Saudi Solar No-Brainer

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Saudi Arabia has the world’s second best solar resource after Chile’s Atacama Desert, making investment in solar a no-brainer as an alternative to burning its most precious resource.

The Kingdom has for several years been talking up its plans to become a major player in solar power.

Four years ago a senior oil ministry official told Reuters: “We can export solar power to our neighbors on a very large scale and that is our strategic objective to diversify our economy. It will be huge.”

The goal is to go 30 percent solar by 2030.

Women Protesters Ask Saudi Interior Minister to Leave

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A group of women and children who are relatives of uncharged prisoners managed to organize a small sit-in in Saudi Arabian city of Buraida, challenging the strict ban on demonstrations in the absolute monarchy. In the past, families of uncharged prisoners managed to organize a 24-hour sit-in, but they had not been able to stay for more than that, until now.

The women and children not only challenged the ban on protest, but they also carried placards calling for the resignation of the Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif.

The protesters spent the night in the street. Tents were set the next day in preparation to continue the sit-in, but security forces reportedly and came and arrested all the protesters.

Qatar and Oman Pull Out of Gulf Drama Festival in Riyadh Due to Ban on Music and Women

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The ban on women and music has led two delegations to withdraw from the Gulf University Drama Festival being hosted this week at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh, the daily al-Sharq reported.

The newspaper said that the Qatari delegation has decided not take part at the event after being informed of the restrictions, while the Bahrainis have accepted to perform their play without music. Few hours before their show was scheduled to start, a delegation from Sultan Qaboos University in Oman has decided to withdraw because their female supervisor was not allowed to enter the male campus of KSU, the newspaper said.

For those who know the state of drama and theater at KSU, what happened is hardly surprising. The drama club at KSU, like many other extracurricular activities on campus, are usually controlled by religious conservatives who believe that music and the participation of women are not permissible. The university theater has been “hijacked by groups with certain ideology who forced out anyone who doesn’t agree with them,” said Yazeed al-Khaleefi, a former member of KSU drama club, according to al-Sharq.

Saudi Crown Prince Salman Now on Twitter

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Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz is now on Twitter. The heir apparent to throne has posted a single tweet to his verified account on the social network that reads: “This is the official and only account for His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz. The Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

The new account has now more than 205,000 followers. Local news site Sabq quoted a source they described as “close to the Crown Prince” as saying the move to register an official account for Prince Salman was due to the repeated impersonation, a problem that is common on Twitter. That suggests that the Crown Prince probably won’t be actively using the account.

The social network has become a major platform for news and debate among Saudi citizens over the past two years. Several activists have been interrogated over their tweets. A man named Bader Thawab was reportedly arrested last September after posting a tweet calling for the fall of the monarchy. The government is accusing Thawab of “writing statements in social media website Twitter that incite public opinion and disturb national unity and following tempters and disobeying the ruler,” according to a leaked copy of the list of charges that was posted online.

Latest stats estimate that the number of active Saudi users on Twitter has reached 4 million posting more than 50 million tweets per month. The government said earlier this month that they monitor Twitter but Minister of Culture and Information Abdulaziz Khoja admitted that it is too difficult to censor tweets “due to the big number of users.”

No Gender Segregation Wall at Shoura?

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A Saudi newspaper says officials may consider dropping plans for a barrier separating men and the newly appointed women in the country’s top advisory body.

The reports follow the swearing-in ceremony Sunday for the first women in the ultraconservative kingdom’s Shura Council. There was no barrier during the event as the 30 women sat on one side of the chamber and the 130 men on the other.

Worth mentioning that most of the talk about using a barrier between men and women at the Shoura Council chamber has been mostly speculation on the part of local media as government officials preferred to remain vague about the nature of seperation. Now it seems that women will simply be sitting in one side of the chamber with no barriers between them and their female colleagues. Media were not allowed to cover the first session that took place Sunday, but the state news agency has distributed one photo showing the female members in their seats.

No News of Jordanian Activist Held in Saudi Arabia

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Jordan says it has no official word from Saudi Arabia about one of its citizens apprehended by authorities there 50 days ago.

Jordanian foreign ministry spokeswoman Sabah Rafie told the Associated Press Monday that Jordan has yet to receive a formal response regarding the detention of Khaled Natour at Riyadh airport.

Natour, who has protested outside the Saudi embassy in Amman against the Saudi-led military intervention in Bahrain, traveled to Saudi Arabia on a work visa but was detained upon arrival in King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh.

Are Officials Exaggerating Number of Saudi Students in America?

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Saudi officials often like to boast about the number of Saudi students abroad, especially in the United States. Mohammed al-Eisa, the Saudi cultural attaché in Washington DC, recently told Asharq al-Awsat that the number of Saudi students going to US schools has reached 66,000 during the last year. However, Saudi writer Mahmoud Sabbagh has raised some questions about the real number of Saudi students in the US. Sabbagh points to stats released by the Institute of International Education (IIE), which said that the number of Saudi students going to American schools in the academic year 2011/2012 is only 34,139 students. According to IIE, a DC-based non-profit organization, this number represents a 50 percent increase from the previous year, but this is still much smaller than the numbers often repeated by Saudi higher education officials. China, India and South Korea are the top three countries sending students to the US. Saudi Arabia is fourth.