Umrah Packages Galore, as Ramadan Nears

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By IINA

masjid_al_haram-300x224RIYADH, Shaaban 18/July 19 (IINA)-With two weeks to go before the holy month of Ramadan, attractive weekend Umrah packages starting from SR100 are being offered by travel operators in the capital.

The beginning of the Umrah season on June 29 this year coincided with the summer holidays, triggering a large rush of people including Saudis to do the pilgrimage.

An official from Al-Rushd, a leading Hajj and Umrah travel operator in the city, said the Umrah season is to continue until two weeks after Ramadan.

He predicted that the current fee of SR100 per pilgrim will increase by 50 percent as Ramadan approaches and will be hiked even further during the latter part of the holy month. “Budget conscious families are currently taking advantage of this offer,” he said.

A return fare from Riyadh to Makkah by luxury coach including accommodation in the holy city will cost SR100 per pilgrim and the charges remain the same even if the pilgrim opts to visit the Prophet’s (s) Mosque in Madinah en route to Makkah.

For an additional payment of SR30 per pilgrim, accommodation can be upgraded to four-star hotels in the holy city.

The itinerary for the weekend package to Makkah and Madinah starts at 4 p.m. from Riyadh on Wednesday and finishes on Friday midnight.  Each family is given a large room while the bachelors are accommodated on a sharing basis with three pilgrims in one room. Children under 12 pay half the fare.

A five-day package to Makkah and Madinah including travel and accommodation will cost SR150 per pilgrim. The offer includes a two-day stay in a three-star hotel in Madinah and another two days in similar accommodation in Makkah.

The journey begins on Monday and ends on Friday. The pilgrims will leave the holy city of Makkah after Friday prayers so that they reach Riyadh around midnight. Pilgrims are given an option to stay in a five-star hotel for an additional premium.

There are more than 100 Umrah travel operators spread out across the capital, but most are concentrated in the city center of Batha.

During the journey, coaches stop for Maghreb, Isha and dinner and at the meeqat point in Taif to allow pilgrims to don ihrams. Pilgrims are given half an hour to put their ihrams on to ensure that they reach Makkah in time for Fajr.

A leading hotelier in Makkah told Arab News that the majority of the pilgrims are from all parts of the Kingdom and others have come from countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
“This year, there are less people from Arab countries such as Egypt and Morocco, possibly due to unrest in the region,” he noted. The occupancy rate in Makkah hotels has been recorded at 88 percent during weekdays and 100 percent during the weekends, he added.

The local hotels in cooperation with local tour operators have arranged city tours to historical sites for the benefit of those pilgrims who come to Madinah to visit the Prophet’s Mosque.

The places of interest include Quba Mosque, the first mosque built by the Holy Prophet (s) in Madinah; the Qiblatain Mosque where the Qibla was shifted from Baitul Muqaddas (Al-Aqsa Mosque) to the Holy Kaaba; and the graveyard on the foothills of Mount Uhud where soldiers who died in battle during the prophetic period were buried.

AH/IINA

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Saudi Youth Unemployment Over 40 Pct

May 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

RIYADH – Unemployment among Saudis rose to 10.5 percent in 2009 from 10 percent a year earlier, and topped 43 percent among men and women aged 20-24, according to government figures cited by Okaz newspaper on Wednesday.

Despite continued economic growth on the back of a massive government spending program, 448,547 Saudis were without jobs, up by 32,197 from a year earlier, a report by the Central Department of Statistics and Information showed.

Joblessness among men was 6.9 percent, slightly up from to 6.8 percent in 2008. Among women, the rate was 28.4 percent compared to 26.9 percent.

The very high figures for youth underscore the problem of a rapidly growing population that, for complex reasons, is not getting jobs despite steady economic growth.

The jobless rate was 43.2 percent for men and women in the 20-24 category, rising to 46.7 percent for men alone.

The report did not give a figure for women in that age group, but said that for those between ages 25 and 29, 45.9 percent lacked jobs.

The study did not cover the eight to 10 million foreigners in Saudi Arabia — a third or more of the total population of 25.3 million.

The country heavily depends on foreign workers for everything from menial jobs, construction and the service sector to work requiring advanced skills like technology and hospital jobs.

Employers often say Saudis lack adequate training and skills, or demand too high salaries. The biggest employer of Saudis is the government, while foreigners dominate private sector jobs at many levels.

The country’s total population is growing about 2.4 percent annually, with the figure significantly higher for native Saudis.

The population is heavily weighted on the young side — more than half the population is less than 20 years old and 40 percent aged 15 or younger.

That places great pressure on the government to create long-term jobs for its citizens, and Riyadh has been pushing strongly a “Saudi-isation” policy to place native Saudis in jobs that foreigners hold.

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US Silencing Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer

March 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Haymarket Books

Effectively canceling a planned speaking tour, the US consulate in the Netherlands has put an extended hold on the visa application of award-winning Palestinian journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer, scheduled to speak on conditions in Palestine, on 5 April in Chicago.

In 2008, Omer became the youngest recipient of the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, for his firsthand reportage of life in the besieged Gaza Strip. As his prize citation explained, “Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless … Working alone in extremely difficult and often dangerous circumstances, [Omer has] reported unpalatable truths validated by powerful facts.”

Upon attempting to return to Gaza following his acceptance of the Gellhorn award in London, Omer was detained, interrogated and beaten by the Shin Bet Israeli security force for over 12 hours, and eventually hospitalized with cracked ribs and respiratory problems. He has since resided in the Netherlands and continues to undergo medical treatment there for his subsequent health problems.

The US consulate has now held his visa application for an extended period of time, effectively canceling a planned US speaking tour without the explanation that a denial would require. In recent years, numerous foreign scholars and experts have been subject to visa delays and denials that have prohibited them from speaking and teaching in the US — a process the American Civil Liberties Union describes as “Ideological Exclusion,” which they say violates Americans’ first amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the United States. Foreign nationals who have recently been denied visas include Fulbright scholar Marixa Lasso; respected South African scholar and vocal Iraq War critic Dr. Adam Habib; Iraqi doctor Riyadh Lafta, who disputed the official Iraqi civilian death numbers in the respected British medical journal The Lancet; and Oxford’s Tariq Ramadan, who has just received a visa to speak in the United States after more than five years of delays and denials.

Fellow Gellhorn recipient Dahr Jamail, expressed his disbelief at Omer’s visa hold. “Why would the US government, when we consider the premise that we have `free speech’ in this country, place on hold a visa for Mohammed Omer, or any other journalist planning to come to the United States to give talks about what they report on? This is a travesty, and the only redemption available for the US government in this situation is to issue Omer’s visa immediately, and with a deep apology.”

Omer was to visit Houston, Santa Fe and Chicago, where local publisher Haymarket Books was to host his Newberry Library event, “Reflections on Life and War in Gaza,” alongside a broad set of interfaith religious, community and political organizations.

Rather than cancel the meeting, organizers are calling on supporters to write letters and emails calling for the US consulate’s approval of Omer’s visa. They are also proceeding with the event as planned, via live satellite or skype, if necessary.

U.S. consulate information:

Ambassador Fay Hartog Levin
U.S. Embassy in The Hague
Lange Voorhout 102
2514 EJ
The Netherlands
T: +31 70 310-2209
F: +31 70 361-4688

ConsularAmster@state.gov

Background on Mohammed Omer:

Mohammed Omer was born and raised in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He maintains the website Rafah Today and is a correspondent for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. His home in Rafah was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while the family was inside, seriously injuring his mother. Yet, as Omer explained in an article he wrote upon winning the award, “My ambition was to get the truth out, not as pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli, but as an independent voice and witness.” His reportage features interviews with regular Palestinians in Gazan attempting to survive amidst bombing, home demolitions and the crippling economic blockade, which has created devastating shortages of electricity, water, fuel and other necessities for survival.

Omer was to visit Chicago to discuss, with Ali Abunimah, Chicago-based author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, his reportage, personal experience, and the struggle for Palestinian rights. If the delay on his visa continues, he will take part in the event via live satellite connection or Skype.

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Sheikh Tantawi Passes Away

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

muhammad_sayyed_tantawi1 Egypt’s top cleric dies, aged 81

Egypt’s foremost Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, has died, aged 81, while on a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Sheikh Tantawi was the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar mosque and head of the al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s centre of learning and scholarship.

He died of a heart attack in the Saudi capital Riyadh, where he was attending a prize-giving ceremony.

Sheikh Tantawi had infuriated radical Islamists with his moderate views on women wearing the veil.

His body will be taken to the Saudi city of Medina, the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad, for burial, Egyptian authorities said.

An adviser to the Sheikh told Egyptian television Sheikh Tantawi’s death was a shock, as before leaving for Saudi Arabia he had seemed in “excellent shape and health”.

A member of Sheikh Tantawi’s office, Ashraf Hassan, told news agency Reuters that Mohamed Wasel, Sheikh Tantawi’s deputy, was expected to temporarily take over leading the institution until the Egyptian president appointed a new head for the body.

Sheikh Tantawi was appointed to his position by Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak in 1996.

But as a government appointee, he was always forced to negotiate a careful path between his religious imperatives and his government position, the BBC’s Christian Fraser in Cairo says.

He was vocal in his opposition to female circumcision, which is common in Egypt, calling it “un-Islamic”.

Last year, Sheikh Tantawi barred female students at the university from wearing the full-face covering niqab veil.

He also caused upset other Muslim scholars by saying that French Muslims should obey any law that France might enact banning the veil.

His views on the veil prompted Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to accuse him of “harming the interests of Islam”.

He has also condemned suicide attacks, saying extremists had hijacked Islamic principles for their own ends.

“I do not subscribe to the idea of a clash among civilizations. People of different beliefs should co-operate and not get into senseless conflicts and animosity,” he told a conference in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur in 2003.

“Extremism is the enemy of Islam. Whereas, jihad is allowed in Islam to defend one’s land, to help the oppressed. The difference between jihad in Islam and extremism is like the earth and the sky,” Sheikh Tantawi said.    

12-11

Saudi-India Ties: “A New Era of Strategic Partnership”

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2010-03-01T142216Z_1695035870_GM1E6311LXT01_RTRMADP_3_SAUDI

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) stands next to his wife Gursharan Kaur as he is given a King Saud University sash during a visit to the university in Riyadh March 1, 2010.

REUTERS/Stringer

NEW DELHI:  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described his three-day visit to Saudi Arabia as “very productive and fruitful” (February 27 to March 1). The highlight of his visit was inking of “Riyadh Declaration: A New Era of Strategic Partnership,” by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the Indian Prime Minister. The declaration signed on February 28, states that the two leaders held “in depth discussions on a wide range of issues in an atmosphere of utmost warmth, cordiality, friendship and transparency.” They agreed that Saudi King’s India-visit in 2006, during which the Delhi Declaration was signed (January 27, 2006), and Singh’s “current” visit “heralded a new era in Saudi-India relations” “in keeping with changing realities and unfolding opportunities of the 21st century.”

In addition to laying stress on strengthening of bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia, the declaration highlights the crucial global issues discussed by the two leaders. They “noted that tolerance, religious harmony and brotherhood, irrespective of faith or ethnic background, were part of the principles and values of both countries.” Condemning terrorism, extremism and violence, they affirmed that “it is global and threatens all societies and is not linked to any race, color or belief.” “The international community must,” according to the declaration, “resolutely combat terrorism.”

With the peace process in Middle East high on their agenda, the two leaders “expressed hope for early resumption of the peace process,” “within a definite timeframe leading to establishment of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestinian State in accordance with the two-state solution.” They “emphasized” in the declaration that “continued building of settlements by Israel constitutes a fundamental stumbling block for the peace process.”

The declaration strongly signals their being against nuclear weapons while they favor peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The two leaders “emphasized the importance of regional and international efforts” directed towards making “Middle East and Gulf Region free of all nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction,” according to the declaration. They “reiterated their support” to “resolve issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program peacefully through dialogue and called for continuation of these efforts.” They “encouraged Iran to respond” to these efforts to “remove doubts about its nuclear program, especially as these ensure the right of Iran and other countries to peaceful uses if nuclear energy” in keeping with procedures of International Atomic Energy Agency, the declaration states.

The situation in Afghanistan and Iraq also figured in their discussions. They called for “preservation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and independence.” They “expressed hope” that forthcoming elections will help people of Iraq “realize their aspirations” by ensuring them security, stability, territorial integrity and national unity.

Though Indo-Pak relations are not mentioned in the Declaration, they figured prominently in discussions held between the two sides. While addressing the Saudi Parliament, Majlis-Al-Shura at Riyadh (March 1), Singh said: “India wishes to live in peace and friendship with its neighbors.” “We seek cooperative relations with Pakistan. Our objective is a permanent peace because we recognize that we are bound together by a shared future. If there is cooperation between India and Pakistan, vast opportunities will open up for trade, travel and development that will create prosperity in both countries and in South Asia as a whole. But to realize this vision, Pakistan must act decisively against terrorism. If Pakistan cooperates with India, there is no problem that we cannot solve and we can walk the extra mile to open a new chapter in relations between our two countries,” Singh stated.

During his interaction with media persons, to a question on whether Saudi Arabia can be “credible interlocutor” on some issues between India and Pakistan, Singh replied: “Well I know Saudi Arabia has close relations with Pakistan. I did discuss the Indo-Pak relations with His Majesty on a one-to-one basis. I explained to him the role that terrorism, aided, abetted and inspired by Pakistan is playing in our country. And I did not ask for him to do anything other than to use his good offices to persuade Pakistan to desist from this path.”

While addressing the Saudi Parliament, Singh highlighted importance Islam has for India. Describing Saudi Arabia as “the cradle of Islam and the land of the revelation of the Holy Quran,” Singh said: “Islam qualitatively changed the character and personality of the people in Arabia as it enriched the lives of millions of Indians who embraced this new faith.” Tracing their historical ties, he said: “It is said that during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, Indian pilgrims constituted the largest movement of people by sea. Indian Muslim scholars went to Mecca in order to learn Islamic theology. Arab Muslim scholars came to India to learn mathematics, science, astronomy and philosophy. These exchanges led to the widespread diffusion of knowledge in the sciences, arts, religion and philosophy.”

“Today, Islam is an integral part of India’s nationhood and ethos and of the rich tapestry of its culture. India has made significant contributions to all aspects of Islamic civilization. Centers of Islamic learning in India have made a seminal contribution to Islamic and Arabic studies. Our 160 million Muslims are contributing to our nation building efforts and have excelled in all walks of life. We are proud of our composite culture and of our tradition of different faiths and communities living together in harmony,” Singh said.

Undeniably, the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia symbolizes the two countries’ desire to strengthen their ties, “upgrade the quality” of their “relationship to that of a strategic partnership,” as stated by Singh. During his visit, Singh also paid special attention to highlight importance of Islam from the Indian perspective. Besides, the Riyadh declaration specifically condemns terrorism and states that it cannot be linked with any “belief.” In addition to strengthening ties with Saudi Arabia, Singh’s words suggest that he is hopeful of it setting the stage for improving relations with other Muslim countries; it will enhance his government’s image at home among the business community eyeing for more trade opportunities with the Arab world and gain his party greater support from Indian Muslims.

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Where’s the Beef?

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

Capture7-22-2009-4.40.17 PM

They’re smothered in cheese, pickles, lettuce tomato, and mayonnaise, and are served on a sesame seed bun. But they’re not anything like the traditional all-American hamburger you might be used to. ‘Hashi’, or baby camel burgers, are the latest food trend to take Saudi Arabia by storm.

The camel is one of the most beneficial animals to residents in the Middle East. The camel has long been ‘man’s best friend’ for time eternal, and was instrumental in helping Islam flourish in the region during the life of the Prophet Muhammad (s), prior and since. Camels are prevalent in the history of Arabia as they have served as a mode of transportation, battle buddies in countless wars, companions, and a source of food whether through the fresh and foaming milk camels provide or as a source of highly nutritious meat. Even the camel hair is cultivated and used in the textile industry as it is woven into fine cashmere, which is made into disdashas, blazers or even blankets.

Camel meat has long been a staple in the Saudi Arabian diet. Camel liver is considered to be a fine specialty food and served in the finest hotels and restaurants from Riyadh to Jeddah. The meat is very light and has a delicate flavor. And it is not as fattening as beef, nor as cholesterol-ridden. However, the older the camel the tougher the meat. That’s why baby camels are used for the camel burgers, as the meat is tender.

The camel burgers are the brainchild of three brothers who together own the ‘Local Hashi Meals’ restaurant in the capital city of Riyadh. In a recent interview, one of the owners said that the new menu item was meant to “invent something new” which would tantalize the taste buds of camel meat connoisseurs. So far, the camel burgers have literally been flying off of the grill as customers are eating up the new sandwiches in record numbers.

The camel burgers have helped to revive the family’s business, which had slowed down in recent months due to the global financial crisis. Thanks to the camel burgers, business is now booming. The creators of the camel burger already have plans to expand their business by opening up another branch which could mark the creation of a whole new franchise, in the fledgling ‘camburger’ industry, that could most definitely be a market leader in the Gulf States.

Camel burgers may seem like a unique food that may or may not be a welcome guest on your dining table. However, there are even more unique and weird foods that are considered to be delicacies in the Middle East. How about a slice of sheep’s brain grilled to perfection and tucked into half of a freshly baked pita bread, along with a slice of onion and a squeeze of lemon juice?

Or sheep testicle kebabs grilled on skewers over an open flame until they ‘pop’? No matter which foods grace your palate, trying new foods that may seem strange at first is an excellent way to increase your culinary repertoire and experience a new gastronomic adventure.

11-31

Camel Burgers!

July 16, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Saudi fast food restaurant serving camel burgers

By Nael Shyoukhi

Camel burger - Crown Plaza Hotel, Bahrain

RIYADH (Reuters Life!)-A fast food restaurant in Saudi Arabia is offering baby camel burgers as the latest way for the camel-crazed country to enjoy one of their favorite delicacies.

Specialities such as camel liver have long been on the menu of upmarket restaurants in the Gulf Arab state, but the experiment with baby camel burgers has met with enthusiasm in a country where the camel is a symbol of nomadic traditions.

“The idea…was to invent something new. It is about the love of Saudi people for camel meat,” said Saleh Quwaisi, one of the owners of the Local Hashi Meals restaurant in the capital Riyadh which plans to open a second branch soon and considers to expand further.

Walid Sanchez, managing director of sufraiti.com, a popular Saudi online dining directory, sees a huge market for camel burgers as Saudis like to try out new menus and appreciate the quality of locally made meat.

Some experts also say camel meat is healthy because it is low in fat.

“People like camel meat but no one experimented with camel burgers before…I think it will be a popular thing, it will definitely take off,” said Sanchez.
Customers visiting the packed restaurant in Riyadh on a weekend night agreed.

“I’m frankly trying it for the first time and I really like it,” said Mohammad Naghi. “It doesn’t have much fat, it’s light and has a delicate taste,” he said as he chewed away.

camelburger

Ahmad al-Okaili, ordering “Hashi” burgers — Arabic for baby camel — for him and his children, agreed: “I like their idea and enthusiasm, they’re the first to do this and they’ve become famous with it, which is well-deserved.”

While tremendous oil wealth has brought rapid modernisation to the desert state of Saudi Arabia, the camel remains celebrated due to its connection with the traditional nomadic lifestyle of Bedouin Arabs.

Throughout history, the camel has served multiple purposes as food, friend, transport and war machine.

The Arabic language famously has over 40 terms for different breeds, ages and genders of camel.

Riyadh, which is home to one of the biggest camel markets on the Arabian peninsula, regularly hosts camel races, and every year in various places across the kingdom there are pageants — where a winner could claim hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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