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

Faisal Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, has a good editorial today. In it, he writes about the appearance of a Saudi “historian” on Rotana Khalijjiya TV, in which he stated that Saudi Arabia shouldn’t let women drive because it exposes them to rape. It won’t do to emulate other countries because they don’t care if their women get raped. The female presenter met this assertion with the laughter it deserved.

Laughter and mockery are good, Abbas says, but not enough. There needs to be strong push-back, on the air and in other media to counter absurd assertions, as there was following that of a Saudi cleric who said that driving would damage women’s ovaries. I agree, but I also think the mockery should continue. Saudi Arabia has a long history of using mockery as a weapon and it is an effective one. When people beclown themselves, they should be laughed at.

It’s noteworthy that Abbas specifically abjures calling for government action to quiet fools. There is not need to take legal action when social action can achieve the same end.

What is the relation between Saudi women driving and rape?!
Faisal J. Abbas

Media outlets should always remember that they have a responsibility towards informing the public and as such, must always strive to adhere to the highest possible standards of professionalism and journalistic ethics.

Many might find it strange that one has to repeat what is – without doubt – the very soul and essential cornerstone of our profession.

However, when reputable Arab television channels are being used as a platform for a clown of the caliber of Saudi historian Saleh al-Sadoon, one wonders whether our job is inform, stimulate minds and raise questions or simply serve as meaningless, yet somewhat entertaining, optical chewing gum for the masses.

February:12:2015 - 10:05 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

The Washington Post runs an analysis of human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. The piece notes that the Kingdom receives low marks on whatever metric is being used to measure liberty interests, including women’s rights, free speech, and religious freedom. The quandary is that most Saudis are not calling for changes in the way things work and, what’s more, it has been the government at the forefront of change and liberalization.

The US government, the article notes, is not eager to get involved in pushing for reform when there’s no popular support for reform. It would rather leave it to the Saudi government to implement changes at a pace acceptable to Saudi society.

The article also points to the question marks hanging over the changes in government following the ascension of King Salman, not noted as a reformer himself.

The facts — and a few myths — about Saudi Arabia and human rights
Adam Taylor

For almost 70 years, Saudi Arabia has been a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East. The relationship, which famously opened in a meeting on the Suez Canal between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first Saudi king, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, is based around shared concerns about regional security and crude oil supplies. It has proved remarkably durable, despite a rapidly changing world.

Over the past few months, however, something seems to have shifted. Americans and other Westerners seem to have grown more and more skeptical about the true nature of their ally. In particular, an unusual set of circumstances — including the fearsome rise of the Islamic State, the death of Saudi King Abdullah and renewed concerns about Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks — has led to a significant public debate about Saudi Arabia’s true values.

One particular source of concern has been the state of human rights in the country, highlighted by a spate of public executions and the high profile punishment of liberal blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” last year.

February:11:2015 - 08:40 | Comments Off | Permalink

The World Health Organization continues to monitor the slow spread of the MERS virus as three more die in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Ministry of Health repeats its warning about contact with raw camel meat, camel milk, and camels in general, Arab News reports.

MERS claims 3 more lives

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus has killed three more people and infected four others over the past few days, the Ministry of Health announced Friday.

This comes in the wake of the World Health Organization (WHO) expressing rising concern over the spread of MERS in the Kingdom.

The victims of the virus over the last two days were all expatriates, two women aged 34 and 58, and a 37-year-old man. The four people infected are all Saudis, three men and one woman from Al-Kharj, which is 60 km from the Riyadh city center.

The statistics of the ministry now show that 365 people have died from the disease since 2012, out of 852 cases. Twelve people are currently under treatment at government hospitals throughout the Kingdom, while 475 have recovered completely.

February:07:2015 - 09:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudis are prickly when it comes to privacy. They hesitate to mention the names of female members of their families. There was a movement to ban camera-enabled cell phones because they put cameras in the hands of everyone. And of course, face veils serve to protect the privacy of women.

Saudi Gazette reports that the ubiquitous cameras can present legal problems, particularly when paired with the Internet. Fines of up to half a million Saudi Riyals can be assessed for improperly posting pictures of individuals who have not given their permission to do so.

The downside of street photography
Taking pictures as a hobby can lead you straight to prison if you violate the cybercrime law and post the picture online.
Saudi Gazette report

TAKING photos in public, once an unthinkable social breach is now the norm thanks to smart phones.

The emergence of social media websites, coupled with the Kingdom’s high Internet adoption rate, has made it possible for Saudis to post and exchange photos they take with their smart phone cameras in real time.

However, sometimes the photos taken can offend members of society and this has created a debate on the issue of privacy rights, Al-Riyadh daily reported.

It seems that the majority of Saudis as well as members of the expatriate community are unaware of the Kingdom’s cybercrime law, which sets out penalty and fines for such actions.

For example, Article 3 of the law sets a penalty of one-year imprisonment or a fine that does not exceed SR500,000 for anyone who uses a cell phone to take a picture that violates the privacy rights of others and then posts the picture on social media websites.

February:07:2015 - 09:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

A Saudi cleric has been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment by a special criminal court (that is, the anti-terrorism court) for issuing fatwas calling for Saudis to travel to Syria to take part in extremist group activities.

Saudi jailed, fined for issuing fatwas

A special criminal court in Riyadh on Thursday sentenced a Saudi to a two-year jail term with a travel ban for another two years for issuing fatwas (religious edicts) against the ruler of the country, and traveling to Syria to join an extremist group and fight there violating the government’s ruling. He was also fined SR3,000.

The court also found that the defendant underwent training in weapons. His detention during the trial would be deducted from the total jail time.

February:06:2015 - 08:32 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette translates an op-ed from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh calling for a new look at the issue of guardianship. The author points out that even a 40- or 50-year-old female government minister might be required to seek the permission from her son before attending an international conference within her professional competence.

The writer is willing to go halfway in making changes, though. She suggests that it still might be proper for “young women” or women traveling for pleasure to obtain permission to travel. Even that, alas, is not enough for some of those commenting on the piece.

How can a young boy be the guardian of a female government minister?
Haya Al-Manee | Al-Riyadh

If a Saudi woman in her 40s or 50s wants to travel abroad to deliver a paper at a scientific conference on nanotechnology or new methods in laser treatment, she would only be able to travel with her guardian’s permission. If she was widowed or divorced, then her guardian might even be her son, who himself may be a schoolboy who is financially supported by his mother.

Another Saudi woman in a similar situation might be going abroad to attend a conference on how to raise children. She would also be required to get permission from her young son to travel.

The entire “guardian permission thing” would make sense if the woman was very young and was planning to go abroad on holiday. However, the restrictions in the above two scenarios are simply unfair. It is paradoxical that we boast of the extraordinary talent and vast knowledge of Saudi women but at the same time curtail their freedoms. We impose restrictions in accordance with changes in our outlook and attitude, and not on the basis of the efficiency and performance of Saudi women. As a result, our women are denied many rights.

February:06:2015 - 08:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that King Salman has condemned ISIS murder of a Jordanian pilot and two Japanese citizens as against the principles of Islam. The article notes the similar condemnation on the part of all GCC governments as well as Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the Islamic world’s oldest center of Islamic jurisprudence.

Brutal IS killing against Islamic principles: King
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier, condemned the gruesome killing of a Jordanian pilot by militants linked to the self-proclaimed Islamic State group.

In a cable of condolences to Jordan’s King Abdullah, King Salman on Wednesday called the burning alive of Maaz Al-Kassasbeh “inhuman and contrary to Islam.”

King Salman condemned the “odious crime” which he said was against all values of humanity.

February:05:2015 - 07:31 | Comments Off | Permalink

Due to earlier economic diversification efforts, Saudi Arabia’s non-oil sector is looking healthy, according to a report from Saudi-British Bank. Arab News cites the report that shows continued, albeit slowed growth in orders, output of products, and in hiring. Inflationary pressure on the cost of industrial inputs is being offset to some degree by the lower prices of oil.

Strong growth of KSA nonoil private sector sustained during January

Saudi Arabia’s nonoil private sector economy continued to grow at a strong pace during January, according to a monthly report issued by the Saudi British Bank (SABB) and HSBC.

SABB has published the results of the headline SABB HSBC Saudi Arabia Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMITM) for January 2015.

It reflects the economic performance of Saudi Arabian nonoil producing private sector companies through monitoring a number of variables, including output, orders, prices, stocks and employment.

The nonoil private sector economy continued to grow at a strong pace during January, with the seasonally adjusted PMI remaining well above the 50.0 no-change mark.

January’s reading of 57.8 was little moved on December’s 57.9 with the headline index supported by ongoing increases in output, new orders and employment.

February:04:2015 - 08:06 | Comments Off | Permalink

According to Asharq Alawsat, the Saudi government is set to take another look at the way it handles subsidies. Currently, they are inefficient, costly, and badly-targeted, the article says. They lead to over-consumption and waste and are costing the country US $60 billion per year.

It sounds as though a re-think is overdue.

Reform of Saudi subsidies imminent: source

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia is looking to overhaul its costly subsidies system, an informed source told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday, at the same time that the governor of the Kingdom’s central bank said the system was “distorting and inefficient” and needed to be reformed.

Reform of the country’s subsidy system was now “very likely,” the source, who requested anonymity, and would mostly comprise redirecting subsidies to lower-income segments of the population.

Saudi Arabia currently subsidizes a number of commodities, including electricity, water and fuel. The Kingdom’s bill for fuel subsidies alone amounts to around 60 billion US dollars a year, making Saudi Arabia the world’s second-biggest spender on fuel subsidies after Iran, according to the International Energy Agency, and allowing Saudi citizens to enjoy some of the world’s lowest fuel prices.

The system has been criticized for being costly, badly targeted, and inefficient. In addition to the heavy bill footed each year, the subsidies, because they are uniformly applied across social strata, end up benefiting the rich more than the poor, some economists argue.

February:03:2015 - 13:19 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV reports on The Washington Post‘s retraction of stories that questioned the health of Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman. The withdrawal (which I cannot find online at the Post‘s site) of the reporting is said to be because there was no supporting information on the allegation. Given that high-level USG officials met with the King (and others with his advisors and those of the former king), I’d expect some sort of comment on his health if it were detected.

WashPost retracts ‘unsubstantiated’ report on King Salman’s health
Salma El Shahed

The Washington Post has retracted and published a correction relating to claims it made regarding Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdelaziz suffering of dementia, a false claim which the paper later described as “too speculative and unsubstantiated.”

The Post said it retracted the statement because it did not meet its “standards for publication.”

The Post responded to Al Arabiya News’s request for clarification explaining that as the Editor’ Note has previously indicated the claims were “too speculative and unsubstantiated to meet The Post’s standards for publication. (These assertions were variously attributed to “said to be” (May 27, 2014), “reportedly” (Jan. 23) and “widely believed” (Jan. 24). The only specific attribution came in the Jan. 24 piece, which quoted The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Simon Henderson, which The Post claims is “an authority on Saudi Arabia and succession issues.”

February:03:2015 - 13:06 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink
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