A Saudi student in the UK has identified the gene responsible for “heritage paralysis” and finds that it is exacerbated by close intermarriage. This only adds to the number of diseases and conditions resulting from the traditional practice of preferring marriages among first cousins throughout the Arab world. The article at Arab News includes a graph showing the prevalence of the disease throughout the region.
A Saudi scholarship student in Britain, Nuha Al-Rayess, has discovered a new genetic mutation that leads to muscle atrophy, weakened limbs and, finally, total paralysis in some cases. The tests she conducted showed that the principal cause for this condition is intermarriage and reproduction among family members.
Al-Rayess noted that this disease is known in medical terms as “heritage paralysis.” However, its genetic causes were previously unknown. As such, her new discovery is a significant leap forward in the world of genetic disease research.
Al-Rayess said that 70 percent of hereditary diseases in Saudi Arabia occur due to people marrying and subsequently producing children with their blood-line relatives. Indeed, the Kingdom has some of the highest rates in the world for familial marriages, making it easier for the disease to continue in future generations.
The Saudi government is facing a conundrum when dealing with temporary marriages (Nikah Misyar, for Sunni Muslims). While there are multiple fatwas authorizing such marriages as permitted under Shariah law, it is against Saudi Arabia’s public policy. The government acts to discourage it — as with this article from Saudi Gazette — but appears to be unable or unwilling to directly counter religious statements. Whether moral suasion overcomes biological drives and convenience, with a religious blessing, will be an interesting thing to watch.
Grappling with the surge in temporary marriages
Saudi Gazette report
THE Saudi Charitable Society for the Welfare of Saudi Families Abroad (Awaser) has warned Saudi citizens against engaging in any temporary marriage contracts abroad.
Speaking to Al-Riyadh newspaper, Tawfiq Abdulaziz Al-Suwailem, chairman of the board of directors, said the society works with the ministries of social affairs and foreign affairs as well as Saudi missions abroad to crack down on Saudis who enter temporary marriages.
“There should be legislation and extensive media coverage of such marriages arranged by brokers outside the country. Saudi men should realize the consequences of these marriages.
Unfortunately, over the past 10 years, these types of marriages have spread and are out of control. They have been called tourist, summer and common-law marriages and they all have one common thing: they’re temporary and the disengagement ends with a divorce,” Al-Suwailem said.
While things are much better than they were 20 or 30 years ago, there’s still too much sycophancy appearing in Saudi media to suit King Salman. Arab News reports that the King as told government agencies to take action to block the obsequious flattery and fawning that is published every time an official receives a new position or spends a day in the hospital.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has instructed monitoring authorities to control publication of reports and advertisements congratulating government officials and exaggerated condolence messages and punish violators, sabq.org reported on Wednesday.
“In a circular issued to ministries and government departments, the king said it has been noticed that people publish excessive ads for congratulations and condolences, violating regulations,” the electronic newspaper said, adding that allocations for such ads are made from the budget.
A circular issued by the government eight years ago banned ministries and government departments from publishing such ads and reports in local newspapers and magazines.
King Salman wants to leave his mark on Saudi history, but he wants it to be a good mark. Reacting to a video showing Minister of Health Ahmed Khatib getting into a dawsha with a citizen complaining about health care, the King sacked the Minister. He’d been in office since January 28.
Al Arabiya TV has the story:
A recently leaked video involving a Saudi minister in a squabble has been a hot topic in the kingdom.
Health minister Ahmed Khatib was filmed having a heated argument with another citizen, in which he was shouting and making angry gestures.
He was later relieved of his duties in an order by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Friday, with Dr. Mohammed Ali al-Sheikh appointed Acting Health Minister of Saudi Arabia.
In the 27-second video, the former minister is seen loudly dismissing a visibly angry citizen who had come to speak to him about the state of a private hospital in Riyadh.
Saudi Gazette reprints an article from Economist that seeks to answer the question about why Saudis are such heavy consumers of and participants in social media. Various surveys show Saudis as being the most active on various social media platforms in relation to both population size and Internet connections.
The article notes that the lack of other social outlets is certainly a factor, but also that conservative Saudis — including clerics — find that the outreach possibilities are too good to ignore. While abuses of social media abound and there are recurrent calls to ban or control it, Saudis aren’t going to give up their access to the world and their soapboxes from which they can address it.
On MARCH 18th, at an Arab media get-together, Twitter announced that it will open an office in Dubai. Not before time. Smartphone growth has rocketed in the Gulf—by most counts the region has the highest penetration. WhatsApp and Facebook have become standard modes of communication. Nowhere is that more so than in Saudi Arabia. Several surveys in 2013 showed that the kingdom has the world’s highest percentage of people on Twitter relative to its number of internet users; and on YouTube too. Saudis also spend more hours online than their peers elsewhere. That might seem surprising for such a conservative country where the constitution is said to be taken directly from the Koran and where women are not permitted to drive. Why are Saudis such big fans of social media?
Outsiders often regard the 30m Saudis as far behind the rest of the world. The modern Saudi state was founded only in 1932, and then on the basis of an existing pact between the Al Saud family and the Wahhabist clerics, who peddle a particularly red-hot version of Islam. It is certainly a traditional place, especially around the capital Riyadh. But the country has also rapidly modernised since discovering its vast oil wealth. It has a GDP per capita of almost $26,000. Today thousands of its young people study abroad, speak English and are as globalised as their peers in other countries. Fully 75% of the population are under 30. They have grown up thinking it normal to go online to do everything from ordering a coffee to watching TV.
It is the wedding of these factors to Saudi Arabia’s social peculiarities that may account for its topping of the virtual rankings. Shopping malls are pretty much the only source of entertainment for young people, because the clerics dislike cinemas and bars. So mingling with friends on social media has obvious appeal, not least because it is illegal for unrelated men and women to fraternise in person. Facebook has become a way of picking up a date (previously, many young people would turn on Bluetooth and search for random connections nearby). Frustrated Saudis can also vent about the government anonymously on Twitter. But social media is not just used for getting up to naughty things. The country’s most popular Twitter account, with 11.4m followers, is that of Muhammad al-Arefe, a Saudi cleric—and not a particularly liberal one, either.
The fact that so many unhinged fatwas make it into the public realm has led to a situation where satire is confused with reality.
Al Arabiya TV reports that an article appearing in a Moroccan satire paper alleging that Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti supports cannibalism as a way to show “togethernesss” needed a blunt denial from the Grand Mufti himself. Of course the Arab media isn’t the only one that mistakes satire with facts. Articles appearing in the American satirical paper The Onion are sometimes picked up by major media.
But when real life takes on bizarre aspects — be they in laws or fatwas — a little confusion is understandable. It’s just not very good journalism.
Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh has denied issuing a fatwa (religious edict) which allows a hungry man to eat his wife, or parts of her body, in the case of famine or if eating his wife would result in saving his own life.
Over the past few days, several pro-Iranian media outlets, such as the online portal of Al Allam news channel and Lebanon’s al-Jumohouria newspaper have carried the story without backing it with any evidence or specifying where or when such a fatwa has been issued.
The unsubstantiated fatwa attributed to the Grand Mufti claims that such sacrifice is the ultimate way of showing subordination and love to her husband as a “way for their two bodies to become one.”
Saudi Gazette/Okaz badly report a vote in Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council. The headline says that the Council voted against the appointment of women as ambassadors. Actually, the Council said that the nomination of ambassadors was outside its competence: it is up to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not the Council to make such nominations and appointments. It was within the Council’s remit, however, to deny Saudi diplomats a pay raise.
RIYADH – The Shoura Council on Tuesday rejected a proposal to appoint women in the post of ambassadors.
The foreign affairs committee at the council turned down the recommendation moved by a member Lubna Al-Ansari in this regard. She proposed that women shall be appointed in key positions in the Kingdom’s administrative, financial and technical fields as well as in diplomatic missions abroad.
The committee report noted that it is a policy matter that can be decided by the higher authorities. It also drew attention to the fact that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs enjoys jurisdiction to appoint women in key positions, including that of ambassador, and it will make appointments in key positions after taking into account of the qualifications and capabilities of the officials. The council also rejected another proposal to increase salary of diplomats and other officials working at Saudi missions abroad. — Okaz/Saudi Gazette
Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily newspaper Al Jazeera in which the writer argues that it’s time to end lashing as a criminal punishment in Saudi Arabia. Lashing is a discretionary punishment, he says, and is not required. Further, it goes against international agreements the Kingdom has signed concerning the use of physical punishment. Jail and fines are a sufficient remedy to the crimes for which floggings are used.
He argues, too, that it’s time for Shariah law to be codified.
Restrict discretionary punishment to imprisonment and fines
Muhammad Al-Asheikh | Al Jazeera
Muslim jurists have divided Shariah punishments into three types: Hudud, Qisas and Ta’zir. Hudud are those forms of punishment set by Almighty Allah and which must not be transgressed; Qisas are those that are carried out in retaliation for crimes and Ta’zir are those forms of punishment administered at the discretion of the judge for a crime for which no specific punishment has been ordained in the Holy Qur’an.
Muslim rulers grant judges the power to act in a legal capacity and the right to review discretionary rulings. If judicial rulings are in the interest of people and society, then the ruler will sanction them. If he feels that they are not severe enough or vice versa, then he has the authority to make changes.
Shariah focuses on the overall interests of society. The objective and purpose of legal rulings of any type is to allow justice to prevail and to enhance stability, security and peace.
Lashing as a discretionary form of punishment is left to the judge who will decide the number of lashes. There is an interesting principle within Shariah: “There can be no Ijtihad when an explicit text exists in the sources.”
Apparently, the message being promoted by Amb. Al-Jubeir is not the one being heard within Saudi Arabia. Another story in today’s Arab News reports that Saudi intellectuals see Decisive Storm being very much an action taken against Iran.
Evil designs of Iranian regime should be exposed, say Saudi intellectuals
RIYADH: SHARIF M. TAHA
A number of Saudi intellectuals said Operation Decisive Storm is further proof that Saudi Arabia remains supportive of the Yemeni people.
The intellectuals, speaking to the local media, said the operation aims to support the legitimacy of Yemen which the Houthis tried to “kidnap,” and destabilize its security using arms and weapons.
Dr. Mahmoud Zaini, former member of the Makkah Literary Club, said the Yemeni campaign came to ward off dangers not only to Yemen but to the Gulf region as a whole, and whose leaders felt posed a direct threat to their security and stability.
The operation has stopped the situation in Yemen from deteriorating further and will accelerate the political process in the country as demonstrated by deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh who called for a political solution to the Yemeni crisis promising that he would not run for presidential elections, Zaini said.
Arab News reports on a study coming from the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology finding that Saudi Arabia’s roads are hugely dangerous. Not only is excessive speed and inattention a problem, but animals on the roadways — particularly camels — are a hazard all their own.
The claim that Saudi Arabia leads the world isn’t quite supported by global statistics. It is, nevertheless, extremely hazardous. Most of the accidents and fatalities are avoidable.
Vehicular accidents caused by animals is growing phenomenon, particularly in Saudi Arabia, as the Kingdom registers hundreds of accidents caused by camels each year, resulting in the loss of countless lives, as well as property worth millions of riyals. The Ministry of Transport spends billions of riyals trying to curb this issue through the building of fences alongside highways, and other responses.
A recent study has shown that 97 percent of all car accidents involving animals in the Kingdom were with camels, and that more than 90 percent of these accidents occur at night. The Ministry of Agriculture has estimated that the number of camels in the Kingdom was approximately 241,893 in 2008, excluding stray camels that live in the desert.
Riyadh alone has 43 percent of these camels, followed by Al-Qassim with 13 percent, and the Eastern Province with 10 percent. More than 500,000 camels move freely in the Kingdom, and are found around Riyadh and Al-Qassim.
Saudi Arabia and its media seem to be preparing the battle space of public opinion for a war in Yemen. The media report on various calls to the UN and the GCC to get involved in what is, at present, a civil war, but one that represents threats to other countries in the region.
In an op-ed in Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi underscores Iranian involvement and the danger a hostile state in Yemen would represent to the Bab Al-Mandab strait. It is feared that if the Houthi rebels gain control of Aden, Yemen’s southern province and the de-facto capital for the government, Iran would be in a position to close two of the world’s most important choke-points for trade in oil and other goods.
Al-Zaydi also notes Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal’s warning to British Foreign Secretary Hammond, that unless the situation improves, there will be actions taken on the part of countries feeling threatened.
Prepare for the Yemeni Storm
What is currently happening in Yemen is not the first problem Saudi Arabia has faced with respect to its neighbor to the south. But the current problems don’t just concern Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is of course the most affected out of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, but it is by no means alone in being impacted. Other Gulf countries, as well as those along the Red Sea, and those countries whose ships pass through the Bab El-Mandeb strait and the Cape of Good Hope, will also be affected by the crisis.
In fact, what is happening in Yemen poses a problem for the whole world, politically, strategically, and in terms of global security. This is especially true when bearing in mind how Yemen is currently being transformed into a regional base for the Persian–Khomeinist camp and a rebel stronghold for Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia is the country most affected by the current Yemeni crisis, due to its geographic proximity to Yemen and the nature of the terrain on the borders between the two countries, from mountains and valleys to plains and steppes—not to mention the close links that exist between the peoples of these two countries.
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members have been attempting to lay out a political road map for Yemen according to specific criteria, which are based on the outcomes of the Gulf Initiative, the legitimacy of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the unity of the country and its security.
The Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi movement, which has staged a coup in Yemen, refuses all of this, however. Working alongside the Houthis is the country’s ousted former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his General People’s Congress (GPC) party, both pulling the strings from behind the scenes.
Saudi Gazette also focuses on the Bab Al-Mandab strait. It also quotes the Egyptian Ambassador to Yemen saying, “More than 38 percent of global maritime trade passes through the strait…”
Following a change in law created family courts and that granted divorced women rights of guardianship over their children, among other things, the courts have been flooded with cases. Saudi Gazette reports that 84,000 cases have been filed in the seven months since the courts were established. Disputes over alimony and child custody seem to make up the largest number of cases.
Family courts looking into 84,000 alimony and custody lawsuits
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — Nearly 84,000 lawsuits concerning alimony and child custody have been filed since family courts were established in the Kingdom about seven months ago, the Justice Ministry announced.
It said 43,000 of these cases pertained to alimony claims and 41,000 were regarding child custody disputes between parents.
Riyadh, with 1,122 cases, topped all other cities in alimony lawsuits followed by Jeddah, which had 768 cases and then Makkah with 394 cases.
Riyadh also topped other cities in child custody cases with 1,046, followed by Jeddah’s 764 cases and Makkah with 473 cases.
A source at the Jeddah Family Affairs Court said most family lawsuits involved men who refused to pay alimony to their ex-wives or prevented them from visiting their children.