Women’s Economic Forum opens in Riyadh

Time: March 20, 2018

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is opening a new page in its history, Sophie Le Ray, founder of the WIL Series, said as she opened the Women’s Economic Forum in Riyadh on Monday.
Le Ray said that the GCC countries were creating jobs and making it easier and more socially acceptable for women to join the workforce. Saudi Arabia was opening a new page in its history, making remarkable social changes and highlighting its determination to move forward to a more prosperous future, she said.
“The empowerment of women is one of the keys to the modernization objectives set out in the ambitious Vision 2030 and National Transformation Program,” she said.
“Economic performance, innovation, creativity and the economic landscape of the Arab world will be transformed by the skills, talents and labors of women.”
Ten years ago, this inaugural forum was held in Dubai, only attended by women, she said. “Ten years later, we have both genders from all over the world to discuss and champion diversity. It’s a community which is captivating everyone.”
“Empowering women and moving toward a more inclusive society is just smart economics. We are past the point of just conversation, today is about action,” she said.
With 900 people registered to the attend the forum, the attendees were looking forward to hearing from the panel of speakers. A student studying at Dar Al-Hekma University flew in from Jeddah to attend. “I’m very excited to attend and learn,” she said.
She said that she looked forward to finishing her B.A, then masters, and the hopefully would open her own company.
Hadley Gamble, a reporter for CNBC, said: “Men must be our allies; we can work together and change this dynamic and narrative.”
She added: “We can’t understate the importance of what Mohammed bin Salman did.”
Yasser Mufti, vice president, strategy and market analysis at Saudi Aramco, said: “Aramco has made much progress in gender diversity. I went back to marketing, in Aramco Trading, and became a CEO. There was a significant change, one third of the floor were women; we had 170 female employees in Dhahran in various sectors.”
“Seize the opportunity you are given” is the crucial piece of advice that he has given to women and also male counterparts. “With determination you will succeed, and inshallah make Vision 2030 a reality.”
“This can’t be about quotas, it’s about empowering women and hiring women and putting them in management positions. Hire the right people for your team. We have a lot of educated women and it’s going to be tough to choose. We are going to need our male allies to come to the floor and help us with that.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Crown Prince, in His Own Words: Women Are ‘Absolutely’ Equal

Time: March 18, 2018
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. In an interview with “60 Minutes,” he said, “I’m a rich person and not a poor person,” adding, “I’m not Gandhi or Mandela.”CreditDan Kitwood/Getty Images

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The powerful crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, 32, arrives in the United States on Monday for an extended visit during which he is scheduled to meet President Trump and tour a number of American cities.

Among his trip’s goals: selling Americans on his sweeping plans to reform the economic and social life of the kingdom — and to get American investors to put money into them.

On Sunday, “60 Minutes,” the CBS News program, aired an episode about the prince and where he hopes to take Saudi Arabia. The quotations below were taken from a transcript provided to The New York Times.

On Islam

Prince Mohammed acknowledged that Saudi Arabia has been dominated by an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam that was wary of non-Muslims, deprived women of basic rights and constricted social life by banning movie theaters and music.

“We were victims, especially my generation that suffered from this a great deal,” he said of the wave of conservatism that spread through the kingdom after 1979.

He has pushed to expand entertainment options and promised to let women drive in June.

On Women’s Rights

When asked if women were equal to men, Prince Mohammed said: “Absolutely. We are all human beings and there is no difference.”

His rise to power has been accompanied by a loosening of restrictions on women’s dress and an expansion of their role in the work force. He said the government was working on regulations to ensure equal pay.

But women in Saudi Arabia are still bound by so-called guardianship laws that give male relatives control over aspects of their lives, like their ability to travel abroad and undergo certain medical procedures.

On Purge of Princes

Prince Mohammed defended the recent jailing of more than 380 princes, businessmen and former government ministers in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh as part of a campaign to stamp out corruption.

“What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary,” Prince Mohammed said of the arrests. “All actions taken were in accordance with existing and published laws.”

Relatives and associates of the detained said that many were subjected to coercive tactics and physical abuse to get them to sign assets over to the state. One detainee died, his body showing signs of mistreatment.

The Saudi government denies that any abuse took place.

On His Wealth

Prince Mohammed has been criticized for lavish personal spending at a time when he is imposing new taxes on Saudi citizens and preaching fiscal responsibility. In recent years, he bought a yacht for a half-billion dollars, a French chateau for more than $300 million and a painting for $450 million.

In the interview, Prince Mohammed said his private spending was his business.

“As far as my private expenses, I’m a rich person and not a poor person,” he said. “I’m not Gandhi or Mandela.”

On Becoming King

Prince Mohammed is expected to ascend to the throne after his father, King Salman, dies. If that happens, given his young age, he could rule Saudi Arabia for 50 years.

This article was first published The New York Times

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Saudi ministry launches app to report privacy violations

Time: March 13, 2018

JEDDAH: A smartphone app to help protect individual privacy has been launched by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior as it combats the use of mobile phones to spread damaging footage or images.
The ministry described the sending of malicious images via smartphones as “crossing a red line.”
The Kolonna Amn (“We are all security“) app allows users to make an official complaint if they believe their privacy has been violated.
Launching the app on March 13, the ministry repeated its warning that offenders could face penalties of up to one year’s imprisonment or a fine of SR500,000 ($133,000).
The Kolonna Amn app will make citizens part of an interactive security system, officials said.
Lawyer Dima Al-Shareef told Arab News: “The anti-cybercrime law defines the violation of the private life of the individual by misuse of mobile phones equipped with a camera or any other similar device.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi female lawyers win new legal powers

SOURCE: Arab News

Time: March 12, 2018

 

JEDDAH: From Monday, women can obtain a notarization permit that allows them to assume some of the functions of public notaries.
The Justice Ministry is finalizing formal procedures to receive women’s applications to procure a notarization permit upon completion of the pre-requisites.
“Women will now have the same legal tasks previously granted to their male colleagues, including the issuance of a power of attorney,” lawyer Majed Garoub told Arab News.
“Women and men are equal under Saudi law. Granting women various licenses is a matter of equality.”
This decision “will lead to greater appreciation of women’s role and status in judicial and legal work, considering that the license was, historically, for men only,” Garoub said.
Female lawyers wishing to be licensed will undergo the same procedures as their male counterparts.
“There will be the application period, followed by an educational course, then an examination interspersed with a personal interview, which will end with granting the license to the lawyers who pass the course and test,” Garoub said.
This decision “should be seen as part of a comprehensive vision for women in the legal and judicial sector, which includes the public prosecution, the Justice Ministry, courts, regulatory bodies, the traffic department and the Board of Grievances to ensure greater inclusion of female lawyers in Saudi society.”
Meanwhile, the ministry announced an increase in the number of licensed male notaries to 1,161 upon the launch of the electronic notary service.
The service entitles the issuance of power-of-attorney documents, as well as authentication and annulment of business contracts, through private sector bureaus day and night throughout the week.
The ministry indicated its intention to launch a training program for 857 notarization permit applicants who do not belong to the legal profession and are currently unemployed.
The number of premises operating in the electronic system for notaries has reached 738, the ministry said, adding that beneficiaries can access the nearest notary via https://mwathiq.sa.

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Saudis get dressing down for bikini resort plans (Naked ambition)

Time: March 10, 2018

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has proposed plans for a new luxury Red Sea resort in which special laws will allow women to wear bikinis as opposed to the usual strict dress requirements imposed by the kingdom.

Social media users were quick to criticise the decision, claiming that Saudi Arabia should be more interested in providing women with rights, than with what swimwear is allowed.

Some users considered the move an insult to women, who have yet to be afforded basic rights in the country including freedom of movement and the right to drive.

For goodness’ sake, give the woman her right to drive before you give her the right to wear the bikini… damn it, do rights begin with removing clothing?

عمرو عبد الهادي

@amrelhady4000

التايمز : منتجع شاطئ السعودية هيسمح فيها بالبيكيني
رحم الله شريف مكه الذي نادى بالجهاد ضد العثمانيين لسماحهم لغير المسلمين بعدم لبس الحجاب

The Times; Saudi coastal resort will allow bikinis. RIP the Sharif of Mekkah who called for the fight against the Ottomans for their allowing of non-Muslims to not wear hijab. 

The luxury resort, which will be situated on the county’s northwest coast, is part of an attempt to modernise the kingdom’s economy. The plans are part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 which aims to wean the Kingdom off its reliance on oil revenue.

The government said that the resort will be “governed by laws on par with international standards” .

A government statement said the resort “will be an extremely safe and secure environment that will ensure the protection of all visitors in accordance with the highest international best practice”.

There are many who wear obscenely expensive clothes without showering! Secularism springs from the mind at the point of education, not from the pool at the point of ‘bikini’!!

Other users referred to comments made by the UAE ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, who had suggested that Saudi supported secularism in the Middle East.

“If you ask UAE, Saudi, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain what kind of Middle East they want to see 10 years from now it will be fundamentally opposed to what Qatar wants to see,” Otaiba said.

“What we would like to see is more secular, stable, prosperous, empowered, strong governments.”

 The decision to allow bikinis confirms that Otaiba was not just saying things when he spoke of Saudi becoming secular in the next 10 years.

Despite its many pristine beaches and archaeological sites, Saudi is not a holiday destination. Its restrictive dress codes, rules on alcohol and other conservative laws do not attract Western holiday makers.

Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s most repressive laws on women, being the only country in which women are not allowed to drive and travel without a male relative’s permission is banned.

Women in Saudi are required to cover up in an abaya, a long dress-like overgarment, which could put tourists off from visiting this country, especially its beaches. They are also required to cover their hair while outside.

This article was first published in Middle East Eye

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Dozen Saudi women to become first air traffic controllers

SOURCE:Arab News

March 06, 2018

DUBAI: For the first time, 12 Saudi women have begun training for jobs in air traffic control, national daily Saudi Gazette reported.
This is the first-time women are to be employed to work as air traffic controllers in the Kingdom, the report added.
Saudi Air Navigation Services CEO Ryyan Tarabzoni said the state-owned company was prioritizing the hiring of women in the profession, as the country pushes to extend women’s rights in the country and also recruit more nationals as part of the “Saudization” project.

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Female teachers join sports training program in 3 major Saudi cities

Time: March 3, 2018 

JEDDAH: A youth leadership initiative run by the British Council KSA and the UK-based Youth Sports Trust, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, has almost completed its training tour in the three main provinces in Saudi Arabia.
The initiative focuses on raising awareness of the importance of physical education (PE), through helping sports teachers and young students to drive passion and fun for sports in their communities. It aims to increase society’s fitness level by creating an atmosphere of healthy entertainment.
This initiative has covered almost 52 schools in the three main provinces of Saudi Arabia: Riyadh, Jeddah and the Eastern Province. It started in the three main cities because they are well-equipped to hold sports events and festivals.
Lamia Al-Issa, the general supervisor at the Ministry of Education, told Arab News: “Through this program, we aim to achieve 60-70 percent of one of Saudi Arabia’s 2030 primary goals, which is to increase the percentage of individuals exercising at least once a week from 13 to 40 percent of the population.”
The ministry aims to expand the program and provide PE coaches in the rest of the Kingdom, with the opportunity to benefit from such training programs. Fifty-two female coaches from different areas of the three main provinces have benefited from this training tour.
Mona Al-Shehri, English and physical education teacher for 6th grade students, one of the coaches participating in the program, told Arab News: “I think this is a unique experience as it is the first time it has been held in Saudi Arabia. The program gives rise to a new generation that will be more aware physically and health-wise.”
Coaches receive intensive training for two weeks. The second week is a practical application of what the coaches learn in the first week.
The training program focuses on building leadership and team-building skills, and increasing fitness awareness among students and teachers through engaging in creative activities.
Al-Shehri said: “We also engage with the young female leaders to direct them to plan a safe and enjoyable sports festival, which includes around 100 female elementary-school students.
“The young leaders are trained to choose different creative and innovative activities to develop their own leadership skills, and then to be able to build teams and achieve success. This way, the young leaders become sports ambassadors within their society and community.”
In realizing the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, and supporting the theme of having a vibrant society with fulfilling lives, PE classes have been gradually implemented in all-girls schools this academic year, 2017-2018.
According to Al-Issa, there is a dedicated team preparing and constructing the coming year’s curricula, to be able to deliver an appropriate program to benefit our students.
Youth Sports Trust is an international charity based in the UK that is passionate about building a brighter future for young people through PE and sport.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia is changing much faster than we in the West realise

Time: March 01, 2018

Any chaps out there who still suspect that chaos on our roads is caused by damn women drivers should go to Riyadh. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia banned women from driving.

The ban was justified for a glorious variety of reasons – from a cleric’s claims that driving damages women’s ovaries, to accusations that allowing our fairer sex to drive would result not only in society’s swift moral demise but also that women are just so fundamentally bad at driving, they would wreak fatal havoc on the roads.

You might not be surprised to learn that an absence of women at the wheel on Saudi Arabia’s roads has not resulted in ubiquitous immaculate driving. In this man’s world, the closer you can get to the car in front, preferably at excessively high speed, the better.

Saudi Arabia duly ranks in the top 25 in the World Health Organisation’s number of deaths on the road, and according to the Kingdom’s own Ministry of Health, around 80% of hospital deaths are from traffic accidents.

But this week, the totem fell. The King of Saudi Arabia announced that women will be able to drive from June 2018, and perhaps even more significantly, they would not require permission from their male guardians to take lessons.

This is not only big news for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is also a disruptive challenge to the perceptions of the West. The ban on women driving, which characterised Saudi Arabia to the rest of the world, was a comfortable symbol for all that our Western liberalism has loved to hate about Saudi.

Don’t get me wrong. There still remain a rich multitude of reasons why anyone who expects to see all nations uphold Western standards of equality and human rights will have legitimately deep concerns over social and religious norms in Saudi Arabia, and its implementation of Sharia Law.

But perhaps our overriding obsession with displaying our liberal credentials by vocalising our intolerance of another nation’s laws has blinded us to what has actually been going on.

Women I spoke to in Riyadh earlier this year were quick to tell me. Many without headscarves, they spoke in excited tones about the withdrawal of the religious police from public life. They were no longer accosted in shopping malls to provide proof that they were actually the wife of their husband.

The General Authority for Entertainment was overseeing the introduction of mixed gender cinemas and music concerts. “One day soon, we’ll be able to drive too” they told me. I did not get the impression they thought it would be this soon.

But change is coming fast. Women air traffic controllers, female Islamic scholars to be able to issue Fatwas, nurseries in the work place to help women to work and in December, a women’s economic leadership forum is being held in Riyadh, called “Let’s Talk About Tomorrow”.

The forum is aptly named. The driving force behind these reforms is a recognition, championed by the new Crown Prince, the young Mohamad Bin Salman, (often just referred to as ‘MBS’) that Saudi Arabia urgently needs to talk about tomorrow. With an ever-growing, ambitious and globally aware youth population, and a fall in the price of oil, Saudi Arabia knows it must grasp tomorrow, or be swallowed by it.

But in a Kingdom that is proud to be the birth-place of Islam, keeper of The Two Holy Mosques, and home of a tradition of Islam that aims to follow The Prophet’s habits and actions as strictly and literally as possible, grasping tomorrow is a delicate business. The more cosmopolitan, globally-aware city-dwellers are hungry for reform. But many rural Saudis are deeply attached to their traditions.

“Vision 2030” is the plan set out by MBS to walk that tightrope. It is billed as a plan profoundly rooted in Saudi values, to modernize, not to Westernise. At its heart is the recognition that economically active women are essential for a healthy society and economy and that fulfilling the potential of Saudi Arabia’s talented women is vital to the Kingdom’s future.

Next year, many Saudi women will be celebrating passing their driving tests. Their next call is for an end to the controversial ‘guardianship laws’, whereby a woman needs a male relative’s permission to travel and get married.

Just a few years ago, the kind of changes Saudi Arabia has seen would have been unthinkable. But both in domestic and foreign policy, Saudi Arabia under the new Crown Prince is a Kingdom driving forward at speed. At such a time, women at the wheel can only be a good thing.

This article was first published in  Telegraph

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Streets come to life in Saudi Arabia’s first graffiti project

March 01, 2018

ALKHOBAR: A historic neighborhood has turned its aging streets and houses into a living art exhibition with the help of graffiti artists from around Saudi Arabia.
The “Alfan Sharqy” (“Art is Eastern”) exhibit in Bayoonya opened on Monday and is believed to be the first street graffiti project in the Kingdom.
Saudi artist Madawi Albaz, founder of the Dawi gallery, organized the exhibition under the sponsorship of Princess Abeer bint Faisal Al-Saud.
Albaz said she “had a dream of spreading beautiful art around the Kingdom, starting with Alkhobar, and thank God the dream has come true.”
More than 20 Saudi graffiti artists worked for 10 days to complete the project, painting six houses and transforming an entire neighborhood on Alkhobar’s southern side.
Albaz said: “I wanted to give Saudi artists the opportunity to show their talents, and decorate the neglected houses. This is a different experience, with a big challenge that included a large population and old streets.
“The initiative goes hand in hand with Vision 2030, offering talented youth the chance to spread art and beauty.”
Planning for the project took six months, she said. The exhibition was approved by the Alkhobar municipality.
The exhibition had been welcomed by neighborhood residents. “People are coming from everywhere to see it. Everyone is happy,” she said. “There is a lot of excitement, and other neighborhoods have expressed interest in similar projects.
“This is just the start,” Albaz said. “We plan to go to different cities and neighborhoods with new visions and big ambitions.”

This article was first published in the Arab News

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Saudi Arabia reshuffles military, promotes woman at labor ministry

Time: February 27, 2018

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has replaced some of its top military officers in a shake-up that elevates a younger generation, brings a woman into a senior government job and tightens Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s grip on power.

In a reshuffle announced late on Monday, the military chief of staff, air defense and land forces heads and senior defense and interior ministry officials were removed. Tamadur bint Youssef al-Ramah became deputy labor minister, a rare high-level job for a woman in the deeply conservative kingdom.

The crown prince, who at 32 is also defense minister and heir apparent, has promised reforms to wean Saudi Arabia off oil exports, create jobs and open up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles. Since rising to prominence three years ago, he has also removed a number of apparent rivals to the throne.

His cousin Mohammed bin Nayef was ousted as crown prince and interior minister in a palace coup last June, after which Prince Mohammed restructured the ministry to establish tighter control over intelligence and counter-terrorism.

Another cousin, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, was sacked as head of the National Guard last November and detained for two months in an anti-corruption crackdown in which scores of the kingdom’s economic and political elite were held.

The latest personnel changes were decreed by King Salman and published in state media. No reason was given but the changes appear to have enabled Prince Mohammed to put his personal stamp of authority on key levers of the military.

The overhaul, analysts said, was not directly linked to Saudi Arabia’s three-year-old military campaign in Yemen against the Iran-aligned armed Houthi movement. But the war has largely stalled and international criticism is growing over a humanitarian crisis and air strikes that have killed civilians.

Prince Mohammed is likely to face questions from allies frustrated with the lack of progress during planned trips to the United States and Europe.

“He can say… he’s dealt with people responsible for that right up to the top. But it’s not going to instil confidence that your military, as a result of that, will be technically better able to perform,” said Michael Stephens, research fellow at British defense and security think-tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

“It’s a wide ranging sweep across the deck… Especially when it comes to security, that makes people nervous.”

The new military chief of staff was named as First Lieutenant Fayyad bin Hamed al-Ruwayli. His predecessor, First Lieutenant Abdelrahman bin Saleh al-Banyan, was retired and made a royal advisor.

The decrees included adopting a new strategy to restructure the defense ministry for improved organization and governance, but provided few details.

Defense contracts with U.S. and European companies have long been a source of corruption and Prince Mohammed has it is “unacceptable” that high military spending has not translated into better performance.

Scholar Joseph Kechichian said some officers had been dismissed for incompetence while others had received fast promotions, but analysts said it was not clear the shake-up would immediately improve military performance.

Khalid Biyari, appointed aide to the defense minister, left his post as chief executive of Saudi Telecom, a possible sign that the crown prince is tapping the private sector to implement reforms.

YOUNG BLOOD

The overhaul was a nod to a younger generation, analysts said, in what has become a hallmark of the crown prince’s approach to ruling youthful Saudi Arabia, where patriarchal traditions have long made power the preserve of the old.

If he succeeds his father, Prince Mohammed would become the first grandson of the kingdom’s founder Ibn Saud to be king after decades of rule by six of his sons.

“It’s sometimes useful in flexing your patronage muscle,” said British-based analyst Neil Partrick. “It might give a sense of freshness… but I would be surprised if it leads to any changes in substance in policy in Yemen or anywhere else.”

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman drinks coffee during the graduation ceremony of the 93rd batch of the cadets of King Faisal Air Academy, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 21, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

The appointment of a woman at the labor ministry is part of efforts to modernize and promote a more moderate form of Islam. Prince Mohammed has loosened social restrictions, scaling back the role of religious police and permitting public concerts.

The government has announced plans to allow women to drive this year, and said women can enrol in the security forces and no longer need the consent of a male relative to open their own businesses, a step away from the kingdom’s guardianship system.

A senior Saudi cleric said last month that women need not wear the abaya – the loose-fitting, full-length robe symbolic of religious faith – and another prominent sheikh said that celebrating Valentine’s Day did not contradict Islamic teachings, defying the religious police’s hardline position.

The decrees also included the appointment of three deputy governors from among the descendants of Princes Ahmed, Talal and Muqrin – brothers of King Salman, some of whom may have felt sidelined by changes since his accession to the throne in 2015.

One of them, new deputy governor of Asir province, Prince Turki bin Talal, is the brother of billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who was detained in the government’s anti-corruption campaign and released only last month.

Greg Gause, a Gulf expert at Texas A&M University, said the injection of more junior officials could help the crown prince cultivate a bloc within the royal family that is supportive of him at younger levels.

“But, and this is a big ‘but’, he is not appointing them to positions in the central government, at least not yet,” said Gause. “He is keeping power in the cabinet centralized in his hands.”

This article was first published in Reuters

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