And interesting article in the English-language Saudi Gazette and its Arabic sister paper Okaz.
Islam is noted as a religion in which the ‘church’ and the state are commingled. In Saudi Arabia, which takes the Quran as its constitution, religious precepts are taken as being not only the basis of law, but as comprising the law.
The Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, however, has just alerted imams that if their sermons venture into the realm of politics, they face being fired. Intentionally or not, this is a wedge being inserted between the pulpit and politics. Individual preachers are not authorized to enter areas reserved for the religious leadership authorities.
The intent is to prevent or limit the over-zealous and extremist preachers, similar to the way they were stripped of their authority to issue fatwas in 2010.
Imams talking politics to be fired
RIYADH – The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance has warned imams that they may lose their jobs if they talk about politics in their Friday sermons.
“The imams who talk about politics in their sermons will not only be sacked from their posts but will be prevented from taking another position in any mosque,” an assistant undersecretary of the ministry said.
Abdulmohsen Bin Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh said if the ministry finds out that an imam has used the sermons to discuss politics, it would summon him to stand before a number of scholars from one of the advisory committees the ministry has established in various regions.
“If the imam repents and makes a solemn pledge not to do this again he will be pardoned and kept in his position, otherwise he will be dismissed,” he said.
Just days after becoming second in line to succeed King Abdullah to the Saudi throne, Prince Muqrin has set the Saudi social media atwitter with his negative remarks about banking, Arab News reports.
During a press conference at a charity group, the prince suggested that banks behave predatorily, separating the citizen from his money without giving much — if anything — back to society. Many on Saudi social media chimed in to agree. I’m sure the prince would find an agreeable audience in some sectors of the US as well.
Royal criticism of banks sets social media abuzz
JEDDAH: ABDULLAH AL-BARGI
Saudis on social media Wednesday praised Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin for saying the nation’s banks are not doing enough for the poor.
Prince Muqrin questioned the banks’ commitment to social development, despite making record profits, at a press conference on Tuesday during a ceremony organized by the King Khaled Charity Foundation in Riyadh.
Abdulkareem Alneqez said: “Prince Muqrin has hit the nail on the head with this irritating question, which our banks would like to pretend they didn’t hear. This question will shut them up, and echo in bankers’ ears.”
Fahd Alestaa commented: “Regardless of who’s responsible for the poor in our country, banks have come up with various tricks to empty people’s wallets.”
Tamim Al-Zahrani remarked: “The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency should enact a law committing banks to charitable community services across the country.”
Waleed bin Saud said: “Prince Muqrin has pressed the right buttons. SAMA can control banks and order them to contribute to the development of our society.”
If Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council has its way, sports, athletics and physical education will become part of the curriculum for girls, according to Arab News. The Council has recognized that a sound body is as important as a sound mind.
In its statement, though, it leaves enough conditions and qualifications that those bent on preventing the step will be able to delay it or make it prohibitively expensive for individual schools to implement. The Council could do better.
Shoura green light for girls’ physical education
JEDDAH: IRFAN MOHAMMED
The Shoura Council has approved the introduction of physical education for girls at public schools across the Kingdom.
Classes will be conducted according to Islamic principles and traditions, said sources.
The issue has been the subject of much debate, especially after some notable scholars, ruled that physical education, including swimming, was permissible as long as it was practiced in strict privacy.
The Ministry of Education had since allowed some private schools to teach sports to school girls.
The Ministry of Education will soon allow physical education classes for girls in public schools under qualified instructors, according to sources. The decision will be made after taking into account logistical issues, such as space, privacy and the availability of qualified female instructors.
With a massive population expansion under way, Saudi Arabia is playing catch-up with education. Fully one-quarter of the national budget is aimed at education. Building new schools to house the new students, however, isn’t enough. Those schools need to be staffed with competent teachers.
Arab News reports that a test administered by the Ministry of Education — responsible for primary and secondary education — has found that 90% of Saudi teachers, both male and female, are not quite up to the job. That is a massive failing. New schools, new texts, new computers and the like do not add up to “education”. Teachers are the ones who bring those things together in the minds of students.
The Ministry is calling for widespread new training programs to address the shortfall in teacher preparedness.
Ninety percent of Saudi school teachers have failed in a basic efficiency test conducted by the Education Ministry, said Hamad bin Mohammad Al-Asheikh, deputy minister for boys education.
“About 75 percent of male and female teachers sat the exam,” he said. Al-Asheikh criticized the diploma programs offered by Colleges of Education at Saudi universities, saying they do not meet the requirements of school curricula.
“These programs qualify the teachers to teach only at primary classes. The training program should be extended beyond one year,” he said while addressing a directors meeting for educational trainers in Alkhobar. He emphasized the importance of educational training in promoting the country’s educational standard.
“Teachers must be given intensive training to do their jobs efficiently,” he said.
Saudi Gazette reports on a fresh outbreak of Dengue Fever in Jeddah, with 68 new cases. Dengue is a viral disease for which no vaccine or anti-viral treatment is currently available. It’s a miserable disease, even in its ‘mild’ form, and has a 1%-2% morality rate.
As the virus itself cannot be dealt with, the best approach to controlling it is through vector control, that is, controlling the means through which the virus is spread. In the case of Dengue, that’s mosquitoes.
The article reports that there’s a clash between the Jeddah Municipality and the Jeddah Health Authority about just who is responsible for trying to get on top of the problem. The Municipality is responsible for spraying insecticides, but also for taking care of the numerous pools of standing water, the result of leaking water and sewage pipes, that serve as breeding areas.
Both offices clearly have a role to play. They do need to sort out who is responsible for what. But Jeddawis have a role, too. It is very much the habit of Saudis to consider what is inside the walls of their residences as their own problems and those outside the walls as nobody’s problems. That isn’t the case, though. It is necessary for ordinary citizens to pay attention to what’s going on outside their personal territory. They need to act, both as individuals and in concert to fix things as they can and to pressure government to fix things beyond their personal reach.
Dengue tightens grip over Jeddah
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — At least 68 new cases of dengue fever have been registered in Jeddah in a month, local daily Al-Watan reported on Monday quoting informed sources.
The sources said there has been a remarkable increase of the disease from early March to early April.
Meanwhile, Jeddah Health Affairs’ primary health division has criticized Jeddah Municipality’s strategy to spray insecticides, claiming it had fallen short of preventing mosquitoes from breeding.
The division said the municipality also failed to clear areas where water had collected, especially in the southern and eastern areas of the city.
“The inefficient spraying of pesticides in these areas has created a favorable haven for mosquitoes to rapidly increase,” a statement from the division said.
The municipality’s spokesman Abdulaziz Al-Ghamdi denied these allegations and said the local authority had nothing to do with the rising number of dengue fever cases.
Saudi Gazette reports that there are discussions going on in Saudi Arabia about taking the necessary steps to convert the Consultative (Shoura) Council into a fully-fledged parliament.
Changes would have to be made in both how people join the Council and in its ultimate role.
Currently, all members of the Shoura Council are appointed. It should be possible to start electing at least some members through popular vote. Similarly, the Council now serves only to advise the government; it’s recommendations do not carry the force of law. That, too, could be changed, starting with limited areas of authority if necessary for government comfort.
The proposed changes are feasible. Their implementation can be done in a measured and incremental fashion.
Greater Shoura reforms sought
Experts say council should be given more powers
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — A number of prominent Saudi figures have called for introducing more reforms in the Shoura Council, including the gradual transformation of the council into an elected body.
While appreciating the achievements made so far by the council, they also underlined the need for making amendments in the 23-year-old Shoura Law to give it additional powers so that it can work more effectively, according to a report in Al-Riyadh Arabic daily.
People pin great hope on the council, which has a number of committees to tackle various issues concerning the Saudi public. The members of the council include scholars, academics and legal experts and they represent people from all walks of life.
There has been an increased demand for amending the Shoura Law to make the body’s decisions binding on the executive. Under the current system, the council’s decisions are simply recommendations and proposals submitted for the consideration of the executive authorities.
Al Arabiya TV runs analysis by Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE, on how alliances within and outside the Middle East are now taking place. The shifts are not yet tectonic, but might be considered fore-shocks, signaling that the potential for major changes in cooperative agreements — both formal and informal — is in process.
It’s clear that current alliances are under pressures that could, if left alone, lead to a reshaping. Reappraisals of national interests as well as partnerships are going on. Those countries that wish to play a role in the shaping of the future need to be aware of what’s happening and take steps to ensure that the map looks like what they want it to look like.
Shifting sands and shifting security alliances in the Gulf
Changes are afoot in security alliances in the Near East. Egypt, Saudi, UAE and Jordan appear to be forming a new regional security group. At the same time, Qatar, Iran, and Turkey are establishing another alliance. The ramifications on the GCCs future are enormous as Oman may join the Qatar group. What can we expect from these new alliances? What are the impacts on Syria and the Iranian negotiations? Where will Western states, Russia, and China fit into the new regional security dynamic?
Will the Shanghai Cooperation Organization find itself expanding to the Gulf via Iran? Will there be more trouble ahead or will these alliances clash on the political level and through proxies?
The ties between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE signal a grouping that agrees on the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) as the major threat to their stability. Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco are likely to be part of this emerging security group to provide monarchal protection and stability across the region against the Muslim Brotherhood threat. Shuttle diplomatic and military missions are increasing between all states.
Arab News publishes another uninformative article reporting that 18 people have been sentenced to jail, fines and travel restrictions following their conviction for an assortment of terroristic crimes. No names are published and the crimes for which they were convicted are reported only in general terms. These range from weapons procurement to smuggling people across borders to terrorism financing.
A special court in Riyadh has sentenced 18 terrorists to a collective 104 years in jail for various subversive and illegal activities including attempts to smuggle missiles into the Kingdom from Yemen.
They received sentences ranging from two months to 27 years. One of the convicts was jailed for 13 years, local media reported Friday.
The Washington Post runs a piece from the Associated Press about how artists are nudging the redlines in Saudi Arabia. Often working with quiet support from the ruling family, they comment on society and religion in ways that speak to people, even if their art ends up being banned in the Kingdom. Whether it’s the debate about preservation or modernity, the limits put upon women by social strictures, or even about how religion can be used as a trap, the artists are speaking up and out.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — When Ahmed Mater visited Mecca in 2010 something felt off. Dozens of cranes were eating away at the mosque to make way for a larger complex surrounding the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure to which observant Muslims pray toward five times a day that also draws millions of pilgrims annually from around the world.
The changes were irrevocably transforming the city’s landscape. So Mater, a practicing physician and modern artist, took pictures. He titled his project “Desert of Pharan” in a nod to Mecca’s ancient name.
The kingdom’s modern art scene has become a platform for Saudi artists to voice their frustration about the country’s most sensitive issues without coming into friction with the country’s rulers, reaching the public in new ways and allowing individual points of view in a country where dominant ultraconservative norms have long prevailed.
The 2014 Winter Olympics are over, but the 2016 Summer Olympics are just around the corner. The International Olympics Committee head is in Riyadh, working with the Presidency of Youth Welfare and reminding them that they’ve time to line up a team of female athletes. Saudi Gazette reports:
RIYADH — IOC President Thomas Bach offered his support Wednesday for increasing the participation of female athletes from Saudi Arabia in the Olympics.
Bach held talks in Riyadh with Prince Nawaf Bin Faisal Bin Fahd, President of Youth Welfare.
The International Olympic Committee said the two discussed a strategy for sports development in the Kingdom through 2020.
“President Bach promised full support for the plan, which also included proposals to increase women’s participation in the Olympic Games and in sport in general,” the IOC said in a statement.
After prolonged negotiations with the IOC, Saudi Arabia sent women to the Olympics for the first time in 2012, with two female athletes competing at the London Games.
Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council is getting interested in just what affect the development of shale oil resources in various countries will have on the Saudi economy. That economy, based primarily on oil exports, is certain to be affected in some way, but to just what extent is worthy of study.
I’ve seen no one predicting that the price of oil will plummet as a result of new sources coming on line in the coming years, but new supplies will depress the prices. Just how much is the question. Some suggest future oil prices in the $70/bbl range; most others see the prices at under $100/bbl, but still in the $90/bbl range. Saudi Arabia can live with that, though it would of course prefer higher prices.
The Shoura Council has urged the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources to study the extent of shale oil’s impact on the Kingdom’s oil revenues.
The 150-member consultative body made this call while reviewing the ministry’s annual report.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter and depends greatly on oil revenues for its development and welfare projects. In February, it produced 9.849 million barrels per day of crude, up from 9.767 mbd in January.
The Shoura call comes two months after Minister Ali Al-Naimi met with International Energy Agency Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven to discuss the effects of growing US shale oil production on global oil prices.
According to this story from Arab News, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has finally realized that extremists have hijacked Islam.
Their actions and the accordant publicity have presented the face of Islam to much of the world over the past 20 years. This is not a new aperçu and it’s highly distressing that it’s taken the OIC this long to acknowledge it.
Now, though, having acknowledge the fact, what is the OIC going to do about it? Constant railing about Israel isn’t going to defeat the extremism. In fact, it feeds it.
Extremists have hijacked Islam, says Madani
JEDDAH: HABIB SHAIKH
Extremist voices and groups have hijacked Islam and misappropriated the right to speak on its behalf, according to Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary General Iyad Ameen Madani.
In his address at the inaugural session of the 25th Session of the Arab Summit held in Kuwait recently, he stressed that in actual fact, Islam with its established values and aspirations and with its advocacy of justice, equality, concord, coexistence and mutuality, is totally unrelated to them and to their ideologies and what they call for.