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.

King calls on Muslims to shun intolerance, extremism

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.”

February:27:2015 - 09:33 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

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.

February:26:2015 - 07:49 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

In an op-ed for Al-Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem, the station’s Washington bureau chief, offers a critique of Pres. Obama’s penchant for vague language when it comes to dealing with terrorism committed in the name of Islam. In seeking to avoid any possible offense with his language, the President and his administration end up using wishy-washy terms devoid of any actual meaning.

Arab and Muslim societies, Melhem writes, do have a problem and it’s one that’s largely self-created. Too many leaders have used religion as a tool of manipulation. Too many have created shadows on the wall to demonize the West. Too many have allowed absurd “religious” inspirations to deflect attention from very real problems created by those leaders.

Failing to acknowledge what the problem is — and it’s not a “lack of jobs,” contrary to what a State Dept. spokeswoman claimed from her pulpit — cannot lead to a solution to the problem. The main burden is on Arab and Muslim society and those who govern them. Pretending it is not will not and cannot lead to a solution.

Violent extremism vs Islamist extremism
Hisham Melhem

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”
Ludwig Wittgenstein

President Obama is a wordsmith. His relatively short political life has been chiseled and shaped by the possibilities and the limits of his language. He bursts on the national stage when he delivered a memorable keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In fact, he defined his campaigns and his presidency by few pivotal speeches that tried to explain his vision of America, domestic decisions, and how he sees the world. Obama the wordsmith struggled with his language the way Obama the president struggled with his decisions. And just as his leadership style and some of his decisions were characterized by tentativeness, excessive caution and deliberation, his language can also oscillate between that which is inspirational and that which is deliberately ambiguous, deceptive and downright Orwellian. His framing of the Syrian conflict and his claims that his options were the extremes of doing nothing or invade Syria are a case in point.

February:23:2015 - 06:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

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

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.

February:22:2015 - 09:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

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.

Expert says GCC mulls cut in fuel subsidy

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.

February:22:2015 - 09:05 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Arab News reports on a meeting of the military chiefs of 22 countries now taking place in Riyadh. The purpose is to come up with a unified approach to dealing with ISIS. The article notes that Bahrain is now stepping in, sending aircraft to Jordan to support ongoing operations.

infographic: countries involved in anti-ISIS activities

Anti-IS coalition chalks out strategy in Riyadh

Military chiefs from more than 22 countries battling the Islamic State (IS) group began talks here Wednesday to assess the coalition’s current strategy and map out a plan to tackle other terrorist groups operating in the Middle East.

A formal reception was hosted for the military chiefs of the foreign countries at a local hotel on Wednesday night, a diplomatic source, who requested anonymity, said.

This led to an informal round of discussions, but the main talks are scheduled for Thursday, he said. This high-powered military meeting is significant because of the growing threat posed by IS.

The meeting also coincides with the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, which started in the US Wednesday.

February:19:2015 - 09:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

The politics of today’s Middle East are so complex and rife with contradiction that Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti is warning the clerics under his supervision to just stay out of them. By indulging in political discourse from the pulpit, they are only making things more confusing. Given the clerics’ narrow education, focused solely on theology and religious law, this is wise. Al Arabiya TV republishes an item appearing in Al-Watan Arabic daily:

Saudi grand mufti says clerics should steer away from murky politics

Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh warned religious clerics to stay away from politics as it is murky and changing, the local al-Watan news website reported Wednesday.

The grand mufti, who advised clerics to check facts when discussing politics, also urged them to further showcase the danger of violence espoused by radical groups who claim to be Islamic.

While calling for unity, he described political wrangling as futile due to it not being in the service of God.

He cautioned that clerics should take into considerations the risks facing the kingdom.

In an op-ed in Asharq Alawsat, also republished at Al Arabiya TV, Abdulrahman al-Rashed expands upon the theme:

Saudi Mufti’s call on keeping away from politics

February:19:2015 - 08:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s statistical department has released new figures on unemployment in the Kingdom, stating that the average unemployment is now 11.7% (5.9 percent among men; 32.5 percent among women). It sees the reduction as a result of government efforts to put more Saudis into jobs, that is, the Nitiqat Saudization program.

The Arab News article goes on to note that not everyone is accepting the official numbers, claiming that unemployment is significantly higher.

Saudi jobless rate down to 11.7%: Nitaqat pays off

The Nitaqat nationalization program was successful in bringing down the Kingdom’s unemployment rate to 11.7 percent — 5.9 percent among men and 32.5 percent among women, said the Central Department of Statistics and Information (CDSI).

In a statement issued on Sunday, the department put the total number of unemployed Saudis at 650,000, including 258,000 men and 392,000 women.

The department, which comes under the Ministry of Economy and Planning, said reports on unemployment rate in the Kingdom published by some newspapers and other media organizations were not correct.

February:16:2015 - 09:37 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on a statement from the Saudi government condemning murders in both Copenhagen and Chapel Hill, North Carolina that are apparently based on religious intolerance.

KSA condemns terrorist acts in Copenhagen, North Carolina
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The Kingdom has followed up with great sorrow the heinous terrorist and criminal incidents in Copenhagen and North Carolina which resulted in killings and injuries to innocent people, the Saudi Press Agency quoted an official source as saying on Sunday.

The Kingdom called for the need for respecting religious beliefs and halting incitement against Muslims.

At the same time it stressed its rejection of all heinous terrorist and criminal acts in all their forms and manifestations, and any source or belief that stands behind them.

The Kingdom offered its condolences to the families of the victims of terrorism and their relatives, wishing the injured people a speedy recovery.

It also runs, in another section of the paper, a brief comment noting that American Christians in Texas helped an Islamic center damaged by fire by offering space until the damage can be repaired.

Christian generosity goes untold in Texas fire story

The government seems to be making an effort to encourage religious tolerance.

February:16:2015 - 09:29 | Comments Off | Permalink

The American Interest blog runs a brief analysis about why Saudi Arabia is comfortable with — if not exactly thrilled about — today’s lower oil prices.

Why the Saudis Aren’t Cutting Production

With oil trading at less than half of what it was last June, plenty of market observers have been surprised by OPEC’s decision not to scale back output to set a floor to the price. One compelling reason is that the cartel’s largest member is well prepared to ride out this bear market. The EIA reports:

In addition to having the second-largest proved oil reserves—268 billion barrels, or 16%, of the world total in 2014, behind only Venezuela’s 298 billion barrels—Saudi Arabia has a massive sovereign wealth fund (SWF) that will enable it to weather lower oil prices. To maintain spending at the same level as in the past, Saudi Arabia would need to tap its SWF, which currently has $733 billion, or about 19 times its expected 2015 budget shortfall of $39 billion. Consequently, the short-term effect of lower oil prices on Saudi Arabia should be minimal. In contrast, OPEC’s decision to keep crude oil production near present levels, keeping supply high and prices low, has affected the budgets of members that lack Saudi Arabia’s financial reserves.

February:13:2015 - 11:39 | Comments Off | Permalink

Citing the deteriorating security situation in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, Saudi Arabia has decided to withdraw its diplomats. It is the first Arab country to do so, but other nations, including the US, UK, Germany, and Italy have already done so, Al Arabiya TV reports.

Saudi suspends embassy work in Yemen

Saudi Arabia, Germany and Italy have suspended operations and evacuated diplomatic staff at their embassies in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Friday.

“As result of deterioration in security and political conditions in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, the kingdom has suspended all embassy operations in Sanaa and evacuated its entire staff, who arrived safely in the kingdom,” State news agency SPA quoted a foreign ministry source as saying.

The kingdom is the first Arab country to evacuate embassy staff from Sanaa, after several Western governments, including the United States, shut their missions this week.

Meanwhile Germany and Italy are following suit and have pulled their staff from their embassies too.

February:13:2015 - 09:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

According to this Arab News report, young Saudi entrepreneurs are lamenting the failure rate of business start-ups. They point to nearly a quarter million failures over the past two years, blaming government red-tape and the difficulty in obtaining funding as the principal causes.

Start-ups are risky, everywhere in the world. According to The Wall Street Journal, three-quarters of start-ups in the US fail.

Getting funding is notoriously difficult in Saudi Arabia. The banks are conservative and do not like to take risks, particularly if they’re presented by young businessmen with no record of achievement. That’s a cultural issue and it’s common to banks around the world. As of yet, there are no large pools of venture capitalists in the Gulf, willing to take those risks either. This is just a fact that the businessmen will have to keep lobbying and pleading to change. A few big successes might serve to change some minds, but risk is risk.

Bureaucratic barriers are a different matter, though. The government should seek to minimize them. At the same time, the government has objectives — like Saudization — that argue against hiring cheap foreign labor when it’s not absolutely necessary. Is it necessary to waive requirements so that small businesses can take off? That’s a political question and, so far, it’s one the government is not willing to countenance.

Saudization blues: 212,000 SMEs closed down in 2 years

Young Saudi business leaders have appealed to the government and the private sector for more support because they say about 212,000 small and medium enterprises (SME) have had to close up shop over the past two years for various reasons including tough Saudization regulations, lack of finance and lengthy bureaucratic procedures.

These entrepreneurs believe that they can revolutionize the SME sector given proper opportunities and support, including attracting foreign investment, developing a culture of productivity in society and tapping the country’s other resources, thus increasing the Kingdom’s nonoil exports.

They have called on chambers across the Kingdom to establish special committees for young entrepreneurs, resolve obstacles facing them and create a suitable atmosphere for their active participation in boosting the economy. They believe that if Saudis can grow the SME sector, this would help reduce remittances by expatriate workers.

February:12:2015 - 10:36 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
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