Saudi Arabia is on course to develop as a post-petroleum nation, the country’s Minister of Oil, says. In remarks reported in Saudi Gazette, Ali Al-Naimi points to the economic diversification now building as the nation’s plan for the future. He was speaking at the Jizan Economic forum, in the far southwest of the country, site of Jizan economic city, now being constructed.

Among the industries ripe to be developed, the report says, is tourism in the Farsan Islands among other destinations in the province.

KSA to cut dependence on oil
Hassan Cheruppa | Saudi Gazette

JAZAN — Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Ali Al-Naimi said the Kingdom’s future development vision aims at expanding the economic base and concentrating more on the manufacturing sector through building small, medium and large industries and reducing dependence on oil in a phased manner.

Addressing the opening session of Jazan Economic Forum (JEF) here on Wednesday, Al-Naimi said the contribution of the industrial sector to the gross domestic product (GDP) has doubled from SR135 billion to SR276 billion over the past 10 years and it is expected to increase further in the coming years.

Al-Naimi said that Jazan Industrial City is one of the major projects that have contributed to this remarkable achievement.

February:26:2015 - 07:49 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

In an op-ed for Al-Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem, the station’s Washington bureau chief, offers a critique of Pres. Obama’s penchant for vague language when it comes to dealing with terrorism committed in the name of Islam. In seeking to avoid any possible offense with his language, the President and his administration end up using wishy-washy terms devoid of any actual meaning.

Arab and Muslim societies, Melhem writes, do have a problem and it’s one that’s largely self-created. Too many leaders have used religion as a tool of manipulation. Too many have created shadows on the wall to demonize the West. Too many have allowed absurd “religious” inspirations to deflect attention from very real problems created by those leaders.

Failing to acknowledge what the problem is — and it’s not a “lack of jobs,” contrary to what a State Dept. spokeswoman claimed from her pulpit — cannot lead to a solution to the problem. The main burden is on Arab and Muslim society and those who govern them. Pretending it is not will not and cannot lead to a solution.

Violent extremism vs Islamist extremism
Hisham Melhem

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”
Ludwig Wittgenstein

President Obama is a wordsmith. His relatively short political life has been chiseled and shaped by the possibilities and the limits of his language. He bursts on the national stage when he delivered a memorable keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In fact, he defined his campaigns and his presidency by few pivotal speeches that tried to explain his vision of America, domestic decisions, and how he sees the world. Obama the wordsmith struggled with his language the way Obama the president struggled with his decisions. And just as his leadership style and some of his decisions were characterized by tentativeness, excessive caution and deliberation, his language can also oscillate between that which is inspirational and that which is deliberately ambiguous, deceptive and downright Orwellian. His framing of the Syrian conflict and his claims that his options were the extremes of doing nothing or invade Syria are a case in point.

February:23:2015 - 06:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Apparently lacking anything more important to do, Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council has decided to wade into the issue of what female TV presenters wear while on the air, according to this Arab News report. They’re not entirely out of sync with Saudi society, though, as many were outraged when a female Saudi diplomat at the UN had the effrontery to address the Security Council while not wearing hijab and abaya.

Can one be Saudi without wearing national costume? Apparently not.

Shoura passes dress code law for women TV anchors

The Shoura Council has passed a new law that would make it mandatory for women TV anchors working in the Kingdom to wear modest dress and not show off their beauty.

Ahmed Al-Zailaee, chairman of the media committee at the consultative body, said once the law is passed by the Cabinet it would apply to all women media workers in the Kingdom, including those of MBC and Rotana.

Latifa Al-Shualan, a Shoura member, expressed surprise at the council’s interest in the dress code of women TV anchors, and said there are other more important issues to tackle.

“There are many other pressing issues such as the danger posed by the media activities of the so-called Islamic State terrorist group,” she said.

February:22:2015 - 09:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Arab News reports that the GCC is considering the issue of revising the subsidies governments provide for the purchase of fuels. Even though these states are all oil- and gas-producers, the level of subsidies is having negative effects on their economies. Not only do subsidies cost the countries, but they promote a sense of entitlement and devaluation of the resources such that waste proliferates.

Subsidies are not going to be just dropped, though. At most, there will be a reduction and a slight rise in the cost of fuels. Nobody is seeking angry citizens.

Expert says GCC mulls cut in fuel subsidy

In the wake of the World Bank’s appeals to emerging market countries, especially the states of the Middle East and North Africa, to end fuel subsidies, oil producing countries, including those of the GCC are actively thinking of such a move.

While they do not want to lift subsidies completely, the Gulf countries are contemplating partial amendment to the support, especially since the Kingdom’s oil prices are the lowest internationally.

Oil and energy experts say the decision to amend support lifting subsidies is currently being studied and its application is only a matter of time.

February:22:2015 - 09:05 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

It’s not just the northern parts of the US that are seeing record cold and snow. Saudi Gazette reports on the snowfall in northern Saudi Arabia, near the city of Tabuk. It’s providing a boost to Saudi tourism within the country, apparently.

‘Tourism’ time for Saudis as snow blankets Tabuk

TABUK — A number of Saudis have driven to the northwestern region of Tabuk to enjoy some snow and some local tourism after a snowstorm named Jenna hit the Middle East earlier this week.

“Everyone is smiling,” Abu Murthi, who drove to Tabuk to build a snowman with his family, said.

“We were lucky, it snowed twice this year,” he added. Before Jenna, snowstorm Huda hit the region early this year.

Saleem Al-Omrani, another visitor, said “this is considered like tourism for us. When it is snowing, everybody is out, the youth and people with their families.”

While he said that the road leading to Tabuk needed to be “developed further,” he said that he thoroughly relished the experience.

“This is wintery tourism season for us,” Hamid Al-Anzi said. “Some Saudis travel abroad just to see snow, but this is the second time this year it snowed. We are enjoying our time,” he added.

February:22:2015 - 08:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

The World Health Organization is getting concerned about the sudden spike in cases of MERS in Saudi Arabia. According to this Saudi Gazette report, it has sent a team to the country to try to figure out what’s happening. WHO notes an improvement in clinical care, but transmission of the disease remains a worry.

UN team investigates surge in MERS cases

JEDDAH — An international team of United Nations human and animal health experts has flown to the Kingdom to investigate a recent surge in cases of a deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) caused by coronavirus.

A spokeswoman of the World Health Organization-led team said it was worried by a steep rise in cases of MERS, which has infected some 50 people in the Kingdom in February alone — one of the highest monthly rates since it first emerged in humans in 2102.

“We are all very aware of this surge in cases,” said the WHO’s Fadela Chaib, one of an 11-strong international MERS expert team.

“Although this is still a small outbreak compared to last year, we still need to understand more about what is happening.”

February:22:2015 - 08:07 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

In Saudi Arabia, only Saudi Arabs can own the typical retail shop or store, by law. What has happened, over decades, is that some Saudis will claim to own the business, that is, they will lend their names to the operation, but in fact, it is a foreigner owning it. This “fronting” is called tasattur and, according to this Saudi Gazette report, it’s a growing problem. It has two direct negative effects, the reports says: it keeps Saudis out of jobs and it results in huge transfers of money out of the country. Indirectly, it creates problems for national security and, more importantly, it promotes disrespect for the law.

For some Saudis, it looks like easy money. They’re just renting out their names and citizenship with the rights those include. There’s no actual work that needs to be done beyond signing the original papers. Money comes in every month while the Saudi is earning an income from his regular job. It’s not unlike a celebrity licensing the use of his or her name to promote products or services. It is, however, against the law in Saudi Arabia.

Is the war against tasattur failing?
Saudi Gazette report

THE illegal practice of foreigners running businesses registered under the name of Saudis in return for fixed amounts of money known locally as “tasattur” has continued to increase despite the efforts of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Al-Riyadh newspaper reported.

Expatriate workers continue to flout Saudi laws by engaging in tasattur, something that makes them and the Saudis who help them susceptible to being fined and penalized if caught.

The practice negatively impacts the Kingdom’s economy and security, and as a result the Ministry of Commerce and Industry regularly holds seminars to raise awareness about the problem.

The ministry has also named and shamed individuals caught involved in the practice. In spite of this, tasattur continues to thrive as Saudis view it is as an easy way to become rich.

Dr. Talal Al-Bakri, a former Shoura Council member, said some Saudis place their personal interests and gain before the greater interests of the nation by circumventing the law.

February:21:2015 - 10:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Arab News reports on a meeting of the military chiefs of 22 countries now taking place in Riyadh. The purpose is to come up with a unified approach to dealing with ISIS. The article notes that Bahrain is now stepping in, sending aircraft to Jordan to support ongoing operations.

infographic: countries involved in anti-ISIS activities

Anti-IS coalition chalks out strategy in Riyadh

Military chiefs from more than 22 countries battling the Islamic State (IS) group began talks here Wednesday to assess the coalition’s current strategy and map out a plan to tackle other terrorist groups operating in the Middle East.

A formal reception was hosted for the military chiefs of the foreign countries at a local hotel on Wednesday night, a diplomatic source, who requested anonymity, said.

This led to an informal round of discussions, but the main talks are scheduled for Thursday, he said. This high-powered military meeting is significant because of the growing threat posed by IS.

The meeting also coincides with the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, which started in the US Wednesday.

February:19:2015 - 09:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

The politics of today’s Middle East are so complex and rife with contradiction that Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti is warning the clerics under his supervision to just stay out of them. By indulging in political discourse from the pulpit, they are only making things more confusing. Given the clerics’ narrow education, focused solely on theology and religious law, this is wise. Al Arabiya TV republishes an item appearing in Al-Watan Arabic daily:

Saudi grand mufti says clerics should steer away from murky politics

Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh warned religious clerics to stay away from politics as it is murky and changing, the local al-Watan news website reported Wednesday.

The grand mufti, who advised clerics to check facts when discussing politics, also urged them to further showcase the danger of violence espoused by radical groups who claim to be Islamic.

While calling for unity, he described political wrangling as futile due to it not being in the service of God.

He cautioned that clerics should take into considerations the risks facing the kingdom.

In an op-ed in Asharq Alawsat, also republished at Al Arabiya TV, Abdulrahman al-Rashed expands upon the theme:

Saudi Mufti’s call on keeping away from politics

February:19:2015 - 08:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Arab News reports on a new program to help Saudi students with learning disabilities. The King Salman Center for Disability Research has signed an agreement with Beacon College, located in central Florida, that will train students to move from secondary to university education. As part of the process, a Saudi official will be resident in Leesburg, FL, to serve as liaison, but also to inform the local population about Saudi Arabia.

Disabled Saudi students to get training in US

The King Salman Center for Disability Research (KSCDR) signed a deal on Sunday with an American university to provide special training for disabled Saudi students, including high school graduates.

This was disclosed by Prince Sultan bin Salman, chairman of KSCDR, who said that the Compass Program, focusing on the transition from secondary to higher education, would take place at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, in June this year.

It is a short-term, intensive college preparatory program that will take place over five weeks. Beacon College is the first accredited institution in the world to offer a four-year degree course exclusively for students with learning disabilities.

February:17:2015 - 09:20 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The religious establishment in Saudi Arabia is very averse to foreign holidays, particularly those that might carry any religious significance. As a result, they rail against “imported” and “un-Islamic” celebrations ranging from Valentine’s Day to Halloween and Christmas, and even birthday celebrations. These foreign influences, they believe, introduce shirk or some sort of polytheism into an Islamically pure society.

Saudi merchants, however, aren’t quite so convinced (nor are large segments of the general population). Saudi Gazette reports on how merchants work to avoid the bans on selling holiday-related goods.

‘Forbidden occasions’ a chance to boost sales
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — Most retail stores, including gold shops, are waiting for what they call “forbidden occasions”, or celebrations that cannot be observed in the Kingdom.

These events start with the recent Valentine’s Day this month and end with Mother’s Day at the end of March and are often seen as crucial to helping markets recover from the annual quiet period of sales that starts after the end of Haj.

Some businessmen doubt sales will increase because the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice bans such celebrations and tour the markets to ensure that they are not selling related merchandise, but others see a significant increase in sales that could reach up to 100 percent compared to the previous four months, Al-Madina reported.

Saif Ali, manager of a gold shop in Jeddah, said the forbidden occasions starts on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, and most businessmen see them as an opportunity to increase sales by up to twice as normal.

February:17:2015 - 09:11 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV reports on the flap that followed a Saudi cleric’s assertion that the Earth does not circle the Sun. Mockery ensued on social media, quite as it should have done. Some noted with particular irony that he made his statement on Galileo’s birthday.

Saudi cleric rejects that Earth revolves around the Sun

A Saudi cleric has appeared in a recent video rejecting the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun and claiming the opposite holds true, prompting a wave of social media remarks.

Answering a student question on whether the Earth is stationary or moving, Sheikh Bandar al-Khaibari replied: “stationary and does not move.”

He then attempted to support his argument by quoting some clerics and selected religious statements. But his most controversial method to debunk the rotation theory was a “logical” deduction in which he used a visual.

February:17:2015 - 09:01 | Comments Off | Permalink
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