Arab News runs a good piece about the difficulty of providing accurate reporting about Saudi Arabia. Whether it’s foreign reporters or Saudi reporters, the lack of verifiable information, the close-hold that Saudis (both in and outside of government) put on information, and a culture that seems to foster secrecy make it too easy to come up with erroneous stories. The problem is compounded by social media like Twitter that can spread stories across the globe before facts have even gotten their shoes on.
The problem can have international ramifications, as a close-call by the Associated Press demonstrated last year. A particular report was so wrong — and so potentially damaging to Saudi Arabia — that the news agency faced expulsion from the Kingdom. This is not new; I spent a considerable amount of my time, in many Arab countries, working to prevent reporters from being thrown out or having their bureaus closed. In all of these countries, in all of these circumstances, it was because governments held information too closely that reporters ended up following the wrong trail.
The answer is not — as the caption to a photo accompanying the article suggests — only taking information from authorized sources. Authorized sources may or may not be good ones. It would not be shocking to learn that a Ministry responsible for particular subject matter was clueless about a breaking event, at least in the early stages of a story. Nor would it be surprising that a government office would seek to minimize its responsibility when something goes off the rails. Silence, however, does not serve. As the saying goes, ‘Nature abhors a vacuum.’ This goes for information as well. When no reliable information is forthcoming, reporters will try to fill the void with what they can get. Responsible reporting seeks to verify every detail, but not all reporting is responsible. Often, too often, reporters (both professionals and others) end up filling voids with stereotypes.
The article specifically points to the Internet sensation of “The guy who was too beautiful for Saudi Arabia” that’s been ping-ponging around for the past few weeks. A great story! A story that had zero basis in fact. But because the story played so well to stereotypes of ‘typical’ Saudi behavior, global audiences had no trouble believing it truly happened.
Saudi government and Saudi society bear some part of the blame, though. Lack of government transparency and Saudi society’s over-protection of privacy stops honest inquiry. Reading a Saudi media report on anti-terrorism trials, for example, is futile. Reporting provides no useful information beyond the fact that a trial was held and some people received sentences. Exactly who was accused of doing what, and what evidence was presented against them just doesn’t exist in any public form. With no information to consider, it’s not surprising that individuals will also seek to fill the information vacuum. It’s too bad for the Saudi government (and Saudi Arabia as a whole) that people will reach wrong conclusions. They could avoid it by making more information available.
International media: So wrong, so often
JEDDAH: RIMA AL-MUKHTAR
Last December The Associated Press committed a blunder that could have resulted in the expulsion of its correspondent from Saudi Arabia, severing a vital information link between the Kingdom and the rest of the world.
The mistake occurred during The AP’s coverage of the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) conference in Manama, Bahrain, where attendees discussed security issues in the Syrian region among other topics.
The AP reporter wrote that Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah said that Gulf Arab states must quash any Arab Spring-inspired unrest or risk threats to their leadership across the oil-rich region.
According to the AP, “The comments echoed calls by Gulf authorities to widen crackdowns on perceived opposition such as rights activists and Islamist factions.
“His remarks also appeared aimed at justifying the intervention last year in Bahrain by a Saudi-led Gulf military force.
Confronted by a new disease that is killing it citizens, the government of Saudi Arabia is complaining that a Dutch laboratory has patented the MERS-nCoV virus. As a result, anyone who wishes to reproduce the virus — even for the purpose of trying to find a way to kill or control it — must pay license fees to that lab.
This, the Saudi government is telling the World Health Organization, is simply wrong. The World Health Organization agrees. Both parties see this as a huge barrier in trying to identify the properties of the virus and represent a danger to global public health.
It is indeed unfortunate that genetic data has become patentable, but that’s something that’s been going on for better than 20 years. I think there are exceptional valid reasons to prevent the patenting of natural materials, but that argument has not been a winning one in courts.
KSA: Coronavirus patent complicating diagnosis
GENEVA: Saudi Arabia lamented Thursday that foreign drug companies had patented the new SARS-like novel coronavirus that has killed 22 people worldwide in less than a year, slowing down the diagnosis process considerably.
“We are still struggling with diagnostics and the reason is that the virus was patented by scientists and is not allowed to be used for investigations by other scientists,” Saudi Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish told diplomats gathered in Geneva for the World Health Assembly, the UN health agency’s decision-making body.
He said a scientist took a virus sample out of the country without permission, gave it to the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, and Saudi Arabia only learned of its discovery from ProMED, a US-based Internet-based reporting system.
“There was a lag of three months where we were not aware of the discovery of the virus,” Memish said.
The Rotterdam-based Erasmus lab then patented the process for synthesizing the virus, meaning that anyone else who wanted to use their method to study it would have to pay the lab.
The Associate Press weighs in on the issue as well:
Earlier this year, the government of Saudi Arabia announced that there was a path by which children of Saudi mothers and foreign fathers could attain citizenship. The move was welcomed by the tens of thousands of Saudi women who were faced with the problems of stateless children.
Sabria Jawhar, writing for Arab News, reports that while it’s a nice gesture, there are many details that have not been well thought out. Listing such children as “employees” of the mother — which sort of makes sense for dealing with the paperwork — makes little sense in actuality, for instance.
There’s a further problem with government moves to deport workers whose papers are ‘irregular’. No effort and no thought seems to have been given to the status of the Saudi women to whom some of these men are married, or to the children they share.
The entire government, Jawhar suggests, needs to be talking among its various ministries and branches to ensure fair treatment to the women and children of mixed marriages.
Confusion prevails even as Saudi women can now sponsor children
Sabria S. Jawhar
Saudi women married to non-Saudis finally got a break when they won the right to sponsor their own children, and that their children are considered Saudis by the government in getting education and work. This gives women more control over the lives of their families and more stability. There is security knowing that their children can receive government education and have access to good jobs.
We know that previously, children of Saudi women were virtually non-entities in the eyes of the government. Children of non-Saudi fathers have no citizenship. The law says that only boys can receive the citizenship at the age of 18 if they meet specific requirements. And even then, there is no guarantee that boys will ever receive citizenship. No child of expats receives citizenship at birth. Up until the new decree, children of non-Saudi fathers had no rights as Saudis, although they were Saudis in every aspect except name.
So, the recent decree gives these children a measure of comfort, yet it says nothing about what happens to these children once their mother dies.
Back in March, the Saudi government announced the arrest of eighteen individuals who were spying for Iran. Today, according to Arab News, another ten have been arrested in the same or a related case.
Ten more arrested in Iranian espionage case
RIYADH: Ghazanfar Ali Khan
An official spokesman from the Saudi government has confirmed the arrest of 10 people involved in an Iranian espionage cell who were allegedly associated with the same spy network that was dismantled in March of this year by Saudi security officials.
A security spokesman confirmed that the latest cell had eight Saudis, one Lebanese and one Turkish national.
“Initial investigations carried out by authorities led to the detention of 10 others for involvement in espionage activity,” TV news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported citing sources from the Interior Ministry yesterday.
An earlier confession made by suspects arrested by the Kingdom in March also reinforced evidence.
Want to make something stop in Saudi Arabia? It’s easy… just call for a new study on something, even if it’s been studied to death before.
Saudi Gazette reports that a number of female academics are calling for a new study on the decision to permit sports and athletic programs in girls schools. While they grudging admit that health might be important, they seem to think it more important that Saudi girls learn to comport themselves as Saudi women, wrapping themselves in cultural and religious virtue, even if it does shorten their lives.
Inactivity by both men and women in Saudi Arabia has been identified as a major component of the country’s vast experience of diabetes. Even those who might choose to take part in exercise are prohibited from doing so.
It’s useful to recall that it’s not just a heavy-handed patriarchy that delays needed change in Saudi Arabia… there are plenty of Saudi women, too, who serve to obstruct, whether on matters as simple as exercise for girls in schools or women getting behind the driver’s wheel.
Ministry decision sparks new debate on women’s sports
Saudi Gazette report
DAMMAM — A number of female academics have said the Ministry of Education’s plans to introduce physical education at private schools for girls need exhaustive study as it is a sensitive issue.
While calling for suitable sports facilities to be provided, the academics stressed that taking such steps should be in line with religious and social norms and Saudi traditions, Al-Yaum daily said in a report.
Dr. Soad Al-Suwaid of Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh said schools’ top priority should be to prepare female students for married life and teach them how to take care of their children once they get married.
“This will undoubtedly reduce negative social phenomena such as divorce and drug abuse. Sports are important for everyone but some things are more important,” said Al-Suwaid, while adding that introducing sports will distract girls from their main task.
The US State Department has issued its annual report on religious freedom as experienced around the world. As is sadly usual, Saudi Arabia does not fare well and remains a “country of particular concern”, as it has been since 2004. The country report on Saudi Arabia can be found HERE. There is nothing particularly new here. The same violations of the rights of Saudi Shi’ites, discrimination toward non-Muslim foreign workers, and the absolute lack of freedom to practice religions other than Islam continue. Only the names of those arrested, threatened, or deported have changed over the years.
The global report draws attention to the rise of religious discrimination around the world, including that aimed at Muslims. It points to particular problems with laws that punish apostasy and the impunity with which people act in various countries when governments condone — or at least take no action against — religious discrimination.
Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose…we also remember that religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe. This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our world cannot know lasting peace. President Barack Obama
Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Congress took a momentous step in support of religious freedom when it passed the International Religious Freedom Act, establishing within the Executive Branch the position of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. With this measure, the U.S. government made a bold statement on behalf of those who were oppressed, those who were persecuted, and those who were unable to live their lives at the most basic level, for the simple exercise of their faith. Whether it be a single deity, or multiple deities, or no deities at all, freedom to believe–including the freedom not to believe–is a universal human right.
Freedom of religion and belief and the right to worship as one chooses fulfill a deep and abiding human need. The search for this freedom led the Pilgrims to flee Europe for America’s shores centuries ago, and is enshrined in our own Constitution. But it is by no means exclusively an American right. All states are committed to freedom of thought, conscience and belief in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been the touchstone and the global standard for the protection of human rights around the world since 1948.
The right to religious freedom is inherent in every human being. Unfortunately, this right was challenged in myriad ways in 2012. One of the basic elements of the International Religious Freedom Act is the requirement that the Department of State publish an annual report on the status of religious freedom in countries around the world, and the record of governments in protecting–or not protecting–this universal right.
An interesting discussion of why it’s unlikely that Saudi Arabia will acquire nuclear weapons appears on the Al Arabiya TV website. Middle East analyst Naser al-Tamimi notes the many reasons why, under current and near-future circumstances, it would be unwise for the Saudi government to go down the path of nuclear arms. While everyone understands that developing its own nuclear weaponry would be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, the idea that the Saudis could simply buy such weapons from Pakistan or China are also flawed. The Saudis have better options available, including relying on a US security umbrella or — definitely not a first-choice option — a security promise from Pakistan.
The Saudis will go nuclear insofar as electricity generation through nuclear power plants. That is a program that is already underway. But it is a vastly longer path to even try to divert or augment power generation to the development of atomic bombs. Saudi Arabia — not the most transparent country on Earth — is still too transparent to hide that sort of adventure.
Clear or nuclear: Will Saudi Arabia get the bomb?
Dr. Naser al-Tamimi
As the impasse over Tehran’s nuclear program worsens, those most likely to be directly affected by an Iranian bomb are showing greater alarm. While the media fixates on Israel and its possible reaction, other regional players have no less at stake.
Despite Riyadh’s long-held advocacy of making the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, there has been much speculation in the past few years about the possibility of its acquiring, or developing, nuclear weapons should Tehran obtain the bomb.
In the words of Saudi King Abdullah: “If Iran developed nuclear weapons (…) everyone in the region would do the same,” a sentiment echoed by Prince Turki al-Faisal, former head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate.
Arab News reports that the governments of Saudi Arabia and the Philippines have signed an agreement to end the interruption of labor contracts for domestic workers. The agreement stipulates various responsibilities for the two governments and sets certain working conditions for Filipinos taking jobs in the Kingdom as household workers.
Among those conditions are minimum salaries, set days off and daily breaks, freedom to communicate outside the household, and possession of their own travel documents. The agreement also requires that workers not be charged for the processing or procurement of recruitment and visas. All contracting must be handled through companies licensed in each country.
Some of these terms are still more notional than actionable at present. Both countries are going to have to work to set and get the conditions they require. They are feasible, though, and will serve to reduce abuse of domestic servants, intentional or accidental, and should make life easier for both Saudis and Filipinos.
KSA, Philippines sign watershed labor pact
Rodolfo C. Estimo Jr. | Arab News Staff
RIYADH: Philippine Labor Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz and Saudi Deputy Labor Minister Mufarrej bin Saad Al-Haqbani signed a labor agreement Sunday on the hiring of Filipino household service workers (HSWs). Al-Haqbani signed on behalf of Labor Minister Adel Fakeih.
“The agreement is historic and today is a very significant day in Philippine-Saudi bilateral relations,” said Baldoz. The agreement is the first by the Saudi Ministry of Labor with a manpower-supplying country.
“This agreement heralds an era of stronger bilateral labor cooperation between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia for the protection and welfare of Filipino HSWs in the Kingdom,” she said.
The agreement comes after Saudi Arabia and the Philippines agreed on a standard labor contract last year, which shall govern the employment of HSWs in the Kingdom.
Just Do It isn’t only a Nike advertising slogan. According to this opinion piece in Saudi Gazette, it’s what the government of Saudi Arabia needs to do when it comes to the issue of women’s driving.
As with many things in Saudi Arabia, Mahmoud Ahmed reminds us, Saudi society takes a long time to come to conclusions about change. And the funny thing is that they never actually reach conclusions until the government says, “do this.” Once the mandate has been issued, and after a bit of fussing, the new becomes accepted. There are actually few things in which Saudi society has been the driver of change — satellite TV is one that comes to mind. In most cases, it’s the government that says girls will be educated or that English will be taught in primary schools. Even the most mundane issues like girls’ sports programs in schools take a government boot to get people moving.
It’s time, Ahmed suggests, for the government to act. All the arguments pro and con have been hashed out over the years. Everyone understands them. But until the government authorizes the activity, it’s not going to happen. So, just do it for crying out loud!
Will society allow women to drive?
There’s a decided single-mindedness in Saudi society when it comes to making decisions on social issues— especially issues that concern women. Just procrastinate and the issue will fade away. Is it me, or is it really the case that when issues require a firm decision, we either take a long time deliberating or just don’t bother to consider them, allowing them to simmer. In either case, the manner in which we tackle issues is poor at best. In the first case, we are just delaying the inevitable and the second — pushing the decision off with the attitude that out of sight means out of mind — is just wishful thinking.
Among the many issues demanding a decision from society is that of women driving. It has been said that only society can decide whether women should drive, but the question is: How long will this take?
Saudi society is divided on many mundane issues, including teaching English at the elementary level (a necessity of the times), changing the weekend to Friday and Saturday instead of Thursday and Friday ( in line with global necessity), girls’ sports in school (a healthy option for society) and many others. So why should the issue of women driving be any different? The irony is that not that long ago, society was divided on the issue of women going to school. But once the decision was taken society accepted it with the naysayers realizing the necessity of education for both boys and girls. Now those who were once against the idea are used to it and the result is that there are many schools and universities for women in the Kingdom.
Al Arabiya TV runs a Reuters report on computer attacks aimed at networks operated by the government of Saudi Arabia. The attack described appears to be a DoS — Denial-of-Service attack. In this, foreign computers constantly attempt to connect with the network, flooding its ability to respond and essentially locking up the network.
The article declines to identify the attackers. I think we can safely assume that it is not the Chinese government as China is a major importer of Saudi oil. On the other hand, hackers in Syria have been very active of late, attacking The Financial Times in the UK as well as the Associated Press. I think that in the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, this is a very likely source of the attack. Not proved, of course, just very likely.
Saudi Arabia says hackers sabotage government websites
Reuters, Riyadh -
Several government websites in Saudi Arabia were sabotaged in a series of heavy cyber-attacks from abroad in recent days, disabling them briefly until the attacks were repelled, the government said.
An investigation traced the “coordinated and simultaneous attacks” to hundreds of Internet protocol addresses in a number of countries, an unnamed source at the Saudi Interior Ministry told state news agency SPA.
The interior ministry website crashed on Wednesday after it received a “huge amount” of service requests, but was back online less than two hours later after the “necessary technical drills” were performed to counter the attack, the source said.
The report made no mention of a possible motive.
‘Islamist’ is a term used as a shorthand way of referring to Muslim extremists. The term never really had a great deal of accuracy, but now it has even less. Writing at Al Arabiya, Adbulrahman al-Rashed points to the difficulties Islamist groups and governments are having with other Islamist groups. If the one is to be called ‘extremist’, then the other must be ‘extreme extremist’.
The situation has come about in both Tunisia and Egypt where the perennial “I’m more Muslim than you!” campaigns are in full throat. Governments are discovering that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing and as a result are cracking down on groups they view as taking things too far, into the realm of terrorism. How they behave will have an effect on how willing other governments — including Saudi Arabia’s — will be to give them financial or political support.
Islamists vs. Islamists in the Arab world
“If you are fools, try stopping us,” is the title of a campaign led by an extremist Islamist group in Tunisia. By fools, the group is referring to the Islamic Ennahda party and its government.
The paradox is that Ennahda Islamists doubted the presence of terrorist groups. They condemn the prevention of preaching campaigns and charity activities under the excuse that they are Islamic acts. But history repeats itself. The Islamist Ennahda government is currently the one setting the prohibitions.
What is prohibited today is the Ansar al-Sharia group. Its members are being deterred with the removal of tents that were set up for spreading their religious campaigns and distributing the Salafi movement’s leaflets.
The interior ministry has prohibited “all organizations, people or political parties from carrying out preaching activities in public places without a having a prior permit.”
Ansar al-Sharia described Ennahda leaders, like Sheikh Ghanouchi, as “tyrants dressed with the guise of Islam.” The group also warningly said: “[We] remind you that our youths who displayed heroism in defending Islam in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia and the Levant will never hesitate to make sacrifices for the sake of their religion in the land of Kairouan in Tunisia.”
Rather than the price of oil rising unrelentingly on the back of shrinking supplies, the discovery and exploitation of new oil sources in the US and elsewhere is having quite another effect. The BBC reports that this new oil will shift the balance of power around the world.
A steeper-than-expected rise in US shale oil reserves is about to change the global balance of power between new and existing producers, a report says.
Over the next five years, the US will account for a third of new oil supplies, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The US will change from the world’s leading importer of oil to a net exporter.
Demand for oil from Middle-East oil producers is set to slow as a result.
Saudi ARAMCO takes a somewhat more sanguine view, as reported in Al Arabiya. I think this is correct, too, at least for Saudi Arabia. Over the past decade, Saudi oil markets have shifted more toward China and the rest of Asia, areas that are undergoing explosive growth and rising demand. The Saudis, though, may find themselves in fiercer competition with other states that will now become oil-exporters rather than importers. I think this will affect the OPEC ‘hawks’, those that argue for — and structurally depend on — high oil prices.
Of course, even the new producers and exporters are going to want certain prices. They will need them, actually, because ‘fracking’ and other new technologies aren’t cheap and will never meet the current low lifting prices found in the Arab Gulf States. Saudi Arabia will likely do well simply through its own economic factors, though perhaps not as well as in a world of scarce oil supplies.
Saudi Arabia embraces U.S. shale production
Al Arabiya -
Saudi Arabia welcomes and encourages U.S. shale production rates, chief executive of Saudi Aramco told the Financial Times.
Khalid al-Falih, head of the kingdom’s national oil company, said the production revolution will reassure consumers about the reliability of oil supplies, and help ease fears about excessive reliance on the Middle East, reported the newspaper.
“Oil is going to be the fuel of choice, in terms of its overall performance, for an extended period of time, and we need to manage it, we need to invest in it,” said al-Falih.
According to the Financial Times, the shale oil boom has raised U.S. crude production by almost 50 percent since 2008, but Saudi Aramco –the holder of the world’s largest conventional oil reserves—believes that the U.S. production will not take away its market in the long term.