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=