The UK’s The Telegraph newspaper runs an interview with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense. It’s certain wide-ranging and the reforms mentioned, if brought to fruition, would represent a major change in the country. For the better.

Revealed: Saudi Arabia’s manifesto for change in the face of rumours of coup plots
In rare public statement, advisers to all-powerful Prince Mohammed bin Salman tell Telegraph of plans for opening up country’s economy and society
Richard Spencer, Middle East Editor

Saudi Arabia has issued a manifesto for change in the face of rumours of coup plots and international pressure, ranging from economic reform to the role of women and allowing human rights groups into the country.

At a time when the country’s internal politics are under more scrutiny than at any time for decades, close advisers to the new King Salman and his powerful son have taken the unprecedented step of outlining a detailed programme of its future government to The Telegraph.

It amounts to a Thatcherite programme of budget cuts, increasing the role of the private sector, and reforms to the way the kingdom is governed.

It obliquely acknowledges that radical changes in the royal family since the king acceded to the throne in January, including the sidelining of a generation of older princes and the former heir to the throne, have met with opposition. There have been claims outside the country that disgruntled princes are attempting to mount a coup to replace the king with one of his brothers.

But the statement of principles shown to the Telegraph says that the way the country has been run since its founding a century ago must give way to “youth”. “These resolute and decisive changes may have annoyed some people but it does not amount to a crisis,” it says.

November:13:2015 - 06:38 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV runs a Saudi Gazette report, not yet posted on the Gazette’s website, noting that three Saudi universities have achieved ranking among the top 800 universities in the world.

Three Saudi universities on global ranking list
Saudi Gazette

Saudi Arabia has three representatives in the newly expanded World University Rankings published by the Times Higher Education.

Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz University, Dammam’s King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals and Riyadh’s King Saud University feature on the list.

“Saudi Arabia is one of several countries to have made its debut in this year’s World University Rankings. This achievement is in part due to expanding the ranking to include 801 universities and 70 countries,” said Phil Baty, the editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

He said the newly expanded Times Higher Education World University Rankings is great news for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

“MENA universities need to continue to progress up the rankings for the region to compete effectively in the 21st century knowledge economy.”

September:30:2015 - 07:46 | Comments Off | Permalink

In the ping-pong of American legal process, Saudi Arabia has been dropped from a suit by 9/11 victims’ families by an American court. The Associated Press runs the following account, noting that the decision will again be appealed.

Judge drops Saudi Arabia from Sept. 11 lawsuit
LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Saudi Arabia was dismissed Tuesday as a defendant in lawsuits brought by the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks by a judge who said lawyers had failed to show sufficient evidence linking the country to the attacks.

U.S. District Judge George Daniels said in a written ruling that lawyers for the plaintiffs had failed to show facts sufficient to overcome Saudi Arabia’s sovereign immunity. He also dismissed as a defendant the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia & Herzegovina on the grounds that the charity is an instrument of Saudi Arabia and thus covered as well by sovereign immunity.

The judge wrote that evidence would have to show that Saudi Arabia or its officials took actions to support the terrorist plot. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia.

September:30:2015 - 07:24 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi media, typified by this Saudi Gazette report, are suggesting that a group of Iranian pilgrims eager to reach Mina to complete their Haj, ignored their scheduled travel and ended up causing the stampede that has killed over 700 people.

‘Violation of rules by Iranian pilgrims caused stampede’
Saudi Gazette report

MINA — Violation of the pilgrims’ grouping regulations by some 300 Iranian pilgrims resulted in the stampede in Mina which killed 769 Hajis and injured 934, Asharq Al-Awsat daily reported on Saturday quoting an official of the Tawafa Establishment for the Iranian Pilgrims.

The official, who requested anonymity, said the violation of rules by this group of Iranian pilgrims started from their very first movement from Muzdalifah on Thursday morning to Jamarat to perform the first day’s stoning ritual. They were clearly instructed to go to their tents from Muzdalifah instead of moving to Jamarat with their baggage. They had been instructed to take rest in their tents and wait for the time allotted for them to perform their stoning ritual.

Moreover, these pilgrims moved back to their tents from Jamarat through Street 204 in the opposite direction of pilgrims’ movement, the official said. The flow of pilgrims from two opposite directions resulted in the overcrowding and the stampede ensued, the official said.

According to sources, there are cameras installed in the tunnels leading to Jamarat and it will be obvious from the visuals that the Iranian pilgrims committed violations with regard to their movement to Jamarat.

Iran, meanwhile, blames Saudi government “incompetence”:

Iran blames Saudi Arabia for hajj disaster

September:27:2015 - 06:20 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The number of dead keeps rising in reports on a stampede at a pilgrim camp crossroad on the way to the Jamarat area of the Haj pilgrimage. The exact cause of the stampede is unknown, though clearly overcrowding will be seen to have played an important role.

At least 453 dead in Mina stampede

Saudi Arabia’s civil defense says that at least 453 pilgrims have died on Thursday when a stampede broke out in the city of Mina, reported Al Arabiya News.

At least 719 others were injured in the crush at a crossroads on Street 204 at the camp city at Mina, a few kilometres east of Makkah, the Saudi civil defence said.

Al Arabiya News Channel’s correspondent Abdulrahman Al-Osaimi reporting from Mina emergency hospital said the stampede happened at the entrance of the Jamarat bridge near Street 204, and not inside of the Jamarat area where the stoning pillars are situated.

“The injured have been distributed to four other hospitals in the Mina area. Some of the injured have been evacuated by helicopters to hospitals in Makkah city,” our reporter said.

Al Arabiya TV also provides a timeline of earlier disasters — including other stampedes — that led to high numbers of deaths during the pilgrimage. Balancing public access with public safety is a difficult equation.

Timeline: A look at the worst stampedes during Hajj

UPDATE: The death toll has now reached 717, as of Sept. 25. There are still hundreds of injured being treated, not all of whom are expected to survive.

The groups suffering the highest number of deaths is reported to have been Iranians and Moroccans.

September:24:2015 - 07:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has announced the the victims (and the families of victims) of the crane collapse in Mecca will receive SR 1 million (US $296,000) in compensation for the tragedy. The compensation is not in lieu of private law suits.

SR1m for family of each crane victim
Siraj Wahab | Arab News staff

JEDDAH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has ordered massive payouts for the families of those killed and injured in last week’s crane crash tragedy, which claimed the lives of 111 people and injured over 238.

In a royal decree on Tuesday, the king announced that there would be SR1 million paid to each victim’s family, SR1 million to those whose injuries resulted in permanent disability, and SR500,000 for each of the injured, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The king stated that these payments would not exclude the families of the deceased, and the injured, from launching lawsuits through the courts for compensation.

The government has suspended all crane operations during Haj to avoid any repeat. It is also reported that the Bin Laden Group construction company, whose crane was responsible for the deaths and injuries, has been suspended from further work, though it is not clear whether this pertains only to work at the Grand Mosque or on all projects.

September:16:2015 - 07:34 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that Saudi Arabia’s medical establishment is still reliant upon foreign practitioners. Saudi medicos make up about one-third of the total, but only one-quarter of the doctors and one-fifth of the pharmacists. About half of the nurses are Saudi, however, which is a marked change over the past 20 years. Of course, most of these Saudi nurses are still male as the profession is seen as not quite morally suitable for women.

Expat docs outnumber Saudis — Ministry
Mohammad Al-Zahrani
Okaz/Saudi Gazette

TAIF — There is a total of 317,000 expatriate health practitioners and doctors and only 139,000 Saudi health practitioners and doctors, according to the Ministry of Health.

A source from the ministry said hospitals and health institutions are in need of more medical staff. “The ministry has stopped renewing the contracts of certified doctors and health practitioners working in administrative positions.

There is a great number of Saudi employees with a degree in medicine who are occupying administrative positions when they could work as doctors,” said the source.

“There are 102,000 expatriate doctors in the health industry and only 25,800 Saudi doctors. There are also 39,000 expatriate pharmacists but only 7,000 Saudi pharmacists.

September:16:2015 - 07:26 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV reports that a Syrian game designer has come up with a somewhat humorous look at the refugee crisis by making a Super Mario-type game reflecting the quest to find safe haven in Europe. After collecting a bunch of cash, he must make his way past terrorist, boat to Greece and Turkey, find his way to Hungary, then reach the promised lands of Germany or Sweden. Success is not guaranteed.

Arab Super Mario ventures Europe as a refugee

A young Syrian man has developed a new game out of the much-loved Super Mario, the fictional hero who rescues the princess in the famous video game, and has turned him into a Syrian refugee going through an adventure that he may not necessarily win this time.

The new video game was created by Samir al-Mufti, a pseudonym, who chose to base the game after Mario because of the fictional character’s ability to reach people from different ages and walks of life.

The video game shows the journey of refugees as they escape injustice in their country and arrive in ivory towers, which are sometimes represented by tents on European territory.

The video game user, through Mario, begins the game’s first level with only one life which if he loses, will have to start all over again.

He then begins the journey with a bag of cash, and the more cash it contains, the happier the smuggler and the safer the trip from Turkey’s shores to Greece.

The path continues later to Hungary where real trouble lies as either a huge fence or iron bars block Mario, all the while being chased by security forces.

September:15:2015 - 08:25 | Comments Off | Permalink

While H.A. Hellyer’s article focuses on conspiracy theories running wild in Egypt, they’re not restricted to that country. Many of them are showing up from one end of the Arab and Muslim world to the other. [Of course, Western countries are not immune, either.] It must be confusing to groups like ISIS, however, to learn that they are the product of at least 10 different countries’ efforts to do… who knows what?

A Jewish Sisi, masonic MB? Egypt’s crazy conspiracy theories are no joke
H.A. Hellyer

Bizarrely, it would appear some quarters believe that a man of ‘Jewish origin’, who was seeking to implement a ‘Zionist plan’ to divide Egypt, now inhabits the presidency.

Elsewhere, people are talking about the Muslim Brotherhood as a ‘masonic group that aims to bring a new religion into Egypt’ – something inexplicable, but an idea gaining great currency.

There are great ironies to such theories on the one hand – and disquieting consequences on the other.

September:14:2015 - 09:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

All Saudi media are reporting on the collapse of a construction crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Major renovation and expansion work is underway at the mosque. The collapse is currently being blamed on high winds and torrential rains. Al Arabiya TV accompanies its report with videos of the storm and the collapse of the crane. The weather certainly looks close enough to a hurricane that structural damage could be anticipated.

More than 100 killed in Makkah crane collapse

More than 100 people have been killed and scores more wounded in Makkah’s Grand Mosque after a crane collapsed on Friday, Al Arabiya News Channel reported citing the Saudi Civil Defense authority.

It is believed the crane collapsed in high winds and severe rainfall.

Saudi Gazette reports that the rains were exceptionally heavy:

Heaviest rain in decades lashes Makkah

September:12:2015 - 07:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

A piece in Saudi Gazette shows that the 21st C. is popping up in Saudi Arabia in a way that’s causing some discomfort.

Saudi citizens are secretly recording their interactions with officials. When the official oversteps the bounds of propriety, the videos of the interactions pop up on YouTube and other social media. This, to the dismay of the officials, results in social media firestorms and, often, the firing of the official.

It’s a major change from the past where what officials did was what officials did, no questions asked. If it came down to a matter of “he said X and the other he said Y,” whichever was the official was taken as the fact of the matter. Video recordings take this argument out of the equation.

But recording without permission is against the law. Those doing the recording could be legally punished for violating that law. Only the weight of social pressure protects them.

Even in countries like the US where recording officials in the performance of their official duties is protected by law, not everyone agrees. Officials, including police officers, can be very unhappy with the fact that their actions are recorded and can serve to challenge their own versions of what happened. Nor have all officials come to understand that the recordings are, in fact, protected by law.

Technology can be disruptive and omnipresent cameras and an Internet upon which to effortlessly publish the resulting images is proving very disruptive.

Filming officials, ethical or not?
Mahmoud Ahmad

Two recent incidents have sparked a public debate, yet again, on whether the act of filming officials secretly while at work or abusing their positions is ethical or not. In the debate, the fact that the act is done in stealth is the only arguing point against secretly filming officials to reveal their wrongdoing, while many others believe that the act is justifiable.

The two incidents showed officials acting high-handedly when citizens were merely seeking answers to their questions. In the first incident, an official in the education department was filmed kicking a parent out of his office after verbally abusing him. The clip, which was widely circulated on social media and YouTube, showed the official shouting at the parent, before virtually kicking him out of his office. As a result, the Education Ministry fired the education official in the Northern Borders area for his arrogant behavior.

September:07:2015 - 08:28 | Comments Off | Permalink

International media have been taking a swipe at the nations of the GCC (read: rich Arab oil states) for not doing enough for Syrian refugees. Saudi media have picked up on it and are suggesting that more can be done, but that the GCC isn’t going to provide complete relief.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed, in a piece for Arab News (though the article isn’t yet posted on that papers website, it’s available from Al Arabiya TV), argues that the Gulf states are doing a lot already. They’re throwing tons of money at various relief efforts and agencies. They’re not keen to take in tens of thousands of refugees, though.

Al-Rashed points out that Syrians represent the third largest foreign group in Saudi Arabia. But they’re there as workers. The Saudis have lifted some bars by, for example, allowing Syrian workers to bring their families to the KSA. So, at least some would-be refugees are finding safe haven in Saudi Arabia.

The GCC countries are already filled with foreigners, nearly all invited in on work visas. But work visas can be cancelled and the workers sent home. That’s not the case with refugees. Unless and until the situation in Syria improves to the point where they are able to and want to return, they’re going to be in Saudi Arabia for a long time. Based on the way Syrians handled Palestinian refugees, that could be for generations. This is a problem that none of the Gulf states wish to bring upon themselves.

The Gulf and Syrian refugees
Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The crisis of refugees – Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis and others – is everyone’s responsibility amid the international community’s failure to support them. No one, including Gulf countries, have an excuse to not support them. Arab Gulf countries have been recently criticized about this, but some critics have aims that are completely irrelevant to the humanitarian side of it.

Gulf countries must of course accommodate more people and grant more care to Arabs and Africans fleeing wars in their countries. However, it is important to look at the entire picture, not just rely on people who seek to serve their own interests, or reporters who only know part of the truth.

A big percentage of the funds spent by international organizations and received by governments who host refugees, such as Lebanon and Jordan, come from Gulf countries. The latter are thus one of the major funders of about 3 million Syrian and Yemeni refugees in different countries.

September:07:2015 - 08:16 | Comments Off | Permalink
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