The Commission Does Good

It’s been a while since I posted to the blog – my only excuse has been that I have been really busy at work and not that the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Ministry of Licentiousness and Lasciviousness – the infamous C-Men) have been quiet. They haven’t. As is usual here they have been screwing up peoples lives and getting between people and God in an unholy fashion. Their latest episodes generally involve high-speed car chases and accidents that kill the suspects at the end of the chase (something that they are not allowed under law to do) as well as the usual flaunting of the courts and such.

However, occasionally the C-Men do some good and it seems they managed to recently in Makkah. Seems that yesterday the C-Men in Makkah

closed down … a pharmacy for running a confidence racket. The commission said the man running the shop, a Pakistani national, was offering “black magic” services to customers.

Vice police raided the store, which was disguised as a pharmacy, and confiscated amulets and other tools of the trade. The suspect said people were coming to him asking for magical cures because they were unsatisfied with the services they were receiving at area hospitals.

So, some good from the C-Men. The Arab News also reported that in

an unrelated event, a Saudi man was arrested yesterday for running a similar scam from his home. The man was caught after a woman came to him hoping for a magical cure that would prevent her husband from leaving her. After the young woman’s husband left her, she informed her father that she tried a magical cure; the father then informed the moral police.

I recall a while back that they also removed amulets and things that had been thrown off the coast here and disposed of them. Black Magic seems to be alive and well in this country – even when one of the most popular TV shows is Charmed – must be the Power of Three 🙂

Mind you, being a conman here is a bit risky as

the authorities treat confidence rackets as a religious crime, and suspects are often arrested and charged outright with being sorcerers and witches (rather than shysters) for offering various services to people who believe in magical cures and curses. Penalties for such crimes are often quite stiff, even resulting in the death penalty.

Now where did I hide my four-leaf clover? Oh yes – it’s with the rabbit’s foot.

The Commission’s Been At It Again

Those evil buffoons, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Ministry of Licentiousness and Lasciviousness, the C-Men) have been at it again. Not content with beating suspects to death at their headquarters and making a mockery of Saudi justice, not content with scaring old men to death who are just trying to support a large family, not content with abusing women in Riyadh, then ignoring the court and not content with pursuing “suspects” so quickly that they have motor accidents and are killed that way, it seems now that the buffoons – the evil Keystone Kops of Saudi society – now go out cruising and looking for a fight like any old football hooligan used to.

The Arab News on 28 April reported on Undercover Officer Complains of Mistreatment by Vice Cops
which detailed some young blokes being slapped around by the C-Men for doing, well, nothing really.

“We were in Thumama at around 3 a.m., Thursday morning, having fun and joking around, when one of us spotted a commission jeep pass by,” the officer, who requested anonymity, told Arab News.

He said he and his four colleagues were just like any other guys going to Thumama to vent out on a weekend night without the intention of harming any families or looking for trouble.

“A colleague said in a loud voice ‘guys, it’s the Haya’a (commission)!’” he continued. “But we were doing nothing wrong. We did not even have soda pop bottles or play any loud music for them to consider that we were doing something wrong.”

According to the officer, the commission members pulled up in a off-road vehicle bearing the commission’s logo. One commission member accused one of the campers of calling them dogs, then picked out the youngest member of the group, Rami Al-Amri, 18, and began slapping him.

“One of the men said: ‘I’ll teach you who the Haya’a is. We are the government’,” Al-Amri told Arab News. The commission members allegedly proceeded to verbally abuse the campers and impugn their character. Al-Amri claimed that the commission member that was being physically abusive threatened to jail him for three months.

Gee – you gotta watch those soda bottles and music! Really – it is time the Kingdom got rid of these buffoons.

Mecca Police Busy

The police in the Saudi city of Makkah have been very busy lately. The Arab News reports that

police patrols in Makkah have dealt with 10,744 cases and made 8,068 arrests between Jan. 10 and April 21 this year, according to figures released by the Makkah police. Of those arrested 6,508 were suspected of being involved in various types of crime, 489 were charged with robbery, 676 were arrested for not carrying valid resident permits or for running away from their sponsors, 250 were drug-peddlers and 126 people were wanted for previous crimes.

Police also confiscated six rifles, 10 revolvers, five machine guns, 457 cartridges of live ammunition, two air guns, 1,825 Captagon pills and 100 kilograms of other types of drugs. They also seized 6,437 vehicles over the period.

This is, of course, the Holy city that Hajj and Umrah pilgrims make their way to. Of course, the statistic I find most interesting is that 6,508 were “suspected of being involved in various types of crime” however only 1,541 were actually charged with anything – just under 20% of those arrested.

Saudi Blogger is Released

The Arab News reported in a piece called “Blogger Case Exaggerated: Prince Ahmed” that Saudi blogger, Fouad Al-Farhan’s case had been exaggerated by the press.

“The issue (of Al-Farhan) was not that important as it represented the mistake committed by a person on himself. A man who commits a mistake should bear its result,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted the prince as saying.

Yeah – right! He made a mistake, presumably by saying something that the government didn’t agree with – so it is his own fault that he is detained without charge for four months. Let’s hear it for fairness in Saudi Arabia.

Eight Year Old Girl’s Divorce Is Finalised

In what can only be described as a rare touch of common-sense and good news, the еight-year-old I mentioned on the 14th, Nujood Ali, has had her divorce from her 30 year old husband finalised by the court. An anonymous donor paid about US $250 to her husband to divorce her.

Unfortunately, there are many other girls in Yemen in a similar position and the government does not seem to want to put a minimum age for marriage law in place.

Interestingly, here in Saudi Arabia we often hear of news like an 11 year old married to his 10 year old cousin. However, the good news is that at least Nujood is safe at the moment.

As noted in the Yemen Times

On April 15, with support from her lawyer Shatha Mohammed Nasser and Judge Abud Al-Khaleaq Ghowber, Nojoud paid her way out of marriage with YR 100,000 from an anonymous donor in the Emirates and happily became an 8-year-old divorcee.

“This was the first time a girl came to us for a divorce. We are going to do our best to push the parliament to change the marriage law,” said Judge Ghowber.

“I am so happy to be free and I will go back to school and will never think of getting married again,” Nojoud said joyfully. “It is a good feeling to be rid of my husband and his bad treatment.”

There are many early marriages in Yemen with the International Center for Research on Women noting in their 2007 statistics that Yemen is one of 20 developing countries where early marriage is common.

The Yemen Times notes from those reports:

Most women have their first child immediately after their first menstruation cycle and are likely to have a child every 12 months during their reproductive lifespan. Yemen’s fertility rate is extremely high, with an average 6.3 children per each woman, and the country also has some of the highest mother and infant mortality rates worldwide.

According to research on early marriage in Yemen from Oxfam and the United Nations Population Fund, there are severe physical consequences that result from early marriage and subsequent early childbirth such as nutritional anemia, post-partum hemorrhages, obstetric fistula (a disorder that affects the bladder and causes leaking of urine or faeces), plus mother and infant mortality.

The Yemen Times has been pushing for the setting of a minimum age and has been happy to receive support from anywhere. Really, this is something that we should all help in however we can. You can also see more at the International Center for Research n Women.

Yemeni Parliament Sets No Minimum Age For Marriage

I was reading the Arab News this morning and there was an article in it about an 8 year old Yemeni girl who had taken her father and her 30 year old husband to court seeking protection from abuse. According to the Arab News whenever she wanted to go outside and play with her friends, her husband would chase her into the bedroom.

OK, bizarre and rather nasty I thought. So tonight I did a quick hunt of the Yemeni Newspapers Online and found an article, Parliament refuses to legislate minimum age for marriage, in the Yemen Times. The article discusses the decision by the Yemeni Parliament not to set a minimum age for marriage. Various groups in Yemen had been calling for a minimum of 18 years of age for both males and females. The case of the 8 year old, Nujood Ali, is used to illustrate the problem.

Sixty-one members of parliament were part of the Parliament’s Safe Motherhood Committee and recommended the setting of a minimum age. However,

the issue was rejected by the Evaluation and Jurisprudence Committee, which said it is a health issue and cannot be generalized. The issue was passed to Parliament’s Health Committee, where it will reside for an unknown duration.

This really is the sort of thing that steams me up – the ignoring of what is essentially a common-sense decision. It is further exacerbated by some of the local attitudes there. For example,

Although he is currently in custody, Nujood’s husband has rejected her demand to be divorced.

“I will not divorce her, and it is my right to keep her. No need to sleep with her, at least I can have her as a wife. No power can stop me,” the husband, Faez Ali Thamer, said.

“It is not a matter of loving her, I don’t, but it’s just a challenge to her and her uncle who think that they can put me in jail and also the judge has no right to bring me here. How did she dare to complain about me?” he threatened.

Some of the statistics emerging are really quite sad. Nujood went to Sana’a West Court on April 2 and asked for a divorce from her 30 year old husband. She claimed that her husband had physically and sexually abused her for two months. She also filed a case against her father because he had married her off to the man, although the judge ordered both the husband and the father to be kept in custody, the father was released due to ill health. Interestingly, the judge ordered the men to be held in custody even though they had not broken any law.

UNICEF did a field study into child marriage and found that child marriage among girls reached about 52%. What was even more disturbing was that the study:

disclosed that marriage age raised gradually from an average of 10.24 years to 14.70 years for women and from 20.97 to 21.54 years for men. It indicated that the average marriage age varies from one geographical area to another; for example, it showed that girls in Hodeidah and Hadramout married at the average age of eight, while in Mukalla the average age was 10.

This is so un-Islamic, so sad and so bizarre. It is bad enough having paedophiles preying on children. At least paedophilia is illegal and there is a chance to catch and arrest paedophiles, but here this is legal and appears to be condoned by the government.

This should be stopped.

Al-Huraisi Retrial to Begin Next Tuesday

It has been a while since I have written about those evil buffoons here in Saudi Arabia, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (or as I prefer to think of them, the Ministry of Licentiousness and Lasciviousness – the C-Men). However, they have been in the news here again.

I mentioned the killing of Salman Al-Huraisi by the C-Men in Thomo’s Hole before, and then mentioned the trial of the apparently guilty members (well, they pleaded guilty then recanted that plea under oath in court). You can read those posts here and here.

The Arab News reported on 2 April that a retrial into the death of Al-Huraisi will begin next Tuesday in the Riyadh General Court. You may remember that the C-Men burst commando style into Al-Huraisi’s home as he was apparently a bootlegger and maybe drug pusher. He was beaten to death by two C-Men later at their headquarters.

The Arab News noted in relation to the opening of this case that,

On Nov. 28 last year, the General Court acquitted the two commission members on charges of killing Al-Huraisi, who worked as a security guard, after taking him into custody in a raid on his home in May. The Cassation Court rejected the ruling after identifying several errors, including the judges’ failure to hear eyewitness testimonies.

“As many as seven members of the commission will testify in the new trial, which will begin next week,” said Yahya Al-Huraisi, one of the two lawyers representing the dead man’s family.

Al-Huraisi said the three judges in the original trial relied only on written testimonies taken by the General Investigation and Prosecution Board.

As far as questioning Al-Huraisi went, the autopsy report said that “Al-Huraisi died after suffering a severe blow to his head causing a 6 cm deep fracture to his skull”.

This particularly brutal beating resulted in new rules being issued by the Interior Ministry to prevent the religious police from taking suspects to commission centers. The new regulations require that the C-Men hand detainees into police custody. Incidentally, the C-Men are not supposed to engage in car chases either – but more on that in another post later.

Airport Security? Cods!

I’ve been travelling. I left Saudi Arabia on Sunday night and flew to Dubai, Bangkok, Sydney, then back to Bangkok and now I am sitting in Dubai prior to flying back to Saudi Arabia. So, that is five days, two airlines and four airports, twice over. The flights were Emirates (VERY nice airline) from Saudi Arabia to Dubai to Bangkok (and back) and British Airways (VERY old airline) from Bangkok to Sydney and back.

So, what’s the beef with security I hear you say? Simply that is is not consistent and, to be honest, in the many places you would expect it to be good, its not. Lets take a simple example – the personal body screening/search.

Walk into Jeddah International Airport and you have to have all your bags X-rayed, including carry-on bags. Then you can check in. After check in, then you get to have your carry-on bags X-rayed again and you get a personal screening as well (“please empty your pockets and walk through here”). I passed whilst wearing my shoes and my belt. First and most obvious thing, as the Middle East is a hotbed of terrorism (if we are to believe the politicians in the UK, US and Australia) why not do the body search when the person is entering the airport and save the extra search? Anyway, I’m not on the O&M committee at the airport so we’ll leave that.

Fly to Dubai – the instruments served with the meal are all metal – knife, fork and spoon. Arrive Dubai and go through another search (shoes and belt on, pockets empty – passed). Catch flight to Bangkok. Metal implements for eating with are again supplied. Arrive Bangkok and inside the airport I buy a toothbrush and toothpaste pack – the pack is in a clear plastic bag but it is a different bag to the one that airport security wants so the toothpaste has to be taken out of one plastic bag and put into another plastic bag. All items X-Rayed again (but this time laptop must be taken from its bag and X-Rayed separately). Shoes and belt left on and passed screening.

Head to the gate to board the flight. There is another security search there where the staff, equipped with latex gloves, check everything that is in the bag again. Hel-lo – it’s all just been X-Rayed and searched just 50 metres away. I must be honest here too – to a Thai security type person I am not a threatening character – goofy grin and more fulsome figure plus big hairy ears means the Thai security folks see me as a gentle person so the extra check is the security person saying “laptop in the bag?” and then letting me go without really looking at anything. Anyway, it is a requirement for flights into Australia because, basically, the Australian government does not believe that security officials can do a security check using technology, so must have more of the same officials doing the check again without technology. Anyone see anything stupid here?

Board the flight and have plastic utensils styled in a tasteful imitation silver colour supplied for the in-flight meals. Understand that it is hard plastic and if snapped is more dangerous than a metal bread and butter knife. Oh well on to Sydney.

OK – bummed around in Oz for two days getting a visa approved (no security check at the Saudi Embassy in Canberra – but no visitors for the last six days either). Head back to the airport to fly back and get to the security check. Send laptop through separately, belt and shoes left on and pass screening. Walk past a security gentleman who asks “excuse me sir we are performing random tests on passengers, would you mind coming here for some checking please?”

You answer “yes I mind because it is not random – I’ve been selected before and I watched you stand there and let about 30 other people go past”. In any case, it seems that when you answer a question honestly the security guys get all uppity and hurt and seem disappointed when they can’t find anything. Surely the sniffing for explosives could be done as the bags are being X-rayed – then everything would be checked – not just the bags of us rotund Middle Eastern looking gentlemen!

Anyway, I don’t have a choice so I stand there whilst he checks to see if my bag has been in contact with explosives. It hasn’t so I am allowed to pass.

Arrive in Bangkok after using the nice grey plastic knives and forks. Head off to the Emirates flight and after a single search (laptop out of bag, shoes and belt on) I board the aircraft. Metal utensils for the meal. Arrive in Dubai where the security check there this time is “shoes and belts off please”. So, laptop, still in bag, is X-rayed along with my shoes and belt – everything passes the check.

Now, the only other security check I have to go through is the compulsory X-Ray of everything by the customs guys in Jeddah looking to see if you are smuggling pornography because these guys have not heard of technology, the Internet or peer-to-peer file swapping. They seem to think that pornography smugglers are going to be so stupid as to have a DVD in their bag with the title “Debbie Does Dallas – Master Copy” written on the outside of it. They will examine the DVD’s attached to the cover of the PC User and APC magazines I have been reading on the flight, however, and will interrogate me about their content before letting me go through with them.

So, what does all this tell me? Basically no one really has any idea about airport security. I should add that in Bangkok I watched as the staff servicing the aircraft went through very thorough checking. There are about 20 or so cleaners for a 747-400. Before they enter the aircraft they are frisked by security officers and when they exit with their plastic bags full of garbage, they are frisked again. The security officers then go through and check every bag of rubbish to make sure things have not been hidden there. This does not happen in Sydney.

So, where is the best airport security? Without a doubt, I think the Bangkok security is better than either Middle East or Sydney – if for no other reason that they have thought it through and that I can be checked without getting half undressed. In Sydney there is only that one check – although arrogantly the Australian authorities (or is it Qantas and British Airways?) require a second meaningless check on passengers boarding flights from overseas with an arrival destination of an Australian city.

I am all for security at airports and on aircraft – I would just like to see some consistency and some efficiency.

Walk Like An Egyptian … To The Buffet

I would not have believed it had I not seen it. Mind you, I spent time in Cairo and I can’t remember seeing it there. However, here in Saudi Arabia I can now tell the Egyptian guests at the hotel restaurant.

It is the buffet.

Spending a lot of time in the restaurant at the hotel (like almost every night) we get to see lots of different guests. The interesting ones were the Egyptians. They come to the restaurant to eat from the buffet (soup, salads, main courses and dessert). They are the only guests I have seen who walk straight in (not worrying about selecting a table), and fetch a bowl of soup. They then bring this back to a table, put it down and head back to the salad bar. They then load up a plate with salad and bring that back to the table. Then it is back to the hot foods and load another plate up and carry that back to the table. At this point there is a variation as some now will sit down and proceed to eat from all three plates whilst others will select some cakes from the dessert area before sitting down to eat.

Apparently, according to the locals, it is only Egyptian guests who are like this at a buffet. So, the walk is a constant traipsing between food and table.