In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Adbulrahman Al-Rashed comments on the recent flurry surrounding Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamidi’s appearance on TV with his unveiled wife and declaration that Islam does not require women to be veiled in order to protect their modesty. In addition to receiving a negative reaction — and threats — from some, the Grand Mufti also jumped in to state that he was in error.
Al-Rashed points out that by going on TV in this way, the sheikh has opened new ground for discourse in Saudi Arabia. Instead of private conversations undertaken in homes, issues of modernization and reform are now finding public fora, including social media. This, he says, can only be for the good.
Why did Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Ghamidi succeed?
The enormity of stock market losses, the drop in oil prices for the first time in years, ISIS massacres, terrorists’ attacks in Riyadh and its suburbs and the football fever have all faded in Saudi Arabia this week in the shadow of one single story. Sheikh Ahmad Qassem al-Ghamidi appeared with his unveiled wife on television. According to Saudi local standards, this is tantamount to a nuclear bomb and the story soon developed into a controversy that hasn’t settled yet on all platforms and levels.
This may seem like a silly issue in any other Muslim country but in Saudi Arabia it has shocked and angered many and become an amazing surprise to those in support of Ghamidi’s move. The event thus confirms a severe division within Saudi society which consists of movements that express its diversity. Some threatened to sue Al-Ghamidi, though I don’t know over what! While other considered him a modernizing pioneer whom history will immortalize. The certain truth is that Sheikh Ghamidi has shocked Saudi public opinion and reshuffled views once again – although many before him have made such a move, he’s actually the first cleric to do so. Ghamidi has assumed influential religious posts and has accepted to be challenged by his rivals who accused him of hypocrisy and advising others of what he cannot do. It’s on colleague Badria al-Bishr’s show on MBC television that Ghamidi appeared with his unveiled wife in defiance of others, and Saudi media arenas became gripped in this controversy ever since.
Arab News reports that a number of Saudis are planning to sue Sheikh al-Ghamdi. As al-Rashed notes in his piece, however, what grounds they might find for suing is a pretty big question.
Al Arabiya TV carries a story from Agence France Presse reporting that the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are agreed that the plan to link their power grids will start next year. Even though both countries use considerable amounts of energy — with Saudi Arabia being among the world’s top consumers — the grid makes sense prospectively. Saudi Arabia is planning massive increases in power production over the coming generations with the advent of both solar and nuclear power. The Kingdom is positioning itself as the main energy source for the region in the mid-term future as it also moves forward on plans for a GCC-wide grid.
A project to link the electricity grids of Egypt and Saudi Arabia will start next year at a cost of at least $1.5 billion, officials said on Monday.
“The project will be awarded mid-2015, and take three years to complete,” Saleh al-Awaji, an undersecretary in the kingdom’s Ministry of Water and Electricity, said at an energy technology conference in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
The link would allow the two countries, separated by the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, to share power during peak periods.
It will cost $1.5-2.0 billion, Awaji told reporters during the 4th Saudi Arabia Smart Grid and Green Energy conference.
Saudi Gazette reports that while the Saudi program to rehabilitate those involved in terrorist activities has been largely successful over the past 10 years, it might be time to do a reappraisal to see if it might not be improved. That, at least, is the opinion of a member of the Shoura Council. I think the program has been incrementally tweaked over that time period, though, with changes made as they were seen to be beneficial. It certainly couldn’t hurt to re-examine it, something that I think all government programs — and all governments — should do with some regularity.
The Munasaha rehabilitation program claims a 12% recidivism rate.
<Shoura member: Need to revise terrorist rehabilitation program
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — The terrorist rehabilitation programs run by Prince Muhammad Bin Naif Center for Advice and Care needs to be revised and reevaluated now that it has been in place for ten years, according to Latifah Al-Shalan, member of the Shoura Council, Al-Watan daily reported.
Only 10 percent of rehabilitated inmates return to terrorist activities after their release from the center, according to reports.
“These reports do not change the fact that the center has produced very positive results since its inception in 2004,” Al-Shalan said during the Council’s session on the great achievements accomplished by the Ministry of Interior in fighting terrorism.
She said the Council’s committees and some of its members are capable of contributing to a comprehensive plan to further develop the program.
The Jeddah Municipality has been cracking down on restaurants that do not meet health requirements. In addition to shutting down offending restaurants and fining them, the Municipality is also naming them. That, argue affected restaurant owners, is too much.
“See you in court,” is the Municipalities reply. Naming the restaurants is the only way that people can learn what is dangerous and what is not. The Ministry is refusing to back down in the face of restaurateurs’ complaints.
A number of restaurant owners whose businesses have been shut down recently by Jeddah’s municipality, have defied the decision by opening their doors again. Several owners also tried to attack inspectors, requiring the intervention of police to help close down their businesses.
Muhammed Al-Buqami, Jeddah municipality’s spokesman, confirmed the events, noting that the decision to shut down the restaurants is only temporary. He said some of the establishments that opened without approval from the municipality, have been shut down again, and received a fine for violating the municipality’s ruling.
Al-Buqami also addressed the recent complaints made by these restaurant owners to the Makkah governorate, calling the municipality’s decree, an injustice.
With oil prices down 45% since June, the economies of several oil-producing countries are struggling. Saudi Arabia is not one of those.
Asharq Alawsat reports that the Saudi government is content with current prices and that those prices serve Saudi strategic interests. Not only do low prices penalize countries like Iran and Russia, with whom Saudi Arabia has very real political differences, but it also serves to put a brake on alternative oil production, such as the shale oils that had pushed the US to first place in global oil production.
With close to a trillion dollars in sovereign funds and foreign reserves, the Kingdom can afford to play the long game.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia is playing a strategic game by refusing to back a cut in OPEC oil production, lowering international oil prices, according to Gulf-based economists.
The price of oil continued to fall this week after the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast weaker demand in 2015. Brent crude fell to below 63 US dollars per barrel on Friday, its lowest price since July 2009.
Suhail Al-Darraj, a Saudi-based economist, told Asharq Al-Awsat that he expects Brent crude oil to maintain price levels of no less than 60 US dollars per barrel. “We may see prices dip below this level, but not for long. Oil prices have become a major source of concern for many countries and international companies,” he said.
Darraj said that the oil price drop is most affecting countries like Venezuela, Iran and Russia, but is actually serving Saudi Arabia’s interests. “The declining oil prices are serving the strategic interests of the Kingdom, and in my view Saudi Arabia’s oil policy is characterized by a great deal of wisdom,” Darraj said in reference to the ongoing competition between shale and crude oil.
OPEC took the decision not to reduce oil production despite an oversupply in world markets at its annual meeting in late November. Oil prices have fallen sharply since June this year as increasing North American production of shale oil has flooded the market at a time of sluggish economic growth.
Darraj confirmed that many oil companies have stopped, or slowed, oil production due to falling prices. He added that billions of dollars are being lost due to the high cost of shale oil exploration, adding that it will be increasingly difficult for shale oil producers to continue a high level of output due to the accelerating slide in oil prices.
Asharq Alawsat reports on a conference at Al-Azhar in Cairo at which leading Sunni scholars are dancing around how to denounce ISIS without using ISIS’ tactics. One of the hallmarks of ISIS philosophy — along with sheer brutality — is the way it is quick to declare certain Muslims to not be Muslims, takfirism.
So, instead of declaring ISIS to be a group of apostates, the organization has decided that “very bad Muslims” will have to do.
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the country’s leading Sunni religious institute, has issued a statement formally rejecting the labeling of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters as apostates.
Takfirism, the practice of one Muslim declaring another to be an apostate, is controversial within Islam. While this is something that is actively practiced by Islamist groups like ISIS, it is generally rejected by adherents of mainstream interpretations of Islam.
“Al-Azhar rejects the takfirism of ISIS . . . Because takfirism cannot be applied to any believer, regardless of his sins,” Al-Azhar said in a statement in response to comments made by the Mufti of Nigeria during last week’s counter-terrorism conference in Cairo.
During the conference, Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb called for joint Islamic efforts to combat ISIS. “Division, strife and polarization are the main tactics extremists are using to divide the Islamic nation,” Tayeb said. He stressed that ISIS militants are acting “under the guise of this holy religion and have given themselves the name ‘Islamic State’ in an attempt to export their false Islam.”
The Mufti of Nigeria Sheikh Ibrahim Saleh Al-Hussaini later issued similar comments during the counter-terrorism conference, saying ISIS are promoting a “false” Islam.
Saudi Arabia’s climate and geography simply do not support the widespread growth of grains. As a result, the Saudi government has been backing away from subsidizing an industry that will never reach the break-even point and will instead rely on imports. The government announces, according to this report from Saudi Gazette, that it will end the purchase of domestically-produced wheat in two years’ time.
JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia will stop buying domestically-grown wheat in two years’ time and rely completely on imports of the grain, the new agriculture minister said on Wednesday. “The Kingdom has decreased domestic wheat production since 2008 by 12.5 percent annually,” Waleed Al-Khuraiji told the International Grains Council, which met in Jeddah for a twice-yearly forum. “The state will cease to purchase locally-produced wheat by 2016 and depend entirely on wheat imported from abroad,” the minister said in his first major address since being appointed in a Cabinet shuffle on Monday. “This initiative is based on mutual benefit, which helps to provide food supplies to the Kingdom while at the same time developing and modernizing agriculture in the investor countries, especially local communities,” Al-Khuraiji said.
Asharq Alawsat reports that the GCC is considering forming a unified list of terrorists and terrorist organizations, to be based on the list already drawn up by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This should prove interesting as not all countries are agreed on just who should be on the list.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Gulf states are considering adopting the terror lists issued by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait’s Interior Minister Sheikh Mohamed Al-Khalid Al-Sabah said on Wednesday.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Kuwait’s Interior Minister said that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are coordinating with one another to investigate the Saudi and Emirati terror lists with a view to adopting them, confirming that the adoption of a joint terror list was discussed at the recent Doha summit.
Al-Sabah warned against “complacency” in dealing with Gulf security, stressing that combating terrorism is something that no single Gulf country can do alone, but something that all GCC states must work together on.
He hailed GCC efforts to promote regional security and stability, despite the regional and international challenges facing the Gulf, stressing that the GCC states must remain steadfast in the face of attempts to divide them.
The UAE announced a list of illegal terrorist organizations in November, formally designating 80 groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Yemen’s Houthis, as “terrorist groups.” Riyadh had earlier issued its own formal terror list, designating the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, and Yemen’s Houthis as terrorist groups, in March. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, have also been formally designated as terrorist groups by Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia is a massive consumer of water and power. Most of it is highly subsidized which means that the government, rather than the consumers pay the real cost.
This has become untenable as the consumption is eating more and more into energy resources. Arab News reports that the government has decided that one way to slow the increase in use is to start rolling back subsidies. Once consumers have to pay the actual cost of something, they tend to pay attention to how much the use it.
Announcing a reduction of subsidies, though, can panic some consumers. As a result, the government is emphasizing that its current reductions apply only to government facilities, industry, and commercial establishments. Residents will not see the price they pay for water consumption and the consequent sewage rise.
This is a good start as residential use is far less than that of the targeted sectors. There will come a time, however, when even residential subsidies will have to be limited and the actual cost of utilities show up on the consumers’ bills.
Residential users exempt from new tariffs on utilities
JEDDAH: Fouzia Khan
The Ministry of Water and Electricity has confirmed that the new tariffs for water and electricity do not apply to the residential sector.
Explaining the new development, the ministry said that the change in tariff rates of water and electricity was approved by the Council of Ministers and is in line with the ministry’s decision to restructure the system of charging for the water supply and sewerage services. It added that the decision mainly applied to the government, commercial and industrial sectors which are the largest consumers.
The ministry said in a statement on Monday that according to the new rates, water will now have a monthly cost of up to SR6 per cubic meter while sewage services will be SR3 per cubic meter.
Saudi Gazette reports that the Ministry of Labor is dinging companies that are delinquent or derelict in paying their employees. The punishment, however — being blocked from using the Ministry’s databases or seeking Ministry assistance — seems rather light. The Ministry is not blocking the companies’ ability to get new visas; it is not fining the companies. At most, the punishments might pinch, but I don’t see that they’ll be a big motivator in changing practice. It’s a step forward, but a very small one.
707 firms penalized for violating wage rules
Fatima Muhammad | Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — The Ministry of Labor has taken penal action against as many as 707 companies and establishments, which failed to implement a mandatory Wage Protection Program.
Abdullah Abu Thunain, deputy minister for inspection and work environment development, said that the punitive measures were taken following raids carried out by inspectors from the ministry during the first week of this month.
“It was discovered that more than 661 firms complied with the ministry’s regulations with regard to applying the program. The ministry suspended all computer services to 82 firms for their failure to implement the program, in addition to halting all services except issuance of work permits to 625 firms for violation of the regulations,” he said.
According to Abu Thunain, penal actions were taken against 38 companies with more than 3,000 staff. Among the total of 198 such companies, the inspectors found that 160 of them were complying with the program.
Asharq Alawsat reports that the Saudi government has announced a major shuffle in the Cabinet, one of the largest in many years.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi monarch King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a royal order on Monday appointing nine new ministers in the largest cabinet reshuffle seen in the Kingdom in years.
The decree, which came a few days before the drawing up of the annual budget for 2015, named Dr. Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Khudairi as Minister of Culture and Information, Dr. Mohammed bin Ali bin Hiazaa Al Hiazaa as Minister of Health and Chief of the Bureau of Experts at the Council of Ministers, and Dr. Essam bin Saad bin Saeed as Minister of State and Member of the Council of Ministers.
The Higher Education portfolio was assigned to Dr. Khalid bin Abdullah Al-Sabti while the Communications and Information Technology was assigned to Dr. Fahad bin Matad bin Shafaq Al-Hamad.
The reshuffle also included the ministries of agriculture, transport, social affairs and Islamic endowments which were assigned to Walid bin Abdulkarim Al-Khuraiji, Abdullah bin Abdulrahman Al-Muqbel, Soliman bin Saad Al-Humayyd and Dr. Suleiman bin Abdullah Aba Al-Khail, respectively.
The King also promoted Director General of Civil Defense Maj. Gen. Suleiman bin Abdullah Al-Amr and Director of Public Security Maj. Gen. Othman bin Nasser Al-Mihrij to the rank of Lieutenant-General.
Writing at Al-Hayat, and here translated by Al Arabiya TV, Jamal Khashoggi asks that Saudi Minister of Petroleum be more transparent about Saudi Arabia’s decision to not reduce oil production in the face of a worldwide glut and low prices. A result of the OPEC decision to not cut production led to a sharp drop in the Saudi stock market as investors, acting out of fear of the uncertain, decided to pull their money out.
As a result of the essential silence from the Minister, Khashoggi notes, various conspiracy theories have sprouted up. Are the Saudis seeking to hurt Russia and Iran, two political opponents who critically rely on oil sales? Is this an attempt to undercut the burgeoning shale oil industry in the US? Just what’s going on? Perhaps it’s wise to not telegraph every move to the world, but Saudis themselves have interest in the matter. And fears for the future.
Questions that Saudi Arabia’s oil minister may not answer
Why doesn’t Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi address Saudi citizens and explain to them the kingdom’s decision at the recent OPEC meeting to leave the Saudi current output ceiling unchanged despite huge global oversupply? This oversupply has decreased oil prices across the world and caused a similar decrease in the Saudi stock market – expressing the worry of the local economy which knows very well that everything in the country is linked to oil and its prices.
Why doesn’t Naimi talk and reveal what he’s got? His speech to the Saudi people is a speech to the entire world. If he wants to tell the world something, he would’ve done so in Vienna where dozens of journalists and oil experts gathered. However, the minister settled with brief statements. Will he reassure the worried Saudi market if he does speak? Let’s assume he says: “Be patient. We will win in the end. The massive governmental expenditure which the rich among you depend on before the poor, some of which is spent on several businesses you’re involved with, will not be affected. The reserves which you want as a safe fund for your sons and grandchildren will only be slightly affected because this phase necessitates that.” If Naimi says that, will the market be convinced and return to rising? Will this decrease the worry of businessmen?