Confronting Domestic Abuse

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Arab News has some good news to report:

In a landmark decision, the Cabinet on Monday passed a law making it a crime to commit domestic abuse. The law also provides treatment and shelter to victims of violence.

For the first time, public and private sector workers have been encouraged to report abuse cases to law enforcement authorities or the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Saudi Launches Solar-Powered Desalination Plant

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Saudi Gazette:

The first phase of the King Abdullah Initiative for Solar Water Desalination will be operational by the end of this year, according to a senior energy official.

Yousef Al-Yousef, supervisor at the Energy Research Institute at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), said the plant would have a capacity of 30,000 cubic meters of drinking water a day to meet the needs of 100,000 people living in the town of Al-Khafji, near the Kuwaiti border.

Saudi Arabia’s lack of natural renewable water resources means that 50 percent of the municipal water in the country must come from desalination.

Qatar Who?

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WSJ reports on the return of Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan as a major power player in regional politics:

At a meeting to coordinate arms shipments last summer, Prince Bandar took a swipe at Qatar, a tiny nation with one of the region’s largest broadcasters.

Qatar is “nothing but 300 people…and a TV channel,” the Saudi prince yelled into a phone, according to a person familiar with the exchange. “That doesn’t make a country.”

Snap.

Saudi Buys Thousands of Cluster Bombs from the US

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Saudi Arabia is buying thousands of cluster bombs from the United States despite a near-universal ban on such weapons, Foreign Policy reported on Friday.

The US Department of Defense announced on Tuesday that Massachusetts-based Textron Defense Systems has been awarded a $640 million contract to sell 1,300 cluster bomb units to Saudi Arabia. These bombs are expected to be shipped to the Saudis between now and and the end of 2015.

The decision to sell these weapons comes only few months after both Saudi Arabia and the US joined the international community in condemning the use of cluster bombs by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

“We are disappointed with the US decision to export cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia as both countries acknowledge the negative humanitarian impact of these weapons on civilians,” said Sarah Blakemore, director of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), an international group that aims to end the use of such weapons.

112 countries around the world have signed an international treaty banning cluster bombs, and 83 of these countries have ratified it. Saudi Arabia and US have not signed the treaty.

Cluster bombs explode and scatter thousands of tiny weapons over a vast area, and these small bombs can go off years after a battle which can result in the death or maiming of people who mistakenly touch them. The CMC said Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in the past during the 1991 Gulf War and stockpiles the weapons, but the country is not believed to produce or export them.

The US cluster bombs sale to Saudi Arabia is the latest in a series of large arms deals between the two countries, despite the differences between the Obama administration and the Saudi government over regional policy in the Middle East. At a time when the US is said to reconsidering its financial aid to Egypt military rulers, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said last week this his country and its allies would step in to make up any reduction from the US and Europe.

In 2011 Saudi Arabia signed a $60 billion arms deal with the US that was described as the largest US arms sale ever. That deal will continue to be implemented over the next 15 to 20 years.

It is expected that the latest cluster bombs deal will proceed despite international objection. “If the Saudis want cluster bombs, the U.S. will provide — no matter what the world thinks,” Foreign Policy said.

Photo courtesy of Greg Goebel via Flickr

When Censorship Spreads Disease

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Maryn McKenna in Wired criticizes the Saudi government handling of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) for trying to control information about the spread of the disease:

While we wait to see the full extent of MERS, the one thing the world can do is to relearn the lesson of SARS: Just as diseases will always cross borders, governments will always try to evade blame. That problem can’t be solved with better devices or through a more sophisticated public-health dragnet.

The solution lies in something public health has failed to accomplish despite centuries of trying: persuading governments that transparency needs to trump concerns about their own reputations. Information can outrun our deadly new diseases, but only if it’s allowed to spread.

No Saudi Domestic License for Gulf Air

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Gulf Air denied on Wednesday that it has been awarded a license to operate domestic air services in Saudi Arabia. The surprising news comes eight months after Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) announced that the Bahrain-based carrier has won the license.

“Gulf Air did not bid and has not been awarded domestic traffic rights to operate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the company said in a statement published on its website. “The airline’s involvement is in a consultative capacity only to the Al Qahtani Group, a consortium of privately owned companies.”

The name and branding of Gulf Air will not be used for a new domestic service in Saudi Arabia, the company said, adding that the carrier is currently negotiating another consulting agreement to provide the Dammam-based Al Qahtani Group with support to obtain an air operator’s certificate in the Kingdom. A GACA spokesman confirmed to al-Sharq daily that Al Qahtani, a fully Saudi-owned company, is the winner of the license.

The carrier did not say why it had waited more than six months to clarify the matter after GACA announced last December that Gulf Air and Qatar Airways had won the competition to operate domestic routes in Saudi Arabia. The two airlines are not expected to start operations until 2014 as they continue to negotiate with the state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco over fuel prices.

There are only two airlines currently serving a domestic air market of 27 million people in Saudi Arabia: the national carrier Saudi Airlines, aka Saudia, and budget airline National Air Services (NAS).

The entry of new airlines is expected to add pressure on Saudia as it undergoes a slow privatization process. The company incurred losses of SR1.7 billion (US$453 million) last year despite receive government support and subsidized fuel.

Photo courtesy of Jez B via Flickr

‘But It’s Their Money’

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David Ignatius:

The core problem for Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf regimes is that they have immense wealth resting uneasily on conservative political systems. They resist change, even as their young populations get ever more connected electronically with the outside world — and its online trends of both secularization and radical jihad.