In 2002, a fire at a girls school in Mecca claimed the lives of 15 students. An investigation into the event identified several contributing factors. Among them was the fact that many girls schools were being operated, not out of purpose-build schools, but in rented facilities that had been constructed for other purposes, often as apartments.

The situation hasn’t changed a great deal over the past decade, according to a report in Saudi Gazette. Parents of girls attending schools in Jeddah are pointing out the sub-standard buildings into which they entrust their daughters. They’re not happy about it, reasonably enough. The schools may have desks and blackboards, perhaps even computers, but they’re sorely lacking in even basic safety measures.

2,000 girls in Jeddah face danger of school collapse
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — There are concerns that a two-story rented building in north Jeddah that has been converted into a government school poses a serious threat to the lives of the 2,000 girls that use it, reported Makkah daily.

The building in the Hamadaniyah area looks perfect from outside but inside it lacks all safety measures, parents and teachers claimed.

Though the building bears a signboard saying it is the 96th elementary school for girls, in fact it has also been made into an intermediate and secondary school.

The 800 elementary students come to school early in the morning and leave about at 11 a.m.

The 1,200 intermediate and secondary students will come immediately after that and remain until around 6 p.m. There is no other government school for girls in the neighborhood, which is why it looks after so many students.


September:09:2014 - 08:38 | Comments Off | Permalink

The King Fahd Causeway, a 25km/16mi. combination of bridge and roadway connects the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with the island state of Bahrain. Annually, some 12 million people use the road to travel between the two countries, often to take advantage of their different legal and social situations. The current volume of traffic is at the point of breaking the system of customs and immigration and hour-long backups are not infrequent.

Now, approaching 30 years after the causeway first opened, a second, parallel causeway is being planned to handle the large and increasing amount of traffic. According to this Asharq Alawsat report, the new causeway will include railroad lines, part of a GCC-wide effort to develop a rail network linking all member countries.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain announce plans for second causeway

Manama, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have announced plans to construct a second cross-sea bridge linking the two Gulf kingdoms.

The announcement was made following a meeting on Friday in Jeddah between the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, and Bahrain’s King, Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Bahrain’s Minister of Transportation Kamal Bin Ahmad told Asharq Al-Awsat the 15-mile-long (25-kilometer-long) bridge will run parallel to the King Fahd Causeway—the existing bridge linking the two countries—but will, in addition to a lane for cars, also include two rail lines: one for passengers and another for cargo.

He said the new bridge would be named the King Hamad Bridge, after Bahrain’s monarch, a “generous gesture” from King Abdullah as a sign of the continued friendship and cooperation between the two countries.

He added that the Saudi and Bahraini ministries of transport and finance, as well as the King Fahd Causeway Authority—the joint Saudi–Bahraini body overseeing the bridge—had carried out, alongside an outside consulting firm, initial technical and environmental studies for the project last July.

In its report, Arab News focuses on the US $5 billion price tag for the new causeway:

2nd bridge linking KSA and Bahrain to cost $5bn

Several years ago, there was talk of building an Egypt-Saudi causeway across the northern part of the Red Sea. I’ve not heard anything about that recently, but given the recent disruptions in Egyptian politics, that doesn’t particularly surprise me.


September:09:2014 - 08:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Arab News reports that Saudi courts have set prison sentences for four Saudis who had left the country to fight in Syria alongside ISIS and Al Nusra Front. They received jail terms of up to six years and travel bans following their release. The cases cited involved the use of false documents to travel.

Four imprisoned for fighting in Syria

A court has sentenced four Saudis to prison for up to six years and prevented them from traveling for participating in fighting in Syria with ISIS and the Nusra Front. The convicts impersonated other people and left Saudi Arabia with fake passports through land ports. One of them participated in guarding a terrorist camp.

Another was imprisoned and banned from traveling for five years. He was accused of traveling with others to take part in the fight in Syria by stealing the passport of his brother and leaving the Kingdom through the Al-Rigi land port to Kuwait, and from there to Turkey. Smugglers later helped him slip into Syria.

Some months ago, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah issued a royal decree criminalizing fighting abroad or belonging to extremist or religious groups.
Anyone found guilty could be jailed for up to 20 years. Punishments apply to organizations that are classified as terrorist either locally, regionally or internationally. People who offer any form of material or moral support to such terrorist groups or organizations or promote their thoughts are liable to the same punishment.


September:06:2014 - 09:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

While they can’t drive cars in the Kingdom, Saudi women drive themselves toward success, a report from Oxford Strategic Consulting says. Al Arabiya TV extracts this from a press release by the group that notes Saudi women’s achievement in academics, but also their uphill struggles against societal barriers. An interesting data point pulled out of the study is that Saudi men are more motivated by religion or beliefs than by achievement for its own sake.

Neither link goes to the study itself. Just how questions were phrased and interpreted is not made clear. The overall results, however, confirm my own experience with Saudi women: they are truly interested in showing that they can manage for themselves and they do — when given the chance.

Saudi women more keen to achieve than men, study finds

A considerably larger proportion of Saudi females are more likely to “strive to achieve” than their male counterparts, a survey found earlier this week, putting the figures at 35 percent and 20 percent of respondents respectively.

The survey, which was commissioned by Oxford Strategic Consulting, and released by the UK/Dubai-based HR consultancy, and polled nearly 1,000 Saudi nationals living in kingdom, asked respondents to list three things that most motivated them and three things that most discouraged them.

The survey indicated that Saudi women were also markedly more prone than men to feel discouraged by their own negative feelings (49% cf. 35%) and lack of personal achievement (24% cf. 14%), the report said.


September:06:2014 - 09:09 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV reports that Saudi Arabia is launching a new project to improve border security. The issue of border security is important for the Saudis not only because of groups like ISIS at their gates, but also due to the current porosity of its long borders with Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, and both sea coasts. Illegal immigration, the smuggling of arms, drugs, and even cattle have proved problematic for the country. Improved border security should help address the problems, but is unlikely to solve them.

Saudi king launches first phase of border security project

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, in the presence of Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa, inaugurated on Friday the first phase of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ project for border security.

The border security project includes 3,397 trainees, 60 trainers to supervise operations, eight command and control centers, 32 interrogation centers, three rapid response units as well as 38 back and front gates with surveillance cameras.

The project includes 78 communication and surveillance towers, 38 of the former and 40 of the latter, and is equipped with 85 surveillance posts, 50 day-and-night surveillance cameras, 10 monitoring and surveillance vehicles, a 1.4-million meter fiber optics networks, 50 radars, five 900 kilometer security fences, in addition to other barriers that have helped drop the number of infiltrators, drug traffickers, as well as arms and cattle smugglers to zero.


September:06:2014 - 08:59 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi media report that an American citizen is among a group of 24 who have been sentenced for taking part in a terrorist organization within the Kingdom. The articles, all based on a release from the Saudi Press Agency, typically exclude much useful information such as noting the specific crimes committed and the names of the individuals.

US citizen among 24 jailed over terror plots
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The Special Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced 24 people, including an American, to prison terms of up to 27 years Wednesday for forming a terrorist cell and plotting to attack Saudi and Bahraini interests, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The defendants, sentenced to at least two years in prison, also include one Yemeni national, while the rest are all Saudi citizens, SPA said. The American, who was not named, was jailed for 17 years.

The court ordered the Saudi defendants to be placed under a travel ban and deport the foreigners after their release from prison.

The special court found them guilty of forming a terrorist cell that plotted attacks against oil pipelines and some citizens and disobeying the Kingdom’s rulers, with some of them traveling to join fighting abroad.

A Reuters report has a bit more information though. It notes that the American has been held for six years already, pre-sentencing. That six years is being deducted from his 18-year sentence as “time served.” Again, though, details are lacking. The Reuters reports obliquely suggests that there was some sort of involvement in protests in the Shi’a-populated Easter Province, but doesn’t actually say that. The border between “protest” and “supporting terrorism” is notoriously thin when it comes to Shi’a matters in Saudi Arabia, though. As a consequence, we really don’t know anything other than that an American has been sentenced. Perhaps the question will be raised in a US State Department press conference…

Saudi court jails 24 men on terrorism charges


September:04:2014 - 08:22 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia is making its negative stance toward IS and other extremist groups clear. In Arab News, there’s a report about the sentencing of a cleric who preached support as well as provided monetary support for jihadists. He received a five-year jail sentence and travel ban.

Preacher imprisoned for praising IS

Riyadh’s special criminal court has sentenced a Saudi preacher to five years in prison for praising and supporting terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), during an Eid sermon at a local mosque in Riyadh in August 2013.

The defendant was also slapped with a five-year travel ban. The defendant was convicted of using Friday sermons to provoke and encourage dissidence, while glorifying terrorist groups and extremist ideas propagated by Al-Qaeda terrorists.

He was also convicted of financially supporting terrorism with more than SR1 million and harboring wanted terrorists. The defendant had previously received a letter from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs ordering him to stop delivering sermons at the mosque.

Saudi Gazette reports on the disquiet following the discovery of pro-ISIS graffiti on the walls of schools in eastern Riyadh. The article suggests that this is vandalism, but also that there is concern that the group’s appeal to young men is something to watch.

IS slogan found on school walls in Riyadh
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The residents of Al-Naseem neighborhood, east Riyadh, were shocked when they saw the slogans of Islamic State (IS) on the walls of some schools, Al-Hayat daily reported.

A number of residents who spoke on condition of anonymity said they suspect that a group of young men were behind it.

The young men did not look religious but used to stay up till late on the streets near the schools, the residents said.

Sulaiman Al-Battah, sociologist, blamed social media for publishing inaccurate news reports and deviant ideas.


September:01:2014 - 06:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Makkah reporting that over 200,000 Saudis have obtained American citizenship (the time period involved is not stated). The numbers come to light as the Internal Revenue Service tries to track down 30,000 who have defaulted on their taxes.

The article notes that Saudi Arabia does not acknowledge dual-citizenship except in extraordinary circumstances. One has to choose to either be Saudi or to be some other nationality. Choosing another nationality (by going through whatever country’s nationalization process) means that one loses Saudi citizenship and all accompanying rights and privileges.

I suspect that most of these Saudi-Americans are actually people who were born in the US. The US grants citizenship automatically to any who are born in the US, with some exceptions, like diplomats. In the Middle East, but also in other places, it’s not at all uncommon for people to seek a second nationality if for no other reason than to have a place to go if things should go badly at home. At the very least, one does not end up a stateless refugee.

Contrary to the writer’s fears, though, I don’t think that the Saudi scholarship program is generating masses of new Saudi-Americans. Except, of course, for those who deliver babies while they’re studying in the US.

Why do so many Saudis become US citizens?
Abdullah Al-Tuwairgi | Makkah daily

There are more than 200,000 Saudis who have become US citizens and most of them still maintain their Saudi citizenship. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the US pursues some of these people for failing to pay taxes as American citizens. About 30,000 Saudis, who are tax defaulters, are in the Kingdom and it seems that they are not serious about settling their tax obligations. Normally, no US citizen can evade paying taxes.

What concerns me is the large number of Saudis who have US citizenship. The Kingdom does not recognize dual nationality, but Saudi law allows a citizen to hold the citizenship of another country in exceptional situations but only with the permission of the Council of Ministers. If a Saudi becomes a citizen of another country, the Kingdom will cancel his Saudi citizenship and all of his rights and privileges as a citizen. When I was a foreign scholarship student in the US in the late 1980s, I noticed that most Arabs who acquired US citizenship were from countries where the political and economic conditions were poor. During those days, only a limited number of Saudis and citizens from other Gulf states applied for US citizenship, and this was usually due to their emotional attachment to the US.


August:29:2014 - 08:09 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

An interesting paper (5-page PDF) on how ISIS, Al-Qaeda and its spin-offs, and other extremist groups make use of social media to promote their messages and to recruit new members. The report is from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.

Transcending Organization: Individuals and “The Islamic State”

BACKGROUND
The innovative ways that foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq are leveraging social media and mobile apps to recruit aspirational supporters in the West reveal what is actually a paradigm shift occurring within the global jihadist movement, away from the organization-centric model advanced by Al-Qaida, to a movement unhindered by organizational structures. Counterterrorism policy and practice must rethink the way it approaches countering online radicalization.


August:28:2014 - 06:28 | Comments Off | Permalink

An article in Arab News points to the lamentable waste of energy — particularly electricity — by Saudis. While Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s top energy producers, it is also one of its top consumers. Saudis are using as much natural gas as they are producing, the piece says. It is also using petroleum at a higher-than-sustainable rate. Most of the energy used is in the form of electricity to run desalination plants, domestic use, and industrial use. Transportation and industry use petroleum and its byproducts. According to the article, Saudis use, per capita, the equivalent of 40 barrels of oil per year.

Solar energy production is needed to help fill the demand, as well as finding new sources from which to import natural gas.

Energy waste costs local economy SR135bn annually
JUBAIL: SULTAN AL-SUGHAI

Although the Kingdom has the largest oil reserves in the world and occupies the fifth place in terms of natural gas reserves, yet according to a report by oil specialist the Kingdom faces many challenges as a result of a number of different factors, including its need to meet the requirements of development.

Oil and gas being non-renewable resources, the Kingdom requires the ideal utilization of these resources to diversify the economic base, provide new sources of income and achieve sustainable progression.

According to the report issued by the Kuwaiti Diplomatic Center, the Kingdom’s annual rate of energy consumption exceeded 5 percent while the economic growth rate reached 4 percent.

The total of energy consumption accumulated to what equals 3.8 million oil barrels per day considering the apparent disparity in consumption rates during different seasons of the year.

Statistics show that rate of consumption will reach 8.4 million oil barrels if the issue is not dealt with properly.


August:28:2014 - 05:56 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports on a new regional survey conducted by a Singapore-based social media agency. The report indicates that Saudi Arabia is fully wired (or wireless) and connected. Interestingly, the data suggest that Saudis own 1.9 cell phones each.

Graphic showing Saudi use of digital media

The Kingdom’s population lives online

Singapore-based social media agency, We Are Social’s (http://wearesocial.sg) report, “Digital Landscape: Middle East, North Africa and Turkey” offers an in-depth review of statistics of importance to understand the social, digital and mobile landscape in the region in 2014. The 20 countries covered include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The report begins with a review of global and regional statistics and then drills down to the individual country data. Saudi Gazette presents here the data for the Kingdom. To review the full report and compare how all the countries stack up, go to: http://www.slideshare.net/wearesocialsg/social-digital-mobile-in-the-middle-east-north-africa-turkey/download


August:27:2014 - 08:08 | Comments Off | Permalink

Young Saudis are changing their expectations about work, Al Arabiya TV reports. Rather than waiting around for high-status/low-productivity jobs in the public sector, they are now looking at and taking jobs in the service sector. They are bucking this (recent) historical social disdain for these jobs because they realize that any moral job that pays a salary is a respectable job and that earning a salary is much better than not earning a salary. Saudi males are starting to catch up with the women, who have had far more pragmatic ideas about work.

Young Saudis challenging past work trends

A large number of young Saudis have joined jobs that were considered beneath them in the past and are proving that such negative traditions and norms are not an obstacle to their ambitions.

It has become normal to see young Saudis working in men’s fashion shops, restaurants and coffee shops, serving customers to acquire the experience and work culture that will allow them to achieve higher goals.

These Saudis are reflected in the recent data released by the Ministry of Labor that showed the number of Saudis working in the private sector has reached 1.47 million in 2013, representing a 332.2 percent increase from 2012.

This increase was also helped by the ministry’s Saudization efforts and the security campaigns that were conducted against illegal workers, Al-Hayat daily reported.


August:27:2014 - 07:44 | Comments Off | Permalink
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