Asharq Alawsat reports that the MERS-CoV flu virus, which had primarily affected the elderly, particularly those with pre-existing medical conditions, is starting to affect a younger population. Since it was first reported in 2012, the virus has been very slowly spreading in Saudi Arabia, with reports of infection coming from all parts of the country. Recent research has linked the virus to camels, but direct contact with camels is not required. The most recent cases involved medical workers in Jeddah.
MERS infecting younger people
Jeddah and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—As two more people were reported dead on Wednesday in Jeddah from the MERS coronavirus, as a high-level source in the Saudi Health Ministry reported that the average age of people being infected is dropping.
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. According to the last statistics from the Saudi Health Ministry, approximately 180 people have been infected since September 2012, with at least 66 dying. The relatively high fatality rate of the virus is due to patients often being elderly or suffering underlying medical conditions.
A Health Ministry source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that the average age of those being infected by the virus is decreasing, adding that over the past four months the average age of those infected was between 35 and 40 years of age.
Just days after becoming second in line to succeed King Abdullah to the Saudi throne, Prince Muqrin has set the Saudi social media atwitter with his negative remarks about banking, Arab News reports.
During a press conference at a charity group, the prince suggested that banks behave predatorily, separating the citizen from his money without giving much — if anything — back to society. Many on Saudi social media chimed in to agree. I’m sure the prince would find an agreeable audience in some sectors of the US as well.
Royal criticism of banks sets social media abuzz
JEDDAH: ABDULLAH AL-BARGI
Saudis on social media Wednesday praised Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin for saying the nation’s banks are not doing enough for the poor.
Prince Muqrin questioned the banks’ commitment to social development, despite making record profits, at a press conference on Tuesday during a ceremony organized by the King Khaled Charity Foundation in Riyadh.
Abdulkareem Alneqez said: “Prince Muqrin has hit the nail on the head with this irritating question, which our banks would like to pretend they didn’t hear. This question will shut them up, and echo in bankers’ ears.”
Fahd Alestaa commented: “Regardless of who’s responsible for the poor in our country, banks have come up with various tricks to empty people’s wallets.”
Tamim Al-Zahrani remarked: “The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency should enact a law committing banks to charitable community services across the country.”
Waleed bin Saud said: “Prince Muqrin has pressed the right buttons. SAMA can control banks and order them to contribute to the development of our society.”
Islam is a practical religion. It has its rules and rituals, but recognizes that life sometimes makes the ideal impossible to reach. Fasting during Ramadan, for instance, is a religious obligation, but can be avoided if health, for instance, would gravely suffer as a result of fasting. Washing with water to perform ablutions before prayer is required, but if there’s no water, sand can substitute. If something gets in the way of a scheduled prayer, the prayers can be said at a later time.
Contemporary medicine relies to some degree on the use of animals, some of which are considered haram, forbidden to Muslims. Here again, for most Muslims, practicality is seen to take precedence over following religious rules by the letter. Heart valves are sometimes replaced with those taken from pigs. This is not an ideal situation for Muslims, but in extremis, it is permitted.
Currently, several vaccines are developed through techniques that involve swine. Again, the use of the vaccines is permitted as there is no practical alternative.
This is about to change, Saudi Gazette reports, as a Saudi company, working with an Indonesian concern, is working to develop non-swine-based vaccines for meningitis (which can have several causes), hepatitis, and at least one form of menginococcus disease. A halal vaccine, though redundant insofar as effectiveness and efficiency goes, does serve a purpose. There are Muslims who avoid vaccinations because they are concerned about their use of pigs in their development. Halal versions remove an excuse for non-vaccination and serve to improve public health.
JEDDAH – Three halal vaccines being produced by a Saudi corporation in collaboration with Malaysia’s Halal Industry Development Corporation (HDC) are expected to be ready in three years, reported Malaysian news agency Bernama on Wednesday.
HDC Chief Executive Officer Datuk Seri Jamil Bidin said the vaccines that are the focus of local and international scientists and Shariah experts, are meant to treat meningitis, hepatitis and meningococcal.
“We are finding ways to convert the vaccines to make it halal and hope to complete it as soon as possible,” he told the media after the official opening of the World Halal Week 2014 here on Wednesday.
If Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council has its way, sports, athletics and physical education will become part of the curriculum for girls, according to Arab News. The Council has recognized that a sound body is as important as a sound mind.
In its statement, though, it leaves enough conditions and qualifications that those bent on preventing the step will be able to delay it or make it prohibitively expensive for individual schools to implement. The Council could do better.
Shoura green light for girls’ physical education
JEDDAH: IRFAN MOHAMMED
The Shoura Council has approved the introduction of physical education for girls at public schools across the Kingdom.
Classes will be conducted according to Islamic principles and traditions, said sources.
The issue has been the subject of much debate, especially after some notable scholars, ruled that physical education, including swimming, was permissible as long as it was practiced in strict privacy.
The Ministry of Education had since allowed some private schools to teach sports to school girls.
The Ministry of Education will soon allow physical education classes for girls in public schools under qualified instructors, according to sources. The decision will be made after taking into account logistical issues, such as space, privacy and the availability of qualified female instructors.
When a woman sought to divorce her husband, the husband merely had to avoid going to court to evade the divorce. That will no longer be the case, Saudi Gazette reports, as a new law going into effect next week will authorize the courts to bring the husband to court — by force, if necessary.
Husbands refusing divorce to be dragged to courts
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — Husbands who refuse to divorce their estranged wives will be brought to the court by force as part of new judicial rules to be effective early next week, Al-Watan reported on Tuesday quoting official judicial sources.
The sources said the new system will expedite the consideration of divorce lawsuits filed by wives against their husbands.
They said if the husbands refuse to divorce, pay alimony or give the wives custody over their children, they would be brought to the court by force. The sources said the Ministry of Justice has liaised with the Ministry of Interior to implement this system.
With a massive population expansion under way, Saudi Arabia is playing catch-up with education. Fully one-quarter of the national budget is aimed at education. Building new schools to house the new students, however, isn’t enough. Those schools need to be staffed with competent teachers.
Arab News reports that a test administered by the Ministry of Education — responsible for primary and secondary education — has found that 90% of Saudi teachers, both male and female, are not quite up to the job. That is a massive failing. New schools, new texts, new computers and the like do not add up to “education”. Teachers are the ones who bring those things together in the minds of students.
The Ministry is calling for widespread new training programs to address the shortfall in teacher preparedness.
Ninety percent of Saudi school teachers have failed in a basic efficiency test conducted by the Education Ministry, said Hamad bin Mohammad Al-Asheikh, deputy minister for boys education.
“About 75 percent of male and female teachers sat the exam,” he said. Al-Asheikh criticized the diploma programs offered by Colleges of Education at Saudi universities, saying they do not meet the requirements of school curricula.
“These programs qualify the teachers to teach only at primary classes. The training program should be extended beyond one year,” he said while addressing a directors meeting for educational trainers in Alkhobar. He emphasized the importance of educational training in promoting the country’s educational standard.
“Teachers must be given intensive training to do their jobs efficiently,” he said.
Saudi Gazette reports on a fresh outbreak of Dengue Fever in Jeddah, with 68 new cases. Dengue is a viral disease for which no vaccine or anti-viral treatment is currently available. It’s a miserable disease, even in its ‘mild’ form, and has a 1%-2% morality rate.
As the virus itself cannot be dealt with, the best approach to controlling it is through vector control, that is, controlling the means through which the virus is spread. In the case of Dengue, that’s mosquitoes.
The article reports that there’s a clash between the Jeddah Municipality and the Jeddah Health Authority about just who is responsible for trying to get on top of the problem. The Municipality is responsible for spraying insecticides, but also for taking care of the numerous pools of standing water, the result of leaking water and sewage pipes, that serve as breeding areas.
Both offices clearly have a role to play. They do need to sort out who is responsible for what. But Jeddawis have a role, too. It is very much the habit of Saudis to consider what is inside the walls of their residences as their own problems and those outside the walls as nobody’s problems. That isn’t the case, though. It is necessary for ordinary citizens to pay attention to what’s going on outside their personal territory. They need to act, both as individuals and in concert to fix things as they can and to pressure government to fix things beyond their personal reach.
Dengue tightens grip over Jeddah
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — At least 68 new cases of dengue fever have been registered in Jeddah in a month, local daily Al-Watan reported on Monday quoting informed sources.
The sources said there has been a remarkable increase of the disease from early March to early April.
Meanwhile, Jeddah Health Affairs’ primary health division has criticized Jeddah Municipality’s strategy to spray insecticides, claiming it had fallen short of preventing mosquitoes from breeding.
The division said the municipality also failed to clear areas where water had collected, especially in the southern and eastern areas of the city.
“The inefficient spraying of pesticides in these areas has created a favorable haven for mosquitoes to rapidly increase,” a statement from the division said.
The municipality’s spokesman Abdulaziz Al-Ghamdi denied these allegations and said the local authority had nothing to do with the rising number of dengue fever cases.
Alternate History is a form of fiction in which some past event happened differently than it did, leading to various types of changes in the present. Usually, the stories (or films or games) are based on one critical event or factor.
Al Arabiya TV reports on one thing which, had it happened, would have lead to considerable changes and remarkable ones at that.
During WWI, a Russian Jewish doctor, M.L. Rothstein, proposed to the British government, that he raise a force of 120,000 Jewish troops who would, with assistance from the Triple Entente powers, wrestle Hasa from the Ottoman Turks, then allied with the Triple Alliance.
Hasa, of course, is in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It was, at the time of the proposal, actually part of Saudi lands. King Abdulaziz had seized it from Turkish control in 1913. The Eastern Province, of course, is where most of Saudi Arabia’s natural wealth is to be found.
Lord Balfour — author of the notorious Balfour Declaration that was one of the origins of contemporary Israel — turned down the offer.
A Jewish state in Saudi Arabia? New British document reveals 1917 idea
Kamal Kobeisi | Al Arabiya News
A Jewish state in Saudi Arabia? One Paris-based Russian Jew threw this unorthodox proposal on the table in 1917, according to a recently revealed official British document.
The strategy, which proposed an army of 120,000 Jewish soldiers invading the Gulf, was one man’s solution to carve out land for a Jewish homeland.
Only two months before the Balfour Declaration was dated, a man named Dr. M. L Rothstein tried to sway then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to create a Jewish state in modern day Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Gazette reports that there are discussions going on in Saudi Arabia about taking the necessary steps to convert the Consultative (Shoura) Council into a fully-fledged parliament.
Changes would have to be made in both how people join the Council and in its ultimate role.
Currently, all members of the Shoura Council are appointed. It should be possible to start electing at least some members through popular vote. Similarly, the Council now serves only to advise the government; it’s recommendations do not carry the force of law. That, too, could be changed, starting with limited areas of authority if necessary for government comfort.
The proposed changes are feasible. Their implementation can be done in a measured and incremental fashion.
Greater Shoura reforms sought
Experts say council should be given more powers
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — A number of prominent Saudi figures have called for introducing more reforms in the Shoura Council, including the gradual transformation of the council into an elected body.
While appreciating the achievements made so far by the council, they also underlined the need for making amendments in the 23-year-old Shoura Law to give it additional powers so that it can work more effectively, according to a report in Al-Riyadh Arabic daily.
People pin great hope on the council, which has a number of committees to tackle various issues concerning the Saudi public. The members of the council include scholars, academics and legal experts and they represent people from all walks of life.
There has been an increased demand for amending the Shoura Law to make the body’s decisions binding on the executive. Under the current system, the council’s decisions are simply recommendations and proposals submitted for the consideration of the executive authorities.
Al Arabiya TV runs analysis by Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE, on how alliances within and outside the Middle East are now taking place. The shifts are not yet tectonic, but might be considered fore-shocks, signaling that the potential for major changes in cooperative agreements — both formal and informal — is in process.
It’s clear that current alliances are under pressures that could, if left alone, lead to a reshaping. Reappraisals of national interests as well as partnerships are going on. Those countries that wish to play a role in the shaping of the future need to be aware of what’s happening and take steps to ensure that the map looks like what they want it to look like.
Shifting sands and shifting security alliances in the Gulf
Changes are afoot in security alliances in the Near East. Egypt, Saudi, UAE and Jordan appear to be forming a new regional security group. At the same time, Qatar, Iran, and Turkey are establishing another alliance. The ramifications on the GCCs future are enormous as Oman may join the Qatar group. What can we expect from these new alliances? What are the impacts on Syria and the Iranian negotiations? Where will Western states, Russia, and China fit into the new regional security dynamic?
Will the Shanghai Cooperation Organization find itself expanding to the Gulf via Iran? Will there be more trouble ahead or will these alliances clash on the political level and through proxies?
The ties between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE signal a grouping that agrees on the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) as the major threat to their stability. Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco are likely to be part of this emerging security group to provide monarchal protection and stability across the region against the Muslim Brotherhood threat. Shuttle diplomatic and military missions are increasing between all states.
Arab News publishes another uninformative article reporting that 18 people have been sentenced to jail, fines and travel restrictions following their conviction for an assortment of terroristic crimes. No names are published and the crimes for which they were convicted are reported only in general terms. These range from weapons procurement to smuggling people across borders to terrorism financing.
A special court in Riyadh has sentenced 18 terrorists to a collective 104 years in jail for various subversive and illegal activities including attempts to smuggle missiles into the Kingdom from Yemen.
They received sentences ranging from two months to 27 years. One of the convicts was jailed for 13 years, local media reported Friday.
Saudi Gazette translates an article from the Arabic Al-Jazira daily in which the writer notes that according to Saudi Arabia’s Passport Department, there is no law or regulation that requires Saudi women to have their guardian’s permission to travel outside the country. Instead, “it’s left to the discretion of the passport officer.”
So, in addition to the ‘guardianship’ set-up where women are supposed to be represented by male relatives in certain formal situations, they also have to face self-appointed, unrelated guardians. This, the writer notes, is peculiar.
She notes, too, that while there is no law prohibiting Saudi women from driving, there are all sorts of extra-legal prohibitions on it. It is time, she says, for Saudi women to be treated like adults.
Can a Saudi woman travel without her guardian’s permission?
Rogaia Soliman Al-Huwairini | Al-Jazirah
The spokesman of the Passports Department (Jawazat) recently dropped a bombshell. He said in a recent statement that there are no written instructions which prevent Saudi women from traveling without the written consent of their male guardians. He added, moreover, that the only existing regulations are those that prevent people under 21, regardless of their nationality, from traveling abroad without the approval of their parents.
The spokesman explained that preventing Saudi women from traveling abroad is left to the discretion of the passport officer at the point of departure from the Kingdom. The officer will evaluate the woman’s appearance and age before deciding whether or not to allow her to travel. Therefore, each Saudi woman now has two male guardians: one is their normal guardian (father, husband, brother or son) and the second is the passport officer.