Well, the world didn’t end yesterday, but I’m putting Crossroads Arabia on hold for a few days while I travel to California to spend the Christmas with my son.

I’ll be back toward the end of next week.

My best wishes to all who are celebrating this holiday season.


December:22:2012 - 22:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that the Jeddah Municipality’s efforts to establish formal, women-only markets is working, so far. While women have, since the time of the Prophet Mohammed, worked to sell their goods, the mixing of the sexes in marketplaces has become problematic of late. Now, by establishing kiosks set aside for use solely by female merchants, things are beginning to return to what they used to be.

Harassment by passing males is reported to still be a problem, but one that is controllable. Abdullatif Al-Sheikh, President of the Commission for Promotion for Virtue and Prevention of Vice, though, thinks more needs to be done to protect women.

Saudi women man kiosks in Bab Makkah
Fatima Muhammad | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH —Saudi women are entering uncharted waters by setting up and manning their own kiosks in the city’s downtown area.

Following the decision allowing women to sell lingerie and make-up products, a 40-year-old woman who did not wished to be named, has stormed the male bastion at the Al-Shula’a market in Bab Makkah.

After setting up shop in this market three months ago, the owner is now employing females to market her goods — lingerie and makeup products. The women working at various booths in the market are of different age — from 40 to teens.

Though there’s the wide gap in age, there’s one thing that’s common among the females who are at these kiosks — all are conservatively dressed. They are veiled and wear abayas while displaying products or discussing matters with their male counterparts. The 40-year-old who opened her own kiosk to sell makeup products, is just happy that she made this move. Apart from working for herself, she is all praise for the environment in the market.


December:22:2012 - 10:06 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing about the plans of Isuzu to open up a manufacturing/assembly plant for pick-up trucks in Saudi Arabia, Saleh Al-Turaiqi comes up with an even better idea. In his Okaz article, translated in Saudi Gazette, he notes that while “Made in Saudi Arabia” is a fine thing to see on a vehicle, it would be even better to see the label read, “Made in Saudi Arabia by Saudis”. He’s right.

He suggests that the plant employ only Saudis, from the day it opens its doors. I think that is do-able. It might be a little rough at first, as workers apply the skills they’ve ostensibly learned in technical school, but it can be done. If the company (and its Saudi sponsors) looks for the cheapest way of doing business, i.e., hiring low-salary foreign workers, then the boost to the Saudi economy is going to be more limited.

Is there any more delight to kill frustrations?
Saleh Ibrahim Al-Turaiqi | Okaz newspaper

It is delightful to hear that Japanese automobile company Isuzu’s first plant in Dammam’s Second Industrial City assembled a truck carrying the logo “Made in Saudi Arabia.” This is similar to the case of the American and Japanese branded vehicles coming with the logo “Made in Australia.”

This joy turns to a degree of cheerfulness when you read the plant’s strategy, which says the company will strive to increase productive capacity and export 25,000 trucks per annum by 2017.

Now, let us forget about the legendary Ghazal-1, the first car made in the Kingdom. From the very beginning, it appeared as if it was a failed experiment because most of the countries sign agreements with international companies to open their plants in their own homeland to create more job opportunities in addition to facilitating a further boost to their economy.

In order to complete my delight, I believe the Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Higher Education must draft a strategy to ensure that all workers at this factory will be Saudis by 2017. Perhaps the severity of frustrations that lead to despair could then be alleviated.


December:22:2012 - 09:56 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette/Okaz run a bemusing op-ed in which the writer suggests changing Saudi lifestyles by ending nightlife as it is now known. He makes a very good point, that the nighttime activities in Saudi cities is wasteful of energy; that staying up late isn’t very good for morning productivity; that it is hard on children. But it doesn’t acknowledge that nighttime in Saudi Arabia is so much cooler than daytime that it actually makes social sense to be out after the sun goes down.

Here, I fear, is a valid argument that fails in the face of another valid argument. In other words, it comes down to values. At present, Saudis would rather spend at least some time out of doors, even if it’s after dark.

Turn off the city’s light
Khaled Al-Sulaiman | Okaz newspaper

We, Saudis and even residents, are just fond of staying up well into the wee hours of the morning. This is a fact that has characterized our social life. Our big cities are one of few in the world that is alive with activity till the early hours of the morning.

The traffic is just the same, with no part of the night seeing very light traffic. Our shops close late. Our restaurants serve food until late into the night. While, some restaurants remain open throughout the night.

Is this a natural situation? Does it impact the level of the individual’s productivity? Does it have any hand in our social problems?


December:21:2012 - 10:34 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

A blog, Avian Flu Diary, summarizes the latest information on the new variety of Coronavirus that has popped up in a small number of patients in Saudi Arabia, as well as Qatar and Jordan. The piece also links to the newest report from the World Health Organization.

WHO Coronavirus Update


December:21:2012 - 10:24 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV reports that a group of Saudi women — doctors and nurses all — are suing a user of Twitter for defamation. They are taking advantage of a new(ish) Saudi law that prohibits online defamation.

Based on the facts-as-reported, this strikes me as a bit of overkill. The comment was certainly stupid, but I’m not very fond of laws that penalize stupid comments. Under US law, this suit would fail at the first gate as ‘defamation of a group’, which the women are alleging, is simply not a crime.

Saudi female medics to file lawsuit against Tweep
Al Arabiya

A group of Saudi female doctors and nurses are planning to file a suit against a Twitter user who they alleged had defamed women working in the Kingdom’s medical sector.

The Twitter user described men who allow their wives, daughters, or sisters to work in the medical sector as not being “worried enough” about them.

The female doctors filing the suit considered this as defamation to Saudi women working in the field.

Doctor Sabah abo Zenada said that legal action is being taken against that user, and a report has been filed to the police, and the case is now under criminal investigation, where police needs to find the identity of that user.

“We have faith that the ministry of interior is able to find any person who threatens national security…and this person is like a terrorist, he has spread social terrorism when he insulted Saudi women working in the medical field”

There are laws in Saudi Arabia against insulting or defaming someone on Facebook or Twitter, said Abo Zenada, which can be up to five years in prison and 3 million riyal fines.

“This is a huge problem, he did not defame women workers only or their families, he defamed all Saudis…there is no house in the kingdom which has no doctor, secretary, nurse or even a maid…he defamed all women workers throughout the whole kingdom.”


December:21:2012 - 10:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

The issue of establishing minimum wages for foreign workers in Saudi Arabia is bubbling up again. Both Arab News and Saudi Gazette/Okaz report on the issue.

Expats seek fair work contracts
JEDDAH: DIANA AL-JASSEM | ARAB NEWS STAFF

Expatriates are calling for fair contracts that specifies a minimum wage and payment of iqama renewal fees, insurance premium and a foreign labor fee recently imposed by the Ministry of Labor by the employer.

The labor ministry decision to impose the fee of SR 2,400 on expat workers have forced them to look for better contracts. Some expatriates who have contracts that do not include iqama renewal and insurance fees will not be able to pay the new foreign labor fee.

A report issued by the IFC, World Bank and Price Waterhouse Coopers says Saudi Arabia has the world’s third least demanding tax framework for corporations.

Saudi Gazette/Okaz runs a piece that notes how a minimum wage for expat workers is necessary for reducing unemployment among Saudis. Young Saudis don’t want to work for peanuts; foreign workers are paid peanuts. As long as it’s cheaper to hire the foreign worker, companies will continue to do so. Setting a minimum wage across job categories rather than basing salaries on what passport a worker holds will make the work more attractive.

It will also, necessarily, make life more expensive. Whether the country wants to pay the price — or can afford the price — is a political decision that will have to be made sooner or later. Sooner would be best.

Saudization and minimum wages for foreigners
Saeed Al-Siraihi
Okaz newspaper

When Labor Minister Adel Fakieh was mayor of Jeddah, Okaz hosted him in an exclusive dialogue with its reporters and writers. I remember I said to him that the residents of Jeddah would not be content with him unless he achieved for the city the same success he had with private company of which he was chairman. He was able to save that company from the huge losses it was incurring and made it one of the biggest and most successful firms.

If I had an opportunity to meet him again I would say the same thing to him. The young men and women who have long been living under the nightmare of unemployment while seeing the big companies and small establishments import manpower from the four corners of the world will not be happy with him unless he achieves similar success in the Saudization of jobs.

Though it seems that the minister is taking steady steps on this road regardless of the challenges being created by the businessmen who are infatuated with foreign recruitment and who have no regard for the Saudization process, his success in the program of Saudization will not be realized unless a minimum wage for foreigners has been fixed. The low payment is the sole reason that tempts businessmen to import foreign manpower. The minister himself had said there were more than 4 million foreigners in the Kingdom whose monthly salaries were less than a thousand riyals.


December:20:2012 - 10:24 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat reports that the process of issuing visas to Saudi Arabs wishing to visit the US has been improving. Visa processing now takes about a week, with 95% of visa applicants being approved, the new US Consul-General in Dhahran says. The Consulate there is issuing around 100 visas per week, while the entire US Mission to Saudi Arabia issued 110K visas last year.

I’m pleased to learn of the new Consul-General. Joey Hood was a junior officer when I was in Riyadh. He was always fun to work with and exceptionally conscientious in his job. I’m glad to see that good deeds do get rewarded!

Saudi Arabia: US Visa procedure improves
Ali al-Qattan

Dhahran, Asharq Al-Awsat – The US Consulate in Dhahran in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province has revealed that it issues approximately 100 visas per day to Saudi nationals wishing to visit America, whether for study, medical treatment, business or tourism. It added that it had issued a total of 21,000 visas last year, including 6,000 visas to Saudi students or their family members.

Dhahran Consulate officials, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, revealed that the consulate aims to keep up this rate of visa issuance, adding that the US consulate had taken action to speed up visa applications, ensuring that this does not exceed one week. The officials added that the Dhahran Consulate is also utilizing high-speed courier services to dispatch visas to their applicants as soon as possible and not interfere in their travel plans. This comes after Saudi visa applicants have complained about stringent post-9/11 visa procedures.

The Dhahran Consulate also confirmed that the US diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia had issued more than 110,000 visas last year adding that more than 95 percent of visa applications were granted. As for the remaining 5 percent, these were mostly rejected due to a lack of documentation.


December:20:2012 - 10:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

It is indeed a paradox that while Saudi Arabia’s society and laws come down harshly on unrelated men and women found together in ‘seclusion’, neither the laws nor social disfavor are applied to the millions of unrelated, foreign drivers brought into the country to drive women around. Saudi activist Tahani al-Juhni, in an interview with Al Arabiya TV, notes that rapes and molestations by drivers is not unknown in the Kingdom, yet women are still prevented from driving themselves. I’d add that volitional sex between drivers and their female riders is far from unknown, too. This is truly an area where the supposed “religious protections” of enforced separation of the sexes fails utterly.

Women will be safer if they start driving: Saudi activist
Al Arabiya

Allowing Saudi women to drive will be safer than having them commute with male drivers, a Saudi activist, Tahani al-Juhni, told Al Arabiya in a TV interview this week.

“One journalist at al-Riyadh newspaper urged the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice to follow up on a case of a driver, who after driving female teachers to their homes, raped one of them,” said the activist.

Al-Juhni warned that there are about 2 million chauffeurs in the kingdom and half of them are illegal.

“Those illegal drivers are dangerous for society, especially since there is no law that governs them.”

She warned that some drivers have been known to harass women as well as children.


December:20:2012 - 09:25 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Why are there so many foreign workers in Saudi Arabia? Why are there so many unemployed Saudis? The Minister of Labor explains it quite clearly: Eight six percent of the jobs needed to be done in Saudi Arabia “are not fit” for Saudis to perform!

I really don’t know where this attitude of ‘unfit jobs’ came into Saudi culture. Before the oil boom, Saudis had a very clear choice: work or starve. Now, it appears that young Saudis survey the job market as they would a box of chocolates, delicately picking out the prime pieces, those that promise high salaries and prestige for little or no work.

Yes, there are jobs people do not like to do. I would not, of choice, work in a sewage treatment plant, for example. But if the options were to work in a sewage plant or to rely on government handouts, I’d be working in the sewage plant. Or digging ditches, or building walls, or fixing cars. It’s quite astonishing to see a nation operate on the principle of “Oh, that’s dirty! I won’t do it,” in the face of growing unemployment and the massive shift of money out of its economy to other countries.

The thing is, honorable work is honorable. This includes working as a plumber, a bus driver, a ditch digger. They offer no moral hazard. The only things they don’t offer is high salaries and a sense of prestige. The salary question can be answered by instituting a realistic minimum wage that applies to all who labor in the Kingdom. The question of prestige, though, is one that can only be resolved by a change in attitude. It’s particularly frustrating to see Saudi society condemn on contemn those who would take jobs “beneath the dignity” that society places on them. Some Saudi women, for example, are willing to take on jobs as domestic workers. They need to earn an income. Instead, society tells them it’s better for them and their children to starve than to take on “unfit” jobs. Ridiculous.

Were entire categories of workers to suddenly disappear, Saudi cities would be piled high with trash, sewers and septic tanks would overflow, no structures would be built until Saudis realized that honest work is honest work.

86% jobs ‘not fit for Saudis’
JEDDAH: ARAB NEWS

Labor Minister Adel Fakeih said yesterday that 86 percent of jobs done by expatriates are not suitable for Saudis. However, he said the new Saudization drive was aimed at creating more jobs for two million unemployed citizens.

Speaking to Al-Sharq daily, he said 85 percent of Saudi job seekers are women. “Moreover, 330,000 Saudis, who graduate from secondary schools every year, also look for jobs,” he added.

He said the new labor laws would help flush out coverup businesses that constitute 42 percent of small enterprises in the country.

“There are about eight million expatriate workers and 86 percent of them (6 million) do menial jobs that do not suit Saudis,” the minister said. Annual foreign transfers of expatriates would cross SR 130 billion by the end of this year, he added.

Fakeih said 68 percent of foreign workers in the Kingdom receive a monthly salary of less than SR 1,000 and 18 percent less than SR 2,000. “This means 86 percent of foreigners get low salaries.”


December:19:2012 - 10:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (12) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that the Saudi government is undertaking a crash program to verify university degrees claimed by state employees. Over the past several years, it’s been discovered that people are claiming degrees they never attained as well as degrees and certificates issued by ‘degree mills’, organizations that swap degrees for money and require very little, if any actual academic work.

The US, unfortunately, doesn’t make the matter of degrees simple. Each of the 50 states writes its own laws about what is necessary to become an institution of higher education. Rather than one, national law, there are scores. Some states will issue authority based on the utility of a degree to the state’s citizens, not comparing them to what is generally understood by a university degree. The schools are legal, but only within those states. With thousands of schools to choose from, it’s not difficult for a foreign student to end up in the wrong place.

This has been an issue for well over 30 years. The Saudi government has tried various approaches to limiting the damage. I recall that in the 1980s, the government drew up lists of universities whose degrees would be accepted. The problem was that many reputable universities weren’t on the list. Then there was the problem of certain universities starting up program in ‘Urban Studies’, all the way through the doctorate level, that actually did very little teaching. At one point, the government was considering a move that would block Saudi students from attending any university in the University of California system.

Still, the issue of bogus degrees is real. In 2004, over 400 US federal employees were found to be holding bad degrees, including nuclear safety officials. Things didn’t seem to change much by 2007. Even professors at real universities have been found to be holding bogus degrees.

Nor is the issue limited to Saudi Arabia or the US. The problem is indeed a bane on society. Rewards for obtaining fake degrees need to be ended.

Degrees of all govt employees to be verified beginning Jan. 1
Okaz/Saudi Gazette

TAIF — The Ministry of Higher Education will start verifying higher university degree certificates (master’s and doctorate degrees) of government employees effective January 1.

The move is aimed at putting an end to the misuse of bogus certificates to secure jobs and promotions, according to sources at the ministry.

The ministry will undertake the verification process with the cooperation of the Ministry of Civil Service on a priority basis.

The ministry will be sending soon a circular to all government departments instructing them to submit original master’s and doctorate degree certificates of their employees for verification.

The ministry would then determine whether the certificates are bona fide and are from the recognized universities and institutions or not.


December:18:2012 - 08:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

The government of Saudi Arabia is warning citizens to be wary of e-mail soliciting funds for charitable purposes. Not only are a majority of these simply scams designed to separate a fool from his money, but they also serve to cover more serious crimes like money laundering and funding terrorism.

Fraudulent charity e-mails on the rise
Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Fraudulent e-mails asking for money on behalf of charities have become even more convincing. Religion is often used as a compelling reason to elicit quick responses to these messages, especially when they are illegally linked to trusted scholars. Messages carrying the subject lines “Families needs” or “Saving a young man from execution” are initiated by con-artist rings.

They prey on the good faith of respondents in order to embezzle their money, Al-Madinah newspaper reported.

Government authorities have continually warned against responding to such messages and have urged the public to visit registered charities instead.

Scholars have also urged members of the public to be aware their names are being used illegally in such messages.


December:18:2012 - 07:52 | Comments Off | Permalink
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