Writing at Foreign Policy, Caryle Murphy — who has spent considerable time in Saudi Arabia — reports that the fundamentalist view of Islam promoted by the state and supported by large parts of the population, is coming under pressure.

On both social and political fronts, the most conservative aspects of the “authorized” Salafist interpretation of Islam is being questioned by Saud youth. They do not, of course, have the field to themselves. There are those who continue to see the government as too liberal, too inclined to “succumb to foreign influence.” The government itself has vested interests, of course. But increasingly, individual Saudis are willing to question the assertions that have been drilled into them since early school years. Some, indeed, are willing to acknowledge their agnosticism or atheism, knowing that they could be legally punished for expressing such views.

The article is worth reading in its entirety.

Questioning the Faith in the Cradle of Islam
In Saudi Arabia, a new generation is pushing back against the government’s embrace of fundamentalism. But is the kingdom ready for nonbelievers?

Caryle Murphy

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Ahmed al-Ghamdi’s long, bushy beard and red-checked headscarf are emblems of his conservative approach to Islam, which is no surprise for a man who once supervised the Saudi religious police in the holy city of Mecca.

But it was something surprising about Ghamdi that brought me to his apartment in a scruffy, low-income section of Jeddah in the sweltering summer of 2011. I wanted to know why he had announced that, after extensive research, he could find no Islamic basis for Saudi society’s most distinctive feature: its strict gender segregation.

As his wife, sister, and mother listened in with obvious pride, Ghamdi explained that he could no longer take “at face value” religious rulings that gender mixing is haram — that is, religiously prohibited. “I wanted to go to their underpinnings, so I began collecting all the texts relating to this matter from the Quran and the Sunna [examples from the life and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed],” he said. “My conclusion was that not a single text or verse in the Quran and Sunna specifically says that mixing is haram. The word ‘mixing’ is not even in the Quran.”

Instead, he said he found plenty of texts “that proved that mixing happened at the time of Prophet Mohammed” and that “it is just another part of normal life.”


October:30:2014 - 09:53 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia has a bit of a population problem. Early in its history, the government sought to increase the country’s population. It succeeded.

As a result, there’s been huge population growth over the past 50 years. At present, 60% of the Saudi population is under 30 years-of-age. This presents new problems, however. One of those problems is that there is a huge and growing demand for jobs. A recent report said the country needed to create 300,000 new jobs, annually, to keep up with the rising demand.

Whether the country should adopt a policy promoting limited births, however, is a contentious affair. Arab News reports on divided votes within the Shoura Council on whether such a change should be made.

Population control steps: No consensus in Shoura

Shoura Council members were divided on the issue of birth control on Tuesday during a vote on a draft law on population development issued by the Ministry of Economy and Planning.

The council’s committee on economic affairs and energy had called for the deletion of the phrase “reduce the total fertility rate by encouraging spacing between deliveries,” and replacing the term “reproductive health” with “mother and child” throughout the document.

The council voted on the recommendations by the committee, with 58 members in favor of the amendments and 64 in opposition.

In a subsequent vote on the original document proposed by the government, 70 members voted in favor while 50 opposed them. However, the vote failed to achieve the minimum 76 votes to ensure approval.


October:29:2014 - 09:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that Nitiqat, the latest iteration of Saudization — replacing foreign workers with Saudi workers — is being seen as successful. According to reports from the Ministry of Labor, 86% of Saudi companies have met the quotas the government has set for them.

86% of companies in Nitaqat safe zone
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — Almost 86 percent of companies and establishments are now in safe zone as far as the Nitaqat Saudization program is concerned, Ahmad Al-Humaidan, deputy minister of labor, said on Tuesday.

He said they have been classified in low, medium and high zones of green and platinum.

“There are only 14 percent of firms in unsafe zones of yellow and red. This is a positive development to achieve such a big result within a short span of time as the percentage of firms in safe and unsafe zones was 50 percent each at the time of enforcing Nitaqat program,” he said.

Al-Humaidan said that the ministry has approved new updates in the third edition of the program, which will include directives for new businesses besides amendments in the required percentage of Saudization in some trades.


October:29:2014 - 08:40 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture & Information is going to attempt to regulate online video websites like YouTube. Good luck with that. I suspect that the Saudis who are giving over 90 million YouTube hits per day are going to have something to say about it.

The answer to bad speech — and video — is better speech — and video.

Government will regulate video-sharing sites

The Ministry of Culture and Information will soon regulate all video and image-sharing websites on the Internet to ensure they comply with the country’s laws, an expert said here Sunday.

Hamza Al-Ghubaishi, organizer of the Digital Visual Forum that concluded in Riyadh on Sunday, said the ministry’s General Authority for Audio and Visual Media has been entrusted with this task.

During the first session of the forum, Al-Ghubaishi said many young people do not know that they have to get permits to produce content on YouTube and similar sites.

“Many such clips contain ethical and religious violations. There has been no government body until now to supervise or regulate such channels, or issue permits,” he said.


October:28:2014 - 10:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Over at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), Anthony Cordesman takes a look at US polices affected by the conflict with ISIS and doesn’t much like what he sees. ISIS, Syria, and Iraq remain problems that current US strategy seems unable to deal with other than by temporizing.

Keeping balls in the air may delay the disaster of their falling to the ground, but fall they will. When they land, they’re going to be landing in places like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The Imploding U.S Strategy in the Islamic State War?
Anthony Cordesman

It is too early to say that the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State is imploding, but it is scarcely too soon to question whether this is possible. In fact, it is far from clear that the original U.S. strategy ever planned to deal with the complications that have arisen since President Obama officially announced a portion of what that strategy really had to be.

The Non-Strategy for Dealing with the Islamic State

To begin with, the basic goal of degrading and destroying the Islamic State always bordered on the ridiculous. It was always clear that some form of violent Islamic extremism would survive any combination of U.S. air attacks, Iraqi efforts to clear Iraq on the ground, and the limited capabilities of the Free Syrian Army. In fact, senior U.S. defense officials and military officers have repeatedly made this clear by limiting the objective to “degrade” and noting that the struggle against violent religious extremism would go on for years if not more than a decade.


October:27:2014 - 07:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Editor-at-Large Khaled Almaeena writes at Saudi Gazette that governments need to get on top of “fifth columnists” who are promoting and supporting terrorist organizations. And that includes Saudi preachers.

Almaeena laments that governments allowed this situation to develop years ago when the problem might have been dealt with more easily. There are radicals within Saudi Arabia and within the government. Unsupervised teachers have free rein to teach extremist theology, even when they’re supposed to be teaching chemistry or math. Secretaries within ministries work to subvert the missions of those ministries if they believe them “too liberal” or “too foreign” or “not the Islam I want”. Preachers preach hate and intolerance. While the government may now be seeking to rid itself of such pestilence, it’s awfully late to the game.

This is a situation that has been allowed to fester for going on 40 years. It’s long past time to fix it.

Stop these preachers of hate!
Khaled Almaeena

A Gulf paper reported the suspension of the Twitter account of a Saudi preacher who urged followers on social media networking websites to celebrate the death by suicide bombing of dozens of protestors in Yemen thought to be Al-Houthis. On Twitter, Khalid Al-Ghamdi gloated over the corpses of people killed in bomb attacks in Sanaa on Oct. 9. He praised the Al-Qaeda group who carried out the attack and in his twisted way asked followers to take pleasure in watching the images of the burnt bodies. His show on Al-Wesal TV has been accused by patriotic Saudis of stoking sectarianism in the region. The sadistic comments caused outrage among peace-loving people who called for his prosecution.

Al-Ghamdi’s perverted, uncivilized and barbaric behavior is totally repugnant to the majority of Muslims all over the world. To ask people to gloat over the killing of innocent women and children reveals a demonic mind. The government is intent on fighting this evil ideology of hate, intolerance, incitement to murder and the vicious brutality of glorifying such heinous acts. However, we can’t do this by praying in mosques against “Daish”, the so-called Islamic State, or by reading circulars from the authorities asking us not to be swayed by deviants. This is a threatening evil ideology that has to be fought with serious determination and political will.


October:26:2014 - 08:29 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Writing at Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi finds that through its online recruiting, ISIS is creating an international league of zombies — mindless creatures that stalk around wreaking havoc wherever they go. Besides being seasonally apt for Halloween, he’s right.

ISIS is able to mobile seemingly brainless youths to join its fight. In addition to the foreigners recruited to fight that he lists, three American teenage girls were stopped in Germany on their way to Syria last week. The attraction of adventure, seeking a break from their boring lives, these youths seem ensorceled by the promise of something different from what they’re living. Instead of the commonplace that terrorists arise out of poverty and unemployment, we’re finding that they can very much be those dealing with “First World Problems“. The recruits are ignorant of Islam, of Islamic history, of regional politics. Those don’t matter at all. It’s that they want to be seen (at least to themselves) as doing something other than what they are doing.

The Zombies of ISIS
Mshari Al-Zaydi

A Canadian national named Michael Zahaf-Bibeau, aged 32, made the headlines this week when he carried out a terrorist attack in Ottawa, killing one soldier standing guard at a war memorial before storming the nearby parliament. He was killed in the subsequent firefight with security officers.

Is there more to this story?

According to local media, Michael Zahaf-Bibeau’s mother is Canadian while his father is Libyan. He did not speak Arabic. In his youth, he had wanted to travel to Libya to learn the language and study Islam. He had a criminal record. His parents are separated. He has been seeking to travel to Syria to join the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

What else?

At the time of writing this article, everything else regarding Zahaf-Bibeau’s motive and intentions is mere speculation.

The media reports delving into Michael Zahaf-Bibeau’s past paint a picture of a confused and angry young man. A man who wanted to express the anger and uncertainty that was boiling inside of himself; a man who wanted to prove something to the world.

Ultimately, Zahaf-Bibeau appears to be completely ignorant of true Islam, just like the two Austrian teenage girls who traveled to join ISIS, and the two British Somali schoolgirls who ran away to join this terrorist organization, as well as countless others. These people have no concept of religion, history or politics; if they did they would never join ISIS in the first place.


October:26:2014 - 08:15 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Electricity and its demand are growing problems in Saudi Arabia. The country uses its primary resources — oil and gas — to produce electricity to meet one of the world highest demands. And while electricity is heavily subsidized, particularly for the individual consumer, it is not free to produce.

Arab News reports on new rules and regulations that will be coming into effect next year to limit the costs of and increase the payment for electricity. Among the measures will be individual billing with the potential that non-payment will result in having power cut off.

‘Pay up’ warning to electricity consumers
ARAB NEWS

Electricity consumers face the risk of disconnection if their bills exceeding SR400 remain unpaid. Also, electricity bills will be issued in the names of consumers effective next year.

These regulations come into force by 2015, with the issuance of new amendments to electrical services by the Saudi Electricity and Co-generation Regulatory Authority.

The amendments will require the Saudi Electricity Co. (SEC) to link the actual consumption bill to the direct beneficiary of the service, whether they are the owner of the property or a tenant.

The new amendments will also require real estate investors to finalize an agreement with the SEC to deliver electrical services for new schemes in accordance with the number of existing controls, and to establish locations and spaces suitable for power distribution unit.


October:25:2014 - 10:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s Statistics Agency, part of the Ministry of Civil Service, took it in the neck during a recent session of the Shoura Council. The Council pointed to an array of areas in which the statistics provided by the Agency were garbage. And statistical garbage in means garbage policies out.

The Agency, according to this Arab News report, blames it on a lack of trained personnel.

Others might blame it on the Saudi propensity toward secrecy, particularly if the information being withheld can be viewed as casting a negative shadow on the government or government employees.

Shoura slams Statistics Agency
ARAB NEWS

In a recent session, Shoura Council members criticized the Ministry of Civil Service and the Statistics Agency for not having a clear plan for creating job opportunities for Saudi women.

The Shoura members said that the Statistics Agency was not providing accurate figures on the number of unemployed women, creating confusion in chalking out a plan to increase their numbers in the work force.

Shoura member Abdulziz Al-Harqan said that transport allowances for female employees in the government sector are unfair, arguing that women in the Kingdom do not drive and are forced to employ private drivers which means the transport allowance should be doubled. He also said that women should be exempted from paying the visa fees when recruiting drivers.

Shoura member Khaled Al-Awad said the Statistics Agency suffers from a systematically flawed approach leading to incorrect indicators of Saudi Arabia’s living standards, family spending and housing expenses which raises a lot of questions on all areas of planning in the Kingdom.


October:25:2014 - 09:57 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Just a few years ago, the idea of physical education for girls was one that led to huge arguments in the Saudi population and, consequently, one the Saudi government preferred to avoid.

That’s changed. Not only is physical education becoming part of the curriculum in girls schools, but the government is establishing 1,000 “fitness and social clubs” around the country, Arab News reports.

The wars over what’s acceptable for women are hardly finished. There are still many Saudis who find the idea morally dangerous and fight against it. For now, though, they’ve lost the battle.

Ministry plans 1,000 fitness clubs for girls
JEDDAH: FOUZIA KHAN

The Ministry of Education plans to launch 1,000 fitness and social clubs for girls around the country by the end of 2015.

Noura Al-Fayez, deputy minister of education for girls, said on Wednesday that the aim is to ensure these clubs are for members of the community, particularly young people, to develop a range of skills.

Al-Fayez made the comments on Wednesday during a tour of a club in Riyadh.

Al-Fayez was welcomed by Samira Sheaibi, assistant director of the girls education department in Riyadh; Nadia Al-Ghyshian, assistant general supervisor of the program; Nora Alkanaan, director of the Shifa education office; Nora Budaiya, director of the club; and several supervisors and management activity directors.


October:25:2014 - 09:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

There’s a conspiracy theory bubbling around — I’m seeing it coming primarily out of S. Asia — that Saudi Arabia and the US are colluding to bring down the price of oil in order to damage the economies of Russia and Iran. While lower prices certainly have that effect, they also negatively affect the economies of all oil producers. If the price drops low enough, in fact, it could damage the oil-fracking industry that has so increased US production. Some countries can weather lower prices better than others. Saudi Arabia is one of those countries.

Rather than a conspiracy or political skullduggery, though, it’s the oil markets that are setting the price of oil. Lower than expected demand from China and increased supplies from the US mean that there’s less demand. Less demand means the prices go down.

An article from Arab News spells out the issue well.

The ‘politics’ behind oil price fall
Alsir Sidahmed

It is no longer a issue of whispering in the corridors of the oil industry. It is now part of public debate. Is Saudi Arabia launching an oil price war in tandem with the US to undermine or at least weaken energy dependent adversaries Russia and Iran?

The latest to join this discussion is the notable New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote on Oct. 14 under the headline “Pump War?”

“One can’t say for sure whether the American-Saudi oil alliance is deliberate or a coincidence of interests, but, if it is explicit, then clearly we’re trying to do to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, exactly what the American and Saudi Arabia did to the last leaders of the Soviet Union: pump them to death — bankrupt them by bringing down the price of oil.”

It is no surprise that people try always to find a link between oil and politics.


October:25:2014 - 09:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Writing for Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief for the network, reports on a fascinating conference held in Abu Dhabi last week. The conference discussed just about every facet of the discord that now defines the region. Worth reading in its entirety.

Of domestic demons and aggressive neighbors
Hisham Melhem

Last week a group of scholars, current and former officials and journalists from the Middle East, U.S., Europe, Russia and China met for two days at the inaugural forum of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, sponsored by the Emirate Policy Center. We met to discuss and ponder what can be done about Syria and Iraq – two countries in flames – and to ask are there any chances to prevent Yemen and Libya from moving on the same path of nihilism, whither Egypt after almost four years of tumult and uncertainty, the impact of non-Arab regional powers like Iran and Turkey on the ongoing conflicts of the Arabs, and the major powers policies (assuming that they have coherent ones) toward the Gulf region. And like most conferences the participants met but not necessarily their ideas.


October:25:2014 - 09:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink
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