I’ll point you to two blogs today, both covering Saudi Arabia to a greater or lesser extent.

The first is Riyadh Bureau, the effort of Ahmed Al Omran of Saudi Jeans fame. Ahmed is back from his studies and internship in the US where he worked at the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Riyadh Bureau provides short and to-the-point coverage of political and social issues affecting the Kingdom.

The second is the 59 Steps Blog, by Steve Royston, a British businessman who has lived and worked around the world, but who currently resides in Saudi Arabia Bahrain. He has a new post up that looks at the changes that have occurred in the country over the past several years:

Saudi Arabia – By No Means a Social Monolith

If you have never been to Saudi Arabia and only have a passing interest in the Middle East, you might think of the Kingdom as a monolith of social repression and intolerance, and only pay attention when stories emerge to support that view.

If so, this post is for you. Even if you can’t be bothered to wade through my prose, at the very least follow the links.

I lived in the Kingdom for many years. Today much of my business is there. And yes, there are powerful conservative interests in the country whose influence is putting a brake on social change that would be recognised as meaningful in the West. But the country is no monolith. There are as many different opinions and attitudes as you would find in any other country, even if the authorities make it difficult for many outside the Muslim world to visit and find out for themselves.

If you need evidence of Saudi social diversity, take a listen to this podcast from Jeddah, the city where I spent most of the 80s. It’s the latest in a series of conversations that I’ve dipped into over the past three years.


In the podcast, three young Saudis discuss a variety of subjects, including journalistic standards, freedom of expression, attitudes towards women, sexuality and other subjects high on the taboo list of the social and religious conservatives.

November:30:2012 - 09:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Two months ago, it was announced that female attorneys would soon be issued licenses to practice law in Saudi Arabia’s courts. To date, nothing has happened on that front and the female attorneys have noticed.

Saudi Gazette runs an op-ed remarking that promises made but unkept are worse than not having made the promise in the first place.

Saudi women lawyers: Case pending
Somayya Jabarti

IS it a surprise that November 2012, the month when Saudi women lawyers were supposed to be issued licenses to practice in court, has come and is almost gone with no action at all?

Punctuality, action and progress, especially where women are concerned, all in one go? Oh yes, too much to expect. Such cups surely “spilleth over”, over and over and over — before we ever get a first sip.

We’re soon to complete two months since the news of Saudi women lawyers being issued licenses to practice in our courts circulated in world media.

When the news spread, fireworks lit up the social media-sphere and applause filled the air in — premature — celebration.

Asking around, the responses have been cynical describing the news as “just words”, “a morphine dosage” or that it was “probably retracted or regretted”.

November:28:2012 - 07:28 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports that some business in Saudi Arabia, seeking to avoid the difficulties involved with hiring Saudi employees, but also hoping to avoid punishment for not doing so, have been faking it. They have claimed to have Saudis on the payroll — thus exempting them from punishment, but also garnering benefits — by simply putting Saudi names down on their payrolls. The article notes that some Saudis are happy to collect a second salary, even if a small one, just for the use of their names, but most names were used without their owners’ awareness.

In any event, over 47K false employees have been identified.

Ministry punishes firms after discovering
47,000 fake Saudi employees

The Ministry of Labor has suspended the advantages it had granted to several companies that were implementing the Nitaqat system after it discovered they had given fake numbers of Saudi employees. The ministry found out that 47,000 Saudis registered as private sector employees at the General Organization of Social Insurance (GOSI) are in fact not working in the private sector. The names are of persons employed in the government sector, including an undisclosed number of military personnel, according to an Al-Eqtisadiyah newspaper report that quoted unidentified sources on Tuesday.

The discovery was the result of a collaborated effort by the ministry, GOSI, and the National Information Center of the Ministry of Interior.

The ministry immediately halted the advantages of completing visa procedures electronically for these companies and approached relevant authorities to approve a new mechanism to link the data of relevant departments electronically to stop such circumvention.

November:28:2012 - 07:21 | Comments Off | Permalink

In trying to deal with female unemployment in Saudi Arabia — a statistic the government chooses not to discuss publicly — the government is seeking to carve out new opportunities for women. Next on the agenda is shops that sell accessories and abayas. More male expats workers will find their jobs pulled from beneath their feet.

Of course, this being Saudi Arabia, special rules (which incidentally drive up the cost of employing women) will be in effect. The jobs will be part-time only.

Women to work in abaya shops

The Ministry of Labor will start allowing women to work in accessories and abaya stores within six months.

Fahd Al-Nikhaifi, assistant undersecretary in the Ministry of Labor and director of women’s employment in private sector, said the plan excluded perfume and eyeglasses stores.

Al-Nikhaifi said the ministry’s strategy is to follow up on the implementation of the resolution by appointing supervisors from Taqat employment center, which helps job seekers.

November:27:2012 - 08:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

It’s tougher than one might think, being a single woman in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Gazette informs us that if a woman isn’t married by the age of 25, she gets the honor of reaping pity from society. The concept of the Old Maid is moving down the age charts.

Never mind that education or a job might interfere with marriage plans or hopes. Much of Saudi society still sees the proper role of women identified by her marriage status.

Women past age 25 pitied for being single
Renad Ghanem | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – Society’s message to women approaching their 30’s is clear: Marriage is your only salvation. As more and more women head into the job market, many put their careers before their personal lives but handling the social stigma associated with being unmarried in Saudi society is no easy task.

Twenty-eight-year-old Arwa Ali holds a master’s degree and works in a private company and is confident she has a bright future. Ali says she has become an embarrassment for her parents who often struggle to convince people she is single because of career aspirations.

November:27:2012 - 08:23 | Comments Off | Permalink

Let the guessing games continue!

Saudi Gazette reports — weakly — that the Administrative Court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a number of officials and businessmen for the role they played in the 2009 flooding of Jeddah which killed over 100 people. As is typical, the newspaper names no names, but provides a certain amount of identifying information to aid the reader in guessing who it is that is going to jail.

The paper refrains from even mentioning the job titles held by the sentenced individuals. This is a great disservice to readers, Saudi and foreign alike. It also flies in the face of pledges of greater transparency in government.

I realize that Saudi Arabia seeks to protect the innocence and names of those only related to the guilty, but they cannot do so while hiding important information. It does matter if the malfeasance and criminal activity is conducted by a janitor or the head of an office. Readers should be able to learn that information as it speaks to the level and extent of corruption, a target for government action.

17 years in jail, SR2m fine for Jeddah Mayoralty official,
top businessmen
Abdulrahman Al-Ali | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – The head of the Penal Circuit in the Administrative Court has sentenced a leading official in the Jeddah Mayoralty and several businessmen, one of whom is a former chairman of a sports club, to a collective 17 years imprisonment and total fines of SR2 million.

They were accused of bribery and abuse of power.

The Jeddah Mayoralty official, who was suspended from work facing the accusation of accepting bribery and engaging in trade violating a government contract that bars employees from engaging in trade, was fined SR1 million and imprisoned for seven years to be counted from the day he was taken into custody.

A well-known businessman, who was also a former chairman of a sports club, was accused of several counts of offering bribes. He was fined SR200,000 and sentenced to three years in prison to be counted from the date he was taken into custody.

November:27:2012 - 08:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

Tariq Alhomayed, Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Alawsat, writes about the importance the current events in Egypt hold for the entirety of the Arab world. He is concerned that a government that seeks to do away with the concept and function of the state will poison the region. A religious dictatorship, he argues, is incapable of running a government that addresses people’s real, day-to-day demands. He sees Egypt, if President Morsi’s schemes succeed, following the path of Iran, Al-Qaeda, and other extremist organizations.

Egypt is fighting our battle
Tariq Alhomayed

I have previously written, on numerous occasions, that if Egypt thrives then the Arab world thrives, and if it falters then so too does the region as a whole. Therefore, what is happening today is that Egypt is fighting our battle, for all of us. This is a battle for the state, against those who want to destroy the very concept. What is happening in Egypt is not a “corrective revolution”, or the inauguration of a new pharaoh, rather it is an awakening against those trying to destroy the concept of the state.

This state of affairs has been brought about due to the audacity of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is trying to control all joints of the Egyptian state. After excluding the military and neutralizing the media, now it is the turn of the judiciary, and this is something that we previously warned against. All of this is represented by the unprecedented decrees issued by the Egyptian President, who said: I am the state and the state is I. Thus, what is happening in Egypt is not the Egyptians’ battle, but a battle for all the Arabs, specifically those who believe in the concept of the civil state, and not the religious state along the lines of Iran. Here I am not calling for religion to be excluded, nor am I adopting an anti-religious stance, and I ask the reader to consider the following with complete rationality and calm.

November:27:2012 - 08:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

The King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Cultural Dialogue has opened in Vienna, Austria to much fanfare. And a bit of criticism.

The choosing of Vienna as its headquarters makes a certain amount of sense. Site of the 1683 Battle of Vienna, that put an end to the Muslim expansion in eastern Europe by the Ottoman Empire, the battle also saw tensions between Catholic and Protestant leaders. But how much more effective — and what a great symbol of seriousness of purpose — this center would be were it headquartered in Riyadh!

Saudi-backed interfaith center in Vienna attracts mixed reaction

Dialogue between religions is as necessary as ever in light of recent conflicts, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said Monday to mark the opening in Vienna of a controversial new center aimed at promoting such dialogue.

Backed by Saudi Arabia, the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), has been the subject of criticism ever since its formal creation last year.

But supporters were keen to highlight its relevance at a glitzy event at Vienna’s Hofburg palace.

“We need look no further than today’s headlines to understand why this mission is so vital,” Ban told the gathering, citing the recent conflicts and religious divisions in Syria, Israel and Mali.

“Too many religious leaders have stoked intolerance, supported extremism and propagated hate… Yet we know that blaming ‘the other’ is not a political strategy for a healthy country, continent or world.”

… But critics have questioned the center’s ability to promote interreligious dialogue, since it was an initiative of the Saudi king and will be entirely funded by Saudi Arabia for the first three years.

They argue that Riyadh will use the center to divert attention from human rights violations and the lack of religious freedom at home.

A small group of protesters had gathered outside the Hofburg palace ahead of the inauguration, backed by the Liberal Muslims Initiative of Austria and the opposition Green party, which has rejected the creation of the KAICIID since the beginning.

November:27:2012 - 07:47 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Saudi-owned Asharq Alawsat runs a piece about a young Egyptian who rejected Salafism for secularism, extremism for moderation. In his transition, he discovered that Salafist organization prey upon youth and their dissatisfactions, but rather than offering a solution, they seek only power. The surprising part is that he found his new wisdom while studying in Saudi Arabia. It’s an interesting read.

Osama Othman: From Salafi to secularist
Mary Wajdi

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – “All I want is to ensure that no young person is deceived, as I was, in the name of religion; I wasted the most precious years of my life on a misguided ideology”. This is how Osama Othman, a young Egyptian who has transformed from being a Salafi jihadist to a secularist, describes what he went through during his time as a member of an extremist Salafi jihadist organization.

Osama Othman, aged 38, lives in the El Matareya district of Cairo. Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Othman recalled the various stages of transformation in his life, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Salafi jihadism, and finally to secularism.

He revealed that “I joined the Muslim Brotherhood when I was in the penultimate year of secondary school, through my school friends. They convinced me of their ideology, and I was just 16 at the time. Also during this period, my brother got to know some members of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya in one of El Matareya’s mosques, where they were conducting a meeting after the state security services had killed Dr. Alaa Mohieddin, the group’s leader at the time”.

November:26:2012 - 09:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV runs a story that warns about the rise in violence against children in Saudi Arabia. It claims that up to 45% of children are victims and that the number is rising.

The article suffers from any sort of definition of violence against children. The individual from the Ministry of Social Affairs, however, states that “Neglecting children and ignoring their needs is also considered a form of violence.” While these are not good for children, I think they fall outside the definition of “violence”. Exaggerating claims to make a point doesn’t further arguments; it weakens them.

Statistics warn of increased violence against children in Saudi
Al Arabiya

A report issued by the Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs revealed that 45 percent of children in the kingdom are victims of different forms of violence, raising concerns about lack of awareness in the society.

“Children are increasingly subjected to violence whether at home or in the classroom and this is a very dangerous phenomenon,” psychologist Sanaa al-Howaili was quoted as saying by the Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh.

According to Howaili, the cases detected by the National Program for Family Security alone have reached 500 in 2011, compared to 292 in 2010.

“This shows the necessity of dealing with the roots of the problem through raising awareness about the right ways of treating children.”

November:26:2012 - 09:01 | Comments Off | Permalink

While they could hardly not report on it, I sense a lack of enthusiasm in Saudi media’s reporting on the clash between Egyptian President Morsi and the Egyptian judiciary. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though, as an independent judiciary with powers to review laws is not at all part of the Saudi political system. Reporting tends to cast this conflict as simply a power struggle… who gets to tell whom to do what. It’s far more than that.

An independent judiciary is crucial to justice. At present, Morsi hold the office of Executive; his party dominates the Legislature. The only thing that stands between them and tyranny is the judiciary and the Egyptian system of law. By declaring that he is able to make and enforce law, either overriding or side-stepping legal process, Morsi does indeed declare himself tyrant. Calling him the “New Pharaoh”, as his opponents are now doing, is exactly correct. He is seeking to remove the last check on his power short of revolution.

It is not enough that Morsi has lots of supporters, even a majority of Egyptians. He is still bound by law as written in Egypt’s constitution. With the power and popularity he has, he might well be able to amend the constitution, stripping it of the protections it offers to Egyptians and their rights. That is not what he has done, however. Rather, he has just claimed the power to act as he will.

Al Arabiya TV:

Egypt’s Brotherhood calls for protests, judges urge for strikes
Al Arabiya with AFP

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood called for protests across the country on Sunday to support President Mohammed Mursi, while the country’s judges urged for a nationwide strike against a decree they saw as granting Mursi new, extensive powers.

The Brotherhood’s protest requests came as Egypt’s Judges Club, a body that represents judges throughout the country, called for “the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations,” after several hours of emergency talks in response to what they called Mursi’s “ferocious attack on Egyptian justice.”

On the ground, clashes erupted outside the High Court between supporters and opponents of Mursi’s new constitutional declaration while the Judges Club held an hours-long emergency meeting inside.

Saudi Gazette:

Judges furious at Morsi decree

CAIRO – Egyptian judges Saturday slammed a decree by President Mohamed Morsi granting him sweeping powers as “an unprecedented attack” on the judiciary, and courts across two provinces announced a strike.

The constitutional declaration is “an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings,” the Supreme Judicial Council said after an emergency meeting.

The council, which handles administrative affairs and judicial appointments, called on the president to remove “anything that touches the judiciary” from the declaration.

Meanwhile, the Judges Club of Alexandria announced “the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations in the provinces of Alexandria and Beheira.”

November:25:2012 - 08:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia may be finding a new way to make social media more obnoxious than it already is. Media reports are detailing a ‘helpful’ service now being offered that will inform Saudi males when the females under their guardianship pass airport exit controls. I’m sure some see this as a useful tool, helping family stability. Once again, though, it comes at the cost of infantilizing Saudi women.

Al Arabiya TV reports (along with Agence France Presse) that the service is coming in for some serious derision from Saudis, male and female:

‘Where’s my wife?’ Electronic SMS tracker notifies Saudi husbands

Denied the right to travel without consent from their male guardians and banned from driving, women in Saudi Arabia are now monitored by an electronic system that tracks any cross-border movements.

Since last week, Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are travelling together.

Manal al-Sherif, who became the symbol of a campaign launched last year urging Saudi women to defy a driving ban, began spreading the information on Twitter, after she was alerted by a couple.

The husband, who was travelling with his wife, received a text message from the immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh.

“The authorities are using technology to monitor women,” said columnist Badriya al-Bishr, who criticised the “state of slavery under which women are held” in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Women are not allowed to leave the kingdom without permission from their male guardian, who must give his consent by signing what is known as the “yellow sheet” at the airport or border.

The move by the Saudi authorities was swiftly condemned on social network Twitter — a rare bubble of freedom for millions in the kingdom — with critics mocking the decision.

“Hello Taliban, herewith some tips from the Saudi e-government!” read one post.

“Why don’t you cuff your women with tracking ankle bracelets too?” wrote Israa.

“Why don’t we just install a microchip into our women to track them around?” joked another.

“If I need an SMS to let me know my wife is leaving Saudi Arabia, then I’m either married to the wrong woman or need a psychiatrist,” tweeted Hisham.

The Saudi Arabic media isn’t thrilled by the move, either. Saudi Gazette translates a piece from Al-Hayat that links the service with other manifestations of oppression. The piece wonders just how much money was spent in coming up with this piece of nonsense.

‘Relax! We’ll track your wife down!’
Badriya Al-Bishir | Al-Hayat newspaper

YOU will find at the end of this article a link that will take you to the picture of a woman standing in the main entrance of Al-Hafayer police station in Khamis Mushayt.

The woman looks humiliated; she ran away from her husband who locked her in the bathroom for six days, whipped, tortured and made her drink his urine.

When he finally entered the bathroom to take a shower, the woman ran to the police but they refused to help her and left her stranded on the street.

Every time she runs away from her husband, her father makes her return.

This time, however, her father has refused to go to the police station and bring her home.

She is being treated as if she is a commodity that needs to be collected.

She sits and waits on the street until her owner claims her. And to make matters worse, despite her plight, the authorities have refused to intervene and help her.

The Passport Directorate has been recently working on a project called “Relax! We’ll track your wife down!”

I hope the authorities provide us with a total cost of this truly ground-shattering service, which is a sign of the backwardness that plagues Saudi society. Let me explain the reason behind this service.

November:23:2012 - 07:54 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink
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