Not unreasonably, Saudi parents are concerned about their children attending universities along the US East Coast in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Arab News reports that all the students are safe, though some seemed to be expecting more from the Saudi Embassy in terms of support.

Saudi students in US safe from Sandy

Saudi students in the United States, who live on the path of hurricane Sandy, are safe, said an official of the Saudi Embassy in the United States.

“More than 40,000 Saudi students were moved from places that were likely to be hit by the storm. They are now in hotels at safe locations,” said Cultural Attaché at the Saudi Embassy in Washington Muhammad Al-Eisa on Tuesday.

More than 18,000 Saudis are studying in higher education facilities on the East Coast, which was hit hard by Sandy. The total number of Saudi students in the United States is put at 92,000.

Al-Eisa denied that his office was unresponsive to calls for help, as some students on scholarship program had claimed.

“These are the impatient reactions of some students gripped by tension and fear. While an official at the attaché’s office would be answering urgent calls of some students, other student callers will have to wait until the official was free,” Al-Madinah daily quoted Al-Eisa as saying.

The diplomat said his office had been sending emails and text messages to all Saudi students in the US, advising them to coordinate with the embassy in Washington or the consulate in New York on any emergency development.

October:31:2012 - 10:40 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is calling for a UN resolution condemning religious insults, this story from Al Arabiya reports. This is a very bad idea. It also contradicts other things King Abdullah says, such as, “Dialogue strengthens moderation and ends reasons of conflict and extremism”. Dialogue necessarily involves differences of opinion. It’s not a dialogue when everyone is agreed, it’s a monologue.

People will disagree — sometimes vehemently, sometimes impolitely. That is where dialogue comes in, talking about the differences, seeing where they might be minimized, acknowledging where they’re fundamental. Quashing speech and opinion because some might find it, well, disagreeable, does not solve problems; it makes them more intractable.

Saudi King urges U.N. action against religious insults
AFP — Mina/Saudi Arabia

Saudi King Abdullah on Saturday demanded a U.N. resolution condemning insults on monotheistic religions after a low-budget film produced in the U.S. sparked deadly protests last month.

“I demand a U.N. resolution that condemns any country or group that insults religions and prophets,” he said during a meeting at his palace with religious figures and heads of hajj delegations in the Mina valley where pilgrims were performing final rituals of hajj.

“It is our duty and that of every Muslim to protect Islam and defend the prophets.”

Arab News‘s report gives a fuller text and context of the King’s message:

King urges UN resolution to stop insulting prophets

October:28:2012 - 08:38 | Comments & Trackbacks (9) | Permalink

October:27:2012 - 08:52 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

An editorial in Saudi Gazette comments about the lack of exactitude in predictive sciences. While noting that weather predictions can be notoriously wrong, it criticizes the recent court decision in Italy to hold seismologists responsible for deaths that occurred in the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila. It refers, too, to the seismic activity in northwestern Saudi Arabia. At present, the best that can be done is monitoring the situation and making the best estimates of future activity. But estimates and predictions are not guarantees.

Not all science is exact
Saudi Gazette

THE torrential rains that struck Rabigh Governorate on Sunday were forecast, though few could have imagined the extent of the subsequent flooding, which caused a family of five to be drowned in their vehicle.

The forecasters gave a reasonable warning. The tragedy is that the eight people who perished, together with a ninth victim, a brave young man who was swept away trying to save others, either did not hear the forecast or ignored the danger of being near wadis with the flash flooding during and after the downpour.

Certainly no one is going to blame the weather forecasters for this disaster. In Italy, however, six seismologists and a government official have been jailed for six years for failing to predict the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake in which 309 people perished.

Only days before the 6.3 magnitude quake devastated the town, these scientists had assured the locals that there was no cause for alarm at the series of mini earthquakes that had been striking the region for months.

Indeed it was their view that the minor tremors were probably a promising development, since they were releasing pressure in the earth’s crust and therefore diminishing the chances of a big earthquake.

They were to be proven tragically wrong. As a result, they were arrested and charged with manslaughter and on Monday were found guilty by a court in L’Aquila

October:25:2012 - 10:49 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

This year’s pilgrimage to Mecca has started. Arab News reports that Saudi officials have recorded over 1.75 million foreign pilgrims, but that the number attending who come from within Saudi Arabia — including foreigners resident in the Kingdom — is uncertain. Smuggling of pilgrims who have not obtained Haj permits appears to be a problem this year. Fake permits have also been problematic. Total attendance is put at around three million.

Over 1.75 m foreign pilgrims at Haj

JEDDAH: Interior Minister Prince Ahmed, who is chairman of the Supreme Haj Committee, said 1,752,932 foreign pilgrims have arrived for Haj this year, including 801,126 women (46 percent).

He said the number was 4 percent (77,968) less than that of last year.

He said the foreign pilgrims came from 189 countries.

Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal said nearly three million pilgrims had arrived in Mina and the process was completed successfully without any major incidents.

“The health condition of pilgrims is satisfactory,” he said.

More than 82,000 security officers have been deployed to ensure smooth Haj operation.

Asked about the number of domestic pilgrims, Prince Khaled said: “I cannot give you an exact number because unfortunately a large number of people enter the holy sites without Haj permits.”

October:25:2012 - 10:34 | Comments Off | Permalink

With women about to take up positions in Saudi Arabia’s Majlis Al-Shoura (Consultative Council) next year, questions are being raised about just what role they might play. Fatin Bundagji, writing in Arab News, says that women must be involved on all twelve committees: human rights, education, culture and information, health and social affairs, urban services and public utilities, foreign affairs, security, the economy, industry and finance, not just the soft, ‘womanly’ ones. I’m sure there’s a real temptation to pack them all off into a corner where they deal with ‘subjects suitable for women’, as has been done in business and professions in past. That was never a legitimate approach in the past; it is absolutely wrong today.

The women appointed to the Shoura Council cannot be just showpieces. They will make up 23% of the Council and they need to be given the opportunities to function fully.

Women and Majlis Al Shoura: Presence with impact?
Fatin Bundagji

Events are moving… and moving fast.

Last Friday, it was publicly announced that logistical preparations are being carried out to accommodate the 35 women to be appointed to the highest level of advisory and legislative assembly in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: An assembly known to the international community as The Saudi Consultative Council, but better known to us as: “Majlis Al Shoura.”

As history begins to etch its first few chapters on reform measures for Saudi women empowerment, the clock is ticking relentlessly — not necessarily against us but rather — quite positively for us. Last year, after the king’s speech (that mandated the appointment of women into Majlis Al Shoura, as well as their inclusion as contestants and voters in future Municipal Council elections in the Kingdom) people were either skeptical or hopeful.

The skeptics believed that any change related to women empowerment was not going to see the light of day. For them, the ultra-conservative nature of Saudi society would work hard to exert its entire prowess to guarantee that such a reform would never come to bear. Ironically enough, their assumptions were well founded as it had been proven — not once but twice — after all, weren’t women excluded from Municipal Council elections in 2005 and once again in 2011 under the pretext of logistical delays?

October:23:2012 - 07:26 | Comments Off | Permalink

An exhibit of artwork found in Saudi Arabia, dating back to the 4th Millennium BCE will be opening at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC, November 17 and running to February 24. The exhibit, “Roads of Arabia“, will then tour several other American cities. Given that the other galleries and museums aren’t named, I have to assume the contracts aren’t signed yet. That’s not terribly unusual as there’s still nearly six months before the exhibit moves.

Above: Anthropomorphic stele; El-Maakir-Qaryat al-Kaafa, near Ha’il, Saudi Arabia, 4th millennium B.C.E; Sandstone; H x W: 92 x 21 cm; National Museum, Riyadh.

Hundreds of Saudi relics to be on display in U.S. museum
Al Arabiya

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities is gearing up for an exhibition in the United States showcasing the Kingdom’s ancient and modern history, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

“Saudi Archaeological Masterpieces through the Ages” will be hosted from the 15th of November at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, Saudi-based Arab News said.

The Sackler Museum in the Smithsonian Institute is one of five museums in the United States that are scheduled to host the exhibition over a period of two years.

Relics will travel to the United States from a museum in Berlin, where they are currently on display.

The exhibition is set to feature over 320 rare archaeological objects covering Saudi Arabia’s Paleolithic period (one million BC) until the foundation of the modern country in 1932.

October:22:2012 - 04:58 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Arab News runs an article about discussions concerning making the Middle East a region free of nuclear weapons. It seems that this is an issue again more aspirational than practical, at least for now.

Nuclear-free Middle East faces an arduous road
Ramesh Jaura

A VEIL of silence and secrecy has shrouded the fate of a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction in 2012, since the UN announced on Oct. 14, 2011 that Finland will host it. The veil slowly lifting now corresponds to the “wall of silence” in Israel, which Israeli anti-nuke activist Sharon Dolev is persistently trying to break — with some success.

Knowledgeable sources in Berlin, London and Helsinki are convinced that the conference will indeed take place — from Dec. 14 to 16 with seasoned Finnish diplomat and politician Jaakko Laajava as facilitator. However, hardly anyone appears to be particularly enthusiastic about it.

In fact, as Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and a leading anti-nuclear and anti-war campaigner says, “many will see this proposal as a pipedream.” She adds: “There are of course significant obstacles to overcome before this conference can succeed, but certainly, the biggest threat to the region would be failure.”

October:21:2012 - 09:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Just a day after a story in The Washington Post reports on disturbances in the Eastern Province, without acknowledging Iranian efforts to mess around in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Gazette reports that an Iranian boat and 15 Iranians were seized off the coast of Al-Khafji. Coincidence, proof, something else? I’ll let the reader decide.

15 Iranian infiltrators arrested
Mishal Al-Otaibi | Saudi Gazette

RIYADH — The Directorate General of the Border Guard arrested Thursday 15 Iranian nationals during their attempt to infiltrate the Kingdom via the eastern coast in Al-Khafji region using an Iranian boat, said Navy Col. Khaled Khalifa Al-Arqoobi, Spokesman of the Border Guard in the Eastern Province.

Investigations are under way, he said.

This is the second time that an Iranian boat entered Saudi territorial waters illegally.

October:20:2012 - 07:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Once again, Saudi Arabia is preparing for Haj. Scheduled to start in a few days, the government is announcing the various measures it is taking and issuing warnings to pilgrims.

While temperatures are starting to cool in the northern hemisphere, they are predicted to be in the 100°F (98°C) range in Mecca throughout Haj. With that heat, in a very crowded area, there are concerns, as Arab News reports:

Pilgrims advised to avoid midday sun

Civil Defense, responsible for general safety, reports that it is fully prepared:

Civil Defense geared up for Haj

The Jordan Times carries a story noting that Saudi Arabia is warning unspecified countries to avoid trying to politicize Haj, though the newspaper has no problem identifying the target country.

Saudi Arabia warns against political rallies in Hajj

A Turkish website, Today’s Zaman, has no problem blaming Iran for the Saudi decision to keep the number of visas issued to pilgrims static, while also noting that the official reason — infrastructure projects being undertaken both in Mecca and Medinah — plays a role.

Iran Prime Culprit for Slashed Hajj Quotas

After a flurry of concern about a newly discovered virus in the region, the Saudi Minister of Health assuages worries about pilgrims bringing it into the country, according to this Saudi Gazette piece:

Al-Rabeeah: No new coronavirus infections among pilgrims

King Abdullah announced a special dispensation for Syrian refugees to attend Haj. Saudi Gazette reports that they’re appreciative:

Syrian refugees ecstatic after King’s Haj visa directive

October:20:2012 - 07:23 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV runs an amusing article from the Associated Press about how an American cable TV series, Homeland, is being received in Lebanon and Israel: people in both places are annoyed. The Lebanese are annoyed that the program shows armed militias roaming the streets of Beirut… like that never happens. Those in Israel are annoyed that their first-world country can stand in for an Arab country.

TV show ‘Homeland’ irks Lebanese, Israelis
The Associated Press

Beirut: Militants carrying assault weapons clear the area around a street, shouting in Arabic for people to get out of the way. A jeep pulls up: The world’s No. 1 jihadi has arrived for a meeting with top Hezbollah commanders. On rooftops, U.S. snipers crouch unseen, the kingpin in their crosshairs at last.

The scene, from a recent episode of the hit U.S. Showtime series “Homeland”, is supposed to be Beirut. But it is really in Israel, a country similar enough in some areas to stand in for Lebanon, yet a world away in most other respects.

The show about Arab terrorists and American turncoats has inadvertently become a tale of two cities. Some Beirutis are angry because the depiction of their city as swarming with militiamen is misleading and because they see Israel as the enemy. And in Israel, some are peeved that Haifa and even Tel Aviv – a self-styled nightlife capital and high-tech hub – apparently appear, to outsiders at least, to be Middle Eastern after all.

October:19:2012 - 09:38 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

The Washington Post runs a front-page article on protests in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. The protesters, from the Shi’a community that make up about 10% of the Saudi population, have legitimate complaints about the low levels of development assistance they have received, relative to Sunni parts of the country. The government, without acknowledging the disparity, points to interference by Iran. The Post‘s writer favors the protester’s view and barely acknowledges the government’s. In doing so, he neglects recent history.

I appreciate the difficulty he might have in verifying the government’s claim. I can’t think of many agents provocateurs who will pipe up and say, “Sure, I’m messing with the Shi’a to promote Iran’s intentions and destabilize the Saudi state.” But, as Carl Sagan put it, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!” Hezbollah Al-Hejaz does exist, even if village elders would prefer it not. Toby Jones, whom my office in Riyadh had the pleasure of hosting as part of a Fulbright-Hays Scholarship in 2003, has written about Iran’s reach into Shi’a communities throughout the region, including Saudi Arabia. In failing to acknowledge that the Saudi government has at least some legitimate concern, I believe the article fails to fully cover the issue.

I do not doubt for a moment that parts of the Saudi government and Saudi society have overstated the fears. There is too much political, social, and religious antipathy toward Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite populations, both in the Eastern Province and in Jizan and Najran in the southwest. These citizens have been on the short end of government benefits, whether in schools, roads, or other infrastructure. They have face official deprecation of their religious beliefs and direct insult in government schools. But the fact that they have legitimate complaints does not mean that they are not also susceptible to being used by Iran. I think The Post might have paid a bit more attention to that fact.

Shiite protests pose major challenge for Saudi Arabia
Kevin Sullivan

In AWAMIYA, Saudi Arabia — This much is beyond dispute: Khalid al-Labad is dead.

Labad, 26, and two teenage relatives were fatally shot by police Sept. 26 as they sat in plastic chairs on the narrow sidewalk in front of their house in this broken-down little town in the far east of Saudi Arabia.

To police, Labad was a violent “menace” wanted for shooting two police officers, killing another man and attacking a police station. To human rights advocates, he was a peaceful protester silenced by the government for demanding equal rights for the country’s oppressed Shiite Muslim minority.

The killing of Labad and the two teens marks an escalation in Saudi Arabia’s worst civil unrest in years. The sectarian uprising in the kingdom’s oil heartland has been an often-overlooked front in the wave of revolts remaking the Middle East. But it has become increasingly violent, and the implications for the region are vast at a time when Saudi Arabia and Iran are jockeying hard for supremacy.

Saudi officials assert that the protesters are nothing more than Iranian puppets bent on destabilizing the Saudi economy — a charge the demonstrators vehemently deny.

Shiites, who form a majority in Iran, have long been treated as second-class citizens by the ruling Sunni elite in Saudi Arabia. They account for about 10 percent of the country’s 28 million people and are concentrated here in the Eastern Province’s industrial center, sandwiched between the vast Arabian desert and the glistening Persian Gulf.

The death toll here — 14 civilians and two police officers since the beginning of last year — is small compared with recent rebellions in other Arab countries, especially the civil war in Syria. And, unlike elsewhere, protesters here are not demanding the overthrow of their government.

They want long-denied basic rights: equal access to jobs, religious freedom, the release of political prisoners. But in the richest country in the Middle East, where even peaceful protests have long been banned, the clashes between police and demonstrators have become a big concern for King Abdullah and his ruling family.

“The government realizes it has a major problem here,” said Jafar al-Shayeb, chairman of the municipal council in Qatif, a Shiite-majority town close to Awamiya, near the oil wells and office complexes that constitute the hub of an oil industry that brought in $300 billion last year.

But the government’s response has largely been to dismiss the protests as illegitimate.

October:19:2012 - 09:22 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink
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