In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Adbulrahman Al-Rashed comments on the recent flurry surrounding Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamidi’s appearance on TV with his unveiled wife and declaration that Islam does not require women to be veiled in order to protect their modesty. In addition to receiving a negative reaction — and threats — from some, the Grand Mufti also jumped in to state that he was in error.

Al-Rashed points out that by going on TV in this way, the sheikh has opened new ground for discourse in Saudi Arabia. Instead of private conversations undertaken in homes, issues of modernization and reform are now finding public fora, including social media. This, he says, can only be for the good.

Why did Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Ghamidi succeed?
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

The enormity of stock market losses, the drop in oil prices for the first time in years, ISIS massacres, terrorists’ attacks in Riyadh and its suburbs and the football fever have all faded in Saudi Arabia this week in the shadow of one single story. Sheikh Ahmad Qassem al-Ghamidi appeared with his unveiled wife on television. According to Saudi local standards, this is tantamount to a nuclear bomb and the story soon developed into a controversy that hasn’t settled yet on all platforms and levels.

This may seem like a silly issue in any other Muslim country but in Saudi Arabia it has shocked and angered many and become an amazing surprise to those in support of Ghamidi’s move. The event thus confirms a severe division within Saudi society which consists of movements that express its diversity. Some threatened to sue Al-Ghamidi, though I don’t know over what! While other considered him a modernizing pioneer whom history will immortalize. The certain truth is that Sheikh Ghamidi has shocked Saudi public opinion and reshuffled views once again – although many before him have made such a move, he’s actually the first cleric to do so. Ghamidi has assumed influential religious posts and has accepted to be challenged by his rivals who accused him of hypocrisy and advising others of what he cannot do. It’s on colleague Badria al-Bishr’s show on MBC television that Ghamidi appeared with his unveiled wife in defiance of others, and Saudi media arenas became gripped in this controversy ever since.

Arab News reports that a number of Saudis are planning to sue Sheikh al-Ghamdi. As al-Rashed notes in his piece, however, what grounds they might find for suing is a pretty big question.

Al-Ghamdi ‘faces’ lawsuit


December:18:2014 - 07:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

A couple of days ago, the former head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Mecca said that there’s no religious obligation for Muslim women to cover their faces. Today, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti says that’s mistaken. He points to two verses from the Quran which he says do require covering.

Retract remarks and repent, Grand Mufti advises Al-Ghamdi
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH – Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Aal Alsheikh has asked Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ghamdi, former Makkah chief of Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia), to repent for his recent comments on niqab (face veil) which have created a lot of controversy in the country.

During a local program presented by Dr. Badriya Al-Bishr, a prominent Saudi media personality, Al-Ghamdi said women were not required to wear niqab (face veil). Al-Ghamdi was accompanied by his wife without a niqab.

Grand Mufti said there are Quranic verses that say hijab (head cover) is obligatory for each and every Muslim woman and that women should cover their faces, MBC.net reported. Alsheikh cited the following Quranic verses:


December:17:2014 - 09:11 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV carries a story from Agence France Presse reporting that the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are agreed that the plan to link their power grids will start next year. Even though both countries use considerable amounts of energy — with Saudi Arabia being among the world’s top consumers — the grid makes sense prospectively. Saudi Arabia is planning massive increases in power production over the coming generations with the advent of both solar and nuclear power. The Kingdom is positioning itself as the main energy source for the region in the mid-term future as it also moves forward on plans for a GCC-wide grid.

Saudi-Egypt power link project to start in new year

A project to link the electricity grids of Egypt and Saudi Arabia will start next year at a cost of at least $1.5 billion, officials said on Monday.

“The project will be awarded mid-2015, and take three years to complete,” Saleh al-Awaji, an undersecretary in the kingdom’s Ministry of Water and Electricity, said at an energy technology conference in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

The link would allow the two countries, separated by the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, to share power during peak periods.

It will cost $1.5-2.0 billion, Awaji told reporters during the 4th Saudi Arabia Smart Grid and Green Energy conference.


December:16:2014 - 08:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that while the Saudi program to rehabilitate those involved in terrorist activities has been largely successful over the past 10 years, it might be time to do a reappraisal to see if it might not be improved. That, at least, is the opinion of a member of the Shoura Council. I think the program has been incrementally tweaked over that time period, though, with changes made as they were seen to be beneficial. It certainly couldn’t hurt to re-examine it, something that I think all government programs — and all governments — should do with some regularity.

The Munasaha rehabilitation program claims a 12% recidivism rate.

<Shoura member: Need to revise terrorist rehabilitation program
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The terrorist rehabilitation programs run by Prince Muhammad Bin Naif Center for Advice and Care needs to be revised and reevaluated now that it has been in place for ten years, according to Latifah Al-Shalan, member of the Shoura Council, Al-Watan daily reported.

Only 10 percent of rehabilitated inmates return to terrorist activities after their release from the center, according to reports.

“These reports do not change the fact that the center has produced very positive results since its inception in 2004,” Al-Shalan said during the Council’s session on the great achievements accomplished by the Ministry of Interior in fighting terrorism.

She said the Council’s committees and some of its members are capable of contributing to a comprehensive plan to further develop the program.


December:16:2014 - 08:39 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

The Jeddah Municipality has been cracking down on restaurants that do not meet health requirements. In addition to shutting down offending restaurants and fining them, the Municipality is also naming them. That, argue affected restaurant owners, is too much.

“See you in court,” is the Municipalities reply. Naming the restaurants is the only way that people can learn what is dangerous and what is not. The Ministry is refusing to back down in the face of restaurateurs’ complaints.

Municipality refuses to compromise on food safety
ARAB NEWS

A number of restaurant owners whose businesses have been shut down recently by Jeddah’s municipality, have defied the decision by opening their doors again. Several owners also tried to attack inspectors, requiring the intervention of police to help close down their businesses.

Muhammed Al-Buqami, Jeddah municipality’s spokesman, confirmed the events, noting that the decision to shut down the restaurants is only temporary. He said some of the establishments that opened without approval from the municipality, have been shut down again, and received a fine for violating the municipality’s ruling.

Al-Buqami also addressed the recent complaints made by these restaurant owners to the Makkah governorate, calling the municipality’s decree, an injustice.


December:15:2014 - 08:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV carries a piece from Associated Press noting that Google — who owns YouTube — will have another day in court today to argue that an earlier decision that forced it to take down the notorious video of “Innocence of Muslims” was erroneous. The earlier decision was based on the copyright claim of an actress who appeared in the film (for all of five seconds). Google is arguing that she did not have a valid copyright claim, but that the producer/director of the film did.

The court argument has nothing to do with the substance of the film, but is entirely based on copyright law, which is a mess in itself.

YouTube in legal battle over anti-Muslim film

Associated Press – Los Angeles: A federal appeals court will reconsider a decision to order YouTube to take down an anti-Muslim film clip that sparked violence in the Middle East and death threats to the actors from those who considered it blasphemous to the Prophet Muhammad.

An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena will hear arguments Monday by Google, which owns YouTube, disputing the court’s decision to remove “Innocence of Muslims” from the popular video sharing service.

A divided three-judge panel ruled in February that actress Cindy Lee Garcia had a copyright claim to the 2012 video because she believed she was acting in a much different production than the one that appeared.


December:15:2014 - 07:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV reports on the storm of social media following the appearance of a Saudi cleric — formerly head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Mecca — in which he stated that the wearing of the veil is not obligatory for Muslim women. While Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi received abuse and threats from some, he also received support from others on Twitter.

Al-Ghamdi has raised the ire of conservatives in Saudi Arabia on earlier occasions, as when he stated that music was not forbidden by Islam and that men and women working together was entirely fine in principle.

DON’T wear the veil, Saudi cleric says in new fatwa

A Saudi cleric caused massive controversy this week when he said on a prominent television program that contrary to what some Muslims believe, women are NOT required to wear the niqab (face veil) and are allowed to use make-up and other beauty products.

To further strengthen his argument, Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamidi brought his wife UNVEILED to last Saturday’s “Badria,” a talk show hosted by the renowned Saudi media personality Badria al-Bishr on Al Arabiya’s sister channel, MBC. (Episode can be watched here).

Ghamdi, who is a former head of the Holy City of Makkah’s branch of the Saudi Committee for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (commonly known as the Religious Police), was discussing a fatwa (religious edict) which he had issued previously, permitting women to show their faces and wear make-up.


December:15:2014 - 07:42 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat reports on a conference at Al-Azhar in Cairo at which leading Sunni scholars are dancing around how to denounce ISIS without using ISIS’ tactics. One of the hallmarks of ISIS philosophy — along with sheer brutality — is the way it is quick to declare certain Muslims to not be Muslims, takfirism.

So, instead of declaring ISIS to be a group of apostates, the organization has decided that “very bad Muslims” will have to do.

Egypt’s Al-Azhar stops short of declaring ISIS apostates

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the country’s leading Sunni religious institute, has issued a statement formally rejecting the labeling of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters as apostates.

Takfirism, the practice of one Muslim declaring another to be an apostate, is controversial within Islam. While this is something that is actively practiced by Islamist groups like ISIS, it is generally rejected by adherents of mainstream interpretations of Islam.

“Al-Azhar rejects the takfirism of ISIS . . . Because takfirism cannot be applied to any believer, regardless of his sins,” Al-Azhar said in a statement in response to comments made by the Mufti of Nigeria during last week’s counter-terrorism conference in Cairo.

During the conference, Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb called for joint Islamic efforts to combat ISIS. “Division, strife and polarization are the main tactics extremists are using to divide the Islamic nation,” Tayeb said. He stressed that ISIS militants are acting “under the guise of this holy religion and have given themselves the name ‘Islamic State’ in an attempt to export their false Islam.”

The Mufti of Nigeria Sheikh Ibrahim Saleh Al-Hussaini later issued similar comments during the counter-terrorism conference, saying ISIS are promoting a “false” Islam.


December:13:2014 - 11:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s climate and geography simply do not support the widespread growth of grains. As a result, the Saudi government has been backing away from subsidizing an industry that will never reach the break-even point and will instead rely on imports. The government announces, according to this report from Saudi Gazette, that it will end the purchase of domestically-produced wheat in two years’ time.

KSA to end domestic wheat purchases

JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia will stop buying domestically-grown wheat in two years’ time and rely completely on imports of the grain, the new agriculture minister said on Wednesday. “The Kingdom has decreased domestic wheat production since 2008 by 12.5 percent annually,” Waleed Al-Khuraiji told the International Grains Council, which met in Jeddah for a twice-yearly forum. “The state will cease to purchase locally-produced wheat by 2016 and depend entirely on wheat imported from abroad,” the minister said in his first major address since being appointed in a Cabinet shuffle on Monday. “This initiative is based on mutual benefit, which helps to provide food supplies to the Kingdom while at the same time developing and modernizing agriculture in the investor countries, especially local communities,” Al-Khuraiji said.


December:12:2014 - 10:06 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on a student-operated radio station, out of Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, that brings Saudi Arabia a bit closer to the US. The station, run by three Saudis, combines music and talk, in English and Arabic. The station can be accessed online — according to the article — and receives calls-in from Saudi Arabia as well as the Gulf.

Three students in Pittsburg launch first Saudi-run radio station in US
Nicolla Hewitt | Saudi Gazette

THERE are estimated to be over 15,000 radio stations in the United States, but there’s only one that’s got people in Saudi Arabia listening – Gahwa Al Sareea – also known as “Evening Coffee.”

The radio show is being broadcast by students from the Kingdom who are currently studying at Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania. It was the idea of Fahad Al-Fifi, who said, “I came up with this idea for a radio show about two months ago. I saw there were so many Arabic people in the Pittsburg area but nobody really understood how things worked here. So I went to our media department and asked if we could broadcast a show in English and in Arabic, so both communities could benefit. We really wanted to build a friendly bridge for both of us, and the university loved the idea.”

As of this semester there are over 7,000 students enrolled at Robert Morris University, nearly 400 of them are from Saudi Arabia. Located just outside of Pittsburgh, the university is named after Robert Morris, a signatory to the Declaration of Independence.


December:12:2014 - 10:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia is a massive consumer of water and power. Most of it is highly subsidized which means that the government, rather than the consumers pay the real cost.

This has become untenable as the consumption is eating more and more into energy resources. Arab News reports that the government has decided that one way to slow the increase in use is to start rolling back subsidies. Once consumers have to pay the actual cost of something, they tend to pay attention to how much the use it.

Announcing a reduction of subsidies, though, can panic some consumers. As a result, the government is emphasizing that its current reductions apply only to government facilities, industry, and commercial establishments. Residents will not see the price they pay for water consumption and the consequent sewage rise.

This is a good start as residential use is far less than that of the targeted sectors. There will come a time, however, when even residential subsidies will have to be limited and the actual cost of utilities show up on the consumers’ bills.

Residential users exempt from new tariffs on utilities
JEDDAH: Fouzia Khan

The Ministry of Water and Electricity has confirmed that the new tariffs for water and electricity do not apply to the residential sector.

Explaining the new development, the ministry said that the change in tariff rates of water and electricity was approved by the Council of Ministers and is in line with the ministry’s decision to restructure the system of charging for the water supply and sewerage services. It added that the decision mainly applied to the government, commercial and industrial sectors which are the largest consumers.

The ministry said in a statement on Monday that according to the new rates, water will now have a monthly cost of up to SR6 per cubic meter while sewage services will be SR3 per cubic meter.


December:10:2014 - 10:05 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that the Ministry of Labor is dinging companies that are delinquent or derelict in paying their employees. The punishment, however — being blocked from using the Ministry’s databases or seeking Ministry assistance — seems rather light. The Ministry is not blocking the companies’ ability to get new visas; it is not fining the companies. At most, the punishments might pinch, but I don’t see that they’ll be a big motivator in changing practice. It’s a step forward, but a very small one.

707 firms penalized for violating wage rules
Fatima Muhammad | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — The Ministry of Labor has taken penal action against as many as 707 companies and establishments, which failed to implement a mandatory Wage Protection Program.

Abdullah Abu Thunain, deputy minister for inspection and work environment development, said that the punitive measures were taken following raids carried out by inspectors from the ministry during the first week of this month.

“It was discovered that more than 661 firms complied with the ministry’s regulations with regard to applying the program. The ministry suspended all computer services to 82 firms for their failure to implement the program, in addition to halting all services except issuance of work permits to 625 firms for violation of the regulations,” he said.

According to Abu Thunain, penal actions were taken against 38 companies with more than 3,000 staff. Among the total of 198 such companies, the inspectors found that 160 of them were complying with the program.


December:10:2014 - 09:53 | Comments Off | Permalink
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