Saudi Arabia is a massive consumer of water and power. Most of it is highly subsidized which means that the government, rather than the consumers pay the real cost.

This has become untenable as the consumption is eating more and more into energy resources. Arab News reports that the government has decided that one way to slow the increase in use is to start rolling back subsidies. Once consumers have to pay the actual cost of something, they tend to pay attention to how much the use it.

Announcing a reduction of subsidies, though, can panic some consumers. As a result, the government is emphasizing that its current reductions apply only to government facilities, industry, and commercial establishments. Residents will not see the price they pay for water consumption and the consequent sewage rise.

This is a good start as residential use is far less than that of the targeted sectors. There will come a time, however, when even residential subsidies will have to be limited and the actual cost of utilities show up on the consumers’ bills.

Residential users exempt from new tariffs on utilities
JEDDAH: Fouzia Khan

The Ministry of Water and Electricity has confirmed that the new tariffs for water and electricity do not apply to the residential sector.

Explaining the new development, the ministry said that the change in tariff rates of water and electricity was approved by the Council of Ministers and is in line with the ministry’s decision to restructure the system of charging for the water supply and sewerage services. It added that the decision mainly applied to the government, commercial and industrial sectors which are the largest consumers.

The ministry said in a statement on Monday that according to the new rates, water will now have a monthly cost of up to SR6 per cubic meter while sewage services will be SR3 per cubic meter.

December:10:2014 - 10:05 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that the Ministry of Labor is dinging companies that are delinquent or derelict in paying their employees. The punishment, however — being blocked from using the Ministry’s databases or seeking Ministry assistance — seems rather light. The Ministry is not blocking the companies’ ability to get new visas; it is not fining the companies. At most, the punishments might pinch, but I don’t see that they’ll be a big motivator in changing practice. It’s a step forward, but a very small one.

707 firms penalized for violating wage rules
Fatima Muhammad | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — The Ministry of Labor has taken penal action against as many as 707 companies and establishments, which failed to implement a mandatory Wage Protection Program.

Abdullah Abu Thunain, deputy minister for inspection and work environment development, said that the punitive measures were taken following raids carried out by inspectors from the ministry during the first week of this month.

“It was discovered that more than 661 firms complied with the ministry’s regulations with regard to applying the program. The ministry suspended all computer services to 82 firms for their failure to implement the program, in addition to halting all services except issuance of work permits to 625 firms for violation of the regulations,” he said.

According to Abu Thunain, penal actions were taken against 38 companies with more than 3,000 staff. Among the total of 198 such companies, the inspectors found that 160 of them were complying with the program.

December:10:2014 - 09:53 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat reports that the Saudi government has announced a major shuffle in the Cabinet, one of the largest in many years.

King of Saudi Arabia orders major cabinet reshuffle

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi monarch King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a royal order on Monday appointing nine new ministers in the largest cabinet reshuffle seen in the Kingdom in years.

The decree, which came a few days before the drawing up of the annual budget for 2015, named Dr. Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Khudairi as Minister of Culture and Information, Dr. Mohammed bin Ali bin Hiazaa Al Hiazaa as Minister of Health and Chief of the Bureau of Experts at the Council of Ministers, and Dr. Essam bin Saad bin Saeed as Minister of State and Member of the Council of Ministers.

The Higher Education portfolio was assigned to Dr. Khalid bin Abdullah Al-Sabti while the Communications and Information Technology was assigned to Dr. Fahad bin Matad bin Shafaq Al-Hamad.

The reshuffle also included the ministries of agriculture, transport, social affairs and Islamic endowments which were assigned to Walid bin Abdulkarim Al-Khuraiji, Abdullah bin Abdulrahman Al-Muqbel, Soliman bin Saad Al-Humayyd and Dr. Suleiman bin Abdullah Aba Al-Khail, respectively.

The King also promoted Director General of Civil Defense Maj. Gen. Suleiman bin Abdullah Al-Amr and Director of Public Security Maj. Gen. Othman bin Nasser Al-Mihrij to the rank of Lieutenant-General.

December:09:2014 - 11:13 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing at Al-Hayat, and here translated by Al Arabiya TV, Jamal Khashoggi asks that Saudi Minister of Petroleum be more transparent about Saudi Arabia’s decision to not reduce oil production in the face of a worldwide glut and low prices. A result of the OPEC decision to not cut production led to a sharp drop in the Saudi stock market as investors, acting out of fear of the uncertain, decided to pull their money out.

As a result of the essential silence from the Minister, Khashoggi notes, various conspiracy theories have sprouted up. Are the Saudis seeking to hurt Russia and Iran, two political opponents who critically rely on oil sales? Is this an attempt to undercut the burgeoning shale oil industry in the US? Just what’s going on? Perhaps it’s wise to not telegraph every move to the world, but Saudis themselves have interest in the matter. And fears for the future.

Questions that Saudi Arabia’s oil minister may not answer
Jamal Khashoggi

Why doesn’t Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi address Saudi citizens and explain to them the kingdom’s decision at the recent OPEC meeting to leave the Saudi current output ceiling unchanged despite huge global oversupply? This oversupply has decreased oil prices across the world and caused a similar decrease in the Saudi stock market – expressing the worry of the local economy which knows very well that everything in the country is linked to oil and its prices.

Why doesn’t Naimi talk and reveal what he’s got? His speech to the Saudi people is a speech to the entire world. If he wants to tell the world something, he would’ve done so in Vienna where dozens of journalists and oil experts gathered. However, the minister settled with brief statements. Will he reassure the worried Saudi market if he does speak? Let’s assume he says: “Be patient. We will win in the end. The massive governmental expenditure which the rich among you depend on before the poor, some of which is spent on several businesses you’re involved with, will not be affected. The reserves which you want as a safe fund for your sons and grandchildren will only be slightly affected because this phase necessitates that.” If Naimi says that, will the market be convinced and return to rising? Will this decrease the worry of businessmen?

December:09:2014 - 11:07 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on a case currently before the Saudi courts in which a daughter is suing her father because he is preventing her from returning to her studies abroad. The girl, studying on a government stipend, claims that her father wants part of that stipend — I suppose because he thinks it his due. As her guardian, he has wide-ranging authority over her and can — as here — forbid her to leave the country. The girl is claiming that this causes her injury and Shariah law does not permit parents to injure their children.

It will be interesting to see how the court rules.

Girl sues dad for not letting her complete overseas education
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH – The Criminal Court is reviewing a case filed by a young woman who claimed her father would not let her complete her scholarship program because she refuses to give him her stipends, Makkah daily reported.

She told the judge that her father did not let her travel back to the country where she is studying.

Her father kept asking her again and again for money but she did not give him any, the court heard.

When he realized that his daughter did not have any intention to share her scholarship money with him, he waited for her until she got back and then banned her from traveling.

She accused her father of being a drug addict and having a prior criminal record.

December:07:2014 - 10:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV reports that Saudi authorities have arrested 135 people on terrorism charges. It’s interesting that the TV channel uses scare quotes around the word “terrorists.” Does it have some doubts about what the government is saying?

Saudi Arabia arrests 135 ‘terrorists’

audi authorities have arrested 135 “terrorists,” among them 16 Syrians, who were scheming to sabotage security in the kingdom, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman said on Sunday.

“The security forces were able to pursue these terrorist suspects, who differ ideologically but are united through terrorism. This resulted in the arrest of 135 terrorists,” General Mansour Al-Turki said in a statement.

Turki said the majority of those detained were Saudi nationals and that 26 were from different nationalities including 16 Syrians, three Yemenis, one Egyptian, one Lebanese, one Afghani, one Ethiopian, one Bahraini and one Iraqi.

The spokesman said 40 of those arrested hailed from different Saudi regions and were involved in training and joining radical organizations abroad. They were also vowing to return to Saudi Arabia to carry out operations to destabilize the country’s security, he said.

December:07:2014 - 10:06 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Saudi government has a penchant to use international agreements to push reforms that might meet with widespread social disapproval. “The devil (in this case, whichever treaty or agreement) made me do it!” is a useful argument.

James Dorsey, at the Mideast Soccer blog, points to an example of the Saudi government using international agreements to leverage its own program of Saudization. The government announced that Saudi soccer clubs, as businesses, would be expected to comply with quotas on the number of foreign workers. The clubs are screaming that they’re different, that they won’t be able to hire foreign players in order to stay competitive.

I think the arguments a bit specious. Unless Saudi soccer is unique in the world, the majority of the employees of a club are not players or coaches. They are the hundreds of support personnel. Specific nationality, by accident or design, has no real bearing on the ability to get the work done. Requiring the clubs to hire more Saudis will not put them at a disadvantage.

Angry Saudi soccer clubs pinpoint Gulf labour market contradictions
James M Dorsey

Mounting anger among Saudi soccer clubs at their subjugation to quotas designed to encourage employment of Saudi nationals and reduce dependence on foreign labour illustrates problems encountered by wealthy Gulf countries in balancing the contradictory demands of labour markets, often lopsided demographics, social contracts involving a cradle-to-grave welfare state that creates unrealistic employment expectations, and organizations’ need to hire personnel on the basis of nationality rather than merit.

The clubs, many of which are owned by members and associates of the ruling Al Saud family but publicly funded, warned that a Labour Ministry decision to include them in a quota system intended to force the private sector to hire a larger number of Saudi nationals could disadvantage them by preventing them from hiring foreign talent.

The clubs’ complaint mirrors problems across the Gulf with government efforts to encourage preferential employment of nationals. The complaint is particularly stark given that the kingdom unlike smaller Gulf states like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates still boasts a population in which nationals constitute a majority, if only a slim one. Qataris, for example, account for a mere six percent of the Qatari labour market, making the country wholly dependent on foreign labour with no prospect of altering the market balance.

December:04:2014 - 09:39 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

At a Brussels meeting of foreign ministers of the coalition against ISIS, Saudi Arabia’s Saud Al-Faisal warned that ISIS cannot be defeated without the use of ground troops. He did not say, however, whose troops would have to be involved or under what aegis or authority they would fight in Syria and Iraq. This is a rather large detail.

It would be interesting if the Arab League could pull together a joint army, authorizing it to combat ISIS. It’s even conceivably possible, though unlikely. Waiting for armed forces from outside the region, though, is a matter of “Let’s you and him fight.”

Saudi FM calls for troops on the ground to fight ISIS

Brussels and Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said that the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cannot be waged by aerial bombing alone during a speech to representatives of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition on Wednesday.

Speaking to diplomats from more than 60 countries and international organizations at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, the Saudi Foreign Minister said: “We are all well aware that countering terrorism will take a long time and requires continuing effort.”

“Out of the Kingdom’s keenness on the continuation of the cohesion of this coalition and the success of its efforts . . .We believe that this requires the presence of combat troops on the ground,” he said.

Wednesday’s meeting was the largest meeting of anti-ISIS coalition foreign ministers since the inception of the alliance. Representatives from more than 60 countries met to discuss the latest developments in the fight against ISIS, and released a statement to continue their efforts to clamp down on the group’s presence in Iraq and Syria.

The Saudi Foreign Minister called for increased efforts to “strengthen the forces of moderation in Syria,” singling out the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other moderate opposition forces in particular.

“This would unite the efforts of these forces to be used to purge the Syrian territory of all terrorist organizations, which occupy one third of Syria,” Prince Saud Al-Faisal said.

December:04:2014 - 09:24 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

According to this report from Arab News, the Saudi government will be installing closed-circuit TV cameras in mosques to monitor the performance and speech of clerics, most of whom are drawing some sort of salary from the government.

There has been increased concern that some clerics — both imams and muezzins — are promoting religious extremism. With over 75,000 mosques as of 2012, the government is unable to put human monitors in place. Where it has done so, it has found problematic preachers on occasion. These have been removed from their positions, but the government fears (probably correctly) that it is missing some. TV monitoring just might help identify the others. Of course, if the monitors aren’t on their toes….

Mosques to be monitored with CCTV cameras

Mosques in the Kingdom will soon have close circuit cameras and a smart control system to monitor imams and muezzins (prayer callers) as they perform prayers, religious rituals and deliver sermons. The move will help record any irregularities or violations in the mosque.

According to Abdullah Al-Howaimel, undersecretary for administrative and technical affairs at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance, all mosques will be managed by the electronic system that automatically records the activities in mosques.

“The study of the project has been completed but its implementation will be done in stages,” Al-Howaimel said.

December:02:2014 - 08:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

In another small step toward diversifying the Saudi economy away from petroleum, Saudi Arabia will soon have its own chocolate factory. Saudi Gazette reports that the Mars company is opening its first chocolate factory in the Kingdom next week. The company says it will be focusing its attention on bringing women into the workplace, but does not yet have firm plans ready to be announced.

Mars treat for Saudis: A chocolate factory in Rabigh
Selma Roth | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Following an initial investment of $60 million and allocation of an additional $150 million over the next decade, Mars Saudi Arabia will open on Tuesday its first chocolate factory in the Kingdom at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) in Rabigh.

During a press conference on the occasion of the inauguration here on Monday, Sami Darouni, Mars, Inc. regional president of the Middle East, Turkey and Africa, said although Mars had been present in the Kingdom for over 30 years, he was very proud that the first chocolate factory in this country and the third in the region — following plants in Dubai and Egypt — is now up and running.

“We’re very proud to say that we have the Platinum status” at the Ministry of Labor’s Nitaqat program, as 60 percent of our associates are Saudi employees, Darouni said, using the word “associates” for the employees hired at the factory, a term Mars uses to reflect its culture of equality.

December:02:2014 - 07:55 | Comments Off | Permalink

In Saudi Arabia, many believe they simply need domestic servants — maids, housekeepers, nannies, drivers. The problem is that many cannot actually afford them. The result is that servants go unpaid, sometimes for years.

Now, reports Arab News, the government is stepping in, in the name of transparency, with new regulations.

If a family has less than SR15,000 (US $4,000) monthly income, they’re going to be ineligible to hire servants. Domestic workers will be paid a minimum wage of SR2,000 (US $533) per month. Recruitment offices will be required to publish both the would-be servant’s nationality and professions. In this way, women qualified to serve as house-cleaners do not end up as nannies for newborns.

It’s an improvement. Restricting the number of those able to hire drivers, though, is going to negatively affect Saudi women. On the other hand, it will increase pressure to permit Saudi women to drive.

Salary below SR15,000 per month? Forget hiring housemaid or driver!

In a major move to streamline the recruitment of domestic labor from foreign countries, a top official has said that Saudis and expatriates should be drawing salaries exceeding SR15,000 per month in order to be eligible to recruit housemaids or drivers.

The Head of the Recruitment Committee in the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry Yehya Al-Maqboul pointed to the domestic labor exporting countries having laid down requirements for their nationals prior to sending them to work in the Kingdom.

“This condition will ensure the rights of domestic workers in light of rising rents and cost of living. It will also reduce the delays in paying domestics their monthly salaries which will exceed SR2000,” Al-Maqboul said.

December:01:2014 - 08:16 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Jazirah in which the writer worries the issue of jinns and the ridicule the belief in them occasions in foreign media. He’s troubled that social media report on all sorts of jinn behavior, but notes that because they are cited as real in the Quran, they must be real. The comments to the article demonstrate that belief in them is very widespread within Islamic communities around the world, and why not, as they are given reality by the very word of God?

This is, of course, awkward in a world where modern science and medicine tend to attribute the manifestations and behaviors of jinns not to external beings whom have never been investigated scientifically, but instead tend to look toward internal issues on the part of the observer.

Until there are a few dozen scientific experiments done on jinns in laboratories, belief in them will have to remain a matter of faith. Ridicule over what no one other than a believer can apprehend is just something that will have to be borne.

The problem becomes acute, however, when people are condemned to death by Saudi courts for dealing with jinns. Causes unknown to science are problematic for non-believers. Instead of legitimate cause, they see irrational behavior and violation of basic human rights.

Saudis are stuck in a hard place, between what they are told they must believe as the word of God and what few other than Muslims accept as fact.

Saudis and the jinn
Fahd Bin Jleid | Al-Jazirah

THE international and Arab media last week published a story and photograph of a boy who is said to be Saudi. The boy’s father had taken the photograph and on seeing it several days later, discovered a smiling and naked jinn next to his son.

“And say, ‘O my Lord! I seek refuge with thee from the suggestions of the Evil Ones. And I seek refuge with Thee O my Lord! Lest they should come near me.’” (Holy Qur’an verses 23:97-98).

Science is still incapable of detecting and monitoring jinns. Some non-Muslim scientists deny the existence of jinns. Yet, some of us claim to have successfully photographed them with digital cameras?

The way the Western media portrays Saudis’ belief in jinns is a very disturbing; something needs to be done to prevent further mockery.

It is we who are responsible for this negative media coverage because it is the local media that is obsessed with publishing sensational news stories.

November:30:2014 - 11:15 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
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