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.

August:19:2014 - 07:31 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

In Saudi Arabia, the issue of women’s working is a fraught one. People argue about whether women should be working outside the home at all. And then they argue about which kinds of jobs are “appropriate” for Saudi women.

There was huge social outcry when some Saudi women said that they were willing and able to take jobs as maids. This was “beneath their dignity,” many declared. Starving with dignity, I guess, is preferred.

But nursing as a profession is also a societal flashpoint. Nurses have to deal with patients and their bodies. They might even have to deal with patients of the opposite sex — and their bodies. And there’s the problem. Saudi society has developed an unnecessary linkage between bodies and sex and sex is a highly regulated (in principle) subject. Until recently, only Saudi orphans could work as nurses because — as they had no families to be ashamed — they were viewed as shameless.

That attitude hasn’t changed much, according to this story in Saudi Gazette. Saudi women still have to deal with stereotypes (from God-knows-where) that nursing is somehow comparable to immoral behavior. Hospitals, to the dismay of some, means the mixing of the sexes in the workplace. Worst of all, it includes bodies. sometimes, naked bodies that have to be touched. This might be acceptable for expat nurses (God knows their morals are already questionable), but it is not acceptable for good Saudi women.

Saudi nurses still tackling stereotypes
Saudi Gazette report

MAKKAH — A number of young Saudi women nurses are facing problems and obstacles in their work environment that hinder them from performing their duties properly.

Nurse Abeer Al-Sa’edi told Makkah Daily that some people reject the idea of women working as it allows for both genders to mingle, going against Saudi traditions.

She said: “There is no doubt that some television dramas give the wrong image of working nurses and instilled incorrect stereotypes in the minds of many who are against women working in this sector.”

Iman, another nurse, stressed the need to develop nursing by providing nurses with the necessary knowledge and professional development in addition to improving the image of the profession in the community by highlighting the role of employees.

August:04:2014 - 08:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that the Ifta Council in Saudi Arabia has banned the sale of cats and dogs in pet shops across the Kingdom. Shops found selling them will have their stock confiscated.

While clearly the ban is being undertaken for religious reasons, the article doesn’t note what those reasons are. The ban does not seem to affect the sale of birds or fish — both popular with Saudis — nor does it mention reptiles and insects.

Sale of cats, dogs banned

Municipal authorities have banned the sale of cats and dogs in shops in Saudi Arabia.

The ban came in response to a religious edict by the Ifta Council. The municipality instructed its supervisors to ask pet stores for a written commitment to stop selling cats and dogs.

In addition, the municipality has instructed its supervisors to confiscate cats and dogs that are found for sale in stores, which led some stores to continue their activities in a discreet manner.

July:13:2014 - 07:19 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

The Great Game was the rivalry that played out between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in the 19th and early 20th C. for supremacy in Central Asia. Today, there’s a new “Great Game” being played out in iraq, says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The rise of ISIS/ISIL and the declaration of a new “Islamic State” have brought into high relief the problems sectarian violence in the region. The direct causes are many, but the effects are a multiple of that, affecting all states in the region, including Saudi Arabia.

Cordesman’s piece is meant as possible guidance for US policy-makers. It’s an interesting analysis.

The New “Great Game” in the Middle East: Looking Beyond the “Islamic State” and Iraq
Anthony Cordesman

The U.S. has good reason to try to prevent the creation of a violent, extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to reverse the gains of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)/ ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham), and to help move Iraq back towards a more stable and unified form of government. The chances, however, are that the U.S. can at best have only partial success. The U.S. faces years in which Iraq is divided by sectarian and ethnic power struggles, the Syrian civil war continues, facilitating some form of radical Sunni threat crossing the border between Syria and Iraq.

ISIS/ISIL did not suddenly materialize in Iraq in December 2013. For years, the group exploited growing Sunni and Shi’ite sectarian divisions and steady drift towards civil war. For at least the last three years, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s actions of building his own power structure around a Shi’ite dominated state with close ties to Iran alienated Sunnis and exacerbated tensions.

The U.S. cannot simply intervene in Iraq by attacking ISIS/ISIL. It is a major movement in Syria as well as Iraq. The U.S. must also find some way to limit and roll back ISIS/ISIL -– without taking sides in Iraq’s broader civil war. At the same time, creating anything approaching a stable Iraq means creating new and lasting political bridges across Iraq’s increasingly polarized and divided factions as well as helping to create a more effective and truly national government in Iraq, as well as rebuild Iraqi forces that serve the nation, rather than an increasingly authoritarian Shi’ite leader.

It is far from clear that the U.S. can do this, and Syria and Iraq are only the most visible challenges taking place in the strategic game board that shapes the Middle East. The U.S. must also deal with a much broader set of new strategic forces that go far beyond Iraq’s borders. The U.S. must change the structure of its de facto alliances with key Arab states in the region, and it must deal with new forms of competition -– or “Great Game” with Russia — and possibly China, as well.

July:12:2014 - 07:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

An interesting essay at The American Interest political blog today. It discusses an ad hoc Saudi group that tries to encourage critical thinking skills in the Kingdom as well as across the Middle East at large. It’s an uphill struggle as the culture as well as the education and political systems discourage critical thinking. Instead, they rely on things like the seniority of the speaker, historic precedent, and of course various fatawa that lock in beliefs and make them seemingly immune to any criticism. And the price of criticism can be high.

Learning Logic in the Middle East

Fledgling projects seek to fight Islamic extremism by introducing critical thinking and the scientific method to Arab societies. They may already be influencing education and government-run media

Joseph Braude

Whether a conflict involves enraged spouses or a nation embroiled in sectarian warfare, feuding parties can de-escalate by employing civil discourse and rational argumentation. They can talk and reason empathically, for example. They can call out each other’s logical fallacies and agree to stop using them. They can pinpoint irreconcilable differences, accept them, and negotiate a compromise. But doing so is hard enough in the heat of an emotional exchange; it is much harder under the yoke of a religious dictate, or in an environment where rational argumentation is neither taught nor even available to learn in the local language.

There are many such places, and one is Saudi Arabia, according to Omar al-Anazi, a 23-year-old medical student at King Abdelaziz University in the Saudi port city of Jedda. “When people talk to each other here,” he says, “too often they make arguments based on logical fallacies, impossible to resolve. It’s detrimental to the country to leave them that way.” In his view, an “ignorant movement” advanced by extremist clerics, reactionary media, and schoolteachers under their influence has effectively suppressed the use of logic and reason. It is possible to combat the movement, he says, by teaching critical thinking and the scientific method, and instilling a fascination with the many branches of science and technology which these techniques have enabled throughout history. In July 2013, Anazi and three friends launched a project aiming to do so: an online media platform called Asfar (“zeroes”) named after the world-altering numeral invented in ancient Babylon. Through audio, video, and prose, Asfar conveys ideas about logic and science in humorous, Saudi-inflected Arabic, tailored to the sensibilities of its audience.

There is a handful of projects like Asfar in the Arab world today, and more is riding on their success than the gratification of the volunteers who staff them. Amid massive bloodshed in Syria and Iraq, civil strife in Lebanon and Bahrain, political polarization in the post-Arab Spring states, and the proliferation of jihadist ideologies throughout North Africa and the Middle East, equipping Arab societies to think critically and negotiate their internal differences can help marginalize extremist groups, foster national reconciliation, and, by extension, improve regional stability and security. Asfar’s modest initial success as well as the challenges it appears to face provide a case in point as to what any homegrown Arab media effort to promote civil discourse would require in order to gain substantial ground.

June:30:2014 - 08:54 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV carries a report from Agence France Presse stating that the Saudi government is threatening to deport expats who offend local custom and law during Ramadan. The month-long fast requires that one abstain from food, drink, and cigarettes (as well as sex) during daylight hours. As Ramadan this year falls in the longest days of the year, tempers run a bit foul, at least during the daytime. By seeking to ensure that non-Muslims do not irritate the country’s citizens by breaking the fast in front of them, the government is seeking calm.

Expats are not expected to fast during Ramadan. If Islam isn’t their religion, they don’t need to follow its religious rites. They have to keep their daylight fast-breaking to inside private establishments, however, whether their homes or at businesses that permit it.

Saudi Arabia will expel non-Muslims who disrespect Ramadan

Riyadh, AFP: Saudi authorities threatened Thursday to expel non-Muslim foreigners who eat, drink or smoke in public during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend.

The interior ministry urged non-Muslims to “respect the feelings of Muslims by refraining from eating, drinking or smoking in public places, streets and at work.”

“They are not excused for being non-Muslim,” said the statement carried by SPA state news agency, adding that “labour contracts stipulate respect for Muslim rites.”

“Those who violate (that)… will face the necessary measures, including terminating work contracts and being deported,” the statement added.

June:28:2014 - 06:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

I find the fact that Arab News is covering this story at least as interesting as the story itself. Apostasy is not something Saudis tend to feel neutral about, so a factual article, devoid of moralizing is noteworthy.

Of course, the story could just be “link bait,” a story that sure to draw attention from online commentators, as well as foaming comments on the newspaper’s own page.

Sudanese ‘apostate’ on death row freed

KHARTOUM: A Sudanese Christian who gave birth in prison after being sentenced to hang for apostasy was freed on Monday, one of her lawyers said.

The case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 26, sparked an outcry from Western governments and rights groups after a judge sentenced her to death on May 15.

“Meriam was released just about an hour ago,” Mohanad Mustafa told AFP on Monday afternoon.

“She’s now out of prison,” he said, but authorities will not issue the reasons for her release until Tuesday.

Born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Ishag was convicted under laws that have been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaw conversions.

June:24:2014 - 07:56 | Comments Off | Permalink

Translating a piece from the Arabic Al-Watan, Saudi Gazette reports that the head of Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has established “six noes” for members’ behavior. Those are, no spying, extremism, fanaticism, authoritarianism, harming people, and chasing suspects. The chief, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh, has been working to repair the reputation of the organization by curbing those behaviors that most annoy Saudi citizens. Saudi society continues to strongly support the role of the religious police, but have heavily criticized them for heavy-handed reactions to minor transgressions, embarrassing people needlessly, and being far too aggressive in their behavior. Al-Asheikh believes that, as the saying goes, “sugar catches more flies than vinegar,” and is seeking to embue a new ethic on his charges.

Haia staff barred from spying on people
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — Staffers of the Commission for Promotion of Virtues and Prevention of Vice (Haia) have been barred from spying on people or chasing suspects.

Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh, president of the commission, also warned the Haia members working in the field against displaying any signs of extremism or religious fanaticism. He was talking during a visit to the Haia headquarters here Sunday by Riyadh Emir Prince Turki Bin Abdullah.

According to local daily Al-Watan, Al-Asheikh said there were six “nos” Haia members should stay away from: Spying, extremism, fanaticism, authoritarianism, harming people and chasing suspects. He said the Haia is applying rules and regulations equally among all citizens and residents without any distinction.

Al-Asheikh said the Haia men have been instructed never to abuse any man or woman. They should always be lenient and nice to every one. “No one should be falsely accused or deliberately harassed. The Haia men should not resort to devious means just to incriminate the others,” he said.

The Haia has 12 branch offices, 129 sub-commissions and 345 centers scattered all over the Kingdom.

June:24:2014 - 07:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

When I was working in Saudi Arabia, some ten years ago, the Ministry of Education was fighting to have English-language instruction start in the fourth year of primary education… and losing. The Minister was constantly being barraged by complaints that this was just another sneaky way to impose Western values on Saudi schoolchildren.

That battle was eventually won and now the Ministry is seeking to push the starting year down a notch, to the third grade, Saudi Gazette/Okaz report.

English language planned to be taught from third grade
Okaz/Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – Saudi Minister of Education Prince Khaled Al-Faisal said the ministry is seriously studying the teaching of English language in elementary schools. At present the language is being taught from fourth grade.

He said the ministry realized the deficiency of students in the language.

Commenting on the estimates of UNESCO that global illiteracy will reach 50 percent by the end of 2015, he said the Kingdom has by far overcome these estimates. The percentage of literacy rate in the Kingdom has reached 60.61 percent in 2013.

June:21:2014 - 06:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

There’s some creative thinking going on in Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council, I’ll grant it that. It’s not terrifically well-thought-out thinking, but it’s out there.

Al Arabiya TV carries a report originating in the Saudi Arabic daily Al-Hayat about a Shoura Council proposal that would permit Saudi women — who are not permitted to drive within the Kingdom — to obtain an International Driving Permit“International Drivers Permit for use outside the country. This would do something positive about women’s driving, so “Yaay”!

This way, women would be able to drive while abroad without having to obtain residency in another country in order to get licensed according to that country’s laws. That is, after all, the purpose of the permit.

International Drivers Licenses have to be issued from within a citizen’s own country; you can’t apply for them in a foreign country. Saudi Arabia could simply create a new document and, by a new Saudi law, state that it is equivalent to a Saudi driver’s license only for the purpose of obtaining an International License. It could do that.

Doing that, however, does not mean that another country would have to recognize that license. Countries can and do insist that the national license be based on both theoretical and practical experience, that is, experience driving on the granting country’s roads. That is a barrier the well-intended Shoura Council will have great difficulty circumnavigating.

It probably doesn’t help that Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, the agreement that establishes International Drivers Licenses.

Saudi Shura Council mulls allowing women to drive, though only abroad

While Saudi women are still banned from getting behind the wheels at home, the kingdom’s Shura Council is studying a proposal to enable women to drive abroad by granting them the right to obtain international driving license, Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Friday.

The proposal was drafted by Latifa al-Shaalan and Haya al-Mani, two of the council’s 30 female members, sources told the newspaper.

Article 23 of the council’s rules allows members to propose amendments to existing laws or propose new legislation.

June:21:2014 - 06:28 | Comments Off | Permalink

The linguistics blog Languagehat has an interesting post about the way the Disney Corporation has changed its approach toward localizing the versions of its films intended for non-English-speaking audiences. Commenting on the work done on the latest Disney film “Frozen”, it notes that rather than dubbing the film into Egyptian Arabic, as had been the norm, the film was released to Arab audiences dubbed in Modern Standard Arabic. This has both puzzled and upset many.

The comments to the post offer interesting insights about both language versioning of films and the question of how dialects of Arabic are considered.

Translating Frozen Into Arabic.

Elias Muhanna, an assistant professor of comparative literature at Brown University, has an excellent New Yorker blog post about just what the title says:

One of the forty-one languages in which you can watch “Frozen” is Modern Standard Arabic. This is a departure from precedent. Earlier Disney films (from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to “Pocahontas” to “Tangled”) were dubbed into Egyptian Arabic, the dialect with the largest number of speakers in the region, based in a country with a venerable history of film production. Generations of Arabs grew up watching Egyptian movies, and the Disney musicals capitalized on their familiarity with this particular dialect.

Modern Standard Arabic is very similar to Classical Arabic, the centuries-old lingua franca of the medieval Islamic world. Today, it is the language of officialdom, high culture, books, newscasts, and political sermonizing. Most television shows, films, and advertisements are in colloquial Arabic, and the past several years have seen further incursions of the dialects into areas traditionally reserved for the literary language.

June:07:2014 - 06:28 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink

In a country where “black magic” can lead to a death sentence, it’s refreshing to see that the excuse that “Djinns made me do it” is not acceptabe as an excuse for wrong-doing. Saudi Gazette translates an article from the Arabic daily Al-Jaziarah reporting that the Bureau of Investigations and Prosecution (the Saudi prosecutor’s office) isn’t buying a judge’s attempt to shift the blame for his part in embezzling SR 600 million (US $178 million).

Judge: Yes, I embezzled SR600 million. But jinns made me do it!
Abdulaziz Al-Simari | Al-Jazirah

Finally, the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution in Madinah has decided on the case of the judge who embezzled SR600 million and claimed he did it because jinns (supernatural spirits) possessed him. The judge and 36 accomplices were all found guilty of financial and administrative corruption. Senior officials in the Madinah Court and a well-known lawyer were arrested in connection with the case. During investigations, the judge maintained that he was haunted by jinns and he was seeing some exorcists to cure him. He claimed that he had no control over his actions and words.

This case has proved to be a big test for our public judiciary system because some scholars say that it is true that people who are possessed with jinns cannot control their actions. However, the bureau investigators decided to look into the case from a strictly legal viewpoint. Laws, they decided, do not take supernatural spirits into consideration.

June:07:2014 - 06:09 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
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