Arab News reports that there are now 111K Saudi students enrolled in American universities, most under the auspices of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. The number includes graduate, undergraduate, and those in preparatory English programs. Wisely, the students are not bunched into a handful of schools, but are spread out across the country, though not surprisingly, Alaska and Hawaii receive very few students.

The influx has been a godsend to universities suffering from declining numbers of American students due to the high costs of higher education. Foreign students pay ‘full freight’, that is, the full amount of tuition to the schools, unlike, for example, in-state students who pay discounted fees.

The increase has creates some issues for the schools, though, as many of them are unfamiliar with Saudi education and culture. Happily for me, it’s led to an increase in my being ask to consult with faculty and administrators to explain the differences in expectations.

Number of Saudi students in US reaches 111,000
Jeddah: Ibrahim Naffee

The number of Saudi students in the United States has reached 111,000 this year, up from 10,000 in 2007 while the number of Saudi students studying medicine in the States is over 600.

The Department of Commerce in the US said that international students have contributed to revive the US economy with $22.7 billion in 2011. “The number of Saudi students increased by 50 percent in 2011 alone,” local media said.

Saudi students can go for higher studies abroad through enrolling in the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program that allows access to the best world universities to pursue disciplines which lead to bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees and medical fellowships.

The countries where Saudi students are sent to study are selected on the excellence of their educational programs and are subject to periodic reviews. Currently, students accepted in the program are sent to the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, New Zealand, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, the People’s Republic of China, Malaysia, India and South Africa, according to the Ministry of Higher Education’s website.

April:20:2014 - 06:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

A new mayor and a new commissioner of police have led to changes in which the New York Police Department operates. The controversial “Demographics Unit”–or “Zone Assessment Unit” as it had been renamed–of the NYPD is being disbanded as an inefficient means of detecting terrorist activity, Associated Press reports in an article carried by Saudi Gazette. The move has been welcomed by American Muslim groups who believed they were being ethnically profiled purely on the basis of their religion. The program, set up in 2003 with assistance of the CIA, has been the subject of several suits, some still ongoing, that claim violation of constitutional rights to privacy, assembly, and freedom of speech and religion.

End of NYPD Muslim spying program welcomed

NEW YORK — Muslim groups and civil liberties advocates applauded the decision by New York Police Department officials to disband a controversial unit that tracked the daily lives of Muslims as part of efforts to detect terror threats, but said there were concerns about whether other problematic practices remained in place.

The Demographics Unit, conceived with the help of a CIA agent working with the NYPD, assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. Plainclothes officers infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and catalogued Muslims in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames. NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis confirmed Tuesday that detectives assigned to the unit had been transferred to other duties within the department’s Intelligence Division.

Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, said she was among a group of advocates at a private meeting last week with police at which the department’s new intelligence chief, John Miller, first indicated the unit — renamed the Zone Assessment Unit — wasn’t viable. She applauded the decision but said there’s still concern about the police use of informants to infiltrate mosques without specific evidence of crime.

April:17:2014 - 09:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

The problem of female orphans lacking mahrams, male guardians, as noted earlier this week, is being addressed, Saudi Gazette reports.

Female social workers could be used as guardians of the female students studying abroad, a spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs, says. It’s not made clear who would pay for this, but I assume it would come out of the budget for the scholarship program. Here again, costs are doubled because of Saudi distrust in women and a hyper cautious concern for their moral well being. Instead of the money being spent to educate female students, it’s being spent on preserving an outdated social ethic.

Women social workers can be mahrams for orphans
Saudi Gazette report

AL-KHOBAR — The assistant deputy minister of social affairs said women social workers at the protection home could act as a mahram (a man whom the woman cannot marry) for orphaned women if they are sent abroad on scholarships.

During the first symposium of women university students at protection homes, Lateefah Abunyan said the Ministry of Social Affairs treats orphans as families in society and whatever applies to families also applies to orphans.

This comes as many orphaned women complained that they are deprived of the opportunity to be sent on scholarships abroad because they do not have mahrams to accompany them.

Abunyan added this condition is according to regulations that aim to protect women and there are many orphaned women who have traveled abroad with their families or husbands.

April:17:2014 - 09:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

Khaled Al-Maeena, now Editor-at-Large at Saudi Gazette, writes about the abysmal state of English-language teaching in Saudi Arabia. He finds it ‘rudimentary’ at best. He’s right, of course.

Most Saudi students, even those who have completed the full curriculum of English at Saudi schools, find it impossible to jump into coursework at universities where English is the medium of instruction. Those attending universities in the US find that rather than four years — the normal duration of undergraduate work — they need five, with the first year consisting of nothing much beyond remedial English language instruction. Graduate students face a harder task as they’re cut very little slack in coursework due to language limitations and the fact that graduate schools do not generally offer English language courses.

Al-Maeena notes the lack of training as well as ability in those assigned to teach English in Saudi schools. With poor instruction, students cannot magically acquire language skills.

Why isn’t English taught properly in our schools?
Khaled Al-Maeena

The Education Department in the Riyadh region has pointed out several deficiencies in the teaching of English language in the nation’s schools.

To me this is a good sign. To admit that there is a problem is a sign that solutions are possible, if there is a will to find and implement these solutions.

Among the negative aspects in the teaching of English outlined by the Education Department were poor and incorrect pronunciation, the use of Arabic in teaching English, no homework, carelessness in writing and no practical use of English writing skills.

There was also little or no utilization of books that assist in teaching the English language to those whose mother tongue is not English and no stress on elocution, dialogue or conversation.

In fact the teaching of English in our schools is done in a basic and rudimentary manner. Added to that is the weakness and the inability of Saudi English language teachers to improvise.

April:13:2014 - 09:36 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

If Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council has its way, sports, athletics and physical education will become part of the curriculum for girls, according to Arab News. The Council has recognized that a sound body is as important as a sound mind.

In its statement, though, it leaves enough conditions and qualifications that those bent on preventing the step will be able to delay it or make it prohibitively expensive for individual schools to implement. The Council could do better.

Shoura green light for girls’ physical education

The Shoura Council has approved the introduction of physical education for girls at public schools across the Kingdom.

Classes will be conducted according to Islamic principles and traditions, said sources.

The issue has been the subject of much debate, especially after some notable scholars, ruled that physical education, including swimming, was permissible as long as it was practiced in strict privacy.

The Ministry of Education had since allowed some private schools to teach sports to school girls.

The Ministry of Education will soon allow physical education classes for girls in public schools under qualified instructors, according to sources. The decision will be made after taking into account logistical issues, such as space, privacy and the availability of qualified female instructors.

April:09:2014 - 11:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette translates an article from the Arabic Al-Jazira daily in which the writer notes that according to Saudi Arabia’s Passport Department, there is no law or regulation that requires Saudi women to have their guardian’s permission to travel outside the country. Instead, “it’s left to the discretion of the passport officer.”

So, in addition to the ‘guardianship’ set-up where women are supposed to be represented by male relatives in certain formal situations, they also have to face self-appointed, unrelated guardians. This, the writer notes, is peculiar.

She notes, too, that while there is no law prohibiting Saudi women from driving, there are all sorts of extra-legal prohibitions on it. It is time, she says, for Saudi women to be treated like adults.

Can a Saudi woman travel without her guardian’s permission?
Rogaia Soliman Al-Huwairini | Al-Jazirah

The spokesman of the Passports Department (Jawazat) recently dropped a bombshell. He said in a recent statement that there are no written instructions which prevent Saudi women from traveling without the written consent of their male guardians. He added, moreover, that the only existing regulations are those that prevent people under 21, regardless of their nationality, from traveling abroad without the approval of their parents.

The spokesman explained that preventing Saudi women from traveling abroad is left to the discretion of the passport officer at the point of departure from the Kingdom. The officer will evaluate the woman’s appearance and age before deciding whether or not to allow her to travel. Therefore, each Saudi woman now has two male guardians: one is their normal guardian (father, husband, brother or son) and the second is the passport officer.

April:05:2014 - 08:45 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi women are arguing for a larger role in soccer, Saudi Gazette reports. Instead of being stuck on the sidelines in positions like sports medicine, they want to be on the pitch, kicking the ball around.

There are already a few, very low key women’s football clubs, but women want more, including recognition that they, too, can be athletes. While they would love to get the kind of support men’s football does, they’d be happy if they can first just obtain the ability to participate and compete.

Eying a goal — Saudi young women dream of playing football
Saudi Gazette report

THE appointment of Arwa Mutabagani to the Board of Directors of the Saudi Equestrian Federation (SEF) has encouraged Saudi sportswomen to try and enter other sports federations in the Kingdom. One of the sports on top of the list is the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF). Experts say if women can penetrate the male-dominated body that administers the country’s club competitions and national teams, official permits to play football and setting up sports facilities for women will soon follow, Al-Madinah daily reported.

Currently, women are allowed to participate in the secondary committees of the federation such as sports medicine, ethics and information and statistics committees, but they have no presence in the primary committees of the federation. Female sports journalist Hana Allouni said the lack of a female presence in the basic committees shows that women are not familiar with the rules and regulations of football.

She also pointed out the importance of Saudi sportswomen’s presence under the General Presidency for Youth Welfare (GPYW) in affiliated committees concerned with women’s sports or Women’s Sports Administration.

April:04:2014 - 08:23 | Comments Off | Permalink

While Saudi society has been begrudgingly accepting the fact that women can and should work, it continues to draw lines about what kinds of work are ‘proper’. Saudi Gazette reports that the category is expanding as young Saudi women are shrugging off negative views and are taking up work as waitresses in women-only facilities.

Saudi women overcome social stigmas to become waitresses
Saudi Gazette report

MADINAH — A number of young Saudi women have overcome social stigmas and started working as waitresses in a number of women-only coffee shops in Madinah, local daily Al-Watan reported Sunday.

The women have several duties including preparing and serving coffee in addition to taking down customer orders.

Commenting on this trend, some businesswomen said Saudi women filling these kinds of jobs was part of a social responsibility that everyone should shoulder.

Suzan Al-Mur, a coffee shop owner, described this trend as “positive” and said society is gradually accepting working women after resisting them for a long time.

March:24:2014 - 08:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

Gulf News from Dubai carries a story that explains how YouTube has become an alternative — and preferred — source of information for young Saudis. It reports that Google, which own YouTube, complies with government requests to shut down videos for which there is a valid legal reason, but that the Saudi government has been sparing in that regard. It notes, too, that YouTube has been offering support for new video channels produced in the region. Some of those channels are earning millions of dollars for their creators and producers. A new medium indeed.

Why Saudis are world’s biggest YouTube fans
People in Saudi Arabia watch more hours of YouTube content per capita
than anywhere else in the world

Simeon Kerr

Dubai: Google has launched a campaign to develop online videos in the fast-growing market of Saudi Arabia, where residents watch more hours of YouTube content per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Over the past year, time spent on YouTube in the conservative kingdom has increased fivefold, persuading Google to hold a seminar in the oil-rich kingdom to foster closer relationships with producers of Arabic-language web videos.

About 60 per cent of the 350 million people in the Arab world are younger than 25, with internet penetration in the region at about 70 million users — over 300 per cent growth in the last five years, according to numbers from UAE-based entrepreneurship research portal Sindibad Business. Internet penetration is expected to reach 150 million users by 2015.

Traditional media in Saudi Arabia, where more than half the population is younger than 35, is failing to engage youngsters who are turning to the internet for relevant drama, comedy, sports and news.

The same trend is sweeping the broader region, where 310m video views a day make the Middle East and north Africa the world’s second-highest online viewership after the US.

That has generated concern among some of the region’s states about the rise in political expression.

March:21:2014 - 08:31 | Comments Off | Permalink

An interesting book review in the Times Literary Supplment (TLS) of the book Reading Darwin in Arabic.

The book reports how Darwin’s theories of evolution and human descent made their way to and were received by Arabs in the late 19th and 20th C. There are some surprises, particularly in the favorable reception of not Darwin, but the derivative and erroneous “social Darwinism” as promulgated by Herbert Spencer. Lamarkism was favorably received as well, though it, too, is largely wrong, modified only by current understandings of epigenetics.

It’s interesting, too, that the theory of evolution was generally accepted without rancor, but has now become a hot-button issue in the region, much like among Christian fundamentalists who prefer to follow a theory of ‘Creationism’.

Darwin in Arabia

Marwa Elshakry
448pp. University of Chicago Press.

The title Reading Darwin in Arabic notwithstanding, most of the men discussed in this book did not read Charles Darwin in Arabic. Instead they read Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Ernst Haeckel, Herbert Spencer, Thomas Huxley, Gustave Le Bon, Henri Bergson and George Bernard Shaw in European or Arabic versions. They also read popularizing accounts of various aspects of Darwinism in the scientific and literary journal al-Muqtataf (“The Digest”, 1876–1952). The notion of evolution that Arab readers took away from their reading was often heavily infected by Lamarckism and by the social Darwinism of Spencer. Darwin’s The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published in 1859, but Isma‘il Mazhar’s translation of the first five chapters of Darwin’s book into Arabic only appeared in 1918.

For a long time, the reception of Darwinism was bedevilled by the need to find either neologisms or new twists to old words. As Marwa Elshakry points out, there was at first no specific word in Arabic for “species”, distinct from “variety” or “kind”. “Natural selection” might appear in Arabic with the sense “nature’s elect”. When Hasan Husayn published a translation of Haeckel, he found no word for evolution and so he invented one. Tawra means to advance or develop further. Extrapolating from this verbal root, he created altatawwur, to mean “evolution”. Darwiniya entered the Arabic language. Even ‘ilm, the word for “knowledge” acquired the new meaning, “science”. With the rise of scientific materialism came agnosticism, al-la’adriya, a compound word, literally “the-not-knowing”.

March:09:2014 - 07:55 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette front-pages a piece on a petition to the Shoura Council to end male guardianship in Saudi Arabia. A group of women have asked the Council to reevaluate the way in which Saudi women are constrained by having to seek male approval and authorization for actions that in any other country would be at the women’s own behest.

Women demand end to male guardianship
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The system of male guardianship should end and the citizenship code amended so that Saudi women can grant citizenship to non-Saudi husbands and children, said a recent petition sent by 25 women activists to the Shoura Council on International Women’s Day (Mar. 8), Al-Hayat daily reported on Saturday.

In their letter, the activists, some of whom are university professors, called on the Council to take necessary measures to protect women’s rights and stop domestic violence against them.

Azizah Al-Yousif, one of the activists who signed the petition, said: “This petition renews our demands as women. We want our issues to be put on the top of the Council’s priority list.”

Thuraya Obaid and Lubna Al-Ansari, both Shoura Council members, promised to tackle most of the points raised in the petition, said Al-Yousif.

Arab News also covers the petition:

End to ‘absolute male control’ sought

March:03:2014 - 08:05 | Comments Off | Permalink

According to Al Arabiya TV, a top Saudi cleric has reached the conclusion that Google — the owner of YouTube — should be sued because it permits offensive videos to be broadcast over the Internet. We’ll forget that hundreds have already called to this or for YouTube and/or Google to be shut down.

It was not enough that YouTube, in compliance with a court order, took the offending video down last week due to a copyright claim. That, as it proves, was ineffective because the video, with the scenes that had the copyright complainant now excised, is back up.

This, I think, demonstrates that attempts to remove offending materials through brute force tend to be futile. It is far better to just avoid looking at it. Unlike TV, one is not accidentally exposed to materials on YouTube. One has to make an affirmative action — clicking a link or a ‘Play’ button — in order to see it. Clerics might more fruitfully explain to their followers why they should avoid doing those things that will only lead to offense.

Top Saudi cleric calls for suing Google over anti-Islam Youtube film

Khaled al-Shaya, a top Saudi cleric, recently called on Islamic countries to ban and legislate against Google, after the internet search giant’s apparent “disrespect of Islamic beliefs” in continuing to display an inflammatory video against Islam, news website CNN Arabic reported on Saturday.

Google – the parent company of video sharing site Youtube, which hosted the controversial video entitled “The Innocence of Muslims” – had “insulted the Prophet” by not removing the video, said Shaya, who serves as the assistant secretary-general of the Global Commission for Introducing the Messenger, a Riyadh-based Islamic organization.

The video “insulted the Prophet through distorting facts and spreading falsehoods, which was condemned by Muslims as well as all those who support rightness and justice,” said Shaya, adding that the Islamic world needed to “look into” freedom of expression.

March:02:2014 - 07:58 | Comments Off | Permalink
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