saudi businesswomen are voicing their approval of the latest plan by the Saudi Industrial Property Authority (MODON) to begin building the first of many women-only industrial cities throughout the Kingdom.

“The plan to create women-only industrial cities is a positive step that will mutually benefit Saudi women and the Kingdom,” Basmah Omair, executive director of the Khadijah bint Khwailid Businesswomen’s Center at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) told Arab News.

She said there are many talented women with no opportunity to show the world their potential, but with the creation of women-only cities, will have a chance to establish businesses in the greenfield industrial sector.

The creation of the first industrial city in Hofuf is expected to create between 3,000 and 5,000 jobs for women in the Eastern Province alone, with similar estimates for each of the cities that follow.


August:31:2012 - 08:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

Four years ago, Saudi Arabia made the decision to abandon the quest for food self-sufficiency. Government subsidies and programs to grow wheat in commercial volume would be halted entirely by 2016. Instead, the country would look toward two other approaches: leasing agricultural land in other countries and increasing its importing of grains.

Saudi Gazette reports on the latest step in the importation business, noting the opening for bids on a contract to provide a half-billion tons of hard wheat:

Saudi Arabia launches tender to buy 550,000 tons of wheat
Domestic wheat production to stop by 2016

JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia launched a tender to buy 550,000 tons hard wheat (12.5 percent protein) from global suppliers for shipment during the period from December to February, the Kingdom’s Grain Silos and Flour Mills Organization said Wednesday.

The wheat will be delivered in two shipments, 275,000 tons to the Jeddah port and an equal amount to Dammam, the GSFMO said in a statement.

The deadline for receiving offers is Aug. 31, it added.

Wheat production growth in the Kingdom is forecast to decline 46.9 percent to 669,900 tons during the period 2015-2016 as the government goes ahead with its plan to phase out wheat production altogether in the next decade, said Research and Markets in the country’s Agribusiness Report Q3 2012.

The report noted that the BMI universe agribusiness market value increased 1.3 percent y-o-y increase to $2.2 billion in 2011-12, forecast to increase by 3.6 percent on average per annum between 2010-11 and 2015-16.

Since 2011-12, Saudi Arabia’s animal feed processors have been importing feed-quality wheat with up to 11 percent protein content, especially from Ukraine.


August:30:2012 - 11:56 | Comments Off | Permalink

Following last week’s breaking of two terrorist cells in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government is warning that Al-Qaeda is trying to reestablish itself in the Kingdom. In the form of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP), it was chased out of the country and relocated to Yemen. Civil strife in that country has allowed it to regroup to some extent as the recent arrests demonstrate.

In its story on the issue, Arab News reports on how social media and online debates have been used to promote extremism, but also to monitor extremist activity…

Militants plan to revive Al-Qaeda in region
SHARIF M. TAHA

RIYADH: A group of terrorists has planned to launch a third version of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula aimed at calling for jihad (holy war) to destabilize Saudi security, Saudi sources said.

Though the group has no link with similar groups in Iraq or Syria, debates with them showed that foreign hands orchestrated them, the sources said.

In what has become known as the Sakinah Campaign, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs debated via the Internet over the last three months with the “Katibah Group.”

This group is run by more than one person and advocates terrorist acts in Saudi Arabia. It has been proven that the new cells have superficial knowledge about Shariah and religious studies, a matter that explains their confusion and reveals that Al-Qaeda has been infiltrated by foreign circles that want to destabilize security in the Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Riyadh has sent out a security reminder to all Americans living in the Kingdom:

US Embassy issues security alert


August:29:2012 - 07:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s unemployment scheme, Hafiz, instituted in November of 2011, appears to be drawing to a halt. The plan was predicated on providing income assistance to unemployed Saudis while they found jobs. The payments went out as scheduled, but the jobs didn’t appear. As such, the program ends up being a drain on the economy with no benefit to be found, except to those who received direct payments, of course.

This opinion piece, originally appearing in the Arabic daily Okaz, sister paper to Saudi Gazette, argues that the program should continue, at least for another year. The writer notes that the money paid out in unemployment benefits is still less than the money that will be required to solve the problems caused by having tens of thousands of the unemployed. Comments to the piece, however, find that the program is just a give-away of government money.

Why will Hafiz aid end this year?
Khalaf Al-Harbi | Okaz newspaper

THERE was a time when the Ministry of Labor, Shoura Council, media and even economists used to play down the significance of allocating government aid to the unemployed while turning a blind eye to the billions of Saudi riyals squandered on faltering projects. However, unemployment benefits have become a reality today and countless men and women have benefited from the Hafiz program, thanks to King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

Hafiz aid will stop at the end of this Hijri year, i.e. in less than two months, while the Ministry of Labor has failed to create job opportunities for the majority of Hafiz beneficiaries, particularly women who make up the majority of Hafiz recipients, allegedly due to time constraints.

The ministry has been unable to find jobs for 700,000 unemployed male and female Saudis. I believe that the most prominent event of this Hijri year is the decision to stop the Hafiz program and I am hopeful that our kindhearted King will issue an order to extend the Hafiz program for another year.


August:27:2012 - 09:20 | Comments Off | Permalink

There’s a full-court press, likely at the instigation of Saudi Arabia’s government, to discourage would-be jihadis from traveling up to Syria. Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that a wide array of authority figures are warning enthusiastic youths of the potential dangers and about how their brothers and cousins fell into traps in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Iraq. Usefully, they are pointing out that appearances can deceive and that it’s hard to determine ulterior motives from a distance.

Instead, they say, they should be working from within the Saudi system that is already praying for and raising funds for humanitarian assistance. Government efforts to exclude zealot preachers from Saudi mosques is also applauded.

Do not repeat Afghan mistake in Syria, Saudi zealots warned
Nader Al-Enezi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

TABUK/MAKKAH — A number of scholars, intellectuals and academics have warned the Saudi youth against listening to calls for Jihad in Syria to prevent a similar mistake some youngsters made when they went to Afghanistan and Iraq in the past, heeding such calls.

Dr. Hatim Al-Awni, a member of Shoura Council, said those who try to deceive the youth and encourage them to go to Syria for Jihad should be stopped. “They prey on the feelings of young men who want to help the oppressed Syrians. Many a young man fell for this trick and went to Afghanistan and Iraq for the same purpose and ended up in prison. The same fate awaits those young men who listen to calls for Jihad in Syria,” he said.

In Al-Awni’s opinion, support for the Syrian people should come only through official Saudi channels. He also believes that there are courageous men among the Syrian people who will achieve their demands for freedom, dignity and justice. “Those brave men need support through official channels,” he added.

Abdullah Al-Harthy, director of student extracurricular activities at Tabuk Schools, said the Syrian people need “our supplications and prayers as well as financial aid.”

“The youth should be careful not to go to Syria in the name of Jihad as they might get involved with organizations that have hidden motives,” he warned.


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

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city, is a narrow metropolitan area, running north-south on the eastern coast of the Red Sea. Mountains bar its expansion to the east; the Red Sea, to the west. Traffic in the city is dense and, what with Saudi driving and infrastructure being what they are – not to mention the the roads often approach impassible.

Al-Arabiya TV carries a Reuters report on planning for a subway system for the city. It’s in its earliest planning stages and there’s no timetable established, but this might relieve traffic congestion considerably. The challenges in building underground in Jeddah, where the water table is sometimes just inches below the surface, are considerable, but likely not insurmountable… given enough money.

Saudi Arabia plans metro system in Jeddah
Asma Alsharif

(Reuters) Saudi Arabia is preparing plans to build a metro system in its second largest city Jeddah, a project that would cost around 35 billion riyals ($9.3 billion), a deputy mayor of the city said on Sunday.

The metro system, the third one planned in the kingdom, would be 108 kilometers (68 miles) long. It would have three lines and 46 stations, according to initial studies, said Ibrahim Kutubkhana, deputy mayor for projects and construction.

“Now we are in the phase of completing the initial studies…and this is being carried out by the Ministry of Transport. Later it will be tendered to international consortia for engineering, procurement and construction,” Kutubkhana told Reuters.

The time frame for the project will be set after the initial studies are completed, he added.


August:26:2012 - 09:40 | Comments Off | Permalink

From Al-Arabiya TV:

Assad unlikely to transfer chemical weapons to Hezbollah: experts


August:26:2012 - 09:02 | Comments Off | Permalink

Media in Saudi Arabia are reporting a breaking news story about terror cells broken up in Riyadh and Jeddah. Very little detail is available at this time.

Saudi Gazette:

Riyadh terror cell discovered, 6 Yemenis arrested

RIYADH — The Saudi Ministry of Interior announced that it has discovered a terrorist cell operating in Riyadh. The cell was found to be propagating devious thoughts and recruiting members to carry out criminal activities targeting people and families.

After detecting these elements, the Ministry said the cell was found to be in advanced stages in reaching their targets, including preparing bombs and testing these outside the capital.

Saudi forces have arrested the said cell’s leader who gave detailed information about the group members, their plans and operations. Six people were arrested, all Yemeni nationals.

Al-Arabiya TV:

Saudi Arabia foils terror plot, busts two cells: interior ministry
Al Arabiya and AFP

Saudi Arabia has busted two terror cells in Riyadh and Jeddah, foiling their plans for attacks on the two cities, the country’s interior ministry announced Sunday.

In a statement, the spokesman for the interior ministry said eight people, two Saudis and six Yemenis, were arrested and they were preparing “criminal attacks” for security forces, the Saudis and foreigners and public buildings in the kingdom.

[Developing Story]


August:26:2012 - 08:57 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

As many well-intended young men found their ways to Iraq in order to fight for what they believed the right cause, so too are youths going to Syria. Their intentions, however, are not enough. Al-Arabiya TV runs a Reuters report on how Syrian rebel forces are finding the volunteers more of a bother than an asset.

The story starts out with the reception of a young dentist from Saudi Arabia, trained in the US, who finds that his skills and compassion aren’t exactly what the fighters need.

The article goes on, however, to talk about how a struggle against an oppressive government takes on a dark side when it becomes a battle against religious sects. Seeing the struggles in Syria as a Sunni-Shi’a conflict alone is not good for the future of the country, nor the region into which it is spilling over.

Amateur jihad tests Syrian rebel resources
Suleiman al-Khalidi | ALEPPO

(Reuters) Talal Mohammad is a long way from Tennessee, and he’s out of his depth.

In an olive grove a few miles from the frontlines of Aleppo, he’s at a loss to explain to a battle-hardened bunch of Syrian rebels what exactly this prosperous, U.S.-trained Saudi dentist is doing there – and what he can offer to their cause.

“Why have you come?” asked one of his new comrades, sharply, as they shared a traditional evening meal, the iftar to break the Ramadan fast, in the twilight of a makeshift training camp.

“Don’t get us wrong,” the man adds quickly, anxious to show due respect to a guest at this solemn ritual of shared faith in Islam. “We appreciate your solidarity. But if you’d brought us money and weapons, that would have been much better.”

Syrians’ war to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad seems to be drawing ever greater numbers of fellow Arabs and other Muslims to the battlefield, many driven by a sense of religious duty to perform jihad, a readiness to suffer for Islam.

But while some are professional “jihadists,” veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, Chechnya or Libya, who bring combat and bomb-making skills that alarm the Western and Arab governments which have cheered the rebels on, many of these foreigners have little to offer Syrians but their goodwill and prayers, and plenty have ended up floundering well beyond their comfort zone.

For some rebel commanders, they are just getting in the way.


August:24:2012 - 08:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (18) | Permalink

While the gears of change turn slowly in Saudi Arabia, they do turn. Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that efforts to teach English in state schools, starting at the fourth grade, will come into effect. Soon… two years from now.

When I was last assigned to Saudi Arabia in 2003, the effort was to introduce English language instruction at the sixth grade. It was a contentious issue, with many decrying the ‘foreignization’ of young Saudis. Now, English is being taught in the fifth grade. Moving two grades in ten years is not a negligible advance – it takes far more than just willing it to be so. Teachers must be trained or hired from abroad; textbooks must be written; all the supplemental materials must be created or bought.

English language classes to be rolled out in schools
Kingdom-wide as planned: Official
Abdullah Obaidallah Al-Ghamdi \ Okaz/Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – English language classes for 4th grade public school students will be formalized within two years and rolled out to all of the Kingdom’s schools, said Naif Al-Roumi, Undersecretary for Development and Planning at the Ministry of Education.

Previously, students began learning English language in the 5th grade, however, after much criticism, the ministry launched a pilot program to introduce English language classes a year earlier. A total of 4,182 boys and girls in schools all over the Kingdom took part in the pilot program this past academic year.

Al-Roumi said the program had been a success and categorically denied that the ministry had shelved plans to introduce English language classes to 4th graders.


August:23:2012 - 09:12 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

The vast array of social media have expanded the fields upon which battles are fought. The latest battleground is Facebook, where Hezbollah – and its media wing, Al-Manar – have been swept from the field. Saudi Arabia’s pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat reports that Facebook has removed the pages of both entities from its site, while Google and Apple have taken down the Al-Manar apps. Efforts are underway, under threat of legal action, to get the entities scrubbed from YouTube and Twitter.

Facebook drops Hezbollah and al-Manar TV pages

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- According to Lebanese media reports, social networking website Facebook has deleted all pages relating to Hezbollah, as well as the official page of al-Manar, a television station affiliated to the party, following a decision from the website’s management to stop any activities linked to the group. This is in line with the resolutions of the US government to prevent companies operating on its territory from dealing with entities who appear on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

The Lebanese Daily Star newspaper quoted Frederic Wolens, a Facebook spokesman, as saying that this move comes within the framework of the rights and obligations of the website to not allow content that “incites violence”, and that in order to assist in making decisions in this regard, it was necessary to use the terrorism list issued by the US State Department. Because Hezbollah is on that list, its page had to be removed from Facebook in accordance with US resolutions. This also applied to al-Manar television station, and its official Facebook page was no longer accessible as of Thursday.

This move came after both Apple and Google removed al-Manar’s mobile applications from their respective stores – “Google Play” and “itunes” – last month, in a move that was warmly received by the Anti-Defamation League, an NGO seeking to combat anti-Semitism, which had sent a letter to both organizations requesting them to remove the applications.

Ynet, Israel’s leading Internet news portal, also notes that the combination of the groups appearance on the US Dept. of State’s list of terrorist organizations and their direct calls for violence put them outside the terms of service for Facebook.

Facebook removes Hezbollah page

Facebook has removed pages created by Hezbollah and its television station, Al-Manar, over incitement to violence, the Daily Star reported Sunday.

The social networking giant thus followed recommendations by the US State Department. The latter included Hezbollah on its list of terror organization in 2004; adding it TV station to the list in 2006.

“Under our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities we do not allow content that ‘incites violence,’” Frederic Wolens, a Facebook spokesperson, said.

“And to help keep our site safe, we use the State Department List of Foreign Terror Organizations to help make determinations of which groups may be involved in the promotion of violence. Due to Hezbollah’s appearance on the list, they have been removed from the site.”

Both Google and Apple removed al-Manar’s applications from their stores in July. The move was linked to a report published by the Washington DC-based Middle East Media Research Institute, which urged Google, Apple and Facebook to exclude Hezbollah and its affiliates.

The institute urged YouTube and Twitter, both of which Al-Manar has accounts on, to do the same.


August:22:2012 - 08:32 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

The two religious holidays in Saudi Arabia – Eid Al-Fitr, now, and Eid Al-Adha following Haj – tend to be celebrated in the kitchen and dining room. One of the traditional foods is goat meat, prepared in numerous ways, from simply roasting the whole animal to complicated curries. But the price of goats is climbing and Saudis aren’t at all pleased. Arab News runs a piece from Asharq Alawsat reporting on the complaints and the excuses for the price rises.

Domestic goats, Nuaimi and Najdi, are the most in demand and command the highest prices, SR1,550-SR1,800 (US $413-$480), with imported goats selling for as little as a third of that. Increasing domestic production would, perhaps, lower the prices, but the domestic animals are fed on imported fodder, a commodity for which prices are influenced by many factors, including world oil prices.

It seems that consumers will just have to suck it up and pay the higher prices. Or change their food preferences.

Goat price hikes as demand for meat ups on Eid
JEDDAH: ARAB NEWS

Prices of goat and sheep reached a record high on Saturday, on the eve of Eid Al-Fitr in Saudi markets, according to a report carried by Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News.

In the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, prices were normal but as Eid approached, livestock prices witnessed a big hike.

For merchants there are a number of reasons to hike prices. Some of them said the increase in prices of barley and other fodders, has reflected on the price hike.

Expenses of maintaining farms have been going up on a daily basis, while rearing and taking care of livestock till the season is a big task,” the newspaper quoted an investor as saying. Whatever may be the reason for the price hike, it falls heavily on the shoulder of consumers.


August:21:2012 - 08:34 | Comments Off | Permalink
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