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 www.aliabanaja.com 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 ( http://www.manaldowayan.com/index.html ) , 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. http://www.nimahnawwab.com/documentaries.html

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.