The UK’s The Telegraph newspaper runs an interview with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense. It’s certain wide-ranging and the reforms mentioned, if brought to fruition, would represent a major change in the country. For the better.
Revealed: Saudi Arabia’s manifesto for change in the face of rumours of coup plots
In rare public statement, advisers to all-powerful Prince Mohammed bin Salman tell Telegraph of plans for opening up country’s economy and society
Richard Spencer, Middle East Editor
Saudi Arabia has issued a manifesto for change in the face of rumours of coup plots and international pressure, ranging from economic reform to the role of women and allowing human rights groups into the country.
At a time when the country’s internal politics are under more scrutiny than at any time for decades, close advisers to the new King Salman and his powerful son have taken the unprecedented step of outlining a detailed programme of its future government to The Telegraph.
It amounts to a Thatcherite programme of budget cuts, increasing the role of the private sector, and reforms to the way the kingdom is governed.
It obliquely acknowledges that radical changes in the royal family since the king acceded to the throne in January, including the sidelining of a generation of older princes and the former heir to the throne, have met with opposition. There have been claims outside the country that disgruntled princes are attempting to mount a coup to replace the king with one of his brothers.
But the statement of principles shown to the Telegraph says that the way the country has been run since its founding a century ago must give way to “youth”. “These resolute and decisive changes may have annoyed some people but it does not amount to a crisis,” it says.
Al Arabiya TV runs a Saudi Gazette report, not yet posted on the Gazette’s website, noting that three Saudi universities have achieved ranking among the top 800 universities in the world.
Three Saudi universities on global ranking list
Saudi Arabia has three representatives in the newly expanded World University Rankings published by the Times Higher Education.
Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz University, Dammam’s King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals and Riyadh’s King Saud University feature on the list.
“Saudi Arabia is one of several countries to have made its debut in this year’s World University Rankings. This achievement is in part due to expanding the ranking to include 801 universities and 70 countries,” said Phil Baty, the editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
He said the newly expanded Times Higher Education World University Rankings is great news for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
“MENA universities need to continue to progress up the rankings for the region to compete effectively in the 21st century knowledge economy.”
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that Saudi Arabia’s medical establishment is still reliant upon foreign practitioners. Saudi medicos make up about one-third of the total, but only one-quarter of the doctors and one-fifth of the pharmacists. About half of the nurses are Saudi, however, which is a marked change over the past 20 years. Of course, most of these Saudi nurses are still male as the profession is seen as not quite morally suitable for women.
Expat docs outnumber Saudis — Ministry
TAIF — There is a total of 317,000 expatriate health practitioners and doctors and only 139,000 Saudi health practitioners and doctors, according to the Ministry of Health.
A source from the ministry said hospitals and health institutions are in need of more medical staff. “The ministry has stopped renewing the contracts of certified doctors and health practitioners working in administrative positions.
There is a great number of Saudi employees with a degree in medicine who are occupying administrative positions when they could work as doctors,” said the source.
“There are 102,000 expatriate doctors in the health industry and only 25,800 Saudi doctors. There are also 39,000 expatriate pharmacists but only 7,000 Saudi pharmacists.
While H.A. Hellyer’s article focuses on conspiracy theories running wild in Egypt, they’re not restricted to that country. Many of them are showing up from one end of the Arab and Muslim world to the other. [Of course, Western countries are not immune, either.] It must be confusing to groups like ISIS, however, to learn that they are the product of at least 10 different countries’ efforts to do… who knows what?
Bizarrely, it would appear some quarters believe that a man of ‘Jewish origin’, who was seeking to implement a ‘Zionist plan’ to divide Egypt, now inhabits the presidency.
Elsewhere, people are talking about the Muslim Brotherhood as a ‘masonic group that aims to bring a new religion into Egypt’ – something inexplicable, but an idea gaining great currency.
There are great ironies to such theories on the one hand – and disquieting consequences on the other.
A piece in Saudi Gazette shows that the 21st C. is popping up in Saudi Arabia in a way that’s causing some discomfort.
Saudi citizens are secretly recording their interactions with officials. When the official oversteps the bounds of propriety, the videos of the interactions pop up on YouTube and other social media. This, to the dismay of the officials, results in social media firestorms and, often, the firing of the official.
It’s a major change from the past where what officials did was what officials did, no questions asked. If it came down to a matter of “he said X and the other he said Y,” whichever was the official was taken as the fact of the matter. Video recordings take this argument out of the equation.
But recording without permission is against the law. Those doing the recording could be legally punished for violating that law. Only the weight of social pressure protects them.
Even in countries like the US where recording officials in the performance of their official duties is protected by law, not everyone agrees. Officials, including police officers, can be very unhappy with the fact that their actions are recorded and can serve to challenge their own versions of what happened. Nor have all officials come to understand that the recordings are, in fact, protected by law.
Technology can be disruptive and omnipresent cameras and an Internet upon which to effortlessly publish the resulting images is proving very disruptive.
Filming officials, ethical or not?
Two recent incidents have sparked a public debate, yet again, on whether the act of filming officials secretly while at work or abusing their positions is ethical or not. In the debate, the fact that the act is done in stealth is the only arguing point against secretly filming officials to reveal their wrongdoing, while many others believe that the act is justifiable.
The two incidents showed officials acting high-handedly when citizens were merely seeking answers to their questions. In the first incident, an official in the education department was filmed kicking a parent out of his office after verbally abusing him. The clip, which was widely circulated on social media and YouTube, showed the official shouting at the parent, before virtually kicking him out of his office. As a result, the Education Ministry fired the education official in the Northern Borders area for his arrogant behavior.
During his visit to Washington, Saudi King Salman extended the government’s foreign scholarship program to include all Saudis studying in the US. This includes those who had started their studies privately, paying their own tuition and costs. While these students number only in the thousands, I’m sure they (and their parents) will enjoy being relieved of the costs.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz has awarded all Saudi students in the United States with scholarships, the kingdom’s official press agency reported on Sunday.
The students will be included in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Program for Foreign Scholarships.
Last month, 30 Saudi students celebrated their successful completion of a leadership training program at Harvard University.
In 2014, the number of Saudi students in the United States reached 111,000, according to the Department of Commerce.
Arab News provides a concise history of Saudi students studying in the US. Starting with a handful of students on scholarship in the 1940s and 1950s, the number now exceeds 125,000, male and female students. This year, a record 10,491 new students will be arriving.
Saudi Arabia and the United States have enjoyed a fruitful relationship for over eight decades. This has been driven by shared interests and a vision of the late King Abdul Aziz to ensure that the Kingdom has wide and beneficial relations with the entire world, without prejudicing deep-held values and principles based on Islam.
With the discovery of oil, the Kingdom used its newfound economic status to ensure rapid development on all fronts. Apart from a massive focus on upgrading its infrastructure, there was a particular focus on the education and training of its citizens on the secular and religious fronts. This was based on the recognition that people are the true wealth of the nation.
Under the guidance of the late King Abdul Aziz, there were various institutions of learning set up in the Kingdom, with top educators brought in from other Arab countries. In addition, in 1927, Saudi citizens were granted scholarships to study in other Arab countries. It was only later that the king expanded the scholarship program to include the top universities in Europe and the United States.
Ahmed Omran — known to long-term readers as “Saudi Jeans” and now a correspondent for The Wall St. Journal — used a tweet to nudge Uber and Careem — the alternative taxi services — to provide free transportation for women to the polls. Saudi women have complained that it’s proving difficult for them to even register to vote in the municipal elections as (quelle surprise!) they’re not allowed to drive. Not all Saudi women have drivers, either. Nor are they all rich enough to spend money on taxis. Stepping up to provide free rides is extremely helpful, not to mention its being good PR for the companies.
JEDDAH: Prompted by a tweet from journalist Ahmed Omran, new-generation car booking services Uber and Careem have decided to offer free rides to women wishing to vote in the upcoming municipal elections.
The elections, which will be held in December, are the first allowing Saudi women to both run as candidates and vote.
Careem, which operates in 18 cities in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, decided it would take up Omran’s idea, reported Al-Arabiya.
“The idea to tweet about this came after a female friend of mine complained that she can’t register to vote because she doesn’t have a driver, and she wondered if the government would reimburse her if she used one of these apps,” said Omran, Wall Street Journal’s Saudi correspondent.
A commentary article in the Arabic daily Okaz slams the Ministry of Health for not knowing what it’s doing, or at least being incapable of explaining it to the public. The author notes that while the Minister of Health is saying that only two cases of MERS occurred in the prior two weeks, his ministry was reporting 54. Worse, the ministry is now consulting quacks to promise “natural, herbal cures” even though those same quacks had claimed an equally fatuous cure for HIV. The writer sees the ministry flailing about, lost and without direction.
Coronavirus: Confusion compounds
Khaled Al-Solaiman | Okaz
Our health officials never cease to astonish us. The health minister, in a press statement published on Sunday, said only two cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) were registered in the Kingdom during the past week.
This was a clear indication that the deadly virus was receding in the country and that people need not worry. But, statistics released by the ministry said as many as 34 confirmed cases of coronavirus were registered in the Kingdom during that very week!
Whom should we believe in this case: the minister or his ministry?
And on the MERS front, the count keep rising…
Saudi Arabia’s beefing up its military presence on its border with Yemen has reduced the incidence of drug smuggling, Saudi Gazette reports, by almost 90%. The vast border with Yemen has been a primary route for drugs (and other contraband) to enter the KSA. Having thousands of troops, on active patrol, has cut into the business. I suspect there’s also been a drop in the transit of illicit arms as well as trafficking in people.
Decisive Storm curtails drug smuggling by 89%
Mishal Al-Otaibi | Saudi Gazette
RIYADH — There has been a sharp decline in the percentage of smuggling into the Kingdom from across the southern Yemeni border after the launch of the Decisive Storm military operation in March this year, said Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, security spokesman at the Ministry of Interior.
“The rate of smuggling fell by 89 percent during the first four months of the operation,” he said at a press conference at the Officers’ Club in Riyadh on Tuesday evening.
Al-Turki said that the Kingdom has been successful in foiling smuggling of drugs and this has been possible with the support of some Arab countries.
“We managed to carry out preemptive operation to prevent smuggling of drugs, thanks to the flawless coordination and cooperation with the authorities of some countries. The General Directorate of Narcotic Control managed to exchange information with their counterparts in five countries about involvement of some people in the manufacturing and trafficking of drugs which led to the foiling of smuggling attempts,” he said.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that there’s not exactly a stampede of women signing up to vote in the upcoming municipal elections in Saudi Arabia…
Female voter registration centers in the governorates of Farasan Island, Al-Darb and Dhamad in Jazan region registered only 16 voters for municipal council elections. Shaha Muhammad Asiri, chairperson of the women’s election circuit in Al-Darb, said only five female voters registered during the past days due to difficult conditions and lack of awareness on elections among women. In Farasan Island, female voters registration center registered six voters and Dhamad governorate registered four female voters. — Muhammad Al-Kadawmi/Okaz/Saudi Gazette
A piece in Arab News on the topic points out that women are having a hard time even getting to voter registration locations.
Politically emancipated Saudi women are socially constrained
Molouk Y. Ba-Isa
Municipal elections will be held throughout Saudi Arabia on Dec. 12. In a historic first, Saudi women have been invited to participate as voters and candidates. This Arab News journalist went to register as a voter and discovered that for many Saudi women, making it to the polls won’t be easy.
The first voter registration center visited was No. 1061, located in a girls’ school on the outskirts of the Thuqbah District, Alkhobar. With the registration timing from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., a police car was parked at the door to the registration center, its vehicle lights on to illuminate the entrance. Inside the school there was an enthusiastic greeting from the center’s registration manager, Abeer Al Owirdi, and her team of three women.
Leaders of some 20 Islamic states have declared that it is an Islamic duty to come to terms with climate change. This includes moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, Saudi Gazette reports. The report does not present any sort of action plan or timeline, but only that something must be done.
Islamic leaders take a stance to tackle Global Warming
Saudi Gazette report
Islamic leaders from 20 countries launched a bold Climate Change Declaration to engage the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims on this urgent issue.
Adopted by the 60 participants at the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium held early last week in Istanbul, the Declaration urges governments to deliver a strong, new international climate agreement in Paris this December that will signal the end of the road for polluting fossil fuels. The Declaration can give us a chance to limit global warming levels by 2 or preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The Declaration presents the moral case, based on Islamic teachings, for Muslims and people of all faiths worldwide to take urgent climate action. It was drafted by a large, diverse team of international Islamic scholars from around the world following a lengthy consultation period prior to the symposium.
The Declaration calls for a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels and a switch to 100% renewable energy as well as increased support for vulnerable communities who are already suffering from the impact of climate change. People from all walks of life are calling on governments to scale up the transition away from fossil fuels. Wealthy and oil-producing nations are urged to phase out all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. All people, leaders and businesses are invited to commit to 100% renewable energy in order to tackle climate change, reduce poverty, and achieve sustainable development.