Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that the expansion of the mataaf of the Grand Mosque in Mecca — the area in which pilgrims circumabulate the Kaaba — is nearly finished. Pilgrims will be able to walk around the Kaaba on three levels, greatly increasing the number who can partake in the ritual at the same time. The three levels will be finished by Ramadan, the report says, with only the roof needing completion. That will be done by next year.

Expanded mataaf to be ready for Haj
Khalid Al-Himaidi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

MAKKAH — The new mataaf (the circumambulation area) in the Grand Mosque will have a capacity to handle 105,000 pilgrims an hour, according to a senior official.

Sultan Al-Qurashi, General Director of Projects at the General Presidency of Grand Mosque and Prophet’s Mosque Affairs, said the expansion of the Grand Mosque project is in its third and final stage.

“Once the project finishes, pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque will be able to circumambulate around the Kaaba on three floors: the basement, ground floor and first floor. These three floors will be ready by Ramadan. We are also opening the roof which will be ready by the next Haj season,” said Al-Qurashi.


March:25:2015 - 09:40 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia and its media seem to be preparing the battle space of public opinion for a war in Yemen. The media report on various calls to the UN and the GCC to get involved in what is, at present, a civil war, but one that represents threats to other countries in the region.

In an op-ed in Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi underscores Iranian involvement and the danger a hostile state in Yemen would represent to the Bab Al-Mandab strait. It is feared that if the Houthi rebels gain control of Aden, Yemen’s southern province and the de-facto capital for the government, Iran would be in a position to close two of the world’s most important choke-points for trade in oil and other goods.

Al-Zaydi also notes Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal’s warning to British Foreign Secretary Hammond, that unless the situation improves, there will be actions taken on the part of countries feeling threatened.

Prepare for the Yemeni Storm
Mshari Al-Zaydi

What is currently happening in Yemen is not the first problem Saudi Arabia has faced with respect to its neighbor to the south. But the current problems don’t just concern Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is of course the most affected out of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, but it is by no means alone in being impacted. Other Gulf countries, as well as those along the Red Sea, and those countries whose ships pass through the Bab El-Mandeb strait and the Cape of Good Hope, will also be affected by the crisis.

In fact, what is happening in Yemen poses a problem for the whole world, politically, strategically, and in terms of global security. This is especially true when bearing in mind how Yemen is currently being transformed into a regional base for the Persian–Khomeinist camp and a rebel stronghold for Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.

Saudi Arabia is the country most affected by the current Yemeni crisis, due to its geographic proximity to Yemen and the nature of the terrain on the borders between the two countries, from mountains and valleys to plains and steppes—not to mention the close links that exist between the peoples of these two countries.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members have been attempting to lay out a political road map for Yemen according to specific criteria, which are based on the outcomes of the Gulf Initiative, the legitimacy of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the unity of the country and its security.

The Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi movement, which has staged a coup in Yemen, refuses all of this, however. Working alongside the Houthis is the country’s ousted former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his General People’s Congress (GPC) party, both pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

Saudi Gazette also focuses on the Bab Al-Mandab strait. It also quotes the Egyptian Ambassador to Yemen saying, “More than 38 percent of global maritime trade passes through the strait…”

Key waterway under threat as Houthi militiamen advance


March:25:2015 - 09:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

An interesting op-ed in Saudi Gazette from Khaled Batarfi. He discusses Islamic banking, finance, etc. with Pr. Mohammed Al-Faisal and learns that while there are economic tools in use across the Islamic world, there is no underlying theory about an “Islamic economy.” Worth reading.

‘Islamic Economy is a baseless theory’
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

WHEN I asked Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal, the pioneer of Islamic Banking, about the concept, he explained: “What we have today is a baseless theory.

You can’t have a comprehensive economic theory devoid of social justice. The implied question here is: How can we build an economy to serve society?

“That is what I have been concentrating on lately, trying, without much success, to motivate economists and religious scholars to do due research,” the founder of Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal Award for Islamic Economy Research, complains.

“Some think Islamic Banking represent Islamic Economy. But we must realize the difference between a) the financial services and b) the general economic theories controlling them.

“I am not knowledgeable enough to conduct such research. Experts and scholars in economic and Islamic fields should gather to formulate a unified basis and set of principles defining the philosophies of Islamic Economy,” he recommends.


March:24:2015 - 08:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Following a change in law created family courts and that granted divorced women rights of guardianship over their children, among other things, the courts have been flooded with cases. Saudi Gazette reports that 84,000 cases have been filed in the seven months since the courts were established. Disputes over alimony and child custody seem to make up the largest number of cases.

Family courts looking into 84,000 alimony and custody lawsuits
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — Nearly 84,000 lawsuits concerning alimony and child custody have been filed since family courts were established in the Kingdom about seven months ago, the Justice Ministry announced.

It said 43,000 of these cases pertained to alimony claims and 41,000 were regarding child custody disputes between parents.

Riyadh, with 1,122 cases, topped all other cities in alimony lawsuits followed by Jeddah, which had 768 cases and then Makkah with 394 cases.
Riyadh also topped other cities in child custody cases with 1,046, followed by Jeddah’s 764 cases and Makkah with 473 cases.

A source at the Jeddah Family Affairs Court said most family lawsuits involved men who refused to pay alimony to their ex-wives or prevented them from visiting their children.


March:24:2015 - 08:39 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia has a housing shortage. Part of this is due to the population boom the country has seen over the past decades. As more people mature and start up families, they want housing. But another factor is that many landowners prefer to hold their property until they see a maximum profit coming from it. A result of this is that there’s a lot of unproductive land, sitting vacant, that could be used to build housing.

To address this latter issue, the Saudi Cabinet of Ministers is proposing a tax on unused land. This would mean that it would become more expensive to just sit on an investment. Instead of accruing value, the unused land would end up costing the owner. For some, this would be sufficient incentive to sell the land to others who would put it to productive use. For some, it might encourage them to find productive uses on their own, including the building of housing.

Imposition of tax on vacant plots of land hailed
Fatima Muhammad |Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — The Cabinet decision to impose tax on vacant land plots, locally known as “white lands,” has won plaudits from several sections of the society.

The Cabinet, at its regular meeting on Monday, accepted the recommendation of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA) and decided to impose the tax on vacant lands in urban areas in all cities.

The Cabinet also tasked the CEDA to prepare a mechanism to implement and organize the system. The CEDA will submit its proposals to the Council of Ministers which will then send it to the Shoura Council for approval.

Essam Al-Zamil, an economic columnist, who has been actively tweeting on the issue of “white lands” and their reflection on increased real estate prices said Monday that he believes that the Cabinet decision must be a happy news for all Saudis as their dream of owning a house could now be realized.


March:24:2015 - 08:25 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Saudi justice system, often decried as harsh and even barbaric, has its elements of mercy as well, a story in The New York Times reports.

A serious issue with the system is that it is erratic. The same crime, adjudged in different courts by different judges, can result in widely varying sentences. Much depends on the sensibilities and sensitivities of the sitting judge. Uncodified laws and the lack of a requirement to rely on legal precedent can result in wide disparities in results.

This is a factor taken into consideration by appeals courts and, ultimately, the King who can issue pardons.

But there are also mechanisms through which the harshest penalties can be avoided. The story reports on just such a case, involving a clear case of murder, in which the miscreant’s life was spared by the daughter of the victim.

If nothing else, the article does a good job of portraying the complexity of a system based on tradition, custom, and religious law.

Saudi Justice, Harsh but Able to Spare the Sword
BEN HUBBARD

BURAIDA, Saudi Arabia — The murder that almost cost Bandar al-Yehiya his head started with an old debt to a close friend.

Struggling to raise the cash, Mr. Yehiya invited the friend to his home and offered him a rifle as payment. But when the friend refused, Mr. Yehiya got angry and shot him in the chest, leaving him dead on the living room couch, the slain man’s brother, Faleh al-Homeidani, said.

Mr. Yehiya confessed to the murder, so under Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, he would face the punishment that has made Saudi justice notorious around the world: beheading in the public square.

But the execution never happened.

Saudi Arabia’s justice system is regularly condemned by human rights groups for violating due process, lacking transparency and applying punishments like beheading and amputation. Criticism has grown as Saudi cases have made news abroad: a liberal blogger caned for criticizing religious leaders; activists jailed for advocating reform; a woman held without charge for more than two months for driving a car.


March:23:2015 - 09:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

The American Embassy and Consulates are back to work following their closure on security concerns over the past week. Arab News reports:

US missions resume consular services
RIYADH: GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN

The US diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia will resume full consular services on Sunday, following a weeklong closure amid reports of “heightened security concerns” against Western targets.

The opening of the US Embassy and its consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran was confirmed by Stewart Wight, a spokesman of the US Embassy, on Saturday.

Speaking to Arab News, Wight said: “The US Embassy and its consulates will offer regular consular services as of March 22.”

The embassy has announced that the consular section will resume services for American citizens and will be functioning as usual for both Americans and non-Americans.


March:22:2015 - 06:45 | Comments Off | Permalink

In many conservative Muslim states, men do not talk to women other than their relatives. They may not even shake hands with them. Foreign male diplomats are taught to wait to see if a woman extends her hand for a shake before extending their own. Female diplomats are taught to not even bother if the interlocutor is male.

Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh in which the writer — a Saudi woman — points out to the patent unfairness and illegality of the way government officials (and others) refuse to deal directly with women, insisting that only males enter their offices (or office buildings). Some refuse to speak with women even on the phone. Or how some doctors will speak only to males in discussing medical concerns of patients… even if the woman is the patient.

It’s truly a backward approach to life and one the Saudis are going to have to come to terms with if they’re not going to continue leaving themselves open to complaints and criticisms like those made by the Swedish Foreign Minister.

‘Sorry, I don’t talk to women’
Dr. Hatoon Ajwad Al-Fassi | Al-Riyadh

I added the word “sorry” to the title of this article even though government officials do not normally bother to use this word. I have previously written regarding how women are not allowed to enter government buildings and are forced to stand outside on the street. I now intend to discuss how government officials treat women once they manage to enter government offices.

I know of a woman who went to a hospital with her husband. The hospital’s management subsequently asked her to leave because women are not allowed to stay the night with their husbands. Only male family members can do so. This woman asked the consultant to keep her posted on her husband’s health. He, however, refused to speak to her in person or over the phone, and said he would only talk with male family members. He insisted on dealing with her like this even though what he was doing was against the rights of patients.

Another example is that of a mother who called her son’s school to ask how well he was doing. The teacher refused to talk to her and said he would only to talk to the child’s father. What if this woman were widowed or divorced?


March:20:2015 - 09:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that Saudi businesswomen are finding a place in Riyadh, with over 72,000 of them owning their own companies.

72,494 women-owned businesses in Riyadh
Hazim Al-Mutairi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

RIYADH — According to the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the number of registered businesses owned by women in the city reached 72,494.

The Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Women’s Committee, the British Embassy and the British Cultural Council organized the Women and Entrepreneurship Forum where foreign embassies and other committees at the chamber engaged in dialogue on the future and opportunities of women businesses in Riyadh.


March:19:2015 - 08:58 | Comments Off | Permalink

An interesting op-ed in Asharq Alawsat from former Editor-in-Chief Tariq Alhomayed. In it, he complains about how media (and others) use names to identify both individuals and groups. It’s a problem of long standing, not just in today’s contexts. Do you use the name the subject uses for self-identification or do you use something else, perhaps assigned for political or other reasons? Who gets to do the naming? And what of the consequences of name that carry emotional or political baggage?

He doesn’t really offer any good solutions, but identifying the fact that names are not just some neutral tag is useful. It might help journalists (and others) to think about names, but it doesn’t offer any useful argument or conclusions on how to deal with the conundrum.

Opinion: Abu Who?
Tariq Alhomayed

One can only be shocked and surprised by the way the Arab media has been reporting on terrorism and terrorists. Most recently we had the story of the Australian teenager Jake Bilardi, aged 18, who is believed to have carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq’s central city of Ramadi on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

What is shocking to me is that the majority of Arab media used this teen’s chosen kunya (an Arabic teknonymic naming convention) of Abu Abdullah Al-Australi (meaning “Father of Abdullah the Australian” in Arabic) in their reports, rather than describing him as what he actually was, namely “the terrorist Jake Bilardi.” Here we must ask ourselves: Is it so important for the media to respect the protocols and naming conventions of terrorists and terrorist groups? Must we ensure that the chosen name of a terrorist is used and repeated again and again until it becomes infamous?

Should we allow terrorists and terrorist groups to promote themselves in our media in this manner? Doesn’t the media have a duty to take a position on this issue? The media, by its very nature, is biased to one degree or another—regardless of claims to neutrality. So a killer must be described as a killer; a criminal as a criminal; and the same applies to a terrorist, even a teenage one.

Today, for example, we find some media outlets describing ISIS as the “Islamic State” or the “Islamic State group.” While other news outlets describe them in the same manner, but make sure to add the term “militant” or “radical” to the mix. But, by adding this description—or shall we say classification—do these latter media outlets inadvertently stumble into the realm of propaganda?

What about the media outlets or governments that insist on using the Arabic acronym of the group and call them “Daesh”? Is this better or worse, particularly when we know that ISIS itself does not approve of this name?


March:18:2015 - 08:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia repeats its warning that if Iran moves toward the acquisition of nuclear arms, Saudi Arabia will as well. Former head of Saudi Intelligence and ambassador to the US and UK, Turki Al-Faisal says that any “deal” that the P5+1 nations offer to Iran will be assumed to apply to Saudi Arabia and its GCC partners.

Iran deal risks nuclear proliferation, Prince Turki warns

RIYADH (Reuters): Any terms that world powers grant Iran under a nuclear deal will be sought by Saudi Arabia and other countries, risking wider proliferation of atomic technology, Prince Turki Al-Faisal warned on Monday in a BBC interview.

“I’ve always said whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same,” said Prince Turki, who has previously served as head of Saudi intelligence and Riyadh’s ambassador to Washington and London.

Saudi Arabia, its Gulf neighbors and other Mideastern countries fear an atomic deal would leave the door open to Tehran gaining a nuclear weapon, or would ease political pressure on it, giving it more space to interfere in regional affairs.

Iran and six world powers known as the P5+1 group are holding talks to reach a deal aimed at assuaging their fears that Tehran is using the fuel enrichment process of its atomic power program to secretly develop a nuclear weapon.


March:16:2015 - 08:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

International and Saudi media report that the US government is seeing an increased threat to its personnel in Saudi Arabia and, in consequence, is closing its embassy and consulates for most activities. Earlier, it issued warnings to American citizens working in the oil industry in the Eastern Province.

There are no reports on exactly what threat was perceived, nor who was seen to be threatening.

U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia on heightened security

(Reuters) – U.S. citizens are urged to take precautions in Saudia Arabaia and U.S. consular services in the country have been canceled for Sunday and Monday due to heightened security concerns, the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh said on Saturday.

In a statement on its website, the embassy said consular services in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran would be canceled and it urged all U.S. citizens to take extra precautions when traveling in Saudi Arabia. The statement did not indicate the nature of the threat.

Fox News, citing an intelligence source, said the threat is serious enough that the facilities will have only essential staff over the next two days.

Saudi Gazette:

US missions halt services for two days

Arab News:

Security fears: US shuts diplomatic missions


March:16:2015 - 08:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink
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