Saudi Gazette runs a brief piece noting that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has said they’ve identified 100 problematic imams (out of a total of 15,000 in the Kingdom) who exhibit extremist tendencies. These imams are being given a chance to get with the program of condemning extremism or find themselves out of work.
RIYADH — The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance has identified about 100 mosque imams out of 15,000 with extremist tendencies. He said the imams are currently being rehabilitated but will be dismissed if they do not repent, the ministry’s undersecretary for mosque affairs Tawfiq Al-Sudairy announced. He said the ministry is closely monitoring the performance of all imams and their Friday sermons. The undersecretary said following the terrorist attack against a police checkpoint in Sharoorah in Ramadan, the ministry asked all mosque imams to denounce the incident and to criticize any anti-Islamic ideologies. “The response of the imams was excellent. Those who did not implement the ministry’s instructions were given another opportunity to do so,” he said. Al-Sudairy warned that any imam who conveys any extremist ideas in his sermon would be sacked.
The idea of cinemas in Saudi Arabia is a fraught one. While they used to exist, up to the 1960s at least, in some parts of the Kingdom, they have all be shuttered in the name of keeping the sexes separate and avoiding the dispersal of “bad” ideas. They remain unpopular with a large part of the Saudi population for those reasons, but others see not only a desire for cinema, but an economic need.
Saudi Gazette reports that the Ministry of Labor is at least open to the idea of re-opening cinemas. It sees it, tentatively, as a new area in which Saudis can be employed. This would go along with the fact that Saudis are becoming more adept at making films, even if they have to cross borders to do so. Saudis certainly cross borders to view films, as Bahraini theaters are pleased to record in their balance sheets.
The arguments about content seem to now be obviated by the fact of satellite TV and the Internet. Content that was once considered anathema is now common, though filtering and blocking things like obscenity and objectionable religious and political content continue (to decreasing effect). Separating the sexes ought not be a difficult task for a country that has been separating them for a few generations now.
Many see the reintroduction of cinemas in Saudi Arabia as inevitable. At present, though, it’s a matter of “Soon, just not now.”
Cinema is now an economic activity
Saudi Gazette report
THE Ministry of Labor in the Kingdom has included cinema in the economic activities that people can work in. The ministry has included various cinema and other entertainment activities, film production as well as distribution and display of movies among economic activities, a statement of the ministry put on its website said.
In an exclusive report this June, Maaal Arabic newspaper revealed that an investor has officially submitted an application to the Saudi General Commission for Audiovisual Media for a license to set up a movie theater in Saudi Arabia.
Through its website, the ministry did not give more details on these specializations and the possibility of working in them nor did it specify conditions and regulations for someone willing to engage in such activities, according to Al Arabiya website.
Earlier, the audiovisual commission did not object to the idea in principle. It asked the investor to give a full explanation on the project including a future strategy.
If the commission thinks the investment is feasible, it could ask higher authorities to clear the way for movie theaters nationwide, sources reportedly said.
Saudi Arabia, with its GCC neighbors, is pushing economic diversification with some success. Arab News reports on a study showing that the GCC is increasing intra-GCC trade and, by building new rail networks, port facilities, and airport infrastructure, are aligned to see the diversification grow.
Although Saudi Arabia is the Middle East’s largest goods exporter, accounting for a third of total goods exported in 2013, only 5.3 percent of these were destined for other nations within the region, according to a new report by ICAEW.
According to Economic Insight: Middle East Q3, 2014, the GCC nations are leading the region’s current rail and aviation investment boom as they race to encourage more cross-border trade and address increasing congestion issues in the face of rampant population growth and rapidly-developing tourism markets.
Saudi Arabia is leading the charge with investment plans worth $45 billion in a bid to boost freight and passenger capacity, followed by Qatar and the UAE with investment plans worth $37 billion and $22 billion respectively.
The planned GCC Railway, a 2,177 km project, which will link the networks of the six GCC countries, represents the most ambitious aspect of the region’s railway infrastructure plans. With the Middle East set to become one of the world’s most important aviation centers, expansion of airports in all the major GCC cities has also become a priority.
Along with diversification of the national economy, economic conditions for individual Saudis also seem set to improve. Arab News reports:
Nitiqat is the most recent iteration of “Saudization,” the effort to convert jobs held by expat workers into jobs held by Saudis. The programs has seen considerable succes, Nathan Field writes for the Saudi-US Trade Group. Structural reforms in employment have taken place — though other changes are still necessary. Employers are now facing real consequences when they try to skirt employment law; salaries have risen; companies whose existence depended on hiring low-wage, low-skill expats have been shuttered.
Over the past three years, the number of Saudis employed in the private sector has doubled; the number of women working has increased by a multiple of seven. Attitudes about manual labor seem to be changing as well. Saudis are beginning to accept jobs that were once — with no factual reason — deemed to be beneath them. This is helped by increases in salaries paid to those doing those jobs.
The factors that have led to the problems of employment developed over decades. Their solutions will, hopefully, not take as long. Those problems absolutely need to be solve, though, so what improvements have happened should be embraced.
Nitaqat Three Years On: A Summer 2014 Report Card
Four years into the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia has been an oasis of relative calm and stability in an otherwise tumultuous Middle East region. This is partially because the perceived social, economic and political dysfunction resulting from Arab Spring reform movements has had a sobering effect on Saudi perceptions. In fact, many Saudis consider the chief consequence of the Arab Spring to be unprecedented “Fowda” (chaos). As a result, the government’s Edmund Burkian message that sudden, radical reform leads to traumatizing political and economic instability is widely accepted.
However, the sobering reality of regional instability has not been the only brake on pressure for political reform in Saudi Arabia. Meaningful domestic reform undertaken by the government since 2011 has also had an effect.
In particular, the Ministry of Labor has been leading an aggressive labor reform campaign that has begun to re-balance the labor – employer relationship in ways that are more favorable to normal, average Saudis. In December 2012, the Saudi-US Trade Group (SUSTG) published Nitaqat: Towards a Saudi New Deal, my analysis of the Nitaqat initiative up to that point. My assessment was that, based on the available information at the time, some significant results had been achieved in Year One following the Arab Spring. This article will evaluate the progress of the labor reform program based on the data that has emerged in the ensuing eighteen months.
As of summer 2014, three years into what must be understood as a long-term project, the available evidence suggests the Ministry of Labor is progressing towards its goals, meaningful progress is occurring and that the foundations of longer-term sustained success are in place.
Today’s Arab News carries several articles that bear on the Nitiqat process:
With the Jeddah coordinating meeting finished in Jeddah, there is a common concern about ISIS and its future in the region. As Asharq Alawsat reports, the US is looking for partners who will play an active role in trying to contain and destroy the extremist group and, so far, it is meeting with some success. Regional states face peril from the group and agree that something must be done about it. This is spelled out in the communique issued following the conference.
What is not spelled out is exactly what each country is to do. All are reluctant to put “boots on the ground” for a variety of their own political reasons.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a series of meetings with his Arab counterparts in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Thursday to coordination military and other forms of action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
A joint -Arab communique said the countries agreed, as appropriate, to join in “many aspects” of the military campaign against ISIS.
Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates agreed to “do their share” in the fight against ISIS.
The 10 countries pledged to stop the flow of funds and fighters to ISIS and help rebuild affected communities.
The meetings came hours after President Barack Obama unveiled his strategy to counter the militant group, which has occupied swathes of land in Iraq and Syria.
Asharq Alawsat reports on some of the reasons for Arab hesitation, or at least the lack of full-blooded eagerness to get militarily involved in dealing with ISIS. It also notes Turkey’s reluctance in the face of its nationals being held hostage in Iraq:
A significant problem seems to be that large parts of their populations approve of the group’s ends while remaining silent about their means. Once again, the intolerance taught in regional schools, madrassas, and mosques is rearing its head and threatening the stability of regimes and the region.
The Saudi government continues to prosecute and convict young Saudis who have gone off to Syria and Iraq to take part in jihad, Saudi Gazette reports. Saudi media seems to have weekly reports on convictions for supporting terrorism, these days. But it’s also clear that there’s going to be a need for a lot more of the same. The convictions reported today are for actions taken last year. What will happen with the new crop of extremists and sympathizers?
The Saudis are leading a conference today that brings together officials from 41 states to address a common approach to terrorism in the region. US Secretary of State John Kerry is among them. Given what Pres. Obama said in his address last night, the US is going to be looking for concrete action plans, not just rhetoric, from regional powers. Just how forthcoming they will be is the big question. There might be some sort of indication tonight, or perhaps in tomorrow’s reporting.
2 Saudis jailed for fighting abroad
Mishal Al-Otaibi | Saudi Gazette
RIYADH – The Special Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced on Wednesday two citizens to jail terms for taking part in fighting abroad, especially in Syria.
The court sentenced a young Saudi to five years in prison and imposed a travel ban for an equal period. The second Saudi was sent to jail for a period of one-and-a-half years and faced a travel ban for three years. The convicts can appeal the verdict within 30 days.
The court found the young Saudi convict guilty of violating the Kingdom’s travel documents law and the law to combat money laundering, in addition to traveling to regions of conflict and taking part in fighting.
The charges against him also included contacting his brother, who is present in the conflict zone, and concealing his brother’s incitement to take part in fighting. He was also convicted of extending cooperation to a terrorist abroad who works as coordinator to recruit young men from the Kingdom in order to take part in fighting.
The court found no evidence to prove the prosecution charges that the young man embraced deviant ideology and supported terrorists with money and giving shelter to one of the wanted terrorists.
Syrian writer Ghassan Al Imam has an interesting opinion piece in Asharq Alawsat. He’s right, but for the wrong reasons.
Al Imam rattles on about the pipe dream of “Arab unity.” There has not been Arab unity since the first century Hijra, when the Battle of Karbala defined the first major split among Arabs and Muslims. The idea has its philosophical charms, but has been disproved in reality for over a millennium. Dreams have a value of their own, of course, but they rarely convert into useful plans of action.
What is not a dream is that by declaring itself the new Caliphate, ISIS has led to a sort of unification among the Arab states, if not precisely among Arabs. Arabs, after all, are engaged on all sides of a multifaceted conflict.
Al Imam is correct in noting that Arab audiences are ill-prepared to deal with ISIS propaganda. This is the fault of those Arab states. Each, for its own reasons, spent the bulk of the 20th C. in trying to create one “truth” for its citizens. Controlling media; controlling what could and could not be taught in schools; forcing particularized interpretations of history in the service of the state have all led to ignorance and confusion among Arabs. Intolerance of religious differences and political differences has led to people’s now finding conflict between what they’d been assured was true and what the actual world shows them to be true.
It’s not too late for the states of the region to break with the past and start promoting the value of tolerance to different views. Arab unity cannot be forced upon the citizens of 20-odd countries. But a common core of values — especially the adoption of toleration of differences — can arise, if and only if the governments permit it. These states, including Saudi Arabia, need to squelch the promotion of sectarian differences that they themselves promote.
Opinion: ISIS and Arab Unity
Ghassan Al Imam
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claims to have achieved in a few months what other projects seeking Arab unity have failed to do since Mustafa Kamal Atatürk abolished the Ottoman Islamic caliphate in 1924. In a blink of an eye, ISIS has called on 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide to move to the new “land of Islam” after they have “purged” it from Shi’ites, Christians and Yazidis, and beheaded journalists and slaughtered “crusaders.”
ISIS has called for divine governance and has taken it upon itself to ensure it is applied. It has imposed the burdens of allegiance, obedience and absolute loyalty on people in territory under its control. Without dialogue, institutions, or political parties, silence has descended on the “Islamic State.” The “caliphate” denies the need for politics, culture, or freedom.
It has modified school curricula and banned the teaching of the humanities, physical education and music. It has shut down girls’ schools and banned women from working or traveling, lest it distracts them from their domestic chores. It urges believers to receive the afterlife with satisfaction and joy, following the gloom of their temporary abode in this world.
ISIS has abolished the colonial borders between Arab countries, and declared “jihad.” It has killed more Muslim civilians than Westerners and slaughtered captured soldiers. It has arrested people from all religions and creeds. Its actions have provoked the world against it, with religious and sectarian wars breaking out on our lands.
This view of ISIS which I have just given is not mine. It is a summary of the propaganda the group itself broadcasts extensively via electronic media to reach broad segments of Arab society, given that the Arab media is reeling under ever-stricter censorship.
Asharq Alawsat reports on the meeting to be held tomorrow in Jeddah that will bring together regional representatives (along with US Secretary of State Kerry) to discuss how to deal with groups like ISIS.
There have been a lot of meetings of late discussing this issue. The Arab League recently conducted its own. Saudi King Abdullah has enlisted the entirety of his government in condemning and, in some cases, jailing supporters of extremist groups. But much is left to be done.
The problem lies in definitions. What one country or government may see as extremist, another may see as simply “the opposition.” Getting everyone in the region on the same page, working from the same definitions, ought to help. But if “extremist” is going to be used to round up any and everyone who has political views not in accord with those of his government, more problems will ensue, including the loss of support by others who need to be working together.
Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia is set to host a special regional meeting in Jeddah to discuss the issue of terrorism on Thursday, the state-owned Saudi Press Agency (SPA) has announced.
The meeting will be attended by representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, as well as officials from the US. The meeting will discuss the issue of terrorism in the region, extremist organizations and their ideology, and ways of combating them.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu is currently on a tour of Gulf states and will attend the regional meeting in Jeddah, along with other regional foreign ministers. US Security of State John Kerry is traveling to Saudi Arabia and neighboring Jordan this week to discuss the latest regional developments, including the new Iraqi government and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and is also expected to attend the Jeddah meeting.
The announcement comes one day after Riyadh backed an Arab League resolution emphasizing the need to take quick measures to crush ISIS and other regional terrorist organizations.
…The [Saudi] cabinet called for Arab states to “take the necessary measures to maintain Arab security, [and] confront all terrorist and extremist organization … at all political, security, defense, judicial, media and intellectual levels,” according to the SPA.
In 2002, a fire at a girls school in Mecca claimed the lives of 15 students. An investigation into the event identified several contributing factors. Among them was the fact that many girls schools were being operated, not out of purpose-build schools, but in rented facilities that had been constructed for other purposes, often as apartments.
The situation hasn’t changed a great deal over the past decade, according to a report in Saudi Gazette. Parents of girls attending schools in Jeddah are pointing out the sub-standard buildings into which they entrust their daughters. They’re not happy about it, reasonably enough. The schools may have desks and blackboards, perhaps even computers, but they’re sorely lacking in even basic safety measures.
2,000 girls in Jeddah face danger of school collapse
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — There are concerns that a two-story rented building in north Jeddah that has been converted into a government school poses a serious threat to the lives of the 2,000 girls that use it, reported Makkah daily.
The building in the Hamadaniyah area looks perfect from outside but inside it lacks all safety measures, parents and teachers claimed.
Though the building bears a signboard saying it is the 96th elementary school for girls, in fact it has also been made into an intermediate and secondary school.
The 800 elementary students come to school early in the morning and leave about at 11 a.m.
The 1,200 intermediate and secondary students will come immediately after that and remain until around 6 p.m. There is no other government school for girls in the neighborhood, which is why it looks after so many students.
The King Fahd Causeway, a 25km/16mi. combination of bridge and roadway connects the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with the island state of Bahrain. Annually, some 12 million people use the road to travel between the two countries, often to take advantage of their different legal and social situations. The current volume of traffic is at the point of breaking the system of customs and immigration and hour-long backups are not infrequent.
Now, approaching 30 years after the causeway first opened, a second, parallel causeway is being planned to handle the large and increasing amount of traffic. According to this Asharq Alawsat report, the new causeway will include railroad lines, part of a GCC-wide effort to develop a rail network linking all member countries.
Manama, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have announced plans to construct a second cross-sea bridge linking the two Gulf kingdoms.
The announcement was made following a meeting on Friday in Jeddah between the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, and Bahrain’s King, Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa.
Bahrain’s Minister of Transportation Kamal Bin Ahmad told Asharq Al-Awsat the 15-mile-long (25-kilometer-long) bridge will run parallel to the King Fahd Causeway—the existing bridge linking the two countries—but will, in addition to a lane for cars, also include two rail lines: one for passengers and another for cargo.
He said the new bridge would be named the King Hamad Bridge, after Bahrain’s monarch, a “generous gesture” from King Abdullah as a sign of the continued friendship and cooperation between the two countries.
He added that the Saudi and Bahraini ministries of transport and finance, as well as the King Fahd Causeway Authority—the joint Saudi–Bahraini body overseeing the bridge—had carried out, alongside an outside consulting firm, initial technical and environmental studies for the project last July.
In its report, Arab News focuses on the US $5 billion price tag for the new causeway:
Several years ago, there was talk of building an Egypt-Saudi causeway across the northern part of the Red Sea. I’ve not heard anything about that recently, but given the recent disruptions in Egyptian politics, that doesn’t particularly surprise me.
Arab News reports that Saudi courts have set prison sentences for four Saudis who had left the country to fight in Syria alongside ISIS and Al Nusra Front. They received jail terms of up to six years and travel bans following their release. The cases cited involved the use of false documents to travel.
A court has sentenced four Saudis to prison for up to six years and prevented them from traveling for participating in fighting in Syria with ISIS and the Nusra Front. The convicts impersonated other people and left Saudi Arabia with fake passports through land ports. One of them participated in guarding a terrorist camp.
Another was imprisoned and banned from traveling for five years. He was accused of traveling with others to take part in the fight in Syria by stealing the passport of his brother and leaving the Kingdom through the Al-Rigi land port to Kuwait, and from there to Turkey. Smugglers later helped him slip into Syria.
Some months ago, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah issued a royal decree criminalizing fighting abroad or belonging to extremist or religious groups.
Anyone found guilty could be jailed for up to 20 years. Punishments apply to organizations that are classified as terrorist either locally, regionally or internationally. People who offer any form of material or moral support to such terrorist groups or organizations or promote their thoughts are liable to the same punishment.
While they can’t drive cars in the Kingdom, Saudi women drive themselves toward success, a report from Oxford Strategic Consulting says. Al Arabiya TV extracts this from a press release by the group that notes Saudi women’s achievement in academics, but also their uphill struggles against societal barriers. An interesting data point pulled out of the study is that Saudi men are more motivated by religion or beliefs than by achievement for its own sake.
Neither link goes to the study itself. Just how questions were phrased and interpreted is not made clear. The overall results, however, confirm my own experience with Saudi women: they are truly interested in showing that they can manage for themselves and they do — when given the chance.
A considerably larger proportion of Saudi females are more likely to “strive to achieve” than their male counterparts, a survey found earlier this week, putting the figures at 35 percent and 20 percent of respondents respectively.
The survey, which was commissioned by Oxford Strategic Consulting, and released by the UK/Dubai-based HR consultancy, and polled nearly 1,000 Saudi nationals living in kingdom, asked respondents to list three things that most motivated them and three things that most discouraged them.
The survey indicated that Saudi women were also markedly more prone than men to feel discouraged by their own negative feelings (49% cf. 35%) and lack of personal achievement (24% cf. 14%), the report said.