Nasser Al-Qassabi, who made a name for himself with the notorious TV satire program “Tash Ma Tash,” is back this Ramadan with a new, one-man show, “Selfie.” He’s not only drawing heat from Saudi imams, as reported below, but he’s put himself in the crosshairs of ISIS/Daesh and its supporters.
Writing at Arab News, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim says that if nothing else, he’s drawing Daesh-supporters out of the woodwork as they take to Twitter and other social media to lambast him… and threaten his life.
Nasser Al-Qassabi Exposing Daesh in his own way
During the holy month of Ramadan, the time for breaking the fast (Iftar) is not only considered a meal but it is the time when all members of a family sit together to enjoy these special moments.
Saudis have developed a new habit during the past two decades i.e. watching television together at Iftar time. This has become a prime time during which various television channels, mostly Arabic of course in this part of the world, compete to attract as many viewers as they could. The time of the last prayer of the day i.e. Isha starts two hours after the Maghrib prayer. These two hours are filled with tens of programs catering to the needs of different segments of society. One man who creates waves and makes millions smile needs a special mention. His program Tash Ma Tash is widely watched in the Arab world.
This show in Ramadan has become Saudi Arabia’s televised stand-up comedy show. The show had featured many actors but the two main characters were Nasser Al-Qassabi and Alsadhan. This year, a new show called Selfie, has been launched featuring only actor and comedian Nasser Al-Qassabi.
In another Arab News piece, Al-Qassabi is reported to be taking the threats on his life with a certain equanimity, putting his fate in the hands of God. He is also receiving words of support, from Saudis and others, for showing that those who preach religion can be and often must be distinguished from religion itself.
Khaled Almaeena, Editor-at-Large for Saudi Gazette, comments on how the Ministry of Islamic Affairs seems incapable of enforcing its own decrees on its own employees. He criticizes the way firebrand preachers (who do draw salaries from the government) ignore Ministry directives, large and small. If they cannot be called into line over little things like the banned use of loudspeakers to broadcast sermons, he asks, what chance is there to haul them up short when they’re preaching divisive sectarianism and misusing religion to attack those that annoy them?
A rant too far by an Imam
THE Minister of Islamic Affairs has issued directives for an investigation into the rantings of an Imam of a mosque in Asir, who condemned the Saudi actor Nasser Algassabi and accused him of heresy.
Algassabi, well known for his satire in previous shows like “Tash Ma Tash”, has been the object of vilification and scorn by many hard-liners before. But he is again the target of incoherent attacks for his irreverent double entendres on television.
However, this time Saeed Bin Farwa, the mosque Imam, has gone too far with his ravings, outgunning his own ilk in his accusations. Other preachers also appeared on social media some invoking God’s wrath on Algassabi.
These people apparently have acted for many reasons, known only to them. Personally I think it gets them attention and followers, and that’s why they are quick to shoot from their lip.
Hacking government computer systems is going on around the world and Saudi Arabia isn’t immune. Al Arabiya TV reports on Saudi government reaction to the release of tens of thousands of internal documents into the wild late last week, noting that the hack itself probably took place last month.
The government is engaged — as governments are wont to do — in various efforts at backing and filling: “Security is at a high standard.” “Investigation is proceeding.” And the admonitory, “Beware of false documents posing as real ones,” with absolutely no hints given on how to distinguish the two.
The government avows that whatever was released was only expected government policy: “nothing to see here, move along.”
As with any hacks like this, what’s out there might be interesting, but it’s largely lacking context.
The Saudi foreign ministry on Sunday described content of Wikileaks’ publications of more than 60,000 documents as showing no contradiction to its declared policies and warned against circulation of these documents as many were “fabricated,” Al Arabiya News Channel reported.
Head of Information Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Ousama Al Naqli confirmed to Al Arabiya News Channel in an interview that the organized electronic attack that targeted the ministry was not able to hack most classified documents which are in millions.
He also said “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs uses a system with very high standards. It also uses one of the best protection systems in the world.”
Ambassador Naqli said the current information is related to an earlier attack, and refers to the well-known policy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Working within the limits Saudi society puts on them, some Saudi women are finding ways to couple their home skills with social media in order to turn a profit. Saudi Gazette reports that women are turning to various social media like Instagram and Twitter to market their home cooking to customers to busy to cook for themselves. While there seems to be considerable room to grow the industry, there is some concern that some hygienic standards be set and enforced. That seems reasonable.
Saudi women use social media to market cooking skills
Saudi Gazette report
MANY Saudi women use the popular micro-blogging site Twitter and photo-sharing site Instagram as an easy and inexpensive way to market their homemade dishes to potential clients.
These social media “cooks” have discovered a way to give people access to healthier, homemade food at a fraction of the cost they would pay in a restaurant.
Al-Riyadh daily reports on the increasing number of home-based businesses that rely on social media to market their products.
Although the food is prepared at home and customers do not know whether or not hygiene standards were followed, many people are still willing to take the risk and buy the food they just liked on Instagram.
Al Arabiya TV features a Reuters report on the 2014 Annual Report on Terrorism from the US Department of State. The report is global, but most interest is focused on the Middle East, primarily with the rise of ISIS. The report is based on State Dept. reporting conducted in 2014, but is published now.
The section on Saudi Arabia notes Saudi confrontations with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and with ISIS/ISIL, but does not include conflict in Yemen that broke out only this year. It does report on widespread Saudi anti-terrorism and anti-terror-financing efforts.
Big rise in deadly terror attacks, says U.S. report
Warren Strobel | Reuters Washington
Terrorist attacks worldwide surged by more than a third and fatalities soared by 81 percent in 2014, a year that also saw ISIS eclipse al-Qaeda as the leading jihadist militant group, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.
In its annual report on terrorism, the department also charts an unprecedented flow of foreign fighters to Syria, often lured by ISIS’s use of social media and drawn from diverse social backgrounds.
Taken together, the trends point to a sobering challenge from militant groups worldwide to the United States and its allies despite severe blows inflicted on al-Qaeda, author of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in Washington and New York.
Al-Qaeda’s leaders “appeared to lose momentum as the self-styled leader of a global movement in the face of ISIS’s rapid expansion and proclamation of a Caliphate,” the report said, using an alternate acronym for Islamic State.
Ramadan, the holy month that calls for dawn-to-dusk fasting, has some exceptions. Pregnant women and the ill can postpone their fasts, for instance. But soldiers involved in fighting can also break their fasts if they think it necessary, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti reminds. Arab News has the details:
JEDDAH: Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh has announced that soldiers fighting on the country’s borders can break their fast in the middle if they find fasting too difficult.
“You are fighting for God’s sake and in God’s name, and we are proud that you are bravely defending your country. If you have the ability to fast, then do so.
“But for those who cannot, there is a legal excuse to end your fast before time. May God grant you a great victory and support you,” he said, according to a report in a local publication on Thursday.
Al-Asheikh, who is also president of the Council of Senior Scholars, wished the soldiers well for the holy month.
The iqama was one of the most critical pieces of identification a foreigner resident in Saudi Arabia could hold. It showed that s/he was authorized to reside and was one of the most frequently demanded documents a foreign could hold.
Now, in an effort to abate fraud, the iqama is being replaced by the machine-readable muqeem (“resident”) card, according to an Arab News report. It will not specify the period of validity on its face, but will be linked to central databases that provide that information which is subject to the individual’s terms of entry and residence.
Defeating fraud: ‘Muqeem’ card to replace iqama
RIYADH: The government will provide new machine-readable identity cards to expatriates from the first day of the Islamic year, or Oct. 14 this year, in a bid to fight fraud and improve the efficiency of its systems.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior, launched the “Muqeem” (Resident) card, which will replace the current one, in Riyadh on Thursday. The name “iqama” would no longer be used by the department.
The new card can last for five years or more, depending on how the user looks after it. All expatriates will have this identity document in place of the current one, Col. Khalid Al-Saykhan, director of information technology, told Arab News.
However, Al-Saykhan warned that the new document does not mean residency laws have changed. This was only a move to improve the efficiency of the department’s e-system, he said.
“The residency periods for expatriates will stay the same. The period of stay must be recorded through the Abshir system, to register an identity card automatically,” he said.
Al Arabiya TV reports that Saudi Arabia and Russia have signed six agreements concerning the development and peaceful use of nuclear power in the Kingdom. This is in line with other agreements the Saudis have signed with the US, France, Korea, and others.
It’s a bit peculiar in that Russia is a strong supporter of Iran’s nuclear program, about which the Saudis have grave and negative suspicions. It could be that the Saudis think that pulling Russia on board might give Saudi Arabia some leverage vis a vis the Iranian program, but I wouldn’t count on that if I were they.
Saudi Arabia on Thursday signed six agreements with Russia including the peaceful use of nuclear technology, Al Arabiya News Channel reported.
The news comes after Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg on Thursday after arriving in Moscow late Wednesday in an official visit, the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Meanwhile, two sources told Reuters that the oil ministers of Russia and Saudi Arabia plan to discuss a broad cooperation agreement on Thursday at an economic forum in St Petersburg.
Saudi Arabia is the top producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and the world’s top oil exporter, while Russia, which is not an OPEC member, is the second biggest oil supplier to the global markets.
Saudi Gazette carries an Agence France Presse report on more deaths from MERS in South Korea. There are now a reported 23 deaths in that country, making it second, after Saudi Arabia, in terms of mortality.
The spread in S. Korea is happening in a person-to-person manner, something not really seen in Saudi Arabia outside the healthcare worker context.
Seoul (AFP) — South Korea reported three more deaths from the MERS virus Thursday, bringing the number of fatalities to 23 and amplifying fears that authorities do not have the outbreak under control after the WHO criticised their response.
Three more cases of the virus were also confirmed Thursday, despite authorities saying earlier in the week that South Korea had weathered the worst of the crisis.
The number of infections now stands at 165, in what is the largest outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outside Saudi Arabia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday the South Korean outbreak was a “wake-up call” and that a lack of awareness about the virus among health workers and the public was a major contributing factor to its rapid spread.
Al Arabiya TV reports that the attitudes of Saudis about terrorism have changed over the past ten years. In the past, excuses would be sought to explain extremist acts; extenuating circumstances would be found to somehow make those acts reasonable. Now, the article (and accompanying video) say, there’s no tolerance for it. Even families are turning their young, extremist members to the authorities.
Saudi views shifting on Islamic extremism
Shounaz Meky | Al Arabiya News
More voices are making themselves heard in Saudi Arabia, expressing their rejection of terrorism and violence by extremist groups in the name of Islam, Al Arabiya News Channel reported.
The report notes how Saudi perceptions of extremist groups has changed over the last 10 years.
Saudis rushed to denounce two recent suicide attacks against Shiite mosques in the kingdom that killed at least 25 people.
However, when there were terror attacks in 2003 and 2005, the report said Saudis were much more inclined to justify terrorism and sympathize with extremist groups than they are now.
Another piece on the same webpage points to social media as a facilitator of extremist thought. While the article extols government efforts to contain it, it also calls for coordinated international action, on the parts of government but also by social media companies, to rein it in.
And here, even though Al Arabiya glosses over it, the time-worn argument rises: “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Having excused terrorism in the past because the supposed goals of the terrorist were acceptable, governments in the region are now faced with dealing with the terrorist methodology when the goals aren’t quite so in line with government policies. Not having a First Amendment as does the US, the Saudi government approach ignores the fact that differences in opinion are always going to exist. It’s not the opinions that matter most when it comes to terrorism, but the means through which people seek to call them into reality.
While there’s talk of permitting Saudi women to travel abroad without “guardians,” there are more basic hurdles that need to be met. Saudi women have to first get passports. That’s not always easy.
Saudi Gazette reports on a Saudi female activist pointing out the dysfunction that obtains when a Saudi woman must obtain permission from a court to even get a passport where her son doesn’t face the same barrier. She notes (as have many others) the way Saudi culture and law seem to keep women infantalized, never permitting them to become responsible for their own actions. This, she also points out, is in contrast to how other countries, even similar, neighboring countries treat their women.
Activist slams court letter rule for women’s passport
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — A human rights activist has strongly criticized the complications put before Saudi women to obtain their own passports without the consent of their male guardians.
Suhaila Zain Al-Abdeen, member of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), was responding to recent statements by the Director General of Passports (Jawazat) Maj. Gen. Solaiman Al-Yahya, who said Saudi women would be allowed to have their own passports issued for them if they show a letter from a court.
“Why does the issuance of a woman’s passports depend on a letter from the court?” Al-Abdeen told Ain Al-Yaum electronic newspaper, Saudi Gazette’s sister publication.
She said a letter from the court might take time to process even though the traveler might have a family emergency to tend to.
“Why is a young man under 20 not asked for the consent of his male guardian or to bring a letter from the court when he wants to obtain a passport while his own biological mother may need a letter from the court if she wishes to have a passport? “Is it a case of trusting the young man while we deny this right to the woman who gave birth to him?”