December 31, 2008

GCC Set To Impose Income Tax Soon

The Gulf States have agreed to implement corporate and individual income tax by 2012, and are now planning to bring the deadline closer, reports Emirates Business. "The prospect of drastic reductions in oil revenues and the resultant fiscal deficits has forced the six countries to examine whether implementation can be done earlier than 2012," sources told the paper.

Saudi Construction Down

Financial Times
Dec 30, 2008

For the past few years, much of the talk coming out of Saudi Arabia has been about opportunity – a chance to use the oil boom to develop the economy and go some way to heading off pressing social and economic pressures that have been building up in the kingdom.

During the late 1980s and 1990s, the economy stagnated while the population ballooned. By the turn of the century, unemployment had reached double digits and, with some 60 per cent of the 17m national population estimated to be under 25, the need to expand the private sector and create jobs was deemed vital to the nation’s stability and its future prosperity.

The oil boom and the massive accumulation of petrodollars provided a chance to tackle those issues and rehabilitate decaying infrastructure. But just as the process is beginning to inch forward, the Arab world’s largest economy faces a slowdown and is grappling with the prospect of a dramatic fall in revenue following the collapse in oil prices and reductions in crude output.

Now the onus is on the kingdom’s traditionally cautious leaders to ensure that the process of diversification – a huge task even in the boom years – continues in a downturn, analysts say. If not, they warn, the small gains made over the last few years will be lost, the private sector will contract and the pool of unemployed Saudis will grow.

All the Arab Gulf countries are braced for a slowdown after a period of incredible growth. But given Saudi Arabia’s demographics and size, its needs are considered more urgent than those of its smaller and wealthier neighbours.

One analyst says: “It’s taken [Saudi Arabia] five years just to warm up and begin running, and they need to keep the momentum for at least five years for that pace to be set in motion. The most dangerous thing now is for them to say ‘we are not going to invest’. If they don’t do it, they will reset the development process for at least the next five years.”

Last week, the government projected it would post a budget deficit in 2009, the first for seven years, with revenue expected to tumble to 410bn riyals ($109bn) in the next fiscal year, from a record 1,100bn riyals this year. But, to the relief of economists and businessmen, the finance ministry announced an expansionary budget, putting expenditure at 475bn riyals for 2009, about 16 per cent higher than budgeted spending for 2008, although 35bn riyals less than expected actual spending.

The oil-dependent economy relies heavily on government spending to stimulate private sector growth, and although projects estimated at $600bn have been announced, many have yet to begin and those that have are predominantly in hydrocarbons, real estate and infrastructure – sectors that provide few jobs for Saudis.

The analyst estimates that some 1m jobs have been created since 2002, but three-quarters of those were low-salary positions that were predominantly occupied by cheap foreign labour.

Official unemployment has dropped gradually to about 9 per cent, but there are concerns that the middle class is shrinking while the sizeable lower-income segment of society is becoming larger. Analysts estimate that some 3m Saudis are expected to enter the labour market up to 2020.

Worryingly, growth in the private sector – which is critical to job creation – slowed in 2008 in spite of the massive inflow of petrodollars, falling from 5.8 per cent in 2007 to 4.3 per cent.

That is expected to slow further next year, and estimates of 2009 real economic growth range from about 2 per cent to a 1.5 per cent contraction. The business community’s confidence has been dented by falling oil prices and the private sector also faces the problem of liquidity drying up in local and international banks.

Some $26bn worth of industrial infrastructure projects have either been cancelled or put on hold, according to Samba bank. This month, Rio Tinto said it would not be able to finance its 49 per cent stake in a $10bn aluminium project with state mining companyMaaden, seen as an important pillar of diversification.

On the positive side, the government is praised for acting prudently during the boom years and has significantly reduced its debt while also building up foreign assets estimated to be in excess of $500bn, making it far better placed to weather a downturn than in the 1990s. But the government will have to tap into its savings to fill the role expected to be vacated by a cautious and credit-starved private sector, analysts say.

“The $60m question is whether the government is going to step in to finance a lot of these projects, or guarantee them, or deposit enough money in the banking system so they can finance these projects,” says John Sfakianakis, chief economist at SABB Bank. “They don’t have the luxury to stop doing the reform because they are fighting time. They have to keep going at all costs.”

December 19, 2008

Saudi News Weekly Dec 13-19, 2008

Water Water Everywhere...

There’s no place like home…

According to a recent publication, Saudi Arabia’s foreign assets could increase more than twofold to nearly $878 billion (SR3.22 trillion) at the end of 2010 because of massive fiscal surpluses spawned by a surge in its petrodollar income.
I hope that we would spend some of these “massive fiscal surpluses” to improve many areas in Jeddah still suffering huge water shortages (see picture below).

The local Human Right Commission recently commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
If this is the case, why is it that nine Indian nurses who received a favorable ruling from the Labor Court against their employer, Dr. Siddiqa Hospital in Jeddah, have not yet received their unpaid salaries and their final-exit visas?
Happy human rights everybody…

Last week was not a very happy week for many people.
· In Jeddah, police arrested a 47-year-old Saudi man shortly after he killed his 19-year-old daughter by slashing her neck with a knife. Another abuse story.
· Also in Jeddah, the Investigation and General Prosecution has moved the General Court to award capital punishment for a Yemeni accused of raping young children. How many children? 13.
· The Saudi Charitable Society Caring for Saudi Families Abroad (Awassir) announced it is studying the condition of 1,000 abandoned Saudi children abroad in 15 Asian and African countries. We don’t waste any time when we go abroad, do we!
· A group of monkeys has been wreaking havoc on Al-Ajer Intermediate School for Girls in Khamis Mushayt. I understand the monkey scare has forced panicky students and teachers to stay away from the school altogether. I don’t blame the monkeys.

Finally, and as Linda Heard said: Size 10 will never be the same again.

Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

This is not a little village in Africa...
This is Al kandara, Jeddah
where volunteers fill water cans
(Pic from Arab News)

December 16, 2008

Unprecedented public ferment among once-silent Saudis

Islamic extremism, education, and women's rights are under scrutiny, as Saudi Arabia discusses democratic reform.

By Faye Bowers Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA – The capital is abuzz. Everywhere, it seems, from sidewalk cafes to women's salons behind closed doors, Saudis are talking about societal changes.
Religious extremism and democratic and educational reforms, as well as women's issues, are paraded for public discussion in what has long been one of the most tight-lipped and tightly controlled lands in the Middle East. While actual political reform may be moving at a snail's pace by Western standards, the new degree of openness is earthshaking here.
"There is a dialogue in society," says Khaled al-Maeena, editor in chief of Arab News, an English-language daily in Saudi Arabia. "Newspapers are flourishing. Papers are talking about accountability, corruption, leaders not being up to the mark, women, children, and empowerment."
A leading indicator, says Mr. Maeena, was a Nov. 28 commentary by Mansour al-Nogaidan, a reformed militant Muslim and Saudi columnist, published in The New York Times. The article bluntly questioned the Saudi government-sanctioned extremist religious culture - and was widely reproduced here. "I think the whole of Saudi Arabia read it and is talking about it," Maeena says.
The kingdom has been steadily - albeit slowly - evolving for the past 60 years, Saudi and Western officials say. But the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, along with the May and November suicide bombings this year in Riyadh, have galvanized Saudis and enabled the press to discuss reforms and societal problems more than ever before. Prior to the May bombing, says a Western diplomat, the government denied that Islamic extremism was a problem. The attack was a major turning point.
"The ironic thing is that at 11 p.m. on the evening of the May 12 bombing, television featured a scholar - a professor of Islam at Imam Muhammed Bin Saud Islamic University here. He spoke about extremism within society. That opened a lively debate here," the diplomat says. "To my surprise and astonishment, there is [now] a very lively debate within a fairly free press here."
The biggest changes since Sept. 11, says Norah al-Sowayan, a counselor at a private clinic here in Riyadh, are that "people in government see that [extremists] are not just religious people, but people who have a political agenda, and that newspapers have started to talk about these things."
Although Ms. Sowayan thinks that the pace of reforms - especially those that deal with women's issues - is much too slow, she's encouraged that they are at least being discussed publicly.
She runs a private clinic that has offered marriage and child-abuse counseling for seven years. It was one of the first of its kind, set up and secretly run by a member of the royal family. The services offered are free, and most of the clients are young women - between 25 to 30 years of age - who are experiencing marital problems and have no idea about women's rights. The clinic has recently begun to flourish, Sowayan says, in large part because "newspapers and radio talk about the organization and other social centers."
For example, Sunday's Arab News reported that the Saudi government is now considering opening up free marriage-counseling offices "to combat the high rates of divorce in the country."
Moreover, Saudi newspapers are publishing almost daily installments with the names, photos, and background information on four or five of the 26 men listed as Saudi Arabia's most wanted terror suspects. It's still not clear how much information the public is providing to the government about suspected terrorists. But it appears that the public is increasingly questioning the religious establishment they believe has incited the extremists.
Members of the Majlis ash Shura, the 120-member royal advisory council, which was recently given increased power to propose and enact laws, are speaking out, as well. In an interview in his elegantly appointed office, Maglis member Abdulmuhsin al-Akkas says the government is intent on increasing political participation, but initially only at the local level. Saudis must learn the art of participatory politics, he says, before national elections are held - in part to avoid electing religious extremists, popular clan leaders, and others who may not have the skills to run the government. "You must have the institutions and the culture ... and people don't learn this overnight," Mr. al-Akkas says.
Maeena, the Arab News editor, agrees. "There has to be civil society, institutions," he says. "Our national pastime is complaining. Now we need to roll up our sleeves and do something about it."

November 28, 2008

Saudi News (Nov 22-28, 2008)

Three Saudi diplomats were among 11 Saudis safely evacuated from the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai. However, one Saudi man remains missing.

Finally, Saudi Arabia will impose tougher punishments to prevent harassment of women. The new law calls for a maximum fine of SR100,000 and three years jail.
I’m glad the law explicitly states that sexual harassment does not mean only physical contact, but may also take place over the phone or through physical gestures or speech even if no physical contact occurs.

What’s the latest on the Saudi oil tanker? ABC confirmed that an American businesswoman, (Michele Ballarin) with connections to U.S. intelligence, has been talking with the Somali pirates trying to get the ship released.
As you recall, the pirates gave us a deadline until Nov 30. I’m almost certain the deadline will be extended….maybe.

A Saudi-Chinese joint venture is to establish a SR300-million China Mart in Riyadh to showcase Chinese products ranging from furniture to ceramics.
I welcome the venture but I recommend that we keep away from Chinese milk.

King Abdullah University (KAUST) is offering scholarships for those who will graduate in 2009, 2010 and 2011
Apply here:

The Jeddah Chamber for Commerce signed a contract with five well-known beauty centers in Jeddah to employ 46 Saudi females.

Well done. We need to end the employment problem among both Saudi men and women.

Two strong announcements were made on terrorism this week. The Experts Committee in the Council of Ministers is studying a draft law to punish those involved in terrorism. Also, the Ministry of Education ordered the removal of two books from school libraries because of the extremist ideas they contained. The books are ‘The Lies About Sayyid Qutb’ and ‘The Jihad in the Way of God.’
This is great news. Also Interior Minister Prince Naif called this week to eradicate extremism and propagate the moderate teachings of Islam that promotes tolerance. It is about time we also remove a few teachers who spread extremist and confusing ideas to misinform our children.

Saudi Gazette reported that the Summary Court in Jeddah has sentenced a 23-year-old Arab national and an 18-year-old American girl to one year in prison and 100 lashes each after they were convicted of adultery.

The father of the girl reported the relationship to the authorities after his daughter became pregnant….Why did he wait that long?

The Saudi girl rock group “The Accolade” released its first single, "Pinocchio”. Hundreds of young Saudis are downloading the song from the group's Web site. The group consists of Lamia (lead singer), Dina (guitarist and founder), Dareen, (bass), and Jood (keyboard).
The band is looking for a female drummer. I’m not sure this will solve the unemployment crises here, but it will add some fun to our life.

Movie of the Week Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a CIA operative working in Jordan searching for terrorists. Ferris uncovers information on the mastermind Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul) and devises a plan to infiltrate Al-Saleem's terrorist network with the help of his boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe). Ferris enlists the help of the Chief of Jordanian Intelligence, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), but he doesn't know how far he can trust him without putting his life in danger.
This is your chance to listen to DiCaprio speaking Arabic
I give it (A).

Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

November 21, 2008

SaudiNews (Nov 15-21, 2008)

Main story
Somali pirates hijacked a Saudi supertanker loaded with crude. The Sirius Star, a brand new tanker was seized on Saturday more than 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa, Kenya. The area lies far south of the zone where warships have increased their patrols this year in the Gulf of Aden, one of the busiest channels in the world, leading to and from the Suez Canal, and the scene of most past attacks.
The tanker is three times the size of an aircraft carrier and can carry about 2 million barrels of oil. Sirius Star was carrying crude worth about $100 million.
Its crew includes citizens of Croatia, Britain, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia.
The Somali pirates are demanding $25m in ransom to be paid within 10 days. If we paid this time, it would be the beginning of a long journey of blackmail.

Citigroup won a vote of confidence from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, its largest individual investor, who said on Thursday he plans to boost his stake in the US banking giant to five percent from less than four percent.
I’m all for investing overseas, but I’m also for investing at home.

Kuwait's daily Al-Seyassah reported that the United States has asked four oil-rich Gulf states for close to 300 billion dollars to help it curb the global financial meltdown. Apparently Washington has asked Saudi Arabia for 120 billion dollars, the United Arab Emirates for 70 billion dollars, Qatar for 60 billion dollars and was seeking 40 billion dollars from Kuwait.
As one of my favorite writers said: “Perhaps if the US didn't give upwards of US $5-10 BILLION to Israel EVERY year, the Gulf countries would be more inclined to help them.... or, even better, the US would be less inclined to NEED the help.”

Clear Vision will offer the “Six Sigma Orientation Course” (Nov 22-26) in Dammam. For more details: 03 858 8362

This is the link to my interview with Weekend America discussing the G-20 summit.

Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

November 19, 2008

When will we have the first Saudi woman minister?

Manama: Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammad Al Khalifa became Bahrain's new information minister.
Shaikha Mai, the former assistant undersecretary for culture and heritage, is the second woman in the government, and the third woman to ever hold a ministerial portfolio.
Dr Nada Haffadh became the first woman minister in 2004 when she was handed the health portfolio. However, she left in 2007 after a bitter standoff with a parliamentary committee investigating alleged irregularities in her ministry.
Following the splitting of the labour and social affairs ministry, Dr Fatima Al Belooshi was appointed minister of social development.

Shaikha Mai is popular among intellectuals and writers for her efforts to promote culture in Bahrain and for promoting respect for Gulf traditions abroad.

November 15, 2008

Human Beings Are Created Equals

Greetings from the land of the Nile, where I'm attending the "Fikr 7" conference. This is probably the only thing we can be proud of today: The Arab Thought.

There's so much going on this week.

ConocoPhillips and Saudi Aramco said they would delay a proposed $10 billion oil refinery in Yanbu. In addition, TOTAL joint venture refinery in Jubail may also be delayed. However, the picture is not so dark, at least not yet.
King Abdallah will attend on Nov 15 the Group of 20 financial summit in Washington. I made some comments on the global financial situation in my interview with NPR (to be aired on Nov 15 @ noon Eastern Time)

The special UN General Assembly session on cultural and interfaith dialogue in New York was a wonderful opportunity. I hope the world was listening to what King Abdallah said: "Human beings are created equals and partners on this planet. Either they can live together in peace and harmony or they will inevitably be consumed by the flames of misunderstanding, malice and hatred.”

The AP reported that a group of women gathered to celebrate the afternoon 18 years ago when they got into cars and drove the streets of Riyadh. The AP also reports that the 47 female drivers were arrested, lost their jobs for 2 1/2 years, were banned from travel for a year and were condemned by the powerful clergy as harlots. To this day, some say they have not been promoted at work because of their protest.

Eighteen years later, and we're still the same!!

Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

November 7, 2008

SaudiNews (Nov 1-7, 2008)

My words
Last week I attended a reception at the UNDP in Riyadh on the occasion of the 63rd anniversary of the United Nations. The new UN Resident Coordinator in Riyadh Dr. Riyad Al-Ahmad and his team did everything possible to make this event a success….and it was.

Heavy rains across the Kingdom last week caused hundreds of accidents in Riyadh, Qassim and Jeddah….More to come (see pictures below).

Khalid Al-Falih has been appointed as the new president of Saudi Aramco. On Jan 1, Al-Falih will take over from Abdallah Jum’ah, who has been holding the position for the last 14 years.
I have worked with Mr. Jum’ah staff back in 1984, his leadership and human skills are superb. I wish Mr. Al-Falih the best of luck.

Warning! Do not employ, transport or accommodate foreigners overstaying Haj or Umrah visas. Passports Office announced that violators would be fined a minimum of SR10,000 and may also be sent to jail.

Jeddah Ghair - A monumental $250 million structure (similar to the London Eye or Millennium Wheel in Britain) is to be built in Jeddah as part of the Jeddah City Center project. The project will include a hotel, a museum, shopping malls and a variety of restaurants and cafes. The central area will also have a park, a beach, a museum, an open arena for festivities and a fountain.
I hope the Jeddah Eye will convey our desire to become one of the leading global economic powers and a peace loving nations.

A court in Madinah acquitted two members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue of their involvement in an accident that caused the death of four Saudis including two women. The two vice cops were accused of tracking the vehicle carrying the four when the accident took place. The two were then accused of misusing their power.
"The two commission officials are innocent and have nothing to do with the accident," the court said. I understand the ruing is being appealed….like everything else.

On Monday the Council of Ministers issued a statement emphasizing the government’s resolve to protect the rights of women and prevent violence against them and called for efforts to increase awareness among women about their rights.
We don’t need more media propaganda. Many Royal and ministerial decrees were issued in the past to protect the rights of women but were not implemented. Our judicial system is still bureaucratic and women’s rights are still being violated.

Innocent Question

Will public hunger strikes draw “foreign” attention to our internal problems? Is this the way we express our anger at the detention (without charge) of political reformists?

Did you know that in 2003 Saudi Arabia had foiled a terror plot by Saudi militants who planned to hijack a plane and blow it up over Los Angeles?
The authorities here indicted 991 suspected militants on charges they participated in over 30 terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia over the last five years. These attacks killed 164 people, including 74 security officials, and wounded hundreds. As you know, 15 of the 19 idiots who have hijacked and attacked the United States on Sept 11, 2001, were from Saudi Arabia.

Life goes on….

Abdullah Al Alami

Water Water Everywhere...

October 28, 2008

SaudiNews Oct 25-31, 2008

My words
I have some good news and some bad news.

Despite the initial and ongoing denial, the GCC countries seem to be affected by the global financial crises. Last Sunday saw the first direct intervention by a GCC government to protect a bank; the Kuwaiti Central Bank stepped in to support Gulf Bank. As a friend banker told me the other day, the problem with investment bank balance sheets these days is that on the left side nothing is right and on the right side nothing is left.

What’s the good news? My friend Brad Bourland, Chief Economist at Jadwa Research says:” The strength of the dollar (and therefore the riyal) should help to lower inflation by reducing prices for imported goods. Since the end of July the riyal has appreciated by 17% against the euro, 18% against the British pound and 7% against the Japanese yen.” Well, I sure hope this stronger exchange rate would help reduce food and commodities prices.

Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

A teacher in a middle school in Sakaka (Al-Jouf) allegedly broke the arm of a first grade student. The boy was supposedly talking to another boy in the classroom.
According to a hospital source, this is the 10th case of children brought there with injuries resulting from excessive disciplining in schools this year. I call on the education authorities to take stringent measures to stop savage attacks on school children.

Local papers reported that a 31-year old patient smuggled a knife into the Taif’s Psychiatric Hospital and murdered a fellow inmate.
By the way, the knifeman had previously attempted to kill his father.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue has ordered its employees to sign an undertaking they would not chase any car even if they suspect the inmates are involved in “foul play”.
The president of the commission had several times said that his employees did not have the power to chase or arrest any suspect.

Last week I visited Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Fund in Dammam. Mrs. Hana Al-Zuhair, the Fund Executive Manager is a good example of a successful Saudi woman.
When we finally decide to appoint a lady ambassador abroad, Mrs. Al-Zuhair would be on my top 10 list.

Great Week for Women. King Abdullah laid the foundation for the Kingdom’s first women-only university. The University, which is designed to become the world’s largest institution of higher learning exclusively for women, will have 13 colleges, including medicine, dentistry, nursing, naturopathy and pharmacology and a 700-bed hospital. The project will be completed by 2010.
Also, three businesswomen (and 41 businessmen) have filed nominations for the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce elections on Nov 11. The three women are: Amal Badruldeen, owner and managing director of Al-Areebah Clinics and Establishment for Health Education, Huda Al-Jeraisy, owner of Al-Areebah Age Center for Training and Development, and Basima Al-Qashmah, owner of Kinda for Commercial Advertising. Best of luck to all.

Clip of the week
My dear friend Alia Banaja sent me the following link on the Saudi women delegation to Holland. The part I truly enjoyed watching is the interview with the elegant Mrs. Madawi Hassoun, Ms. Ghada Gazaawi, and Mrs. Nadia Hazza.

Movie of the Week

Burn after Reading – A new comedy thriller from Academy Award winners, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. At the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is being ousted. Cox does not take the news particularly well and returns home to work on his memoirs. His wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is already well into an illicit affair with Harry (George Clooney), a married federal marshal, and sets about making plans to leave Cox for Harry.Elsewhere in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) is consumed with her life plan for extensive cosmetic surgery, and confides her mission to can-do colleague Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt). When a computer disc containing material for the CIA analyst's memoirs accidentally falls into the hands of Linda and Chad, the duo are intent on exploiting their find in a cascading series of darkly hilarious encounters.
I give it (B+).

October 24, 2008

Will Falling Oil Prices Delay Saudi Development Plans?

Some analysts argue that the development plans in Saudi Arabia could fall victim to falling crude prices. I'm not so sure.

Despite the global economic slowdown, Saudi development plans seem to be on track. SAMA assured us that both liquidity and bank deposits will be maintained, and that the impact of the global crises is "limited". However, oil prices are down to around $70 a barrel this month from double that three months ago.

I am convinced that conservative fiscal policies will put Saudi Arabia in "good" stead at least for the time being. Remember that current year's budget is based on a price of around $45-50 a barrel. In other words, we are OK as long as oil prices are above $50...more or less.

The two critical questions are: will we spend 410 billion riyals ($109 billion) in 2008? Will Aramco still plan to invest $129 billion over the next five years?

We'll find out in the next few months.

Finally...The Euromoney Conference in Cairo was a success (every single minister - except Boutros Ghali, the Finance Minister - said all is OK!!). See you later.

Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

October 17, 2008

Saudi News (Oct 17, 2008)

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal unveiled the designs of the 1,000 meter high Kingdom Tower as part of the Kingdom City development to be built in Obhur, Jeddah.
Alwaleed is going big. The master plan encompasses 7.1 sq km (1,750 acres) and is expected to house 80,000 residents.

Great fitness news! Jeddah Municipality demarcated 20 locations around the city for the construction of pedestrian paths to encourage walking. One of the proposed themes, a Poet’s Path, is designed to exhibit poems of Saudi and Arab poets. A sports path is also designed for walking, rollerblading, horse riding and cycling, in addition to basketball and soccer.
Wonderful initiative….Way to go Jeddah!

Several towns experienced mild tremors when an earthquake measuring 3.8 on the Richter scale hit Jizan last Sunday.
As Saudi Arabia resides on a land mass breaking away from the African continent and drifting toward the subcontinent, we could be subject to frequent seismic activity.

OK, so now even our Shoura Council emphasized the strength of our economy by indicating that it would not require any emergency measures to confront the present global crisis. Since the Kingdom has no investments in the affected Western banks, Saudi bank deposits are safe.
As I told France 24 Radio last week, I’m still convinced that the government should buy into falling stocks or allow share buybacks, to spare citizens losses from further bourse declines.

Abdullah Al-Suwailim, a member of the Riyadh Municipal Council, resigned after what he described as “violations of Islamic rules” during this year's Eid festivities in the city.
Attempts to discriminate against women started during King Abduaziz time in the 30’s and will continue to exist throughout our history. A few weeks ago, I was interviewed on Saudi Eqtisadiya TV along with Mr. Abdullah Al-Suwailim to talk about “Work for Women”. Although Mr. Al-Suwailim and I have both disagreed on many of the issues, I was impressed by his high ethical conduct during the interview. Never-the-less, I believe that his resignation from his post will not stop him from criticizing events where women are involved, he will probably continue this task as he is also the imam of a mosque in Riyadh.

Authorities in Taif are questioning a man who is suspected of having tortured his teenage daughter. Layla, 14, is in extremely critical condition and is struggling for her life at an intensive care ward. She was in a coma and was covered with bruises and had first-degree burns on her body.
I understand that no part of Layla’s body was free from some injuries or marks of beating or other forms of torture.

A terrible accident took place this week. Three brothers, all students, lost their lives when a jeep ran over them and hit nine others after colliding with a water tanker in Qurayat. Who was driving? A 16-year old joyriding boy.
It is disgusting watching the clips of kids joyriding and performing stunts in public places to draw attention.

An Indian national has swindled hundreds of thousands of riyals out of a number of compatriots in Riyadh . T. Sekar started a saving scheme known as chit-fund where people deposited hundreds of thousands of riyals.
The man has probably fled the country by now.

October 20 will be an important date for the Saudi photographer Faisal Al-Malki. Mr. Malki will be competing for the International Photography Awards in New York in the Fine Art in Nonprofessional category.
Best of luck to our Saudi artist.

Remember the 22 year-old woman who claimed that members of the religious police harassed her while she was in a car with her husband? Well, she intends to take her case to Madinah Gov. Prince Abdul Aziz bin Majed. Apparently the commission members tailed, pursued and then detained the couple temporarily as they were driving home.
Are we supposed to carry our marriage certificates wherever we go?

Lecture of the week
Arabian Society for Human Resource Management will hold its next dinner meeting on Oct 20 @ 7PM in Le Meridian Hotel, Khobar. A presentation will be made by Dr. Michael Wesson of Texas A&M on “Using compensation effectively in organizations” .

Finally...I plan to be in Cairo all next week attending the Euromoney Conference and other activities. See you later.

Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

October 11, 2008

Edge Of Arabia

You are invited to the Edge of Arabia exhibit being held in London at SOAS Brunei Gallery.
Ms. Manal Al Dowayan ( ) , a Saudi photograher will be one of 17 Saudi Artists exhibiting contemporary art from Saudi Arabia

The exhibit opens on October 16th to the public and will remain open until December 13th, 2008.

For more details

More stuff written about the show:

October 10, 2008

SaudiNews (Oct 4-10, 2008) Religious Police Chase

A 22-year-old Saudi woman was stopped by the religious police in Madinah, accused of being an unrelated man and woman in an illegal state of seclusion (khulwa). The religious police head confirmed that the commission was tailing the couple but claimed that the commission members did not abuse the suspects and that the man and woman are not married.
First “Death to Mickey Mouse”, and now this!!!

The Monetary Agency (SAMA) had finally discovered that our vast oil wealth would not insulate us from the global financial crisis. New data shows liquidity squeeze and reduced bank lending to the Saudi private sector.
I am now concerned that the growth in the country's money supply will probably fan the inflation fears…I hope I’m proven wrong. Oh… I forgot to mention that the Saudi Stock market lost SR143 billion (yes with a b) in 10 minutes trading last week.

Work on the first phase of an SR20 billion Makkah monorail project will start in December to facilitate transportation of pilgrims between Makkah, Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa.
This is a major project designed to transport five million pilgrims…I hope this dream will finally come true.

A new desalination plant with a daily capacity of 50,000 cubic meters will be established south of Jeddah.
Will this project finally solve Jeddah’s water shortage? Whatever happened to the SR 9.1-billion Saudi-Malaysian project contract signed in 2005 to set up the Shuaiba-3 desalination plant? What happened to the newly established National Water Company (capital of SR22 billion) to provide services related to ground water and drinking water distribution?

Our courageous guards in Najran foiled an attempt to smuggle 1,200 KG of hashish into the Kingdom. Two smugglers armed with guns and live ammunition were arrested after a gunbattle. Job well done considering the hazardous desert and mountainous terrain across the southern border.

Marico Muras’s exhibition will run from Oct 13 through 23 at Jamjoom Mall in Al-Hamra district in Jeddah. Marico will exhibit 40 paintings. I'm sorry I won't be there as I plan to attend the Euromoney Conference in Cairo at the same time.

MEQMP is organizing 5 days Lead auditor Course in Dammam (Oct 18-22) and Riyadh (Nov 1-5). For more info:
Asim Baig
President MEQMP
050 787 9405

Movie of the week
Eagle Eye
Jerry and Rachel are two strangers thrown together by a mysterious phone call from a woman they have never met. Threatening their lives and family, she pushes Jerry and Rachel into a series of increasingly dangerous situations, using the technology of everyday life to track and control their every move.
I give it (B+).

Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

October 9, 2008

An Evening of Music, Poetry, and Art

An Evening of Music, Poetry, and Art

Enjoy a special evening of poetry, music and art in Dhahran on October 16th with Nimah Ismail Nawwab and Jim Davidson

Guests are invited to visit Ad Diwan in Dhahran to listen to the poetry of internationally renowned poet Nimah Ismail Nawwab, author of the best selling The Unfurling and other works, reciting and sharing her thoughts accompanied by our very own musician Jim Davidson. This is a rare opportunity to hear a top leading poet.
Ticket sales at SAEA have started, for the evening of October 16th.Nimah will also be sharing some news pieces and as a special treat, you can hear some of her work by checking out the BBC Television World News at Nimah I. Nawwab.

October 3, 2008

SaudiNews (Sep 27 - Oct 3, 2008) Saudi Women Drive

My words
Greetings from Sharm, the most beautiful clean white sandy beaches on the Red Sea.
Last week Mrs. Maha Al-Wabil gave me a copy of her new book about Saudi women...Well done Maha, it was also a pleasure meeting you and Abdulrahman.

So what took place last week?

A woman in her 20s drove a car into a ditch in the east of the country. The woman was speeding on the highway when she lost control of the vehicle.
Conservative clerics continue to argue that granting women permission to drive would corrupt society's strict segregation of men and women! When will this ever stop?

Talking about women issues, I just found out that an ultra-Orthodox Jews magazine in Israel completely forbids the publication of pictures of women.
I wonder if Tzipi Livni's picture will also not be shown!

Some good news; Saudi Arabia plans to privatize large parts of its healthcare sector in a bid to meet surging demand.
I hope they will start outsourcing the management of the 218 government-owned hospitals....enough is enough

More good news; Saudi Arabia’s current account surplus is expected to reach $138 billion this year compared to $95 billion in 2007.
I’m still not sure the government’s inflation alleviation package (a public sector pay rise and direct subsidies) served its purpose. The oil sector remains the core of economic activity here, and unless we start diversifying the situation won’t get any better.

A man attacked an imam with a knife at a mosque in Sakaka. The man shouted at the imam: “If you don’t turn down the loudspeaker I will kill you,”
I understand the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has urged all imams to reduce the sound of the mosque’s loudspeakers. Someone is not “listening”.

This week also an ultra-conservative cleric called on women to wear a full veil, or niqab, that reveals only one eye. Sheikh Al-Habadan said showing both eyes encouraged women to use eye make-up to look seductive!
The question of how much of her face a woman should cover is a controversial topic in many Muslim societies….and will remain so for many years to come.

Movie of the week
Love in the Time of Cholera

Gabriel García Márquez story most prominent theme suggests that lovesickness is a literal illness, a plague comparable to cholera. Florentino suffers from lovesickness as one would suffer from cholera, enduring both physical and emotional pains as he longs for Fermina. Apparently Florentino's illness transcends the physical to the psychological, for though he is sick in his heart and in his stomach, he is compulsively obsessed, and therefore becomes mentally disturbed.
I give it (B-).

Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

October 2, 2008

Renowned writer Al-Jifri is dead

ArabNews - Famous Saudi writer and novelist Abdullah Al-Jifri died yesterday after a pronged illness. He was 69. His body will be buried in Makkah after funeral prayers at the Grand Mosque this afternoon.

Al-Jifri enriched Arab culture and heritage by writing more than 60 novels and thousands of literary and informative articles. Al-Jifri completed his secondary education in Makkah and worked as a civil servant in different government departments before joining the Ministry of Information.

He worked for Al-Bilad and Al-Madinah as editorial secretary and for Okaz as managing editor. He also worked as deputy to the publishers at Saudi Research & Publishing Company, when he supervised the cultural and literary pages of Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News for several years.

He also wrote articles in Sayidaty magazine and Al-Hayat Arabic daily and supervised the cultural file of Al-Majalla magazine. His columns under the title “Shades” attracted a large number of readers — Saudis as well as non-Saudis. He contributed articles to the international edition of Egypt’s Al-Ahram and Kuwait’s Al-Rae Al-Aam as well as to Egyptian magazines such as Akhir Saa, October and Sabah Al-Khair.

In 1984, he received a prize from the Arab Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization before winning the Ali & Mustafa Ameen Journalism Prize in 1992. He received another award in 1998 during the second conference of Saudi men of letters.

Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Qadi, a well-known writer and a member of the Shoura Council, said Al-Jifri’s death was a big loss for the Arab world. “Arabs all over the world read his articles through Asharq Al-Awsat and other newspapers and magazines,” he added.

September 26, 2008

Out to Make Jeddah Cleaner

Arab News - A campaign urging people to keep Jeddah streets and environment clean was launched at Red Sea Mall recently.
The campaign, which started Saturday and will end on Sept. 30, was the brainchild of a volunteer group called “Me, But One Hundred Times Better.”
“It’s a volunteering group of both young girls and boys,” said Ahmad Aalam, a 23-year-old medical school student and the manager of the group. “Our group’s main theme is that if anyone wants to change and develop himself morally, he or she should start with the morals of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).”
The group of 17 young girls and boys launched the campaign called “We Clean Our Streets With Our Hands.” The aim of the group is to focus on small details such as hygiene in society that might be helpful and useful in the future. “Our intention is to start with small details that would carry a message to society and at the same time have an impact,” he added.
“If we stopped throwing garbage, such as paper tissues, soft drink cans, cigarettes and so on, in the streets, slowly our streets will appear clean and appealing to the eye.”
The group managed to set up a stall at Red Sea Mall to distribute plastic bags and flyers with the logo of the campaign, “We Clean Our Streets With Our Hands,” printed on the bags, which are aimed at encouraging people to dispose of their garbage properly, instead of simply tossing from car windows.
“We are distributing plastic bags and instruction flyers. We initially made an order to print 3,000 bags but we called the factory and asked them to increase it to 4,000. We also printed 4,500 flyers,” Aalam said.
The crowd at Red Sea Mall was very responsive. “We have a board where people can write their comments and whether they liked the idea or not,” he added. “We change the board three to four times a day.”
Sari Al-Ali, a 22-year-old marketing student, said that he took a plastic bag with the campaign logo and kept it in his vehicle.
“We are used to throwing garbage from car windows because there is no law that stipulates punishments for doing so,” he said. “If there were a fine for throwing stuff on the street, then everyone would stop and our streets will be cleaner.”

My words
Who said Saudis don’t like to work?
Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

September 19, 2008

SaudiNews (Sep 13 - 19, 2008)

GCC Central Bank governors said last week they saw little risk from the US crisis as their exposure to Lehman and other US assets was limited! Saudi Monetary Agency Gov. Hamad Al-Sayari said: “At the moment ... I don’t see any risk but this crisis.”
What I don’t see is why are we shielding ourselves from US economic problems while most of our foreign investments are placed in U.S. financial institutions?

Finally, GCC Central Bank governors cemented moves toward monetary union and the formation of the GCC Common Central Bank.
I believe the governors should first address the issue of rising inflation across the Gulf.

More economic news. Saudi Arabia will recruit 2,000 Filipino nurses and announced 1,000 scholarships for Saudi girls in a move to address the shortage of specialist nursing staff.
I understand that more than 10,000 nurses are urgently required to make up for the shortfall. I just hope the conservatives won’t create any problems for the young Saudi women.

Talking about the conservatives, Sheikh Saleh Al-Laheedan, chairman of the Supreme Judiciary Council, has triggered an international controversy. He was quoted as stating that owners of satellite TV channels broadcasting obscene programs could face execution as per the law.
I’m not a big fan of the so-called “obscene TV programs”, but I’m also against issuing execution fatwas.

The bad news is that several ships left the Jeddah Port after waiting for three or more days for permission to enter. The ships were not given permission because there were no free wharfs and there was a shortage of workers.
I am concerned that this crisis may continue until the end of the year, as the need for imported goods increases.

Agence France Press reports that Human Rights Watch called on the Saudi government to lift a four-year-old travel ban on Saudi lawyer Abdurrahman al-Lahem, a winner of the 2008 Human Rights Defender award. Lahem "stands for justice and the rule of law in Saudi Arabia," said Christoph Wilcke of the New York-based watchdog.
Let’s allow Mr. Al-Lahem to travel so that we don’t get criticized for arbitrary limits to basic freedoms and fairness.

Now for some good news. A new law to combat smoking in public and workplaces has been drafted and is awaiting approval. Those smoking in public places will be fined SR200.
Cigarette smoking has so far caused the death of 3.48 million people worldwide this year, including 13,929 in Saudi Arabia.

Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

September 12, 2008

SaudiNews - Sep 6-12, 2008

Main Story This Week
Five men (3 Saudis and 2 foreigners) were arrested on charges of promoting militant activities on Islamic Internet forums. The suspects were encouraging others to take up arms in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We need to continue breaking down all Al-Qaeda and other armed militant operations in the Kingdom.

Two traffic officers were stabbed by a knife-wielding man in Makkah on Thursday. The man managed to escape.
Several months ago, a pilgrim from Southeast Asia stabbed a number of pilgrims inside the Grand Mosque, injuring at least three people.

How many complaints has the governmental Human Rights Commission (HRC) dealt with in the last three years since its establishment on Sept 28, 2005? Over 10,000 complaints Kingdom wide.
The real question is how many cases were resolved?

Cigarette smoking was the main reason behind the death of 3.38 million people worldwide, including 13,544 in Saudi Arabia this year. I understand smoking is expected to kill additional 500 million people by 2030. About 70% of these deaths will probably be in the Arab world as a result of direct or passive smoking.
What are we doing about it? Not much.

Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

September 5, 2008

SaudiNews Aug 30 - Sep 5, 2008

In supporting the needy, a group of young Saudis will organize a Ramadan garage sale, the revenue of which will be donated to charity. The garage sale will take place on Sept 10 at Le Promenade 2 shopping mall on Tahliah Street.

That's the Saudi spirit. For more info, contact Maria Mahdaly, team manager

A Saudi drugs smuggler was executed in Khobar this week. H. Moaelo was arrested while trying to smuggle a large quantity of hashish into the Kingdom.

What was this guy thinking?

How is the economy doing? Rising food and housing costs sent Saudi Arabia’s inflation rate to a 30-year high in July. The annual inflation rate surged to 11.1% in the Kingdom compared to 10.6% in June.

I don’t believe prices would go down anytime soon.

Is this good news? New allowances were instituted for faculty members in universities in the Kingdom. The allowances include the rare specialization bonus, new universities allowance, a sitting allowance, excellence award, and ex gratia payments to those who have served 20 years or more.

These "allowances" will have a temporary effect. What needs to be done is to revise the salary structures, not just add some bonuses here and there.

Life goes on….

Abdullah Al Alami

Story of the Week
(From Khaleej Times - Sept 5, 2008)
When Hala Al Masaad invited her girlfriends over to celebrate her 18th birthday with cake and juice, the high school student was stepping into an unusual public debate. Is celebrating birthdays un-Islamic?

Saudi Arabia's most senior Muslim cleric recently denounced birthday parties as an unwanted foreign influence, but another prominent cleric declared they were OK.

That has left Al Masaad with mixed feelings about her low-key celebration last month. She loves birthday parties, she says, because they make her feel that she has ‘moved from one stage of life to another.’

‘But I sometimes feel I'm doing something haram,’ she said sheepishly, using the Arabic word for banned.

The Saudi ban on birthdays is in line with the strict interpretation of Islam followed by the conservative Wahhabi sect adhered to in the kingdom. All Christian and even most Muslim feasts are also prohibited because they are considered alien customs the Saudi clerics don't sanction.

Only the Muslim feasts of Eid Al Fitr, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid Al Adha, which concludes the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, are permitted.

Elsewhere in the Muslim world, including in Egypt, Dubai, Lebanon and Iran, people routinely celebrate birthdays, especially for children. Among middle class and affluent families, parties can be elaborate, with cakes, toys, clowns, ponies and many presents. In Egypt, Prophet Muhammad's birthday is celebrated by handing out special sweets _ in the shape of a doll for girls and a horse for boys.

Even in Saudi Arabia, it's not hard to find Saudis who celebrate birthdays or stores that cater to putting on parties, despite the ban.

What makes the latest controversy notable is that it started when a prominent cleric, Salman Al Audah, said on a popular satellite TV program last month that it was OK to mark birthdays and wedding anniversaries with parties as long as the Arabic word that describes the events _ ‘eid,’ meaning feast _ is not used.

That prompted a quick denunciation by Saudi Arabia's grand mufti and top religious authority, Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al Sheik, who said such celebrations have no place in Islam and gave a list of foreign customs he suggested were unacceptable.

‘Christians have Mother's Day, an eid for trees, and an eid for every occasion,’ said Al Sheik, who also heads the Presidency for Scientific Research and Religious Edicts, speaking to Al Madina newspaper. ‘And on every birthday, candles are lit and food is given out.’

There is no question that the television remarks by Al Audah, who is not employed by the country's religious establishment, contradicted several fatwas, or religious edicts, issued by senior Saudi clerics over the years.

One such ruling, by the previous mufti, Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Baz, said Muslims should not emulate the West by celebrating birthdays _ even that of the Prophet Muhammed, which is marked in most other Middle Eastern countries as a holiday.

‘It's not permissible to take part in them,’ he said. ‘Birthday parties are an innovation ... and people are in no need of innovations.’

Still, some Saudis welcomed a loosening of the prohibition.

‘Allowing such celebrations can be an element that can strengthen ties among people and contribute to an increase in the happy occasions in our society,’ wrote Ibrahim Ba-Dawood in a column in Al Eqtisadiah newspaper.

Others, including several prominent Muslim scholars, issued statements backing the ban and denouncing Al Audah.

Sheik Abdullah Al Manie, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said Al Audah's remarks were a ‘slip of the tongue that he should retract.’

‘We Muslims should have our identity that sets us apart and makes us proud,’ he said in a statement.

Some Saudis worry the controversy will be used by conservative members of the religious establishment, including the religious police, as a green light to crack down on all celebrations.

Despite the continuous fatwas against them, it's not hard to find merchandise for celebrating birthdays, anniversaries or even Western holidays like Valentine's Day. But bringing in the items can be tricky for shop owners.

One store owner said it's hard to predict when shipments will be waved through and when they will be stopped. A month ago, an order of birthday balloons, hats and banners was confiscated, said the owner who did not want to be identified for fear of social repercussions.

Still, business was brisk at one gift store recently, where parties can cost from $4,000 to $32,000, depending on the decorations, giveaways and number of guests.

Customers can browse albums showing birthday wall decorations, table settings and cakes, and order party bags with coloring books, pens and school supplies.

One popular party game features a life-size papier-mÔchÚ mannequin of a cartoon or storybook character, such as Cinderella _ much like the piÐatas popular at children's parties in the West. To get at the gift hidden inside, children take turns hitting it with a stick.

Buthaina Ba-Aqeel, 51, said she used to throw birthday parties at home for her children, but they were low-key and not on the same day the child was born _ to avoid singling out one particular day during the year to celebrate.

But another Jiddah resident, Riham Ahmed, 20, said she doesn't like birthdays. ‘It's enough to have two eids,’ said the economics major. ‘My birthday is a normal day. Even my parents don't congratulate me.’

Her sister, Arwa Ahmed, agreed.

‘I missed my 25th birthday by two days last month and only remembered it when I checked the calendar for prayer times,’ she said. ‘I don't like it when someone tells me happy birthday. It's like a reminder that I'm getting closer to death.’§ion=middleeast&col=

August 30, 2008

SaudiNews Aug 23-29, 2008

First some good news…..Authorities released a leading reform activist after he had served a six-month prison sentence. Abdullah al-Hamed, a leading intellectual figure among reformists, was freed early on Thursday.

More good news….Gulf News reported that a group of citizens has urged the National Human Rights Association to try to find a solution to the illegal arrest of Saudis, especially those who express their opinions in peaceful and civilized ways. The group which consists of 29 members made its call on a written plea presented to the president of the National Human Rights Commission.

The Ministry of Labor has fixed working hours for private sector workers during Ramadan at six hours a day and 36 hours weekly.
Why not implement the 36-hour schedule for all people?

The Court of Cassation has upheld the six years’ imprisonment and 1,000 lashes handed down by a Jeddah court against a Saudi citizen (AIDS patient) who held a judge captive at his own home and robbed him of SR300,000 at gunpoint.

The ninth “Magic Carpet” exhibition will be held Ramadan to present handicraft and other works of Saudi women. The 4-day exhibition starting Sept. 15 at Jeddah Hilton will showcase handicraft and other small business products.
I understand more than a hundred companies will take part in the exhibition.

Zain, the mobile operator in 22 countries, is open for business in the Kingdom offering a package of 50% lifetime discount on the billing for the first 500,000 customers.
The good news is that Zain will operate one network system for 16 countries without roaming charges.

A missionary campaign entitled “The Protective Shield” organized by the summer camp in Taif is sparking controversy. Corpses were displayed inside a dark tent and visitors were allowed to enter only after sunset. The religious objective of the episode was “to bring to life dead hearts”.
There is no doubt this type of dawa (missionary work) will terrorize people through a focus on death, punishments and hellfire in the afterlife. This practice should to be stopped.

The Shariah Court in Madina sentenced Toni Nassar, an expatriate, for claiming that he could talk to angels. The fraudster will serve four years in prison. Nassar collected more than SR1 million from one individual, besides defrauding other businessmen in Madina.
Does this tell you something about the level of our intelligence?

Dr. Sami Badawood, Jeddah’s Health Affairs Director, said AIDS cases in Jeddah have increased by 20% compared to last year.

On the positive side, Saudi university teachers are expected to receive a pay hike. The new scales include an increase of 20-30% in the salaries plus perks and incentives. The revised salary scale may extend the retirement age of university teachers to 70 years.
I hope the new scheme will offer the teachers incentives for their research work.

Research and Markets announced the addition of the "2008 Saudi Arabia Industry & Market Outlook" report to their offering. The 2008 Saudi Arabia Industry & Market Outlook report is the leading annual publication that describes over 100 major Saudi Arabia industries and 500+ minor industries.

Life goes on….
Abdullah Al Alami

August 19, 2008

An Olympic Door Opens for Saudi Woman

An Olympic Door Opens for Saudi Woman
By Faiza Saleh Ambah
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 18, 2008; Page A06

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- The first female member of a Saudi Olympic delegation is spending her days with the equestrian team in Hong Kong, checking on horses, encouraging riders, planning training schedules and meeting with officials.

Arwa Mutabagani, 38, a professional show jumper, became a member of the Saudi Olympic Committee after her appointment in April to the government body in charge of sports in Saudi Arabia, another first for a woman.

Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for being one of a few countries that ban female athletes at the Olympics, but Mutabagani said her role is a sign that Saudi Arabia is trying to open the way for women in sports.

"The door has been opened. I want to work hard and prove I'm not just a token woman or figurehead," she said.

Some female activists say the government is not moving fast enough.

"We have been asking for years via the media and academics and education experts and officials to be allowed the right to practice sports," said Manal al-Sharif, head of the women's section of al-Madina newspaper. "There is nothing in the religion that bans this. It's only our tradition and culture that are driving this ban until now."

(Picture) - Arwa Mutabagani, with Saudi rider Faisal al-Shaalan in Hong Kong, is the first woman in a Saudi Olympic delegation. (Courtesy Of Arwa Mutabagani)

August 16, 2008

Another Week

My words
Another hot week this wonderful summer…

Nasser Badran, director of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, confirmed that a Saudi mosque imam was arrested in Baha on charges of burglary. The imam is also suspected to have been engaged in some other illegal activities

In Makkah, the suspected killer of a young Saudi woman was arrested within 24 hours of committing the crime early Saturday morning. The man beat the woman to death after differences arose between them. He later dumped her body at an empty courtyard.

How do you handle your finances? In Unaizah, and in order to settle his debts, a Saudi father married his eight-year-old daughter to a man in his 50s, who already has two wives. By the way, a court in Asir is currently considering a similar case in which a man married his 10-year-old daughter to a man in his 70s for SR170,000.

In Qatif, a 26-year old Indonesian housemaid was hospitalized after being burned with an iron by her employer. The employer claimed the maid tortured and beat her young son. Meanwhile, Philippine recruiting agencies said they will stop sending Filipino workers to Saudi Arabia from next month if the new law on employment contracts is not abolished.

On the positive side, there are plans to build four new cities, the six Knowledge Economic Cities are also being developed, and Aramco is in the process of doubling the size of the largest refinery in the U.S.A.

Life goes on….

August 12, 2008

American author envisions herself as a Saudi man

American author envisions herself as a Saudi man in first novel
Zoe Ferraris’ Ukrainian American grandmother thought her so spoiled that she would only marry a sheik.

“When Americans think of Saudi Arabian men, they think they’re abusers and they’re cruel, that they enjoy the gender segregation or enforce it,” Ferraris, 38, said. “And sure, some of them do, but most just have to live with it.”

Ferraris felt drawn to portraying such a man. Ferraris minutely details the "man's" inner thoughts.

When out in public, Ferraris always wore the veil and traveled with a male escort. She still often ended up on the wrong side of the religious police because of her skin color.

Still, she saw enough of Jidda to faithfully render it in “Finding Nouf”: the overbearing public art dotting the city’s roundabouts, the well-air-conditioned modern meeting places where women could forgo veils and a market selling unnecessary jackets to the showy Saudi rich.

Ferraris initially hesitated to write from the perspective of a Saudi man, worried about questions of authenticity. Her first crack at writing a novel was a straightforward mystery, set in Saudi Arabia, told from the perspective of an American woman. It had “car chases and interrogation scenes -- everything but a nuclear bomb.”

August 11, 2008

We need to stop this "Child Marriage"

Child marriage case postponed
Arab News

ABHA: The Wadi Bin-Hasheel court has postponed the trial of a Saudi father who married his 10-year-old daughter to a man in his 70s, as the bride and bridegroom failed to appear in court, Al-Madinah newspaper reported yesterday. The trial is now set for Sept. 10, as only the girl’s father, her divorced mother and her uncle attended the hearing. The judge ordered the police to bring the girl and her husband to the next session. The newspaper said the girl’s uncle, who filed the case against the father, has refused all offers of mediation to drop the case, and said he would continue until justice was done. The father had earlier married two of his young daughters to elderly men. A judge in the Grand Court of Riyadh divorced the first, who was 12, while the second ran away with her mother to a women’s shelter in Riyadh.