According to the 2014 UN Development Program (UNDP) report, Saudi Arabia now stands 34th out of 187 countries in terms of human development. While incomes have dipped since the oil-price highs of 1980, other indicators such as education and lifespan have risen. Saudi Gazette carries this story…

UNDPtrends

Saudi Arabia rated ‘very high’ in Human Development Index

JEDDAH – Saudi Arabia ranked 34th in the Human Development Index (HDI) of 2014 out of a total of 187 countries and territories.

Saudi Arabia’s HDI value for 2013 is 0.836— which is in the very high human development category—positioning the country at 34 out of 187 countries and territories. Between 1980 and 2013, Saudi Arabia’s HDI value increased from 0.583 to 0.836, an increase of 43.3 percent or an average annual increase of about 1.10 percent.

Between 1980 and 2013, Saudi Arabia’s life expectancy at birth increased by 12.5 years, mean years of schooling increased by 4.5 years and expected years of schooling increased by 9.6 years. Saudi Arabia’s GNI per capita decreased by about 22.9 percent between 1980 and 2013. The current figure is considered very high within the global indicator.

According to the 2014 Human Development Report released by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) office in Riyadh on Thursday, human development is improving in Arab states, with some countries showing very high development.


July:27:2014 - 05:46 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

According to Debka, the Israel-oriented news source of dubious reliability, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt have colluded to create the current situation in Gaza. The Debka piece, behind a paywall at its own site, has been picked up by several other media, here the UK-based Middle East Monitor

Saudi, Egypt and Israel work together in Gaza attack

The war on Gaza is planned and orchestrated by Israel, Saudi and Egypt, a report by DEBKA-Net-Weekly said yesterday.

“Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, Egyptian President Fatah Al-Sisi and Netanyahu… [are] in constant communication on the war’s progress and confers on its next steps. Our sources reveal daily conferences, and sometimes more, between King Abdullah and President Sisi over a secure phone line,” the newsletter said.

DEBKA, thought to have close ties with Israeli intelligence agencies, said the world leaders go to great lengths to ensure their alliance remains undiscovered “given the political and religious sensitivities of their relationship”. Fearful of having even their secure lines intercepted, they prefer to send secret missions to visit each other and discuss the ongoing conflict.

“Israel keeps a special plane parked at Cairo’s military airport ready to lift off whenever top-secret messages between Sisi and Netanyahu need to be delivered by hand. The distance between Cairo and Tel Aviv is covered in less than an hour and a half,” DEBKA explained.

The report, which was also used in some British reporting, drew a prompt denial from the Saudi Ambassador in London, according to Saudi Gazette:

Kingdom: Reports on Israeli ties ‘baseless lies’


July:27:2014 - 05:28 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

According to a report in the UAE’s Gulf News, the number of Saudi women employed in the private sector has doubled over the past year to reach 400K. This is explosive growth compared to the 48K figure that pertained in 2009 and a ten-fold increase since 2004.

Various measures have led to this result including increased salaries for teachers and the banning of male employees in lingerie shops. There’s still a lot of work to be done to increase the number of Saudis in jobs, both male and female, but this is an impressive mark.

Number of Saudi women employed in private sector doubles
Habib Toumi – Bureau Chief

Manama: The number of Saudi women employed in the private sector almost doubled in one year to reach 400,000 last year, an official report has indicated.

The meteoric rise from 48,406 women in 2009 to 100,000 in 2011 and 200,000 in 2012 is a clear indication of the success of the ambitious drive by the authorities to find employment opportunities for women in the conservative society that has strongly resisted allowing women to take up jobs in the private sector.

According to the report prepared by the labour ministry, the opening up of opportunities for women to work in the industrial and commercial sectors, as well in shops, has contributed massively to the high employment figures, local daily Al Eqtisadiya reported on Monday.


July:26:2014 - 07:17 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Back before the last round of Municipal Elections in 2011, Saudi women were told that they would be able to take part in the elections. Then it was discovered that it would not be possible to set up women-safe voting environments in time, so the women were told, “Sorry!”

Now, with the next round of elections coming in 2015, the government is once again assuring women that they’ll be taking part. The government and municipalities have certainly had time to address the issues that preventing participation. We need only wait to see if some other reason pops up at the last minute that will again thwart women’s playing their political role.

Given that women are now sitting on the Shoura Council and that women’s roles in Saudi life have been expanding, I think there’s every reason to believe that their voting will happen. We’ll have to wait a while to see. Arab News reports…

Women to take part in municipal polls

The Council of Ministers has approved legislation that would allow Saudi women to vote and stand as candidates in upcoming municipal council elections.

Women were not allowed to participate in the 2011 elections but Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques had ordered shortly before the polls that they should be allowed to do so from the 2015 elections onwards.

The law allows councils to approve and implement municipal plans and programs approved in the budget. They would also oversee maintenance, operating, development and investment projects, the law states.


July:24:2014 - 07:56 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Officials at the World Health Organization believe that Saudi Arabia has managed to gain control over the spread of the MERS virus, Asharq Alawsat reports. Recent weeks have seen a major reduction in the number of new cases. This comes as a great relief to Saudi authorities as they gear up for the annual influx of pilgrims for Haj, which starts in a few months. The Saudis and WHO were watching to see what happened during Ramadan, itself a major draw for visitors. That nothing happened is a very good thing.

As there are yet no vaccines against or specific cures for MERS, control through public health measures are the only step available at present.

Saudi Health Ministry has MERS outbreak under control

Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Saudi Health Ministry has successfully gained control of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and has reigned in the spread of the coronavirus that causes it, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Wednesday.

“The Saudi Health Ministry has succeeded in a remarkable manner in controlling the spread of the coronavirus in a very short period of time. This is through two measures: the measures taken to halt the spread of the virus and by dealing with those infected in a modern, scientific manner,” the WHO’s director of the Department of Communicable Diseases for the Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, Dr. Jaouad Mahjour, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“These measures succeeded and secured clear results,” he added.

The latest statistics regarding show that the spread of the MERS-Cov strain of the coronavirus in the Kingdom has decreased significantly over the past month, with just 33 Saudi nationals still receiving treatment for the virus.

MERS cases recorded over the past few weeks have fallen drastically, with the last reported case being admitted to hospital on July 8, according to the WHO.


July:24:2014 - 07:42 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

The Saudi Arabian government currently spends SR 150 billion (US $40 billion) to provide subsidized fuel for power generation. As a result, Saudis pay the lowest cost for electricity in the world, as low as 5 halala or US $0.013 per kilowatt hour.

Arab News reports that this is going to change, according to the Saudi Electricity Authority. The country cannot continue to pay the subsidy or to use oil and natural gas so extravagantly for electric power generation.

The changes won’t be happening anytime soon, though. Before it can raise prices, the government first has to get a handle on the actual amount of electricity being used, by whom, where, and at what times. This is going to necessitate a multi-year study. Once that information is in hand, the government can start lowering its subsidies and raising the price consumers pay for energy.

Water consumption in Saudi Arabia is tightly tied to power generation, too. The bulk of drinking water — up to 80% — comes from power-hungry desalination plants. While efforts are being made to develop solar-powered plants and nuclear power generation is on the horizon, consumption and waste of this also heavily subsidized product stress the entire economic system.

Cheapest in world, power to get costlier in KSA

Saudis pay the cheapest electricity bills, according to one report, but seemingly not for long. The Saudi Electricity and Cogeneration Regulatory Authority plans to increase electricity tariffs.

The authority announced that it would revise the tariff system to reflect the real costs of the service, cover the expenses of the service provider and increase its economic returns.

The authority declared it would adopt new measures to achieve its goal of increasing electricity prices to be reflective of the service.

This includes designing a new tariff structure, developing a public policy for tariff, preparing an integrated system to collect financial and operational data from service providers in the Kingdom and designing a comprehensive system to calculate the cost that eventually determines the tariff consumers pay.


July:21:2014 - 09:07 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Not able to find jobs — or at least jobs they want — young Saudis are tending toward opening their own businesses, a report carried by Saudi Gazette says.

Despite government efforts like the current Saudization program Nitiqat, young Saudis simply aren’t finding work after they graduate. They cite the requirement for prior experience as the main impediment to getting hired, the classic “Catch-22″ of college graduates everywhere. Some seek to put off the decision-making by seeking higher educational degrees. I assume this is in the belief that the job market will improve and that their improved certification will serve them well. I’m not sure that either of those is actually true. It’s certainly more expensive, though.

I also think the government — any government — does not want to see large numbers of disaffected, yet highly-educated youth sitting around coffee shops with nothing better to do than grouse about how the government has failed them.

Most of these entrepreneurs will not succeed, at least the first time around. That’s the case around the world for entrepreneurs. How the Saudi government and society treat failed attempts will go a long way in determining whether disaffection becomes a way of life.

82% of fresh Saudi graduates plan to open their own businesses

RIYADH – More and more Saudi graduates are opting to start their own businesses as they find it difficult to get a job of their choice, according to the findings of a survey.

The Bayt.com’s Fresh Graduates in the Middle East and North Africa survey, recently conducted by Bayt.com, the region’s number one job site, and leading market research agency, YouGov, has revealed that despite the majority of respondents in the Kingdom stating that finding a job is a challenge faced by their generation of fresh graduates, 82% are considering entrepreneurship as a viable career option.

Six in 10 graduates completed their most recent qualification in the Kingdom, with 26% having studied engineering as well as Information Technology/computer science as part of their highest degree. Some 67% were satisfied with the quality of higher education they received, considering the preparation it gave them for the workplace to be mostly ‘good’ (28%). Teaching methods, quality of infrastructure, technology usage for effective teaching, value for money paid, curriculum and qualification of teachers are also considered to be ‘good’ by Saudi graduates.


July:16:2014 - 07:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that the Ifta Council in Saudi Arabia has banned the sale of cats and dogs in pet shops across the Kingdom. Shops found selling them will have their stock confiscated.

While clearly the ban is being undertaken for religious reasons, the article doesn’t note what those reasons are. The ban does not seem to affect the sale of birds or fish — both popular with Saudis — nor does it mention reptiles and insects.

Sale of cats, dogs banned

Municipal authorities have banned the sale of cats and dogs in shops in Saudi Arabia.

The ban came in response to a religious edict by the Ifta Council. The municipality instructed its supervisors to ask pet stores for a written commitment to stop selling cats and dogs.

In addition, the municipality has instructed its supervisors to confiscate cats and dogs that are found for sale in stores, which led some stores to continue their activities in a discreet manner.


July:13:2014 - 07:19 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

The Great Game was the rivalry that played out between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in the 19th and early 20th C. for supremacy in Central Asia. Today, there’s a new “Great Game” being played out in iraq, says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The rise of ISIS/ISIL and the declaration of a new “Islamic State” have brought into high relief the problems sectarian violence in the region. The direct causes are many, but the effects are a multiple of that, affecting all states in the region, including Saudi Arabia.

Cordesman’s piece is meant as possible guidance for US policy-makers. It’s an interesting analysis.

The New “Great Game” in the Middle East: Looking Beyond the “Islamic State” and Iraq
Anthony Cordesman

The U.S. has good reason to try to prevent the creation of a violent, extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to reverse the gains of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)/ ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham), and to help move Iraq back towards a more stable and unified form of government. The chances, however, are that the U.S. can at best have only partial success. The U.S. faces years in which Iraq is divided by sectarian and ethnic power struggles, the Syrian civil war continues, facilitating some form of radical Sunni threat crossing the border between Syria and Iraq.

ISIS/ISIL did not suddenly materialize in Iraq in December 2013. For years, the group exploited growing Sunni and Shi’ite sectarian divisions and steady drift towards civil war. For at least the last three years, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s actions of building his own power structure around a Shi’ite dominated state with close ties to Iran alienated Sunnis and exacerbated tensions.

The U.S. cannot simply intervene in Iraq by attacking ISIS/ISIL. It is a major movement in Syria as well as Iraq. The U.S. must also find some way to limit and roll back ISIS/ISIL -– without taking sides in Iraq’s broader civil war. At the same time, creating anything approaching a stable Iraq means creating new and lasting political bridges across Iraq’s increasingly polarized and divided factions as well as helping to create a more effective and truly national government in Iraq, as well as rebuild Iraqi forces that serve the nation, rather than an increasingly authoritarian Shi’ite leader.

It is far from clear that the U.S. can do this, and Syria and Iraq are only the most visible challenges taking place in the strategic game board that shapes the Middle East. The U.S. must also deal with a much broader set of new strategic forces that go far beyond Iraq’s borders. The U.S. must change the structure of its de facto alliances with key Arab states in the region, and it must deal with new forms of competition -– or “Great Game” with Russia — and possibly China, as well.


July:12:2014 - 07:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

I note that I’ve been writing Crossroads Arabia for ten years now. I actually started in May, 2004, but by July had settled into this format and platform.

A lot has gone on over these ten years. A new King in Saudi Arabia, increased attacks on Saudi Arabia by Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda related groups as well as the effective Saudi counter-offensive. Reforms in social policies, in the legal system, and in lightening the hand that seeks to control women have all taken place. Saudi women have taken part in the international Olympics. New laws and regulations have been adopted that have bettered the working conditions of foreign workers while others have served to chase many of those workers out of the Kingdom to be replaced by Saudi workers.

Saudi Arabia remains a work in progress and I look forward to recording that progress over the coming years.


July:11:2014 - 08:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Dang nab modern technology! A popular Saudi preacher is finding it difficult to convince people he didn’t say what he said when he said it on video. Videos that have been broadcast by international satellite channels and on YouTube at that.

Al Arabiya TV reports that Sheikh al-Arifi is being ridiculed for his attempts to rewrite his history of making fatuous fatwas. I’m sure the Sheikh is concerned that his behavior is quite contrary to Saudi law and could see him jailed and/or fined. Even if Europe thinks (equally fatuously) that the Internet can be scrubbed of historic embarrassments, that’s now how the world works. The Sheikh will have to see how merciful the government is toward him.

Saudi preacher denies supporting jihad in Syria

A popular Saudi preacher who previously called for jihad in Syria has recently appeared on television bluntly denying his famous statement, drawing scorn from fans and followers on social media.

During an interview with Rotana Khalijia, Sheikh Mohammad al-Arifi denied his famous statement to Al-Jazeera in which he called for jihad in Syria and supported al-Qaeda.

Sheikh Arifi threw a bombshell in February 2013 when he told the Qatar-based channel that al-Qaeda “does not tolerate bloodshed.”

He said some people attribute to al-Qaeda many opinions and thoughts which the group does not hold.


July:10:2014 - 09:23 | Comments Off | Permalink

For the second time within a year, artillery rounds fired from Iraq have landed in Saudi Arabia. Asharq Alawsat reports that three round landed near the northern city of Arar, close to the Iraqi border. No injuries or damage were reported. The assumption is that this is related to the successes of ISIS/ISIL in Iraq. Saudi Arabia is reported to have beefed-up its border security with 30,000 troops.

Three shells fired from Iraq strike Saudi territory
Nasser Al-Haqbani

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi authorities are investigating reports that three shells fired from Iraq on Monday struck near a residential complex in Arar in the Northern Borders Province close to the Iraqi border.

Nobody was injured in the attack, which represents the second time in the past year that Saudi territory has been struck by projectiles from neighboring Iraq, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is fighting against government troops.

Saudi Border Guard spokesman, Gen. Mohamed Al-Ghamdi, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “At around 1:40 am local time on Monday, three shells struck near a residential complex in Arar in the Northern Borders Province. Thank God, nobody was injured in the attack.”

Ghamdi confirmed that Saudi authorities were investigating the source of the attack, which originated inside Iraqi territory.


July:09:2014 - 08:13 | Comments Off | Permalink
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