Saudi Arabia makes its condemnation of the Islamic State complete with a statement from Grand Mufti Sheikh Abudulaziz Aal-Alsheikh. The government has already placed the group on its list of terrorist organizations and has promised to punish those found supporting it. It has followed through on that promise by firing imams and jailing Saudis who return to the country after fighting alongside the group in Syria and Iraq. The country has also warned those who offer support — financial or other — to the extremist group.

Grand Mufti: IS is Islam’s ‘enemy No. 1’
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Aal Alsheikh on Tuesday blasted Al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants as “enemy number one” of Islam.

“The ideas of extremism, radicalism and terrorism… have nothing to do with Islam and (their proponents) are the enemy number one of Islam,” the Kingdom’s top scholar said in a statement issued here on Tuesday.

He cited militants from the Islamic State, which has declared a “caliphate” straddling large parts of Iraq and Syria, and the international Al-Qaeda terror network.

“Muslims are the main victims of this extremism, as shown by crimes committed by the so-called Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and groups linked to them,” the grand mufti said, quoting a verse from the Holy Qur’an urging the “killing” of people who do deeds harmful to Islam, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

Alsheikh’s stance reflects the growing international hostility toward Islamic State militants, known for their brutality.


August:20:2014 - 07:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

I don’t know whether there’s been a new rash of objectionable materials or that the volume of existing materials has reached a peak, but Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is asking for the Ministry of Interior to make more arrests for blasphemy.

Saudi Gazette reports that the Commission is seeking to have more websites blocked and more action taken against those on social media who are “distorting” Islam in various ways. Pornography, of course, remains a big issue as the government, with its filters operated by the Communication & Information Technology Commission (CITC) can only do so much. A blocked site can change its address almost as quickly as the CITC can block them. Those Saudis with a modicum of computer savvy can find their way around the filters and blocks with ease.

Haia asks ministry to arrest blasphemers
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) has asked the Ministry of Interior to arrest those who insult Almighty Allah or the Prophet (peace be upon him), Makkah daily reported.

The Haia said it is coordinating with the Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) to block pornographic websites and others that insult the Muslim faith.

The commission said this coordination resulted in a large number of websites being blocked.

The commission said it is preparing reports on a number of programs, applications and copies of the Holy Qur’an whose verses have been distorted. It is coordinating with the authorities to prevent the circulation of such material, the Haia said.


August:19:2014 - 07:31 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Writing at Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem finds the origin of extremist groups like ISIS to be in the Arab penchant for “conspiracy theories, delusions, self-deception, paranoia and xenophobia.” Undemocratic societies, where government seek to control the flow of information, leave vacuums which people will seek to fill. They end up filling them with nonsense, with anger, with paranoia.

It’s worth reading his column in full. He does a good job of pointing out the various zany theories that are rippling across not only the Arab world, but the world at large. And it’s scary.

Enough lies, the Arab body politic created the ISIS cancer
Hisham Melhem

Most people are averse to introspection, and rarely engage in self-criticism. Arabs are no different. However, the political culture that developed in the Arab World in the last 60 years, particularly in countries ruled by autocratic regimes, shifted blame from their catastrophic failures in governance to other external, sinister forces. For these countries, self-criticism has become next to impossible.

Over time, this legacy has created fertile terrain for conspiracy theories, delusions, self-deception, paranoia and xenophobia. If you read an Arab newspaper or many a website in the region, you will invariably encounter some of these symptoms. Admittedly, sometimes they can be entertaining, but in most cases they are downright ugly, reflecting deep pathologies of fear.


August:16:2014 - 08:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

According to a report in Arab News, Saudi Arabia is now the Arab world’s leading producer of honey. Five thousand beekeepers are producing 9,000 tons of honey per year.

Due to the popularity of locally-produced foodstuffs, some Saudi honeys sell for as much as SR1,000 (US $300) per kilo.

Kingdom top producer of honey in Arab world
Jeddah: Irfan Mohammmed

The Kingdom is the leading producer of honey in the Arab World, producing over 9,000 tons annually and is home to 5,000 beekeepers and 1 million bee nests, said Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, organizing committee chairman of Al-Baha’s seventh International Honey Festival. The festival concludes Saturday in the presence of international experts and regional visitors.

The sale of honey went soaring at the festival, organized by the Beekeepers Cooperative Association (BCA) under the auspices of Baha Gov. Prince Mishari bin Saud in collaboration with Abdullah Bugshan, chairman of the bee research unit at King Saud University (KSU).

“Beekeepers have sold over SR2 million worth of honey in a single week,” Al-Ghamdi told Arab News.


August:15:2014 - 09:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

The passage of time changes things. Rather than a vast, undelimited region across which migrating tribes traveled, there are now national borders that delineate the countries of Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Oman. With the drawing of borders came nationalities; with nationalities, there came regulation, registration, and documentation.

Some of the members of the migrating tribes missed out on becoming anchored to a nationality. They, known as the Bidoon, or “stateless” suffer in various ways through their lack of anchoring. As they cannot demonstrate that they belong to any one state, they do not qualify for state-offered programs and support like education, health care, and various subsidies, as well as access to jobs. The various countries in which the Bidoon are found have offered a variety of ways in which to ‘regularize’ them, with some programs being better than others.

Saudi Gazette reports on a new Saudi initiative that will offer government-provided ID cards to the Bidoon to grant them access to at least some social programs. This will not make them Saudi citizens — they won’t be eligible for Saudi passports, for instance — but it will not leave them completely out in the cold, either.

Jawazat issues special IDs to Bidoon

Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The Directorate General of Passports (Jawazat) has issued special ID cards for the members of migrant tribes currently living at the outskirts of the Kingdom’s regions. The people of such tribes are commonly known as the Bidoon (people without identities).

Director General of the Jawazat Maj. Gen. Sulaiman Al-Yahya told Al-Hayat newspaper in a statement published Tuesday that the new ID cards would facilitate all the official procedures for these people.

“The cards look similar to the iqamas (residence permits) of the expatriates but they have many privileges over them. Their holders will be treated on equal footing with the Saudi citizen,” he said.

Al-Yahya said the data on the Bidoon are currently being collected prior to the issuance of these cards.


August:13:2014 - 08:41 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s decision to not issue Haj visas to would-be pilgrims from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia seems to have been a wise one. Al Arabiya TV reports that a Saudi who had traveled to Sierra Leone has died in a Jeddah hospital of what is suspected to be Ebola. I’m sure Saudi authorities are working like mad to see if there is any possibility that he might have infected others. The last thing the Saudis want is an outbreak of Ebola following Haj, either in the Kingdom or in the countries from which pilgrims come and to which they return.

Saudi man dies of suspected Ebola virus

A Saudi man, who was hospitalized for suspected Ebola infection, died on Wednesday.

The man, in his 40s, had returned recently to Jeddah from a business trip to Sierra Leone, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday. He was admitted to hospital on Monday and showed symptoms of Ebola virus infection.

His death marks the first reported casualty of the Ebola epidemic in the Arab world and comes as an emergency World Health Organization summit was being held in Geneva to discuss measures to tackle the epidemic.


August:07:2014 - 08:41 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

The Washington Post carries a piece by Steffen Hertog, of the London School of Economics, discussing the problems of employment across the GCC.

The major problems are that government jobs, while useful in the early days of these states, simply cannot be created in sufficient numbers to employ the majority of the population that likes the perks of government jobs; that the gap between wages and benefits paid to expats and to nationals is too wide; that private sector jobs just aren’t attractive when compared to government jobs.

The writer suggests that governments institute simple cash payments to all nationals. Salaries earned in the private sector would thus serve as a “top-up” to their income, rather than be the primary source of income. Interesting idea…

Gulf-employment

The GCC’s national employment challenge
Steffen Hertog

Citizens of the Gulf monarchies are more dependent on state employment than anywhere else in the world (except perhaps North Korea). As working age populations grow, the implicit government job guarantee is increasingly becoming unsustainable, especially in relatively poorer countries such as Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ruling elites recognize this, and have been pushing for increased private employment of Gulf nationals. These “Gulfization” policies are set to be the GCC’s prime social and economic challenge in coming decades. No one is close to resolving it: Private sectors continue to be dominated by migrant labor, with nationals holding a small or miniscule share of private jobs.

“Gulfization” policies have acquired additional urgency in the wake of the Arab uprisings. The costly wave of public job creation decreed by GCC rulers soon after regional turmoil spread in 2011 has further increased the long-term cost of the government payroll. GCC regimes have become even more sensitive to the economic demands of their young populations – who are for the most part not openly politicized, yet are concerned about their economic status and often expect their governments to cater to their needs. Public sectors in the poorer GCC countries already cannot absorb all new job seekers.


August:05:2014 - 07:03 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports that the oldest text written in Arabic (actually, in a Nabatean-Arabic script) has been discovered in the far southwest of the country. The Arabic script appears to have been developed from several sources, including that of the Nabatean civilization that ruled to the north of current Saudi Arabia, but was known to have reached into northern Saudi Arabia at least as far as the area in which the ruins of Medain Saleh are found. The newly discovered inscription demonstrated the antiquity of trade routes to Yemen and is an important indicator of both the development of Arabic script and the history of the region.

Nabatean-Arabic missing link: ‘Oldest’ inscription found in Najran

A Saudi-French archaeological team has unearthed in Najran what might be considered the oldest inscription in the Arabic alphabet, said a spokesman from the French Foreign Ministry.

“The epigrapher Frédéric Imbert, a professor at the University of Aix-Marseille, found the Nabatean Arabic inscription about 100 km north of Najran near the Yemeni border,” said the spokesman. “The first thing that makes this find significant is that it is a mixed text, known as Nabatean Arabic, the first stage of Arabic writing,” he said.

This script had previously only ever been seen north of Hejaz, in the Sinai and in the Levant. The second is the fact that these inscriptions are dated. The period indicated corresponds to the years 469-470 AD. This is the oldest form of Arabic writing known to date, the “missing link” between Nabatean and Arabic writing, he added.


August:04:2014 - 08:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

In Saudi Arabia, the issue of women’s working is a fraught one. People argue about whether women should be working outside the home at all. And then they argue about which kinds of jobs are “appropriate” for Saudi women.

There was huge social outcry when some Saudi women said that they were willing and able to take jobs as maids. This was “beneath their dignity,” many declared. Starving with dignity, I guess, is preferred.

But nursing as a profession is also a societal flashpoint. Nurses have to deal with patients and their bodies. They might even have to deal with patients of the opposite sex — and their bodies. And there’s the problem. Saudi society has developed an unnecessary linkage between bodies and sex and sex is a highly regulated (in principle) subject. Until recently, only Saudi orphans could work as nurses because — as they had no families to be ashamed — they were viewed as shameless.

That attitude hasn’t changed much, according to this story in Saudi Gazette. Saudi women still have to deal with stereotypes (from God-knows-where) that nursing is somehow comparable to immoral behavior. Hospitals, to the dismay of some, means the mixing of the sexes in the workplace. Worst of all, it includes bodies. sometimes, naked bodies that have to be touched. This might be acceptable for expat nurses (God knows their morals are already questionable), but it is not acceptable for good Saudi women.

Saudi nurses still tackling stereotypes
Saudi Gazette report

MAKKAH — A number of young Saudi women nurses are facing problems and obstacles in their work environment that hinder them from performing their duties properly.

Nurse Abeer Al-Sa’edi told Makkah Daily that some people reject the idea of women working as it allows for both genders to mingle, going against Saudi traditions.

She said: “There is no doubt that some television dramas give the wrong image of working nurses and instilled incorrect stereotypes in the minds of many who are against women working in this sector.”

Iman, another nurse, stressed the need to develop nursing by providing nurses with the necessary knowledge and professional development in addition to improving the image of the profession in the community by highlighting the role of employees.


August:04:2014 - 08:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, when millions visit the country to perform religious rites, is fraught with dangers to public health. This year is a particularly complicated one.

The MERS virus, which is percolating in Saudi Arabia and has a 40% mortality rate, has been an area of concern for the past several years. Reuters, in a story carried by Al Arabiya TV, reports that ten new MERS cases were identified during Ramadan and its succeeding Eit al Fitr. Two of the cases were diagnosed in Mecca; two in Jeddah. So far, it seems that there have been no major outbreaks.

It can take up to two weeks for the MERS virus to trigger symptoms in those infected, however. We’ll need to wait a bit longer to be able to safely say that the bullet has been dodged.

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Saudi authorities do not — at present — see any reason to issue travel warnings for Haj, coming up in October. The Saudis, though, are continuing to issue cautions for the ill and elderly to avoid Haj if they can. The number of Haj visas is also restricted due to construction projects in Mecca. Intentionally or not, this should also reduce the risk.

Ramadan pilgrimage season in Saudi Arabia mostly free from MERS

Reuters | Riyadh — Saudi Arabia reported 10 confirmed new cases of a deadly respiratory disease during Islam’s fasting month of Ramadan, and subsequent Eid Al-Fitr holiday, after fears that an influx of pilgrims over the period might spread the infection more widely.

Notices of any new confirmed cases are published at the end of every day by the Health Ministry. Ramadan ended a week ago and the Eid Al-Fitr holiday ran until late last week.

Hundreds of people were infected by Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the Kingdom in April and May, raising concerns about the pilgrimage in Ramadan and during October’s Haj, when millions of people will travel to Makkah and Madinah.

MERS, which is thought to originate in camels, causes coughing, fever and pneumonia in some and has killed around 40 percent of people it has infected in the Kingdom.

The Ebola virus, which has broken out in western Africa, however, is a different matter. According to this report from Saudi Gazette/Okaz, the Saudi government is denying visas to applicants from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, places where the outbreak has occurred. The last thing the Saudis — or anyone else — wants is to have Haj serve as the point from which a global epidemic breaks out.

No Haj and Umrah visas for 3 African nations
Muhammad Dawood Muhammad Dawood | Okaz/ Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — The Ministry of Health (MOH) has banned the issuance of Haj and Umrah visas for Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia because of concerns about the spread of the Ebola virus in these countries, according to Dr. Khalid Marghalani, MOH spokesman.

The ministry constantly coordinates with the ministries of Haj and Foreign Affairs to take all necessary measures at borders and airports. “We have communicated the instructions to the officials of all ports of entry. We have trained our personnel on how to identify and deal with Ebola cases and control virus infection, should it happen,” he added.
Okaz/ Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — The Ministry of Health (MOH) has banned the issuance of Haj and Umrah visas for Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia because of concerns about the spread of the Ebola virus in these countries, according to Dr. Khalid Marghalani, MOH spokesman.

The ministry constantly coordinates with the ministries of Haj and Foreign Affairs to take all necessary measures at borders and airports. “We have communicated the instructions to the officials of all ports of entry. We have trained our personnel on how to identify and deal with Ebola cases and control virus infection, should it happen,” he added.


August:04:2014 - 08:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Yousef Al-Dayni analyzes the dreams of developing a new Caliphate that will rescue the Islamic world from the troubles it faces. Whether it is a terrorist group like ISIS or something more vague as hoped for by ‘moderates’, the dream is an expression of the lack of self-confidence, he says. It is also self-defeating as there is simply no place for a caliphate in the modern world, where people of different religions do and must interact constantly and peacefully, practicing real tolerance for differences.

Waiting for a ‘savior’ to ride in to rescue Islam — like the Lone Ranger, or perhaps King Arthur redux — is simply a dream. It allows one to avoid dealing with the real world, but does absolutely nothing to address the issues that need to be resolved. Violence and extremism in the name of a caliphate are not going to resolve them, either.

Islamic Self-Delusion
Yousef Al-Dayni

I was recently speaking with a well-known “moderate” Islamist figure about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and how this terrorist group has managed to defame the true image of Sunni Islam within just a few short months—more than Al-Qaeda and other violent extremist groups ever have. While this well-known preacher agreed with me about ISIS and its false brand of Sunni Islamism, he said this does not eliminate the dream of the return of the caliphate—the aspiration of every Muslim who wants to see Islam rise up and advance, as Islam cannot do so without its state.

This rejection of ISIS and terrorism while still wanting to see the return of the caliphate represents a major problem in Islamic discourse today. This is the result of a state of low self-esteem in the Islamic world that has existed since the fall of the last caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, and represents a response to the arrival of new Islamic discourse that not only frowned at the idea of caliphate, but viewed this as being inherently flawed.

The reality of the Muslim Ummah today is one of the absence of effective and influential religious leaders, with the return of popular Islamist discourse justifying violence. We have seen the rise of many groups and organizations based on this discourse, including ISIS, Ajnad Al-Sham, the Ahfad Al-Rasul Brigade, Fatah Al-Islam, Al-Qaeda and many others. It is just that ISIS has gone the furthest by announcing an Islamic State in parts of Iraq and Syria and paying allegiance to a caliph.

However, ultimately, the emergence of such groups has only contributed to further harming Islamic self-confidence and self-esteem. Who could believe that barbaric and brutal organizations such as these, whose fighters are proud to pose with the severed heads of defeated enemies, could turn into an alternative to true Islam? Those who follow and support these groups are doing so solely out of spite towards the ruling regimes in our region—not in support of Islam, which is suffering today more out of the ignorance of its supposed followers than the hatred of its enemies.


July:31:2014 - 09:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink

Arab News reports that Saudi women are taking birth control seriously. The article — which has a mishmash of figures that really do not provide clarity to the article — does point out the increased use of birth control in the country. The expense of large families is deemed to be the major factor, though not rushing into pregnancy upon marriage is also cited.

SR108m spent on birth control pills
JEDDAH: RIMA AL-MUKHTAR

Saudi women have bought over six million birth control pills costing SR108 million last year, according to a study by Saudi-based pharmacies, Makkah newspaper reported.

The total sale of the medication amounts to SR108,585,594 for about 5,877,318 medical boxes and units while the list also shows that women usually buy certain brands, with the Gynera brand being in the lead with sales of SR34.2 million, followed by Yasmin at SR27.2 million, Marvelon at SR23 million and Neo Sampoon at SR4,600,000 last year.

Economist Thamer Abduwahhab blames the high cost of living in the Kingdom as the reason for families who are resorting to limit their size. “Everything is expensive these days, from the cost of giving birth in hospital to clothing, food and schooling,” he said. “Families now prefer to have a maximum three children and some believe that one child is enough for them and that’s all they can afford,” he added.


July:30:2014 - 08:01 | Comments Off | Permalink
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