Arab News runs a story from Agence France Presse reporting that 12 cases of MERS-CoV have been identified in the UAE. The number includes several Filipino paramedics working in the western part of the country.

The sudden up-tick in cases (which have included a death to a religious pilgrim returning to Malaysia and Filipino health workers returning home) has heightened the concern of the World Health Organization which is already monitoring the spread of the disease. It is of great concern for the Saudis, of course, because not only has the disease hit Saudi Arabia most significantly, but the country hosts the Haj, which will start in early October this year. Last year, the Saudi government sought to block would-be pilgrims who were aged or who had diseases that seemed to increase the likelihood of MERS infection. The disease, however, is now being reported to be affecting younger people in good health. That may lead to new restrictions on Haj visas.

UAE reports 12 new cases of MERS

ABU DHABI (AFP): Health authorities in the UAE have announced 12 new cases of infection by the MERS coronavirus, but insisted the patients would be cured within two weeks.

The health ministry said the cases were discovered during “routine checks” on people who had contact with infected individuals, according to a statement published by WAM state news agency.

Those infected by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome are kept in hospitals and “should be cured without a treatment within 10 to 14 days,” the statement said.

One of six Filipino paramedics diagnosed with the disease in the eastern city of Al-Ain died earlier this month.

The World Health Organization said Thursday that it has been informed of a total of 243 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection worldwide, including 93 deaths.

April:20:2014 - 07:07 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Following the tiff that saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar, the GCC has found a way to bring the states back together. The exact steps to be taken are — annoyingly — unreported. But all is well, we’re told by Saudi Gazette.

Gulf states heal rift

RIYADH — Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council brokered a consensus Thursday after a rift that saw Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar. During a meeting in Riyadh, GCC foreign ministers conducted a “comprehensive review of measures relating to foreign and security policies,” according to a statement from the Gulf group. “[Participants] agreed to adopt measures that ensure working at a group level and that policies of any individual state should not affect the interests, security or stability of any other member state and without affecting the sovereignty of any of its states,” the statement said. Last month, in an unprecedented split between Gulf Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, saying Doha had not implemented a GCC deal reached in Riyadh in November to avoid interfering in each other’s affairs.

The three countries, led by Saudi Arabia, accused Doha of interfering in the internal affairs of countries in the Gulf region by backing Islamist movements in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere. Qatar denied it interferes anywhere but vowed to stick to its foreign policy.

April:19:2014 - 08:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

The problem of female orphans lacking mahrams, male guardians, as noted earlier this week, is being addressed, Saudi Gazette reports.

Female social workers could be used as guardians of the female students studying abroad, a spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs, says. It’s not made clear who would pay for this, but I assume it would come out of the budget for the scholarship program. Here again, costs are doubled because of Saudi distrust in women and a hyper cautious concern for their moral well being. Instead of the money being spent to educate female students, it’s being spent on preserving an outdated social ethic.

Women social workers can be mahrams for orphans
Saudi Gazette report

AL-KHOBAR — The assistant deputy minister of social affairs said women social workers at the protection home could act as a mahram (a man whom the woman cannot marry) for orphaned women if they are sent abroad on scholarships.

During the first symposium of women university students at protection homes, Lateefah Abunyan said the Ministry of Social Affairs treats orphans as families in society and whatever applies to families also applies to orphans.

This comes as many orphaned women complained that they are deprived of the opportunity to be sent on scholarships abroad because they do not have mahrams to accompany them.

Abunyan added this condition is according to regulations that aim to protect women and there are many orphaned women who have traveled abroad with their families or husbands.

April:17:2014 - 09:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

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
Abdulrahman Al-Shamrani
Okaz/Saudi Gazette

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.

April:15:2014 - 09:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

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

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.

April:09:2014 - 11:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

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

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.

April:02:2014 - 07:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia believes it has a problem with Internet pornography and is trying to do something about it, Saudi Gazette reports. Four government agencies are tasked with trying to block or at least rein in various media channels — including social media — to better protect Saudi citizens. They see it as a losing battle, though.

Four govt agencies struggling to control porn on social media

JEDDAH — Four government agencies — the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia), Ministry of Interior, Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) and the Audiovisual Commission — are facing problems censoring porn accounts that pop up on social media websites. Unlike pornographic websites, which can be blocked directly, social media websites such as Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr are harder to block since officials have to target individual accounts, Makkah daily reported.

According to recent statistics released by the Social Clinic, a social media agency and consultancy headquartered in Jeddah, the number of users on the microblogging website Twitter in the Kingdom has reached 5 million while the Kingdom’s Facebook users numbered around 7.8 million.

An informed source in the Ministry of Culture and Information said the National Center for Youth Research, an affiliate of King Saud University, will discuss the issue of pornographic accounts on social media websites with the Audiovisual Commission and come up with a plan to deal with the problem.

March:19:2014 - 08:33 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on discussions about business hours that would change Saudi society dramatically. Saudi Arabian society is, essentially, nocturnal. This made sense in the past as avoiding the oppressive heat of the daylight hours meant that business and social activities tended to take place after the sun set. Today, with air conditioning all but universal, it may not make so much sense.

Under discussion is a blanket proposal to have all business shutter for the night at nine o’clock. This, the various government organizations say, would make it much easier for Saudis to take commercial jobs because they would be home with their families at a reasonable hour. Currently, shops and stores stay open until eleven o’clock or even later. Female workers in particular would benefit from earlier closings.

Business aren’t convinced. They believe that they need to have their doors open while customers are on the street. Missing business is missed profits.

It would be a remarkable attempt at social engineering were this shift to take place.

New retail cut-off time evokes mixed reactions
Mohammed Alshoaiby
Saudi Gazette

RIYADH — The retail industry is divided over recent reports from the Ministry of Labor revealing the support of six government organizations for a potential 9 p.m. final closing time.

The cut-off time is being proposed on the grounds that it would have a noticeable and positive effect on society and represent an efficient method of sustaining the economy.

However, shop owners have conflicting views over how this law would affect their businesses.

The Eastern Province Cabinet Chairman Abdulrahman Al- Rashid said: “The Ministry of Labor is seeking to increase Saudization in the retail sector by overcoming some of the obstacles facing Saudi youth, such as the late-night working hours involved.”

Al-Rashid added that the cut-off would be in line with what is normal in most countries today and that retail outlets should be given ample time to adjust to the change.

I am assuming that business hours during Ramadan would not be changed. Ramadan in Saudi Arabia, with reduced daytime business hours due to fasting, is very much a nighttime affair.

March:18:2014 - 08:43 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that ten cases of women impersonating other women in Saudi courts have been identified. The courts rely on the testimony of male guardians as to the identity of females in the court, a practice that has some obvious holes in it.

The article notes that a plan to use fingerprints as positive identification has been delayed.

The fact that men are manipulating the system to get to favorable court judgements is pretty clear. That the impersonators, if caught, face criminal charges doesn’t seem to have much effect.

Women impersonators exposed
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — The Ministry of Justice has uncovered 10 cases of women impersonating other women in various courts last year, local daily Al-Watan reported Sunday quoting informed sources.

Sources said most of the cases in which women impersonated other women were related to family matters.

They noted that some men may ask other women to impersonate their wives or other family female members to withdraw certain cases against them in courts and said the majority of these cases are related to divorce, khula, alimony, inheritance and others.

Sources said a number of general courts in Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam and Makkah discovered that many cases raised by women against their husbands were withdrawn without their knowledge.

March:17:2014 - 07:15 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior has caused its own little firestorm by announcing a ban on some 50 names that are not to be given to children, Gulf News reports. The ban, issued as a fatwa by some anonymous cleric, is a peculiar one. Some names are banned as being against religious principle; others because they’re foreign. The reason why yet others are banned — like Benyamin (Arabic for ‘Benjamin’) is simply baffling.

Saudi Arabia bans 50 baby names

Dubai: Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry has banned 50 given names including “foreign” names, names related to royalty and those it considers to be blasphemous.

Saudis will no longer be able to give their children names such as Amir (prince), Linda or Abdul Nabi (Slave of the Prophet) after the civil affairs department at the ministry issued the list, according to Saudi news sites.

It justified the ban by saying that the names either contradicted the culture or religion of the kingdom, or were foreign, or “inappropriate”.

The names fit into at least three categories: those that offend perceived religious sensibilities, those that are affiliated to royalty and those that are of non-Arabic or non-Islamic origin.

Gulf News reports, too, that a member of the Shoura Council, Eisa Al Gaith, isn’t having it. Fatwas are not public laws, he says. A fatwa — a non-binding religious ruling — should not be elevated to the law of the land. According to the follow-up story, large numbers of Saudis agree with him, seeing no reason for the government to be poking its nose into family matters.

Shura Council member rejects ban on baby names
Habib Toumi Bureau Chief

Manama: A member of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council has denounced the decision by the civil authorities to ban 50 baby names on the grounds they clashed with the local culture or were inappropriate.

“The decision by the mufti on the names is an interpretation, so if he is right it is good for him and for those who follow him, but it cannot be imposed on others,” Eisa Al Ghaith said. “There is a serious issue when an interpretation which is just an opinion becomes an obligation for government agencies and for the people. A commitment becomes official only when there is a religious consensus about it. However, if there is no full agreement, there can be no obligation,” he said in remarks published by local daily Al Sharq on Sunday.

Civil authorities last week announced a list of 50 names that cannot be given to new babies, saying that they were alien to the local culture or offended religious sensibilities or were of non-Arabic or non-Islamic origin.

Several people said they were bewildered by the inclusion of some of the names on the list, particularly that they have traditionally been part of the local scene for decades.

UPDATE: I should note that banning names isn’t just some oddball Saudi thing. Portugal has an 80-page list of banned names. The Mexican state of Sonora published a list of 61 names that were impermissible last month. Denmark, instead of a blacklist, has a whitelist from which children’s names must be selected.

UPDATE: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior denies it ever published a list in the first place, but added that religiously or socially improper names, as well as compound names would not be registered in official documents at birth.

Civil Affairs denies banning baby names

March:16:2014 - 07:26 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Education, Pr. Khaled Al-Faisal, is alerting schoolteachers that they, too, fall under the Kingdom’s new anti-terrorism law. This has been a weak point in Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism efforts. While the government may take a particular stance, it has permitted teachers — those with primary access to young minds — to teach pretty much whatever they want, however they want, so long as they pay official obeisance to the curriculum. There has been very little monitoring of what actually goes on in the classrooms and Saudi parents have complained.

The article does not state that any particular measures are being taken to increase monitoring. Lacking enhanced monitoring, I can only assume that the Ministry intends to act on parental complaints. The Ministry will, however, be contacting school principals to ensure they’re aware of their responsibilities.

Teachers warned: Abide by new anti-terror laws

Education Minister Prince Khaled Al-Faisal has urged all schoolteachers to abide by the Kingdom’s new anti-terror laws and ensure they teach their students about correct Islamic practices and to remain loyal to their country.

His comments come in the wake of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, through the Interior Ministry, banning several extremist and terrorist organizations, and instituting jail terms of up to 20 years for citizens fighting in conflicts abroad.

“The ministry has warned people against joining, supporting or funding any groups that have been listed as terrorist organizations.”

The minister said that it was necessary to safeguard Islam, the unity of the Ummah, and the Kingdom’s security and stability.

March:13:2014 - 06:37 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette carries a story about the request of Saudi lawyers that court proceedings be open to the media and the public. Justice must not only be done, but it must also be seen to be done, they argue. Transparency in the administration of justice also serves to ensure that legal process is done as it is supposed to be done. Lawyers complain that there are many issues that put judges and attorneys at odds and cite the appointment of young judges, who lack experience, to cases before they’re ready to take them on. More senior judges have been moved to appeals courts as part of the legal reform project now underway. They complain, too, that even the senior judges are not following the rules as set down by Shariah law.

Lawyers demand open courts
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — Several lawyers have asked the Ministry of Justice to open court sessions to the public and the media, Al-Hayat newspaper reported.

They said most lawyers complained about a big discrepancy in court rulings and their cases and felt that they were being marginalized even though their role was to help judges to get to the bottom of the truth.

This has led some lawyers to abandon their career for other professions that provide them with a better income and prestige.

Lawyer Ibrahim Zamzami explained that members of the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution and judicial consultants should be allowed to attend court proceedings as they have the experience, expertise and knowledge on pertinent issues.

March:13:2014 - 06:29 | Comments Off | Permalink
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