In its wrap-up article on the weekly Council of Minister meeting, Saudi Gazette reports that the Saudi government is going to set up a Supreme Commission for the development of the country’s Eastern Province. This is a move that, had it been made 50 years ago — or any time in between — would have helped alleviate tensions between the predominantly Shi’a region and the central government.

Infrastructure development in the region — except those involved in oil production and shipping — have lagged behind those of most other regions of the country. And the Shi’ite population noticed. And complained.

Of course, the devil is in the details. This move, if it is to have the effect of making second-class citizens believe they are actually of the same class as the ruling majority, has to be real, with real money and intent behind it. Time will tell, but even acknowledging that things have to change is a marked step forward.

Supreme Commission for EP development approved
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH – The Council of Ministers on Monday approved establishment of a Supreme Commission for the development of the Eastern Province.

Minister of Haj and acting Minister of Culture and Information Bandar Hajjar said that the objective of the commission is to contribute to the overall development of the region and fulfillment of its requirements for public utility facilities and services. The commission shall have a board, headed by emir of the region. It will have a separate budget, the minister said.


November:25:2014 - 07:33 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

This post just notes a strange little quirk in Saudi media practice.

A Saudi retail company had several of its branches shut down by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry following complaints about a fraudulent “discount” sale wherein products had their prices marked up, then an advertised discount applied.

Saudi Gazette reported on the event, but chose to not publish the name of the company, referring to it only as a “mega” company:

Discount scam: Mega firm’s retail outlets closed down

The report from Arab News, on the other hand, did cite the company’s name, if not in the headline, then in the first sentence of the first paragraph:

Popular store apologizes to its customers

Saudi custom is to not publish the names of those people or companies that are accused of wrong-doing. Is that custom breaking down? I think it would be a good thing if it did as it would offer much greater transparency about exactly what is going on in the country.


November:23:2014 - 09:53 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, is noted for having said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” It seems that the sentiment applies when it comes to Saudis and abayas, according to this report from Arab News.

Dammam University, in the Eastern Province city of that name, appears to have issues with non-black abayas. The claim is that colored abayas detract from the dignity of the university. M’kay… I guess it could be analogized to a ban on wearing shorts and flip-flops at an American university, not that any but a religiously-affiliated university would seek to impose such a ban. But all universities in Saudi Arabia are religiously-affiliated, in one way or another.

I do find it peculiar, though, that though “modesty” is being imposed by head-to-toe coverings, the actual color of the coverings matters. Does a blue or green abaya conceal less than a black one? This might be an interesting research project for one studying physics or optics or human psychology.

Campaign against colorful abayas

Dammam University has launched a campaign against colorful abayas after a number of girls were caught without the customary black outer covering mandatory in educational institutions.

Supervisors at Dammam University confirmed that the campaign against the wearing of colored abayas had begun in all their colleges. They pointed out that although colored abayas are easily available in the market, female students are required to abide by the rule of wearing black as a sign of respect to the educational environment.

Female students also said that supervisors and security employees had begun implementing the campaign since last week and that any girl found in violation of the rule would be penalized. They also said that they had been warned that all violations would be documented and filed. They were also expected to abide by the instructions which authorities say promote modesty in dress and appearance.


November:23:2014 - 09:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

While the need for women to work in Saudi Arabia is apparent, not all Saudis are comfortable with the idea, particularly if it involves women working outside the home or — gasp! — working with unrelated males.

Saudi Gazette reports that at least women’s working in hotels is becoming more acceptable. The broader society is no longer (or at least, not as much) jumping to conclusions about those women’s morality. Not only does this make it easier for women to take up the jobs, but hoteliers report that women make better employees, less likely to change jobs.

Stigma of Saudi women working in hotels gradually disappearing
Saudi Gazette report

AL-KHOBAR – A group of Saudi women who have been working in the hotel industry said the stigma attached to women in this field is disappearing, Al-Hayat daily reported.

Until a few years ago, women in such jobs were frowned upon by many members of society. As a result, few women worked in the hotel industry because of fears that they would find it difficult to get married as most men disapproved of marrying hotel employees, especially receptionists.

However, the past four years have seen a gradual shift in the negative views associated with hotel industry jobs, thanks to the Ministry of Labor’s laws requiring hotels to hire more women.

Foaz Al-Zahrani, director of marketing for a hotel in Dammam, said women working in the hospitality industry are viewed with more respect today as they have shown to the world they can be trustworthy and professional. “No doubt the ministry’s regulations have helped in changing the negative view on us,” Al-Zahrani said.


November:23:2014 - 08:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Arab News runs two pieces today that seek to show that Saudi law applies to all, the mighty included.

One concerns a prince (unnamed) who has been sentenced to death for killing another. The article seems to go to great lengths explaining that a death sentence is not necessarily final. Not only is there an appeals process, but the family of the victim can waive the death penalty.

Prince handed death sentence for murder

The second reports that the Saudi BinLaden company — one of the country’s largest construction firms — is being penalized for not abiding by labor regulations. It is losing access to Ministry of Labor databases until it corrects its behavior and comes into compliance with the regulations.

Violations: Saudi Binladin denied labor services


November:20:2014 - 08:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Al-Arabiya TV, which is owned by the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), writes about new efforts to take down satellite TV stations that run pirated materials. It is estimated that 10% of all Arab satellite broadcasters run programs for which they do not own the rights. This affects those stations that have paid for those materials… to the tune of $10 million/year, according to MBC.

While efforts have been made throughout the region to stop the theft of intellectual property, they have primarily focused on counterfeiting consumer goods and bootleg computer software.

Pirate TV: 47 ‘illegal’ Arab stations taken off air
Ben Flanagan | Al Arabiya News, Abu Dhabi

Almost half the Arab world’s ‘pirate’ TV stations have been taken off air, as legitimate media companies battle a problem they say costs them $100 million a year.

A total of 96 channels that allegedly broadcast pirated material were active in August – accounting for almost 10 per cent of the total number of channels available in the Middle East.

But 47 of these are no longer broadcasting following efforts by an industry coalition dedicated to fighting piracy, said Sam Barnett, chief executive of MBC Group.

“Nobody wants to deal with organized crime, which is what it is,” the executive told Al Arabiya News. “We’re fighting a long battle, but we have had progress.”


November:20:2014 - 08:10 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette runs a report from Agence France Presse stating that the Saudi government is extending its buffer zone along the 800-mile border with Iraq by a depth of 20km (12 miles). The area, which is chiefly desert, is being put off limits to Saudi citizens.

Kingdom expands its border zone with Iraq

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia has expanded a buffer zone along its northern border with Iraq, official media said on Tuesday.

Mohammed Al-Fahimi, a spokesman for northern region border guards, said “the depth of the border has been increased by 20 kilometers (12 miles),” the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Officers guarding the frontier “called on residents and citizens to stay away from the border areas,” it added.

In early September, the Kingdom inaugurated a multi-layered fence, backed by radar and other surveillance tools, along its northern borders.


November:19:2014 - 07:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Arab News reports that a Saudi Special Criminal Court — a court designed to hear terrorism cases — has sentenced three of those responsible for the 2004 terrorist attack on a residential compounds in Riyadh and the Eastern Province. Victims of the attacks included British, Indian, Swedish, Egyptian, South African, Sri Lankan, and Filipino citizens, as well as Saudis.

3 sentenced to death for Riyadh, Alkhobar terror attacks
JEDDAH: MD AL-SULAMI

A special criminal court in Riyadh has sentenced to death three members of a terror cell for killing 20 people and injuring 35 others at the Oasis Residential compound in Alkhobar in the Eastern Province, and the Al-Mohayya complex in Riyadh in separate attacks. Five were each handed 30-year jail terms.

The victims of the terror attacks included BBC photographer Simon Cumbers. His colleague Frank Gardner was critically wounded and is now wheelchair-bound. There were also Saudi civilians and policemen among the victims.

The first defendant, N. Boqami, chief of Cell 86, said Al-Qaeda had assigned him and others to storm the Oasis complex in 2004. They had been told that US forces had kidnapped and detained several Sunni Iraqi women during the 2003 invasion.

However, he denied all other 27 charges against him, including storming into a facility of the APICORP and the Oasis compound carrying grenades, assault rifles and revolvers on May 29 and holding 45 hostages. The state contends that he was accompanied by Al-Qaeda members Turki Al-Motairi and Abdullah Al-Sobaie during the operation.


November:18:2014 - 09:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

The spat between Qatar and fellow-GCC members Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE seems to be drawing to a close. Asharq Alawsat reports that all three countries are returning their ambassadors to Doha with the expectation that GCC cooperation will resume.

Saudi ambassador to Qatar returns to Doha

Riyadh and Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Qatar, Abdullah Al-Ayfan, returned to Doha on Monday, following an agreement to end a rift between Qatar and its neighbors earlier this week.

An emergency meeting in Riyadh on Sunday resulted in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain ending their dispute with fellow member-state Qatar, and agreeing to return their ambassadors to the country after a seven-month absence.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Ayfan said he was now restarting his work in the Qatari capital, and that all diplomatic relations had returned to normal.

He said he hoped the recent meeting in Riyadh would pave the way for further political and economic cooperation between all GCC countries, leading to what he called a “genuine union” between them, as proposed by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

King Abdullah hosted the Riyadh meeting, which came about due to Saudi–Kuwaiti efforts.


November:18:2014 - 08:25 | Comments Off | Permalink

The UNDP marks Saudi Arabia as having jumped from 57th place to 34th place in its 2014 report on global human development, Arab News reports:

UNDP ranking: Saudi Arabia makes remarkable progress

The 2014 Human Development Report by the UN Development Program reported that Saudi Arabia achieved a significant progress by ranking in the 34th globally, compared to its previous 57 rank in the UNDP report of 2013. Such a rank boosted its position and qualified the Kingdom to join high human development index countries.

The Kingdom also ranked second on the Arab and Gulf levels, and 10th within the G-20 countries, reflecting a positive development, which the nation must build on to improve its future ranking on the Human Development Index launched in 1990.

An analytical study prepared by the Supreme Economic Council on the realities of Saudi Arabia, included in the human development report 2014 which was entitled
“Sustaining Human Progress, Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience,” confirmed that despite the improvement made during the march of the economic and social development in the Kingdom, the composite of evidence and the other evidences on the country’s ranking, in addition to the results of opinion polls made on the satisfaction degree concerning the human element, all such factors indicated that the Kingdom’s ranking could be improved and boosted.


November:17:2014 - 07:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat reports that those oil producing countries that most need high prices for oil are starting to make their case before the start of an OPEC meeting later this month. Venezuela and Iran in particular are saying that they want OPEC to decrease production in order to drive up prices. They need a price near $100/bbl in order to balance their budgets. The Arab Gulf States can absorb lower prices as their economies are in better shape and they all have sovereign funds they can fall back on to make up any temporary shortfall.

Saudi Arabia would be happy with oil at $100/bbl, but it doesn’t need oil at that price. It can manage well enough with oil priced at $75-$85/bbl. More particularly, it does not want to be told to decrease its oil production while other OPEC countries take smaller or no decreases in their production.

Iran, Venezuela urge oil price support ahead of OPEC meeting

Dubai and Al-Khobar, Reuters/Asharq Al-Awsat—OPEC hawks Iran and Venezuela on Saturday called on fellow crude producers to shore up prices that have plunged more than 30 percent to four-years low ahead of an OPEC meeting later this month.

Oil prices have fallen to below 79 US dollars on abundant and weak demand from 115 dollars a barrel in June. Skepticism that OPEC will cut supply when it meets on November 27 have also weighed on the prices.

So far, only Kuwait and Iran have said a reduction is unlikely, while a Libyan OPEC official, Venezuela and Ecuador have all called for OPEC to cut output.

Privately, some delegates are talking of the need for some action, although they warn an agreement will not be easy to reach.

In comments reported by Iran Oil Ministry’s news agency, Shana, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rafael Ramírez, speaking in Iran, said Tehran and Caracas hold a common stance on the oil market.

“We believe that the prices are at a very low level and instability in the market is in no one’s interest,” Ramírez told Shana. “A hundred dollars per barrel is the desirable price for Venezuela.”

Iran Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh made similar remarks.


November:17:2014 - 07:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Madinah in which the writer warns that extremists groups are turning the word “Islamic” into a warning flag. The groups take a well-known brand and convert it to their own uses while completely ignoring what the brand is supposed to represent. As a result, would-be consumers need to do more than just accept the branding and pay attention to what’s really being sold.

Unfortunately, the point of the article seems to have gone over the head of commenters to the piece. They’re sold on the brand, no questions asked or even considered.

Beware of the ‘Islamists’
Qaisar Metawea | Al-Madinah

WE are, by our very nature, a conservative Muslim society. We, therefore, feel attracted toward anything Islamic.

With bad intentions, some of us have used others’ natural love for Islam and for everything Islamic to make personal, sectarian, political, social or commercial gains.

Some of the exploiters of our love for everything Islamic started using the word “Islamic” to defend their unholy actions and ideas against any critique. They will begin their conversation with you by using the word “Islamic” to tie themselves to Islam and to make you believe that they are the sole representatives of this great religion.

An exploiter of Islam will easily convince you that he is a true Muslim even if he abuses, attacks or kills because these abhorrent deeds are an “Islamic” demand.


November:16:2014 - 09:08 | Comments Off | Permalink
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