Arab News reports on a study coming from the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology finding that Saudi Arabia’s roads are hugely dangerous. Not only is excessive speed and inattention a problem, but animals on the roadways — particularly camels — are a hazard all their own.
The claim that Saudi Arabia leads the world isn’t quite supported by global statistics. It is, nevertheless, extremely hazardous. Most of the accidents and fatalities are avoidable.
Vehicular accidents caused by animals is growing phenomenon, particularly in Saudi Arabia, as the Kingdom registers hundreds of accidents caused by camels each year, resulting in the loss of countless lives, as well as property worth millions of riyals. The Ministry of Transport spends billions of riyals trying to curb this issue through the building of fences alongside highways, and other responses.
A recent study has shown that 97 percent of all car accidents involving animals in the Kingdom were with camels, and that more than 90 percent of these accidents occur at night. The Ministry of Agriculture has estimated that the number of camels in the Kingdom was approximately 241,893 in 2008, excluding stray camels that live in the desert.
Riyadh alone has 43 percent of these camels, followed by Al-Qassim with 13 percent, and the Eastern Province with 10 percent. More than 500,000 camels move freely in the Kingdom, and are found around Riyadh and Al-Qassim.
Saudi analyst Nawaf Obaid has an opinion piece in The Washington Post arguing that in the absence of a strong US policy toward the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is stepping in to fill the void. It will, of course, act in what it sees as its interests, but in forming alliances of like-minded countries, it is not acting solely in its own interests.
Just two months after the passing of King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s extensive intervention in Yemen on Thursday should serve notice to the world that a major generational shift underway in the kingdom is sure to have far-reaching geopolitical ramifications.
The new Saudi leadership — centered on a cadre of youthful, dynamic royals and technocrats — is developing a foreign policy doctrine to address long-standing regional tensions. This doctrine is based on the legitimacy of the Saudi monarchy and the centrality of the kingdom to the Muslim world. As the custodian of the holy mosques of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia is uniquely positioned to rise above the fray of the past decade and begin bridging the considerable gaps dividing the main Sunni nations. With almost 90 percent of Muslims identifying as Sunni, and the Saudis at the epicenter of the Sunni world, the Saudis believe they can meet an urgent need for a united Sunni front against Shiite Iran, as well as the terrorist movements tearing the Arab world apart.
Abdullah’s successor, King Salman, has inherited a disastrous situation in the region. With the Obama administration abandoning the United States’ historical responsibilities and, by extension, most of its prestige in the Middle East, the Saudis have no choice but to lead more forcefully, more coherently and, above all, more sustainably. This mantle is based on the kingdom’s conservative religious base and its unique Arab tribal inheritance. More tangibly, it is backed by $150 billion in spending to upgrade the Saudi military to allow it to engage enemies on two major fronts simultaneously, eliminating the need to rely on foreign assistance in defending the homeland.
Writing for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Anthony Cordesman presents a tour d’horizon of the issues that face the US and Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Definitely worth reading in its entirety.
America, Saudi Arabia, and the Strategic Importance of Yemen
Anthony H. Cordesman
Yemen is a growing reminder of just how important the strategic U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia really is. It is one thing to talk about the war against ISIS, and quite another to realize that U.S. strategic interests require a broad level of stability in the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula and one that is dependent on Saudi Arabia as a key strategic partner.
Saudi Arabia has already taken an important lead in Yemen that will need U.S. support. Saudi Arabia and allies are now conducting air strikes in Yemen to try to halt the advance of a Houthi militia, with strong ties to Iran, which is attempting to end President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s efforts to relocate Yemen’s elected government to Aden.
… To put Yemen in a broader strategic context, the crisis in Yemen is only part of the U.S.-Saudi strategic equation. U.S.- Saudi partnership and cooperation is critical in building some form of deterrence and strategic stability to contain Iran in the Gulf. Any nuclear agreement will not affect the need for close cooperation between the United States, Saudi Arabia and other key members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in dealing with the broader and active threat Iran poses in terms of conventional forces, asymmetric warfare, missiles, and strategic influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait play a key role in stabilizing Egypt and Jordan, and U.S., Saudi, and UAE cooperation in arms transfers – along with bases and the force of the other Gulf states – are creating military capabilities and interoperability that both reduce the need for future U.S. power projection and greatly enhances the capability of any forces the United States deploys.
At the same time, Yemen is of major strategic importance to the United States, as is the broader stability of Saudi Arabia all of the Arab Gulf states. For all of the talk of U.S. energy “independence,” the reality remains very different. The increase in petroleum and alternative fuels outside the Gulf has not changed its vital strategic importance to the global and U.S. economy.
Arab News runs a Reuters story indicating that Saudi Arabia is not currently planning to start a ground offensive in Yemen, but will do so if required. Egypt has said that it would assist on the ground if needed.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has no immediate plans to launch ground operations inside Yemen but its forces and those of its allies are ready to do so if needed, the military spokesman of the operation said.
“There are no plans at this stage for ground forces operations, but if the need arises, the Saudi ground forces and those of the friends and sisterly forces are ready and will repel any aggression,” Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asseri told a news conference.
As could be expected, Saudi media is heavy with reporting on the military intervention in Yemen that’s being led by Saudi Arabia. Reports focus on the international aspect of the operation, as shown in this infographic from Al Arabiya TV…
The Al Arabiya TV story pre-dates the move of Yemen’s President Hadi’s move to Saudi Arabia from Aden, where he’d taken refuge after fleeing Sana’a.
Of interest is the deployment of Egyptian Navy assets who presumably will work in coordination with the Royal Saudi Navy to interdict possible Iranian attempts to supply Houthi forces. All GCC states, excepting Oman, which borders eastern Yemen, have committed aircraft to the operation. Morocco, Sudan, and Jordan have as well.
The name “Decisive Storm,” rather than the earlier “Determination Storm” seems to have been settled upon.
Dina al-Shibeeb, Al Arabiya News
Allies with their fighter jets on Thursday joined Saudi Arabia in its “Decisive Storm” military operation, targeting Houthi rebels who had vowed to dislodge President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi.
Al Arabiya News Channel reported that Saudi Arabia deployed 150,000 soldiers, 100 fighter jets and navy units in Yemen after Hadi pleaded with its Gulf ally for help against the Houthi rebels, who were advancing toward the southern city of Aden – where Hadi is based – to remove him from power in an attempted coup.
The Royal Saudi Air Force took control of Yemen’s airspace early Thursday, and destroyed four Houthi jets and its surface-to-air (SAM) missiles.
Reports also emerged that top Houthi leadership: Abdulkhaliq al-Houthi, Yousuf al-Madani, and Yousuf al-Fishi were killed and the head of the Revolutionary Committee for the Houthis, Mohammed Ali al-Hothi, was wounded.
Saudi Arabia has begun air operations against the Houthi militias who have taken over much of northern Yemen, including the capital Sana’a, and are moving on the southern city of Adan. The operation, called “Determination Storm” or “Al-Hazem Storm,” has so far received support from the GCC, some of whose members may also take part, as well as from the governments of the EU, UK, France, Turkey, Belgium, Morocco, Sudan, Pakistan, Jordan, and Egypt. Several of those have said that they are also willing to take part. Iran has called for a halt to the operation, not surprisingly.
The US government has offered intelligence and logistical support.
The Saudi Press Agency is running brief reports on every bit of support or encouragement being given, including from Saudi Arabia’s Senior Scholars and the Syrian opposition.
The English translation of the operation’s name seems to be a bit up in the air at the moment. Various media are reporting it as “Firm Storm” and “Decisive Storm.”
From Al Arabiya TV:
From Asharq Alawsat:
From Saudi Gazette:
From Arab News:
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that the expansion of the mataaf of the Grand Mosque in Mecca — the area in which pilgrims circumabulate the Kaaba — is nearly finished. Pilgrims will be able to walk around the Kaaba on three levels, greatly increasing the number who can partake in the ritual at the same time. The three levels will be finished by Ramadan, the report says, with only the roof needing completion. That will be done by next year.
Expanded mataaf to be ready for Haj
Khalid Al-Himaidi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
MAKKAH — The new mataaf (the circumambulation area) in the Grand Mosque will have a capacity to handle 105,000 pilgrims an hour, according to a senior official.
Sultan Al-Qurashi, General Director of Projects at the General Presidency of Grand Mosque and Prophet’s Mosque Affairs, said the expansion of the Grand Mosque project is in its third and final stage.
“Once the project finishes, pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque will be able to circumambulate around the Kaaba on three floors: the basement, ground floor and first floor. These three floors will be ready by Ramadan. We are also opening the roof which will be ready by the next Haj season,” said Al-Qurashi.
Saudi Arabia and its media seem to be preparing the battle space of public opinion for a war in Yemen. The media report on various calls to the UN and the GCC to get involved in what is, at present, a civil war, but one that represents threats to other countries in the region.
In an op-ed in Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi underscores Iranian involvement and the danger a hostile state in Yemen would represent to the Bab Al-Mandab strait. It is feared that if the Houthi rebels gain control of Aden, Yemen’s southern province and the de-facto capital for the government, Iran would be in a position to close two of the world’s most important choke-points for trade in oil and other goods.
Al-Zaydi also notes Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal’s warning to British Foreign Secretary Hammond, that unless the situation improves, there will be actions taken on the part of countries feeling threatened.
Prepare for the Yemeni Storm
What is currently happening in Yemen is not the first problem Saudi Arabia has faced with respect to its neighbor to the south. But the current problems don’t just concern Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is of course the most affected out of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, but it is by no means alone in being impacted. Other Gulf countries, as well as those along the Red Sea, and those countries whose ships pass through the Bab El-Mandeb strait and the Cape of Good Hope, will also be affected by the crisis.
In fact, what is happening in Yemen poses a problem for the whole world, politically, strategically, and in terms of global security. This is especially true when bearing in mind how Yemen is currently being transformed into a regional base for the Persian–Khomeinist camp and a rebel stronghold for Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia is the country most affected by the current Yemeni crisis, due to its geographic proximity to Yemen and the nature of the terrain on the borders between the two countries, from mountains and valleys to plains and steppes—not to mention the close links that exist between the peoples of these two countries.
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members have been attempting to lay out a political road map for Yemen according to specific criteria, which are based on the outcomes of the Gulf Initiative, the legitimacy of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the unity of the country and its security.
The Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi movement, which has staged a coup in Yemen, refuses all of this, however. Working alongside the Houthis is the country’s ousted former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his General People’s Congress (GPC) party, both pulling the strings from behind the scenes.
Saudi Gazette also focuses on the Bab Al-Mandab strait. It also quotes the Egyptian Ambassador to Yemen saying, “More than 38 percent of global maritime trade passes through the strait…”
An interesting op-ed in Saudi Gazette from Khaled Batarfi. He discusses Islamic banking, finance, etc. with Pr. Mohammed Al-Faisal and learns that while there are economic tools in use across the Islamic world, there is no underlying theory about an “Islamic economy.” Worth reading.
‘Islamic Economy is a baseless theory’
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
WHEN I asked Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal, the pioneer of Islamic Banking, about the concept, he explained: “What we have today is a baseless theory.
You can’t have a comprehensive economic theory devoid of social justice. The implied question here is: How can we build an economy to serve society?
“That is what I have been concentrating on lately, trying, without much success, to motivate economists and religious scholars to do due research,” the founder of Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal Award for Islamic Economy Research, complains.
“Some think Islamic Banking represent Islamic Economy. But we must realize the difference between a) the financial services and b) the general economic theories controlling them.
“I am not knowledgeable enough to conduct such research. Experts and scholars in economic and Islamic fields should gather to formulate a unified basis and set of principles defining the philosophies of Islamic Economy,” he recommends.
Following a change in law created family courts and that granted divorced women rights of guardianship over their children, among other things, the courts have been flooded with cases. Saudi Gazette reports that 84,000 cases have been filed in the seven months since the courts were established. Disputes over alimony and child custody seem to make up the largest number of cases.
Family courts looking into 84,000 alimony and custody lawsuits
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — Nearly 84,000 lawsuits concerning alimony and child custody have been filed since family courts were established in the Kingdom about seven months ago, the Justice Ministry announced.
It said 43,000 of these cases pertained to alimony claims and 41,000 were regarding child custody disputes between parents.
Riyadh, with 1,122 cases, topped all other cities in alimony lawsuits followed by Jeddah, which had 768 cases and then Makkah with 394 cases.
Riyadh also topped other cities in child custody cases with 1,046, followed by Jeddah’s 764 cases and Makkah with 473 cases.
A source at the Jeddah Family Affairs Court said most family lawsuits involved men who refused to pay alimony to their ex-wives or prevented them from visiting their children.
Saudi Arabia has a housing shortage. Part of this is due to the population boom the country has seen over the past decades. As more people mature and start up families, they want housing. But another factor is that many landowners prefer to hold their property until they see a maximum profit coming from it. A result of this is that there’s a lot of unproductive land, sitting vacant, that could be used to build housing.
To address this latter issue, the Saudi Cabinet of Ministers is proposing a tax on unused land. This would mean that it would become more expensive to just sit on an investment. Instead of accruing value, the unused land would end up costing the owner. For some, this would be sufficient incentive to sell the land to others who would put it to productive use. For some, it might encourage them to find productive uses on their own, including the building of housing.
Imposition of tax on vacant plots of land hailed
Fatima Muhammad |Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — The Cabinet decision to impose tax on vacant land plots, locally known as “white lands,” has won plaudits from several sections of the society.
The Cabinet, at its regular meeting on Monday, accepted the recommendation of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA) and decided to impose the tax on vacant lands in urban areas in all cities.
The Cabinet also tasked the CEDA to prepare a mechanism to implement and organize the system. The CEDA will submit its proposals to the Council of Ministers which will then send it to the Shoura Council for approval.
Essam Al-Zamil, an economic columnist, who has been actively tweeting on the issue of “white lands” and their reflection on increased real estate prices said Monday that he believes that the Cabinet decision must be a happy news for all Saudis as their dream of owning a house could now be realized.
The Saudi justice system, often decried as harsh and even barbaric, has its elements of mercy as well, a story in The New York Times reports.
A serious issue with the system is that it is erratic. The same crime, adjudged in different courts by different judges, can result in widely varying sentences. Much depends on the sensibilities and sensitivities of the sitting judge. Uncodified laws and the lack of a requirement to rely on legal precedent can result in wide disparities in results.
This is a factor taken into consideration by appeals courts and, ultimately, the King who can issue pardons.
But there are also mechanisms through which the harshest penalties can be avoided. The story reports on just such a case, involving a clear case of murder, in which the miscreant’s life was spared by the daughter of the victim.
If nothing else, the article does a good job of portraying the complexity of a system based on tradition, custom, and religious law.
Saudi Justice, Harsh but Able to Spare the Sword
BURAIDA, Saudi Arabia — The murder that almost cost Bandar al-Yehiya his head started with an old debt to a close friend.
Struggling to raise the cash, Mr. Yehiya invited the friend to his home and offered him a rifle as payment. But when the friend refused, Mr. Yehiya got angry and shot him in the chest, leaving him dead on the living room couch, the slain man’s brother, Faleh al-Homeidani, said.
Mr. Yehiya confessed to the murder, so under Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, he would face the punishment that has made Saudi justice notorious around the world: beheading in the public square.
But the execution never happened.
Saudi Arabia’s justice system is regularly condemned by human rights groups for violating due process, lacking transparency and applying punishments like beheading and amputation. Criticism has grown as Saudi cases have made news abroad: a liberal blogger caned for criticizing religious leaders; activists jailed for advocating reform; a woman held without charge for more than two months for driving a car.