In Saudi Arabia, only Saudi Arabs can own the typical retail shop or store, by law. What has happened, over decades, is that some Saudis will claim to own the business, that is, they will lend their names to the operation, but in fact, it is a foreigner owning it. This “fronting” is called tasattur and, according to this Saudi Gazette report, it’s a growing problem. It has two direct negative effects, the reports says: it keeps Saudis out of jobs and it results in huge transfers of money out of the country. Indirectly, it creates problems for national security and, more importantly, it promotes disrespect for the law.

For some Saudis, it looks like easy money. They’re just renting out their names and citizenship with the rights those include. There’s no actual work that needs to be done beyond signing the original papers. Money comes in every month while the Saudi is earning an income from his regular job. It’s not unlike a celebrity licensing the use of his or her name to promote products or services. It is, however, against the law in Saudi Arabia.

Is the war against tasattur failing?
Saudi Gazette report

THE illegal practice of foreigners running businesses registered under the name of Saudis in return for fixed amounts of money known locally as “tasattur” has continued to increase despite the efforts of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Al-Riyadh newspaper reported.

Expatriate workers continue to flout Saudi laws by engaging in tasattur, something that makes them and the Saudis who help them susceptible to being fined and penalized if caught.

The practice negatively impacts the Kingdom’s economy and security, and as a result the Ministry of Commerce and Industry regularly holds seminars to raise awareness about the problem.

The ministry has also named and shamed individuals caught involved in the practice. In spite of this, tasattur continues to thrive as Saudis view it is as an easy way to become rich.

Dr. Talal Al-Bakri, a former Shoura Council member, said some Saudis place their personal interests and gain before the greater interests of the nation by circumventing the law.

February:21:2015 - 10:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports on a meeting of the military chiefs of 22 countries now taking place in Riyadh. The purpose is to come up with a unified approach to dealing with ISIS. The article notes that Bahrain is now stepping in, sending aircraft to Jordan to support ongoing operations.

infographic: countries involved in anti-ISIS activities

Anti-IS coalition chalks out strategy in Riyadh

Military chiefs from more than 22 countries battling the Islamic State (IS) group began talks here Wednesday to assess the coalition’s current strategy and map out a plan to tackle other terrorist groups operating in the Middle East.

A formal reception was hosted for the military chiefs of the foreign countries at a local hotel on Wednesday night, a diplomatic source, who requested anonymity, said.

This led to an informal round of discussions, but the main talks are scheduled for Thursday, he said. This high-powered military meeting is significant because of the growing threat posed by IS.

The meeting also coincides with the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, which started in the US Wednesday.

February:19:2015 - 09:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

The politics of today’s Middle East are so complex and rife with contradiction that Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti is warning the clerics under his supervision to just stay out of them. By indulging in political discourse from the pulpit, they are only making things more confusing. Given the clerics’ narrow education, focused solely on theology and religious law, this is wise. Al Arabiya TV republishes an item appearing in Al-Watan Arabic daily:

Saudi grand mufti says clerics should steer away from murky politics

Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh warned religious clerics to stay away from politics as it is murky and changing, the local al-Watan news website reported Wednesday.

The grand mufti, who advised clerics to check facts when discussing politics, also urged them to further showcase the danger of violence espoused by radical groups who claim to be Islamic.

While calling for unity, he described political wrangling as futile due to it not being in the service of God.

He cautioned that clerics should take into considerations the risks facing the kingdom.

In an op-ed in Asharq Alawsat, also republished at Al Arabiya TV, Abdulrahman al-Rashed expands upon the theme:

Saudi Mufti’s call on keeping away from politics

February:19:2015 - 08:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Arab News reports on a new program to help Saudi students with learning disabilities. The King Salman Center for Disability Research has signed an agreement with Beacon College, located in central Florida, that will train students to move from secondary to university education. As part of the process, a Saudi official will be resident in Leesburg, FL, to serve as liaison, but also to inform the local population about Saudi Arabia.

Disabled Saudi students to get training in US

The King Salman Center for Disability Research (KSCDR) signed a deal on Sunday with an American university to provide special training for disabled Saudi students, including high school graduates.

This was disclosed by Prince Sultan bin Salman, chairman of KSCDR, who said that the Compass Program, focusing on the transition from secondary to higher education, would take place at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, in June this year.

It is a short-term, intensive college preparatory program that will take place over five weeks. Beacon College is the first accredited institution in the world to offer a four-year degree course exclusively for students with learning disabilities.

February:17:2015 - 09:20 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The religious establishment in Saudi Arabia is very averse to foreign holidays, particularly those that might carry any religious significance. As a result, they rail against “imported” and “un-Islamic” celebrations ranging from Valentine’s Day to Halloween and Christmas, and even birthday celebrations. These foreign influences, they believe, introduce shirk or some sort of polytheism into an Islamically pure society.

Saudi merchants, however, aren’t quite so convinced (nor are large segments of the general population). Saudi Gazette reports on how merchants work to avoid the bans on selling holiday-related goods.

‘Forbidden occasions’ a chance to boost sales
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — Most retail stores, including gold shops, are waiting for what they call “forbidden occasions”, or celebrations that cannot be observed in the Kingdom.

These events start with the recent Valentine’s Day this month and end with Mother’s Day at the end of March and are often seen as crucial to helping markets recover from the annual quiet period of sales that starts after the end of Haj.

Some businessmen doubt sales will increase because the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice bans such celebrations and tour the markets to ensure that they are not selling related merchandise, but others see a significant increase in sales that could reach up to 100 percent compared to the previous four months, Al-Madina reported.

Saif Ali, manager of a gold shop in Jeddah, said the forbidden occasions starts on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, and most businessmen see them as an opportunity to increase sales by up to twice as normal.

February:17:2015 - 09:11 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV reports on the flap that followed a Saudi cleric’s assertion that the Earth does not circle the Sun. Mockery ensued on social media, quite as it should have done. Some noted with particular irony that he made his statement on Galileo’s birthday.

Saudi cleric rejects that Earth revolves around the Sun

A Saudi cleric has appeared in a recent video rejecting the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun and claiming the opposite holds true, prompting a wave of social media remarks.

Answering a student question on whether the Earth is stationary or moving, Sheikh Bandar al-Khaibari replied: “stationary and does not move.”

He then attempted to support his argument by quoting some clerics and selected religious statements. But his most controversial method to debunk the rotation theory was a “logical” deduction in which he used a visual.

February:17:2015 - 09:01 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s statistical department has released new figures on unemployment in the Kingdom, stating that the average unemployment is now 11.7% (5.9 percent among men; 32.5 percent among women). It sees the reduction as a result of government efforts to put more Saudis into jobs, that is, the Nitiqat Saudization program.

The Arab News article goes on to note that not everyone is accepting the official numbers, claiming that unemployment is significantly higher.

Saudi jobless rate down to 11.7%: Nitaqat pays off

The Nitaqat nationalization program was successful in bringing down the Kingdom’s unemployment rate to 11.7 percent — 5.9 percent among men and 32.5 percent among women, said the Central Department of Statistics and Information (CDSI).

In a statement issued on Sunday, the department put the total number of unemployed Saudis at 650,000, including 258,000 men and 392,000 women.

The department, which comes under the Ministry of Economy and Planning, said reports on unemployment rate in the Kingdom published by some newspapers and other media organizations were not correct.

February:16:2015 - 09:37 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on a statement from the Saudi government condemning murders in both Copenhagen and Chapel Hill, North Carolina that are apparently based on religious intolerance.

KSA condemns terrorist acts in Copenhagen, North Carolina
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The Kingdom has followed up with great sorrow the heinous terrorist and criminal incidents in Copenhagen and North Carolina which resulted in killings and injuries to innocent people, the Saudi Press Agency quoted an official source as saying on Sunday.

The Kingdom called for the need for respecting religious beliefs and halting incitement against Muslims.

At the same time it stressed its rejection of all heinous terrorist and criminal acts in all their forms and manifestations, and any source or belief that stands behind them.

The Kingdom offered its condolences to the families of the victims of terrorism and their relatives, wishing the injured people a speedy recovery.

It also runs, in another section of the paper, a brief comment noting that American Christians in Texas helped an Islamic center damaged by fire by offering space until the damage can be repaired.

Christian generosity goes untold in Texas fire story

The government seems to be making an effort to encourage religious tolerance.

February:16:2015 - 09:29 | Comments Off | Permalink

The American Interest blog runs a brief analysis about why Saudi Arabia is comfortable with — if not exactly thrilled about — today’s lower oil prices.

Why the Saudis Aren’t Cutting Production

With oil trading at less than half of what it was last June, plenty of market observers have been surprised by OPEC’s decision not to scale back output to set a floor to the price. One compelling reason is that the cartel’s largest member is well prepared to ride out this bear market. The EIA reports:

In addition to having the second-largest proved oil reserves—268 billion barrels, or 16%, of the world total in 2014, behind only Venezuela’s 298 billion barrels—Saudi Arabia has a massive sovereign wealth fund (SWF) that will enable it to weather lower oil prices. To maintain spending at the same level as in the past, Saudi Arabia would need to tap its SWF, which currently has $733 billion, or about 19 times its expected 2015 budget shortfall of $39 billion. Consequently, the short-term effect of lower oil prices on Saudi Arabia should be minimal. In contrast, OPEC’s decision to keep crude oil production near present levels, keeping supply high and prices low, has affected the budgets of members that lack Saudi Arabia’s financial reserves.

February:13:2015 - 11:39 | Comments Off | Permalink

Citing the deteriorating security situation in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, Saudi Arabia has decided to withdraw its diplomats. It is the first Arab country to do so, but other nations, including the US, UK, Germany, and Italy have already done so, Al Arabiya TV reports.

Saudi suspends embassy work in Yemen

Saudi Arabia, Germany and Italy have suspended operations and evacuated diplomatic staff at their embassies in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Friday.

“As result of deterioration in security and political conditions in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, the kingdom has suspended all embassy operations in Sanaa and evacuated its entire staff, who arrived safely in the kingdom,” State news agency SPA quoted a foreign ministry source as saying.

The kingdom is the first Arab country to evacuate embassy staff from Sanaa, after several Western governments, including the United States, shut their missions this week.

Meanwhile Germany and Italy are following suit and have pulled their staff from their embassies too.

February:13:2015 - 09:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

According to this Arab News report, young Saudi entrepreneurs are lamenting the failure rate of business start-ups. They point to nearly a quarter million failures over the past two years, blaming government red-tape and the difficulty in obtaining funding as the principal causes.

Start-ups are risky, everywhere in the world. According to The Wall Street Journal, three-quarters of start-ups in the US fail.

Getting funding is notoriously difficult in Saudi Arabia. The banks are conservative and do not like to take risks, particularly if they’re presented by young businessmen with no record of achievement. That’s a cultural issue and it’s common to banks around the world. As of yet, there are no large pools of venture capitalists in the Gulf, willing to take those risks either. This is just a fact that the businessmen will have to keep lobbying and pleading to change. A few big successes might serve to change some minds, but risk is risk.

Bureaucratic barriers are a different matter, though. The government should seek to minimize them. At the same time, the government has objectives — like Saudization — that argue against hiring cheap foreign labor when it’s not absolutely necessary. Is it necessary to waive requirements so that small businesses can take off? That’s a political question and, so far, it’s one the government is not willing to countenance.

Saudization blues: 212,000 SMEs closed down in 2 years

Young Saudi business leaders have appealed to the government and the private sector for more support because they say about 212,000 small and medium enterprises (SME) have had to close up shop over the past two years for various reasons including tough Saudization regulations, lack of finance and lengthy bureaucratic procedures.

These entrepreneurs believe that they can revolutionize the SME sector given proper opportunities and support, including attracting foreign investment, developing a culture of productivity in society and tapping the country’s other resources, thus increasing the Kingdom’s nonoil exports.

They have called on chambers across the Kingdom to establish special committees for young entrepreneurs, resolve obstacles facing them and create a suitable atmosphere for their active participation in boosting the economy. They believe that if Saudis can grow the SME sector, this would help reduce remittances by expatriate workers.

February:12:2015 - 10:36 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The Gulf Cooperation Council is not planning to address the change in government in Yemen with military force, Asharq Alawsat reports. Even though the Shi’ite Houthis (identified as a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia and others) has taken control of Yemen’s government, the GCC does not believe that military reaction is called for at this time.

GCC will not take military steps in Yemen: Gulf official

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has no plans to take military steps to safeguard its interests in neighboring Yemen following the Houthi takeover of power, a senior Gulf official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The oil-rich organization strongly condemned what it described as a “blatant coup” by the Houthi rebels against the legitimate government of outgoing president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, warning that it undermined the peaceful transition of power and showed a disregard toward national stability.

The Houthi movement has emerged as the de facto ruler of Yemen, forcing Hadi to resign and announcing a controversial “constitutional declaration” last week that dissolved parliament and tightened the Houthis’ grip on power.

The GCC has called on the UN Security Council to act swiftly to put an end to the coup before Yemen descends into further chaos.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a senior GCC official said that coordination among the six member states was underway to formulate a firm stance towards the situation in Yemen.

In an op-ed, Tariq Alhomayed calls for Arab troops to directly address the problem of ISIS. In the face of US reluctance to get involved on the ground, it’s up to Arabs to take the initiative.

We need Arab boots on the ground to defeat ISIS
Tariq Alhomayed

After the burning alive of Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz Al-Kasasbeh by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a strong response—international in nature, but Arab at its core—is needed, not as retaliation for this abominable crime, but to finally defeat ISIS and rein in the other evil forces wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, namely Bashar Al-Assad and Iran.

Months ago I wrote in this paper that the fight against ISIS was at heart a Sunni one, and I believe recent events now prove this to be true. There are a number of reasons as to why I conceive this as a Sunni battle. One is that the lack of a prominent Sunni presence fighting ISIS will leave the door open for Iran and sect-based militias to fill the vacuum in Syria and Iraq. This will seriously threaten the unity of these countries, helping Assad to turn Syria into a country of militias, or bringing about more Nuri Al-Maliki-style sectarian politics in Iraq—or a scenario in either country along the lines of the Houthi takeover of Yemen.

The international anti-ISIS coalition now needs to shift gear and put Arab boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq, bolstering these forces with aerial bombardment. This is the only way to contain and eventually destroy ISIS. Today we have before us a US president who has adopted a policy of “strategic patience” in dealing with a phenomenon like ISIS, a policy he plans to practice until the end of his term in 2016. I’m not bringing this up just to lambast Obama; the man has had more than his fair share of criticism recently. The point of mentioning all this is that our region simply does not have the luxury of Obama’s indolence. For this reason, a full-scale but balanced Arab military mobilization is needed right now.

February:12:2015 - 10:17 | Comments Off | Permalink
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