Electricity and its demand are growing problems in Saudi Arabia. The country uses its primary resources — oil and gas — to produce electricity to meet one of the world highest demands. And while electricity is heavily subsidized, particularly for the individual consumer, it is not free to produce.
Arab News reports on new rules and regulations that will be coming into effect next year to limit the costs of and increase the payment for electricity. Among the measures will be individual billing with the potential that non-payment will result in having power cut off.
Electricity consumers face the risk of disconnection if their bills exceeding SR400 remain unpaid. Also, electricity bills will be issued in the names of consumers effective next year.
These regulations come into force by 2015, with the issuance of new amendments to electrical services by the Saudi Electricity and Co-generation Regulatory Authority.
The amendments will require the Saudi Electricity Co. (SEC) to link the actual consumption bill to the direct beneficiary of the service, whether they are the owner of the property or a tenant.
The new amendments will also require real estate investors to finalize an agreement with the SEC to deliver electrical services for new schemes in accordance with the number of existing controls, and to establish locations and spaces suitable for power distribution unit.
Saudi Arabia’s Statistics Agency, part of the Ministry of Civil Service, took it in the neck during a recent session of the Shoura Council. The Council pointed to an array of areas in which the statistics provided by the Agency were garbage. And statistical garbage in means garbage policies out.
The Agency, according to this Arab News report, blames it on a lack of trained personnel.
Others might blame it on the Saudi propensity toward secrecy, particularly if the information being withheld can be viewed as casting a negative shadow on the government or government employees.
Shoura slams Statistics Agency
In a recent session, Shoura Council members criticized the Ministry of Civil Service and the Statistics Agency for not having a clear plan for creating job opportunities for Saudi women.
The Shoura members said that the Statistics Agency was not providing accurate figures on the number of unemployed women, creating confusion in chalking out a plan to increase their numbers in the work force.
Shoura member Abdulziz Al-Harqan said that transport allowances for female employees in the government sector are unfair, arguing that women in the Kingdom do not drive and are forced to employ private drivers which means the transport allowance should be doubled. He also said that women should be exempted from paying the visa fees when recruiting drivers.
Shoura member Khaled Al-Awad said the Statistics Agency suffers from a systematically flawed approach leading to incorrect indicators of Saudi Arabia’s living standards, family spending and housing expenses which raises a lot of questions on all areas of planning in the Kingdom.
Just a few years ago, the idea of physical education for girls was one that led to huge arguments in the Saudi population and, consequently, one the Saudi government preferred to avoid.
That’s changed. Not only is physical education becoming part of the curriculum in girls schools, but the government is establishing 1,000 “fitness and social clubs” around the country, Arab News reports.
The wars over what’s acceptable for women are hardly finished. There are still many Saudis who find the idea morally dangerous and fight against it. For now, though, they’ve lost the battle.
Ministry plans 1,000 fitness clubs for girls
JEDDAH: FOUZIA KHAN
The Ministry of Education plans to launch 1,000 fitness and social clubs for girls around the country by the end of 2015.
Noura Al-Fayez, deputy minister of education for girls, said on Wednesday that the aim is to ensure these clubs are for members of the community, particularly young people, to develop a range of skills.
Al-Fayez made the comments on Wednesday during a tour of a club in Riyadh.
Al-Fayez was welcomed by Samira Sheaibi, assistant director of the girls education department in Riyadh; Nadia Al-Ghyshian, assistant general supervisor of the program; Nora Alkanaan, director of the Shifa education office; Nora Budaiya, director of the club; and several supervisors and management activity directors.
There’s a conspiracy theory bubbling around — I’m seeing it coming primarily out of S. Asia — that Saudi Arabia and the US are colluding to bring down the price of oil in order to damage the economies of Russia and Iran. While lower prices certainly have that effect, they also negatively affect the economies of all oil producers. If the price drops low enough, in fact, it could damage the oil-fracking industry that has so increased US production. Some countries can weather lower prices better than others. Saudi Arabia is one of those countries.
Rather than a conspiracy or political skullduggery, though, it’s the oil markets that are setting the price of oil. Lower than expected demand from China and increased supplies from the US mean that there’s less demand. Less demand means the prices go down.
An article from Arab News spells out the issue well.
The ‘politics’ behind oil price fall
It is no longer a issue of whispering in the corridors of the oil industry. It is now part of public debate. Is Saudi Arabia launching an oil price war in tandem with the US to undermine or at least weaken energy dependent adversaries Russia and Iran?
The latest to join this discussion is the notable New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote on Oct. 14 under the headline “Pump War?”
“One can’t say for sure whether the American-Saudi oil alliance is deliberate or a coincidence of interests, but, if it is explicit, then clearly we’re trying to do to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, exactly what the American and Saudi Arabia did to the last leaders of the Soviet Union: pump them to death — bankrupt them by bringing down the price of oil.”
It is no surprise that people try always to find a link between oil and politics.
Writing for Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief for the network, reports on a fascinating conference held in Abu Dhabi last week. The conference discussed just about every facet of the discord that now defines the region. Worth reading in its entirety.
Of domestic demons and aggressive neighbors
Last week a group of scholars, current and former officials and journalists from the Middle East, U.S., Europe, Russia and China met for two days at the inaugural forum of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, sponsored by the Emirate Policy Center. We met to discuss and ponder what can be done about Syria and Iraq – two countries in flames – and to ask are there any chances to prevent Yemen and Libya from moving on the same path of nihilism, whither Egypt after almost four years of tumult and uncertainty, the impact of non-Arab regional powers like Iran and Turkey on the ongoing conflicts of the Arabs, and the major powers policies (assuming that they have coherent ones) toward the Gulf region. And like most conferences the participants met but not necessarily their ideas.
While much of the world is watching Ebola, Saudi Arabia is also watching the MERS virus. The virus, which has killed 329 people in the Kingdom, has positively been linked with camels as a major vector. Consequently, the government is looking into the possibility of vaccinating camels against the virus. If they can find a vaccine. Arab News reports:
The Ministry of Health is currently considering vaccinating camels to counter the spread of the deadly MERS virus as it claimed another life on Wednesday.
Abdullah Asiri, assistant deputy minister for preventive health, said recently that this measure is being considered because it has now been established beyond doubt that camels are carriers of the virus.
“Research studies have confirmed that camels are major carriers of the virus and some studies recommended vaccinating them to eradicate the disease totally,” Asiri told a local daily.
Most of Saudi Arabia’s efforts toward solving its unemployment programs have gone toward finding jobs for men. But not all of them.
The Saudi government has “feminized” lingerie and women’s accessories shops, permitting only Saudi women to work in them and limiting the access to those shops by males. Now, Saudi Gazette reports, gold and jewelry shops are coming into focus as a women-only domain. New regulations are being kicked around that will see women as the primary employees of these shops, though details are still to be worked out. The women will replace mostly expat employees, most of whom come from S. Asia.
I’m not sure that 100% of jewelry and gold shops can work with only-female staff. Saudi men do buy jewelry and not always in the company of their wives. Some sort of accommodation will have to be found for them. Whatever the solution, the cost of jewelry will go up as shop owners have to make changes to make their shops suitable for female employees. The government might offer one-time financial assistance in making these changes, but that will have to be addressed in the regulations.
Move afoot to employ women in jewelry shops
Naheel Abdullah | Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — The Ministry of Labor is working on a new regulation to employ Saudi women at jewelry shops, according to Fahd Al-Tekhaifi, deputy minister for special programs.
The ministry will soon post the draft regulation on its electronic gate of “Together We Improve” in order to have feedback from businessmen, jobseekers and members of society prior to finalizing the regulation.
Al-Tekhaifi said the ministry considers that jewelry shops are one of the major areas that can provide jobs for a large number of young women jobseekers. He noted that jewelries and gold market are one of the key areas designated for Saudization as per a royal decree issued three years ago. Owners of jewelry shops will be instructed to employ Saudi women after meeting all the terms and conditions put forward by the ministry in this respect, he said.
Al-Tekhaifi said the conditions will vary in accordance with the location of jewelry shops, which are either inside indoor commercial centers or outdoor souks or separate locations. The conditions are aimed at guaranteeing safe and suitable work environment for women.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
RIYADH: SAEED AL-KHOTANI & MD RASOOLDEEN
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.