Saudi Arabia has replaced its Minister of Health, moving former Minister of Labor Adel Fakieh into the position. Former Minister of Health Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, will be going back to his private practice where he is a leading expert on the separation of conjoined twins.

While the government has given no specific reason for his being relieved, it is strongly believed that it is due to the increase in MERS-CoV cases in the Kingdom. Arab News reports:

Health Minister Al-Rabeeah relieved of position

Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah has been relieved of his post and Labor Minister Adel Fakeih has been named acting health minister, a Royal Decree said on Monday.

“Dr. Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Rabeeah has been relieved of his position as health minister and named adviser at the Royal Court with the rank of a minister,” said the decree issued by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.

“Adel bin Mohammed Fakeih has been advised to do the job of health minister in addition to his current job as labor minister,” the decree added.

No reasons have been given for the removal of Al-Rabeeah, but some Saudi bloggers indicated that it might be in response to complaints made by citizens, especially after the rising cases of MERS.

Saudi Gazette:

Rabeeah relieved of his post

Al Arabiya TV:

Saudi Health Minister ‘relieved of his post’

April:22:2014 - 05:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

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

Following the tiff that saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar, the GCC has found a way to bring the states back together. The exact steps to be taken are — annoyingly — unreported. But all is well, we’re told by Saudi Gazette.

Gulf states heal rift

RIYADH — Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council brokered a consensus Thursday after a rift that saw Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar. During a meeting in Riyadh, GCC foreign ministers conducted a “comprehensive review of measures relating to foreign and security policies,” according to a statement from the Gulf group. “[Participants] agreed to adopt measures that ensure working at a group level and that policies of any individual state should not affect the interests, security or stability of any other member state and without affecting the sovereignty of any of its states,” the statement said. Last month, in an unprecedented split between Gulf Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, saying Doha had not implemented a GCC deal reached in Riyadh in November to avoid interfering in each other’s affairs.

The three countries, led by Saudi Arabia, accused Doha of interfering in the internal affairs of countries in the Gulf region by backing Islamist movements in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere. Qatar denied it interferes anywhere but vowed to stick to its foreign policy.

April:19:2014 - 08:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

#SG reports that the Saudi government has made possession of a government ID a requirement for women to obtain passports. The purpose is to continue the effort to give women an independent identity, separate from that of their spouses or families.

The government is also going forward with its requirement for biometric identification for both sexes for obtaining a passport and other government services.

No passport for Saudi women without IDs

JEDDAH — Saudi women who do not have national identity cards will no longer issued with new passports, the Directorate General of Passports announced. It also said their passports will not be renewed. The directorate asked all Saudi men and women to register their fingerprints electronically with the Interior Ministry or they will not be allowed to use its services. Director General of Passports Maj. Gen. Solaiman Al-Yahya said starting May 1, no passports will be issued or renewed for Saudi men or women if they are not fingerprinted.

April:19:2014 - 08:12 | 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

And interesting article in the English-language Saudi Gazette and its Arabic sister paper Okaz.

Islam is noted as a religion in which the ‘church’ and the state are commingled. In Saudi Arabia, which takes the Quran as its constitution, religious precepts are taken as being not only the basis of law, but as comprising the law.

The Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, however, has just alerted imams that if their sermons venture into the realm of politics, they face being fired. Intentionally or not, this is a wedge being inserted between the pulpit and politics. Individual preachers are not authorized to enter areas reserved for the religious leadership authorities.

The intent is to prevent or limit the over-zealous and extremist preachers, similar to the way they were stripped of their authority to issue fatwas in 2010.

Imams talking politics to be fired
Abdulrahman Al-Shamrani
Okaz/Saudi Gazette

RIYADH – The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance has warned imams that they may lose their jobs if they talk about politics in their Friday sermons.

“The imams who talk about politics in their sermons will not only be sacked from their posts but will be prevented from taking another position in any mosque,” an assistant undersecretary of the ministry said.

Abdulmohsen Bin Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh said if the ministry finds out that an imam has used the sermons to discuss politics, it would summon him to stand before a number of scholars from one of the advisory committees the ministry has established in various regions.

“If the imam repents and makes a solemn pledge not to do this again he will be pardoned and kept in his position, otherwise he will be dismissed,” he said.

April:15:2014 - 09:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Just days after becoming second in line to succeed King Abdullah to the Saudi throne, Prince Muqrin has set the Saudi social media atwitter with his negative remarks about banking, Arab News reports.

During a press conference at a charity group, the prince suggested that banks behave predatorily, separating the citizen from his money without giving much — if anything — back to society. Many on Saudi social media chimed in to agree. I’m sure the prince would find an agreeable audience in some sectors of the US as well.

Royal criticism of banks sets social media abuzz

Saudis on social media Wednesday praised Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin for saying the nation’s banks are not doing enough for the poor.

Prince Muqrin questioned the banks’ commitment to social development, despite making record profits, at a press conference on Tuesday during a ceremony organized by the King Khaled Charity Foundation in Riyadh.

Abdulkareem Alneqez said: “Prince Muqrin has hit the nail on the head with this irritating question, which our banks would like to pretend they didn’t hear. This question will shut them up, and echo in bankers’ ears.”

Fahd Alestaa commented: “Regardless of who’s responsible for the poor in our country, banks have come up with various tricks to empty people’s wallets.”

Tamim Al-Zahrani remarked: “The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency should enact a law committing banks to charitable community services across the country.”

Waleed bin Saud said: “Prince Muqrin has pressed the right buttons. SAMA can control banks and order them to contribute to the development of our society.”

April:10:2014 - 10:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | 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

With a massive population expansion under way, Saudi Arabia is playing catch-up with education. Fully one-quarter of the national budget is aimed at education. Building new schools to house the new students, however, isn’t enough. Those schools need to be staffed with competent teachers.

Arab News reports that a test administered by the Ministry of Education — responsible for primary and secondary education — has found that 90% of Saudi teachers, both male and female, are not quite up to the job. That is a massive failing. New schools, new texts, new computers and the like do not add up to “education”. Teachers are the ones who bring those things together in the minds of students.

The Ministry is calling for widespread new training programs to address the shortfall in teacher preparedness.

90% teachers ‘inefficient’

Ninety percent of Saudi school teachers have failed in a basic efficiency test conducted by the Education Ministry, said Hamad bin Mohammad Al-Asheikh, deputy minister for boys education.

“About 75 percent of male and female teachers sat the exam,” he said. Al-Asheikh criticized the diploma programs offered by Colleges of Education at Saudi universities, saying they do not meet the requirements of school curricula.

“These programs qualify the teachers to teach only at primary classes. The training program should be extended beyond one year,” he said while addressing a directors meeting for educational trainers in Alkhobar. He emphasized the importance of educational training in promoting the country’s educational standard.

“Teachers must be given intensive training to do their jobs efficiently,” he said.

April:08:2014 - 08:47 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on a fresh outbreak of Dengue Fever in Jeddah, with 68 new cases. Dengue is a viral disease for which no vaccine or anti-viral treatment is currently available. It’s a miserable disease, even in its ‘mild’ form, and has a 1%-2% morality rate.

As the virus itself cannot be dealt with, the best approach to controlling it is through vector control, that is, controlling the means through which the virus is spread. In the case of Dengue, that’s mosquitoes.

The article reports that there’s a clash between the Jeddah Municipality and the Jeddah Health Authority about just who is responsible for trying to get on top of the problem. The Municipality is responsible for spraying insecticides, but also for taking care of the numerous pools of standing water, the result of leaking water and sewage pipes, that serve as breeding areas.

Both offices clearly have a role to play. They do need to sort out who is responsible for what. But Jeddawis have a role, too. It is very much the habit of Saudis to consider what is inside the walls of their residences as their own problems and those outside the walls as nobody’s problems. That isn’t the case, though. It is necessary for ordinary citizens to pay attention to what’s going on outside their personal territory. They need to act, both as individuals and in concert to fix things as they can and to pressure government to fix things beyond their personal reach.

Dengue tightens grip over Jeddah
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — At least 68 new cases of dengue fever have been registered in Jeddah in a month, local daily Al-Watan reported on Monday quoting informed sources.

The sources said there has been a remarkable increase of the disease from early March to early April.

Meanwhile, Jeddah Health Affairs’ primary health division has criticized Jeddah Municipality’s strategy to spray insecticides, claiming it had fallen short of preventing mosquitoes from breeding.

The division said the municipality also failed to clear areas where water had collected, especially in the southern and eastern areas of the city.

“The inefficient spraying of pesticides in these areas has created a favorable haven for mosquitoes to rapidly increase,” a statement from the division said.

The municipality’s spokesman Abdulaziz Al-Ghamdi denied these allegations and said the local authority had nothing to do with the rising number of dengue fever cases.

April:08:2014 - 08:41 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that there are discussions going on in Saudi Arabia about taking the necessary steps to convert the Consultative (Shoura) Council into a fully-fledged parliament.

Changes would have to be made in both how people join the Council and in its ultimate role.

Currently, all members of the Shoura Council are appointed. It should be possible to start electing at least some members through popular vote. Similarly, the Council now serves only to advise the government; it’s recommendations do not carry the force of law. That, too, could be changed, starting with limited areas of authority if necessary for government comfort.

The proposed changes are feasible. Their implementation can be done in a measured and incremental fashion.

Greater Shoura reforms sought
Experts say council should be given more powers

Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — A number of prominent Saudi figures have called for introducing more reforms in the Shoura Council, including the gradual transformation of the council into an elected body.

While appreciating the achievements made so far by the council, they also underlined the need for making amendments in the 23-year-old Shoura Law to give it additional powers so that it can work more effectively, according to a report in Al-Riyadh Arabic daily.

People pin great hope on the council, which has a number of committees to tackle various issues concerning the Saudi public. The members of the council include scholars, academics and legal experts and they represent people from all walks of life.

There has been an increased demand for amending the Shoura Law to make the body’s decisions binding on the executive. Under the current system, the council’s decisions are simply recommendations and proposals submitted for the consideration of the executive authorities.

April:06:2014 - 07:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV runs analysis by Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE, on how alliances within and outside the Middle East are now taking place. The shifts are not yet tectonic, but might be considered fore-shocks, signaling that the potential for major changes in cooperative agreements — both formal and informal — is in process.

It’s clear that current alliances are under pressures that could, if left alone, lead to a reshaping. Reappraisals of national interests as well as partnerships are going on. Those countries that wish to play a role in the shaping of the future need to be aware of what’s happening and take steps to ensure that the map looks like what they want it to look like.

Shifting sands and shifting security alliances in the Gulf
Theodore Karasik

Changes are afoot in security alliances in the Near East. Egypt, Saudi, UAE and Jordan appear to be forming a new regional security group. At the same time, Qatar, Iran, and Turkey are establishing another alliance. The ramifications on the GCCs future are enormous as Oman may join the Qatar group. What can we expect from these new alliances? What are the impacts on Syria and the Iranian negotiations? Where will Western states, Russia, and China fit into the new regional security dynamic?

Will the Shanghai Cooperation Organization find itself expanding to the Gulf via Iran? Will there be more trouble ahead or will these alliances clash on the political level and through proxies?

The ties between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE signal a grouping that agrees on the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) as the major threat to their stability. Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco are likely to be part of this emerging security group to provide monarchal protection and stability across the region against the Muslim Brotherhood threat. Shuttle diplomatic and military missions are increasing between all states.

April:06:2014 - 07:07 | Comments Off | Permalink
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