Saudi Arabia, with its GCC neighbors, is pushing economic diversification with some success. Arab News reports on a study showing that the GCC is increasing intra-GCC trade and, by building new rail networks, port facilities, and airport infrastructure, are aligned to see the diversification grow.
Although Saudi Arabia is the Middle East’s largest goods exporter, accounting for a third of total goods exported in 2013, only 5.3 percent of these were destined for other nations within the region, according to a new report by ICAEW.
According to Economic Insight: Middle East Q3, 2014, the GCC nations are leading the region’s current rail and aviation investment boom as they race to encourage more cross-border trade and address increasing congestion issues in the face of rampant population growth and rapidly-developing tourism markets.
Saudi Arabia is leading the charge with investment plans worth $45 billion in a bid to boost freight and passenger capacity, followed by Qatar and the UAE with investment plans worth $37 billion and $22 billion respectively.
The planned GCC Railway, a 2,177 km project, which will link the networks of the six GCC countries, represents the most ambitious aspect of the region’s railway infrastructure plans. With the Middle East set to become one of the world’s most important aviation centers, expansion of airports in all the major GCC cities has also become a priority.
Along with diversification of the national economy, economic conditions for individual Saudis also seem set to improve. Arab News reports:
Nitiqat is the most recent iteration of “Saudization,” the effort to convert jobs held by expat workers into jobs held by Saudis. The programs has seen considerable succes, Nathan Field writes for the Saudi-US Trade Group. Structural reforms in employment have taken place — though other changes are still necessary. Employers are now facing real consequences when they try to skirt employment law; salaries have risen; companies whose existence depended on hiring low-wage, low-skill expats have been shuttered.
Over the past three years, the number of Saudis employed in the private sector has doubled; the number of women working has increased by a multiple of seven. Attitudes about manual labor seem to be changing as well. Saudis are beginning to accept jobs that were once — with no factual reason — deemed to be beneath them. This is helped by increases in salaries paid to those doing those jobs.
The factors that have led to the problems of employment developed over decades. Their solutions will, hopefully, not take as long. Those problems absolutely need to be solve, though, so what improvements have happened should be embraced.
Nitaqat Three Years On: A Summer 2014 Report Card
Four years into the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia has been an oasis of relative calm and stability in an otherwise tumultuous Middle East region. This is partially because the perceived social, economic and political dysfunction resulting from Arab Spring reform movements has had a sobering effect on Saudi perceptions. In fact, many Saudis consider the chief consequence of the Arab Spring to be unprecedented “Fowda” (chaos). As a result, the government’s Edmund Burkian message that sudden, radical reform leads to traumatizing political and economic instability is widely accepted.
However, the sobering reality of regional instability has not been the only brake on pressure for political reform in Saudi Arabia. Meaningful domestic reform undertaken by the government since 2011 has also had an effect.
In particular, the Ministry of Labor has been leading an aggressive labor reform campaign that has begun to re-balance the labor – employer relationship in ways that are more favorable to normal, average Saudis. In December 2012, the Saudi-US Trade Group (SUSTG) published Nitaqat: Towards a Saudi New Deal, my analysis of the Nitaqat initiative up to that point. My assessment was that, based on the available information at the time, some significant results had been achieved in Year One following the Arab Spring. This article will evaluate the progress of the labor reform program based on the data that has emerged in the ensuing eighteen months.
As of summer 2014, three years into what must be understood as a long-term project, the available evidence suggests the Ministry of Labor is progressing towards its goals, meaningful progress is occurring and that the foundations of longer-term sustained success are in place.
Today’s Arab News carries several articles that bear on the Nitiqat process:
Over at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Anthony Cordesman offers a critique of Pres. Obama’s announced policies concerning ISIS. As Cordesman says, while there’s much in accord with what he has suggested in the past, it is not risk-free. Those risks must be understood.
The “Best Game in Town” – Five Key Risks of the President’s Strategy
It may seem unusual to criticize a strategy you have both suggested and endorse, and it is important to stress from the outset that President Obama has almost certainly chosen a strategy that is the “best game in town” — if he fully implements it, gives it the necessary resources, and sustains it over time. The President has had to choose a strategy based on the “rules of the game” in the United States, in Iraq, in Syria, and allied states. They are rules that place major constraints on what the United States can do.
The Limited Choices That Shape the “Best Game” in Town
The United States had no choice other than to depend on regional allies for ground forces, training, bases, improvements in unity and governance, efforts to limit the Islamic State’s funding and its volunteers, and efforts to highlight its lack of religious legitimacy and horrifying departures from Islam.
With the Jeddah coordinating meeting finished in Jeddah, there is a common concern about ISIS and its future in the region. As Asharq Alawsat reports, the US is looking for partners who will play an active role in trying to contain and destroy the extremist group and, so far, it is meeting with some success. Regional states face peril from the group and agree that something must be done about it. This is spelled out in the communique issued following the conference.
What is not spelled out is exactly what each country is to do. All are reluctant to put “boots on the ground” for a variety of their own political reasons.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a series of meetings with his Arab counterparts in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Thursday to coordination military and other forms of action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
A joint -Arab communique said the countries agreed, as appropriate, to join in “many aspects” of the military campaign against ISIS.
Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates agreed to “do their share” in the fight against ISIS.
The 10 countries pledged to stop the flow of funds and fighters to ISIS and help rebuild affected communities.
The meetings came hours after President Barack Obama unveiled his strategy to counter the militant group, which has occupied swathes of land in Iraq and Syria.
Asharq Alawsat reports on some of the reasons for Arab hesitation, or at least the lack of full-blooded eagerness to get militarily involved in dealing with ISIS. It also notes Turkey’s reluctance in the face of its nationals being held hostage in Iraq:
A significant problem seems to be that large parts of their populations approve of the group’s ends while remaining silent about their means. Once again, the intolerance taught in regional schools, madrassas, and mosques is rearing its head and threatening the stability of regimes and the region.
The Saudi government continues to prosecute and convict young Saudis who have gone off to Syria and Iraq to take part in jihad, Saudi Gazette reports. Saudi media seems to have weekly reports on convictions for supporting terrorism, these days. But it’s also clear that there’s going to be a need for a lot more of the same. The convictions reported today are for actions taken last year. What will happen with the new crop of extremists and sympathizers?
The Saudis are leading a conference today that brings together officials from 41 states to address a common approach to terrorism in the region. US Secretary of State John Kerry is among them. Given what Pres. Obama said in his address last night, the US is going to be looking for concrete action plans, not just rhetoric, from regional powers. Just how forthcoming they will be is the big question. There might be some sort of indication tonight, or perhaps in tomorrow’s reporting.
2 Saudis jailed for fighting abroad
Mishal Al-Otaibi | Saudi Gazette
RIYADH – The Special Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced on Wednesday two citizens to jail terms for taking part in fighting abroad, especially in Syria.
The court sentenced a young Saudi to five years in prison and imposed a travel ban for an equal period. The second Saudi was sent to jail for a period of one-and-a-half years and faced a travel ban for three years. The convicts can appeal the verdict within 30 days.
The court found the young Saudi convict guilty of violating the Kingdom’s travel documents law and the law to combat money laundering, in addition to traveling to regions of conflict and taking part in fighting.
The charges against him also included contacting his brother, who is present in the conflict zone, and concealing his brother’s incitement to take part in fighting. He was also convicted of extending cooperation to a terrorist abroad who works as coordinator to recruit young men from the Kingdom in order to take part in fighting.
The court found no evidence to prove the prosecution charges that the young man embraced deviant ideology and supported terrorists with money and giving shelter to one of the wanted terrorists.
Syrian writer Ghassan Al Imam has an interesting opinion piece in Asharq Alawsat. He’s right, but for the wrong reasons.
Al Imam rattles on about the pipe dream of “Arab unity.” There has not been Arab unity since the first century Hijra, when the Battle of Karbala defined the first major split among Arabs and Muslims. The idea has its philosophical charms, but has been disproved in reality for over a millennium. Dreams have a value of their own, of course, but they rarely convert into useful plans of action.
What is not a dream is that by declaring itself the new Caliphate, ISIS has led to a sort of unification among the Arab states, if not precisely among Arabs. Arabs, after all, are engaged on all sides of a multifaceted conflict.
Al Imam is correct in noting that Arab audiences are ill-prepared to deal with ISIS propaganda. This is the fault of those Arab states. Each, for its own reasons, spent the bulk of the 20th C. in trying to create one “truth” for its citizens. Controlling media; controlling what could and could not be taught in schools; forcing particularized interpretations of history in the service of the state have all led to ignorance and confusion among Arabs. Intolerance of religious differences and political differences has led to people’s now finding conflict between what they’d been assured was true and what the actual world shows them to be true.
It’s not too late for the states of the region to break with the past and start promoting the value of tolerance to different views. Arab unity cannot be forced upon the citizens of 20-odd countries. But a common core of values — especially the adoption of toleration of differences — can arise, if and only if the governments permit it. These states, including Saudi Arabia, need to squelch the promotion of sectarian differences that they themselves promote.
Opinion: ISIS and Arab Unity
Ghassan Al Imam
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claims to have achieved in a few months what other projects seeking Arab unity have failed to do since Mustafa Kamal Atatürk abolished the Ottoman Islamic caliphate in 1924. In a blink of an eye, ISIS has called on 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide to move to the new “land of Islam” after they have “purged” it from Shi’ites, Christians and Yazidis, and beheaded journalists and slaughtered “crusaders.”
ISIS has called for divine governance and has taken it upon itself to ensure it is applied. It has imposed the burdens of allegiance, obedience and absolute loyalty on people in territory under its control. Without dialogue, institutions, or political parties, silence has descended on the “Islamic State.” The “caliphate” denies the need for politics, culture, or freedom.
It has modified school curricula and banned the teaching of the humanities, physical education and music. It has shut down girls’ schools and banned women from working or traveling, lest it distracts them from their domestic chores. It urges believers to receive the afterlife with satisfaction and joy, following the gloom of their temporary abode in this world.
ISIS has abolished the colonial borders between Arab countries, and declared “jihad.” It has killed more Muslim civilians than Westerners and slaughtered captured soldiers. It has arrested people from all religions and creeds. Its actions have provoked the world against it, with religious and sectarian wars breaking out on our lands.
This view of ISIS which I have just given is not mine. It is a summary of the propaganda the group itself broadcasts extensively via electronic media to reach broad segments of Arab society, given that the Arab media is reeling under ever-stricter censorship.
Asharq Alawsat reports on the meeting to be held tomorrow in Jeddah that will bring together regional representatives (along with US Secretary of State Kerry) to discuss how to deal with groups like ISIS.
There have been a lot of meetings of late discussing this issue. The Arab League recently conducted its own. Saudi King Abdullah has enlisted the entirety of his government in condemning and, in some cases, jailing supporters of extremist groups. But much is left to be done.
The problem lies in definitions. What one country or government may see as extremist, another may see as simply “the opposition.” Getting everyone in the region on the same page, working from the same definitions, ought to help. But if “extremist” is going to be used to round up any and everyone who has political views not in accord with those of his government, more problems will ensue, including the loss of support by others who need to be working together.
Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia is set to host a special regional meeting in Jeddah to discuss the issue of terrorism on Thursday, the state-owned Saudi Press Agency (SPA) has announced.
The meeting will be attended by representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, as well as officials from the US. The meeting will discuss the issue of terrorism in the region, extremist organizations and their ideology, and ways of combating them.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu is currently on a tour of Gulf states and will attend the regional meeting in Jeddah, along with other regional foreign ministers. US Security of State John Kerry is traveling to Saudi Arabia and neighboring Jordan this week to discuss the latest regional developments, including the new Iraqi government and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and is also expected to attend the Jeddah meeting.
The announcement comes one day after Riyadh backed an Arab League resolution emphasizing the need to take quick measures to crush ISIS and other regional terrorist organizations.
…The [Saudi] cabinet called for Arab states to “take the necessary measures to maintain Arab security, [and] confront all terrorist and extremist organization … at all political, security, defense, judicial, media and intellectual levels,” according to the SPA.
Arab News reports that Saudi courts have set prison sentences for four Saudis who had left the country to fight in Syria alongside ISIS and Al Nusra Front. They received jail terms of up to six years and travel bans following their release. The cases cited involved the use of false documents to travel.
A court has sentenced four Saudis to prison for up to six years and prevented them from traveling for participating in fighting in Syria with ISIS and the Nusra Front. The convicts impersonated other people and left Saudi Arabia with fake passports through land ports. One of them participated in guarding a terrorist camp.
Another was imprisoned and banned from traveling for five years. He was accused of traveling with others to take part in the fight in Syria by stealing the passport of his brother and leaving the Kingdom through the Al-Rigi land port to Kuwait, and from there to Turkey. Smugglers later helped him slip into Syria.
Some months ago, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah issued a royal decree criminalizing fighting abroad or belonging to extremist or religious groups.
Anyone found guilty could be jailed for up to 20 years. Punishments apply to organizations that are classified as terrorist either locally, regionally or internationally. People who offer any form of material or moral support to such terrorist groups or organizations or promote their thoughts are liable to the same punishment.
Al Arabiya TV reports that Saudi Arabia is launching a new project to improve border security. The issue of border security is important for the Saudis not only because of groups like ISIS at their gates, but also due to the current porosity of its long borders with Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, and both sea coasts. Illegal immigration, the smuggling of arms, drugs, and even cattle have proved problematic for the country. Improved border security should help address the problems, but is unlikely to solve them.
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, in the presence of Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa, inaugurated on Friday the first phase of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ project for border security.
The border security project includes 3,397 trainees, 60 trainers to supervise operations, eight command and control centers, 32 interrogation centers, three rapid response units as well as 38 back and front gates with surveillance cameras.
The project includes 78 communication and surveillance towers, 38 of the former and 40 of the latter, and is equipped with 85 surveillance posts, 50 day-and-night surveillance cameras, 10 monitoring and surveillance vehicles, a 1.4-million meter fiber optics networks, 50 radars, five 900 kilometer security fences, in addition to other barriers that have helped drop the number of infiltrators, drug traffickers, as well as arms and cattle smugglers to zero.
Saudi media report that an American citizen is among a group of 24 who have been sentenced for taking part in a terrorist organization within the Kingdom. The articles, all based on a release from the Saudi Press Agency, typically exclude much useful information such as noting the specific crimes committed and the names of the individuals.
US citizen among 24 jailed over terror plots
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — The Special Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced 24 people, including an American, to prison terms of up to 27 years Wednesday for forming a terrorist cell and plotting to attack Saudi and Bahraini interests, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The defendants, sentenced to at least two years in prison, also include one Yemeni national, while the rest are all Saudi citizens, SPA said. The American, who was not named, was jailed for 17 years.
The court ordered the Saudi defendants to be placed under a travel ban and deport the foreigners after their release from prison.
The special court found them guilty of forming a terrorist cell that plotted attacks against oil pipelines and some citizens and disobeying the Kingdom’s rulers, with some of them traveling to join fighting abroad.
A Reuters report has a bit more information though. It notes that the American has been held for six years already, pre-sentencing. That six years is being deducted from his 18-year sentence as “time served.” Again, though, details are lacking. The Reuters reports obliquely suggests that there was some sort of involvement in protests in the Shi’a-populated Easter Province, but doesn’t actually say that. The border between “protest” and “supporting terrorism” is notoriously thin when it comes to Shi’a matters in Saudi Arabia, though. As a consequence, we really don’t know anything other than that an American has been sentenced. Perhaps the question will be raised in a US State Department press conference…
Saudi Arabia is making its negative stance toward IS and other extremist groups clear. In Arab News, there’s a report about the sentencing of a cleric who preached support as well as provided monetary support for jihadists. He received a five-year jail sentence and travel ban.
Riyadh’s special criminal court has sentenced a Saudi preacher to five years in prison for praising and supporting terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), during an Eid sermon at a local mosque in Riyadh in August 2013.
The defendant was also slapped with a five-year travel ban. The defendant was convicted of using Friday sermons to provoke and encourage dissidence, while glorifying terrorist groups and extremist ideas propagated by Al-Qaeda terrorists.
He was also convicted of financially supporting terrorism with more than SR1 million and harboring wanted terrorists. The defendant had previously received a letter from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs ordering him to stop delivering sermons at the mosque.
Saudi Gazette reports on the disquiet following the discovery of pro-ISIS graffiti on the walls of schools in eastern Riyadh. The article suggests that this is vandalism, but also that there is concern that the group’s appeal to young men is something to watch.
IS slogan found on school walls in Riyadh
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — The residents of Al-Naseem neighborhood, east Riyadh, were shocked when they saw the slogans of Islamic State (IS) on the walls of some schools, Al-Hayat daily reported.
A number of residents who spoke on condition of anonymity said they suspect that a group of young men were behind it.
The young men did not look religious but used to stay up till late on the streets near the schools, the residents said.
Sulaiman Al-Battah, sociologist, blamed social media for publishing inaccurate news reports and deviant ideas.
An interesting paper (5-page PDF) on how ISIS, Al-Qaeda and its spin-offs, and other extremist groups make use of social media to promote their messages and to recruit new members. The report is from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.
The innovative ways that foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq are leveraging social media and mobile apps to recruit aspirational supporters in the West reveal what is actually a paradigm shift occurring within the global jihadist movement, away from the organization-centric model advanced by Al-Qaida, to a movement unhindered by organizational structures. Counterterrorism policy and practice must rethink the way it approaches countering online radicalization.