Al-Arabiya TV, which is owned by the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), writes about new efforts to take down satellite TV stations that run pirated materials. It is estimated that 10% of all Arab satellite broadcasters run programs for which they do not own the rights. This affects those stations that have paid for those materials… to the tune of $10 million/year, according to MBC.

While efforts have been made throughout the region to stop the theft of intellectual property, they have primarily focused on counterfeiting consumer goods and bootleg computer software.

Pirate TV: 47 ‘illegal’ Arab stations taken off air
Ben Flanagan | Al Arabiya News, Abu Dhabi

Almost half the Arab world’s ‘pirate’ TV stations have been taken off air, as legitimate media companies battle a problem they say costs them $100 million a year.

A total of 96 channels that allegedly broadcast pirated material were active in August – accounting for almost 10 per cent of the total number of channels available in the Middle East.

But 47 of these are no longer broadcasting following efforts by an industry coalition dedicated to fighting piracy, said Sam Barnett, chief executive of MBC Group.

“Nobody wants to deal with organized crime, which is what it is,” the executive told Al Arabiya News. “We’re fighting a long battle, but we have had progress.”

November:20:2014 - 08:10 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette runs a report from Agence France Presse stating that the Saudi government is extending its buffer zone along the 800-mile border with Iraq by a depth of 20km (12 miles). The area, which is chiefly desert, is being put off limits to Saudi citizens.

Kingdom expands its border zone with Iraq

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia has expanded a buffer zone along its northern border with Iraq, official media said on Tuesday.

Mohammed Al-Fahimi, a spokesman for northern region border guards, said “the depth of the border has been increased by 20 kilometers (12 miles),” the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Officers guarding the frontier “called on residents and citizens to stay away from the border areas,” it added.

In early September, the Kingdom inaugurated a multi-layered fence, backed by radar and other surveillance tools, along its northern borders.

November:19:2014 - 07:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

The spat between Qatar and fellow-GCC members Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE seems to be drawing to a close. Asharq Alawsat reports that all three countries are returning their ambassadors to Doha with the expectation that GCC cooperation will resume.

Saudi ambassador to Qatar returns to Doha

Riyadh and Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Qatar, Abdullah Al-Ayfan, returned to Doha on Monday, following an agreement to end a rift between Qatar and its neighbors earlier this week.

An emergency meeting in Riyadh on Sunday resulted in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain ending their dispute with fellow member-state Qatar, and agreeing to return their ambassadors to the country after a seven-month absence.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Ayfan said he was now restarting his work in the Qatari capital, and that all diplomatic relations had returned to normal.

He said he hoped the recent meeting in Riyadh would pave the way for further political and economic cooperation between all GCC countries, leading to what he called a “genuine union” between them, as proposed by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

King Abdullah hosted the Riyadh meeting, which came about due to Saudi–Kuwaiti efforts.

November:18:2014 - 08:25 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

The UNDP marks Saudi Arabia as having jumped from 57th place to 34th place in its 2014 report on global human development, Arab News reports:

UNDP ranking: Saudi Arabia makes remarkable progress

The 2014 Human Development Report by the UN Development Program reported that Saudi Arabia achieved a significant progress by ranking in the 34th globally, compared to its previous 57 rank in the UNDP report of 2013. Such a rank boosted its position and qualified the Kingdom to join high human development index countries.

The Kingdom also ranked second on the Arab and Gulf levels, and 10th within the G-20 countries, reflecting a positive development, which the nation must build on to improve its future ranking on the Human Development Index launched in 1990.

An analytical study prepared by the Supreme Economic Council on the realities of Saudi Arabia, included in the human development report 2014 which was entitled
“Sustaining Human Progress, Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience,” confirmed that despite the improvement made during the march of the economic and social development in the Kingdom, the composite of evidence and the other evidences on the country’s ranking, in addition to the results of opinion polls made on the satisfaction degree concerning the human element, all such factors indicated that the Kingdom’s ranking could be improved and boosted.

November:17:2014 - 07:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat reports that those oil producing countries that most need high prices for oil are starting to make their case before the start of an OPEC meeting later this month. Venezuela and Iran in particular are saying that they want OPEC to decrease production in order to drive up prices. They need a price near $100/bbl in order to balance their budgets. The Arab Gulf States can absorb lower prices as their economies are in better shape and they all have sovereign funds they can fall back on to make up any temporary shortfall.

Saudi Arabia would be happy with oil at $100/bbl, but it doesn’t need oil at that price. It can manage well enough with oil priced at $75-$85/bbl. More particularly, it does not want to be told to decrease its oil production while other OPEC countries take smaller or no decreases in their production.

Iran, Venezuela urge oil price support ahead of OPEC meeting

Dubai and Al-Khobar, Reuters/Asharq Al-Awsat—OPEC hawks Iran and Venezuela on Saturday called on fellow crude producers to shore up prices that have plunged more than 30 percent to four-years low ahead of an OPEC meeting later this month.

Oil prices have fallen to below 79 US dollars on abundant and weak demand from 115 dollars a barrel in June. Skepticism that OPEC will cut supply when it meets on November 27 have also weighed on the prices.

So far, only Kuwait and Iran have said a reduction is unlikely, while a Libyan OPEC official, Venezuela and Ecuador have all called for OPEC to cut output.

Privately, some delegates are talking of the need for some action, although they warn an agreement will not be easy to reach.

In comments reported by Iran Oil Ministry’s news agency, Shana, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rafael Ramírez, speaking in Iran, said Tehran and Caracas hold a common stance on the oil market.

“We believe that the prices are at a very low level and instability in the market is in no one’s interest,” Ramírez told Shana. “A hundred dollars per barrel is the desirable price for Venezuela.”

Iran Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh made similar remarks.

November:17:2014 - 07:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Throughout its long history in Saudi Arabia, few have criticized ARAMCO of sitting on its thumbs while the world sped past it. Asharq Alawsat reports that Saudi-ARAMCO is setting up a new Asian subsidiary in Beijing, a recognition that China will be a major importer of Saudi oil into the future. Currently, China imports 19% of its oil from Saudi Arabia.

The article notes, too, how ARAMCO is getting more deeply involved and invested in the US oil market, not as a supplier to US demand, but as a partner in US oil production.

Saudi Aramco opens Asian subsidiary in Beijing

Al-Khobar, Asharq Al-Awsat—After years of operating in Asia through its offices in Hong Kong and South Korea, Saudi Aramco, the Kingdom’s state-owned oil company, is opening a brand new Asian subsidiary, Aramco Asia, setting up shop in the Chinese capital, Beijing.

Structured as a holding company, Aramco Asia will run all its Saudi parent company’s operations in an areas stretching from India in the west to Australia and New Zealand in the east.

According to sources familiar with the plans who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, the new company will be headed by Ibrahim Al-Buainain, who previously served at Aramco’s offices in Hong Kong and South Korea and headed Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures (SAEV).

SAEV acquired a number of SMEs in the energy sector in the US and elsewhere in a bid to gain more control over international supply chains, especially to the US and Europe.

November:13:2014 - 08:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

Salman Aldossary, Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Alawsat, writes more on the fact that the Saudi government is condemning the attack on Shi’ite worshipers in the Eastern Province by Sunni extremists. It truly is noteworthy and a first of its kind.

Aldossary is a bit too sanguine about how inclusive the Saudi government has been toward its Shi’ite citizens, though. Certain — Shi’a — sections of the Eastern Province were put pretty far down the infrastructure development list. The Shi’ites have had problems getting permission to build new mosques while there seems to be no limit on Sunni ability to do so. Textbooks deprecated Shi’ism and its followers and taught only Sunni orthodoxy. There are still barriers facing Shi’ites in obtaining certain government jobs. In calling protests by the Shi’ite population “provocations by a foreign power,” the government has clouded the ability to distinguish legitimate protest from foreign interference: any protest is cast as Iran’s fingers in the pie.

This could be a start to significant change. It’s a significant act, but it needs to be followed up with more acts that show that the government truly intends to be inclusive.

The Crime that Changed the Face of Saudi Arabia
Salman Aldossary

Last week, the winds of change blew with a vengeance in Saudi Arabia, when armed terrorists opened fire on visitors to a Shi’ite Husseiniyah (meeting house) in the Al-Ahsa province, killing eight people, among them three children. True, this is not the first time Saudi Arabia has witnessed a crime of this nature, where innocent civilians and children have lost their lives. In fact, it has seen even worse. But it is the first time such terrorist acts have played on the country’s dissonant sectarian chord in such an ugly and dangerous way, in an attempt to fan the flames of sedition and strife between its people. It is also the first time Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, and its entire Council of Religious Scholars, have come out in defense of Saudi Shi’ites in this way, and they were joined by all groups in society—unequivocally and without pretense.

It is not surprising for us in Saudi Arabia to witness Sunni members of the country’s security forces giving their lives in order to protect their fellow Shi’ite brothers. Nor is it surprising for us to witness the country’s interior minister traveling to the site of the attack to pay his respects to the families of those killed. The real surprise here, in my opinion, is that the forces seeking to incite sectarian hatred and strife between Saudis have not, on this occasion, succeeded in doing so among the vast majority of the population. This time, it was the love of Saudis for their country and their depth of feeling and sadness over the tragedy that befell their fellow citizens, that prevailed—and not the “sectarian project” that has been insidiously at work in the country for years. This time it failed miserably, and the attack in Al-Ahsa—whose perpetrators no doubt thought the incident would help further their cause—may well be the knockout punch that will end this sectarian project once and for all.

There is no denying that there are still transgressions being committed against some Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia; but we must of course make the distinction between transgressions sanctioned by the state and those committed by individuals, who no doubt think that through these actions they are upholding their “rights,” when in fact they are committing an affront to the law in a most blatant manner.

November:10:2014 - 07:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

In his column for Arab News Mshari Al-Zaydi counts out the toll of terrorist attacks in the Arab world over the past week. He uses that count to excoriate Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs for not following its own rules in dealing with religious extremism in the mosques over which it claims control. With over 94,000 mosques in the country, it seems impossible for the authorities to monitor them in order to prevent extremist messages being fed to worshipers.

The column is a good example of how Saudi media relies on the readers’ understanding of issues in such a way that it can avoid actually stating facts or naming names. When he refers to the attack in Al-Ahsa, he means — but does not say — attacks on Shi’a taking part in Ashoura ceremonies. The reader is expected to know that a Husseiniya is a Shi’ite thing and that Al-Ahsa is one of the informal centers of the Shi’ite population. He does not say the attackers were Sunnis — the reader should know that, but won’t find that fact stated explicitly in media reports.

It is heartening, though, to see the Saudi religious establishment condemning sectarian violence, even if obliquely. This is something it should have been doing 50 years ago. It could not, however, because it supported the reasons, if not all of the tactics, and it became an informal government policy. Just another thing that was not stated bluntly, but simply understood. The country now gets to reap the results of what it had permitted to be sown.

A Week of Terrorist Attacks
Mshari Al-Zaydi

In just one week, we have seen terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Iraq.

In Saudi Arabia, a group of militants attacked citizens in Al-Ahsa, killing and injuring a group of people who had gathered at a Shi’ite Husseiniya (meeting house). The gunmen, along with those who assisted this terrorist operation, were quickly pursued by Saudi security forces. One police officer and two soldiers?defenders of the nation—were killed in the subsequent counterterror response.

In Tunisia, we saw a new form of terrorism with gunmen targeting a bus transporting soldiers, resulting in the death of five.

In Egypt, there has been a series of explosions and attacks this week, not least an attack on a train that killed at least four people.

This is a summary of the events of just one week in our region. However, the most striking thing is that while terrorism is nothing new, the terrorist acts that we have seen this week have all been unprecedented in one form or another.

In Saudi Arabia, we witnessed an excellent response to the Ahsa crime from the state and the people. Saudi security forces, utilizing two decades of counterterror experience, did their duty competently while the media also played a crucial role. Saudi Arabia’s judiciary has also played an important role and we have noticed the stringent sentences that have been issued recently against terrorism-related crimes after years of deliberation.

November:09:2014 - 08:03 | Comments Off | Permalink

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed again has an interesting piece at Asharq Alawsat. He points out that it is fatuous to say, in effect, “Let the extremists on our team beat up on the extremists for the other team” when it comes to matters of religion. He notes, too, that Shi’ite extremism tends to be controlled by a certain state while Sunni extremism is chaotic, completely outside the reins of control a state sponsor might impose. Worse, Sunni extremism seems to have a way of coming back to bite the states that permit it to have its way.

The real issue, though, is that the commingling of religion and state is always fraught with danger. Religion is not bound by logic and reason because it deals with matters of faith. Matters of faith are simply not accessible through reason alone and rational argument too often runs into impenetrable walls.

Sunni extremism vs. Shiite extremism
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

The only argument that I have heard in response to what I wrote two days ago about the dangers of extremism – which is still spreading despite the huge magnitude of the chronological events – is why would we seek to contain extremists in our community while there are extremists of all nationalities and religious doctrines out there?

Some were even more pronounced when discussing this issue with me. They told me that overriding Sunni extremism would help countries like Iran, which is supporting its brand of Shiite extremism everywhere!

Firstly, this whole notion is wrong because extremism is dangerous foremost to the community that creates and hosts it. Secondly, those who think that there is an unquestionable state of extremism and that is safer to accept it lest it devastate them – or those who say that maybe it’s better to employ extremism the way Iran and the Syrian regime have used it – will find out the true cost only later.

November:08:2014 - 08:55 | Comments Off | Permalink

In his column at Asharq Alawsat, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed writes about the outbreaks of Sunni violence against Shi’ites that was condemned by the country’s Grand Mufti earlier this week.

He correctly notes that extremism is a taught behavior and that Saudi schools are part of the problem. He almost goes so far as to say that the government’s inaction in dealing with the is also part of the problem. But it is.

Official antipathy toward the country’s Shi’ite residents, whether displayed through tardy and reluctant efforts to improve infrastructure in Shi’a-dominated areas or in the insulting approach it takes toward Shi’ite beliefs in the classroom have all served to create a problem where one never really needed to exist. Poor treatment has led, not surprisingly, to those feeling oppressed to look for succor elsewhere. Unfortunately, there is another “elsewhere” that is apparently willing to help. This has led to a confounding of elements where it is next to impossible to discern whether complaints are legitimate or induced by a foreign power. The Saudi government has helped create the monster and is going to have a hard time picking out the threads to truly address the problem. It’s late to be getting into the game to fix it, but it’s not too late. It’s just going to take a lot of effort and good will.

Extremism only thrives when it is left unchallenged
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Saudi security forces in six cities have gone after terrorist cells linked to the terror attack in the district of Al-Ahsa that killed seven citizens earlier this week. During a confrontation with gunmen, two members of the security forces were killed, including one who had been injured in 2005 during clashes with Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in the same area.

It is interesting here how history repeats itself: Extremist teachings produce acts of terror; unarmed civilians are killed; the country becomes overwhelmed with fear about the return of terrorism; and a member of the security forces who survived a previous fight is destined to die in a later battle.

People are not born terrorists; they are victims of extremism in a broad sense—where a local culture fails to challenge extremism, and through defects in the judicial system. Several people arrested on terrorism charges were freed from custody due to complaints regarding their detention, despite their having been active in extremist circles.

Extremist teachings and discourse became more widespread because the situation was left to get worse. The circle of extremism thus expanded until it all became as if we were living among the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It is as if extremism had settled everywhere, controlling the mentality of a large minority and sparking fear among a majority who were afraid to confront it and who were afraid for themselves, their children, and their future.

Meanwhile, the government is carrying out sweeps and arrests aimed at the perpetrators of the killings in Al-Ahsa…

Saudi Arabia carries out second wave of counterterror arrests

November:07:2014 - 10:49 | Comments Off | Permalink

There’s been a 50% reduction in the number of Saudis going off to take part in terroristic enterprises, asserts the Ministry of Interior. According to this article in Saudi Gazette, the number of young Saudis heading off to Syria and Iraq has declined dramatically. No actual numbers are given in the article, nor are any details provided, however. The Ministry believes it has a comprehensive program in place to deter extremism.

Drastic drop in Saudis joining terror groups

The number of Saudis who fought alongside terrorists in conflict areas in neighboring countries was not more than 1,500 and the majority of them have been killed in fighting, according to the spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, addressing the 17th International Conference and Exhibition on industrial security that kicked off in Riyadh on Monday, said this number represents all extremist Saudis who went to Syria since 2011.

Gen. Saeed Bin Abdullah Al-Qahtani, assistant minister for operations, opened the conference on behalf of Interior Minister Prince Muhammad Bin Naif.

Al-Turki said the number of Saudi terrorists has declined by 50 percent since a royal decree was issued last year to punish anyone who belongs to or supports terrorist organizations.

November:05:2014 - 11:41 | Comments Off | Permalink

Ninety terrorist tweets per minute, 1.5 per second… that’s what a new survey out of Saudi Arabia finds. If true, that’s a considerable hammering at social media being undertaken by groups like ISIS and Al Nusra.

According to the Saudi Gazette article, the Saudi government has shut down more than 500 accounts, though it does not say how or exactly by whom.

‘90 terrorist tweets every minute’
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — An average of 90 tweets from terrorists are sent each minute, according to a survey conducted by the Sakinah awareness campaign in October.

Terrorist groups such as the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, IS and Al-Nusra Front have been dormant for a period of time but the recent unrest in the Middle East have led them to turn to social media as a way of getting their messages across.

Abdulmunim Al-Mushawah, the campaign head, revealed about 129,600 such tweets were posted and as a result 500 accounts run by terrorists were deactivated.

Almushawah called for a national intellectual censorship committee that would detect tweets of an extremist and terrorist nature, analyze them and provide guidance.

He said: “The nature of the extremist can be understood by analyzing his posts, identifying his social circle and understanding his internal motives and history.

Arab News runs a similar story:

90 extremist tweets posted every minute

November:04:2014 - 08:39 | Comments Off | Permalink
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