Editor-at-Large Khaled Almaeena writes at Saudi Gazette that governments need to get on top of “fifth columnists” who are promoting and supporting terrorist organizations. And that includes Saudi preachers.
Almaeena laments that governments allowed this situation to develop years ago when the problem might have been dealt with more easily. There are radicals within Saudi Arabia and within the government. Unsupervised teachers have free rein to teach extremist theology, even when they’re supposed to be teaching chemistry or math. Secretaries within ministries work to subvert the missions of those ministries if they believe them “too liberal” or “too foreign” or “not the Islam I want”. Preachers preach hate and intolerance. While the government may now be seeking to rid itself of such pestilence, it’s awfully late to the game.
This is a situation that has been allowed to fester for going on 40 years. It’s long past time to fix it.
Stop these preachers of hate!
A Gulf paper reported the suspension of the Twitter account of a Saudi preacher who urged followers on social media networking websites to celebrate the death by suicide bombing of dozens of protestors in Yemen thought to be Al-Houthis. On Twitter, Khalid Al-Ghamdi gloated over the corpses of people killed in bomb attacks in Sanaa on Oct. 9. He praised the Al-Qaeda group who carried out the attack and in his twisted way asked followers to take pleasure in watching the images of the burnt bodies. His show on Al-Wesal TV has been accused by patriotic Saudis of stoking sectarianism in the region. The sadistic comments caused outrage among peace-loving people who called for his prosecution.
Al-Ghamdi’s perverted, uncivilized and barbaric behavior is totally repugnant to the majority of Muslims all over the world. To ask people to gloat over the killing of innocent women and children reveals a demonic mind. The government is intent on fighting this evil ideology of hate, intolerance, incitement to murder and the vicious brutality of glorifying such heinous acts. However, we can’t do this by praying in mosques against “Daish”, the so-called Islamic State, or by reading circulars from the authorities asking us not to be swayed by deviants. This is a threatening evil ideology that has to be fought with serious determination and political will.
Saudi Arabia’s Statistics Agency, part of the Ministry of Civil Service, took it in the neck during a recent session of the Shoura Council. The Council pointed to an array of areas in which the statistics provided by the Agency were garbage. And statistical garbage in means garbage policies out.
The Agency, according to this Arab News report, blames it on a lack of trained personnel.
Others might blame it on the Saudi propensity toward secrecy, particularly if the information being withheld can be viewed as casting a negative shadow on the government or government employees.
Shoura slams Statistics Agency
In a recent session, Shoura Council members criticized the Ministry of Civil Service and the Statistics Agency for not having a clear plan for creating job opportunities for Saudi women.
The Shoura members said that the Statistics Agency was not providing accurate figures on the number of unemployed women, creating confusion in chalking out a plan to increase their numbers in the work force.
Shoura member Abdulziz Al-Harqan said that transport allowances for female employees in the government sector are unfair, arguing that women in the Kingdom do not drive and are forced to employ private drivers which means the transport allowance should be doubled. He also said that women should be exempted from paying the visa fees when recruiting drivers.
Shoura member Khaled Al-Awad said the Statistics Agency suffers from a systematically flawed approach leading to incorrect indicators of Saudi Arabia’s living standards, family spending and housing expenses which raises a lot of questions on all areas of planning in the Kingdom.
Just a few years ago, the idea of physical education for girls was one that led to huge arguments in the Saudi population and, consequently, one the Saudi government preferred to avoid.
That’s changed. Not only is physical education becoming part of the curriculum in girls schools, but the government is establishing 1,000 “fitness and social clubs” around the country, Arab News reports.
The wars over what’s acceptable for women are hardly finished. There are still many Saudis who find the idea morally dangerous and fight against it. For now, though, they’ve lost the battle.
Ministry plans 1,000 fitness clubs for girls
JEDDAH: FOUZIA KHAN
The Ministry of Education plans to launch 1,000 fitness and social clubs for girls around the country by the end of 2015.
Noura Al-Fayez, deputy minister of education for girls, said on Wednesday that the aim is to ensure these clubs are for members of the community, particularly young people, to develop a range of skills.
Al-Fayez made the comments on Wednesday during a tour of a club in Riyadh.
Al-Fayez was welcomed by Samira Sheaibi, assistant director of the girls education department in Riyadh; Nadia Al-Ghyshian, assistant general supervisor of the program; Nora Alkanaan, director of the Shifa education office; Nora Budaiya, director of the club; and several supervisors and management activity directors.
Saudi media are reporting on the Grand Mufti’s assertion that Twitter is the “source of evil.” While he acknowledges that it could be used for the good, he believes it has been misused and has now become a source of “lies and falsehoods.”
There are certainly no “truth filters” on Twitter — or anywhere else on the Internet. It is up to the individual to discern truth from falsehood. But that requires an education that enables one to do that critical thinking. Saudi education, so far, does not provide that. Instead, it focuses on what authority figures say the truth is. And when those authority figures are found to be in error on any issue, it weakens both them as individuals and whatever system of authority has been established.
RIYADH — The microblogging site Twitter is nothing more than “a source of lies” and evil, the Kingdom’s Grand Mufti said.
“If it were used correctly, it could be of real benefit, but unfortunately it’s exploited for trivial matters,” Sheikh Abdulaziz Aal Alsheikh said on his “Fatwa” television show broadcast late Monday.
Twitter is “the source of all evil and devastation,” he said.
“People are rushing to it thinking it’s a source of credible information but it’s a source of lies and falsehood.”
The Kingdom has 2.4 million active Twitter users, accounting for 40 percent of all active Twitter users in the Arab world, according to the sixth edition of the Arab Social Media Report.
From Arab News:
The millennia-old pilgrimage to Mecca is mashing up with the smart-phone-potentiated selfie photo and not everyone is happy about it.
Saudi media are all reporting on the new phenomenon of pilgrims taking selfies and uploading them to the Internet. Some see it as just something that people will do. Others find it to be disrespectful, obnoxious, and maybe even blasphemous.
Arab News and Saudi Gazette carry a report from Agence France Presse that is typical of the reporting…
MINA (AFP): Raising his arm, Yousef Ali hugs his elderly father in front of one of the Haj sites as they pose for a selfie — a new trend that has hit this year’s Haj. But not everyone is happy about young pilgrims from around the world constantly snapping “selfies,” as they carry out the rites of Haj.
Haj is world’s largest religious gatherings of Muslims. It has attracted over two million believers this year.
“As this is my first pilgrimage, it is important for me to document all the events taking place around me,” Ali, 24, told AFP, snapping a picture of himself.
“Wherever I go, I take pictures,” the casually dressed Kuwaiti pilgrim said with a smile.
The increasingly popular phenomenon has sparked controversy among some Muslims.
Maktoob, the Yahoo! news portal, has a slideshow based on the imagery:
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV runs an interesting editorial by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE.
He points to the fact that ISIS can only be truly defeated if its ideology can be defeated. Military success against it, though assured, does not result in its end as it will just metastasize into a new form. He points to Saudi Arabia’s deradicalization program by name, but also notes that too many countries in the region accept the presence of extremist thought within their borders. There is currently insufficient effort being put toward teaching toleration of differences, human development, and good governance.
The intellectual battle against ISIS
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum
The global financial crisis taught the world how profoundly interdependent our economies have become. In today’s crisis of extremism, we must recognize that we are just as interdependent for our security, as is clear in the current struggle to defeat the ISIS.
If we are to prevent ISIS from teaching us this lesson the hard way, we must acknowledge that we cannot extinguish the fires of fanaticism by force alone. The world must unite behind a holistic drive to discredit the ideology that gives the extremists their power, and to restore hope and dignity to those whom they would recruit.
ISIS certainly can — and will — be defeated militarily by the international coalition that is now assembling and which the UAE is actively supporting. But military containment is only a partial solution. Lasting peace requires three bigger ingredients: winning the intellectual battle; upgrading weak governance; and grassroots human development.
Such a solution must begin with concerted international political will. Not a single politician in North America, Europe, Africa, or Asia can afford to ignore events in the Middle East. A globalized threat requires a globalized response. Everyone will feel the heat, because such flames know no borders; indeed, ISIS has recruited members of at least 80 nationalities.
Over at Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem continues his critique of Arab society and politics, seeking to explain how the Arab world came to be in the situation in which it now finds itself.
He highlights the point that there is no longer any real freedom of thought in the region. Would-be intellectuals are forced into extreme positions if they wish to stay out of jail or to stay alive.
He sharply notes that while the actions of the “outsider” may prove a useful political excuse for the current state of the Arab world, it is far from an adequate excuse. He contrasts the political fortunes of Egypt and India, both becoming independent in the same year, and finds that the Egyptians — for Egyptian reasons — has fallen far behind. He further contrasts Egypt with S. Korea. Both countries had essentially similar demographics and economies in 1960, but now, Egypt has only one-eighth of S. Korea’s GDP per capita. These disparities are not accidents of faith nor are they the result of foreign oppression or interference. The stories Arabs have been telling themselves are no longer believable and populations are no longer buying into the mythology. But solving the problems can’t even start until people can start talking about them, start exploring alternatives, without having to worry whether they’ll be alive tomorrow.
Who brought the Arabs to this nadir?
In recent weeks and months I tried in this space to critique an Arab political culture that continues to reproduce the values of patriarchy, mythmaking, conspiracy theories, sectarianism, autocracy and a political/cultural discourse that denies human agency and tolerates the persistence of the old order. The article in which I said that the ailing Arab body politic had created the ISIS cancer, and a subsequent article published in Politico Magazine generated a huge response and sparked debates on Twitter and the blogosphere.
The overwhelming response was positive, even though my analysis of Arab reality was bleak and my prognosis of the immediate future was negative. Yet, these articles were not a call for despair, far from it; they are a cris de Coeur for Arabs, particularly intellectuals, activists and opinion makers, to first recognize that they are in the main responsible for their tragic conditions, that they have to own their problems before they rely on their human agency to make the painful decisions needed to transcend their predicament. These articles should be viewed through the motto of the Italian Marxian philosopher Antonio Gramsci: “Pessimism of the spirit; optimism of the will.” Pessimism of the will, means that you see and analyze the world as it is not as you wish it to be, but for this pessimism not to be fatal, it should be underpinned by the optimism of the will, to face challenges, and overcome adversity by relying on human agency.
The idea of cinemas in Saudi Arabia is a fraught one. While they used to exist, up to the 1960s at least, in some parts of the Kingdom, they have all be shuttered in the name of keeping the sexes separate and avoiding the dispersal of “bad” ideas. They remain unpopular with a large part of the Saudi population for those reasons, but others see not only a desire for cinema, but an economic need.
Saudi Gazette reports that the Ministry of Labor is at least open to the idea of re-opening cinemas. It sees it, tentatively, as a new area in which Saudis can be employed. This would go along with the fact that Saudis are becoming more adept at making films, even if they have to cross borders to do so. Saudis certainly cross borders to view films, as Bahraini theaters are pleased to record in their balance sheets.
The arguments about content seem to now be obviated by the fact of satellite TV and the Internet. Content that was once considered anathema is now common, though filtering and blocking things like obscenity and objectionable religious and political content continue (to decreasing effect). Separating the sexes ought not be a difficult task for a country that has been separating them for a few generations now.
Many see the reintroduction of cinemas in Saudi Arabia as inevitable. At present, though, it’s a matter of “Soon, just not now.”
Cinema is now an economic activity
Saudi Gazette report
THE Ministry of Labor in the Kingdom has included cinema in the economic activities that people can work in. The ministry has included various cinema and other entertainment activities, film production as well as distribution and display of movies among economic activities, a statement of the ministry put on its website said.
In an exclusive report this June, Maaal Arabic newspaper revealed that an investor has officially submitted an application to the Saudi General Commission for Audiovisual Media for a license to set up a movie theater in Saudi Arabia.
Through its website, the ministry did not give more details on these specializations and the possibility of working in them nor did it specify conditions and regulations for someone willing to engage in such activities, according to Al Arabiya website.
Earlier, the audiovisual commission did not object to the idea in principle. It asked the investor to give a full explanation on the project including a future strategy.
If the commission thinks the investment is feasible, it could ask higher authorities to clear the way for movie theaters nationwide, sources reportedly said.
On the Question-and-Answer website Quora, Saudi national Osama Natto points out the problems Saudi would-be entrepreneurs face in trying to start up a business. Part of the problem is generational, but the biggest issue is that those with money to invest are very conservative and risk-averse. It’s an interesting read, complete with infographic.
Why Start-ups Don’t Get Funding in Saudi Arabia
If you have ever wondered why it’s so difficult for Saudi start-ups to find funding, this infographic is about to open your eyes.
Based on one of my more controversial blog posts, Why Start-Ups Don’t Get Funding in Saudi Arabia, this infographic includes extra information on some of topics covered in that earlier article, all presented in a fun visual format.
The full text of the infographic is available below for those who prefer text.
Young Saudis are changing their expectations about work, Al Arabiya TV reports. Rather than waiting around for high-status/low-productivity jobs in the public sector, they are now looking at and taking jobs in the service sector. They are bucking this (recent) historical social disdain for these jobs because they realize that any moral job that pays a salary is a respectable job and that earning a salary is much better than not earning a salary. Saudi males are starting to catch up with the women, who have had far more pragmatic ideas about work.
A large number of young Saudis have joined jobs that were considered beneath them in the past and are proving that such negative traditions and norms are not an obstacle to their ambitions.
It has become normal to see young Saudis working in men’s fashion shops, restaurants and coffee shops, serving customers to acquire the experience and work culture that will allow them to achieve higher goals.
These Saudis are reflected in the recent data released by the Ministry of Labor that showed the number of Saudis working in the private sector has reached 1.47 million in 2013, representing a 332.2 percent increase from 2012.
This increase was also helped by the ministry’s Saudization efforts and the security campaigns that were conducted against illegal workers, Al-Hayat daily reported.
Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is crying “Foul!” over a video clip that has been appearing on various social media sites. The clip purports to show a member of the Commission uttering threats against blackmailers and homosexuals while presenting himself as a member of the vice police. His is not a part of the Commission but an imposter, authorities say, and they are determined to find out who he is and to punish him.
It is not terribly difficult to make fake news. Some allege that “Pallywood” is a manifestation of this, but we have all seen mock news articles. Unfortunately, some of these get taken up by reputable media — with less than wonderful fact-checking — and become part of “what we all know.”
The Saudi Gazette article here quotes a Shoura Council member as saying that social media sites should not be shut down as they are not the problem. The problem is with those who would abuse it.
Haia distances itself from viral video
Saudi Gazette report
DAMMAM — The Presidency for the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Haia) said the man who recently appeared in a video clip beside one of the Haia’s vehicles and launched a wave of threats against homosexuals and those who blackmail young women is not one of its personnel.
The Haia described the man as an impostor, Al-Hayat daily said.
The Haia, through its spokesman Turki Al-Shelayyil, also said it will investigate and punish the person who arranged for the man to shoot video clips next to the Haia’s vehicle. If he is convicted of impersonation, he will be imprisoned for 10 years or be fined or both.
The video clip elicited a response from the commission’s presidency as it contained words and insinuations that violate the regulations and policies of the Haia, specifically the principle of “promoting virtue and preventing vice”.
In the video, a man whose appearance indicates that he is a Haia member stands next to a vehicle belonging to the commission. He subsequently makes numerous threats, something that prompted the commission to find out his true identity so appropriate action can be taken against him.
I don’t know whether there’s been a new rash of objectionable materials or that the volume of existing materials has reached a peak, but Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is asking for the Ministry of Interior to make more arrests for blasphemy.
Saudi Gazette reports that the Commission is seeking to have more websites blocked and more action taken against those on social media who are “distorting” Islam in various ways. Pornography, of course, remains a big issue as the government, with its filters operated by the Communication & Information Technology Commission (CITC) can only do so much. A blocked site can change its address almost as quickly as the CITC can block them. Those Saudis with a modicum of computer savvy can find their way around the filters and blocks with ease.
Haia asks ministry to arrest blasphemers
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) has asked the Ministry of Interior to arrest those who insult Almighty Allah or the Prophet (peace be upon him), Makkah daily reported.
The Haia said it is coordinating with the Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) to block pornographic websites and others that insult the Muslim faith.
The commission said this coordination resulted in a large number of websites being blocked.
The commission said it is preparing reports on a number of programs, applications and copies of the Holy Qur’an whose verses have been distorted. It is coordinating with the authorities to prevent the circulation of such material, the Haia said.