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Posts tagged ‘Sacred Land of Hijaz’

Women sign up to be Saudi’s first female taxi drivers

2017-10-12

KHOBAR – Hunched over platters of dates and Arabic coffee, Saudi women raring to drive once a government ban ends next June signed up for another revolution — to be the kingdom’s first female cab drivers.

King Salman last month decreed that women will be allowed driving permits, a historic reform that could put not just millions of women behind the wheel but potentially many more into the workforce.

Sensing a lucrative opportunity, ride-hailing company Careem says it plans to hire up to 100,000 female chauffers to lure new clients in the gender-segregated kingdom.

This week, the company invited AFP to its first recruitment session in the coastal city of Khobar, which attracted a diverse crowd — from housewives to working women — who already have foreign driving licences.

“For years I felt helpless. My car would be parked outside and I could not drive,” said Nawal al-Jabbar, a 50-year-old mother of three, sipping coffee from a thimble-sized cup.

A chorus of hoots and claps erupted in the auditorium as the women, who learned about the recruitment by word-of-mouth, watched news footage on a projector screen of last month’s royal decree.

“It felt like we had woken up in a new Saudi Arabia,” Jabbar said.

An instructor stood next to the screen, holding up a smartphone to show the inner workings of the app.

The firm plans to add a new “Captinah” button to the app next June that would allow customers to choose women chauffeurs. The option will only be available to other women and families, Careem spokesman Murtadha Alalawi said.

Around 30 women registered for the event in Khobar.

Many arrived unaccompanied by men, something not commonly seen in a country where male “guardians” have arbitrary authority to make crucial decisions on behalf of women.

– ‘Rite of passage’ –

“This is a rite of passage for women,” said Sarah Algwaiz, director of the women chauffeurs program at Careem, referring to the reform.

“For women to drive their own cars signals autonomy, mobility and financial independence.”

The Gulf kingdom was the only country in the world to ban women from taking the wheel, and it was seen globally as a symbol of repression.

For decades, hardliners cited austere Islamic interpretations to justify the ban, with some maintaining women lack the intelligence to drive and that allowing them to would promote promiscuity.

“Society portrays women to be strong when it’s convenient and weak when it’s convenient,” said trainee Jabbar.

“I say if you can depend on a female doctor to deliver a baby, then you can depend on a woman to drive a car.”

The lifting of the driving ban has been widely credited to 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who styles himself as a modernizer in the conservative kingdom, where more than half the population is aged under 25.

Prince Mohammed has cracked down on dissent while also showing a rare willingness to tackle entrenched Saudi taboos such as promoting more women in the workforce.

Becoming a chauffeur would mean “extra income”, said Banain al-Mustafa, a 24-year-old medical lab technician who obtained her license while she was studying in West Virginia in 2015.

“I drove for two-and-a-half years,” she said, including once on her own in a nine-hour road trip from New York to West Virginia.

“If I can drive there, why not in my own country?”

– Cultural backlash –

The reform is in line with the kingdom’s Vision 2030 program that seeks to elevate women to nearly one-third of the workforce, up from about 22 percent now.

Authorities have highlighted the economic benefits of the reform as the kingdom reels from a protracted oil slump; Saudi families would no longer need foreign chauffeurs, often a major source of financial strain.

Riyadh is moving to bring female driving instructors from abroad, local media reported, and Princess Nourah University said it will inaugurate a women’s only driving school.

Authorities this week warned against violations of the ban until it is formally lifted after a woman was filmed driving out of a luxury hotel in Riyadh.

Careem said it would wait for government regulations to be formally announced before putting female recruits behind the wheel.

Its rival Uber is reportedly planning a similar initiative to recruit female drivers.

The new Careem recruits in Khobar were seemingly unperturbed by pockets of resistance from men or sexist comments on social media over women driving.

“Look at how women’s abayas have evolved — different styles and colours — despite strong resistance,” Jabbar said, referring to the traditional black gown.

“After a while, even women drivers will become a new normal.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85362.

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Saudi Arabia says to buy Russia S-400 defense systems, other arms

Moscow (AFP)

Oct 5, 2017

Saudi Arabia signed on Thursday preliminary agreements to buy S-400 air defense systems and receive “cutting edge technologies” from Russia during King Salman’s landmark visit to Moscow, the Saudi military industries firm said.

The agreement was announced as King Salman, who is on the first official trip to Russia by a Saudi monarch, and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks at the Kremlin.

Under the agreements, Saudi Arabia is set to buy S-400 air defense systems, Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems and multiple rocket launchers.

These agreements are “expected to play a pivotal role in the growth and development of the military and military systems industry in Saudi Arabia,” Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), the Sunni state’s military industries firm said.

“The memorandum of understanding includes the transfer of technology for the local production” of the Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems, advanced multiple rocket launchers and automatic grenade launchers.

“In addition, the parties will cooperate in setting a plan to localize the manufacturing and sustainment of parts of the S-400 air defense system,” SAMI said.

The two countries also agreed on the production in Saudi Arabia of the Kalashnikov automatic rifle and its ammunition as well as educational and training programs for Saudi nationals.

“These agreements are expected to have tangible economic contributions and create hundreds of direct jobs,” the company said.

They “will also transfer cutting edge technologies that will act as a catalyst for localizing 50 percent of the Kingdom’s military spending.”

Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned arms exporter, had no immediate comment on the agreements.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Saudi_Arabia_says_to_buy_Russia_S-400_defence_systems_other_arms_999.html.

53,000 Square Meters of Land in Makkah to Be Sold at Auction

October 2, 2017

Makkah- Makkah would witness next Thursday a real-estate auction on three lands of a total space of around 50,000 square meters and worth more than one billion riyals (USD266 million) — the three lands are located inside the central region.

The first land is located at King Khalid Road and is 13076.68 square meters, while the second is located near King Abdul Aziz Road and is of a total space of 6093.70 square meters. As for the third, it is of 34651.14 square meters near Qatari mosque.

Abdul Salam Qadi Flatah, a real estate agent in the implementation court at the Ministry of Justice, said that this auction goes in tandem with the constructional revolution approach and the economic revival taking place in Makkah following a successful pilgrimage season.

Flatah affirmed that the state has provided variable privileges for the investors in the central region, knowing that possession was previously restricted to citizens. This backs Saudi businessmen and goes in line with the Saudi Vision 2030.

He assured that the real estate sector in Makkah will start its recovery period after it was facing a low supply. Flatah said that putting up the lands for sale will urge investors to seize the chance, reviving most of the sectors in Makkah in the upcoming period, especially real estate and retail.

The direct supervision of Makkah Region Development Authority on most of the development projects (more than 10,000 square meters) is among motives attracting real-estate investment in the central region, Flatah pointed out.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://english.aawsat.com/theaawsat/business/53000-square-meters-land-makkah-sold-auction.

Saudi Arabia hopes Kurdish referendum will not take place

2017-09-20

RIYADH – Saudi Arabia on Wednesday urged Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani to call off to planned referendum on independence for his autonomous region to avoid further “crises” in Iraq and the region.

A Saudi government official said Barzani should drop plans to hold a referendum “in light of the situation in the region and the dangers it is facing, and in order to avoid new crises”.

He called on the Kurdish leader to make use of his “wisdom and experience”, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

Holding the referendum as planned on September 25 could have “negative consequences on the political, security and humanitarian fronts”.

It could also “affect efforts to establish security and stability in the region, as well as efforts to fight against terrorist organisations and their activities,” the official added.

Regional kingpin Saudi Arabia is the latest country to voice its opposition to the referendum in oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan.

But Barzani has so far resisted pressure from Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors Turkey and Iran, as well as from the United States and its Western allies, to call off the vote.

Iraq’s supreme court has ordered the suspension of the referendum to examine claims made by the federal government that it was unconstitutional.

The Saudi official called on “all concerned parties to engage in a dialogue that would serve the interests of the entire Iraqi people”.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84958.

Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive for 1st time next year

September 27, 2017

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Women will be allowed to drive for the first time next summer in Saudi Arabia, the ultra-conservative kingdom announced, marking a significant expansion of women’s rights in the only the country that barred them from getting behind the wheel.

While women in other Muslim countries drove freely, the kingdom’s blanket ban attracted negative publicity for years. Neither Islamic law nor Saudi traffic law explicitly prohibited women from driving, but they were not issued licenses and were detained if they attempted to drive.

Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington and the king’s son, said Tuesday that letting women drive is a “huge step forward” and that “society is ready.” “This is the right time to do the right thing,” he told reporters in the U.S. Women will be allowed to obtain licenses without the permission of a male relative.

The announcement came in the form of a royal decree that was reported late Tuesday by the state-run Saudi Press Agency and state TV. “I am really excited. This is a good step forward for women’s rights,” said Aziza Youssef, a professor at King Saud University and one of Saudi Arabia’s most vocal women’s rights activists. Speaking to The Associated Press from Riyadh, she said women were “happy” but also that the change was “the first step in a lot of rights we are waiting for.”

Saudi history offers many examples of women being punished simply for operating a vehicle. In 1990, 50 women were arrested for driving and lost their passports and their jobs. More than 20 years later, a woman was sentenced in 2011 to 10 lashes for driving, though the late King Abdullah overturned the sentence.

As recently as late 2014, two Saudi women were detained for more than two months for defying the ban on driving when one of them attempted to cross the Saudi border with a license from neighboring United Arab Emirates in an act of defiance.

Youssef took part in numerous driving campaigns, including a widely publicized effort in 2013 when dozens of women across the kingdom uploaded videos to YouTube of themselves driving in Saudi Arabia. Some videos showed families and male drivers giving women a “thumbs-ups,” suggesting many were ready for the change.

The decree indicated that women will not be allowed to drive immediately. A committee will be formed to look into how to implement the new order, which is slated to take effect in June 2018. For years, the kingdom has incrementally granted women more rights and visibility, including participation in the Olympic Games in London and Rio, positions on the country’s top consultative council and the right to run and vote in local elections in 2015.

Despite these openings, Saudi women remain largely subject to the whims of men due to guardianship laws , which bar them from obtaining a passport, traveling abroad or marrying without the consent of a male relative. Women who attempt to flee abusive families have also faced imprisonment or been forced into shelters.

King Salman and his young son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, tested the waters over the weekend by allowing women into the country’s main stadium in Riyadh for annual celebrations of the nation’s founding. The stadium had previously been reserved for all-male crowds to watch sporting events.

Women and men also flooded a main street in the capital, bopping their heads to pop music as green lights flickered overhead in the color of the flag. The scene was shocking for a city in which gender segregation is strictly enforced and where women are seldom seen walking the streets, much less mixing in close quarters with males.

The 32-year-old crown prince has also opened the country to more entertainment , allowing musical concerts and even a Comic-Con event as part of a wide-ranging push to reform the economy and society. This year, the government announced that for the first time girls in public schools would be allowed to play sports and have access to physical education.

The decree stated that the majority of Muslim scholars on the country’s highest clerical council agreed that Islam allows women the right to drive. However, many of those same ultraconservative clerics, who wield power and influence in the judiciary and education sectors, have also spoken out in the past against women driving, playing sports or entering the workforce. They argue such acts corrupt society and lead to sin.

One Saudi cleric even stated in 2013 that driving could affect a woman’s ovaries and hurt her fertility. That same year, around 150 clerics and religious scholars held a rare protest outside the Saudi king’s palace against efforts by women seeking the right to drive.

Women in Saudi Arabia have long had to rely on male relatives to get to work or run errands, complicating government efforts to boost household incomes as lower oil prices force austerity measures. The more affluent have male drivers. In major cities, women can access ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Careem.

To celebrate Tuesday’s decree, several Saudi women posted images on social media deleting their ride sharing apps. President Donald Trump commended the order in a White House press office statement that called the change “a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia.” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the move “a great step in the right direction.” She did not comment on whether Saudi Arabia still needs to do more to ensure full rights for its female citizens.

Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, also welcomed the Saudi decision, writing on Twitter that it represented “an important step in the right direction.” Lori Boghardt, a Gulf specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the change is yet another sign that the crown prince is intent on adopting social reforms that will transform the kingdom.

“Today it’s especially clear that this includes moves that’ve long been thought of by Saudis as politically risky,” she said.

Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell and Malak Harb in Dubai, and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.

Saudi Arabia allocates $15m for Rohingya refugees

September 19, 2017

Saudi Arabia’s monarch King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud has ordered the allocation of $15 million to alleviate the suffering of Rohingya Muslims who fled persecution in Rakhine state of Myanmar.

The Saudi Royal court adviser and general supervisor of the Riyadh-based King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid, Dr Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabiah, “a specialized team from the center will be heading to Bangladesh within the coming few hours to make an assessment of the condition of Rohingya refugees there and to find out what are the essential requirements that are to be made available to them urgently, as well as to extend assistance in terms of relief, humanitarian help and shelter.”

“As per the directive of the King, the center has carried out a number of projects, while some others are in various phases of implementation,” he added.

The Saudi cabinet, during its weekly meeting, condemned the violent acts practiced against the Muslims in Myanmar.

The cabinet renewed the Kingdom’s calls to the international community to take urgent action to stop the violent acts and to give the Muslim minority in Myanmar their rights without discrimination or racial classification.

The government noted that Riyadh had offered the Rakhine state’s Muslims a $50-million aid and had hosted them on its land since the year 1948.

For generations, Rohingya Muslims have called Myanmar home. Now, in what appears to be a systematic purge, they are being wiped off the map.

After a series of attacks by the country’s Muslim militants last month, security forces and allied mobs retaliated by burning down thousands of homes in the enclaves of the predominantly Buddhist nation where the Rohingya live.

This has led to some 410,000 people fleeing to the neighboring Bangladesh, according to UN estimates, joining tens of thousands of others who have fled over the past year.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170919-saudi-arabia-allocates-15m-for-rohingya-refugees/.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq to re-open border crossing after 27 years

August 15, 2017

Saudi Arabia and Iraq plan to open the Arar border crossing for trade for the first time since 1990 when it was closed after the countries cut ties following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, Saudi local media reported on Tuesday.

Saudi and Iraqi officials toured the site on Monday and spoke with Iraqi religious pilgrims, who for the past 27 years had access to the crossing only once annually during the Hajj season, Saudi sources reported.

The governor of Iraq’s southwestern Anbar province, whose staff was on hand for the ceremonies, said the Iraqi government had deployed troops to protect the desert route leading to Arar and called its opening a “significant move” to boost ties.

“This is a great start for further future cooperation between Iraq and Saudia Arabia,” said Sohaib al-Rawi.

The announcement follows a decision by the Saudi cabinet on Monday to establish a joint trade commission with Iraq.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are both wooing their northern neighbor in an effort to halt the growing regional influence of arch-foe Iran.

The Sunni-led Arab Gulf countries have hosted influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for talks with their crown princes in recent weeks, rare visits after years of troubled relations.

Sadr’s office said his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman resulted in an agreement for Saudi Arabia to donate $10 million in aid to the Iraqi government and study possible investments in Shi’ite regions of southern Iraq.

The opening of border crossings for trade was also on a list of goals for the talks published by Sadr’s office.

Sadr commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and southern Iraq and is one of few Iraqi Shi’ite leaders to keep some distance from Tehran.

The Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement extends back to 2015 when Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad following a 25-year break.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Baghdad in February, and the two countries announced in June they would set up a coordination council to upgrade ties.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170815-saudi-arabia-and-iraq-to-re-open-border-crossing-after-27-years/.

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