I think one might understand why the Saudi government might not want the iconic imagery of Guy Fawkes to be seen running around the streets of the Kingdom. In fact, the government banned the mask made famous by groups like Anonymous, the various “Occupy” organizations, an anarchists, fed by its use in the anti-authoritarian film “V for Vendetta”. Guy Fawkes, who could properly be described as a religious extremist or even terrorist, is not the model the government would like to see Saudi youths emulate.
The ban on selling the masks, however, seems to have a problem. Apparently no one bothered to tell the street vendors who are happily selling the masks in ignorance of the ban. Arab News reports.
Guy Fawkes mask defies the ban
JEDDAH: ARAB NEWS
Guy Fawkes masks popularized in the movie ‘V for Vendetta’ are still sold on Jeddah’s streets near traffic lights and on sidewalks despite the ban of the Ministry of Commerce on selling and importing the masks.
Last month local newspaper Al-Madina reported that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance requested that imams at mosques and educators should caution youths from wearing these masks.
The Ministry of Interior had also urged the Ministry of Commerce to confiscate and ban importing the plastic masks for the Saudi market. The masks are sold for between SR 10 and SR 20.
Street sellers denied knowing anything about the ban. “I was never aware of this ban, I have been selling this item for more than a year. No one has stopped either me or any of my colleagues on the streets,” one street seller said.
The MERS-CoV flu continues to spread in Saudi Arabia. Reuters reports that the Saudi government has announced four more death, including ones in Riyadh and Jeddah (for the first time). At present, the World Health Organization believes that the flu is spread, person-to-person, based on close and sustained proximity. That does not bode well for the Haj in mid-October, when millions are expected to converge on the cities of Mecca and Medinah, with many traveling through Jeddah.
It does support the Saudi government’s urging foreign pilgrims to consider postponing their pilgrimage this year. Not only will facilities be crowded due to construction work at the Grand Mosque, but the possibility of spreading the flu globally is not trivial.
DUBAI (Reuters) – Four more people have died and three more have fallen ill in Saudi Arabia from the new SARS-like coronavirus MERS-CoV, the Saudi Health Ministry said on Monday.
The ministry said the four deaths were among previously registered cases. The new infections were in Eastern Province, in the capital Riyadh and in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.
Saudi Arabia has been the country most affected by the respiratory-system virus, with 49 confirmed cases, of whom 32 have died, according to data from the ministry.
Al Arabiya TV reports that the MER-CoV virus has killed another three people in Saudi Arabia. This brings to 32 the number of people who have succumbed to the disease. While the genetics of the virus have now been sequenced — and important step toward controlling it — there is still much unknown about it and no vaccine is likely to be developed soon.
Saudi Arabia: 4 more deaths from MERS virus
AP, Saudi Arabia, Riyadh
Saudi Arabia says four more people have died from a new respiratory virus related to SARS, bringing the total number of deaths to 32 in the kingdom at the center of the growing crisis.
Overall, nearly 40 people have died from the virus since September, mostly in Europe and the Middle East. That’s according to local officials and the World Health Organization.
The Saudi Health Ministry also said on Monday that it confirmed three more cases of the virus, including in a 2-year-old child. Officials are still seeking clues on how easily it is spread between humans.
Saudi Gazette editorializes about the US government’s decision to become involved in Syria’s civil war. The paper finds there to be compelling reasons for US engagement, even as it casts doubts on whether the Syrian government has used (or even has) chemical weapons, the ‘red line’ that triggered the US decision.
The piece argues that light weapons aren’t the answer the opposition forces are looking for. It says that a ‘No-Fly Zone’ is too dangerous. It acknowledges that the US has concerns that heavy weapons might fall into the wrong hands as the opposition does have some bad actors (including Al-Qaeda) among its ranks. But, it argues, the US must do more!
What’s signally lacking the the editorial is any discussion about what Saudi Arabia is doing or ought to do. Press reports over the past few months have suggested that Saudi Arabia is providing arms — what sort, we don’t know — to the rebels — just who, we don’t know. We’ve no verification of this, though. Perhaps the government of Saudi Arabia would like to step up and inform the world just what it is doing and is prepared to do. Lacking such information, this very much sounds like someone on the perimeter of a fight urging the combatants on while staying safely out of reach.
After more than two years of showing little appetite for intervention on a large scale, President Obama’s decision to begin arming Syria’s rebels marks a turning point for the US which up to now had avoided getting drawn into the conflict militarily. But the decision does not appear to have the impact needed to tilt the balance in favor of the rebels. US support which looks likely to involve the supply of only light arms and ammunition is not enough. Obama’s concern about high-powered weapons ending up in the hands of terrorist groups and his opposition to sending American troops into Syria offsets AK-47s which have little effect on tanks.
The reason for the decision, the “game changer” in US policy as Obama previously cited, is the estimated 150 people killed in multiple chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The White House said it had “conclusive evidence” – although it has not made the evidence public. The first reaction when America announces that it has “proof” of an Arab country possessing chemical weapons is to remember when America wrongly claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That “evidence” led to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and all the ruin and wreck that followed.
Even if Washington is incorrect about Syria’s chemical weapons, even if it turns out Bashar Al-Assad is not using his sarin stockpile or does not have any in the first place, does Obama need chemical weapons as an excuse to enter the Syrian conflict? Is not the fact that at least 93,000 people have been killed – most of them civilians – enough reason to help? For almost one year, the number of people killed has averaged more than 5,000 every month. Even at the height of the bloodletting in Iraq in 2006, the monthly death count only twice went over 3,000. If any more distressing numbers are needed, then 1,700 children in Syria under the age of 10 have died.
The Saudi Press Agency reports that King Abdullah has returned from his vacation in Morocco early, in order to deal with the situation developing in Syria. That was the announcement by the US Government that it would start to arm Syrian groups opposing the Ba’athist regime and seeking to oust Bashar Al-Assad.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah arrived here today concluding his private holiday and recovery period he spent in the Kingdom of Morocco due to the repercussions of the events that are currently taking place in the region.
The King’s return, with supporting photos of him, plainly disproves the Iranian-spun rumor that he was ‘brain dead’.
Arab News reports that the MERS-CoV virus is continuing to slowly spread in Saudi Arabia. Three new cases, and one death, are now being recorded in the western and northern parts of the country. Earlier cases had been primarily found in the Eastern Province, though a case was also reported from Italy last week.
MERS kills Saudi; more cases found
RIYADH: MD RASOOLDEEN
Three new cases of novel coronavirus (MERS-CoV), including a death, were reported by the Ministry of Health here yesterday.
The deceased was a Saudi man, 46, from Wadi Al-Dawasir, 480 km from Riyadh. The other two victims were from Taif. One of the two patients is a Saudi man aged 65, who is suffering from chronic diseases and is being treated at a hospital in Taif. The other patient is a 68-year-old Saudi woman, also suffering from severe chronic diseases.
“Both these two new cases are being treated at a hospital in Taif,” a ministry official told Arab News yesterday.
With the latest casualties, the total number of virus victims has reached 46, which includes 28 deaths.
Saudi Arabia, the country with the world’s highest per capita consumption of electricity, is hoping that solar energy can take some of the burden off of its petroleum resources, Arab News/Eqtisadiah report. Facing the very real possibility that all Saudi oil production would be needed to meet demand for electricity in the foreseeable future, steps have to be taken now to find alternative energy sources. And if Saudi Arabia has lots of oil, it has even more sunlight shining down upon it.
This isn’t as straightforward an approach as it may seem at first, though. Major increases in the production of solar panels has led to a collapse in their prices. This has led to manufacturers, notably in China, cutting corners and sending out sub-standard products that fail quickly. The EU has recently imposed anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese producers who are trying to unload their overproduction at prices below their manufacturing costs. While the cost of producing electricity has dropped over the past 20 years, it is not yet competitive with other energy production methods and relies heavily on government subsidies. This is, in part, why Saudi Arabia is continuing on its path toward nuclear power generation.
‘Solar energy crucial to meet rising demand’
JEDDAH: ARAB NEWS/AL-EQTISADIAH
An expert here believes that the Kingdom is likely to spend all its oil on electricity in the country by 2031 if current consumption continues, and has called for an urgent program to harness solar energy.
“There must be real work done to benefit from this alternative energy in the Kingdom in light of climate changes, population growth and increasing electricity use,” said Abdel Malik Al-Junaidi, chairman of the mechanical engineering department at King Abdul Aziz University.
He said Saudi Arabia has a “real wealth” of alternative energy but has not exploited it. He said Saudi Arabia could become a leading exporter of solar power.
The Kingdom has this potential because it is located close to the equator, its skies are cloud-free and because the sun’s rays fall vertically onto the country.
“Solar energy generation can be 1,000 watts for every square meter which requires stations to transfer this solar energy to electrical energy. (This is important) especially since Saudi Arabia by 2031 will need to use all its oil for electricity production.”
Al-Junaidi said that Saudi Arabia has “the highest consumption of electricity in the world.”
Sectarianism? Regional Politics? Both?
Arab News reports that the Gulf Cooperation Council has decided to expel members of Hezbollah from its member states. Lebanese Shi’ites resident in the GCC are going to be pressured to show that they are not involved in Lebanese political parties, especially Hezbollah, but also the Progressive Socialist Party (comprised primarily of Druze followers) and the Shi’a Amal Movement. It seems that in addition to not wanting regional politics to interfere with the politics in the Gulf States, this action is being taken as a punitive measure, to punish those groups for their support of the Syrian regime. The move will also serve to reduce funds being sent from workers in the Gulf to Lebanese political parties viewed with disfavor by the GCC governments.
The paper reports that thousands of Lebanese workers will be affected.
JEDDAH: Members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah who are residing in Gulf Cooperation Council states will pay the price for the Shiite movement’s military role in Syria against freedom fighters.
A GCC statement, citing a ministerial council decision, said the measures will affect Hezbollah members’ “residency permits, and financial and commercial transactions.”
The statement urged the Lebanese government to “assume its responsibilities toward the behavior of Hezbollah and its illegal and inhumane practices in Syria and the region.”
The six-member bloc strongly condemned the flagrant intervention of Hezbollah in Syria and its participation in shedding the blood of Syrian people. The statement came after the Saudi Cabinet condemned Hezbollah’s “blatant intervention” in the Syrian crisis.
Saudi Gazette reports that Saudi and British researchers have sequenced the genetic composition of the MERS-CoV virus that has slowly been gaining ground in Saudi Arabia. This discovery is far from leading to a cure or vaccine, but is a necessary step in understanding how the virus works. Without it, only trial and error could lead to a possible vaccine.
The article also notes that the World Health Organization (WHO) is expressing particular concern over the MERS virus. It is worried that it could turn into a global pandemic before steps to deal with it have been found. Currently, the disease seems to most seriously affect the elderly who also have other health problems, but given the speed at which viruses mutate, that is not a safe assumption to hold when it comes to public health. In addition to MERS, WHO is also confronted with two strains of avian virus (“bird flu”) and a new virus reported out of China a few months ago.
Saeed Al-Khotani | Saudi Gazette
RIYADH – In a breakthrough to help identify the mysterious Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-coronavirus (MERS-CoV) which has killed 31 people mostly in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Health announced on Tuesday the completion of the genetic sequence of four infections in Al-Ahsa.
This is a significant move that could lead to a breakthrough in revealing the genetic mystery and generate more information on the virus, which will eventually lead to finding a quick diagnostic methodology and a vaccine against it, said Dr. Khalid Marghalani, adviser to the minister and MOH spokesman.
The study was conducted by a selected team of Saudi and British researchers and scientists from the ministry and two British institutions: the University College in London (UCL) and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, south of Cambridge.
Marghalani said that the complete genome of the four Al-Ahsa infections has been recorded on the GenBank database, which is available for all in accordance with the established norms, through the bank’s website.
Al Arabiya TV reports that Saudi and French diplomats are in accord that the Syrian government and its allies cannot be allowed to repeat the destruction of Qusayr in the northern city of Aleppo. Just what they intend to do about it — beyond making statements and drawing lines on a map — is yet to be determined. While there are media reports suggesting that Saudi Arabia is supporting the rebel forces by providing arms, France is not yet ready to do that. With various peace talks on the table, it does not appear that any bold actions are forthcoming.
France and Saudi Arabia agreed during a meeting in Paris that the Hezbollah-backed Syrian troops, which defeated the rebels in the strategic town of Qusayr, should not be allowed to repeat the same scenario in province of Aleppo, Al Arabiya correspondent reported Tuesday.
The two countries expressed their stance after Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, and the kingdom’s intelligence head, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, met with French officials.
While both countries established the need for international measures to help stave off a repeat of the Qusayr battle, France said an international consensus is required before any military operation can take place.
After their talks, France noted that the Syrian conflict reached a “turning point” after the Syrian regime declared victory against opposition fighters in Qusayr.
France’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Philippe Lalliot said weakening the rebels will make it more difficult to bring them to the negotiating table with representatives from Assad’s government, according to Reuters.
Russia and the United States plan to hold the ‘Geneva 2’ conference, which could take place from June 15-16. It will bring Syrian regime and opposition officials together for dialogue.
While construction work is being done on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Saudi government is reducing the number of visas it will issue to foreigners wanting to make their pilgrimage, Arab News reports. The article also quotes the Minister of Haj, Bandar Hajjar, saying that the number of visas for Umrah, the non-obligatory pilgrimage made outside Haj season, has not been reduced. Pilgrimage tour operators beg to differ, however, and Saudi media report that they are facing SR 4-5 million decreases in profits this year due to exactly such a decrease.
This year, it’s likely that decreased numbers are a good thing — though of course not for those planning to visit. With the slowly percolating outbreak of MERS-CoV, and the observation that it is the elderly who are most susceptible, fewer people means less likelihood of the disease being spread.
Haj 2013: Fewer pilgrims likely
JEDDAH: ARAB NEWS
The Haj Ministry is currently planning to considerably reduce the number of foreign and domestic Haj pilgrims this season, a reliable source has said.
“Directives have been issued to cut down the number of foreign and domestic pilgrims by 20 and 50 percent respectively,” a local daily reported quoting an informed source.
A technical committee is currently working on the modalities of implementing the directive, which seeks to reduce crowding to cope with the space limitation caused by the ongoing developmental projects at the Grand Mosque and the holy sites, the source said.
Meanwhile, Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar dismissed reports of reducing the number of visas being issued for Umrah as unfounded.
“The number of visas issued to Umrah service companies has not been reduced as rumored lately. However, the visas are being issued on a monthly basis. This system makes it obligatory for the companies to utilize the visas in the specified month the visas were issued,” Hajjar said.
If a visa is not used in the month it was issued it becomes invalid.
Al Arabiya TV reports that the emergence of the MERS-CoV virus in Saudi Arabia is being seen as an issue of national security, not only in the Kingdom, but across the GCC. The virus, which has slowly been killing more people in Saudi Arabia, at a pace of about one per week, is of particular concern for officials dealing with Haj, when millions of pilgrims will enter the country from abroad. The potential for an epidemic is not trivial.
The disease seems to preferentially attack the elderly and the elderly very much make up a major portion of pilgrims.
MERS: GCC infectious disease security
In the past few weeks, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is becoming an increasing threat to GCC National Health Security. MERS, apparently originating in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), is spreading rapidly to several continents around the globe.
Saudi Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish has openly spoken about this potential crisis of MERS. Memish said that previous cases had been fought by placing the patient in ICU (intensive care unit) and in the haemo-dialysis unit. It is also important to separate patients and limit physical contact between subjects. At the same time, KSA is sending animal samples to the US for testing in a bid to test the virus and potentially create vaccines. Saudi Arabia, because of the King’s role as Custodian of the Holy Cities, is quite advanced in taking care of, and mitigating, any infection disease.