Asharq Alawsat reports that the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt have signed an agreement to establish electric power sharing between the two countries. The agreement would seek to take advantage of the differing peak demand periods for the two countries. Saudi Arabia’s demand peaks in the mid-afternoon while Egypt’s occurs in the early evening. An hour’s time zone difference helps.
Saudi Arabia is in the midst of developing a regional grid with other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council as well. This will make particular sense as nuclear power generation — still in planning phases — kicks in. While demand periods won’t differ much among the GCC states, the fact that each country has its own, varied power generation system means that short-term interruptions or failures can be ameliorated by borrowing power from other countries to meet immediate needs.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia and Egypt signed a historic USD 1.6 billion deal on Saturday to link their electricity grids as part of a project that will allow the two countries to share power.
This agreement—signed by Saudi minister for electricity and water Abdullah bin Abdulrahman Al-Hosain and Egyptian energy minister Ahmed Eman—will require the construction of a 20 km underwater cable to facilitate electricity exchange.
A well-informed source informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Saudi Electricity Company and Egyptian Electric Holding Company are set to discuss the mechanisms of implementing this power grid interconnection and energy exchange over the coming days.
The source stressed that a request for tender for the project is open to international companies, in addition to local Saudi Arabian and Egyptian companies.
He added that financial and technical departments at the Saudi and Egyptian electricity companies are set to finalize a comprehensive plan for the mechanism needed to implement the electricity exchange project over the next few days.
The Saudi and Egyptian electricity companies will take responsibility for funding, ownership, operation, and maintenance of the power grid and electricity cables inside their respective territories. Ownership, funding, and operation of the underwater cable, which will cross the Gulf of Aqaba, will be shared by Cairo and Riyadh.
One of the results of a visit by imams from various Islamic countries to Auschwitz is a joint declaration, here reported by Al Arabiya TV. The declaration condemns anti-Semitism in general and Holocaust denial in particular. The group, representing religious authorities from across the Muslim world are clear in stating that no useful purpose is served in trying to deny historic fact.
That the story is being reported by Saudi media is also significant. There is just a bit too much anti-Semitism in Saudi textbooks, though the government has been taking action over the past ten years to remove offensive materials from the books. Yet Saudi preachers are loathe to give up what seem to be hot talking points in their sermons when they rely on other, earlier historic events — including Quranic tales of Jewish perfidy — to add emotion to their sermons. And while most of the blatant anti-Semitic material may have been removed from texts, it does not necessarily follow that it has been removed from the classroom. Saudi teachers, who themselves learned from tainted materials, are fully capable of continuing to teach what they think to be true.
Anti-Semitism is far from being removed from Arab culture. It’s still intertwined with anti-Zionism and every negative action by Israel is seen as a statement about “Jews”. This isn’t going to go away soon, but at least some steps are being taken in the right direction.
Muslim religious leaders condemn holocaust deniers
Al Arabiya with AFP
Muslim religious leaders and scholars from around the globe issued a joint statement Monday condemning any attempts to deny or justify the Holocaust in which six million European Jews perished under Nazi Germany.
“We bear witness to the absolute horror and tragedy of the Holocaust where millions upon millions of human souls perished, more than half of whom were people of the Jewish faith,” said a statement signed by 10 leading Islamic figures including President of the Islamic Society of North America, Imam Mohamed Magid and India’s Chief Imam, Umer Ahmed Ilyasi.
“We acknowledge, as witnesses, that it is unacceptable to deny this historical reality and declare such denials or any justification of this tragedy as against the Islamic code of ethics,” they said, adding they “stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters in condemning anti-Semitism in any form.”
Imams and Muslim intellectuals from Bosnia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States knelt in solemn prayer for Holocaust dead at Auschwitz on May 22, their foreheads touching the ground before the notorious Wall of Death at the former Nazi German death camp in southern Poland.
Articles in various Saudi media — both Arabic and English — point to a surprising level of violence in Saudi society. When things do not go right, according to these reports, Saudis are liable to resort to physical violence to try and either get their way or to simply retaliate. Whether it’s brought about by a feeling of superiority over others or problems with anger management, Saudis have a short fuse.
Saudi Gazette carries two stories about violence being meted out to different groups, teachers and foreigners. Both articles originated in the Arabic press. From Asharq newspaper from the Eastern Province:
Here, it’s not just aggravated parents — male and female — who take to their fists. It’s not just students annoyed at failing an exam or being embarrassed by a teacher. Officials in the Ministry of Education have taken it upon themselves to physically chastise teachers.
From Al Hayat newspaper in Riyadh:
This piece notes — only in passing — that physical abuse of domestic workers has been widely and consistently reported. It ranges to other forms of abuse, often bureaucratic, that are heaped on foreign workers. It’s not just citizens who don’t know better, the article reports, but also government officials, such as the Passport official beating a foreign woman with a belt. Unfortunately for him, it was captured on video and his actions are now visible to all on YouTube.
Asharq Alawsat reports that a customer who got into an argument at a fast-food restaurant in Riyadh returned later with a gang equipped with knives and an AK-47. They proceeded to shoot up the restaurant and injure employees.
Asharq Alawsat reports that Saudi Arabia has begun to offer anti-terrorism training to a number of European and other countries. Based on the success of the Saudi rehabilitation program for those arrested on terrorism charges, other countries are interested in learning how it’s being done. While the rehab program, Munasha, is far from perfect, it has produced a lower recidivism rate than most behavior modification programs. It will be interesting to learn whether this success is based on the multifaceted program itself, or whether success is specific to the Saudi cultural milieu.
Saudi Arabia begins international police anti-terror training
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s success in tackling terrorism has led eight European countries, in addition to Turkey, Singapore and South Africa to send police officers to train in the kingdom.
More than 40 counter-terrorism police officers from around the world have been enrolled at Prince Naif University for Security Sciences (NAUSS) in Riyadh to receive training in anti-terrorist operations.
Khaled Al-Harfash, NAUSS spokesman, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Saudi instructors from the university began a five-day training program yesterday for police officers from Germany, Spain, Romania, Singapore, France, Austria, Britain, Turkey, South Africa, Netherlands, and Sweden.
The university has signed over 120 cooperation agreements with security institutions and academies all over the world to develop the abilities of police officers, he added.
“By sending their counter-terrorism police officers to be trained by specialized Saudi academic cadres, these countries want in the first place to acquaint themselves with and adapt the Saudi experience in fighting terrorism through the Munasaha rehabilitation system devised for terrorists. The trainees will familiarize themselves with the rules of crisis management during a terrorist attack, develop their skills in influencing terrorism through media, as well as recognize the dangers of world terrorism. At the same time, the training program will deal with terrorism from the perspective of the Islamic Shari’a law.”
Saudi Gazette carries a story from Agence France Presse reporting that Manssor Arbabsiar, the Iranian-American who was plotting to kill Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, has been sentenced to 25 years in jail. This follows a guilty plea he made in US Federal Court in New York.
NEW YORK — Iranian-American citizen Manssor Arbabsiar was sentenced Thursday to the maximum 25 years prison by a US judge who said his role in a bizarre plot to kill Adel Al-Jubair Saudi Ambassador to Washington could not be “tolerated.”
Arbabsiar, 58, pleaded guilty last October to conspiring with Iranian military elements to hire assassins from the Mexican drug mafia to kill the Saudi envoy.
New York federal Judge John Keenan said Arbabsiar “fully realized his act. He must learn the lesson. That cannot be tolerated.”
Defense lawyers said Arbabsiar suffered from bipolar disorder, but Keenan said he’d been found fully competent and he dismissed lawyers’ request for a sentence of just 10 years.
Bassam Youssef, “Egypt’s answer to Jon Stewart”, takes to Al Arabiya TV to lament the way Islamic TV shows seem to lose their way once they get past their introductions. Once they get the obligatory Quranic recitation out of the way, the floodgates are open to malicious gossip, always couched in phrases to avoid legal actions against libel. Nothing is sacrosanct: they’ll impugn an opponent’s sexuality, his family, his mother… anything to score points.
Youssef wonders if this is really “Islamic”, or even if it’s entertaining. What it unmistakeably is, though, is politics.
The Islamic gossip show
When you watch the so-called Islamic channels, you realize you are confronting a new type of media in Egypt. It is, as they say,conservative and religious media aiming to put people on the right path. You can tell this by watching the first few seconds of a show’s introduction, which is void of music as it is forbidden. Instead, they use human voices that are digitally altered. Then a sheikh appears and begins to calmly read Quranic verses.
However, it is only a few minutes before the atmosphere changes entirely. Following a thoughtful religious introduction, the host and his guests engage in a conversation that may last until dawn, gossiping and discussing affairs linked to people’s reputations.
They may go as far as spreading rumors against their political rivals. They use expressions such as “I was told”, “someone told me,” or “someone swore to me” that “this man is gay, that man’s wife, daughter and mother did this and that.” It seems that talking about people’s reputations is their favorite spicy topic. Why talk about someone’s actions and statements when you can talk about his wife, mother and daughter?
These people claim to possess spiritual, moral and religious superiority. If you have lost your moral sense, how can you claim that you are here to guide people towards virtuous morals when your communication skills have descended to a level lower than that of your opponents? Is this the Islamic media you preach about? Is this the Islamic society you are teaching about? Is that it? Gossiping and mocking? How is this any different than the immoral programs you attack?
In a column for Al Arabiya TV, Abdullah Hamidaddin offers up six ways in which we should not look at the Sunni-Shi’a bifurcation. In fact, he suggests, we probably shouldn’t even be using those two words because their meaning has changed considerably over the past 1,400 years.
History certainly has its uses. It does help us see how people in the past — very similar to us in terms of motivations — have dealt with issues both wisely and unwisely. But there’s only so much a snapshot of an historical period can inform us. The world changes along with language. Perhaps “Sunni” and “Shi’a” continue to have important meaning when it comes to religious doctrine or ritual, but neither of them has been exactly static since they first dawned upon the Earth. Even more, the politics around them has changed. Those changes started about 1,400 years ago, too, and they now cover a lot of ground. Hamidaddin also points to the fact that neither “Sunni” or “Shi’a” really has a unitary meaning across the globe. Each group has its subgroups and both practices and philosophies can differ greatly.
I recommend reading the entire article.
Six rules of thumb for writing on Sunni/ Shiite concepts
In the beginning of the 9th century Charles I King of the Francs was crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III. This challenged Empress Irene who ruled the Byzantium Empire from its capital Constantinople (modern Istanbul). This had a long lasting consequence on the relationships between Asia Minor and Europe which were already bad. Today we can see the effect of that event on the relations between modern Turkey and Europe and on the European hesitation to allow Turkey in the EU. It is because of that conflict between Charles and Irene in the 9th century.
I need not say that this is nonsense. But it is such nonsensical analysis which more than often guides the view towards the Middle East and Muslim communities at large. Whenever a writer explains contemporary politics by reference to the civil wars between Muslims in the 8th century he/she is doing exactly the same thing. The tectonic shift from those times to now makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to even contemplate on those events 1400 years ago as a prelude to understanding today. A shift that is not less in any way than that which happened from the time of Charles I, Pope Leo III, and Irene. But while everyone can see the shift in this latter case it seems much harder in the former one.
Why is that? Maybe we got used to the former. We grew up talking about Sunnis and Shiites fighting each other. We read all the time that Sunnis did this to Shiites and Shiites did that to Sunnis. Of course this does not excuse the critical mind, even the noncritical mind. If we spent thirty or forty years talking about conflict between Europeans and Asian Minors does that justify seeing that nonsense in a different light?
The problem with the Internet is that nobody knows you’re a dope… at least until you make it obvious yourself. And so, one Abdullah Al Dawood provides the evidence of his foolishness by calling for Saudis who don’t approve of men and women working together to harass the women. By making life unpleasant, he suggests, women will recognize that their right and dutiful place is in the home. Because morality.
Making stupid remarks on Twitter can often lead to near-instantaneous reaction, as seems to have been the case here as Maktoob, the Yahoo! news portal reports. Thumbing your nose at government policy to integrate the workplace doesn’t seem like a terribly bright move, either.
A prominent Saudi ‘self-help’ writer has triggered a fierce debate by urging his Twitter followers to sexually harass women working as cashiers in big grocery stores, local daily Gulf News reported on Wednesday.
Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood, who has more than 97,000 Twitter followers, used the hashtag #harass_female_cashiers and made the comments in an attempt to “encourage” Saudi Arabian women to stay at home and protect their chastity.
Dawood’s campaign against Saudi Arabia’s moves to encourage women to work in grocery stores has lead some Twitter users to denounce him.
Al Arabiya TV reports on the story, also. Its reportage includes the fact that some Saudis have suggested setting up a hashtag #SaudiArabia to Castrate: Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood, danger to #Saudi women by #harass_female_cashiers.
Al Arabiya TV reports on a tribe in Saudi Arabia that swims against the current of high dowries. Rather than demanding dowries in the hundreds of thousands — or even millions — of Saudi Riyals, the tribe has a 300-year-old custom of asking only SR 2… less than one US dollar. Tribal leaders note that their marriages have a far lower failure rate, too, perhaps the direct result of taking money out of the marriage equation.
‘Two-riyal’ dowry brings pride to a tribe in Saudi Arabia
Hani Al-Sufian, Al Arabiya
A tribe hailing from the southern part of Saudi Arabia prides itself in offering the families of brides only two riyals (less than $1) as dowries, a tradition – the tribe says – dates back to more than 300 years.
The custom in the Bani Thabit tribe in Al-Numas province goes against the customary dowry system of the Arab world, especially the Gulf region, where some families ask for over-the-top presents, including gold jewelry, for their daughters hands in marriage.
One elderly man in the tribe proudly defended the tradition. He told Al Arabiya that women in his tribe are “honored and dignified and with only two riyals.”
Observers in Saudi Arabia have long warned of the rising divorce rates in the kingdom. But unlike the national trend, Bani Thabit’s elderly men say that their tribe, which is made up of at least 10,000 people, doesn’t suffer from a soaring divorce rate nor are there women left unmarried.
“Go to our villages and you will not see a lot of divorcees or ‘spinsters’,” another man told Al Arabiya.
The tradition however comes as a shock to most Saudi’s living outside Al-Numas province.
A number of people from the Bani Thabit tribe said that they are given odd looks when processing their marriage certificates outside their province, adding that government officials found the two-riyal dowry “bizarre.”
I’m saddened to learn of the death of Carol Fleming, known to many as “American Bedu” for her eponymous blog about Saudi Arabia, its customs and mores.
I knew Carol well through correspondence and the odd phone conversations, but we could never quite decide if we’d met in person. We were both at the American Embassy in New Delhi for a brief, overlapping time, but neither of us could recall meeting one another. Through correspondence, though, I learned to appreciate not only her insights into Saudi Arabia (she married a Saudi diplomat after leaving the CIA and lived in the Kingdom for a number of years) but for the bravery she showed first in facing the death of her husband, and with her own, simultaneous struggle with cancer.
For those seeking to understand how Saudi Arabia works as a society, I can only recommend that you go to American Bedu blog and read through the archives and comments. Carol’s work to make Saudi Arabia and Saudis comprehensible to a Western audience will live on.
‘American Bedu’ blogger Al-Ajroush dies at 53
JEDDAH: ROB L. WAGNER| ARAB NEWS STAFF
Carol Fleming Al-Ajroush, the popular American blogger who chronicled Saudi society and covered expatriate issues as American Bedu, died yesterday following a battle with breast cancer. She was 53.
American Bedu was widely read in Saudi Arabia and the United States for its insight of the Kingdom through the eyes of Al-Ajroush, an American expat married to a Saudi. Her stories and observations about the lives of expats in a closed and conservative country won legions of followers who respected her frank, but fair commentary on Saudi issues. Al-Ajroush was particularly eloquent in writing about Saudi women’s issues, including the right to seek employment, to drive an automobile and to live full lives.
In addition to her coverage of Saudi issues, she also blogged about breast cancer awareness after she returned to the United States for treatment. She participated in public service campaigns and served as a speaker at cancer awareness events. She was a member of the Lake Norman Breast Cancer Support Group.
Saudi Arabia’s National Workers’ Committee proposed a minimum wage of SR 6,000 (US $1,600) for Saudi nationals. Saudi businesses unanimously said, “No!”
All agree that SR 6K would be a decent salary. The businesses, however, say they can’t stay in business if they have to pay that, a four- or five-fold multiple of what they pay foreign workers and at least twice the going rate for low-skilled Saudis.
What’s encouraging is that the businesses aren’t rejecting the concept entirely; they’re just arguing about how deep a cut they’re going to have to take to their bottom lines. If they’re not earning a profit — or worse, if they’re losing money — then there won’t be any jobs, at any salary. Nor can businesses simply raise the prices they charge for their goods and services. Not only are prices of certain goods fixed by the government, but Saudis show great flexibility in finding substitute goods at lower prices, even if it involves Intellectual Property piracy or the black market.
What a sustainable minimum wage would be, I don’t have a clue. But raising a minimum wage on foreign workers would do a lot of good in making Saudis more employable, at whatever wage. Arab News reports…
Businesses oppose SR 6,000 minimum wage for nationals
JEDDAH: NISREEN OMRAN
Saudi businessmen have unanimously rejected a proposal made by the National Workers’ Committee to increase the minimum wage of Saudis in the private sector to SR 6,000.
The committee made the recommendation during the Social Dialogue Forum organized by the Ministry of Labor, which ended its deliberations in Jeddah yesterday.
“We made the proposal taking into account realistic criteria, which showed that the minimum wage should be SR 6,000,” said Nidal Radwan, president of the committee.
“We feel that in order to lead a decent life, a worker needs a minimum of SR 5,837 excluding luxury items and expenses such as telephone and the Internet,” he said.
Although employers refused to consider this amount as a minimum wage, all parties agreed that it guarantees a dignified life. “It is not surprising that employers find it difficult to change what has been the norm for the past 30 years. Therefore, we need rules and regulations that bind employers to pay the aforesaid minimum wages,” he added.
Abdul Rahman Al-Harbi, the young Saudi student injured in the Boston Marathon bombing, is justifiably put out with the treatment he received from some American media. When he sought medical attention, he was detained and put into protective custody at a Boston hospital. There, he learned that he was being identified by media as a suspect and wrongly reported as being under arrest. He acknowledges that the FBI and others rightly try to protect the US, but is not at all pleased at the leaping to conclusions that various media took. Saudi Gazette reports on an article that originally appeared in the Arabic daily Al-Watan.
Saudi wrongly accused in Boston bombings speaks out
Saudi Gazette report
WASHINGTON – Saudi citizen Abdul Rahman Al-Harbi who was wrongly accused by the US media of involvement in the April 15 Boston marathon bombings spoke to Al-Watan daily about the bombings, the brief media scrutiny on him and his treatment at the hands of US law enforcement agencies.
“When the first explosion took place, I thought some kind of fireworks had gone off but when the second one occurred I knew something was wrong,” said Al-Harbi who was thrown off the ground by the second explosion and suffered from severe leg injuries.
He recalled seeing body parts on the ground but was unable to tell whether it was a hand or leg as there was smoke everywhere. Fearing a third explosion, Al-Harbi quickly got up and tried to walk away.
People on the street began asking him what happened but he said he did not know. A policeman told him to go to the other end of the street where an ambulance was waiting to help the injured. A group of police officers then took Al-Harbi to hospital and asked him to remain calm.
In another Saudi Gazette article — this one translated from the Arabic Al-Madinah — Abdulaziz Al-Suwaigh, former Saudi Ambassador to Canada, remarks on the detention of a Saudi national in Detroit. That Saudi, unfortunately carrying a pressure cooker in his luggage soon after the Boston Marathon bombing, found himself in trouble. While the pressure cooker raised suspicions, it’s not illegal to carry a pressure cooker in one’s luggage. What caused problems was that the Saudi’s passport had a page torn out of it. This raised more serious suspicions as Immigration officials around the world look for particular patterns of travel in seeking to identify would-be terrorists. A page inexplicably missing raises all sorts of red flags.
The Ambassador subtly suggests that Saudi travelers put on their thinking caps and avoid doing dumb things that will get them in trouble with foreign officials.