The new virus identified in Saudi Arabia last week does not appear to be a particularly easy one to spread, the World Health Organization says.

While several people have died, it is as yet unknown how many people may have been exposed to it, so its actual virulency is also unknown. Those in poor health prior to their exposure, though, are considered most at risk.

Potentially Deadly Virus Related to SARS Appears to Be
Not Easily Spread

A new strain of a potentially deadly virus related to SARS, which has killed one man in Saudi Arabia and left a Qatari man critically ill in London, does not appear to spread easily from person to person, the World Health Organization says.

Still, officials are urging vigilance, saying that health workers around the world should be on the lookout for anyone with acute respiratory syndrome and requiring hospitalization who had been in the Middle East, where the virus first surfaced, or in contact with a suspected or confirmed case within the last 10 days. On Saturday, the health organization, which was rushing to develop a diagnostic test, said that doctors should test for the virus only if the patient is severely ill, so as not to overburden the health care system.

The virus, as yet unnamed, belongs to the coronavirus family, like SARS. That is the same family of virus as the common cold.

This could prove to be a problem for Saudi Arabia and Haj, scheduled to start in about three weeks. Many Muslims put off their pilgrimage until late in their lives when they are already in failing health, thus more susceptible to infection by any disease.

WHO Says Only Severely Ill Should Be Tested for New Virus

LONDON (Reuters) – Doctors should only test people for a new virus if they are very ill in hospital with a respiratory infection, have been in Qatar or Saudi Arabia and test negative for common forms of pneumonia and infections, the World Health Organisation said on Saturday.

September:30:2012 - 19:39 | Comments Off | Permalink

While she may go to jail (unlikely) or be fined for defacing the ad in the New York City subway, Mona Eltahawy’s action has succeeded in getting the ad — and future ads like it — banned.

M.T.A. Amends Rules After Pro-Israel Ads Draw Controversy

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved new guidelines for advertisements on Thursday, prohibiting those that it “reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.”

The 8-to-0 vote by the authority’s board came three days after pro-Israel ads characterizing Islamist opponents of the Jewish state as being “savage” began appearing in subway stations, setting off vandalism, denunciations of the authority and calls for the ads’ removal.

The authority had initially rejected the ads, citing their “demeaning” language. The group responsible for the ads, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, sued, and in July won a federal court ruling on First Amendment grounds.

“We’ve gotten to a point where we needed to take action today,” Joseph J. Lhota, the authority’s chairman, said at a news conference on Thursday.

This action is sure to attract future court actions as its reasoning is quite broad, perhaps overbroad.

September:29:2012 - 12:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (38) | Permalink

Here’s an interesting essay from the Institute for Foreign Policy. It looks at the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, highlighting some of the points of friction in it. The author contends that there are some very real areas of disagreement. The article also notes that while Qatar is geographically much smaller than Saudi Arabia, its economic clout — and ability to fund those of whom it approves — is not significantly less. Worth reading.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar: Dueling Monarchies
Giorgio Cafiero

The demise of secular autocratic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa has heralded a renaissance for Islamist parties in the region, igniting a rivalry for the hearts and minds of the Sunni world between the Gulf powers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. These neighboring petro-monarchies have sought to influence political transformations in the Levant and North Africa on their own respective terms, both to advance geopolitical interests and to ensure that their own populations do not initiate popular uprisings.

Although neither country is a bastion of democracy at home, Qatar has proven much more amenable than Saudi Arabia to bolstering democratic Islamist movements abroad. The resulting Saudi-Qatari rivalry undermines Saudi Arabia’s historic role as the “self-proclaimed bulwark of Islamic conservatism” in the Middle East and the powerhouse of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Historical Tensions

Historically, the Saudi-Qatari relationship has been defined by mutual distrust, albeit tempered by a common interest in maintaining stability in the Persian Gulf. Prior to Qatar’s independence in 1971, the Saudi royal family’s connections with Qatari businessmen, members of Qatar’s ruling family, and Qatari Bedouin tribes facilitated strong Saudi influence in the affairs of its tiny Gulf neighbor.

September:28:2012 - 05:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Interesting commentary from NOW Lebanon…

Blasphemy: an indispensable human right
Hussein Ibish

Blasphemy is an indispensable human right. Without the right to engage in blasphemy, there can be no freedom of inquiry, expression, conscience or religion.

As I predicted last week, the Organization of Islamic Conference has seized on the controversies regarding an anti-Islam video clip on YouTube and satirical cartoons about Mohammed in a French magazine to renew its call for a global ban on “blasphemy.” The OIC is, in effect, not only announcing that Muslim states in general have no intention of allowing real freedom of conscience and speech, but they want to bully the West into eliminating those freedoms as well.

OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin ?hsano?lu called on countries that respect free speech to “come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression.” OIC governments apparently cannot resist the populist appeal of perversely posing as “defenders of Islam” by attacking free thought and free speech.

Who, after all, will be authorized to define “blasphemy”? Does anything that offends any religious sensibilities qualify as “blasphemy”? Will a critical mass of objections be seen as legitimate grounds for silencing critics of religious doctrine, scholarly inquiry into their origins, skeptical analysis of superstition and faith, iconoclasm, or mockery of religious claims, symbols, assertions, and shibboleths?

I think the writer is exactly right when he points to the paradox (or hypocrisy) of not permitting criticism or defamation of one’s own religion, but insisting on the right to criticize or defame other religions.

September:27:2012 - 09:06 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Not everything done in the name of ‘free speech’ is actually free speech.

Arab-American journalists Mona Eltahawy, whose work has appeared in media ranging from Asharq Alawsat to CNN and who taught at several American universities, got herself arrested earlier this week. She was unhappy about paid advertisements appearing in the New York City subway system, ads placed by the Islamophobe Pamela Geller. So, she took to doing a bit of repression of free speech by attempting to spray-paint over an ad. She was arrested for ‘criminal mischief’ in defacing the ad. In fact, Eltahawy’s action differs only in degree from the actions taken by those who stormed embassies.

The ad itself was subject to court action. After the ad was proposed to the Metropolitan Transit Authority which oversees operations and advertising on the subway, it was rejected because of fear that it was ‘demeaning’ of a religious group. Geller and company took the issue to federal court where it was determined that it was within the bounds of protected political speech. The MTA had no option but to allow the ads.

After her arrest, Eltahawy was released pending trial, Asharq Alawsat reports.

In the video, you hear Eltahawy claiming that she’s just exercising her own right to free speech by countering speech she finds offensive. She’s wrong.

While she is indeed criticizing the ad, she is also performing an illegal action. She does not have the right to step in as a censor and prevent other people from viewing the message, nor does she have the right to deface others’ message. The ‘criminal mischief’ charge covers the defacing, and is the offense for which graffiti artists are charged for spray-painting on walls.

What Eltahawy was doing was imposing a Heckler’s Veto on speech. This is wrong. It can be, depending on the circumstances, illegal in itself.

What she might have done to exercise her free speech rights and still behave legally would to have bought an advertisement with an opposing message. She might have stood in front of the ad while criticizing it. She might have been able — depending on exactly what regulations are in effect — to stand in front of the ad with a poster of her own. What she did not have the legal right to do was to prevent others from reading the message by defacing it.

While I consider Pam Geller to be among the nuttiest of the Islamophobes, she has rights… exactly the rights that Eltahawy has. Had the situation been reversed, had Eltahawy paid to have an ad placed in the subway and Geller defaced it, the same consequence would result. Geller, in this hypothetical example, might have claimed to be offended by Eltahawy’s ad, but she would still lack the right to suppress Eltahawy’s speech.

September:27:2012 - 08:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (21) | Permalink

Yesterday, Pres. Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly. He spoke about events in Libya but focused on the issue of free speech and how it was critical for democracy.

…And yet the turmoil of recent weeks reminds us that the path to democracy does not end with the casting of a ballot. Nelson Mandela once said: “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe, and businesses can be opened without paying a bribe. It depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear; on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people…

This is not a shared opinion among all countries, cultures, or world leaders, however.

Al-Arabiya TV reports that Muslim leaders are again seeking new UN resolutions that would outlaw ‘defamation of religion’… their religion.

Muslim leaders call for clamp down on ‘Islamophobia’ at U.N.
Al Arabiya with Agencies

Muslim leaders demanded international action to stop religious insults in a challenge to U.S. President Barack Obama’s defense of freedom of expression at the U.N. General Assembly.

Obama made a strong condemnation of “violence and intolerance” in his speech at the U.N. headquarters on Tuesday. He said world leaders had a duty to speak out against the deadly attacks on Americans in the past two weeks caused by an anti-Islam film made in the United States.

But Muslim kings and presidents and other heads of state said Western nations must clamp down on “Islamophobia” following the storm over the film which mocks the Prophet Mohammed, AFP reported.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, said the film was another “ugly face” of religious defamation.

Yudhoyono quoted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as saying that “everyone must observe morality and public order” and commented: “Freedom of expression is therefore not absolute.”

As the President of Indonesia said, “Freedom of expression is therefore not absolute.” But the limits on it must be as narrow as possible. Philosophies and religions cannot be immune to criticism and critiques, to analysis and comparison. To make them immune is both wrong in itself and opens the door for endless, oppressive mischief.

In Iraq, the famed bookstalls of Mutanabbi Street are gone. The municipal government says it’s just a matter of enforcing regulations about street use. The vendors and patrons think otherwise. They see it as an act by government to restrict what they’re allowed to read and therefore think.

Book sellers in Baghdad’s iconic al-Mutanabbi street
under crackdown

But it is not just Muslims who seek to use the power of the state to limit discussion and criticism. In Greece, a young man has been arrested for blaspheming against a Greek Orthodox monk, who died in 1994. Using laws that give preferential treatment to the Orthodox Church — the official church of Greece. He faces, potentially, a year in jail for his jests.

Greece: Golden Dawn ‘Force’ Arrest
over Monk Elder Paisios Facebook Page Blasphemy

Even the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon is calling for suppression of certain kinds of speech.

How short a step is it from privileging certain areas, holding them immune from criticism, to holding other speech out of bounds? Not very far at all…

Brazilian Judges Orders Arrest of Google Brazil President,
24-Hour Suspension of Google and YouTube

[Thanks for Volock Conspiracy and Popehat.]

September:26:2012 - 08:33 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

As probably everyone in the world knows by now, Apple has introduced its newest iPhone, though many are still waiting for delivery. Not all has been smooth sailing. Apple Maps application, for example, has come under severe criticism for being, well, a really poor implementation of mapping and not ready to replace the Google Maps it replaced.

In the Gulf, however, another issue is causing some heartburn. The SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards used in cell phones in the Gulf States is too big to fit into the iPhone 5. Entrepreneurs have popped up who will literally cut the SIM cards down to size, for a fee. The phone companies and those selling the phones, however, will not take any responsibility for malfunctions of cut-down cards, Al-Arabiya reports.

The price for the iPhone 5 in the Gulf, as reported in the article, is rather startling.

Problem of Nano SIM card emerges as iPhone 5 tops Mideast sales
Al Arabiya

Five million units of the recently launched iPhone 5 were reportedly sold in the three days since the smartphone made its way onto the shelves, but a problem with smartphone’s Nano SIM card slot threatens to slow down its sales.

Telephone companies in the UAE provide SIM cards that cannot fit in iPhone 5 and this may pose a problem for its fans and may consequently lead to the devaluation of the smartphone.

ome consumers from the UAE are still awaiting major telecom companies like Etisalat and DU to release the device, but some retailers and online dealers like Groupon and Siasa Telecom have started selling the iPhone 5 widely in the UAE.

A report from a UAE daily on Sunday said that Etisalat and DU were planning to issue and cut their SIM cards to fit the device. The two telecom companies have yet to announce when they will officially issue the iPhone 5 in the market.

September:26:2012 - 08:08 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV carries a report from Agence France Presse saying that the virus newly identified in Saudi Arabia has appeared in Denmark. The five patients currently in hospital in Denmark all came from Saudi Arabia or Qatar. The virus is a member of the coronavirus family as was SARS, the disease that killed several hundred around the world back in 2003-04.

While the exact method of transmission is yet to be understood, the fact that the virus’ appearance seems to be in Saudi Arabia, or perhaps Qatar, has the World Health Organization (WHO) concerned. Pilgrims are already starting to arrive in the Kingdom for Haj, which is scheduled to take place October 24-29. The Saudi Ministry of Health believes the situation is under control. No outbreaks have been recorded in the Kingdom and no special measures are currently planned for Haj.

Five isolated in Danish hospital for SARS-like symptoms

COPENHAGEN: Five people have been isolated in a hospital in Denmark with symptoms of a new viral respiratory illness from the same family as the deadly SARS virus, the hospital said on Wednesday.

“We have sent samples from the five for testing and hope to get the results this afternoon,” chief physician Svend Stenvang Petersen of Odense University Hospital told AFP.

“The five have a fever, coughing and influenza-like symptoms,” he added.

Petersen said those admitted were a family of four where the father had been to Saudi Arabia, and an unrelated person who had been to Qatar. Two of those with symptoms were under the age of five.

September:26:2012 - 08:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

A reader pointed me to an interesting piece over at the Tabsir blog that discusses the shortcomings of the way the Islamic/Hijri Calendar is currently working. It’s an interesting addition to the discussion about whether sighting the Moon with the human eye should remain the standard rather than using astronomical calculations.

The reform of the Islamic calendar: the terms of the debate, Part 1
Khalid Chraibi

Shortcomings of the Islamic calendar

A calendar associates a specific date with each day of any given week, month or year, to enable people to manage all their activities over an extended period of time. They must be able to anticipate, plan and organize in advance, using the information provided by the calendar, everything that they need to do. But, in Muslim societies, people wait to see, each country for itself, the appearance of the new moon at the end of each lunar month, before they declare the beginning of a new lunar month. As a result:

- the information in the Islamic calendar does not extend beyond the current month;
- and the data it shows each month differs from one Muslim country to another.

For instance, the first day of Ramadan 1427 corresponded to Saturday, September 23, 2006 in 20 countries ; Sunday, September 24 in 46 countries ; and Monday, September 25 in 5 countries. (1) This situation is in no way unusual, but can be observed every month.

Because of these shortcomings, after the major Muslim countries were occupied by foreign powers in the 19th and 20th centuries, Muslim people started using the Gregorian calendar to meet all their needs, and only care about determining Islamic dates on momentous Islamic religious occasions.

Part 2 can be found here

September:25:2012 - 07:57 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

The government of Saudi Arabia is considering a new law that would put deadbeat dads in jail. The jail sentence would be limited to 10 or 15 days as the intent is not to have the man fired from his job and thus unable to make his payments. At present, it is far too easy for men to simply walk away from wives or families. They can duck court appearances and delay the legal process for years while those they were supposed to support languish in poverty. The proposal, as can be expected, is being applauded by women’s support groups.

Another part of the proposal would allow women to collect their alimony and child support directly from a government agency which would then be responsible for collecting from the former husband and father. Currently, women must go — individually — to the police to enforce payment.

Jail sentence for denial of child support widely hailed
Fatima Muhammad | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — A proposal to impose prison sentences against men who refuse to pay alimony and child support to their ex-wives has been widely welcomed by divorcees and lawyers who represent them.

Al-Mawadda Charity Association, which is campaigning to reduce the high divorce rate in the Kingdom, has proposed the new legislation.

The proposal has been considered favorably by the Ministry of Justice, which has sent it to the higher authorities for approval. Once approved, the ministry will enforce the new law with the cooperation of security bodies.

Princess Sara Bint Musaid, the chairwoman of Al-Mawadda, told local newspapers that the proposed law will give judges the power to imprison any man who delays financial assistance or does not disclose his sources of income.

September:24:2012 - 06:42 | Comments & Trackbacks (10) | Permalink

A novel virus, a member of the coronavirus family and related to the SARS virus that created a global panic in 2003, has been identified in Saudi Arabia. Two Saudis and a Qatari national have been diagnosed with it so far. A Saudi and Qatari carried it to the UK, where the virus’ identity was confirmed and is being closely watched.

MoH detects rare pattern of coronavirus
Saudi Gazette

RIYADH — The Ministry of Health (MoH) announced Sunday that a rare pattern of the coronavirus, a known seasonal influenza virus, has been detected with the acceleration of climate changes and the advent of Haj and Umrah seasons.

In a statement, the ministry said that two Saudis — one at a hospital in Jeddah — and another Gulf citizen in Britain were recently diagnosed with the said virus. Two of them died and the third is still under treatment.

The MoH said that most people afflicted with the virus recover after simple treatment, although “in very rare cases and in a rare pattern of this virus, complications occur to the respiratory system and kidneys, which may lead to death, especially in elderly people and those with chronic cardiac illnesses and immune deficiency,” the statement said.

The virus has caught the attention of the World Health Organization (WHO). No travel warnings are being issued at present.

WHO on alert as new coronavirus kills two Saudis
Al Arabiya

An outbreak of a virus as fatal to humans as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is being observed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as two Saudis have already died of infection.

“As with any new virus, this is of concern to us and we’re watching it very closely,” WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl was quoted by the Canadian press as saying.

Saudi Arabia’s Undersecretary of Health for Public Health Ziad al-Memish said the first case was a Saudi patient diagnosed in one of the hospitals in Jeddah; the second was also a Saudi patient and the third, a 49-year-old patient from Qatar. Two were diagnosed with the illness in London. Two patients died and the third is under treatment.

September:24:2012 - 06:31 | Comments Off | Permalink

Today, Saudi Arabia celebrates its National Day. Eighty two years ago, the battles to join the tribes and regions of the Arabian Peninsula drew to a close with the unification of the Kingdoms of the Hijaz and Nejd.

Map of pre-unificiation Saudi Arabia

It’s been a long, slow, and at times tedious slog to develop a backward, xenophobic, utterly undeveloped country into one of the economic powerhouses of the globe. Startling transitions have taken place. Transportation has changed from camel, horse, donkey, and foot to automobiles and competing airlines. Literacy has grown from a few percent to over 90 percent. From a few madrassas where the Quran was the only subject matter taught, there is an extensive education system that is producing doctors and scientists who can and do compete on an international level. From a country of interest to few, Saudi Arabia has emerged as a country whose opinions and policies demand attention worldwide.

Eight two is young for a country. What Saudi Arabia will do as it reaches toward middle age will be both important and fascinating to watch.

September:23:2012 - 07:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink
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