In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Adbulrahman Al-Rashed comments on the recent flurry surrounding Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamidi’s appearance on TV with his unveiled wife and declaration that Islam does not require women to be veiled in order to protect their modesty. In addition to receiving a negative reaction — and threats — from some, the Grand Mufti also jumped in to state that he was in error.
Al-Rashed points out that by going on TV in this way, the sheikh has opened new ground for discourse in Saudi Arabia. Instead of private conversations undertaken in homes, issues of modernization and reform are now finding public fora, including social media. This, he says, can only be for the good.
Why did Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Ghamidi succeed?
The enormity of stock market losses, the drop in oil prices for the first time in years, ISIS massacres, terrorists’ attacks in Riyadh and its suburbs and the football fever have all faded in Saudi Arabia this week in the shadow of one single story. Sheikh Ahmad Qassem al-Ghamidi appeared with his unveiled wife on television. According to Saudi local standards, this is tantamount to a nuclear bomb and the story soon developed into a controversy that hasn’t settled yet on all platforms and levels.
This may seem like a silly issue in any other Muslim country but in Saudi Arabia it has shocked and angered many and become an amazing surprise to those in support of Ghamidi’s move. The event thus confirms a severe division within Saudi society which consists of movements that express its diversity. Some threatened to sue Al-Ghamidi, though I don’t know over what! While other considered him a modernizing pioneer whom history will immortalize. The certain truth is that Sheikh Ghamidi has shocked Saudi public opinion and reshuffled views once again – although many before him have made such a move, he’s actually the first cleric to do so. Ghamidi has assumed influential religious posts and has accepted to be challenged by his rivals who accused him of hypocrisy and advising others of what he cannot do. It’s on colleague Badria al-Bishr’s show on MBC television that Ghamidi appeared with his unveiled wife in defiance of others, and Saudi media arenas became gripped in this controversy ever since.
Arab News reports that a number of Saudis are planning to sue Sheikh al-Ghamdi. As al-Rashed notes in his piece, however, what grounds they might find for suing is a pretty big question.
A couple of days ago, the former head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Mecca said that there’s no religious obligation for Muslim women to cover their faces. Today, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti says that’s mistaken. He points to two verses from the Quran which he says do require covering.
Retract remarks and repent, Grand Mufti advises Al-Ghamdi
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH – Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Aal Alsheikh has asked Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ghamdi, former Makkah chief of Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia), to repent for his recent comments on niqab (face veil) which have created a lot of controversy in the country.
During a local program presented by Dr. Badriya Al-Bishr, a prominent Saudi media personality, Al-Ghamdi said women were not required to wear niqab (face veil). Al-Ghamdi was accompanied by his wife without a niqab.
Grand Mufti said there are Quranic verses that say hijab (head cover) is obligatory for each and every Muslim woman and that women should cover their faces, MBC.net reported. Alsheikh cited the following Quranic verses:
The Jeddah Municipality has been cracking down on restaurants that do not meet health requirements. In addition to shutting down offending restaurants and fining them, the Municipality is also naming them. That, argue affected restaurant owners, is too much.
“See you in court,” is the Municipalities reply. Naming the restaurants is the only way that people can learn what is dangerous and what is not. The Ministry is refusing to back down in the face of restaurateurs’ complaints.
A number of restaurant owners whose businesses have been shut down recently by Jeddah’s municipality, have defied the decision by opening their doors again. Several owners also tried to attack inspectors, requiring the intervention of police to help close down their businesses.
Muhammed Al-Buqami, Jeddah municipality’s spokesman, confirmed the events, noting that the decision to shut down the restaurants is only temporary. He said some of the establishments that opened without approval from the municipality, have been shut down again, and received a fine for violating the municipality’s ruling.
Al-Buqami also addressed the recent complaints made by these restaurant owners to the Makkah governorate, calling the municipality’s decree, an injustice.
Al Arabiya TV reports on the storm of social media following the appearance of a Saudi cleric — formerly head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Mecca — in which he stated that the wearing of the veil is not obligatory for Muslim women. While Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi received abuse and threats from some, he also received support from others on Twitter.
Al-Ghamdi has raised the ire of conservatives in Saudi Arabia on earlier occasions, as when he stated that music was not forbidden by Islam and that men and women working together was entirely fine in principle.
A Saudi cleric caused massive controversy this week when he said on a prominent television program that contrary to what some Muslims believe, women are NOT required to wear the niqab (face veil) and are allowed to use make-up and other beauty products.
To further strengthen his argument, Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamidi brought his wife UNVEILED to last Saturday’s “Badria,” a talk show hosted by the renowned Saudi media personality Badria al-Bishr on Al Arabiya’s sister channel, MBC. (Episode can be watched here).
Ghamdi, who is a former head of the Holy City of Makkah’s branch of the Saudi Committee for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (commonly known as the Religious Police), was discussing a fatwa (religious edict) which he had issued previously, permitting women to show their faces and wear make-up.
Saudi Gazette reports on a student-operated radio station, out of Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, that brings Saudi Arabia a bit closer to the US. The station, run by three Saudis, combines music and talk, in English and Arabic. The station can be accessed online — according to the article — and receives calls-in from Saudi Arabia as well as the Gulf.
Three students in Pittsburg launch first Saudi-run radio station in US
Nicolla Hewitt | Saudi Gazette
THERE are estimated to be over 15,000 radio stations in the United States, but there’s only one that’s got people in Saudi Arabia listening – Gahwa Al Sareea – also known as “Evening Coffee.”
The radio show is being broadcast by students from the Kingdom who are currently studying at Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania. It was the idea of Fahad Al-Fifi, who said, “I came up with this idea for a radio show about two months ago. I saw there were so many Arabic people in the Pittsburg area but nobody really understood how things worked here. So I went to our media department and asked if we could broadcast a show in English and in Arabic, so both communities could benefit. We really wanted to build a friendly bridge for both of us, and the university loved the idea.”
As of this semester there are over 7,000 students enrolled at Robert Morris University, nearly 400 of them are from Saudi Arabia. Located just outside of Pittsburgh, the university is named after Robert Morris, a signatory to the Declaration of Independence.
Saudi Arabia is a massive consumer of water and power. Most of it is highly subsidized which means that the government, rather than the consumers pay the real cost.
This has become untenable as the consumption is eating more and more into energy resources. Arab News reports that the government has decided that one way to slow the increase in use is to start rolling back subsidies. Once consumers have to pay the actual cost of something, they tend to pay attention to how much the use it.
Announcing a reduction of subsidies, though, can panic some consumers. As a result, the government is emphasizing that its current reductions apply only to government facilities, industry, and commercial establishments. Residents will not see the price they pay for water consumption and the consequent sewage rise.
This is a good start as residential use is far less than that of the targeted sectors. There will come a time, however, when even residential subsidies will have to be limited and the actual cost of utilities show up on the consumers’ bills.
Residential users exempt from new tariffs on utilities
JEDDAH: Fouzia Khan
The Ministry of Water and Electricity has confirmed that the new tariffs for water and electricity do not apply to the residential sector.
Explaining the new development, the ministry said that the change in tariff rates of water and electricity was approved by the Council of Ministers and is in line with the ministry’s decision to restructure the system of charging for the water supply and sewerage services. It added that the decision mainly applied to the government, commercial and industrial sectors which are the largest consumers.
The ministry said in a statement on Monday that according to the new rates, water will now have a monthly cost of up to SR6 per cubic meter while sewage services will be SR3 per cubic meter.
Saudi Gazette reports that the Ministry of Labor is dinging companies that are delinquent or derelict in paying their employees. The punishment, however — being blocked from using the Ministry’s databases or seeking Ministry assistance — seems rather light. The Ministry is not blocking the companies’ ability to get new visas; it is not fining the companies. At most, the punishments might pinch, but I don’t see that they’ll be a big motivator in changing practice. It’s a step forward, but a very small one.
707 firms penalized for violating wage rules
Fatima Muhammad | Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — The Ministry of Labor has taken penal action against as many as 707 companies and establishments, which failed to implement a mandatory Wage Protection Program.
Abdullah Abu Thunain, deputy minister for inspection and work environment development, said that the punitive measures were taken following raids carried out by inspectors from the ministry during the first week of this month.
“It was discovered that more than 661 firms complied with the ministry’s regulations with regard to applying the program. The ministry suspended all computer services to 82 firms for their failure to implement the program, in addition to halting all services except issuance of work permits to 625 firms for violation of the regulations,” he said.
According to Abu Thunain, penal actions were taken against 38 companies with more than 3,000 staff. Among the total of 198 such companies, the inspectors found that 160 of them were complying with the program.
Writing at Al-Hayat, and here translated by Al Arabiya TV, Jamal Khashoggi asks that Saudi Minister of Petroleum be more transparent about Saudi Arabia’s decision to not reduce oil production in the face of a worldwide glut and low prices. A result of the OPEC decision to not cut production led to a sharp drop in the Saudi stock market as investors, acting out of fear of the uncertain, decided to pull their money out.
As a result of the essential silence from the Minister, Khashoggi notes, various conspiracy theories have sprouted up. Are the Saudis seeking to hurt Russia and Iran, two political opponents who critically rely on oil sales? Is this an attempt to undercut the burgeoning shale oil industry in the US? Just what’s going on? Perhaps it’s wise to not telegraph every move to the world, but Saudis themselves have interest in the matter. And fears for the future.
Questions that Saudi Arabia’s oil minister may not answer
Why doesn’t Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi address Saudi citizens and explain to them the kingdom’s decision at the recent OPEC meeting to leave the Saudi current output ceiling unchanged despite huge global oversupply? This oversupply has decreased oil prices across the world and caused a similar decrease in the Saudi stock market – expressing the worry of the local economy which knows very well that everything in the country is linked to oil and its prices.
Why doesn’t Naimi talk and reveal what he’s got? His speech to the Saudi people is a speech to the entire world. If he wants to tell the world something, he would’ve done so in Vienna where dozens of journalists and oil experts gathered. However, the minister settled with brief statements. Will he reassure the worried Saudi market if he does speak? Let’s assume he says: “Be patient. We will win in the end. The massive governmental expenditure which the rich among you depend on before the poor, some of which is spent on several businesses you’re involved with, will not be affected. The reserves which you want as a safe fund for your sons and grandchildren will only be slightly affected because this phase necessitates that.” If Naimi says that, will the market be convinced and return to rising? Will this decrease the worry of businessmen?
Saudi Gazette reports on a case currently before the Saudi courts in which a daughter is suing her father because he is preventing her from returning to her studies abroad. The girl, studying on a government stipend, claims that her father wants part of that stipend — I suppose because he thinks it his due. As her guardian, he has wide-ranging authority over her and can — as here — forbid her to leave the country. The girl is claiming that this causes her injury and Shariah law does not permit parents to injure their children.
It will be interesting to see how the court rules.
Girl sues dad for not letting her complete overseas education
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH – The Criminal Court is reviewing a case filed by a young woman who claimed her father would not let her complete her scholarship program because she refuses to give him her stipends, Makkah daily reported.
She told the judge that her father did not let her travel back to the country where she is studying.
Her father kept asking her again and again for money but she did not give him any, the court heard.
When he realized that his daughter did not have any intention to share her scholarship money with him, he waited for her until she got back and then banned her from traveling.
She accused her father of being a drug addict and having a prior criminal record.
The Saudi government has a penchant to use international agreements to push reforms that might meet with widespread social disapproval. “The devil (in this case, whichever treaty or agreement) made me do it!” is a useful argument.
James Dorsey, at the Mideast Soccer blog, points to an example of the Saudi government using international agreements to leverage its own program of Saudization. The government announced that Saudi soccer clubs, as businesses, would be expected to comply with quotas on the number of foreign workers. The clubs are screaming that they’re different, that they won’t be able to hire foreign players in order to stay competitive.
I think the arguments a bit specious. Unless Saudi soccer is unique in the world, the majority of the employees of a club are not players or coaches. They are the hundreds of support personnel. Specific nationality, by accident or design, has no real bearing on the ability to get the work done. Requiring the clubs to hire more Saudis will not put them at a disadvantage.
Mounting anger among Saudi soccer clubs at their subjugation to quotas designed to encourage employment of Saudi nationals and reduce dependence on foreign labour illustrates problems encountered by wealthy Gulf countries in balancing the contradictory demands of labour markets, often lopsided demographics, social contracts involving a cradle-to-grave welfare state that creates unrealistic employment expectations, and organizations’ need to hire personnel on the basis of nationality rather than merit.
The clubs, many of which are owned by members and associates of the ruling Al Saud family but publicly funded, warned that a Labour Ministry decision to include them in a quota system intended to force the private sector to hire a larger number of Saudi nationals could disadvantage them by preventing them from hiring foreign talent.
The clubs’ complaint mirrors problems across the Gulf with government efforts to encourage preferential employment of nationals. The complaint is particularly stark given that the kingdom unlike smaller Gulf states like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates still boasts a population in which nationals constitute a majority, if only a slim one. Qataris, for example, account for a mere six percent of the Qatari labour market, making the country wholly dependent on foreign labour with no prospect of altering the market balance.
According to this report from Arab News, the Saudi government will be installing closed-circuit TV cameras in mosques to monitor the performance and speech of clerics, most of whom are drawing some sort of salary from the government.
There has been increased concern that some clerics — both imams and muezzins — are promoting religious extremism. With over 75,000 mosques as of 2012, the government is unable to put human monitors in place. Where it has done so, it has found problematic preachers on occasion. These have been removed from their positions, but the government fears (probably correctly) that it is missing some. TV monitoring just might help identify the others. Of course, if the monitors aren’t on their toes….
Mosques in the Kingdom will soon have close circuit cameras and a smart control system to monitor imams and muezzins (prayer callers) as they perform prayers, religious rituals and deliver sermons. The move will help record any irregularities or violations in the mosque.
According to Abdullah Al-Howaimel, undersecretary for administrative and technical affairs at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance, all mosques will be managed by the electronic system that automatically records the activities in mosques.
“The study of the project has been completed but its implementation will be done in stages,” Al-Howaimel said.
In another small step toward diversifying the Saudi economy away from petroleum, Saudi Arabia will soon have its own chocolate factory. Saudi Gazette reports that the Mars company is opening its first chocolate factory in the Kingdom next week. The company says it will be focusing its attention on bringing women into the workplace, but does not yet have firm plans ready to be announced.
Mars treat for Saudis: A chocolate factory in Rabigh
Selma Roth | Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — Following an initial investment of $60 million and allocation of an additional $150 million over the next decade, Mars Saudi Arabia will open on Tuesday its first chocolate factory in the Kingdom at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) in Rabigh.
During a press conference on the occasion of the inauguration here on Monday, Sami Darouni, Mars, Inc. regional president of the Middle East, Turkey and Africa, said although Mars had been present in the Kingdom for over 30 years, he was very proud that the first chocolate factory in this country and the third in the region — following plants in Dubai and Egypt — is now up and running.
“We’re very proud to say that we have the Platinum status” at the Ministry of Labor’s Nitaqat program, as 60 percent of our associates are Saudi employees, Darouni said, using the word “associates” for the employees hired at the factory, a term Mars uses to reflect its culture of equality.