Confronted by a new disease that is killing it citizens, the government of Saudi Arabia is complaining that a Dutch laboratory has patented the MERS-nCoV virus. As a result, anyone who wishes to reproduce the virus — even for the purpose of trying to find a way to kill or control it — must pay license fees to that lab.
This, the Saudi government is telling the World Health Organization, is simply wrong. The World Health Organization agrees. Both parties see this as a huge barrier in trying to identify the properties of the virus and represent a danger to global public health.
It is indeed unfortunate that genetic data has become patentable, but that’s something that’s been going on for better than 20 years. I think there are exceptional valid reasons to prevent the patenting of natural materials, but that argument has not been a winning one in courts.
KSA: Coronavirus patent complicating diagnosis
GENEVA: Saudi Arabia lamented Thursday that foreign drug companies had patented the new SARS-like novel coronavirus that has killed 22 people worldwide in less than a year, slowing down the diagnosis process considerably.
“We are still struggling with diagnostics and the reason is that the virus was patented by scientists and is not allowed to be used for investigations by other scientists,” Saudi Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish told diplomats gathered in Geneva for the World Health Assembly, the UN health agency’s decision-making body.
He said a scientist took a virus sample out of the country without permission, gave it to the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, and Saudi Arabia only learned of its discovery from ProMED, a US-based Internet-based reporting system.
“There was a lag of three months where we were not aware of the discovery of the virus,” Memish said.
The Rotterdam-based Erasmus lab then patented the process for synthesizing the virus, meaning that anyone else who wanted to use their method to study it would have to pay the lab.
The Associate Press weighs in on the issue as well:
Earlier this year, the government of Saudi Arabia announced that there was a path by which children of Saudi mothers and foreign fathers could attain citizenship. The move was welcomed by the tens of thousands of Saudi women who were faced with the problems of stateless children.
Sabria Jawhar, writing for Arab News, reports that while it’s a nice gesture, there are many details that have not been well thought out. Listing such children as “employees” of the mother — which sort of makes sense for dealing with the paperwork — makes little sense in actuality, for instance.
There’s a further problem with government moves to deport workers whose papers are ‘irregular’. No effort and no thought seems to have been given to the status of the Saudi women to whom some of these men are married, or to the children they share.
The entire government, Jawhar suggests, needs to be talking among its various ministries and branches to ensure fair treatment to the women and children of mixed marriages.
Confusion prevails even as Saudi women can now sponsor children
Sabria S. Jawhar
Saudi women married to non-Saudis finally got a break when they won the right to sponsor their own children, and that their children are considered Saudis by the government in getting education and work. This gives women more control over the lives of their families and more stability. There is security knowing that their children can receive government education and have access to good jobs.
We know that previously, children of Saudi women were virtually non-entities in the eyes of the government. Children of non-Saudi fathers have no citizenship. The law says that only boys can receive the citizenship at the age of 18 if they meet specific requirements. And even then, there is no guarantee that boys will ever receive citizenship. No child of expats receives citizenship at birth. Up until the new decree, children of non-Saudi fathers had no rights as Saudis, although they were Saudis in every aspect except name.
So, the recent decree gives these children a measure of comfort, yet it says nothing about what happens to these children once their mother dies.
Want to make something stop in Saudi Arabia? It’s easy… just call for a new study on something, even if it’s been studied to death before.
Saudi Gazette reports that a number of female academics are calling for a new study on the decision to permit sports and athletic programs in girls schools. While they grudging admit that health might be important, they seem to think it more important that Saudi girls learn to comport themselves as Saudi women, wrapping themselves in cultural and religious virtue, even if it does shorten their lives.
Inactivity by both men and women in Saudi Arabia has been identified as a major component of the country’s vast experience of diabetes. Even those who might choose to take part in exercise are prohibited from doing so.
It’s useful to recall that it’s not just a heavy-handed patriarchy that delays needed change in Saudi Arabia… there are plenty of Saudi women, too, who serve to obstruct, whether on matters as simple as exercise for girls in schools or women getting behind the driver’s wheel.
Ministry decision sparks new debate on women’s sports
Saudi Gazette report
DAMMAM — A number of female academics have said the Ministry of Education’s plans to introduce physical education at private schools for girls need exhaustive study as it is a sensitive issue.
While calling for suitable sports facilities to be provided, the academics stressed that taking such steps should be in line with religious and social norms and Saudi traditions, Al-Yaum daily said in a report.
Dr. Soad Al-Suwaid of Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh said schools’ top priority should be to prepare female students for married life and teach them how to take care of their children once they get married.
“This will undoubtedly reduce negative social phenomena such as divorce and drug abuse. Sports are important for everyone but some things are more important,” said Al-Suwaid, while adding that introducing sports will distract girls from their main task.
Who could have seen this coming?
Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Madinah lamenting the fact that making jobs exclusive to women costs more than having men in those jobs. The article focuses on the fact that while men might work the equivalent of two shifts in a long day, Saudi women can or will only work one shift; family duties require it. Not mentioned, but also substantial costs, are the changes mandated by law to prevent men from peeking into, say, lingerie shops; the hiring of guards to protect the women and prevent men from entering the shops; and instituting a different benefits regime.
Who could have seen this coming? Anyone who cared to look. Saudi Arabia’s insistence that men and women be kept separate except in family situations just adds millions and billions of riyals to the cost of doing business in the country. Instead, a hypocritical system has evolved that keeps men and women apart, except when it’s convenient, as when unrelated males are hired to drive women around. Certain Saudis need to get their heads around the fact that mere proximity does not result in illicit sex.
Feminizing stores that sell women’s fashion has a price
Abdulrazaq Baleelah | Al-Madinah
TRADERS in women clothes and accessories are unanimous that ensuring their shops are staffed by women only by July 10 will raise prices by 30 to 50 percent. They justified this huge price rise by pointing to the fact that work in their shops can only be covered in two shifts, while women can only work for one shift.
They said in this case they would have to employ two women for the same job instead of one. Therefore, their salary bill will double, thus increasing prices.
Speaking recently at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), the traders said they would not be able to implement the decision of the Labor Ministry within two months. They asked the ministry to extend the period and to launch an awareness campaign to change the work ethics of the majority of Saudi families.
What will the ministry do especially as it has been burdened with too many assignments? It has been reported that the ministry will not back off from its decision and that it is now considering the mechanisms of implementation in a manner that will not harm the merchants and manufacturers and at the same time fulfill the core objectives of the government to provide enough working opportunities for the Saudi women.
The US State Department has issued its annual report on religious freedom as experienced around the world. As is sadly usual, Saudi Arabia does not fare well and remains a “country of particular concern”, as it has been since 2004. The country report on Saudi Arabia can be found HERE. There is nothing particularly new here. The same violations of the rights of Saudi Shi’ites, discrimination toward non-Muslim foreign workers, and the absolute lack of freedom to practice religions other than Islam continue. Only the names of those arrested, threatened, or deported have changed over the years.
The global report draws attention to the rise of religious discrimination around the world, including that aimed at Muslims. It points to particular problems with laws that punish apostasy and the impunity with which people act in various countries when governments condone — or at least take no action against — religious discrimination.
Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose…we also remember that religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe. This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our world cannot know lasting peace. President Barack Obama
Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Congress took a momentous step in support of religious freedom when it passed the International Religious Freedom Act, establishing within the Executive Branch the position of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. With this measure, the U.S. government made a bold statement on behalf of those who were oppressed, those who were persecuted, and those who were unable to live their lives at the most basic level, for the simple exercise of their faith. Whether it be a single deity, or multiple deities, or no deities at all, freedom to believe–including the freedom not to believe–is a universal human right.
Freedom of religion and belief and the right to worship as one chooses fulfill a deep and abiding human need. The search for this freedom led the Pilgrims to flee Europe for America’s shores centuries ago, and is enshrined in our own Constitution. But it is by no means exclusively an American right. All states are committed to freedom of thought, conscience and belief in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been the touchstone and the global standard for the protection of human rights around the world since 1948.
The right to religious freedom is inherent in every human being. Unfortunately, this right was challenged in myriad ways in 2012. One of the basic elements of the International Religious Freedom Act is the requirement that the Department of State publish an annual report on the status of religious freedom in countries around the world, and the record of governments in protecting–or not protecting–this universal right.
Just Do It isn’t only a Nike advertising slogan. According to this opinion piece in Saudi Gazette, it’s what the government of Saudi Arabia needs to do when it comes to the issue of women’s driving.
As with many things in Saudi Arabia, Mahmoud Ahmed reminds us, Saudi society takes a long time to come to conclusions about change. And the funny thing is that they never actually reach conclusions until the government says, “do this.” Once the mandate has been issued, and after a bit of fussing, the new becomes accepted. There are actually few things in which Saudi society has been the driver of change — satellite TV is one that comes to mind. In most cases, it’s the government that says girls will be educated or that English will be taught in primary schools. Even the most mundane issues like girls’ sports programs in schools take a government boot to get people moving.
It’s time, Ahmed suggests, for the government to act. All the arguments pro and con have been hashed out over the years. Everyone understands them. But until the government authorizes the activity, it’s not going to happen. So, just do it for crying out loud!
Will society allow women to drive?
There’s a decided single-mindedness in Saudi society when it comes to making decisions on social issues— especially issues that concern women. Just procrastinate and the issue will fade away. Is it me, or is it really the case that when issues require a firm decision, we either take a long time deliberating or just don’t bother to consider them, allowing them to simmer. In either case, the manner in which we tackle issues is poor at best. In the first case, we are just delaying the inevitable and the second — pushing the decision off with the attitude that out of sight means out of mind — is just wishful thinking.
Among the many issues demanding a decision from society is that of women driving. It has been said that only society can decide whether women should drive, but the question is: How long will this take?
Saudi society is divided on many mundane issues, including teaching English at the elementary level (a necessity of the times), changing the weekend to Friday and Saturday instead of Thursday and Friday ( in line with global necessity), girls’ sports in school (a healthy option for society) and many others. So why should the issue of women driving be any different? The irony is that not that long ago, society was divided on the issue of women going to school. But once the decision was taken society accepted it with the naysayers realizing the necessity of education for both boys and girls. Now those who were once against the idea are used to it and the result is that there are many schools and universities for women in the Kingdom.
Agence France Presse reports that Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour has won a “Newcomers” award at the Cannes Film Festival for her film “Wadjda”. In the interview — here republished by Yahoo.com’s news portal “Maktoob” — Al-Mansour says she sees culture changing in Saudi Arabia. While there’s still a long way to go, changes are taking place.
Saudi Arabia more tolerant, says woman film maker
Saudi Arabia’s first woman film maker, Haifaa Al-Mansour, said her country was becoming “more tolerant and more accepting” as she picked up an award in Cannes on Saturday for her acclaimed film “Wadjda”.
The 2012 tale of an impish young Saudi girl who plots to own a bicycle in defiance of a ban has won the hearts of critics and public alike in France, Germany and Switzerland, where it is being distributed.
Filming “Wadjda” was an odyssey in itself.
In conservative neighbourhoods, local residents would block shooting, or Mansour would have to direct from a van with a walkie-talkie, as she could not be seen in public together with male crew and actors.
The film itself will only be seen in the kingdom on DVD or on television, as cinemas there are banned.
‘Islamist’ is a term used as a shorthand way of referring to Muslim extremists. The term never really had a great deal of accuracy, but now it has even less. Writing at Al Arabiya, Adbulrahman al-Rashed points to the difficulties Islamist groups and governments are having with other Islamist groups. If the one is to be called ‘extremist’, then the other must be ‘extreme extremist’.
The situation has come about in both Tunisia and Egypt where the perennial “I’m more Muslim than you!” campaigns are in full throat. Governments are discovering that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing and as a result are cracking down on groups they view as taking things too far, into the realm of terrorism. How they behave will have an effect on how willing other governments — including Saudi Arabia’s — will be to give them financial or political support.
Islamists vs. Islamists in the Arab world
“If you are fools, try stopping us,” is the title of a campaign led by an extremist Islamist group in Tunisia. By fools, the group is referring to the Islamic Ennahda party and its government.
The paradox is that Ennahda Islamists doubted the presence of terrorist groups. They condemn the prevention of preaching campaigns and charity activities under the excuse that they are Islamic acts. But history repeats itself. The Islamist Ennahda government is currently the one setting the prohibitions.
What is prohibited today is the Ansar al-Sharia group. Its members are being deterred with the removal of tents that were set up for spreading their religious campaigns and distributing the Salafi movement’s leaflets.
The interior ministry has prohibited “all organizations, people or political parties from carrying out preaching activities in public places without a having a prior permit.”
Ansar al-Sharia described Ennahda leaders, like Sheikh Ghanouchi, as “tyrants dressed with the guise of Islam.” The group also warningly said: “[We] remind you that our youths who displayed heroism in defending Islam in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia and the Levant will never hesitate to make sacrifices for the sake of their religion in the land of Kairouan in Tunisia.”
Thomas Hegghammer, of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, offers a look back at the May, 2003 bombings of three residential compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He cites ten lessons that have been learned as a result of that bombing, ranging from the limited ability of terrorist groups to destabilize a country to the effectiveness of narrowly-targeted responses to terrorism. The Asharq Alawsat article is worth reading in full.
The Riyadh Compound Bombings: Ten Years, and Ten Lessons, Later
Stanford, Asharq Al-Awsat—Ten years ago yesterday, the Saudi capital, Riyadh, was rocked by three near-simultaneous suicide bombings at housing compounds for expatriates. Over 30 people died and 160 were injured in what was, and remains, the deadliest terrorist attack in the kingdom’s history. The bombing came as a shock to most Saudis and robbed the country of its relative innocence as far as internal violence was concerned. After decades of calm, Saudi Arabia suddenly became the scene of a dramatic and protracted terrorist campaign that would claim many victims and worry many an oil investor before Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was finally crushed in 2006.
It is hard to overestimate the political impact of the Riyadh bombings. These caused a major shift in Saudi attitudes toward Islamist extremism and a complete overhaul of the Saudi internal security apparatus. The terrorism campaign—and the Saudi response to it—also did much to change Western perceptions of Saudi society, many of which, in retrospect, were biased and flawed. Finally, the campaign backfired against Al-Qaeda, leading to its demise as an organization in the kingdom. In short, the learning curve was steep for everyone involved. Specifically, the experience taught us ten important things about terrorism and Saudi Arabia.
First, we learned that terrorist campaigns need not have deep, structural causes. In the summer of 2003, many observers attributed the violence to a fundamental malaise in Saudi society, derived from some combination of economic sclerosis, lack of political participation, and religious indoctrination. However, as I showed in my book, Jihad in Saudi Arabia, the causes were mostly exogenous: the terrorists had radicalized and trained abroad, and the timing was dictated by events in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Like many terrorist campaigns, this one was the result of developments within an organization.
Saudi Gazette reports that two men who assisted “Al-Khobar Girl” in leaving Saudi Arabia before or after (stories differ) converting to Christianity have been sentenced. The Lebanese national was sentenced to six years in jail and 300 lashes; the Saudi who assisted in obtaining exit documents received a sentence of two years in jail and 200 lashes.
I have to assume that the Lebanese man was Christian. The Saudi man, more than likely was Muslim. The punishments given out do not appear to me to be related to apostasy or promoting apostasy, but rather for violations of Saudi travel regulations.
Lebanese guilty of brainwashing ‘Al-Khobar girl’
Saudi Gazette report
AL-KHOBAR — The Al-Khobar District Court found a Lebanese national and a Saudi guilty of brainwashing a Saudi woman to convert to Christianity and helping her leave the Kingdom with a false travel permit over a year ago, local media reported on Sunday.
The Lebanese man was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes while the Saudi was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes.
The July 2012 case created a stir in the Kingdom.
The woman, known only as “the Al-Khobar girl,” was granted refuge in Sweden where she lives under the protection of unspecified NGOs, according to local press reports.
She had appeared in a YouTube video last year in which she announced that she had chosen to convert to Christianity.
The Al-Khobar Administrative Court will pass judgment into the case of forgery, bribery and abuse of power involving a passport officer who allegedly falsified a travel permit for the woman so that she could exit the Kingdom.
Saudi Gazette reports that the Ministry of Education has issued guidelines concerning sports activities in private schools for girls in Saudi Arabia. The guidelines cover such issues as proper clothing, proper equipment, and properly-trained instructors. All of these are good, given Saudi social values, and important for girls’ health.
The article notes, however, that no such guidelines have yet been offered for state schools, where the majority of Saudi girls study. This strikes me as yet another of the half-steps the Saudi government tends to take when reforming something, anything. Success in a controlled environment, where neither students or parents are likely to object, will show that the reformed practice is ‘safe’ for girls. By demonstrating that athletic activity does not turn girls into wanton tramps, it will be easier for the government to establish programs in the state schools. It will also give the Ministry time to plan for and acquire the necessary staff and equipment and to modify schoolyards.
RIYADH – Minister of Education Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah has issued guidelines to private girls’ schools to hold sports activities according to the rules of Shariah.
Ministry’s spokesman Muhammad Bin Saad Al-Dukhaini said in a statement to Saudi Press Agency on Saturday that the guidelines stipulate that private girls’ schools should provide appropriate places and equipment for sports, students must adhere to decent dress codes and that priority should be given to Saudi women teachers in the appointment of supervisors for sports activities.
The ministry said some private girls’ schools have been holding sports activities without rules protecting the interests of the students and their health.
In 2011, the ministry promised to upgrade the sports programs in boys’ schools and to start offering physical education classes for girls as well. However, the girls in government schools are still waiting for permission to hold sports activities.
The World Health Organization (WHO) sent recommendations to health authorities in the Kingdom on the importance of physical exercise for the health of schoolgirls.
An interesting column from Al Arabiya TV on ‘honor killings‘ by Lebanese writer Sophie Ghaziri. In it, she notes that so-called ‘honor killings’ continue to take place across the Middle East and national laws do little to stop them. She points to two cases in Jordan that happened just last month.
I think the article is a good one, but has a serious flaw. It focuses solely on female victims and suggests that this is a problem for women. Sadly, honor killings also claim male victims. Whether it is a male alleged to have impugned the honor of a woman, or a gay male, men, too are victims.
The causes are the same no matter the sex of the victim: an exaggerated sense of ‘honor’ for which any blemish must be cured through the shedding of blood. The cure is also the same: strict enforcement of law, not tribal custom.
In the name of honor
Killing to defend or protect one’s honor is both traditional and archaic, but it still exists across the globe and, unsurprisingly, the main victims happen to be women and girls.
True statistics on this matter are hard to come by; however, the United Nations has previously estimated that up to 5,000 people around the world are victims of honor crimes yearly.
This month, in Jordan alone, international media reported a minimum of two cases. Just this week, a Jordanian man reportedly confessed to slitting his sister’s throat and stabbing her 20 times in the face and chest. According to police reports, the reason this man took such forceful action was because his sister was rarely at home and he apparently had “to cleanse the family honor.”
In Jordan on April 15, police said they found a burned body of a pregnant woman whose throat had been slit and belly cut open, which inevitably bared her four-month-old fetus. This too was an apparent “honor killing.”