I came across an interesting blog post that reports on the issue of Saudi Identity. It provides a quick gloss of Saudi history in its telling of the problems involved in forging a national Saudi identity. Worth reading.

The Fifth Border, Securing a National Identity in Saudi Arabia
Institut d’études politiques de Paris

This paper was prepared for “Political Sociology of the Contemporary Arab State,” taught by Professor Stéphane LACROIX of the Paris School of International Affairs

SECURITY & IDENTITY IN SAUDI ARABIA

By: Faisal Abdullah Abulhassan

Abstract

The name “Saudi Arabia” accurately describes the nation’s reigning dynasty and geographic location, but falls short of properly create a correct image of the Saudi people. This is due to the lack of a national identity in the Kingdom amongst its homogeneous population. A union of vastly different regions and peoples, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has thus far come to naught in securing its fifth border – the identity of its citizens. In a world where conflict is no longer limited to the land, sea and sky the formulation of an enduring “Saudi” national identity is essential to the stability, continuity and unity of the Saudi State. By reviewing the historical composition and diverse populations that make up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, this essay seeks to highlight the bonds that have held the various peoples that are Saudis together. It also seeks to analyse the bonds that have failed. While the Kingdom’s four natural borders in the north, south, east and west are thoroughly protected militarily; it is increasingly vulnerable to internal conflict over who exactly is “Saudi,” as well as to the creation of fifth columns. Therefore, this essay argues it is the Royal Family institutionalised that holds the key to creating, strengthening, and stabilising a national identity for the Saudi people.


January:31:2013 - 09:39 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

I’ll call your attention to a new paper by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). In it, he looks at Arab Spring (and Arab-Spring-like movements) across the Islamic world and suggests how the US government might best approach them. Among his suggestions are triage — determining which countries are more important than others — cooperation with regional states — which often carry less baggage than US or Western intervention might — and a reappraisal of the various countries’ civil-military complexes — “military” isn’t necessarily a dirty word.

Above all, he cautions against over-engagement.

Definitely worth reading in full… it’s a short piece.

The Common Lessons of Benghazi, Algeria, Mali, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Arab Spring
Anthony H. Cordesman

We are only beginning to adjust to the reality that we face following at least a decade of constant upheavals in the Islamic world; it is clear that it will take at least that long to end in some form of stability given the underlying mix of failed secular regimes, weak economies and poor income distribution, demographic pressures, religious struggles within Islam, social change, and internal tensions specific to given countries. This means that the United States and its allies must seek to influence a series of conflicts and political struggles that will extend from Morocco to the Philippines which will reshape the entire Islamic world and will require years of consistent effort to have any chance of success.

A Decade or More of Struggles for Change and Stability

It will be a struggle to help nations deal with the broad range of forces that are currently causing so much instability in the Arab world, to modernize and evolve where they can, and to help the new political factions that take power move forward quickly and with as little violence as possible. The end result will not be a war on terrorism, although it will involve many extremists and terrorist elements; it will be dealing with a clash within Islam rather than a clash between civilizations.

HT: Saudi-US Relations Information Service (SUSRIS)


January:31:2013 - 09:32 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

While it takes a pause to refresh, the Coca Cola company might want to step back and reassess its advertising, says the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. The group is objecting to an ad scheduled to run during the Superbowl football game that slights Arabs by falling back on tired stereotypes. Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV carries a Reuters report.

Perhaps Coke is only getting in a dig for all the years (1968-1991) it was banned from Arab countries due to an Arab League boycott. When Coke reentered the Arab market, it was tagged with the galling name, “Red Pepsi”!

Arab-American groups call Coke Super Bowl ad ‘racist’

Los Angeles (Reuters) — Arab-American groups have sharply criticized a Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad depicting an Arab walking through the desert with a camel, and one group said it would ask the beverage giant to change it before CBS airs the game on Sunday before an expected audience of more than 100 million U.S. viewers.

“Why is it that Arabs are always shown as either oil-rich sheiks, terrorists, or belly dancers?” said Warren David, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, or ADC.

Coca-Cola released an online teaser of the commercial last week, showing the Arab walking through a desert. He soon sees cowboys, Las Vegas showgirls and a motley crew fashioned after the marauders of the apocalyptic “Mad Max” film race by him to reach a gigantic bottle of Coke.

In its ad, Coke asks viewers to vote online on which characters should win the race. The online site does not allow a vote for the Arab character.


January:31:2013 - 08:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Apparently, there’s a rumor running around Saudi Arabia that Saudi Islamic activists are being blacklisted when it comes to obtaining a US visa. Asharq Alawsat reports that US officials in the Kingdom are working to scotch that story. The US Embassy in Riyadh has responded by holding a press conference to provide accurate information about the visa process.

Each visa applicant, the officials note, is individually interviewed. Visa applicants — like those around the world — must demonstrate that they are not intending to immigrate to the US, unless, of course, they are applying for immigration visas. The officials also point out that a visa is only permission to travel to a US port of entry: it does not guarantee entry. Upon arrival, US Immigration officials make the final determination whether a traveler can actually enter the country. The example of a visitor, traveling on a B-1 Visa, who informs Immigration that he intends to study in the US will be turned back. That traveler should have obtained a Student (F-1) visa.

On the issue of a blacklist… I’m sure the Embassy does not hold one. I’m equally sure, however, that various agencies within the US do. Names of applicants are certainly vetted by security officials before being approved or denied for visas. But, as the Embassy notes, while prior travel to certain countries is not an automatic disqualification, the visa interviewer will inquire about that travel and make a judgment based on the answers provided.

The article also mentions the possibility of extending visitor and business visa validity from the current 5-year period to 10 years. The matter is being discussed in Washington, but approval will depend very much on Saudi reciprocity. Visas tend to be very much a matter of reciprocity (or ‘tit-for-tat’, if you prefer). Everything from the amount charged to obtain a visa to the terms of a visa are mirrored, with variations solely based on domestic law in either country. This is not just a US-Saudi thing; it’s universal, applying to all countries.

US: Saudi Islamist Activists Not Blacklisted
Musaid al Ziani

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—A senior official from the United States’ Embassy in Saudi Arabia has denied the existence of a list of Saudi Islamist activists who are banned from traveling to the US, noting that the previous travel ban was based on confidential information that cannot be disclosed to the public.

Cecilia Khatib, a consul at the US Embassy, said that US privacy laws protecting personal information state that reasons for an individual being banned from travel can only be disclosed to that individual. She added that there is no information about the existence a list.

Ms. Khatib’s statement came in response to information which suggested the existence of lists containing the names of Saudi Islamist activists banned from traveling to the US. She spoke during a press conference held by the US Embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh, as part of a tour to brief the media about the application procedures in Saudi Arabia to obtain a US visa.

The US Embassy revealed in Riyadh that 92.4 percent of total business and tourism visa applications for Saudis around the world were approved in 2012. Furthermore, it pointed out that more than 70 percent of the visas approved in Riyadh were issued within a week.

According to the information available, the consular section in Riyadh received 80,216 non-immigrant visa applications over the past year, an increase of 22 percent when compared to 2011. Student visas comprised 29 percent of the non-immigrant visa applications in Saudi Arabia.


January:30:2013 - 08:41 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV runs an Agence France Presse report on new limits being put on Saudi Arabia’s religious police. The head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has restricted the group’s ability to interrogate suspects and to press charges. Those functions are to be performed solely by the regular police and public prosecutors. The religious police still retain their power to effect certain arrests, but others must be handled by the regular police as well.

More curbs on Saudi religious police powers

Riyadh (AFP): Saudi Arabia has set new limitations on the powers of its notorious religious police, charged with ensuring compliance with Islamic morality but often accused of abuses, its chief said on Tuesday.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice “once had much expanded powers, but with the new system… some of these powers, such as interrogating suspects and pressing charges,” will be restricted to the police and public prosecution, Shaikh Abdul Latif Abdel Aziz Al Shaikh told AFP.

The religious police may still arrest those carrying out “flagrant offences such as harassing women, consuming alcohol and drugs, blackmail and the practice of witchcraft,” Shaikh said of the new law approved by the cabinet.

However, the cases of such people will be referred to the police and brought to justice, as the religious police will no longer have the right to determine charges against them, he said.

UPDATE: Asharq Alawsat runs an article with more information on both the changing philosophy and practices of the Commission.


January:30:2013 - 08:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Washington Post reports at a high school in Prince George’s County, a northeastern suburb of Washington, DC, is providing the opportunity for Muslim students to pray during the school day. The article notes that the accommodation is within the legal bounds, even in a public facility where the state is forbidden to promote any specific religion, or any religion at all. Meeting needs is not promotion.

The article also notes, though, that the way the school is implementing the program might raise a few problems. First, not all Muslim students are given prayer breaks; only those who have parental approval and high grades are allowed out of class. Parental approval shouldn’t be too big an issue, given that Muslims generally approve of opportunities given their children to pray. Limiting access to those with high grades, though, isn’t so easy.

Schools can and do limit access to certain school programs and extracurricular activities based on grades. Religious practice, though? I wouldn’t want to try to defend that in a court.

The school may also have opened a door wider than it intended. Once it permits one religious group to have prayer during class time, it will be hard put to find legitimate reasons to not allow access to other religious groups.

Prince George’s Co. school lets Muslim students out of class to pray
Valerie Strauss

The growing number of Muslim students seeking accommodations to practice their religion in public schools has stirred debate about the long-contentious issue of prayer in America’s public institutions.

But a Prince George’s County high school principal believes she has found a way to accommodate Muslim students: She gives those with parental permission and high grades a pass out of class every day to pray.

At Parkdale High School, about 10 Muslim students get out of class for about eight minutes each day to pray together on campus, said Principal Cheryl J. Logan. Another student is working hard to raise his grades so he too can join the group of students, who belong to the school’s chapter of the Muslim Students’ Association, she said.


January:29:2013 - 10:12 | Comments & Trackbacks (16) | Permalink

Is there an essential conflict between Islam and Science? Some people certainly believe so. But then, there are also some Christians who have a hard time dealing with particular branches of Science, the Theory of Evolution among them.

Economist magazine takes a look at a new burgeoning of science and research taking place in the Islamic world. It finds that over the past decade, published research from universities in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Iran, and other states has increased significantly. State funding for research indicates that the governments — if not all the people — are realizing that if they are to flourish, or even survive, in the future, they must consider Science an important part of life. Worth reading in its entirety.

The road to renewal
After centuries of stagnation science is making a comeback in the Islamic world

THE sleep has been long and deep. In 2005 Harvard University produced more scientific papers than 17 Arabic-speaking countries combined. The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims have produced only two Nobel laureates in chemistry and physics. Both moved to the West: the only living one, the chemist Ahmed Hassan Zewail, is at the California Institute of Technology. By contrast Jews, outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims, have won 79. The 57 countries in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference spend a puny 0.81% of GDP on research and development, about a third of the world average. America, which has the world’s biggest science budget, spends 2.9%; Israel lavishes 4.4%.

Many blame Islam’s supposed innate hostility to science. Some universities seem keener on prayer than study. Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, for example, has three mosques on campus, with a fourth planned, but no bookshop. Rote learning rather than critical thinking is the hallmark of higher education in many countries. The Saudi government supports books for Islamic schools such as “The Unchallengeable Miracles of the Qur’an: The Facts That Can’t Be Denied By Science” suggesting an inherent conflict between belief and reason.

Many universities are timid about courses that touch even tangentially on politics or look at religion from a non-devotional standpoint. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a renowned Pakistani nuclear scientist, introduced a course on science and world affairs, including Islam’s relationship with science, at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, one of the country’s most progressive universities. Students were keen, but Mr Hoodbhoy’s contract was not renewed when it ran out in December; for no proper reason, he says. (The university insists that the decision had nothing to do with the course content.)

But look more closely and two things are clear. A Muslim scientific awakening is under way. And the roots of scientific backwardness lie not with religious leaders, but with secular rulers, who are as stingy with cash as they are lavish with controls over independent thought.


January:28:2013 - 12:16 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Foreign workers don’t have it easy in Saudi Arabia. They put up with sometimes inhumane conditions because they can earn salaries impossible in their home countries. Their decisions are for naught, though, when those salaries are withheld from them.

Saudi Gazette reports that 8,000 foreign workers demonstrated in Riyadh against the delayed payment of those salaries. That there were 8,000 demonstrating suggests that this isn’t just an oversight on the part of an employer or two; this is a systemic problem. It’s one that the Ministry of Labor needs to address promptly.

There are pressures being put on foreign workers in Saudi Arabia to leave. New laws ban them from certain sectors of the economy — lingerie shops, for instance. Others institute penalties against companies that employ them if they are not balanced by a sufficient number of Saudi employees. They should not, however, be starved into leaving.

8,000 strike work over salary delay
Mishal Al-Otaibi | Saudi Gazette

RIYADH — Protesting delay in payment of their salaries, about 8,000 contract workers struck work in the capital Sunday.

Security forces surrounded the workers assembled in northern Al-Aqeeq District early in the morning and tried to pacify them.

The police also diverted traffic from Takhassusi Street south of the North Ring Road to King Fahd Road.

They asked the striking workers to note down their demands and send their delegates to speak with their employers to redress their grievances.


January:28:2013 - 10:53 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

BBC reports that the courts in Saudi Arabia have declined the opportunity to try blogger Raif Badawi on charges of apostasy. While that’s good news, Badawi fears that he’ll just be facing a string of new charges intended to silence his criticism of the government and other authorities.

Raif Badawi: Court refuses to charge Saudi blogger
Sebastian Usher

A court in Saudi Arabia has found that a liberal blogger accused of apostasy has no case to answer.

The court had the power to sentence Raif Badawi to death had it found him guilty.

But it refused to charge him, referring his case back to a lower court.

Mr Badawi, the young co-founder of a website called the Liberal Saudi Network, was arrested last year and accused of insulting Islam and showing disobedience.

His lawyer, Waleed Abu Alkhair, says he became a target for Saudi authorities after declaring 7 May last year a “day for Saudi liberals” – in order to have more open discussion about social and religious issues.


January:26:2013 - 09:24 | Comments Off | Permalink

Samar Al-Miqren, writing for the Arabic daily Al-Jazirah, says she doesn’t see the big deal about Saudi women working as cleaners. They’ve been doing it a long time. Now, she asks that they be formally given a chance to expand their work into hotels, airports, and the like. In the process, they’d be helping to shed thousands of foreign workers from the Saudi economy.

The move would be necessarily more expensive, of course. They would need separate facilities as well as additional security. But because there are women willing to take the jobs, they should receive government support for filling them. Working even in menial labor is better than the alternatives of begging, or worse.

Saudi women cleaners: What is the harm?
Samar Al-Miqren
Al-Jazirah newspaper

Al-Watan newspaper recently published a report under the headline “Saudi women break the disgrace barrier and work as cleaners”. I found it to be a well-balanced report that made an interesting read. However, many people who read it wrongly thought this is the first time Saudi women are taking up this honorable job.

Throughout elementary school and up until high school, I still remember how the majority of cleaners were Saudi women and they used to perform their duties diligently. So, there is really nothing new in the report except that Saudi women can now branch out and work as cleaners in tourist resorts, hotels and other places.

I think it is imperative that we expand work opportunities for uneducated women who are in need of jobs because, after all, hard work is much better than begging at traffic lights or hawking goods on streets where women can be subjected to all kinds of harassment.

I earnestly hope that people who oppose women’s employment will openly come out and object to women begging and selling goods on the streets.


January:26:2013 - 08:57 | Comments Off | Permalink

Following the execution of a Sri Lankan domestic worker in Saudi Arabia, the government of Sri Lanka has announced that it will more strictly control the hiring of its citizens for employment in the Kingdom. Its goal is to stop the flow of Sri Lankan women to Saudi Arabia, where over 600K are currently working. Al-Jazeera reports…

Sri Lanka to ban maids going to Saudi Arabia

Sri Lanka will gradually stop allowing women to work as housemaids in Saudi Arabia after a Sri Lankan was executed in the country over the death of an infant in her care, the Colombo government said.

The government said it would raise the minimum age for female domestic workers to be eligible to seek employment in Saudi Arabia to 25 years from the present 21 with an eye on eventually stopping such employment altogether.

“Gradual phase-out is the idea,” government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said. “We can’t stop it overnight. It’s a gradual process and increasing the age limit is part of that.”

Colombo recalled its envoy to Saudi Arabia in response to the beheading on January 9 of Rizana Nafeek, who was sentenced to death in 2007 accused of killing her employer’s daughter while she was bottle-feeding.

A third of the two million Sri Lankan maids working abroad are in Saudi Arabia, according to the country’s foreign employment bureau.

Many households in the Middle East are highly dependent on housemaids from African and South Asian countries.

In some cases of reported domestic abuse, maids have attacked the children of their employers after they were mistreated themselves.

In the case of Nafeek, the Saudi interior ministry said, the infant was strangled after a dispute between her and the baby’s mother.


January:25:2013 - 08:34 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia is developing rapidly, almost at a manic pace in some areas. The construction and engineering projects may not be in the safest of hands, though. Arab News reports that as the government goes about verifying the accreditation of its engineers, a thousand expats with fake engineering documentation have been discovered. When discovered, the names of the fakers are sent to the companies employing them. They’re also sent to the Ministry of Interior for criminal action.

What the article doesn’t discuss is how the work these false engineers have been doing is being checked for quality. Every project they have touched should be suspect and verification of the work assessed. It’s one thing to fine or deport fake engineers. It’s an entirely other thing to allow substandard work to remain, waiting to bite unsuspecting victims some years down the road.

1,000 fake engineers detected
DAMMAM: SAEED AL-ASMARI

The Saudi Council of Engineers (SCE), which is responsible for verifying and certifying engineers in the Kingdom, has identified nearly 1,000 fake degrees submitted by expatriates for verification and certification in 2012.

Hamad Al-Shagawi, one of the top executives at the council, said: “The SCE is responsible for verifying and certifying engineers and consultants, both Saudis and non-Saudis, in the Kingdom. This has led to the uncovering of 1,000 fake degrees of expatriate engineers during 2012.”

He said SCE’s cooperation with the Interior Ministry has helped streamline the accreditation process.

“After carrying out the due process, we consult international companies that specialize in identifying authentic and counterfeit certificates,” he said.

“When we discover a fake degree from an engineer, we immediately notify the Interior Ministry as well as the firm or consultancy with which the engineer is employed,” said Al-Shagawi.


January:24:2013 - 07:35 | Comments Off | Permalink
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