The Washington Post runs an Associated Press report noting that this year’s Haj was free of both Ebola and MERS. Saudi public health authorities took measures to reduce the risk, up to the point of barring pilgrims from certain West African countries from taking part in Haj and continuing their visa restrictions on the sick and elderly from all other countries. I think this has to be considered a public health success.
MINA, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s acting health minister said Monday that this year’s hajj has been free of Ebola and other contagious diseases because of measures taken by the kingdom to protect more than 2 million pilgrims who took part in the annual Islamic pilgrimage.
The hajj, which lasts around five days, ends Monday. Pilgrims began leaving the desert tent city of Mina, where they were taking part in the ritual of the stoning of the devil, one of the last rites of the hajj. Many headed back to Mecca, ending the hajj as they started it by circling the cube-shaped Kaaba seven times.
There were concerns regarding Saudi Arabia’s readiness to ensure a healthy hajj for pilgrims after the kingdom became the epicenter for the potentially fatal Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. Several health workers and doctors died of that coronavirus in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, raising alarm about the safety of hospital.
Khaleej Times from the UAE runs a similar article based on a Reuters report. This report also acknowledges the heightened effort Saudi security personnel took to keep those without Haj permits out of the holy city.
The millennia-old pilgrimage to Mecca is mashing up with the smart-phone-potentiated selfie photo and not everyone is happy about it.
Saudi media are all reporting on the new phenomenon of pilgrims taking selfies and uploading them to the Internet. Some see it as just something that people will do. Others find it to be disrespectful, obnoxious, and maybe even blasphemous.
Arab News and Saudi Gazette carry a report from Agence France Presse that is typical of the reporting…
MINA (AFP): Raising his arm, Yousef Ali hugs his elderly father in front of one of the Haj sites as they pose for a selfie — a new trend that has hit this year’s Haj. But not everyone is happy about young pilgrims from around the world constantly snapping “selfies,” as they carry out the rites of Haj.
Haj is world’s largest religious gatherings of Muslims. It has attracted over two million believers this year.
“As this is my first pilgrimage, it is important for me to document all the events taking place around me,” Ali, 24, told AFP, snapping a picture of himself.
“Wherever I go, I take pictures,” the casually dressed Kuwaiti pilgrim said with a smile.
The increasingly popular phenomenon has sparked controversy among some Muslims.
Maktoob, the Yahoo! news portal, has a slideshow based on the imagery:
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that for the first time, Saudi women are now working in the slaughterhouses that provide the sacrificial animals to mark the end of Haj. While the jobs are seasonal, they are valid employment. The women work as managers overseeing quality control; as an interface between female customers and the house; and in distributing the meat to the poor.
Slowly, the conceptual barriers between “men’s work” and “women’s work” are being broken down.
For 1st time, Saudi women work in slaughterhouses
Abdullah Al-Dhhas | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
MINA — For the first time ever, 15 Saudi women are supervising the slaughtering of sheep, cattle and camels at Al- Moaissim Model Slaughterhouse, near Mina during this Haj season.
Bandar Al-Suhairi, chairman of the company operating the slaughterhouse, said the women are supervising the slaughtering of animals, assisting other women who want to use the slaughterhouse and distributing meat among the poor and needy.
He said the women employees were assigned the task of supervision and control and they prevent other women from entering the place where animals are being slaughtered.
“These are seasonal workers. The women are being employed for the first time at a slaughterhouse during the Haj,” he said.
In a culture where the idea of sexual purity can reach the level of pathological obsession, it doesn’t take much to set off an explosion.
Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Jazirah commenting on the most recent hullabaloo. A schoolgirl recites a poem for the visiting Minister of Education. The Minister, in a perfectly normal act, kissed the girl on her head. Not on her lips, on her head. And the result is a firestorm alleging sexual and moral improprieties. This is nuts and the writer isn’t reluctant to say so.
Who has victimized Janah?
Abdul Rahman Al-Shlash | Al-Jazirah
Janah Miteb Al-Shammari is a 12-year-old schoolgirl from Hail. Education Minister Prince Khaled Al-Faisal visited her school. She insisted on reciting a poem in his presence on the occasion of the National Day. The Prince was impressed by the promising talent of the young girl. In appreciation, he kissed her in a fatherly fashion on the forehead.
The kiss was from a top official, a father and an education leader to a young talent who needed support and encouragement. This historic moment will forever be imprinted in the memory of the young girl throughout her life. It is not very often that a boy or a girl student has the opportunity to meet with the man in charge of education in the country.
Regretfully this spectacular scene was marred by some sick-minded people, who linked the moment to stagnant conceptions in their brains.
Citizens with normal minds did not see anything wrong in a little girl reciting a poem and a top education official appreciating her talent with a kiss on the forehead. They only saw in the situation a kind gesture by a father towards one of his creative and talented daughters.
Writing at Al-Monitor, Bader al-Rashed, a Saudi commentator, points out how the government of Saudi Arabia seems to be trying to draw a line between the dominant interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia (frequently called “Wahhabism”) and the beliefs and actions of ISIS. There are efforts being made to identify ISIS as Kharajites, referring to the 7th C. group that supported a philosophy at odds with both Sunni and Shi’a interpretations of Islam and Islamic rule and was noted for its harsh implementation of takfirism.
This is all well and good, al-Rashed writes, but is complicated by the fact that ISIS is busy handing out books written by Mohammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, whose writing are at the core of Saudi religious belief and practice. Oops.
Over the past 10 years or so, the Saudi government has tried to back away from the most severe interpretations of Islam that it had largely acquiesced to following the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. It has managed to do so, to some extent. The government, though, has not been able to ‘convert’ all Saudis to a regime of tolerance. This is proved by its now having to arrest and imprison domestic extremists.
How Saudi Arabia is distancing itself from the Islamic State
Thirteen years after US President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism, the Middle East is no closer to victory. Instead, terrorism appears to have morphed into an even more dangerous beast in the form of the Islamic State (IS). Westerners, as expressed through the media, seem to be under the same impression as they were after Sept. 11, 2001 — namely, that the Sunni jihadist movement is linked to the Wahhabi brand of Islam emanating from Saudi Arabia. This has prompted renewed debate among Saudis about this supposed Wahhabist-jihadist connection.
After bombings in Riyadh by al-Qaeda in 2003, the relationship between terrorism and religious extremism was widely discussed in the kingdom, with the government establishing the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue that same year. During the dialogue’s second meeting, Extremism and Moderation … A Comprehensive Methodological Vision, it was agreed that religious programs in Saudi Arabia were the primary force behind the spread of extremism in society. As a result of the dialogue, school curricula, the religious curriculum in particular, were modified by the Ministry of Education. Doubts remained, however, that religious education had been sufficiently modified given that radical Islamists were believed to dominate the education sector in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is today taking seriously the allegations in the international media that it is the ideological root of the current jihadist groups. Some have sought to defend the country’s religious vision by trying to disassociate Sunni jihadist groups from their brand of Islam, instead castigating other groups, such as the Kharijites — an Islamic sect separate from Sunnis and Shiites that emerged from the first Islamic civil war in the seventh century between Ali Ibn Ali Talib and Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan following the killing of the third caliph, Uthman Ibn Affan.
As Haj begins, Saudi Gazette runs a brief photo collection showing the Grand Mosque over the years. It is indeed interesting to see how both the mosque itself and the area surrounding it have changed over the past 60 years.
Saudi Gazette reports on a divorce case before the Personal Status Court in Jeddah that wrapped several issues that almost always accompany divorces in the Kingdom into one decree. It’s not clear whether this is a result of the ongoing legal reforms in Saudi Arabia or is the result of the action of one judge.
Usually, a woman seeking divorce would have to file several separate actions with the court. The divorce, the issue of alimony, the issue of child custody, and the issue of child visitation would each involve an individual court hearing. Each step could result in untoward and expensive delays. In effect, this would allow one party to use the legal process as a cudgel against the other, regardless of the merits of the case.
I do hope that this is a universal reform in legal process in the Kingdom.
Family case verdicts issued altogether for the first time
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — In an unprecedented move, the Personal Status Court in Jeddah governorate issued last Thursday several verdicts in one go in favor of a woman who was petitioning for a divorce.
The document that was issued to her outlined the various decisions including nullification of her marriage contract, visitation rights to see her children and the right to process her children’s papers at various government authorities if she wins custody of them.
The Yemeni woman claimed her husband beat her up and insulted her. According to an informed source in the Ministry of Justice, early last month the ministry ordered the personal status courts to ensure verdicts from cases that require more than one decision are issued altogether and compiled in one document.
These cases should be given priority and processed quickly. The verdicts were issued following a lawsuit the woman filed in the court against her husband. She claimed he mistreated her and did not want to live with him.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV runs an interesting editorial by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE.
He points to the fact that ISIS can only be truly defeated if its ideology can be defeated. Military success against it, though assured, does not result in its end as it will just metastasize into a new form. He points to Saudi Arabia’s deradicalization program by name, but also notes that too many countries in the region accept the presence of extremist thought within their borders. There is currently insufficient effort being put toward teaching toleration of differences, human development, and good governance.
The intellectual battle against ISIS
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum
The global financial crisis taught the world how profoundly interdependent our economies have become. In today’s crisis of extremism, we must recognize that we are just as interdependent for our security, as is clear in the current struggle to defeat the ISIS.
If we are to prevent ISIS from teaching us this lesson the hard way, we must acknowledge that we cannot extinguish the fires of fanaticism by force alone. The world must unite behind a holistic drive to discredit the ideology that gives the extremists their power, and to restore hope and dignity to those whom they would recruit.
ISIS certainly can — and will — be defeated militarily by the international coalition that is now assembling and which the UAE is actively supporting. But military containment is only a partial solution. Lasting peace requires three bigger ingredients: winning the intellectual battle; upgrading weak governance; and grassroots human development.
Such a solution must begin with concerted international political will. Not a single politician in North America, Europe, Africa, or Asia can afford to ignore events in the Middle East. A globalized threat requires a globalized response. Everyone will feel the heat, because such flames know no borders; indeed, ISIS has recruited members of at least 80 nationalities.
Saudi Gazette runs a story noting that most Saudi university graduates — male and female — are earning degrees in fields that do not lead to jobs.
Some see this as a problem. If your goal is employment or your concern is employment figures, this could clearly be seen as a problem.
It overlooks another facet of education, though: the rounded, developed individual.
Certainly, there are fields of study that are dead-ends for all but a few. There are also majors that lead to fields already glutted with earlier graduates. While this isn’t particularly new, the current unemployment figures around the world do suggest that, if the point is employment, then people should not be flocking into these majors and schools should probably be reducing the number of classes they offer in them.
This is not a Saudi-only problem or issue. American universities turn out graduates in field for which there are no jobs, or only low-paying jobs. It’s hard to say, though, that they’re worthless for the individual student. It can only be said that they don’t lead to employment.
63% Saudis enrolled in majors unsuitable for market
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — A majority of young Saudi men and women in colleges study subjects which are not in demand in the labor market, an economist was quoted as saying in a section of the Arabic press here on Saturday.
It is important that high school graduates focus on technical and vocational training, especially in light of the fact that 90 percent of those who signed up for Hafiz Unemployment Aid Program hold degrees with specializations unsuitable for the market, Dr. John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Saudi-Fransi Bank, told Al-Hayat.
Some 46 percent or 290,000 of the Kingdom’s unemployed youth hold bachelor’s degrees. The percentage of unemployed women with bachelor’s degrees stands at 88. Hafiz program has 320,000 applicants in its database.
Over at Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem continues his critique of Arab society and politics, seeking to explain how the Arab world came to be in the situation in which it now finds itself.
He highlights the point that there is no longer any real freedom of thought in the region. Would-be intellectuals are forced into extreme positions if they wish to stay out of jail or to stay alive.
He sharply notes that while the actions of the “outsider” may prove a useful political excuse for the current state of the Arab world, it is far from an adequate excuse. He contrasts the political fortunes of Egypt and India, both becoming independent in the same year, and finds that the Egyptians — for Egyptian reasons — has fallen far behind. He further contrasts Egypt with S. Korea. Both countries had essentially similar demographics and economies in 1960, but now, Egypt has only one-eighth of S. Korea’s GDP per capita. These disparities are not accidents of faith nor are they the result of foreign oppression or interference. The stories Arabs have been telling themselves are no longer believable and populations are no longer buying into the mythology. But solving the problems can’t even start until people can start talking about them, start exploring alternatives, without having to worry whether they’ll be alive tomorrow.
Who brought the Arabs to this nadir?
In recent weeks and months I tried in this space to critique an Arab political culture that continues to reproduce the values of patriarchy, mythmaking, conspiracy theories, sectarianism, autocracy and a political/cultural discourse that denies human agency and tolerates the persistence of the old order. The article in which I said that the ailing Arab body politic had created the ISIS cancer, and a subsequent article published in Politico Magazine generated a huge response and sparked debates on Twitter and the blogosphere.
The overwhelming response was positive, even though my analysis of Arab reality was bleak and my prognosis of the immediate future was negative. Yet, these articles were not a call for despair, far from it; they are a cris de Coeur for Arabs, particularly intellectuals, activists and opinion makers, to first recognize that they are in the main responsible for their tragic conditions, that they have to own their problems before they rely on their human agency to make the painful decisions needed to transcend their predicament. These articles should be viewed through the motto of the Italian Marxian philosopher Antonio Gramsci: “Pessimism of the spirit; optimism of the will.” Pessimism of the will, means that you see and analyze the world as it is not as you wish it to be, but for this pessimism not to be fatal, it should be underpinned by the optimism of the will, to face challenges, and overcome adversity by relying on human agency.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that Saudi Arabia is going to be involved in the manufacture of trains. The article isn’t clear whether this will be locomotives, train cars, or both, but sees a potential to employ 10K Saudis in making the equipment to support a GCC-wide rail network. The Saudis seem to be working to lay down a claim on building rail equipment, closing the door on regional competition. The article goes on to extoll the reasons why it makes sense for the Saudis to do so.
Plans on track to manufacture trains in Kingdom
Mohammad Al-Enezi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
DAMMAM – The Saudi Railways Organization (SRO) is planning to enter into partnerships with international companies to manufacture trains in the Kingdom.
The head of SRO, Mohammad Al-Suwaiket, said the purpose of seeking foreign partners is to benefit from their expertise in meeting the Kingdom’s need for trains.
The country’s long-term plan is to connect the governorates and cities with a rail network.
“These trains will also solve the country’s public transportation needs,” Al-Suwaiket said, explaining that he is currently considering inviting a number of international companies that have a proven global reputation in manufacturing trains to participate in setting up production facilities in the Kingdom.