Well, the fox is loose in the chicken house. Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi, former head of the Mecca branch of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has come out saying that not only is veiling not required of Saudi women, but that their travel should be uninhibited and that there’s not problem with casual (but proper!) contact between the sexes in public.

This, of course, flies in the face of Saudi convention that seeks to contain and constrain women on nearly every front.

While I’m sure his comments will heat up social media, I’m not sure how much broader influence it will have. Still, his voice will be heard. Al Arabiya reports:

Freedom fatwa? Saudi cleric says women don’t need to veil, can travel alone
Al Arabiya

An influential Saudi cleric has issued a religious edict, commonly known as Fatwa, allowing women to travel without a male guardian, uncover their faces and eat alongside men.

In statements posted on Twitter, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Qassim al-Ghamdi, the former head of Mecca’s Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice committee, said: “It is permissible for people to look at what is not forbidden in women like their faces and their arms.”

In other statements, the cleric said women can travel without a male guardian provided that there is safety.

Al-Ghamdi backed his statements with references to sayings by prominent Muslim scholars in history.

February:28:2013 - 10:42 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

The 1001 Night is a piece of literature with many fathers. Apparently coming from Sanskrit or Persian origins, the collection of stories told by Scheherazade to prolong her life has been a mutable thing. Stories from different times and places have been told and recast many times. In some versions, certain stories appear but are missing in others.

Al Arabiya TV reports on the publication (in German) of a new collection of 101 stories, written in N. Africa and Andalusia in the 13th C, but set in an India of a mysterious time (as is much of the 1001 Nights). Only a few of the stories in the new collection are to be found in other versions of the larger work.

1001 nights ‘younger sibling,’ medieval manuscript found, translated
Al Arabiya

Almost everyone is in some way familiar with the epic “1,001 Nights,” we all know the tale of Sultan Shahryar who, heartbroken by his wife’s infidelity, remarries every night only to kill his new bride at sunrise.

This carried on until he married his vizier’s daughter Scheherazade who, gifted with an extraordinary ability to weave exciting stories, manages to save her own life by promising to tell the king a new story every night.

Throughout the 100,1 nights readers remain enthralled and entangled in the stories narrated by Scheherazade.

The Egypt Independent reported on Thursday that a new collection of stories had come to light and been translated, the 101 nights.

February:28:2013 - 10:35 | Comments Off | Permalink

In his column for Asharq Alawsat, Hussein Shabokshi says that ‘Islamic politics’ is a misnomer. There’s little ‘Islamic’ about it, at least at manifest in countries roiled by Arab Spring. Instead of following the political course followed by the Prophet Mohammed, the leaders who have ascended to power through elections are simply replicating the power politics of the regimes they had overthrown.

Opponents are not welcomed into the body politic. Instead, they are cursed, accused of treason, publicly excoriated, demeaned, and jailed. Instead of taking part in the dynamics of politics, they’re being forced underground. Worse, those in power are showing themselves incapable of governing. By silencing other voices, they are losing possible solutions to problems they are themselves unable to solve.

These new leaders rode into power waving the flag of Islam and promising to fix the social ills that preceded them. Perhaps, Shabokshi suggest, they might actually try behaving in an Islamic manner now that they hold the reins.

Political Islam in Name Only
Hussein Shabokshi

Several politicians and analysts are trying to look closely and accurately into the state of confusion, tension, and failure that has characterized the experience of the ruling political groups and parties in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, ever since the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions. Perhaps the most important and dangerous trait that all these political groups share is their “exclusionary” nature. They have failed to accommodate different segments of society and represent them all, particularly at a highly sensitive time following on from the violent and impassioned uprisings. These groups were once part of the opposition category themselves; practicing their activities in secret under the severe oppression of the previous regimes. As a result, once in power they took on a retaliatory form, further intensifying the state of fragmentation and fuelling mistrust within society.

Islam’s discourse on politics in general is somewhat shallow. While we can find dozens of volumes and books on purity, worship, and other issues, there are very few books on “political fiqh”, and a clear lack of scholarly consensus. This means that we must use much discretion when talking about political Islam; no one alone can claim a full understanding, and no one should be able to impose this understanding upon others.

The “political Islam” groups that have come to power in the Arab Spring states have not followed in the footsteps of the Prophet Mohammed himself—peace be upon him—when he conquered Mecca. After the conquest, and while the prophet’s opponents were dreading his reaction, Mohammed announced a “day of mercy” and uttered his famous saying “Even he who enters the house of Abu Sufyan will be safe “, in reference to his prominent opponent at the time. The prophet added “Go your way, for you are free “, without punishing or taking revenge against anyone. This principle was later applied by two of the most renowned politicians of the twentieth century: Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi and the peerless South African Nelson Mandela. They both offered a full pardon to their former opponents and enemies, and even incorporated them into their new regimes to become part of the solution, rather than the problem. This is the difference between wisdom and political maturity on the one hand, and political adolescence on the other.

Saudi Gazette runs a piece from Asharq Alawsat that argues the same point. What’s changed in the practical politics? The only thing that seem to have been changed is the rhetoric.

February:27:2013 - 09:26 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette translates an article from the Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper that points to the discrepancies of the Saudi government in the way it treats malefactors. It notes the incongruity of releasing from prison a woman who was convicted of supporting terrorism, raising funds for and recruiting members for Al-Qaeda. Yet those who have committed lesser errors — and how have made apologies — are yet lingering in jails awaiting trial. Among these is the blogger Hamza Kashgari.

‘Al-Qaeda lady’ is in her home while Hamza stays in prison
Badriyah Al-Bishr | Al-Hayat newspaper

In one of her famous advices, Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her) has asked Muslim leaders to avert the Hudood (Islamic punishments) as best as they could. “If you find a way out for a Muslim in a certain fault, release him. It is better for the leader to make mistakes in pardoning than to make them in punishment”.

Therefore it is kind of foolishness to advocate the imprisonment of people. Al-Hayat newspaper recently published a report about the release of the notorious “Al-Qaeda lady”. It said the judicial committee decided that the woman should complete her remaining jail term at her home on condition that she should not be allowed to travel. This is the punishment of a woman who was charged with collecting money for the Al-Qaeda organization, facilitating recruitment of a number of youths and getting them in touch with other Al-Qaeda members.

The woman married a number of Al-Qaeda members. One of her husbands was killed in Saudi Arabia during confrontations with the security forces. The release of the woman was a constant demand by the Al-Qaeda organization during negotiations.

February:26:2013 - 09:42 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi academic Khalid Al-Seghayer takes a whack at Saudi lifestyles in his column for Saudi Gazette. He starts out with punctuality and how the concept does not seem to have taken firm hold on society. I know that foreign diplomats from many countries used to joke about “IBM time”: Insha’Allah, Bukra, Maalesh — God willing, Tomorrow, It didn’t matter anyway”. This wasn’t seen as particularly Saudi, but pretty much pan-Arab. Clocks just worked differently and none too efficiently.

More than a joke, though, being on time does matter in many circumstances. It’s fine to be ‘fashionable late’ for social engagements, 15-30 minutes after the appointed time, though the acceptability of that waxes and wanes. It’s not fine to show up for work or for business meetings even a few minutes late.

Al-Seghayer also takes note of the low levels of productivity once people have shown up. He points to a lack of priorities, motivation, and focus as among the problems. While it’s certainly important to keep up social (and political) associations, perhaps the office is not the right place to be doing so.

The problems of punctuality and productivity in Saudi Arabia
Dr. Khalid Al-Seghayer

Punctuality is not a traditional virtue of Saudis, which adversely affects their level of productivity. The constant and all-pervasive presence of the poor punctuality and reduced productivity of Saudis is mainly due to poor time management skills and the lack of importance given to time in general and to achievements on an individual level, in particular. Other factors include an inadequate educational system along with some counterproductive traditional practices.

Punctuality is not of great importance in Saudi Arabia, as Saudis often show a relaxed attitude to time. This can be seen in many situations, from the punctuality of a driver to the start of an official event, both of which clearly show that Saudi culture neither encourages tight schedules nor gives timeliness a high priority.

One can cite a number of social practices that show this relaxed attitude to punctuality. Deadlines are not absolute, and there is no great sense of urgency surrounding due dates. Frequent and unscheduled visits to friends and relatives are not considered a waste of time but rather time well spent. It is considered discourteous to be caught looking at one’s watch during any sort of social gathering.

February:26:2013 - 09:01 | Comments Off | Permalink

That’s what a handful of Saudi clerics and academics are going to be doing soon.

The miscreants have been popping off in social media calling the new women members of Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council ‘prostitutes’ and ‘the filth of society’. That’s not going down very well with users of Twitter. I suspect it won’t go down very well with the government, either. Al Arabiya TV reports…

‘Prostitutes’: Saudi cleric insults recently-appointed female Shura members
Al Arabiya

A controversial Saudi cleric used Twitter to publicly insult the recently-appointed female members of the Shura Council.

Derogatory terms such as “prostitutes” and “the filth of society” were used to describe the highly-achieved female academics and technocrats who were only sworn into the Council a few days after a highly-acclaimed Royal Decree was issued by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

The tweets quickly became widely-spread through the social media network and rapidly developed their own hash-tags; however, many Saudi tweeps condemned the attack on the female Shura members, especially since they came from figures who are supposed to preach tolerance, compassion and respect.

Among the clerics who resorted to insults was member of the Islamic Ministry for Da’wah, Guidance and Endowments, Ahmed Al-abedulqader expressed his discontent of women partaking a role in the Shura Council over his Twitter account, “They thought they can mock the mufti by giving these ‘prostitutes’ legitimacy to be in power. I am not an imposter, and imposters do not fool me. For how long will the forts of virtues be torn down?”

February:25:2013 - 08:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

A piece in the Arabic Al-Jazirah newspaper (translated here by Saudi Gazette) reports that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has banned an imam from preaching from the pulpit (minbar) for lashing out at a female school principal who was doing her job. The imam didn’t like that she was following her orders from the Ministry of Education and targeted the principal individually and by name.

Imams in Saudi Arabia receive a government stipend. That makes them government employees. Governments can certainly limit what their employees say while on the job, particularly when that speech opposes government policy. The imam will have to find another venue to vent.

Attack by a preacher
Ruqaya Al-Hwairnee | Al-Jazirah

THE Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowment, Call and Guidance did the right thing when it opened an investigation into a local mosque imam who used inappropriate language to describe a female school principal during his Friday sermon.

During the sermon, the imam called on authorities to dismiss the principal because she was working in a new program approved by the Ministry of Education. The program seeks to improve female students’ etiquette skills, teach them how to deal with different situations using proper conduct and reflect a good image about Muslim girls.

The one-week program targets all female students and it is conducted as an extracurricular activity.

When the principal came to know about the imam’s words, she lodged a complaint against him. When asked why he used such inappropriate words to describe the principal who has spent 30 years of her life in the field of education, he simply admitted to the deed.

February:24:2013 - 07:41 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

In its quest for the ultimate in “separate but equal” social engineering, Saudi Arabia is implementing its newest phase in plans to keep men and women apart. Saudi Gazette reports on the new regulations that bar men from entering lingerie shops now that they have been put aside as places in which only women may work. Regulations also extend to shops and departments in malls and department stores that sell women’s accessories, though they are not yet quite so draconian.

Coupled with efforts such as building ‘women-only’ industrial cities, it does make one wonder — as a commenter to the article asks — whether Saudi society would truly rather separate planets for men and women.

Hai’a approves regulations for lingerie shops
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Hai’a) said on Saturday that all lingerie shops in the Kingdom should be solely dedicated to women without allowing access for men, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

Total feminization of jobs at lingerie shops will take effect in June this year, according to decisions taken by the government earlier.

The Hai’a, in a statement, said its chairman, Dr. Abdullatif Bin Abdulaziz Al-Alsheikh, has approved rules and regulations for lingerie shops at a recent meeting he held with Minister of Labor Adel Fakieh to discuss the issue.

The regulations require jobs in these shops reserved for Saudi women who are committed to noble religious values and abide by the Islamic dress code. The Hai’a will closely monitor the implementation of the rules to prevent any violations.

The Hai’a said in multi-section shopping malls, women’s accessories should be sold in separate stalls to which men will not be allowed entry unless accompanied by their wives or female relatives.

February:24:2013 - 07:33 | Comments Off | Permalink

A report (54-page PDF) from the Center for a New American Security (NCAS) think-tank takes a look at what steps Saudi Arabia might take if Iran rolls out atomic weaponry. Rather than ramping up its own nuclear weapons program, the report states, Saudi Arabia would instead focus on finding nuclear deterrents to prevent Iran from using such weapons to coerce behavior. The paper argues that it is in the interest of the United States to ensure that Saudi Arabia follows that path rather than, say, illicitly acquire a nuclear arsenal from Pakistan.

Atomic Kingdom
If Iran Builds the Bomb, Will Saudi Arabia Be Next?
Colin H. Kahl, Melissa G. Dalton and Matthew Irvine

This report, the second in a series assessing the potential consequences of Iranian nuclearization, examines the likelihood that Saudi Arabia will pursue nuclear weapons if Tehran succeeds in its quest for the bomb. We argue that the prospects of Saudi “reactive proliferation” are lower than the conventional wisdom suggests but that this should not reduce Washington’s commitment to preventing the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran.

It is widely assumed that Saudi Arabia would respond to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons by embarking on a crash program to develop their own bomb or by illicitly receiving nuclear weapons from its close ally Pakistan. If these options were not available, most analysts believe that the Saudis would be successful in securing a nuclear umbrella from Islamabad, including the possible deployment of Pakistani nuclear weapons on Saudi soil. These scenarios have been repeated so often in Washington and elsewhere that they have assumed a taken-for-granted quality.

Yet none of these outcomes represent the most likely Saudi response to a nuclear-armed Iran. The Saudis would be highly motivated to acquire some form of nuclear deterrent to counter an Iranian bomb. However, significant disincentives – including the prospect of worsening Saudi Arabia’s security environment, rupturing strategic ties with the United States, damaging the country’s international reputation and making the Kingdom the target of sanctions – would discourage a mad rush by Riyadh to develop nuclear weapons. And, in any case, Saudi Arabia lacks the technological and bureaucratic wherewithal to do so any time in the foreseeable future. Saudi Arabia is more likely to respond to Iranian nuclearization by continuing to bolster its conventional defenses against Iranian aggression while engaging in a long-term hedging strategy designed to improve civilian nuclear capabilities.

Thanks to the Saudi-US Relations Information Service (SUSRIS) for the pointer.

February:22:2013 - 09:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

The population explosion in Saudi Arabia that’s taken place over the past 30 years is about to come to roost. Or maybe not: the branches are already full of earlier nestlings.

Arab News reports that a housing crisis is in the offing for young Saudis. As they reach the age where they’re ready to leave the nest and set up their own families, they’re finding that there’s not enough housing to go around. Many Saudis complain about the artificial shortage of housing that’s the result of strange land ownership patterns. Without available land (or reasonably priced land), there’s no way to build affordably-priced housing. It’s another problem the government will need to help solve.

Housing crisis seen in 2018

Saudi Arabia might have a housing crisis by 2018 if the current gap between demand and supply continues, say economists. They blamed the lack of clear strategy and legislation for the problems facing the real estate market.

The continuous shortage of houses is due to the fact that 60 percent of Saudi population is under 25 — age to get married.

Nidhal Jamjoom, CEO of Kinan Co., said that an increase in population and rising immigration to bigger cities in Saudi Arabia increased the demand for apartments and villas.

February:22:2013 - 09:23 | Comments Off | Permalink

Never mind the attempted assassination of King Abdullah. It appears that Muammar Qaddafi, the late ruler of Libya, had an assortment of plans to destabilize Saudi Arabia. Al Arabiya TV — a Saudi satellite TV channel — reports:

Qaddafi had ‘massive’ plan to destabilize Saudi Arabia: report
Al Arabiya

The slain Libyan strongman, Muammar Qaddafi, sought to recruit armed militants to carry out terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, according to leaked files published Wednesday by the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

Fighters, including al-Qaeda mercenaries, were actively sought out in countries including Somalia, Yemen and Iraq, by the then-Libyan leader.

One of the documents published by the paper appeared to divide the armed gangs into three main groups. Separate groups were to infiltrate the kingdom from the northeast, the northwest and the south respectively. According to the document attacks were to be carried out against the capital Riyadh and the cities of Jeddah Najran, Jazan and Aseer.

The ‘southern group,’ according to the file, consisted of 6,000 “prepared” armed men, there were alleged plans to boost the number to 13,000 with the help of local Yemeni tribes.

The file said Yemeni tribesmen had expressed readiness to cooperate with Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to execute Qaddafi’s plan of attack in Saudi Arabia.

One file singled out an unidentified Libyan party which would transport armed gunmen from Somalia to Yemen and help them cross into the kingdom.

February:21:2013 - 11:16 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Hint: If you want a job, you actually have to apply for a job. Any job.

49% of unemployed never applied for jobs

A study carried out by the Ministry of Labor shows that 49 percent of unemployed persons have never attempted to apply for jobs. The study was conducted on random samples of 16,000 Saudis, 82 percent of them females.

The majority of job seekers are high school degree holders (37 percent) while only 1 percent of them are diploma degree holders. Many of those participating in the study justified their unemployment by saying they had not found right persons to help them search for jobs. Some of them said they did not bother searching because they don’t know English or are not qualified enough.

February:20:2013 - 08:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink
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