Saudi Gazette reports on a new study from Bayt.com on consumer confidence in the Middle East and N. Africa. Saudis seem to be pretty upbeat, with a majority anticipating that their personal finances will improve over the coming six months. They see the economy as generally improving, along with job prospects and business expansion, though not all facets receive a majority vote.
JEDDAH — While more than half of KSA respondents believe that their financial position will improve in the next six months, a majority (65%) are also expecting the cost of living to rise, the latest Bayt.com Middle East and North Africa Consumer Confidence Index survey, conducted by Bayt.com, showed.
Twenty nine percent of respondents in KSA consider their personal financial situation to have improved in the last six months. In parallel, 43% claim that it has remained the same, 21% believe that it has gotten worse, and a noteworthy 51% of KSA respondents expect their financial position to get better in the next six months.
Eighty eight percent believe that the cost of living will increase or remain the same in KSA within the same time period. Interestingly, 44% of KSA respondents revealed that their savings have decreased in comparison to last year.
In terms of purchases, 37% of KSA respondents are hoping to buy a new car in the coming year, with 55% planning to purchase a brand new vehicle; 40% are looking to buy second-hand.
The Saudi government is amping up its efforts to lower the number of illegal expat workers, Saudi media report. According to this story in Arab News, while the effort that started last year and which led to close to a million unregistered or undocumented expats leaving the country, new programs including highway check-points are going to be put into effect starting next Sunday.
Intensive security measures are in force to seize foreigners who violate the Kingdom’s labor laws, said a Jeddah police source.
Security checkpoints on roads are also focused on ensuring the success of Saudi Arabia’s campaign against undocumented workers.
“The highway security patrol enforces the regulations and directions of the Ministry of Interior,” said Maj. Gen. Khaled Al-Qahtani, commander of the special force for highway patrol.
“Such operations involve tracking the illegal labor force and detecting violators. This is our daily duty to boost highway security,” he said.
With the beginning of the second labor correctional campaign, he indicated that intensive measures will be implemented at security checkpoints on roads.
Saudi Gazette‘s report is similar:
The government of Saudi Arabia requires pre-marital genetic counseling. The counseling, however, is just that: advice about the risks of passing genetic diseases and disorders to the next generation. It has no force of law and couples are free to ignore the advice.
Many do ignore it, Arab News reports. Over the past year, some 3,000 couples, who had been advised that their marriages and potential child-bearing were hazardous, have decided that they will take the chance, leaving it in the hands of God.
Some 3,000 Saudis diagnosed with genetic diseases have rejected advice from the Health Ministry and decided to marry, a health official has said.
These Saudis were among 7,500 people declared incompatible last year because they had illnesses they could pass on to their children, said Mohammad Al-Suwaidi, director general of the ministry’s genetic diseases department.
The ministry tests for sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, hepatitis B and C, and HIV.
Some 4,500 of those found with such disease, or 60 percent, did not go ahead with their marriage plans.
Explaining the danger, Al-Suwaidi said that if two spouses are both carriers of sickle cell disease or thalassemia, for example, there is a 50 percent chance that their children would also have the illness.
According to an article in Arab News, King Salman is continuing the efforts of the late King Abdullah to encourage religious moderation and toleration. Speaking at an event sponsored by the Muslim World League, he decried those who “abuse Islam” and drive people from it.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has called on Muslims to shun intolerance and extremism, work to unify their ranks and seek international cooperation.
King Salman made these comments during a reception at his palace in Riyadh for the scholars and experts who participated in the international counter-terrorism conference organized by the Muslim World League (MWL) in Makkah earlier this week.
King Salman also said that Saudi Arabia “is the land of Islam that implements the Shariah in all walks of life.” He said Saudi kings have been proud of having the title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. “We ask the Almighty to guide us so that we can serve our religion of tolerance.”
He said Islam is a religion of moderation. “We have to follow what is stated in the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and his followers. We should not alienate people. There are people who abuse Islam and drive people away from it. We beseech Allah to return them to their senses.”
Saudi Gazette reports that the number of cases (and deaths) due to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus is spiking. This is seen to be due to the birth of young camels, which exposes more people to the virus.
RIYADH — Cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus infections have so far reached 913, rising from 897 last week and are expected to touch 1,000 in the coming weeks, the Health Ministry announced. It said during the past week alone, the number of deaths rose from 377 to 388. The ministry said the number of patients who have recovered increased from 486 to 498 and the number of the patients who are still under treatment in 20 hospitals all over the Kingdom has dropped from 32 to 25. It said from Feb. 20 to 25, as many as 15 people got infected and 10 of them died.
The paper also reports that the WHO believes there are still too many unknowns about the disease.
RIYADH — Ten more people in Saudi Arabia have died from MERS over the past week, health ministry figures showed on Friday, after an international mission urged extra measures to combat the virus.
Saudi Arabia is the country worst-hit by Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
The latest deaths occurred between February 20 and 26, adding to a surge of cases which has killed 27 people since the start of the month.
Doctor Abdul Aziz bin Saeed, who heads the centre coordinating the ministry’s response to MERS, warned in early February that a rise in cases typically occurs around this time of year, when there are more juvenile camels circulating.
Saudi Arabia is on course to develop as a post-petroleum nation, the country’s Minister of Oil, says. In remarks reported in Saudi Gazette, Ali Al-Naimi points to the economic diversification now building as the nation’s plan for the future. He was speaking at the Jizan Economic forum, in the far southwest of the country, site of Jizan economic city, now being constructed.
Among the industries ripe to be developed, the report says, is tourism in the Farsan Islands among other destinations in the province.
KSA to cut dependence on oil
Hassan Cheruppa | Saudi Gazette
JAZAN — Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Ali Al-Naimi said the Kingdom’s future development vision aims at expanding the economic base and concentrating more on the manufacturing sector through building small, medium and large industries and reducing dependence on oil in a phased manner.
Addressing the opening session of Jazan Economic Forum (JEF) here on Wednesday, Al-Naimi said the contribution of the industrial sector to the gross domestic product (GDP) has doubled from SR135 billion to SR276 billion over the past 10 years and it is expected to increase further in the coming years.
Al-Naimi said that Jazan Industrial City is one of the major projects that have contributed to this remarkable achievement.
Apparently lacking anything more important to do, Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council has decided to wade into the issue of what female TV presenters wear while on the air, according to this Arab News report. They’re not entirely out of sync with Saudi society, though, as many were outraged when a female Saudi diplomat at the UN had the effrontery to address the Security Council while not wearing hijab and abaya.
Can one be Saudi without wearing national costume? Apparently not.
Shoura passes dress code law for women TV anchors
JEDDAH: P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR
The Shoura Council has passed a new law that would make it mandatory for women TV anchors working in the Kingdom to wear modest dress and not show off their beauty.
Ahmed Al-Zailaee, chairman of the media committee at the consultative body, said once the law is passed by the Cabinet it would apply to all women media workers in the Kingdom, including those of MBC and Rotana.
Latifa Al-Shualan, a Shoura member, expressed surprise at the council’s interest in the dress code of women TV anchors, and said there are other more important issues to tackle.
“There are many other pressing issues such as the danger posed by the media activities of the so-called Islamic State terrorist group,” she said.
Arab News reports that the GCC is considering the issue of revising the subsidies governments provide for the purchase of fuels. Even though these states are all oil- and gas-producers, the level of subsidies is having negative effects on their economies. Not only do subsidies cost the countries, but they promote a sense of entitlement and devaluation of the resources such that waste proliferates.
Subsidies are not going to be just dropped, though. At most, there will be a reduction and a slight rise in the cost of fuels. Nobody is seeking angry citizens.
In the wake of the World Bank’s appeals to emerging market countries, especially the states of the Middle East and North Africa, to end fuel subsidies, oil producing countries, including those of the GCC are actively thinking of such a move.
While they do not want to lift subsidies completely, the Gulf countries are contemplating partial amendment to the support, especially since the Kingdom’s oil prices are the lowest internationally.
Oil and energy experts say the decision to amend support lifting subsidies is currently being studied and its application is only a matter of time.
It’s not just the northern parts of the US that are seeing record cold and snow. Saudi Gazette reports on the snowfall in northern Saudi Arabia, near the city of Tabuk. It’s providing a boost to Saudi tourism within the country, apparently.
TABUK — A number of Saudis have driven to the northwestern region of Tabuk to enjoy some snow and some local tourism after a snowstorm named Jenna hit the Middle East earlier this week.
“Everyone is smiling,” Abu Murthi, who drove to Tabuk to build a snowman with his family, said.
“We were lucky, it snowed twice this year,” he added. Before Jenna, snowstorm Huda hit the region early this year.
Saleem Al-Omrani, another visitor, said “this is considered like tourism for us. When it is snowing, everybody is out, the youth and people with their families.”
While he said that the road leading to Tabuk needed to be “developed further,” he said that he thoroughly relished the experience.
“This is wintery tourism season for us,” Hamid Al-Anzi said. “Some Saudis travel abroad just to see snow, but this is the second time this year it snowed. We are enjoying our time,” he added.
The World Health Organization is getting concerned about the sudden spike in cases of MERS in Saudi Arabia. According to this Saudi Gazette report, it has sent a team to the country to try to figure out what’s happening. WHO notes an improvement in clinical care, but transmission of the disease remains a worry.
JEDDAH — An international team of United Nations human and animal health experts has flown to the Kingdom to investigate a recent surge in cases of a deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) caused by coronavirus.
A spokeswoman of the World Health Organization-led team said it was worried by a steep rise in cases of MERS, which has infected some 50 people in the Kingdom in February alone — one of the highest monthly rates since it first emerged in humans in 2102.
“We are all very aware of this surge in cases,” said the WHO’s Fadela Chaib, one of an 11-strong international MERS expert team.
“Although this is still a small outbreak compared to last year, we still need to understand more about what is happening.”
In Saudi Arabia, only Saudi Arabs can own the typical retail shop or store, by law. What has happened, over decades, is that some Saudis will claim to own the business, that is, they will lend their names to the operation, but in fact, it is a foreigner owning it. This “fronting” is called tasattur and, according to this Saudi Gazette report, it’s a growing problem. It has two direct negative effects, the reports says: it keeps Saudis out of jobs and it results in huge transfers of money out of the country. Indirectly, it creates problems for national security and, more importantly, it promotes disrespect for the law.
For some Saudis, it looks like easy money. They’re just renting out their names and citizenship with the rights those include. There’s no actual work that needs to be done beyond signing the original papers. Money comes in every month while the Saudi is earning an income from his regular job. It’s not unlike a celebrity licensing the use of his or her name to promote products or services. It is, however, against the law in Saudi Arabia.
Is the war against tasattur failing?
Saudi Gazette report
THE illegal practice of foreigners running businesses registered under the name of Saudis in return for fixed amounts of money known locally as “tasattur” has continued to increase despite the efforts of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Al-Riyadh newspaper reported.
Expatriate workers continue to flout Saudi laws by engaging in tasattur, something that makes them and the Saudis who help them susceptible to being fined and penalized if caught.
The practice negatively impacts the Kingdom’s economy and security, and as a result the Ministry of Commerce and Industry regularly holds seminars to raise awareness about the problem.
The ministry has also named and shamed individuals caught involved in the practice. In spite of this, tasattur continues to thrive as Saudis view it is as an easy way to become rich.
Dr. Talal Al-Bakri, a former Shoura Council member, said some Saudis place their personal interests and gain before the greater interests of the nation by circumventing the law.
Arab News reports on a new program to help Saudi students with learning disabilities. The King Salman Center for Disability Research has signed an agreement with Beacon College, located in central Florida, that will train students to move from secondary to university education. As part of the process, a Saudi official will be resident in Leesburg, FL, to serve as liaison, but also to inform the local population about Saudi Arabia.
Disabled Saudi students to get training in US
RIYADH: ABDUL HANNAN TAGO
The King Salman Center for Disability Research (KSCDR) signed a deal on Sunday with an American university to provide special training for disabled Saudi students, including high school graduates.
This was disclosed by Prince Sultan bin Salman, chairman of KSCDR, who said that the Compass Program, focusing on the transition from secondary to higher education, would take place at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, in June this year.
It is a short-term, intensive college preparatory program that will take place over five weeks. Beacon College is the first accredited institution in the world to offer a four-year degree course exclusively for students with learning disabilities.