Saudi Gazette translates a piece from Okaz, its Arabic daily sister paper on the question of wasta, the use of influence and connections to get things done.

Wasta can help or hurt, depending on whether it’s being used for or against one’s interests. This is something that the Senior Board of (Islamic) Scholars acknowledges when it condemns as haram its use when it offends the rights of others. But Saudi society is built on the patron:client model, where patrons — whether within a family or tribe or otherwise — are expected to use their influence to help members of their group. It’s the rare occasion when its use does not hurt another, if only by denying him a just opportunity. Still, it is expected and to not use wasta can result in condemnation from the family.

The writer of the piece offers a wholly unworkable solution: a fixed number of uses of influence. While this might reduce the extent of the use of influence — the patron would have to save up his chances for the really important ones — it does nothing to address the fact that by favoring one over another because of connections, an injustice is still being permitted.

Who said wasta is haram?
Ahmad Ajab Al-Zahrani | Okaz

There are several practices that have taken place in our society so often that they have become norms that are passed down from one generation to another. Today, it gets more and more difficult to discuss and debate these practices and whether they are lawful, legitimate or unfair and whether or not they damage society. Wasta (using influence to get people to do something for you) is definitely one of these practices.

I can swear that not a week goes by without a senior official being involved in wasta. Someone calls him and tells him that he has been sent by such and such a person and he needs help. Maybe the person who wants help is a father who wants to get his son into university by getting around the system or who wants to find a job for his son and asks the official to help.

Many people do not know that wasta according to the law against bribery is actually a crime. The law stipulates that any government official who fails to perform his duties honestly and breaches the trust placed in him by doing or refraining from doing an act at the request of someone else is guilty of committing an act of bribery, punishable by up to three years and a fine of not more than SR100,000. It is natural that a large number of people are not aware of this fact because the issue, as I mentioned earlier, is sensitive and it is difficult to discuss it, let alone work toward ending it.


October:11:2014 - 08:08 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi media break with common practice by citing the name of a young Saudi believed to have left his education program in Australia to join a terrorist group in Syria or Iraq. Usually, Saudi media avoids naming names, but here — likely because of the family’s concern about their son — they do mention it. I think the article is intended, too, to alert other Saudi parents to the possibility of their children’s being suborned while abroad. What is notable, too, is the speed with which this story is being reported. The family sought assistance from the government of Australia just three days ago. This suggests that the Saudi government is on very high alert for wandering students studying abroad.

Brother fears missing Saudi student now Islamist militant

The Saudi student who “mysteriously” disappeared in Malaysia last month is believed to have joined one of the terrorist groups in Syria or Iraq, his brother told Al Arabiya.net.

Meshaal Suhaimi, who joined an English-language program in Sydney, Australia, last year, has been missing since Sep. 20. Suhaimi reportedly stopped attending his classes and left for Malaysia instead.

“He is young. And he is a conservative Muslim. He was definitely [indoctrinated],” said his brother, Mohammad Suhaimi. “We received pictures from one of his colleagues in Australia that prove that he is in a conflict zone.”

Saudi Gazette runs a similar story:

Saudi student missing in Australia may have joined extremist group


October:09:2014 - 07:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Al-Jazeera TV offers a useful interactive page that shows the types of assistance (humanitarian, military, or both) that are being provided to the coalition fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It has another graphic that shows which nations have taken part in air attacks on ISIS targets and where those targets are located.

Countries countering ISIL


October:07:2014 - 06:54 | Comments Off | Permalink

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.

Hajj free of Ebola amid protective measures

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.

Saudi Arabia happy with Haj free of Ebola, Mers


October:07:2014 - 06:43 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

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…

Haj selfies: A new trend among pilgrims

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:

#HajSelfie: Muslim pilgrims snap photos on spiritual journey


October:06:2014 - 07:13 | Comments Off | Permalink

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.


October:05:2014 - 06:51 | Comments Off | Permalink

Eid Al-Adha Mubarak


October:04:2014 - 08:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

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.


October:03:2014 - 10:06 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

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
Bader al-Rashed

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.


October:02:2014 - 06:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

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.

Grand Mosque 1951

Haj over the years


October:02:2014 - 05:26 | Comments Off | Permalink

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.


October:01:2014 - 08:56 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

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.


September:29:2014 - 06:06 | Comments Off | Permalink
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