Saudi Arabia leads the world in terms of YouTube viewership. But Saudis aren’t just consuming YouTube videos. Al Arabiya TV runs this Reuters report on how young Saudis are creating content to fill the void created by state-operated media (void because no one watches it for other than Saudi sports and religious inspiration).
Saudis live in a severely constrained social environment. As a result, many youths are living a ‘virtual’ life on the Internet where they are able to say and see things that are otherwise not available to them. Rather than waiting for governmentally shaped commentary, they make their own and get immediate feedback, both positive and negative.
Young Saudis getting creative on YouTube
Turn on a Saudi television and you’ll usually get a diet of religious programming and uncontroversial imported fare. But there’s much more to a “night in” for the average Saudi – they’re also the world’s most avid watchers of YouTube.
The programs of Jeddah-based UTURN, from drama to reality shows, are typical. “3al6ayer,” or “On the Fly,” is a Saudi version of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” “Eysh Elly” is a lighthearted weekly review of Arab online videos.
As of mid-September, UTURN had 286 million views on YouTube and 8 million followers on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, most of them Saudis, said Abdullah Mando, 27, who set up the company in 2010 with two university friends.
The secret of UTURN’s success is simple, but in a Saudi context, rather revolutionary: give the audience what it wants
Saudi Arabia is a country of night owls. Largely due to the intense heat that prevails during daylight hours, Saudis have time-shifted their lives. Things close down during the hottest part of the day only to re-open as the sun starts to set. It is after dark that most social activity — and a large amount of economic activity — take place. Keeping shops open to midnight or beyond certainly provides convenience for the late-nighters, but it comes at a cost. Young Saudis, particularly women, just aren’t interested in jobs that keep them working long into the night.
The Ministry of Labor is considering new regulations that would close retail establishments no later than 9 PM, Saudi Gazette reports. Whether Saudis would accept a reduction in their nighttime entertainment — and shopping is very much an entertainment in the Kingdom — is another matter. It’s all well and good for those Saudis who would prefer to work reasonable hours, but perhaps not so good for those who find nighttime the only time they can do their shopping.
An argument could certainly be made that air conditioning has made the traditional daily patterns obsolete. But getting society to shift its activities for purely functional reasons may be a hard sell.
Close shops by 9 p.m. – Study recommends
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH – The Ministry of Labor has forwarded to higher authorities a study that recommended closing retail shops by 9:00 p.m. A decision to this effect is expected to be issued soon, Mansour Al-Shethri, chairman of the trustee board of Riyadh Center for Small- and Medium-scale Business Development was quoted as saying by the Arabic language daily Al-Riyadh on Sunday.
The study has recommended that shops should remain open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. with prayer breaks in between. Al-Shethri, who is also a member of the board of directors of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), said the early closure of shops will help attract Saudi youths to open and run retail outlets.
The majority of small- and medium-scale businesses are retailers with expatriate workers controlling the jobs in this sector. In Riyadh alone, there are over 35,000 retail shops, making it the city with the largest number of retailers all over the Kingdom. Riyadh also registered the highest percentage of the increase in the number of retailers on an annual basis at 16% while in advanced countries the number of retailers increases by only 2% per annum.
The state of the judiciary in Saudi Arabia is problematic. While the country has undertaken a program of massive legal reform, training and re-training judges, and working to codify laws, individual judges remain an issue.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz front-page an article about a handful of judges who are being relieved of their positions and one who will be facing trial. Their actions range from sending out inappropriate Tweets to financial corruption.
Judges sacked for corruption, absence, lack of discipline
Adnan Al-Shabrawi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — Judicial authorities are completing procedures to relieve four judges from their posts for corruption and discipline-related reasons.
Okaz/Saudi Gazette learned that one of the judges was accused of financial corruption and is still detained in a Riyadh prison.
Another judge was relieved from his post for remaining absent from work for a whole year while the remaining two were dismissed for disciplinary reasons such as inappropriate tweeting, even though they were repeatedly warned.
The judge accused of financial corruption, identified as F.Y., is expected to stand trial within the next few weeks before a disciplinary committee.
He will also be tried before the Supreme Judicial Council and will be able to defend himself.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed offers commentary on the current idea that Saudi Arabia will obtain nuclear weapons from Pakistan if Iran produces its own.
He notes that Iran cannot claim self-defense as a motive for nuclear weapons acquisition, but Saudi Arabia most certainly can. Iranian weapons directly threaten the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia will either have to obtain its own or have treaties with partners whom it can trust to reply to a nuclear attack on the Kingdom. Given that Saudi Arabia does not trust the US to act in the Saudi interest these days, that strongly implies that Saudi Arabia will acquire its own bombs.
Saudi Arabia’s nuclear bomb
There has been recent talk of Saudi Arabia’s supposed determination to buy a nuclear bomb from Pakistan. Firstly, is this even possible in light of the international agreements signed by both countries forbidding the owner of a nuclear weapon to transfer or sell it? This question is especially pertinent as Saudi Arabia is not allowed to manufacture such a weapon for military purposes. Secondly, would such nuclear weapon add any value to Saudi Arabia’s defense systems?
After buying Chinese missiles and after news of the secret deal was leaked, it was said that Saudi Arabia might use these missiles to carry nuclear warheads. However, in 1988 the kingdom signed a treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons technology. Saudi Arabia now abides to that treaty, along with 190 other countries. There have always been stories and skeptical media campaigns stating that Saudi Arabia intends to become a nuclear power. Such stories were supported by claims made by an employee who defected from the Saudi embassy in New York. He said that Saudi Arabia is building a nuclear bomb to support Iraq. Before that, a U.S. intelligence analyst had said that Saudi Arabia supported Pakistan’s nuclear project with an investment of $2 billion.
From Foreign Policy magazine, a piece discussing how Saudi Arabia — finding that the US is not a useful partner at the moment — is looking for their own solutions to what they consider serious international problems.
Saudi Arabia’s Shadow War
The Kingdom is turning to Pakistan to train Syria’s rebels. It’s a partnership that once went very wrong in Afghanistan. Will history repeat itself?
BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia, having largely abandoned hope that the United States will spearhead international efforts to topple the Assad regime, is embarking on a major new effort to train Syrian rebel forces. And according to three sources with knowledge of the program, Riyadh has enlisted the help of Pakistani instructors to do it.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, along with the CIA, also supported the Afghan rebels against the Soviet-backed government during the 1980s. That collaboration contains a cautionary note for the current day: The fractured Afghan rebels were unable to govern after the old regime fell, paving the way for chaos and the rise of the Taliban. Some of the insurgents, meanwhile, transformed into al Qaeda and eventually turned their weapons against their former patrons.
While the risk of blowback has been discussed in Riyadh, Saudis with knowledge of the training program describe it as an antidote to extremism, not a potential cause of it. They have described the kingdom’s effort as having two goals — toppling the Assad regime, and weakening al Qaeda-linked groups in the country. Prince Turki, the former Saudi intelligence chief and envoy to Washington, said in a recent interview that the mainstream opposition must be strengthened so that it could protect itself “these extremists who are coming from all over the place” to impose their own ideologies on Syria.
Marc Lynch, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University has a good piece in Foreign Policy magazine.
In it he notes the cynical, political use to which sectarian differences are used as a matter of identify politics rather than actual, theological differences. It’s worth a read.
The thrust of his piece is about the often-contrived conflict between Sunni and Shi’a populations. He mentions the tensions between Muslims and Christian Copts in Egypt. He might have expanded it to include the visceral, but unfounded hatred of Jews. Or, for that matter, the sense of some American fundamentalist Christians that Islam is the problem.
The Entrepreneurs of Cynical Sectarianism
A group of Syrian-Americans arrived at an academic conference at Lehigh University last week in Bashar al-Assad T-shirts and draped in Syrian flags adorned with Assad’s face. They repeatedly heckled and interrupted speakers, and one told an opposition figure that he deserved a bullet in the head. When a speaker showed a slide picturing dead Syrian children, they burst into loud applause. When another speaker cynically predicted that Bashar would win a 2014 presidential vote, they cheered. In the final session, they aggressively interrupted and denounced a Lebanese journalist, with one ultimately throwing his shoe at the stage. The panel degenerated into a screaming match, until police arrived to clear the room.
This spectacle might seem notable in that it unfolded at an American university, but otherwise it would pass for an alarmingly normal day at the office in today’s toxically polarized Middle East. Such intense mutual hostility, irreconcilable narratives, and public denunciations are typical of any number of highly polarized political arenas across the region. A similar scene between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s military coup is all too easily imagined — just add bullets. That’s why the disproportionate focus on sectarian conflict as the defining feature of the emerging Middle East seems dangerously misplaced. Sunni-Shiite tensions are only one manifestation of how a number of deeper trends have come together in recent years to give frightening new power to identity politics writ large.
Asharq Alawsat runs an interview with Denise Spellberg, author of the new book Thomas Jefferson’s Quran: Islam and the Founders. The book takes a look at how the founders of the American republic viewed Islam and how those views colored the writing of the US Constitution and state laws.
The author notes that 18th C. Americans generally shared the negative attitudes of their European contemporaries, but that exception men were far-seeing in certain regards, though seemingly blind in others.
The book certainly looks interesting.
Islam at the Birth of America
Mohammad Ali Salih
Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Denise A. Spellberg is an American scholar of Islamic history. She is an associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas and holds a PhD from Columbia University. She is also the author of Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past, which looks at the portrayal of Aisha in Islamic tradition.
Spellberg is perhaps best known in the media for the controversy that surrounded the Sherry Jones novel, The Jewel of Medina. Spellberg sharply criticized the novel from a historical perspective, informing publisher Random House that the book might result in violence by radical Muslims.
In her latest book, she looks at the impact that Islam, in particular a copy of the Qur’an owned by Thomas Jefferson, had on the birth of the US Constitution and the concept of religious freedom during the infancy of the United States of America.
Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders is published by Knopf Publishing Group and was released in October 2013.
It’s slightly out of the proper sequence, but Saudi Arabia is increasing its efforts in vocational training in order to have Saudis qualified to fill many of the jobs vacated by departing foreign workers. Arab News reports that 300 vocational training schools will be established to augment the hundreds already in existence. The new facilities, though, won’t be online for another three years.
450,000 Saudis to be trained
RIYADH: GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN
In a major move to cut down reliance on foreign workers, the government has rolled out a skills and training action plan that promises to meet the shortfall of skilled workers in the local market.
“About 450,000 Saudi boys and girls will be trained in different vocations over a period of five years under the new plan,” said Ali bin Nasser Al-Ghafis, governor of Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC), on Monday.
Al-Ghafis said the state-owned TVTC is working to set up 300 new vocational training facilities across the Kingdom. “All these vocational training centers — both for boys and girls — will be operational within three years,” Al-Ghafis told Arab News on the sidelines of a ceremony.
One of the stated purposes of the recent effort to regularize foreign workers’ status in Saudi Arabia was to create more job opportunities for Saudis. According to this Saudi Gazette/Okaz report, that is what has happened.
150,000 private sector jobs for Saudis after correction
Abdullah Al-Qahtani | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
ABHA – About 150,000 job opportunities for young Saudi men and women have been created in the private sector, thanks to the campaign for status correction of foreigners.
According to a source at the Council of Saudi Chambers, this figure was based on preliminary reports received from various parts of the Kingdom.
“There has been a 33 percent increase in demand for administrative jobs during the last three months of the seven-month grace period while the demand for teachers rose by 23 percent. The demand for accountants increased by 18 percent and that for engineers rose by 12 percent.
The central region ranks first in the number of job vacancies, the Eastern Province comes second, followed by the western, southern and northern regions.
Saudi Gazette and other media are reporting that Saudi researchers have found the MERS-CoV flu virus in a camel owned by a patient who had come down with the new flu. This is the first time the exact virus has been identified in a camel, though earlier research had shown the presence of a similar, related virus in camels. Saudi public health officials consider this a major breakthrough in their investigation of the disease.
Camel owned by Jeddah patient tests positive for MERS-coronavirusSaeed
Al Khotani | Saudi Gazette
RIYADH — The Ministry of Health announced that an initial investigation on a group of camels conducted by its experts indicated that one of these camels tested positive to MERS-coronavirus.
“We had to conduct this investigation on this group of camels that was owned by a 43-year-old citizen, also a MERS patient. He is currently under treatment at a hospital in Jeddah. The investigation was part of the surveillance procedures, ” the ministry said.
According to the ministry, whenever there is a suspicion of a infection a surveillance process is conducted that includes the patient himself, and the people, and animals that were in contact with him. The process includes lab tests of samples taken from these people and animals.
“The Jeddah patient appeared to own camels, so the tests were made on his camels as part of the process, and also on everything that he was in contact with,” the ministry said.
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDREP) of the University of Minnesota also reports:
Saudi and international media are reporting that the sweeps being conducted to catch illegal workers remaining in Saudi Arabia after the expiration of the seven-month amnesty period have turn deadly. Two people are reported as having been killed and scores injured as the illegal immigrants battled police sent out to verify residency status.
AFP – Hundreds of illegal migrants targeted in a Saudi nationwide crackdown turned themselves in on Sunday after security forces besieged a Riyadh neighbourhood where riots had killed two people.
Men, women and children lined up carrying their belongings to board police buses transferring them to an assembly centre before their deportation, a week after a seven-month amnesty expired.
Police said they intervened on Saturday following riots in the poor Manfuhah neighbourhood of the capital after foreigners attacked Saudis and other foreign expats with rocks and knives.
One Saudi and another person, whose nationality and identity remains unknown, were killed, said a police statement carried by the SPA state news agency.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that the government has started an investigation into the riots. The paper reports that the attackers, in at least one area, were predominantly of Ethiopian origin.
Probe begins into Riyadh clashes
Mansour Al-Shahri and Sa’ad Al-Shamrani | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
RIYADH – Hundreds of illegal migrants, who were involved in clashes Saturday night, turned themselves in on Sunday after security forces cordoned off a Riyadh neighborhood where two people were killed.
An investigation has been launched into the violence in Manfuhah after illegals attacked Saudis and other expats with rocks and knives.
One Saudi and another person were killed, said a police statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA). Another 68 people – 28 Saudis and 40 foreigners – were injured and 561 were arrested.
Riyadh Deputy Emir Prince Turki Bin Abdullah oversaw the security operation against the rioters, most of whom were Ethiopian nationals. Riyadh police chief Maj. Gen. Saud Al-Hilal and top officials of various security agencies supervised the operation.
Men, women and children lined up carrying their belongings to board police buses transferring them to an assembly center before their deportation.
In Asharq Alawsat, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed opines that the government must do its utmost to control illegal immigration. It should also, he says, show some mercy toward those who have lived most of their lives in Saudi Arabia and have no homes to which they could plausibly return. He suggest, too, that making the workers more expensive to hire — that is, offering a decent wage — would reduce their numbers.
Opinion: Saudi Arabia Must Regain Control of Immigration
The worries of four million residents in breach of Saudi Arabia’s residency laws have ended following a seven-month grace period, after which they were granted their work permits. But no one knows how many still remain without papers, a few thousand or several million.
It is clear, however, that security forces are having difficulty finding undocumented migrants and controlling the situation, especially after the first inspection campaign against illegal workers in Riyadh, where unprecedented riots erupted.
The situation has become dangerous as a result of years of accumulated legal and social chaos which resulted in the increase of illegal employment. Deporting illegal workers won’t be easy. It will also not be easy to prevent thousands from entering the country through land borders stretching 4,400 kilometers and shared with eight countries. There are also 2,600 kilometers of coastline, part of which is shared with Bahrain.
It is probably best to make the employment of illegal workers costly for the Saudi employers themselves. At the same time, the government can facilitate the process of hiring workers domestically through specialized companies and prevent the sponsorship system which has brought no good to anyone. A better system is needed whereby both the rights of migrant workers and the country’s security are achieved.
Meanwhile, Arab News reports, fully 50% of contracting firms in the Kingdom have gone out of business following the sweeps. That suggests that there were an awful lot of Saudi businesses hiring illegal workers.
Writing at pan-Arab Al-Hayat (here translated by Al Arabiya TV) Abdullah Hamidaddin goes after the ultra-facile ‘analysis’ of CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria, in my view, gets some things right in his global analyses. At other times, he gets them very wrong. His latest piece on Saudi Arabia and US-Saudi relations, alas, falls in the latter camp and Hamidaddin calls him on it.
Ranting or analyzing? Fareed Zakaria and Saudi foreign policy
Fareed Zakaria is a very influential media figure, but his understanding of the region is somewhat limited, and his approach to foreign policy analysis is quite immature. Both qualities featured in his recent Time Magazine article: “Zakaria: The Saudis Are Mad? Tough! Why we shouldn’t care that the world’s most irresponsible country is displeased at the U.S.”
Criticizing the foreign policies of any State is absolutely necessary. The one who benefits most is the target of the critique. But it is one thing to offer political critique and another to offer political ranting; which is what Zakaria did in his article. But the problem is not his rant, rather, the problem is that it would be taken as a serious political analysis. Saudi Arabia is stereotyped. And as a result people are allowed to think about it in certain ways, regardless of the facts. Worse still, people are allowed to analyze it nonsensically and still be taken seriously. This is a fundamental problem. If the logic which Zakaria used in his article was applied in an analysis of German or Russian foreign policy, it would become a laughing matter. But applying that logic to Saudi Arabia made it a political analysis.
He starts by saying: “America’s Middle East policies are failing, we are told, and the best evidence is that Saudi Arabia is furious.” And then he sarcastically says: “Surely the last measure of American foreign policy should be how it is received by the House of Saud.”