The passage of time changes things. Rather than a vast, undelimited region across which migrating tribes traveled, there are now national borders that delineate the countries of Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Oman. With the drawing of borders came nationalities; with nationalities, there came regulation, registration, and documentation.

Some of the members of the migrating tribes missed out on becoming anchored to a nationality. They, known as the Bidoon, or “stateless” suffer in various ways through their lack of anchoring. As they cannot demonstrate that they belong to any one state, they do not qualify for state-offered programs and support like education, health care, and various subsidies, as well as access to jobs. The various countries in which the Bidoon are found have offered a variety of ways in which to ‘regularize’ them, with some programs being better than others.

Saudi Gazette reports on a new Saudi initiative that will offer government-provided ID cards to the Bidoon to grant them access to at least some social programs. This will not make them Saudi citizens — they won’t be eligible for Saudi passports, for instance — but it will not leave them completely out in the cold, either.

Jawazat issues special IDs to Bidoon

Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The Directorate General of Passports (Jawazat) has issued special ID cards for the members of migrant tribes currently living at the outskirts of the Kingdom’s regions. The people of such tribes are commonly known as the Bidoon (people without identities).

Director General of the Jawazat Maj. Gen. Sulaiman Al-Yahya told Al-Hayat newspaper in a statement published Tuesday that the new ID cards would facilitate all the official procedures for these people.

“The cards look similar to the iqamas (residence permits) of the expatriates but they have many privileges over them. Their holders will be treated on equal footing with the Saudi citizen,” he said.

Al-Yahya said the data on the Bidoon are currently being collected prior to the issuance of these cards.

August:13:2014 - 08:41 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health is saying that the death of a Saudi national who sickened in Sierra Leone and died in the Kingdom was not due to the Ebola virus, based on preliminary studies. Further studies are being conducted in labs in the US and Germany to verify the test results.

MOH: First test of Ebola suspect negative

RIYADH — The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced Saturday that the initial test results of a Saudi national who died showing symptoms similar to Ebola was not infected with the virus. It had announced on Wednesday that the man had died of a heart attack.

The ministry said it received “preliminary laboratory result” from Atlanta showing that the man had tested negative for Ebola. The preliminary lab results were carried out by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, US.

The “same US laboratories will carry out further precise and developed tests to ensure the absence of other viruses that could cause hemorrhagic fever,” the symptoms the man had upon his return from Sierra Leone, the ministry said.

The ministry also said that it is awaiting the results of tests on the second sample for the same case sent to one of the laboratories in Germany, within a few days.

August:10:2014 - 08:01 | Comments Off | Permalink

In a statement that may indicate that he is getting too old for the job, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh blames the spate of murders and destruction in the region on “foreign intelligence agencies.” No Muslim, he says in a widely reported Friday sermon, would kill other Muslims.

Assuming that the sheikh wasn’t napping for the past 30 years, his memory may be failing him. Muslim-on-Muslim violence has been violent, brutal, and widespread. While the current regime of terror may be put at the feet of extremist groups, state governments have engaged as well, and well beyond the prosecution of crimes.

Perhaps we should take the sheikh’s comments as aspirational rather than as a reflection on the facts. Muslims oughtn’t be killing other Muslims willy-nilly. Nor should they be killing non-Muslims. They do not now and have not in the past needed assistance or motivation from “foreign intelligence agencies”.

Grand Mufti: Killing of Muslims the work of foreign agencies
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh said the killings of innocent Muslims in some countries is the work of foreign intelligence agencies that seek to damage Islam.

He added that those who kill other Muslims do not represent Islam, because Islam is a religion of mercy and justice that embraces Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Al-Hayat daily reported.

During the Friday sermon at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh, Al-Asheikh said it is forbidden for a Muslim to kill another Muslim as Islam emphasized the importance of respecting and preserving lives.

“Such teachings are the basis for a settled society, and if Muslims follow these teachings, they will live in complete harmony,” he said while referencing daily reports of gruesome criminal activities being committed by what he described as “evil persons and factions that are enemies of Islam.”

Al-Asheikh went on to say that Islam is innocent of such crimes, and every Muslim should denounce crimes that are committed against Muslims who pray and fast.

August:10:2014 - 07:57 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Following the death of a Saudi who had traveled to Sierra Leone and is said to have died as a result of the Ebola virus, Saudi authorities are denying that a second case has presented itself.

The country has cancelled Haj visas for visitors from the African states currently suffering from the Ebola outbreak: Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. It stands ready to expand the ban if the virus spreads. The risk of an Ebola outbreak during Haj, which starts next month, is a nightmare.

2nd Ebola case denied

The Health Ministry denied Thursday the appearance of another Ebola virus fever case in Jeddah and urged the media not to publish such reports without confirmation.

“We will inform the public about the development of the new killer virus in full transparency and have taken measures to protect citizens and residents from such infectious diseases,” the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Abdul Aziz Al-Zahrani, the brother of the man who died of Ebola on Wednesday, blamed the negligence of medical staff at a private hospital in the city for the death.

August:09:2014 - 06:41 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s decision to not issue Haj visas to would-be pilgrims from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia seems to have been a wise one. Al Arabiya TV reports that a Saudi who had traveled to Sierra Leone has died in a Jeddah hospital of what is suspected to be Ebola. I’m sure Saudi authorities are working like mad to see if there is any possibility that he might have infected others. The last thing the Saudis want is an outbreak of Ebola following Haj, either in the Kingdom or in the countries from which pilgrims come and to which they return.

Saudi man dies of suspected Ebola virus

A Saudi man, who was hospitalized for suspected Ebola infection, died on Wednesday.

The man, in his 40s, had returned recently to Jeddah from a business trip to Sierra Leone, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday. He was admitted to hospital on Monday and showed symptoms of Ebola virus infection.

His death marks the first reported casualty of the Ebola epidemic in the Arab world and comes as an emergency World Health Organization summit was being held in Geneva to discuss measures to tackle the epidemic.

August:07:2014 - 08:41 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

Al-Jazeera TV reports that Saudi Arabia has sent $1 billion to Lebanon to aid in its fight against extremists in the eastern part of the country. This is in addition to financing a $3 billion purchase of arms from France.

Saudis give $1bn to Lebanon amid fighting
Saudi Arabia sends military aid to help Lebanon’s fight against “terrorism”, ex-prime minister Saad Hariri says

Saudi Arabia has given Lebanon’s military $1bn to help its fight against self-declared jihadist fighters on the Syrian border.

The Saudi gift came as Lebanon army’s chief urged France to speed up promised weapons supplies and amid reports that a group of Muslim religious leaders were trying to mediate an end to the fighting.

After fighting in the eastern area on Tuesday, where troops have been clashing with the fighters since Saturday, ambulances entered the town of Arsal amid reports of a temporary truce.

Earlier, three out of 20 police officers detained by the fighters were released, according to police sources, reportedly as part of negotiations for a ceasefire.

August:06:2014 - 07:01 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Washington Post carries a piece by Steffen Hertog, of the London School of Economics, discussing the problems of employment across the GCC.

The major problems are that government jobs, while useful in the early days of these states, simply cannot be created in sufficient numbers to employ the majority of the population that likes the perks of government jobs; that the gap between wages and benefits paid to expats and to nationals is too wide; that private sector jobs just aren’t attractive when compared to government jobs.

The writer suggests that governments institute simple cash payments to all nationals. Salaries earned in the private sector would thus serve as a “top-up” to their income, rather than be the primary source of income. Interesting idea…


The GCC’s national employment challenge
Steffen Hertog

Citizens of the Gulf monarchies are more dependent on state employment than anywhere else in the world (except perhaps North Korea). As working age populations grow, the implicit government job guarantee is increasingly becoming unsustainable, especially in relatively poorer countries such as Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ruling elites recognize this, and have been pushing for increased private employment of Gulf nationals. These “Gulfization” policies are set to be the GCC’s prime social and economic challenge in coming decades. No one is close to resolving it: Private sectors continue to be dominated by migrant labor, with nationals holding a small or miniscule share of private jobs.

“Gulfization” policies have acquired additional urgency in the wake of the Arab uprisings. The costly wave of public job creation decreed by GCC rulers soon after regional turmoil spread in 2011 has further increased the long-term cost of the government payroll. GCC regimes have become even more sensitive to the economic demands of their young populations – who are for the most part not openly politicized, yet are concerned about their economic status and often expect their governments to cater to their needs. Public sectors in the poorer GCC countries already cannot absorb all new job seekers.

August:05:2014 - 07:03 | Comments Off | Permalink

There has been an unfortunate gap between Saudi policies and what some imams have been preaching over the years. Now, Arab News reports, the Saudi Ministry of Interior, in cooperation with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, will be vetting imams and muezzins, both in order to retain their jobs and for new hires as government employees. Through carelessness, the lack of oversight, and trust that has sometimes been misapplied, some imams have served as sources and vectors of extremism. This is going to stop.

Preachers to undergo security screening

Preachers and muezzins (those who call the faithful to prayer) will not be allowed to work until they undergo security screening, according to directives issued by the Interior Ministry.

Many government bodies will also participate in the new screening amid efforts to boost standards and quality among preachers at large mosques, where Friday prayers are held.

The Interior Ministry has notified the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowment, Guidance and Call of the new decision, urging branch managers to abide by the new regulation.

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs put forth several requirements when employing preachers.

August:04:2014 - 08:38 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News reports that the oldest text written in Arabic (actually, in a Nabatean-Arabic script) has been discovered in the far southwest of the country. The Arabic script appears to have been developed from several sources, including that of the Nabatean civilization that ruled to the north of current Saudi Arabia, but was known to have reached into northern Saudi Arabia at least as far as the area in which the ruins of Medain Saleh are found. The newly discovered inscription demonstrated the antiquity of trade routes to Yemen and is an important indicator of both the development of Arabic script and the history of the region.

Nabatean-Arabic missing link: ‘Oldest’ inscription found in Najran

A Saudi-French archaeological team has unearthed in Najran what might be considered the oldest inscription in the Arabic alphabet, said a spokesman from the French Foreign Ministry.

“The epigrapher Frédéric Imbert, a professor at the University of Aix-Marseille, found the Nabatean Arabic inscription about 100 km north of Najran near the Yemeni border,” said the spokesman. “The first thing that makes this find significant is that it is a mixed text, known as Nabatean Arabic, the first stage of Arabic writing,” he said.

This script had previously only ever been seen north of Hejaz, in the Sinai and in the Levant. The second is the fact that these inscriptions are dated. The period indicated corresponds to the years 469-470 AD. This is the oldest form of Arabic writing known to date, the “missing link” between Nabatean and Arabic writing, he added.

August:04:2014 - 08:32 | Comments Off | Permalink

In Saudi Arabia, the issue of women’s working is a fraught one. People argue about whether women should be working outside the home at all. And then they argue about which kinds of jobs are “appropriate” for Saudi women.

There was huge social outcry when some Saudi women said that they were willing and able to take jobs as maids. This was “beneath their dignity,” many declared. Starving with dignity, I guess, is preferred.

But nursing as a profession is also a societal flashpoint. Nurses have to deal with patients and their bodies. They might even have to deal with patients of the opposite sex — and their bodies. And there’s the problem. Saudi society has developed an unnecessary linkage between bodies and sex and sex is a highly regulated (in principle) subject. Until recently, only Saudi orphans could work as nurses because — as they had no families to be ashamed — they were viewed as shameless.

That attitude hasn’t changed much, according to this story in Saudi Gazette. Saudi women still have to deal with stereotypes (from God-knows-where) that nursing is somehow comparable to immoral behavior. Hospitals, to the dismay of some, means the mixing of the sexes in the workplace. Worst of all, it includes bodies. sometimes, naked bodies that have to be touched. This might be acceptable for expat nurses (God knows their morals are already questionable), but it is not acceptable for good Saudi women.

Saudi nurses still tackling stereotypes
Saudi Gazette report

MAKKAH — A number of young Saudi women nurses are facing problems and obstacles in their work environment that hinder them from performing their duties properly.

Nurse Abeer Al-Sa’edi told Makkah Daily that some people reject the idea of women working as it allows for both genders to mingle, going against Saudi traditions.

She said: “There is no doubt that some television dramas give the wrong image of working nurses and instilled incorrect stereotypes in the minds of many who are against women working in this sector.”

Iman, another nurse, stressed the need to develop nursing by providing nurses with the necessary knowledge and professional development in addition to improving the image of the profession in the community by highlighting the role of employees.

August:04:2014 - 08:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, when millions visit the country to perform religious rites, is fraught with dangers to public health. This year is a particularly complicated one.

The MERS virus, which is percolating in Saudi Arabia and has a 40% mortality rate, has been an area of concern for the past several years. Reuters, in a story carried by Al Arabiya TV, reports that ten new MERS cases were identified during Ramadan and its succeeding Eit al Fitr. Two of the cases were diagnosed in Mecca; two in Jeddah. So far, it seems that there have been no major outbreaks.

It can take up to two weeks for the MERS virus to trigger symptoms in those infected, however. We’ll need to wait a bit longer to be able to safely say that the bullet has been dodged.

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Saudi authorities do not — at present — see any reason to issue travel warnings for Haj, coming up in October. The Saudis, though, are continuing to issue cautions for the ill and elderly to avoid Haj if they can. The number of Haj visas is also restricted due to construction projects in Mecca. Intentionally or not, this should also reduce the risk.

Ramadan pilgrimage season in Saudi Arabia mostly free from MERS

Reuters | Riyadh — Saudi Arabia reported 10 confirmed new cases of a deadly respiratory disease during Islam’s fasting month of Ramadan, and subsequent Eid Al-Fitr holiday, after fears that an influx of pilgrims over the period might spread the infection more widely.

Notices of any new confirmed cases are published at the end of every day by the Health Ministry. Ramadan ended a week ago and the Eid Al-Fitr holiday ran until late last week.

Hundreds of people were infected by Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the Kingdom in April and May, raising concerns about the pilgrimage in Ramadan and during October’s Haj, when millions of people will travel to Makkah and Madinah.

MERS, which is thought to originate in camels, causes coughing, fever and pneumonia in some and has killed around 40 percent of people it has infected in the Kingdom.

The Ebola virus, which has broken out in western Africa, however, is a different matter. According to this report from Saudi Gazette/Okaz, the Saudi government is denying visas to applicants from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, places where the outbreak has occurred. The last thing the Saudis — or anyone else — wants is to have Haj serve as the point from which a global epidemic breaks out.

No Haj and Umrah visas for 3 African nations
Muhammad Dawood Muhammad Dawood | Okaz/ Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — The Ministry of Health (MOH) has banned the issuance of Haj and Umrah visas for Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia because of concerns about the spread of the Ebola virus in these countries, according to Dr. Khalid Marghalani, MOH spokesman.

The ministry constantly coordinates with the ministries of Haj and Foreign Affairs to take all necessary measures at borders and airports. “We have communicated the instructions to the officials of all ports of entry. We have trained our personnel on how to identify and deal with Ebola cases and control virus infection, should it happen,” he added.
Okaz/ Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — The Ministry of Health (MOH) has banned the issuance of Haj and Umrah visas for Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia because of concerns about the spread of the Ebola virus in these countries, according to Dr. Khalid Marghalani, MOH spokesman.

The ministry constantly coordinates with the ministries of Haj and Foreign Affairs to take all necessary measures at borders and airports. “We have communicated the instructions to the officials of all ports of entry. We have trained our personnel on how to identify and deal with Ebola cases and control virus infection, should it happen,” he added.

August:04:2014 - 08:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Yousef Al-Dayni analyzes the dreams of developing a new Caliphate that will rescue the Islamic world from the troubles it faces. Whether it is a terrorist group like ISIS or something more vague as hoped for by ‘moderates’, the dream is an expression of the lack of self-confidence, he says. It is also self-defeating as there is simply no place for a caliphate in the modern world, where people of different religions do and must interact constantly and peacefully, practicing real tolerance for differences.

Waiting for a ‘savior’ to ride in to rescue Islam — like the Lone Ranger, or perhaps King Arthur redux — is simply a dream. It allows one to avoid dealing with the real world, but does absolutely nothing to address the issues that need to be resolved. Violence and extremism in the name of a caliphate are not going to resolve them, either.

Islamic Self-Delusion
Yousef Al-Dayni

I was recently speaking with a well-known “moderate” Islamist figure about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and how this terrorist group has managed to defame the true image of Sunni Islam within just a few short months—more than Al-Qaeda and other violent extremist groups ever have. While this well-known preacher agreed with me about ISIS and its false brand of Sunni Islamism, he said this does not eliminate the dream of the return of the caliphate—the aspiration of every Muslim who wants to see Islam rise up and advance, as Islam cannot do so without its state.

This rejection of ISIS and terrorism while still wanting to see the return of the caliphate represents a major problem in Islamic discourse today. This is the result of a state of low self-esteem in the Islamic world that has existed since the fall of the last caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, and represents a response to the arrival of new Islamic discourse that not only frowned at the idea of caliphate, but viewed this as being inherently flawed.

The reality of the Muslim Ummah today is one of the absence of effective and influential religious leaders, with the return of popular Islamist discourse justifying violence. We have seen the rise of many groups and organizations based on this discourse, including ISIS, Ajnad Al-Sham, the Ahfad Al-Rasul Brigade, Fatah Al-Islam, Al-Qaeda and many others. It is just that ISIS has gone the furthest by announcing an Islamic State in parts of Iraq and Syria and paying allegiance to a caliph.

However, ultimately, the emergence of such groups has only contributed to further harming Islamic self-confidence and self-esteem. Who could believe that barbaric and brutal organizations such as these, whose fighters are proud to pose with the severed heads of defeated enemies, could turn into an alternative to true Islam? Those who follow and support these groups are doing so solely out of spite towards the ruling regimes in our region—not in support of Islam, which is suffering today more out of the ignorance of its supposed followers than the hatred of its enemies.

July:31:2014 - 09:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink
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