Saudi media — including this Arab News story — carry a Reuters report that camels from the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia, are in for close inspection for the presence of the MERS virus. Field work in Somalia shows that the camels are carrying antibodies to the virus similar to those carried by human victims. This suggests — but does not prove — that these camels serve as a vector for the disease.

Saudi Arabia imports a large portion of its meat camels from the Horn of Africa and Saudi Arabia is the major export market for Somalia. Any ban on imports from Somalia will have serious repercussions on the struggling area’s economy.

MERS battle: Camel imports face scrutiny

Reuters: JEDDAH: Saudi authorities suspect that the MERS virus may have arrived in camels from the Horn of Africa, and could ban such imports until it knows more, says Tariq Madani, who heads the scientific advisory board of the Health Ministry’s command and control center (CCC).

Any ban on the camel trade with the region would badly hurt the economy of Somalia, which is a major livestock exporter to Saudi Arabia.

Madani said scientists are currently testing camels at sea ports before authorities allow them in.

“We do have suspicions that the disease may have been imported through camel trade from the Horn of Africa, but we haven’t proved it yet,” Madani said.

He said the final decision on a ban on camel imports from the region lies with the agriculture ministry.

June:28:2014 - 06:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV carries a report from Agence France Presse stating that the Saudi government is threatening to deport expats who offend local custom and law during Ramadan. The month-long fast requires that one abstain from food, drink, and cigarettes (as well as sex) during daylight hours. As Ramadan this year falls in the longest days of the year, tempers run a bit foul, at least during the daytime. By seeking to ensure that non-Muslims do not irritate the country’s citizens by breaking the fast in front of them, the government is seeking calm.

Expats are not expected to fast during Ramadan. If Islam isn’t their religion, they don’t need to follow its religious rites. They have to keep their daylight fast-breaking to inside private establishments, however, whether their homes or at businesses that permit it.

Saudi Arabia will expel non-Muslims who disrespect Ramadan

Riyadh, AFP: Saudi authorities threatened Thursday to expel non-Muslim foreigners who eat, drink or smoke in public during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend.

The interior ministry urged non-Muslims to “respect the feelings of Muslims by refraining from eating, drinking or smoking in public places, streets and at work.”

“They are not excused for being non-Muslim,” said the statement carried by SPA state news agency, adding that “labour contracts stipulate respect for Muslim rites.”

“Those who violate (that)… will face the necessary measures, including terminating work contracts and being deported,” the statement added.

June:28:2014 - 06:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudis are debating the proper place for women in — of all things — the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Some see women’s presence in the field operations of the religious police as a necessary thing. Others think that desk jobs might be more appropriate. Yet others are concerned that unrelated men and women, working together even on a religious mission, might be a temptation too far. At least the issue is being discussed, as Saudi Gazette reports…

Women in the Haia

THE Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) plays a major role in protecting Saudi society’s moral fabric through its awareness campaigns and regulatory mission. However, despite the long history of the commission, it remains divided on whether women should join their male counterparts and work as field officers.

The topic is not new and has been discussed before, but with Saudi women joining the country’s labor force in large numbers women working for the Haia is not impossible. Supporters of the idea say now is the time to employ women in the Haia while others believe the idea should be extensively studied before a decision is made, Al-Madinah newspaper reported.

Sami Omar Al-Sibah, faculty member at the College of Dawa and Usul-ud-Din at Umm Al-Qura University, said women working for the Haia, particularly in field missions, is a step in the right direction but said the issue needs to be studied thoroughly.

“This topic addresses mainly the role of women in society and the sort of job opportunities available to them. Other issues such as guardianship, protection and segregation will be brought up if we allow women to participate in field missions. It is important to move forward but care must be taken in order for us to avoid future calamities,” he said.

June:27:2014 - 08:31 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing at al-Monitor, Fahad Nazer, a Saudi analyst, takes a look at what’s at stake for Saudi Arabia following the onslaught by ISIS militias in Iraq. The Saudis don’t like it; it scares them. They’re particularly concerned about the number of young Saudis who have gone off to fight in Syria in the name of jihad. The last time young Saudis went off to fight in foreign wars, then ended up returning to the Kingdom, frustrated, angry, and willing to take up arms against their own government. No repeat performance is wanted.

Saudi Arabia threatened by ISIS advance in Iraq
Fahad Nazer

Contrary to an emerging consensus in the West and the Middle East, the turmoil in Iraq does not benefit Saudi Arabia, nor is it a “dream” for Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. While relations between the Saudi royals and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are among the most strained in the region, it is one thing for the Saudis to view Maliki as a divisive figure beholden to Iran, and something patently different for them to be actively supporting the armed Sunni rebellion, which al-Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is spearheading.

The prospect of a failed state torn apart by a sectarian civil war along its border, another one in Syria and an al-Qaeda “state” rising up from the ashes of these two civil wars must be a disconcerting one for Saudi Arabia. While both Iraq and Syria have publicly blamed the carnage in their countries on the Saudis for what they maintain is Saudi support of “terrorists,” including ISIS, the al-Qaeda affiliate itself has vowed to “conquer” Saudi Arabia after it has “vanquished” the regimes in Damascus and Baghdad. More than any of its neighbors, Saudi Arabia has the most to lose from the conflict in Iraq spiraling out of control. There are several reasons.

Saudi Arabia values stability more than anything. Its penchant for reactionary politics is most apparent in its unconditional support of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s new government in Egypt, which has reinstituted many of the policies of former President Hosni Mubarak, arguably the Saudis’ most stalwart ally for over 30 years. And while the Saudis have supported the rebels’ bid in Syria to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, this willingness to change the status quo is a function of the role Iran is playing in the conflict and because Saudi Arabia views itself as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, and therefore has a moral obligation to help the beleaguered Sunni majority.

But even in Syria, there are reports indicating that the Saudis are re-evaluating their policy. The exodus of hundreds of young Saudis to join the “jihad” there has rung alarm bells and brought back memories of the Afghanistan war in the 1980s, when Saudis joined the “Afghan Arab” fighters and either returned home, bringing their military experience with them, or joined other militant Islamist groups elsewhere. Osama bin Laden himself was such an example. Saudis who turned themselves in to authorities after fighting in Syria confirmed that not only are many Saudis — possibly hundreds — gravitating toward the most extreme armed groups in Syria, including ISIS, but that many have become known for their ferociousness and willingness to conduct suicide attacks.

June:26:2014 - 00:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi government efforts to push out cheap and illegal foreign labor and put more Saudis into jobs is hitting more than the construction industry apparently. Arab News reports that date farmers in Madinah are complaining that they can’t find the cheap foreign workers they’re used to employing. Their incomes are set to suffer.

I’m sure the same pinch is being felt across the agricultural and herding sectors as well. Foreign workers, earning a pittance, have enabled owners to profit in what would otherwise be losing industries.

Madinah harvest ‘delayed by expat worker shortage’

Madinah date farmers say they are in trouble because they do not have enough workers to harvest this season’s crop following the crackdown on illegal workers by the Labor Ministry.

“Farm owners normally hire workers ahead of the date season but now many of them are reluctant to do so. At the same time, it is not easy to find expatriate workers willing to work on the farms,” Mohsin Al-Alawi, a Saudi farmer told Arab News over the phone.

He said the Labor Ministry has agreed to allow farmers to recruit seasonal workers from abroad but claimed workers would probably only arrive once the season is over because of lengthy government hiring procedures.

“Ramadan is the best time to make a good profit. But by the time the ministry grants visas for workers, the market will be flooded with dates from Qassim and other regions and the price will go down,” Al-Alawi said.

June:25:2014 - 08:08 | Comments Off | Permalink

When American bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he’s reported to have replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

This seems to be the operating principle of thieves who operate within the sacred precincts of the Grand Mosque at Mecca, too. Saudi Gazette reports that 2,000 undercover policemen will be working the area of the Grand Mosque to deter and catch pickpockets and other thieves who descend on the area during Ramadan and Haj. At this time, pilgrims — often carrying their entire net worth on their person — are taken up with the religious fervor of the occasion, distracted from ordinary life. They become vulnerable to those with more nefarious intent.

That this is taking place at Islam’s holiest site is doubly scandalous. Not only is theft going on — the lack of common theft is something Saudi pride themselves on — but the location makes it even more despicable.

Over 2,000 private eyes in Haram to nab thieves
Saudi Gazette report

MAKKAH — More than 2,000 cameras have been planted in various parts of the Grand Mosque and its plazas to watch for and apprehend thieves and pickpockets, a senior security official has said.

“There will also be undercover policemen in the Haram 24/7 to prevent theft and all other crimes,” commander of the Umrah security police, Maj.Gen. Abdulaziz Al-Souli, was quoted by Makkah daily as saying.

Al-Souli was addressing a press conference on Monday, which was also attended by high ranking officers from the Makkah police.

Al-Souli said all security sectors will participate in maintaining the safety and security of pilgrims and visitors during the holy month of Ramadan.

June:25:2014 - 08:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s construction industry is looking toward a major downturn, says an industry spokesman. Asharq Alawsat reports that the industry fears major losses as a result of efforts to both raise the wages of foreign workers, by getting rid of many of much of the cheap foreign labor pool, and by pushing more Saudis (who are more expensive to employ) into the jobs.

There’s no doubt that much of Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure has been built on the backs of cheap foreign labor. Now, the artificially low cost of labor is coming to an end, the result of government action.

Saudi construction sector to suffer “historic losses” by year’s end
—industry expert
Shuja Al-Baqmi

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Saudi Arabian construction sector will suffer “historic losses” by the end of 2014, a senior official at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Fahad Al-Hamadi, who is also head of the Kingdom’s National Committee for Construction, said the Saudi construction sector was set to suffer losses amounting to 13 percent of the total value of construction projects in the country.

Hamadi put the losses down to the sector bearing the full brunt of costs on projects, the Ministry of Labor’s decision to raise construction workers’ wages by 150 percent, and the decision to raise the Saudization rate—the percentage of homegrown workers who make up a given sector’s employees—for the sector from 5 to 8 percent, as well as the annual fees imposed on construction companies who hire foreign workers—set at 2,400 Saudi rials (640 US dollars) per worker per year.

He said: “The Committee has previously made recommendations to adequately solve these problems. At the forefront [of these] is the establishment of a regulatory body for the construction sector.”

In a press release posted by the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce, Hamadi also said that up to 40 percent of projects in the country had been put on hold.

June:25:2014 - 07:29 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

I find the fact that Arab News is covering this story at least as interesting as the story itself. Apostasy is not something Saudis tend to feel neutral about, so a factual article, devoid of moralizing is noteworthy.

Of course, the story could just be “link bait,” a story that sure to draw attention from online commentators, as well as foaming comments on the newspaper’s own page.

Sudanese ‘apostate’ on death row freed

KHARTOUM: A Sudanese Christian who gave birth in prison after being sentenced to hang for apostasy was freed on Monday, one of her lawyers said.

The case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 26, sparked an outcry from Western governments and rights groups after a judge sentenced her to death on May 15.

“Meriam was released just about an hour ago,” Mohanad Mustafa told AFP on Monday afternoon.

“She’s now out of prison,” he said, but authorities will not issue the reasons for her release until Tuesday.

Born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Ishag was convicted under laws that have been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaw conversions.

June:24:2014 - 07:56 | Comments Off | Permalink

Translating a piece from the Arabic Al-Watan, Saudi Gazette reports that the head of Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has established “six noes” for members’ behavior. Those are, no spying, extremism, fanaticism, authoritarianism, harming people, and chasing suspects. The chief, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh, has been working to repair the reputation of the organization by curbing those behaviors that most annoy Saudi citizens. Saudi society continues to strongly support the role of the religious police, but have heavily criticized them for heavy-handed reactions to minor transgressions, embarrassing people needlessly, and being far too aggressive in their behavior. Al-Asheikh believes that, as the saying goes, “sugar catches more flies than vinegar,” and is seeking to embue a new ethic on his charges.

Haia staff barred from spying on people
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — Staffers of the Commission for Promotion of Virtues and Prevention of Vice (Haia) have been barred from spying on people or chasing suspects.

Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh, president of the commission, also warned the Haia members working in the field against displaying any signs of extremism or religious fanaticism. He was talking during a visit to the Haia headquarters here Sunday by Riyadh Emir Prince Turki Bin Abdullah.

According to local daily Al-Watan, Al-Asheikh said there were six “nos” Haia members should stay away from: Spying, extremism, fanaticism, authoritarianism, harming people and chasing suspects. He said the Haia is applying rules and regulations equally among all citizens and residents without any distinction.

Al-Asheikh said the Haia men have been instructed never to abuse any man or woman. They should always be lenient and nice to every one. “No one should be falsely accused or deliberately harassed. The Haia men should not resort to devious means just to incriminate the others,” he said.

The Haia has 12 branch offices, 129 sub-commissions and 345 centers scattered all over the Kingdom.

June:24:2014 - 07:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

Fuad Ajami, scholar and writer on Middle Eastern affairs, has died. I had the pleasure of hosting him at my home in Riyadh several times. While we had some differences on certain aspects of the politics of the Middle East, he was always courteous and informed, a pleasure to know.

June:23:2014 - 09:35 | Comments Off | Permalink

Despite the focus on youth in Saudi Arabia, the country also pays attention to its older citizens. Adult Education, which falls under the Ministry of Education, offers a variety of course, but none so popular as its basic literacy program. Arab News reports that the country has reduced adult illiteracy among males to 3.75% and among women to 9.92%.

Illiteracy down by 6.81%

Saudi Arabia has surpassed the Dakar Education Conference’s objective of erasing illiteracy among the elderly by 50 percent by 2015.

The Kingdom notified UNESCO that it has been able to erase 60.61 percent of illiteracy by the end of 2013, reducing illiteracy rates by 6.81 percent.

Education Minister Prince Khaled Al-Faisal said this achievement proves the ability of Saudi people to reach their goals. “Education comes at the top of sectors that reflect the true image of any nation.” The Kingdom will continue its strategic program to eliminate illiteracy, he added.

Prince Khaled has received a report on the ministry’s adult education program that includes awareness campaigns and evening classes.

Those who complete the three-year course are given certificates equal to elementary school certificate, and a financial reward of SR1,000 each.

June:22:2014 - 06:38 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

After failed earlier attempts, Saudi Arabia has finally succeeded in having the historic section of the city of Jeddah placed on UNESCO’s register of World Heritage Sites. The area, with primarily 18th and 19th C. traditional architecture, is sort of a time capsule. Not only the styles, but the building techniques, using blocks of coral as building material along with palm tree structural support, are nearly unique in the world.

UNESCO listing will help the Saudi government in pressuring the private owners of most of the properties to maintain them properly. The landlords had had a tendency to let the buildings fall into disrepair, and often fall or burn down. The building were nowhere near up to modern standards and consequently ended up as slum housing. Landlords just couldn’t demand sufficient rents to maintain them. Both the national government and the Jeddah municipality have put significant sums into preservation, but still needed buy-in from the owners. Now, the government has UNESCO — and an international agreement — on its side of the lever and can exert more force on those owners without having to take on the role of overweening government power.

Jeddah Historical Area declared a World Heritage site
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH – The Jeddah Historical Area was declared on Saturday a World Heritage site by UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency.

Prince Sultan Bin Salman, President of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, announced the inclusion of the historical area in the World Heritage site list after approval by the 38th session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which is currently being held in Doha, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

“The UNESCO’s decision would further highlight the Kingdom’s historical position and its rich heritage. The inclusion of another site to the UNESCO heritage site shows the depth of the Kingdom’s culture that represents a major platform and strong witness to the country’s role in the interaction with humanity through centuries,” Prince Sultan said, adding that the UNESCO’s decision represents part of the comprehensive initiative being taken under the King Abdullah Project for taking care of cultural heritage approved recently by the Council of Ministers.

June:22:2014 - 06:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink
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