This post just notes a strange little quirk in Saudi media practice.
A Saudi retail company had several of its branches shut down by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry following complaints about a fraudulent “discount” sale wherein products had their prices marked up, then an advertised discount applied.
Saudi Gazette reported on the event, but chose to not publish the name of the company, referring to it only as a “mega” company:
The report from Arab News, on the other hand, did cite the company’s name, if not in the headline, then in the first sentence of the first paragraph:
Saudi custom is to not publish the names of those people or companies that are accused of wrong-doing. Is that custom breaking down? I think it would be a good thing if it did as it would offer much greater transparency about exactly what is going on in the country.
Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, is noted for having said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” It seems that the sentiment applies when it comes to Saudis and abayas, according to this report from Arab News.
Dammam University, in the Eastern Province city of that name, appears to have issues with non-black abayas. The claim is that colored abayas detract from the dignity of the university. M’kay… I guess it could be analogized to a ban on wearing shorts and flip-flops at an American university, not that any but a religiously-affiliated university would seek to impose such a ban. But all universities in Saudi Arabia are religiously-affiliated, in one way or another.
I do find it peculiar, though, that though “modesty” is being imposed by head-to-toe coverings, the actual color of the coverings matters. Does a blue or green abaya conceal less than a black one? This might be an interesting research project for one studying physics or optics or human psychology.
Dammam University has launched a campaign against colorful abayas after a number of girls were caught without the customary black outer covering mandatory in educational institutions.
Supervisors at Dammam University confirmed that the campaign against the wearing of colored abayas had begun in all their colleges. They pointed out that although colored abayas are easily available in the market, female students are required to abide by the rule of wearing black as a sign of respect to the educational environment.
Female students also said that supervisors and security employees had begun implementing the campaign since last week and that any girl found in violation of the rule would be penalized. They also said that they had been warned that all violations would be documented and filed. They were also expected to abide by the instructions which authorities say promote modesty in dress and appearance.
Cinemas may see a renaissance in Saudi Arabia, Arab News reports. A committee of four government agencies — including the all-important Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — is said to have signed off on a decision to permit cinemas to reopen in the Kingdom.
Exactly how they will be regulated is not addressed in the article. The article does, however, credit the success of the Saudi film “Wadjda” as playing an important role in coming to the decision.
The green light has been given for establishing cinema houses in Saudi Arabia, following the reported agreement of four government entities.
A source said relevant authorities assigned to take this decision include the Ministry of Interior, the Supreme Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), the General Commission for Audiovisual Media, and the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia).
He said the SCTA and the audiovisual commission have a direct interest in the matter, while the other two are concerned with consultations and coordination.
The first people who introduced cinema to Saudi Arabia were foreigners working in Aramco (now Saudi Aramco), during the 1930s; in the 1990s they became available to Saudis at their sports clubs.
Salman Aldossary, Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Alawsat, writes more on the fact that the Saudi government is condemning the attack on Shi’ite worshipers in the Eastern Province by Sunni extremists. It truly is noteworthy and a first of its kind.
Aldossary is a bit too sanguine about how inclusive the Saudi government has been toward its Shi’ite citizens, though. Certain — Shi’a — sections of the Eastern Province were put pretty far down the infrastructure development list. The Shi’ites have had problems getting permission to build new mosques while there seems to be no limit on Sunni ability to do so. Textbooks deprecated Shi’ism and its followers and taught only Sunni orthodoxy. There are still barriers facing Shi’ites in obtaining certain government jobs. In calling protests by the Shi’ite population “provocations by a foreign power,” the government has clouded the ability to distinguish legitimate protest from foreign interference: any protest is cast as Iran’s fingers in the pie.
This could be a start to significant change. It’s a significant act, but it needs to be followed up with more acts that show that the government truly intends to be inclusive.
The Crime that Changed the Face of Saudi Arabia
Last week, the winds of change blew with a vengeance in Saudi Arabia, when armed terrorists opened fire on visitors to a Shi’ite Husseiniyah (meeting house) in the Al-Ahsa province, killing eight people, among them three children. True, this is not the first time Saudi Arabia has witnessed a crime of this nature, where innocent civilians and children have lost their lives. In fact, it has seen even worse. But it is the first time such terrorist acts have played on the country’s dissonant sectarian chord in such an ugly and dangerous way, in an attempt to fan the flames of sedition and strife between its people. It is also the first time Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, and its entire Council of Religious Scholars, have come out in defense of Saudi Shi’ites in this way, and they were joined by all groups in society—unequivocally and without pretense.
It is not surprising for us in Saudi Arabia to witness Sunni members of the country’s security forces giving their lives in order to protect their fellow Shi’ite brothers. Nor is it surprising for us to witness the country’s interior minister traveling to the site of the attack to pay his respects to the families of those killed. The real surprise here, in my opinion, is that the forces seeking to incite sectarian hatred and strife between Saudis have not, on this occasion, succeeded in doing so among the vast majority of the population. This time, it was the love of Saudis for their country and their depth of feeling and sadness over the tragedy that befell their fellow citizens, that prevailed—and not the “sectarian project” that has been insidiously at work in the country for years. This time it failed miserably, and the attack in Al-Ahsa—whose perpetrators no doubt thought the incident would help further their cause—may well be the knockout punch that will end this sectarian project once and for all.
There is no denying that there are still transgressions being committed against some Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia; but we must of course make the distinction between transgressions sanctioned by the state and those committed by individuals, who no doubt think that through these actions they are upholding their “rights,” when in fact they are committing an affront to the law in a most blatant manner.
In his column for Arab News Mshari Al-Zaydi counts out the toll of terrorist attacks in the Arab world over the past week. He uses that count to excoriate Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs for not following its own rules in dealing with religious extremism in the mosques over which it claims control. With over 94,000 mosques in the country, it seems impossible for the authorities to monitor them in order to prevent extremist messages being fed to worshipers.
The column is a good example of how Saudi media relies on the readers’ understanding of issues in such a way that it can avoid actually stating facts or naming names. When he refers to the attack in Al-Ahsa, he means — but does not say — attacks on Shi’a taking part in Ashoura ceremonies. The reader is expected to know that a Husseiniya is a Shi’ite thing and that Al-Ahsa is one of the informal centers of the Shi’ite population. He does not say the attackers were Sunnis — the reader should know that, but won’t find that fact stated explicitly in media reports.
It is heartening, though, to see the Saudi religious establishment condemning sectarian violence, even if obliquely. This is something it should have been doing 50 years ago. It could not, however, because it supported the reasons, if not all of the tactics, and it became an informal government policy. Just another thing that was not stated bluntly, but simply understood. The country now gets to reap the results of what it had permitted to be sown.
A Week of Terrorist Attacks
In just one week, we have seen terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Iraq.
In Saudi Arabia, a group of militants attacked citizens in Al-Ahsa, killing and injuring a group of people who had gathered at a Shi’ite Husseiniya (meeting house). The gunmen, along with those who assisted this terrorist operation, were quickly pursued by Saudi security forces. One police officer and two soldiers?defenders of the nation—were killed in the subsequent counterterror response.
In Tunisia, we saw a new form of terrorism with gunmen targeting a bus transporting soldiers, resulting in the death of five.
In Egypt, there has been a series of explosions and attacks this week, not least an attack on a train that killed at least four people.
This is a summary of the events of just one week in our region. However, the most striking thing is that while terrorism is nothing new, the terrorist acts that we have seen this week have all been unprecedented in one form or another.
In Saudi Arabia, we witnessed an excellent response to the Ahsa crime from the state and the people. Saudi security forces, utilizing two decades of counterterror experience, did their duty competently while the media also played a crucial role. Saudi Arabia’s judiciary has also played an important role and we have noticed the stringent sentences that have been issued recently against terrorism-related crimes after years of deliberation.
Writing at Foreign Policy, Caryle Murphy — who has spent considerable time in Saudi Arabia — reports that the fundamentalist view of Islam promoted by the state and supported by large parts of the population, is coming under pressure.
On both social and political fronts, the most conservative aspects of the “authorized” Salafist interpretation of Islam is being questioned by Saud youth. They do not, of course, have the field to themselves. There are those who continue to see the government as too liberal, too inclined to “succumb to foreign influence.” The government itself has vested interests, of course. But increasingly, individual Saudis are willing to question the assertions that have been drilled into them since early school years. Some, indeed, are willing to acknowledge their agnosticism or atheism, knowing that they could be legally punished for expressing such views.
The article is worth reading in its entirety.
Questioning the Faith in the Cradle of Islam
In Saudi Arabia, a new generation is pushing back against the government’s embrace of fundamentalism. But is the kingdom ready for nonbelievers?
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Ahmed al-Ghamdi’s long, bushy beard and red-checked headscarf are emblems of his conservative approach to Islam, which is no surprise for a man who once supervised the Saudi religious police in the holy city of Mecca.
But it was something surprising about Ghamdi that brought me to his apartment in a scruffy, low-income section of Jeddah in the sweltering summer of 2011. I wanted to know why he had announced that, after extensive research, he could find no Islamic basis for Saudi society’s most distinctive feature: its strict gender segregation.
As his wife, sister, and mother listened in with obvious pride, Ghamdi explained that he could no longer take “at face value” religious rulings that gender mixing is haram — that is, religiously prohibited. “I wanted to go to their underpinnings, so I began collecting all the texts relating to this matter from the Quran and the Sunna [examples from the life and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed],” he said. “My conclusion was that not a single text or verse in the Quran and Sunna specifically says that mixing is haram. The word ‘mixing’ is not even in the Quran.”
Instead, he said he found plenty of texts “that proved that mixing happened at the time of Prophet Mohammed” and that “it is just another part of normal life.”
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.