May 16, 2015
September 26, 2014
You have reached the article/image archive of Rob L. Wagner. From November 2013 through February 2015 I served as managing editor at the Rumman Co., which publishes Destination Jeddah and Destination Riyadh magazines. I have since become associated with the London-based The Arab Weekly, a news analysis and cultural publication covering the MENA region.
For inquiries, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
November 5, 2013
By Rob L. Wagner and Abdullah Al-Bargi
5 November 2013
Labor inspectors on Monday swept up thousands of illegal workers in a series of raids across the Kingdom as the amnesty period for expatriates to legalize work status expired on Sunday.
According to Jeddah police spokesman, Nawaf Al-Bouq, 3,918 undocumented expats were arrested in and around Jeddah on Monday.
In Madinah, police raids netted 300 illegals.
Anticipating the sweeps, hundreds of business owners shuttered their shops. In addition, commercial activity at the Jeddah Islamic Port dropped and food prices spiked.
The rush-hour commutes in Jeddah and Riyadh were less congested, as undocumented expats stayed home. Some school administrators closed their campuses because their teachers’ legal status remains unresolved.
On Palestine Street at Prince Majed Road in Jeddah, at least 3,000 Indonesians gathered to protest their inability to obtain legal status.
“We had tried for weeks to regularize our status, but officials are insisting we bring our original passports and other documents which we are unable to do,” one illegal worker told Arab News.
Abdulmeneem Al-Shehri, head of the Jeddah Labor Office, told Arab News Monday that labor inspectors began targeting commercial business.
“The Ministry of Labor has a strategic plan for its inspection mission,” Al-Shehri said. “The mission has started and will continue to be conducted by highly qualified staff displaying their official badges.”
He said he expects business owners to cooperate and “uphold the new law” for the public interest and growth of the local economy.
“Business owners and workers who are found to be in violation will be immediately referred to the Ministry of Interior,” he said.
The Labor Ministry’s campaign to rid the country of illegal workers followed a seven-month grace period, which allowed foreigners working illegally in Saudi Arabia to obtain the proper iqamas. The Saudi government gave workers a three-month amnesty period that was scheduled to end July 3, but extended it to Nov. 3. The government did not provide a third grace period.
Workers in unskilled positions, part-time office workers under the sponsorship of their parents and international schoolteachers have been particularly hard hit. However, undocumented teachers have been given reprieve by the Ministry of Education, which issued a statement that no raids would be conducted during the first semester of school.
Many small shops and restaurants, which commonly hired undocumented workers, were closed throughout Jeddah.
In Riyadh, the usually bustling Al-Batha shopping complex in the city center appeared deserted, with many shops either empty or closed altogether.
The Ministry of Labor offices will continue to help workers who had already applied for sponsorship transfer to complete the process this week, according to Al-Shehri. Legalizing workers’ residency status shall also continue.
In addition, the ministry has launched an employment service to allow legal expats to hold part-time positions while employed in full-time jobs.
Workers must hold valid iqamas and have permission from the original sponsors to work. In addition, they must register their labor information at www.ajeer-sa.com and have a sound attendance record.
By Rob L. Wagner
5 November 2013
Rajaa Al-Sanea, the Saudi author of “Girls of Riyadh,” or “Banat Al-Riyadh,” which sparked controversy in 2005 for its frank depiction of Saudi women’s lives, has been honored for her research in stem cell science in the US.
Al-Sanea, 31, is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. The university honored her last week for significant achievements. She received the award for distinctive research in stem cells and her work in neurology. The university also recognized her literary efforts, singling out “Girls of Riyadh,” which had sold 3 million copies and was translated into 40 languages.
Al-Sanea could not be reached for comment late Monday.
The honor follows Al-Sanea’s rocky start as a novelist. In 2005, two men named the Ministry of Information and Al-Sanea in a lawsuit alleging that the ministry gave permission to Al-Sanea to publish a book that “tarnished” the image of Saudi women. Literary critics, however, considered the novel as the Saudi version of the American television show “Sex in the City.”
The Saudi Court of Grievances rejected the lawsuit in October 2006.
The novel was published in Lebanon in 2005. The US-based Penguin Group published an English version in 2007. It is sold in Saudi Arabia and has also earned positive reviews in the United States.
Al-Sanea earned her bachelor’s degree in dentistry in 2005 at King Saud University. She performed her residency at the National Guard, King Khalid University and King Faisal Specialist hospitals.
August 27, 2013
By Rob L. Wagner
13 August 2013
The United States Internal Revenue Service is inching toward implementing a tax law targeting US taxpayers holding unreported foreign financial assets. The law will have a far-reaching impact on American expatriates who have accounts with financial institutions in the GCC.
The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010 and which becomes effective on July 1, 2014, is intended to find US citizens avoiding their tax obligations by requiring foreign financial institutions to report their bank details.
Saudi Arabia has already signed agreements with accounting firms Ernst & Young, Pricewater-houseCoopers and KBMG to participate in the implementation.
The law requires that foreign financial institutions report the name, address, account number and financial activity of US taxpayers who have assets exceeding $50,000 to the IRS. Foreign banks and other financial institutions that do not sign the agreement will have a 30 percent tax withheld on US-source income deposited in their accounts.
US expats earning income from foreign employers and living at least 330 days out of the year in a foreign country already pay income taxes, although some exemptions apply. However, FATCA requires all foreign financial institutions to provide full financial details of any foreign-employed American living abroad to the IRS.
There have been unintended consequences for some expats.
Adnan Yousef, a member of the Union of Arab Banks, told the Arabic-language daily newspaper Al-Eqtisadiah that at least one Gulf bank terminated the accounts of two Americans. The details of the account closures were not provided. However, some foreign financial institutions — identified as banks, insurance companies, brokerage firms, trust companies, mutual fund companies and retirement plan administrators under the new law — rather close Americans’ accounts than provide customer data because of the costs incurred to comply with the regulations.
One American expatriate civil engineer living in Jeddah said he was denied an account at Saudi financial institution. “They said it was too much trouble to open an account because my government had too many regulations and demands,” said the engineer who asked not to be identified.
Yet most GCC banks are ready to comply with the IRS regulations.
Yousef said he expects the UAE will be the chief source of tax collections due to the large number of Americans earning high wages. Saudi Arabia has the second highest number of earners followed by Bahrain and Kuwait, he said.
In all, an estimated SR1 billion could be collected as taxes from American expats, he said.
“Gulf banks will apply the new law to subject the accounts of US citizens to gradual tax detection to make sure US citizens do not evade any taxes on his income in any state,” Yousef told Al-Eqtisadiah.
A US expat in the aviation industry said he is not worried about the new law. “I already report my income and I have nothing to worry about,” he said on the condition of anonymity. “The ones who should worry are the guys who are investing a lot of money in Saudi Arabia, using offshore accounts to keep their money, and not reporting it as income.”
Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency advised the Kingdom’s financial institutions to prepare to implement the new regulations.
By RIMA AL-MUKHTAR & ROB L. WAGNER
13 August 2013
Saudi university students studying in the United States say an offer of a residency permit from the Obama administration would increase employment opportunities for young Saudis and even provide leverage as a means to find work in the US.
The US government is particularly interested in students with a master’s degree or Ph.D in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — called STEM degree programs — because of their potential to contribute to the American economy.
Israa Saleh, a Saudi MBA student in Boston said the idea of working in the United States is appealing because of the lack of jobs in Saudi Arabia.
“This would be a great opportunity for Saudis who do not find good job opportunities in the Kingdom because many graduates cannot find a job offer and the ones who do are underpaid,” Saleh told Arab News. “If we stay here and work here I believe it will give us a great working experience and develop our knowledge.”
Khalid Jan, a Saudi banking and finance student in Tampa, Florida, told Arab News that obtaining a green card can help eliminate the stereotyping of Saudis by Americans.
“We have been called many names but no one actually made an effort to know us better outside the school campus,” Jan said. “This will also show that Saudis can be good at what they do especially in jobs related to the economy.”
The US Department of Homeland Security, long the source of irritation for Saudis traveling to the United States because the department is often perceived as unnecessarily intrusive, has expanded its list of degree programs. The list broadens the pool of eligible graduating foreign university students for the US government’s Optional Practical Training program in science and technology fields.
Among the perks of the program is allowing qualified student visa holders an extra 17 months to remain in the United States.
Talal Mujeeb, an engineering student in Phoenix, Arizona, said the program should send a signal Saudi businessmen who refuse to hire Saudis.
“We are glad this came now because this can help us as students from having to apply for a visa and not be afraid to leave the US fearing a rejection,” Mujeeb said. “This is also a way to teach greedy businessmen who refuse to see us as a great investment and would rather invest in foreigners.”
However, some Saudi students are not ready to accept the US government’s offer.
Lama Al-Amri, a psychology major in Miami, said Saudis remaining in the United States defeats the purpose of the university scholarship program. “Why would someone even consider living in the US when we are all here for a mission and will be leaving?” she said.
She said the Ministry of Higher Education sent Saudis abroad to improve the job and social skills of the next generation of young people
“We are supposed to bring our knowledge back home and work on improving the economy and work on developing the life there.”
August 9, 2013
By Sabria S. Jawhar, Rob L. Wagner and P.K. Abdul Ghafour
9 August 2013
JEDDAH: Two terror suspects — a Yemeni and a Chadian — were in custody late Thursday on suspicion of planning to launch a suicide attack in the region, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Mansour Al-Turki.
The arrests took place during the last 10 days of Ramadan. The plot was foiled as the United States closed its embassies and consulates in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, citing security threats. The embassy and the consulate in Saudi Arabia were expected to remain closed for at least one week.
Al-Turki told Arab News Thursday night that the Chadian had been deported from Saudi Arabia, but returned with a passport under a different nationality.
“They were in contact with deviant groups outside Saudi Arabia and exchanging information regarding operations in the region,” Al-Turki said.
Al-Turki said the arrests stemmed from a “local” operation, but he noted that intelligence was passed on to other countries.
The arrests occurred after Saudi security personnel monitored messages described as inciting hatred through social media. The two men were in contact with Al-Qaeda suspects abroad through social media sites such as Abu Al-Fida, Hasbawi, Muawiya Al-Madani, Rasasa Fi Qesasihi and Abul Fida Al-Doqali, according to one security official who requested anonymity.
Investigators also seized militant-related materials, including data on computers, communication devices and mobile telephones.
“They used these sites to exchange information to carry out imminent suicide attacks in the region,” the security official said. “This has been confirmed from their preliminary confessions.”
Intelligence officials and US military are closely scrutinizing the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda after monitoring chatter that included a message from the terrorist organization’s chief, Ayman Al-Zawahri, to attack Yemen targets. Earlier this week, Yemen reported it foiled a plot to capture gas and oil facilities and seize two southern ports.
Al-Turki pointed to King Abdullah’s contribution of $100 million to jump-start an international counterterrorism center to demonstrate Saudi Arabia’s commitment to rooting out militants.
“This happened as part of Saudi Arabia’s keenness in obtaining information regarding terrorists and extending cooperation to the international community,” Al-Turki said.
May 28, 2013
By Rob L. Wagner
28 May 2013
Carol Fleming Al-Ajroush, the popular American blogger who chronicled Saudi society and covered expatriate issues as American Bedu, died yesterday following a battle with breast cancer. She was 53.
American Bedu was widely read in Saudi Arabia and the United States for its insight of the Kingdom through the eyes of Al-Ajroush, an American expat married to a Saudi. Her stories and observations about the lives of expats in a closed and conservative country won legions of followers who respected her frank, but fair commentary on Saudi issues. Al-Ajroush was particularly eloquent in writing about Saudi women’s issues, including the right to seek employment, to drive an automobile and to live full lives.
In addition to her coverage of Saudi issues, she also blogged about breast cancer awareness after she returned to the United States for treatment. She participated in public service campaigns and served as a speaker at cancer awareness events. She was a member of the Lake Norman Breast Cancer Support Group.
Many of her stories of her Saudi experiences were published in “Bridges: An Anthology.” Her work was also published in Oasis Magazine.
Carol A-Ajroush had been a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, at the time of her death.
Al-Ajroush was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. Her family had a long history of cancer. In an interview with reporter Amber Shahid for Arab News, she openly discussed her illness.
“My grandmother, aunts and cousin died of breast cancer,” she said. “My cousin was only 31 years old and she had two young children. These thoughts ran through my mind when I learned of my diagnosis. By the time I reached my 40s, however, I guess I naively considered myself safe.”
A native of Espyville, Pennsylvania, Al-Ajroush was born on Oct. 9, 1959. She graduated from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Following graduation, she served as an American diplomat for 20 years, including an assignment in Pakistan where she met her husband, Saudi diplomat Abdullah Othman Al-Ajroush. They moved to Saudi Arabia in 2006 after a long courtship in several countries. She resigned her post to get married.
Abdullah Al-Ajroush died in 2010. She is survived by a son, Jon Carmichael; a brother, Michael C. Lebhaft; and a nephew, Matthew Joseph Wells.
April 20, 2013
By Rob L. Wagner
17 April 2013
When the twin explosions struck near the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday afternoon, Saudi pharmacy student Shatha Jameel Mufti did what everyone else did. She ran.
She didn’t flee immediately because her first reaction was that a bomb didn’t go off.
“I didn’t see it, but it was something like a big pipe had fallen,” she told Arab News in a telephone interview. “But then I felt the impact and we all just started running.”
The explosions left three people dead and more than 170 injured. Other eye witnesses described the blasts as a “sudden shock.” Medical personnel said injuries included serious limb and head injuries and ruptured eardrums.
The 22 year-old, a fourth-year student at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, watched the marathon on Boylston Street with about a dozen of her friends and fellow students. The day started perfect. Temperatures hovered around 18 C, pleasantly warm and dry after a brutally cold winter.
But as she watched the runners cross the finish line, the impact of the explosion jolted her. “It was to my right and about a mile away,” she said. “My first instinct was that it was an accident.”
She then saw runners falling and police pushing people away. She began running from the explosion. She saw many people injured and blood covering the street.
“There was a lot of young children crying and screaming,” she said. “I tried to calm some children down until a mother came and found her child.”
Emergency personnel were immediately at the scene and aiding the injured. Fully staffed medical tents serving marathon participants had been converted into instant triage areas, so her medical training was not necessary.
Many of the people running with her began to fill nearby shops and restaurants in a bid to find safety. “I went into a Starbucks,” she said.
She headed for the train station to get home. “They had stopped the trains and people were gathering at the station. It became overwhelming for me and I started running home.”
She ran a good 45 minutes until she was home in the Longwood area of Boston.
She said she became separated from her friends. City authorities shut down the mobile phones and everyone was in the dark about what had happened to each other. The first thing she said when the phones opened up was to call her mother in Saudi Arabia. “She was trying to reach me, and I told her when I called that I was all right.”
The bombings had a lingering effect on her, but returning to her normal schedule is the only option.
“To be honest, all of us were scared about going back to school,” Mufti said. “But school opened today and there is grief counseling available for those emotionally impacted. I plan to go to school today.”