Saudi media are reporting on the Grand Mufti’s assertion that Twitter is the “source of evil.” While he acknowledges that it could be used for the good, he believes it has been misused and has now become a source of “lies and falsehoods.”

There are certainly no “truth filters” on Twitter — or anywhere else on the Internet. It is up to the individual to discern truth from falsehood. But that requires an education that enables one to do that critical thinking. Saudi education, so far, does not provide that. Instead, it focuses on what authority figures say the truth is. And when those authority figures are found to be in error on any issue, it weakens both them as individuals and whatever system of authority has been established.

Twitter source of evil: Grand Mufti

RIYADH — The microblogging site Twitter is nothing more than “a source of lies” and evil, the Kingdom’s Grand Mufti said.

“If it were used correctly, it could be of real benefit, but unfortunately it’s exploited for trivial matters,” Sheikh Abdulaziz Aal Alsheikh said on his “Fatwa” television show broadcast late Monday.

Twitter is “the source of all evil and devastation,” he said.

“People are rushing to it thinking it’s a source of credible information but it’s a source of lies and falsehood.”

The Kingdom has 2.4 million active Twitter users, accounting for 40 percent of all active Twitter users in the Arab world, according to the sixth edition of the Arab Social Media Report.

From Arab News:

Enemies of Islam ‘spreading evil and lies through Twitter’

October:22:2014 - 07:42 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Given the extraordinary level of electricity consumption in Saudi Arabia, the government is getting around to requiring thermal insulation in new buildings. At present, most dwellings in Saudi Arabia are made of either concrete block or poured concrete. Neither is particularly noted for its insulation qualities, though they are good at heat retention. But heat retention is not what’s desired or needed in Saudi Arabia, where air conditioning is a major source of energy demand.

Insulation is measured in R-values. Concrete, either block or poured, has an R-value of around 1. Modern construction in the US and the West in general looks for a value closer to 13-20. Even retrofitting insulation can raise values by 5 or so, so the move toward requiring insulation is a good one. Requiring insulation, though, will also increase costs and the cost of housing in the Kingdom is already a touchy subject.

Thermal insulation of buildings a must in 24 cities

Prince Mansour bin Miteb, Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs, said on Tuesday that the thermal insulation of buildings will be made mandatory in 24 key cities across the Kingdom.

He made the announcement at the opening day of the Exhibition on Thermal Insulation for Buildings in Riyadh, which is organized by the Saudi Center for Energy Efficiency, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST).

A statement of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the 24 cities, which include Riyadh, Jeddah, Alkohbar, Makkah, and Madinah, account for 80 percent of the population of the Kingdom.

Various manufacturers are showcasing thermal insulation products and technologies in the ongoing exhibition.

October:21:2014 - 08:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health is stating a nationwide program of immunizations for first grade students. Those in state schools will be the first to receive vaccine for Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) before the program expands to private and international schools. There is no general program for immunizing infants. Nor, obviously, is there a program by which students are denied admission to schools unless they can show that they have already been vaccinated. The new Saudi program still leaves pre-schoolers and those in kindergartens vulnerable.

Immunization campaign launched Kingdom-wide
Riyadh: MD Rasooldeen

The Ministry of Health launched an immunization campaign against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) throughout the Kingdom on Sunday in coordination with the Ministry of Education.

MMR vaccines are being given to students in grade one.

Following the launch, Abdullah Asiri, assistant deputy minister for preventive medicine, said that the vaccination campaign will be carried out in government, private, international and community schools across the Kingdom.

He added that the program is being undertaken to prevent all types of childhood diseases, such as MMR, and maintain a disease-free Kingdom from illnesses, such as polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and chicken pox.

October:20:2014 - 08:40 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

An article in Saudi Gazette reporting on new regulations concerning photography in Saudi Arabia shows the divergence in both law and expectations between the US and the Kingdom. The article focuses on the issue of privacy. In Saudi Arabia, privacy appears to extend even into the public realm. It decidedly does not in the US.

While private activities in private areas are protected in both countries, that which happens in public areas in the US — those things that anyone can observe with his own eyes — is considered public. There is no privacy right to prevent those photographs. If it is observable without intrusion — and that include things that happen indoors, within sight of a passerby, it’s public.

In Saudi Arabia, it’s considered intrusive to take a photo of a willing subject, but one which might include bystanders in the background. While it might be considered good photographic practice in the US to know what’s in the background, that’s only for the purposes of avoiding bad photos and photobombing. Inadvertent results can be embarrassing, particularly if one is where one isn’t supposed to be, but that’s the thing about being in public: it’s in public!

Taking photos in public
Saudi Gazette report

TECHNOLOGICAL advancements have allowed people to take up hobbies with great ease and accessibility and an increasingly popular hobby is photography. With cameras embedded in gadgets including cell phones, laptops and tablet PCs, people are taking more photographs than ever before. However, photography is a controversial issue in a country where people greatly value their privacy. Some people in the Kingdom view taking pictures in public as a tolerable phenomenon while others view it as a breach of privacy, Al-Riyadh daily reports.

Five regulations on taking photographs in public places, ministries, government locations and tourist areas were issued based on recommendations by the concerned authorities. These regulations allow for photographs to be taken anywhere with the exception of sensitive installations where “No Photography” signs are clearly visible. It is the responsibility of every establishment, association or organization whether it is military, civilian or industrial to take measures regarding photographs taken in its domain. Moreover, each organization is responsible for taking sensible measures when these regulations are violated.

Industries and organizations are responsible for putting up “No Photography” signs where appropriate and ensuring that these signs are visible, written in both English and Arabic and illustrated. Penal measures should never result in confiscation of devices, pictures or videos but workshops, lectures and informed security officers should be available to raise awareness on the dangers and consequences of breaching others’ privacy. If one violates the regulations with no ill intent, then a simple warning should suffice.

Majidah Altamimi said taking photos and capturing videos of other people in public places is a breach of personal privacy. “Many take pictures of their friends in public but do not consider the people that appear in the background. That, in itself, is an act of inconsideration, especially if the photos were then posted on social media.

October:18:2014 - 09:54 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Arab News reports on a fresh outbreak of the MERS virus in Saudi Arabia. Five new cases and one new death now bring the number infected by the disease to 765 and reported deaths to 325. Eleven people are currently being treated.

Deadly MERS strikes Taif

The Ministry of Health said it has recorded “sporadic cases of MERS around the Kingdom” and reiterated the need for precautions to help prevent the virus from spreading.

It announced that the coronavirus has killed one person and infected another in Taif.

The infected person under treatment is a 42-year-old woman expatriate health-care worker. The person who died was a 60-year-old Saudi man. Both had preexisting illnesses, but had not been exposed to animals, according to the statistics released by the ministry’s Command and Control Center on its website on Thursday.

There have now been 765 MERS cases in the country since June 2012, with 429 people having recovered fully, 325 deaths and 11 currently under treatment, the ministry stated.

There were four other cases of infections from Saturday to Tuesday in four different parts of the country. On Saturday, a 50-year-old expat was infected in Najran and a 70-year-old Saudi in Taif, followed by two Saudis aged 44 and 82 years of age in Riyadh and Al-Kharj on Monday and Tuesday respectively. The ministry has announced that people should take measures to protect themselves.

October:17:2014 - 10:46 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV reports that the Saudi accused of killing an American and wounding another has been identified as Fahad Alrashid. He had recently been fired from his job at Vinell Arabia — an American defense firm with long-standing contracts with the Saudi National Guard — and the two he shot worked for the company.

Reports indicate that he may have been fired for “drug-related reasons” and that he may have had similar problems in the US prior to his 2011 return to the KSA.

Image revealed of Saudi suspected of killing American

An image of the man suspected to have killed an American citizen in Saudi Arabia’s capital on Tuesday has been obtained by Al Arabiya News Channel’s online Arabic platform.

Abdulaziz Fahad Abdulaziz Alrashid, 24, the alleged shooter who authorities say was wounded in a gunfight with security forces, is a U.S.-born Saudi who had been fired from U.S. defense contractor Vinnell Arabia, an interior ministry spokesman said in a statement late Tuesday.

Riyadh’s embassy in Washington said in a statement Tuesday that the suspect was recently dismissed from his job “due to drug related issues.”

Vinnell Arabia is a U.S. military contractor supporting Saudi National Guard military programs in Riyadh.

“We are deeply saddened and regret to confirm the death of one of our employees, and the injury to another in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,” a statement from Vinnell Arabia said.

Al Arabiya also runs stories noting that the individual was not on any terrorism watch lists nor reported to be linked to any extremist organizations. In other words, this was an incident of work-related violence.

‘No terror suspicion’ behind Saudi killing of American

One of the Vinell company’s housing areas was a target of the May, 2003 terrorist bombings in Riyadh.

October:15:2014 - 10:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi media run stories based on a report from the government’s Saudi Press Agency (SPA) that two Americans were shot at a gas station in the east of Riyadh. One was killed; the other, wounded.

This is very early reporting, so few details are available. A gunman was arrested near the scene. I anticipate further reporting as the investigation continues.

At the moment, the US Embassy in Riyadh does not have any notice of the incident on its Citizen Services web page, nor does it offer any warning or analysis.

American killed east of Saudi capital Riyadh

A U.S. citizen was killed and another was wounded east of the Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday by unidentified gunman, Al Arabiya News Channel reported on Tuesday, citing the police.

Security forces arrested the gunman following the afternoon attack at a petrol station in eastern Riyadh, a police spokesman said in a statement carried by the SPA state news agency.

“The attack resulted in the killing of one person and wounding another and it turned out they were of American citizenship,” the statement said.

Police said the attack happened when the two stopped their vehicle at a filling station in an eastern district of the capital.

The UK’s Guardian reports that the arrested assailant is a Saudi, born in the US.

US national shot dead in Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh

Oddly, Arab News headlines an article saying the shooting was not terrorism-related, but has no story to support that assertion. Instead, the headline links to a very brief recap of the SPA statement.

Riyadh shooting not related to terrorism: Police

October:14:2014 - 10:45 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that just to keep up with the number of youths entering the job market, the Saudi economy needs to create 300K jobs every year. That’s a tall order.

The government cannot just wave its hands to create jobs. It cannot create make-work government jobs just to absorb the surplus labor. Instead, the jobs must come from the private sector. But that has its own problems. Saudi employees are much more expensive — in both salary and benefits — than expat employees. There are also serious questions about both the work ethic of Saudi employees, their job expectations, and the difficulty in removing them if they don’t work out in a particular job.

300,000 jobs needed for Saudi grads every year
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — At least one million vacancies must be created to tackle unemployment among Saudis and 300,000 jobs are needed annually to absorb new graduates entering the labor market, according to a consultant on economic affairs.

Fadhl Al-Buainain told Al-Riyadh Arabic daily that the number of expatriate workers in the country was increasing despite the campaigns to organize and reform the labor market.

He said the most pressing problem in the Saudi labor market is that expatriates control 42 percent of available jobs, making it difficult for competent Saudis looking for jobs to find employment.

Among the problems in the labor market are low salaries, which in many cases stand at a meager SR1,500 a month, Al-Buainain said, adding that minimum wage should be SR5,000.

October:12:2014 - 08:21 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports that the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set a goal of having all contract jobs in Saudi embassies abroad filled by Saudi citizens. It also looks to have at least one-third of all such jobs filled by women.

This is a worthy goal, but I’m not sure that it’s completely achievable. I’m unaware of any embassy of any country, in any country, that is able to work without at least some jobs filled by local employees, usually nationals of the country in which the embassy is located. In US embassies, the majority of jobs in fact are filled by local employees. Local employees provide expertise in local laws, customs, and society that transient diplomats never quite get.

It’s an admirable goal, but I don’t think it can be fully implemented without a significant loss of efficiency and effectiveness.

All embassy jobs to be Saudized

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to Saudize all contract jobs at embassies abroad, including allocating a third of all positions for women.

Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Khaled bin Saud said the plan would ensure 100 percent Saudization in Arab countries and 75 percent in missions in non-Arab countries.

He said the ministry is “closer than ever to achieving these numbers,” and that it had previously not “employed non-Saudi citizens in official positions, be they diplomatic or administrative.”

Regarding the complications faced by Saudis at visa departments in some countries, he said: “The ministry always aims through its diplomatic channels to resolve such issues, and has succeeded in doing so in numerous locations. But in cases where diplomatic attempts are not successful, the ministry immediately works to protect and ensure that the rights of its citizens are met.”

October:11:2014 - 08:18 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette translates a piece from Okaz, its Arabic daily sister paper on the question of wasta, the use of influence and connections to get things done.

Wasta can help or hurt, depending on whether it’s being used for or against one’s interests. This is something that the Senior Board of (Islamic) Scholars acknowledges when it condemns as haram its use when it offends the rights of others. But Saudi society is built on the patron:client model, where patrons — whether within a family or tribe or otherwise — are expected to use their influence to help members of their group. It’s the rare occasion when its use does not hurt another, if only by denying him a just opportunity. Still, it is expected and to not use wasta can result in condemnation from the family.

The writer of the piece offers a wholly unworkable solution: a fixed number of uses of influence. While this might reduce the extent of the use of influence — the patron would have to save up his chances for the really important ones — it does nothing to address the fact that by favoring one over another because of connections, an injustice is still being permitted.

Who said wasta is haram?
Ahmad Ajab Al-Zahrani | Okaz

There are several practices that have taken place in our society so often that they have become norms that are passed down from one generation to another. Today, it gets more and more difficult to discuss and debate these practices and whether they are lawful, legitimate or unfair and whether or not they damage society. Wasta (using influence to get people to do something for you) is definitely one of these practices.

I can swear that not a week goes by without a senior official being involved in wasta. Someone calls him and tells him that he has been sent by such and such a person and he needs help. Maybe the person who wants help is a father who wants to get his son into university by getting around the system or who wants to find a job for his son and asks the official to help.

Many people do not know that wasta according to the law against bribery is actually a crime. The law stipulates that any government official who fails to perform his duties honestly and breaches the trust placed in him by doing or refraining from doing an act at the request of someone else is guilty of committing an act of bribery, punishable by up to three years and a fine of not more than SR100,000. It is natural that a large number of people are not aware of this fact because the issue, as I mentioned earlier, is sensitive and it is difficult to discuss it, let alone work toward ending it.

October:11:2014 - 08:08 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi media break with common practice by citing the name of a young Saudi believed to have left his education program in Australia to join a terrorist group in Syria or Iraq. Usually, Saudi media avoids naming names, but here — likely because of the family’s concern about their son — they do mention it. I think the article is intended, too, to alert other Saudi parents to the possibility of their children’s being suborned while abroad. What is notable, too, is the speed with which this story is being reported. The family sought assistance from the government of Australia just three days ago. This suggests that the Saudi government is on very high alert for wandering students studying abroad.

Brother fears missing Saudi student now Islamist militant

The Saudi student who “mysteriously” disappeared in Malaysia last month is believed to have joined one of the terrorist groups in Syria or Iraq, his brother told Al

Meshaal Suhaimi, who joined an English-language program in Sydney, Australia, last year, has been missing since Sep. 20. Suhaimi reportedly stopped attending his classes and left for Malaysia instead.

“He is young. And he is a conservative Muslim. He was definitely [indoctrinated],” said his brother, Mohammad Suhaimi. “We received pictures from one of his colleagues in Australia that prove that he is in a conflict zone.”

Saudi Gazette runs a similar story:

Saudi student missing in Australia may have joined extremist group

October:09:2014 - 07:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

The millennia-old pilgrimage to Mecca is mashing up with the smart-phone-potentiated selfie photo and not everyone is happy about it.

Saudi media are all reporting on the new phenomenon of pilgrims taking selfies and uploading them to the Internet. Some see it as just something that people will do. Others find it to be disrespectful, obnoxious, and maybe even blasphemous.

Arab News and Saudi Gazette carry a report from Agence France Presse that is typical of the reporting…

Haj selfies: A new trend among pilgrims

MINA (AFP): Raising his arm, Yousef Ali hugs his elderly father in front of one of the Haj sites as they pose for a selfie — a new trend that has hit this year’s Haj. But not everyone is happy about young pilgrims from around the world constantly snapping “selfies,” as they carry out the rites of Haj.

Haj is world’s largest religious gatherings of Muslims. It has attracted over two million believers this year.

“As this is my first pilgrimage, it is important for me to document all the events taking place around me,” Ali, 24, told AFP, snapping a picture of himself.

“Wherever I go, I take pictures,” the casually dressed Kuwaiti pilgrim said with a smile.

The increasingly popular phenomenon has sparked controversy among some Muslims.

Maktoob, the Yahoo! news portal, has a slideshow based on the imagery:

#HajSelfie: Muslim pilgrims snap photos on spiritual journey

October:06:2014 - 07:13 | Comments Off | Permalink
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