Will Saudi Arabia Rise Crude Capacity to 15 Million Barrels?

On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported:

Saudi Arabia plans to raise production capacity to 15 million barrels a day by 2020 from 12.5 million barrels a day now, a Saudi prince said, reviving talk of a higher internal target.

The new capacity will allow the kingdom to be able to export as much as 10 million barrels of crude a day, Prince Turki Al Faisal, 68, a former head of intelligence, said in an April 25 speech at Harvard University that was posted on the university’s website yesterday.

Few hours later, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said there is no such plan:

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said on Tuesday the kingdom has no plans to dramatically expand its oil production capacity to 15 million barrels per day, dispelling a suggestion put forth by a member of his country’s royal family.

Ali al-Naimi said his country will be “lucky to go past” its current oil production of about 9 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2020, as new petroleum production from other countries comes into the global market.

It will be interesting to see what analysts make of such contradictory statements, but it is important to note that Prince Turki al-Faisal does not currently hold any official position with the Saudi government. Making assertions about future government plans based on his statements would probably be inaccurate.

America’s Oil Boom and US-Saudi Relations

Will the boom in US oil production affect the ties between the Americans and Saudi Arabia?

As the United States produces oil at the highest levels in 20 years thanks to the shale boom, Saudi Arabia’s confidence in Asian markets could help keep relations between the two countries on track.

“The Saudis don’t see the North American oil boom as a threat, not in the context of the global oil market,” said a Washington-based energy consultant to governments and businesses, who did not want to be named.

Naimi said in a speech early this month in Doha that nobody should fear new oil supplies when global demand is rising, adding that Asia’s population growth should be a driver for future oil demand.

Two Men Shot, Arrested in Awwamiya

Two men were shot and arrested in the town of Awwamiya after an exchange of fire with security forces on Monday night, the Saudi Ministry of Interior said.

The Ministry’s spokesman identified one of the two men as Abdullah Al Suraih, a teenager whose name appeared on a list of 23 wanted persons by the government in connection to protest demonstrations in Qatif, eastern Saudi Arabia. The other man was not named, but the spokesman said the man is wanted for drugs-related crimes. The spokesman said both men were injured in their legs during the clash with security forces.

“They were transferred to the hospital for treatment and then they will be referred to the competent authorities to complete legal procedures against them,” the spokesman was quoted as saying in a statement published by the official state news agency.

Al Suraih, 19, has been on the run since early 2012 when the Interior Ministry put his name on a list of 23 people that the government accused of rioting in the restive town of Awwamiya, where a protester movement has managed to sustain itself for almost two years despite the crackdown by security forces.

Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority who reside in the eastern side of the country has for long complained of discrimination. The government denies that it discriminates against its Shia citizens and usually describes the protests as isolated riots.

Despite being on the wanted list, Al Suraih made several public appearances over the last few months. In September 2012, a YouTube video showed him addressing the crowd in a protest after he narrowly escaped an attempt to arrest him where a friend of his was shot dead.

Few days later Al Suraih told Riyadh Bureau that he had no plans to turn himself in. He said he would turn himself in to any government except the Saudi government. “I don’t trust the Saudi government,” he said.

Saudi Telcos End Global Free Roaming

An unusual perk allowing telecoms customers in Saudi Arabia to receive free calls while abroad came to an end on Friday after the country’s regulator forced telcos to stop offering the service due to what it deemed to be widespread abuse.

Saudi customers had previously been able to pick up the phone for free while travelling – a service telcos introduced in 2008 for students living abroad and for Saudi’s staying overseas for long periods in the summer months, according to analysts.

But the Saudi regulator, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), earlier this month told telcos – STC, Mobily and Zain KSA – to stop offering the service as millions of SIM cards had been shipped out of the country so that expats could phone families at home at domestic rates and businesses with operations overseas used the SIMs to avoid international calls, according to local media reports.

Telcos promised to introduce special packages for Saudi students abroad.

On Saudi Filmmaking

For NPR, by yours truly:

The Saudi Arabian movie Wadjda has been on a winning streak.

The film, about a young Saudi girl who hatches a plan so she can ride a bicycle in her conservative country, has been honored at the Venice Film Festival, the Dubai International Film Festival and the Gulf Film Festival. Haifaa al-Mansour, the first woman to direct a film in Saudi Arabia, was feted a week ago at the Tribeca Film Festival.

So how’s the film doing in Saudi Arabia? Well, there are no movie theaters in the desert kingdom.

Yet Another Saudi Official Blames Society for Women Driving Ban

There is no constitutional or regulatory barriers to prevent women from driving in Saudi Arabia, Justice Minister Muhammad Al-Isa said. This matter is up to society, the minister said, according to al-Hayat daily. This is, of course, not the first time that a Saudi senior official blames society for the ban on women driving. Earlier this year, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters in Riyadh that women driving is a social matter that has nothing to do with politics. As we said here before, such statements by officials do not really address the issue. If the ban is a social matter, why does the government arrest women who dare to drive?

Shoura Member Sues Popular Cleric Over Retweet

Shoura Council member Issa Al-Gheith has filed a defamation suit against well-known Dawa activist Muhammad Al-Oraifi at the Riyadh District Court on Saturday.

Al-Gheith took legal action after Al-Oraifi retweeted a poem that Al-Gheith considered defamatory and insulting. Al-Gheith gave Al-Oraifi 24 hours to apologize for the retweet but the latter did not respond at which point he went to court and filed the lawsuit on the basis of Article 5.3 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law.

This is the first case of its kind brought before a court of law, according to court sources.

In addition to being a current member of the Shoura Council, al-Ghath is a former judge who supposedly knows how the legal system works. The fact that al-Ghaith is suing al-Arefi because the latter retweeted the allegedly defamatory poem could set a precedent. It would be also interesting to see how the presiding judge in this case will deal with the fact that al-Arefi only retweeted the poem and did not tweeted it himself.

This is not the first time that al-Ghaith has taken legal action over tweets. The Shoura member has previously said he is suing conservative writer Abdullah al-Dawood for allegedly offending him on Twitter.

How to Survive Jeddah

Jeddah is fantastic for many reasons. Life is easy, it’s relatively safe, you don’t pay taxes, many people speak English if you don’t speak Arabic, and there are so many interesting people to meet. Make the most out of your stay with these tips and tricks.

In the Shadow of Revolutions

Madawi al-Rasheed on Salman al-Odah:

Unlike the majority of official Saudi religious scholars, veteran Islamist Salman al-Awdah (born 1956) anchored peaceful collective revolutionary action in an Islamic framework and reached out for humanist interpretations that assimilate Western intellectual positions with his own Salafi orientation. He surprised his audiences as when he published As’ilat al-Thawra (Questions of Revolution) in 2012. Al-Awdah rehabilitated revolution after decades of Sunni religious scholars associating it with instability, chaos and danger. This book put him in a position different from both traditional official Saudi ulama and Jihadi ideologues, who had adopted violent strategies locally and globally. Needless to say the book was immediately banned in Saudi Arabia, prompting the author to circulate it on the internet.

Saudi Housing Minister Warns Owners of White Lands: “Build Or Sell”

Urban land left undeveloped could be confiscated by the government for use in housing projects. Saudi Minister of Housing Shuwaish al-Dhuwaihi said during a TV interview on Friday that owners of vacant plots inside cities, known as “white lands,” might lose their properties if they don’t develop them soon.

These land owners has to either “build or sell,” the Minister said.

King Abdullah ordered the building of half a million housing units in 2011, but that effort has been hampered by the lack of suitable land in major cities. Experts estimate that as much as half of the country’s 70,000 acres of prime, undeveloped urban land are being held off the market by people known as “hawameer al aradhi” or “land whales.” As Ellen Knickmeyer explains, these people are:

the rich and well-connected Saudis who for generations have snapped up and held on to vast tracts of land in the vicinity of the kingdom’s cities, some of it originally given by Saudi kings to their powerful followers. The land whales view their holdings as a long-term investment, to be passed on to sons and grandsons, and have proved reluctant to release it for development, Saudi and international economists say.

Housing Minister said the fact that 70 percent of the lands in the cities are vacant “threatens the social stability,” according to Arab News. “The expropriation of properties for the public interest is done around the world,” al-Dhuwaihi said. “We might do it in a limited way.”

The housing crisis has been years in the making, but it was not until recently that the issue has come to occupy the center of media and government attention. The Ministry of Housing was only established in March 2011, and there is skepticism that it can achieve meaningful solutions the crisis.

“I think every citizen’s biggest fear is that after waiting several years, the Ministry of Housing will come out and say that it is unable to fulfill its tasks,” famous novelist Abdo Khal wrote in Okaz, wondering if we will ever reach the needed housing target. “Merely changing ownership of land to the Ministry of Housing is not enough unless concrete measures are taken to address the bureaucracy that plagues our administrative system.”