Arab News covers a story about the incense market in Saudi Arabia. It’s a $3 billion-per-year business. That’s a lot of money that ends going up in smoke.

Both frankincense and oud are important for any type of ceremony, even family occasions. Since the products have to be imported — and because the trees they’re derived from are under significant pressure from over-production — they end up being quite expensive. There are also millions being made on fake products, the result of some laboratory wizardry that separates stingy people from their money very effectively.

There’s no getting around the fact, though, that the scents are exceptionally popular in the Gulf States, even to the point that personal scents for both men and women are made from them.

Annual investments in incense, oud exceed SR15bn

The volume of investments in the incense and oud sector is estimated at more than SR15 billion ($4 billion) annually, local media said quoting an expert.

Demand on the incense and oud sector in the holy month of Ramadan grows to nearly 80 percent, Said Al-Sihaimi told Al-Watan daily.

In this context, a specialized Gulf study said the volume of trade in the Saudi market has grown eight folds since 2010 where the figure was not more than SR1.8 billion ($500 million), the daily said.

Accordingly, the market has extensively expanded coupled with the entry of foreign companies, notably Asian, due to growing trends to purchase incense and oud products, the report said.

On the other hand, the expert warned against fraud practices in the sector, which would reach 40 percent. He said regulatory bodies in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry could not control such practices due to the absence of experts in an industry, which relies primarily on the secrecy of craft.


July:14:2014 - 00:01 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that the Ifta Council in Saudi Arabia has banned the sale of cats and dogs in pet shops across the Kingdom. Shops found selling them will have their stock confiscated.

While clearly the ban is being undertaken for religious reasons, the article doesn’t note what those reasons are. The ban does not seem to affect the sale of birds or fish — both popular with Saudis — nor does it mention reptiles and insects.

Sale of cats, dogs banned

Municipal authorities have banned the sale of cats and dogs in shops in Saudi Arabia.

The ban came in response to a religious edict by the Ifta Council. The municipality instructed its supervisors to ask pet stores for a written commitment to stop selling cats and dogs.

In addition, the municipality has instructed its supervisors to confiscate cats and dogs that are found for sale in stores, which led some stores to continue their activities in a discreet manner.


July:13:2014 - 07:19 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

The Great Game was the rivalry that played out between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in the 19th and early 20th C. for supremacy in Central Asia. Today, there’s a new “Great Game” being played out in iraq, says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The rise of ISIS/ISIL and the declaration of a new “Islamic State” have brought into high relief the problems sectarian violence in the region. The direct causes are many, but the effects are a multiple of that, affecting all states in the region, including Saudi Arabia.

Cordesman’s piece is meant as possible guidance for US policy-makers. It’s an interesting analysis.

The New “Great Game” in the Middle East: Looking Beyond the “Islamic State” and Iraq
Anthony Cordesman

The U.S. has good reason to try to prevent the creation of a violent, extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to reverse the gains of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)/ ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham), and to help move Iraq back towards a more stable and unified form of government. The chances, however, are that the U.S. can at best have only partial success. The U.S. faces years in which Iraq is divided by sectarian and ethnic power struggles, the Syrian civil war continues, facilitating some form of radical Sunni threat crossing the border between Syria and Iraq.

ISIS/ISIL did not suddenly materialize in Iraq in December 2013. For years, the group exploited growing Sunni and Shi’ite sectarian divisions and steady drift towards civil war. For at least the last three years, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s actions of building his own power structure around a Shi’ite dominated state with close ties to Iran alienated Sunnis and exacerbated tensions.

The U.S. cannot simply intervene in Iraq by attacking ISIS/ISIL. It is a major movement in Syria as well as Iraq. The U.S. must also find some way to limit and roll back ISIS/ISIL -– without taking sides in Iraq’s broader civil war. At the same time, creating anything approaching a stable Iraq means creating new and lasting political bridges across Iraq’s increasingly polarized and divided factions as well as helping to create a more effective and truly national government in Iraq, as well as rebuild Iraqi forces that serve the nation, rather than an increasingly authoritarian Shi’ite leader.

It is far from clear that the U.S. can do this, and Syria and Iraq are only the most visible challenges taking place in the strategic game board that shapes the Middle East. The U.S. must also deal with a much broader set of new strategic forces that go far beyond Iraq’s borders. The U.S. must change the structure of its de facto alliances with key Arab states in the region, and it must deal with new forms of competition -– or “Great Game” with Russia — and possibly China, as well.


July:12:2014 - 07:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

I note that I’ve been writing Crossroads Arabia for ten years now. I actually started in May, 2004, but by July had settled into this format and platform.

A lot has gone on over these ten years. A new King in Saudi Arabia, increased attacks on Saudi Arabia by Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda related groups as well as the effective Saudi counter-offensive. Reforms in social policies, in the legal system, and in lightening the hand that seeks to control women have all taken place. Saudi women have taken part in the international Olympics. New laws and regulations have been adopted that have bettered the working conditions of foreign workers while others have served to chase many of those workers out of the Kingdom to be replaced by Saudi workers.

Saudi Arabia remains a work in progress and I look forward to recording that progress over the coming years.


July:11:2014 - 08:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Dang nab modern technology! A popular Saudi preacher is finding it difficult to convince people he didn’t say what he said when he said it on video. Videos that have been broadcast by international satellite channels and on YouTube at that.

Al Arabiya TV reports that Sheikh al-Arifi is being ridiculed for his attempts to rewrite his history of making fatuous fatwas. I’m sure the Sheikh is concerned that his behavior is quite contrary to Saudi law and could see him jailed and/or fined. Even if Europe thinks (equally fatuously) that the Internet can be scrubbed of historic embarrassments, that’s now how the world works. The Sheikh will have to see how merciful the government is toward him.

Saudi preacher denies supporting jihad in Syria

A popular Saudi preacher who previously called for jihad in Syria has recently appeared on television bluntly denying his famous statement, drawing scorn from fans and followers on social media.

During an interview with Rotana Khalijia, Sheikh Mohammad al-Arifi denied his famous statement to Al-Jazeera in which he called for jihad in Syria and supported al-Qaeda.

Sheikh Arifi threw a bombshell in February 2013 when he told the Qatar-based channel that al-Qaeda “does not tolerate bloodshed.”

He said some people attribute to al-Qaeda many opinions and thoughts which the group does not hold.


July:10:2014 - 09:23 | Comments Off | Permalink

For the second time within a year, artillery rounds fired from Iraq have landed in Saudi Arabia. Asharq Alawsat reports that three round landed near the northern city of Arar, close to the Iraqi border. No injuries or damage were reported. The assumption is that this is related to the successes of ISIS/ISIL in Iraq. Saudi Arabia is reported to have beefed-up its border security with 30,000 troops.

Three shells fired from Iraq strike Saudi territory
Nasser Al-Haqbani

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi authorities are investigating reports that three shells fired from Iraq on Monday struck near a residential complex in Arar in the Northern Borders Province close to the Iraqi border.

Nobody was injured in the attack, which represents the second time in the past year that Saudi territory has been struck by projectiles from neighboring Iraq, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is fighting against government troops.

Saudi Border Guard spokesman, Gen. Mohamed Al-Ghamdi, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “At around 1:40 am local time on Monday, three shells struck near a residential complex in Arar in the Northern Borders Province. Thank God, nobody was injured in the attack.”

Ghamdi confirmed that Saudi authorities were investigating the source of the attack, which originated inside Iraqi territory.


July:09:2014 - 08:13 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette and other Saudi media are reporting that the US is currently producing more oil than any other country, including Saudi Arabia. Much of the increase in production is due to oil shale production. The reports says that the US became the biggest producer of natural gas in 2010.

US overtakes KSA as biggest oil producer

JEDDAH – US has turned the world’s biggest oil producer this year as extraction of oil from shale rocks reached a high, a Bank of America report said.

US production of crude oil, along with liquids separated from natural gas, surpassed the production of both Saudi Arabia and Russia this year with daily output exceeding 11 million barrels in the first half of this year. This output is expected to increase to a peak of 13.1 million barrels a day in 2019 and will remain at the same level for at least a decade.

US production of crude oil, along with liquids separated from natural gas, surpassed all other countries this year with daily output exceeding 11 million barrels in the first quarter, the bank said in a report today. The country became the world’s largest natural gas producer in 2010. The International Energy Agency said in June that the US was the biggest producer of oil and natural gas liquids.

“The US increase in supply is a very meaningful chunk of oil,” Francisco Blanch, the bank’s head of commodities research, said by phone from New York. “The shale boom is playing a key role in the US recovery. If the US didn’t have this energy supply, prices at the pump would be completely unaffordable.”


July:06:2014 - 07:23 | Comments Off | Permalink

As though the presence of ISIS in Iraq wasn’t enough to cause Saudi jitters, Saudi media are reporting attacks on the country’s southern border with Yemen. These attacks are assessed to be by Al-Qaeda and its surrogates.

Al Arabiya TV:

Al-Qaeda suspects blow themselves up in Saudi Arabia

Two suspected al-Qaeda militants blew themselves up early Saturday in southern Saudi Arabia after police surrounded them inside a government building.

Reports on casualties were not immediately available.

Saudi Arabia launched a massive crackdown on Al-Qaeda following a spate of deadly attacks in the kingdom from 2003-2006.

The incident comes a day after al-Qaeda linked militants attacked a border post near the border with Yemen. Al Arabiya News obtained on Friday exclusive pictures of the bodies of the gunmen who attacked the border post killing one Saudi border security officer and one Yemeni soldier.

Arab News:

3 attackers of Saudi border post killed
JEDDAH: MD Al-Sulami

A Saudi security officer and a Yemeni soldier have been killed in two separate attacks on border posts between the two countries, officials said.

The Interior Ministry said a border security patrol came under fire near the Wadia post in the southern province of Sharura, killing the unit’s chief.

Security forces gave chase, killing three of the attackers, while a fourth was wounded and captured, a ministry spokesman said.


July:05:2014 - 08:58 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia is wasting a massive amount of food daily and that the wastage increases during Ramadan.

According to its story, Saudis waste 4,500 tons of food daily. The amount goes up during Ramadan as people prepare daily feasts with far more food than families and guests can eat. By one estimate, 30% of the food prepared for the meals following the daily fast ends up being thrown away.

Massive wastage ‘unacceptable’
JEDDAH: IRFAN MOHAMMED

The problem of food wastage in Ramadan has again surfaced with Makkah municipality having to gather 5,000 tons in the first three days of Ramadan.

According to one report, Saudis spend SR20 billion on Ramadan shopping, compared to SR6 billion they spend in other months.

Osama Al-Zaituny of the municipality told Arab News on Thursday that this was in addition to the collection of 28,000 sheep carcasses in two days.

He said the municipality has installed 45 waste compressors in central Makkah close to the Grand Mosque, and deployed 8,000 cleaners for the month.


July:04:2014 - 08:23 | Comments Off | Permalink

Claiming that Iraqi forces have left Iraq’s borders with Syria and Saudi Arabia — a claim Iraq denies — Saudi Arabia is sending 30,000 troops to prevent infiltration by ISIS-related forces. Reuters reports that the Saudi government considers its 800-mile border with Iraq to be vulnerable and is acting to protect it.

Saudi Arabia deploys 30,000 soldiers to border with Iraq
Sami Aboudi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia deployed 30,000 soldiers to its border with Iraq after Iraqi soldiers abandoned the area, Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television said on Thursday, but Baghdad denied this and said the frontier remained under its full control.

The world’s top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia shares an 800-km (500-mile) border with Iraq, where Islamic State insurgents and other Sunni Muslim militant groups seized towns and cities in a lightning advance last month.

King Abdullah has ordered all necessary measures to protect the kingdom against potential “terrorist threats”, state news agency SPA reported on Thursday.


July:04:2014 - 08:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project has taken a recent look at how the Islamic world view religious extremism. They see it increasingly dimly and are increasingly worried about it.

Attitudes in the countries surveyed have shown a decline in support for extremism on the whole, though the report points out that support for suicide bombings still holds strong minority support in several countries.

The polling was done before ISIS declared itself a caliphate. I suspect that the negative numbers would decline even more sharply were to polls to be held today.

Concerns about Islamic Extremism on the Rise in Middle East
Negative Opinions of al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah Widespread

As well-publicized bouts of violence, from civil war to suicide bombings, plague the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, concern about Islamic extremism is high among countries with substantial Muslim populations, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. And in the Middle East, concern is growing. Lebanese, Tunisians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Turks are all more worried about the extremist threat than they were a year ago.

Meanwhile, publics hold very negative opinions of well-known extremist groups, such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.

In Nigeria, the vast majority of respondents, both Muslims and Christians alike, have an unfavorable view of Boko Haram, the terrorist group that recently kidnapped hundreds of girls in the restive north of the country. And a majority of Pakistanis have an unfavorable view of the Taliban.

Few Muslims in most of the countries surveyed say that suicide bombing can often or sometimes be justified against civilian targets in order to defend Islam from its enemies. And support for the tactic has fallen in many countries over the last decade. Still, in some countries a substantial minority say that suicide bombing can be justified.

These are the main findings of a new Pew Research Center survey conducted among 14,244 respondents in 14 countries with significant Muslim populations from April 10 to May 25, 2014. The survey was conducted prior to the recent takeover of Mosul and other areas of Iraq by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The poll is reported in Arab News among other Saudi media, though Saudi Arabia was not among those countries polled.


July:03:2014 - 07:18 | Comments Off | Permalink

While the timing may not be the best, a young Saudi entrepreneur is trying out his stuff in the US by marketing camel milk, Arab News reports. It somehow seems apt that his milk suppliers — and the camel owners — are from the Amish community near Santa Monica. But who knows? Given that this is taking place in California, the launch pad for numerous innovations in technology and social behaviors, he might just succeed.

Saudi establishes camel milk firm in California

A young Saudi has established a company selling camel’s milk in the United States, despite the animals reportedly being the source of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus.

According to a report in a Los Angeles newspaper, Walid Abdulwahab, 23, set up the company as part of his class project at the University of Southern California.

The lighthearted slogan of his company, Desert Farms, is “Make every day a humpday.”

Supplied by seven small camel farms, most of them owned by Amish, the Santa Monica-based company recently sold camel milk of $100,000, as it spreads its claims of nutritional and health benefits, the report stated.

“What we know about the camel milk is that, in terms of health, it outperforms every other dairy beverage,” Abdulwahab reportedly said.


July:02:2014 - 06:08 | Comments Off | Permalink
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