Buying the Labor Ministry Argument

Ever since the government announced its decision to hike visa fees for foreign workers, Minister of Labor Adel Fakieh has been on the defensive trying to explain the motives and goals of his policy. However, Fakieh has recently decided to launch a charm offensive, appearing on television and inviting bloggers and tweeps to dinner parties at five star hotels. Saad Al Dosary was invited to a dinner hosted by the ministry in Jeddah, and he came out convinced because “it’s hard to argue with numbers”:

There are 7 million non-Saudi workers making a living here, while there are 2 millions Saudis looking for a job. The math is simple. Now, having said that, we could say the ministry’s strategy is based on two main pillars: The first, to give Saudis, males and females, a fair chance to compete over available jobs in the market. The second is to fix and reform the dysfunctional labor market. The decision to increase the fees is only one of many decisions and initiatives the ministry is adapting to amend the stale labor market.

Reporter Beaten for Asking About Cleric US Ban

A companion of famous Saudi cleric Ayedh al-Qarnee hit a reporter who asked the cleric why he was denied entry to the United States, al-Watan reported today. The newspaper said that its reporter Abdulmohsen al-Faran was pushed to the ground by the cleric’s companion who rudely told the reporter: “Move along. America, what America.” Sheikh al-Qarnee has later called the reporter to apologize, the newspaper said.

Two Thirds of Saudis Lack Homes, CDSI Says

Speaking of the budget, housing will no doubt be one of the priorities for the new budget. The Central Department of Statistics and Information (CDSI) says 65 percent of Saudis are not homeowners, according to this report in Saudi Gazette which reads more like an editorial than a news story, listing a set of actions that the Ministry of Housing should take to solve the housing crisis.

Shoura Pledges to Implement Budget

Speaking to reporters, Shoura Council Secretary-General Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Amro described it as a historical budget, which covers all important areas including education, health, transport and social development.

He added that a closer look at the new budget would clearly indicate the interest shown in citizen-centric projects which would directly benefit the people.

The house pledged its support for the effective implementation of the budget proposals by coordinating with the relevant governmental organizations to execute the budget plans as envisaged by the king.

Considering the fact that the government has not asked the Shoura Council for their input on the budget before it was announced, their praise of this budget and their commitment to implement it is both impressive and hilarious.

No Excuse

Abdulrahman al-Rashed on the Saudi budget:

Oil-producing countries have greater responsibilities, for they have no excuse when one of their citizens has no job, or when a citizen is sick but cannot get treatment, or when a citizen lacks insurance or does not feel safe in his home. It is the government’s duty to provide citizens with these services. When officials are upset at being criticized, they forget that it is their job to serve the people and the budget is how a government expresses its plans to serve the people.

Saudi Addiction to Cheap Foreign Labor

Jamal Khashoggi on the campaign against Saudi Labor Minister Adel Fakieh:

There are many reasons behind the conservative current’s “hatred” towards Adel Fakieh even if at some point, it is overlapping with some business reasons; they are obsessed with fighting decisions that allow women to work, and they want to limit the work of women in women’s necessities stores. The law has included so far women’s lingerie stores so it would be ratified. Nevertheless, the religious current knows well that “women’s necessities” can include dozens of other stores. This is a strategic alliance with the retail dealers who prefer to hire a foreign “male” who arranges the ladies’ lingerie, in obvious opposition with the conservative nature of Saudi society: for Saudi merchant, the foreign male sales person is less costly than Saudi woman who needs to be employed, and work with a double salary and who would be working for limited hours. The Saudi female worker will need an insurance coverage in accordance with the regulations of the Ministry of Labor: all these requirements are additional costs that businessmen prefer to avoid! Economics and accounting rules to increase the profits and minimize losses, is the engine for those businessmen, and not the national morals and the supreme national interest that the Minister of Labor is working on. As for the religious current, the important thing is that this foreign “male” will guarantee that women will not work in public.

The religious tide does not care about Adel Fakieh’s numbers, such as the fact that 85 percent of those registered in the “incentive” program that registers the unemployed are two million Saudi women. This is a clear message to the religious current stating that their festering speech that refuses the women’s work idea and discouraging women has failed. There are 1.7 million Saudi females who wish to work: many of them prefer to work as teachers, while others want to work under the terms of the clergy, i.e. without interacting with the opposite sex. The economy is directing the people and not the heartless preaching. Half of the women are willing to work in the retail sector for example, and that is strongly opposed by religious men: the need for job and income are what motivate women and put pressure on the State that is represented by the Ministry of Labor. These women and 360 thousand of young Saudis, where most of them did not finish the secondary education, constitute 10 percent of the Saudi population.

Interior Ministry Manipulates Judiciary, Saudi Activists On Trial Say

Online news site Sabq continues to provide extended coverage for the trial of Saudi activists Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamed. The last hearing session was held earlier today in a court in Riyadh. The government accuses them of a series of charges including breaking allegiance to the ruler, questioning the integrity of officials and founding an unlicensed human rights organization. In this hearing, al-Qahtani and al-Hamed continued to defend themselves against what they described as “the oppression of the Interior Ministry.” The judge is expected to rule in the case in two weeks.

Saudi Arabia Approves Record Budget

Reuters:

Saudi Arabia has set a record state budget for next year as high oil prices allow it to spend heavily on welfare and infrastructure projects, helping it avoid the severe social unrest seen in other parts of the Arab world.

The government plans to spend 820 billion riyals ($219 billion) in 2013, state television reported after Finance Minister Ibrahim Alassaf presented the budget to King Abdullah on Saturday.

That amount is 19 percent higher than the 690 billion riyals that the world’s largest oil exporter budgeted for 2012, although it is below the estimated 853 billion riyals that the government actually spent.

This was the first time for King Abdullah to chair the cabinet since he has undergone back surgery in November. The meeting to announce the budget was held in a room in his palace instead of the cabinet chamber where such meetings are usually held. In the footage below, aired by state television, the King asks in a frail voice about the surplus. “The surplus is around 386 billion,” Finance Minister Ibrahim Alassaf responds. Crown Prince Salman appears briefly at the end of the video speaking to the King, but it seems that his mike was not turned on.

Government to Shut Down Channels Threatening National Unity

Saudi Arabia will shut down satellite television channels that threaten national unity or instigate sedition in society, al-Watan daily reported Friday. The Minister of Culture and Information Abdulaziz Khoja told the newspaper that the ministry is working on a new set of regulations to stop such channels.

“National unity is a red line that must not be crossed,” he said, adding that his ministry cannot accept any calls for hatred and division in society.

Koja decided in September 2010 to shut down al-Osra channel, owned by Saudi preacher Mohammed al-Habdan, for airing fatwas after the government decided to limit the issuing of fatwas to a number of licensed bodies.

King Abdullah ordered last March to shut down a channel after it aired a program that raised complaints from citizens in the southern region of Najran. The Saudi-owned Awtan channel was shut down after they hosted a cleric who made statements that leaders of the Ismaili tribe of Yam considered racist and offending.

The decision to close Awtan triggered demands by some Shia citizens to ask for the closure of other channels accused of airing anti-Shia programming like Safa and Wesal. Last week, Wesal hosted a debate between between Ibrahim al-Fares, a Sharia professor at KSU, and writer Hasan al-Malki. After a heated debate that lasted three episodes, the moderator ended the show with a long anti-Shia rant.