TIME Saudi Arabia

Meet the Saudi Who Is Giving $32 Billion to Charity

Key Speakers At The Year Ahead: 2014 Conference
Bloomberg/Getty Images Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Saudi billionaire, smiles while speaking at the Bloomberg Year Ahead: 2014 conference in Chicago on Nov. 20, 2013

The billionaire says the move is "an intrinsic part" of his Islamic faith

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia has announced that he will give his entire personal fortune to charity, the BBC reports.

The entire sum, $32 billion, will be made over to his own foundation, Alwaleed Philanthropies, to which he has already given $3.5 billion.

Alwaleed, who is ranked 34th on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people, says his philanthropy is “an intrinsic part” of his Islamic faith and that he was inspired by Bill and Melinda Gates’ work with their Gates Foundation.

He hopes the money will be used to “empower women, enable youth, provide vital disaster relief and create a more tolerant and accepting world,” the BBC reports, although the Prince did not specify which programs or initiatives it would directly support.

[BBC]

TIME Saudi Arabia

WikiLeaks Begins Releasing Leaked Saudi Arabia Cables

61,205 documents and cables leaked online Friday

The transparency advocate site WikiLeaks began publishing leaked documents from the Saudi Arabia Foreign Ministry on Friday afternoon, dumping over 60,000 classified documents into the public domain.

A press release on WikiLeaks asserted that the 61,205 documents and cables leaked Friday would be the first publication of many for “The Saudi Cables.” The group, led by Julian Assange, says it will release over half a million documents in batches over the upcoming weeks.

“The Saudi Cables lift the lid on a increasingly erratic and secretive dictatorship that has not only celebrated its 100th beheading this year, but which has also become a menace to its neighbours and itself,” said Assange in the press release.

WikiLeaks announced that internal reports from Saudi government organizations and communications between Saudi embassies across the globe will be included in the documents. The press release states the Saudi Cables “provide key insights into the Kingdom’s operations and how it has managed its alliances and consolidated its position as a regional Middle East superpower, including through bribing and co-opting key individuals and institutions.”

The group did not attribute the documents to a source directly. The press release did note that the Saudi Foreign Ministry acknowledged a computer network breach in May, and a group called the Yemeni Cyber Army afterward began releasing “sample” classified material to various websites.

 

TIME public health

#theBrief: Why Isn’t There a Vaccine for the MERS Virus?

A treatment for MERS just isn't profitable

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome—MERS—has infected at least 165 people and has killed at least 23 in South Korea, but there still isn’t a vaccine to prevent or treat it.

And there might not be for a very long time.

MERS is a virus similar to SARS, and easily confused with the flu or common cold. It’s also highly contagious.The disease was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and since then, has shown up in 25 different countries.

But a vaccine could be a long way off. Watch the Brief to find out the three key reasons why.

TIME South Korea

MERS Is Going to Spread in South Korea, the WHO Says

There are now 30 confirmed MERS cases in the country

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that South Korea could expect further cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, USA Today reports.

The disease has killed two people since the first case was confirmed on May 20.

According to Reuters, South Korea’s health ministry confirmed five new cases of the virus Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 30—the largest outbreak outside of Saudi Arabia.

South Korea has isolated about 750 people after they came into contact with patients infected with the virus, which results in coughing, fever, shortness of breath, and further complications of pneumonia and kidney failure. MERS is caused by a coronavirus and belongs to the same family as the common cold or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which caused a deadly international outbreak in 2003.

The first case in South Korea occurred in a 68-year-old man who had recently traveled to four Middle-Eastern countries. After developing symptoms on May 11, he sought care at two outpatient facilities and two hospitals but was not isolated as he didn’t report his exposure to the virus.

While he was being treated, the man was exposed to a number of medical staff, patients, and hospital visitors.

“Given the number of clinics and hospitals that cared for the index case, further cases can be expected,” said the WHO in a statement.

Coronaviruses such as MERS can spread easily in hospitals, and the risk of transmission becomes greater when people with the illness become sicker and start coughing more, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told U.S.A. Today.

Because MERS is a new disease, (it was first identified in humans in Saudi Arabia in 2012) doctors know very little about it and there is no cure or vaccine. There have been at least 1,170 lab-confirmed cases of the disease worldwide since 2012 and 480 deaths—a mortality rate of 37 percent.

The WHO is hopeful that current investigations underway in South Korea will help further scientists’ understanding of the virus. The organization says the country’s speed at reporting new developments to international authorities has allowed “almost real-time insight into the dynamics of the outbreak.”

[USA Today]

TIME energy

Could Middle East Switch From Oil to Renewable Superpower?

wind-mills
Getty Images

Decreasing prices in solar power could provide opportunities for oil-poor countries

Even as Saudi Arabian officials continue to tout its shift to renewable energy, it may be oil-poor countries in the region like Jordan and Egypt that can benefit sooner from falling prices in solar power.

“Costs have halved in just three years,” energy consultant Robin Mills noted last week, “meaning solar can now beat all conventional generation apart from the very cheapest gas.”

Mills cited the bids in Jordan’s recent solar auction, which were just over 6 US cents per kilowatt-hour. These were just slightly above the record 5.84 cents from Acwa Power last November for the 200 MW second phase of Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park.

It could be Egypt’s turn next, Mills suggested, as the North African country struggles with a gas and power crisis and is reportedly working on 6,500 MW of solar deals.

“Petroleum-poor countries such as Jordan should seize the opportunity now to boost their economic and energy security,” Mills, the head of consulting for Dubai-based Manaar Energy, urged in an article for Abu Dhabi’s “The National.”

In general, the expert said, any country burning oil for power – including oil-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran as well as oil-poor countries like Jordan and Egypt – should replace this with solar as much as possible.

Egypt, as well as Kuwait and Dubai, could also save on imported liquefied natural gas by switching to solar, even though LNG prices have dropped sharply, he said.

The prospects for solar in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region are even more promising than forecasted in Manaar’s optimistic 2012 study, “Sunrise in the Desert,” Mills said.

The new evidence of plunging costs for solar in MENA come as Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali al-Naimi reiterated the kingdom’s plans to become a “global power” in solar and wind energy.

“In Saudi Arabia, we recognize that eventually, one of these days, we’re not going to need fossil fuels,” Naimi said at a climate change conference this month [May] in Paris. “I don’t know when – 2040, 2050 or thereafter. So we have embarked on a program to develop solar energy.”

The recent decline in oil prices won’t make solar power uneconomic, the influential official said. “I believe solar will be even more economic than fossil fuels,” Naimi told those attending the Business & Climate Summit at Unesco headquarters.

With its previously announced plans to develop solar and wind power, Saudi Arabia hopes one day to be exporting “gigawatts of electric power” instead of fossil fuels.

The 2012 report from Manaar, produced in collaboration with PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Emirates Solar Industry Association, identified half a dozen different ways various countries in the MENA region can benefit from increased use of solar power.

For one group – Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, and the northern emirates in United Arab Emirates – solar power can save on high-cost oil imports. In countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Syria, solar can free up domestic oil consumption for export. For others, like Dubai and Tunisia, it can save on high-cost gas imports.

Other countries – Iraq, Libya and Yemen – can rely on solar while developing domestic gas resources. Another group – including Algeria, Abu Dhabi, Iran, and Oman – can free up gas consumption for export. Qatar, which limits gas exports as a matter of policy, is a case apart and would not find solar economic in the immediate future.

In short, solar has enormous benefits for nearly all countries in the region, even when taking into consideration their different circumstances.

In his new article, Mills sees the region poised to enter a third generation of solar power development, after a first generation of heavily subsidized pilot projects and the current generation becoming the cheapest energy source on its own.

The third generation must address the problem of intermittency, he says – meeting the need for electricity outside periods of maximum solar output. Possible solutions include grid interconnections with countries that have different demand patterns; energy storage, especially if there are further breakthroughs on battery costs; and better demand management.

Another issue that needs to be addressed in the third generation, Mills said, is meeting the demand for desalinated water. This is currently dealt with by using the waste heat from gas-burning power plants. Possible solar solutions would use solar electricity to drive reverse osmosis plants or use the sun’s heat directly for desalination.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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TIME energy

How Long Can OPEC Maintain Its Current Strategy?

Secretary General of OPEC Abdalla Salem El-Badri of Libya speaks at OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria on Nov. 27, 2014.
Ronald Zak—AP Secretary General of OPEC Abdalla Salem El-Badri of Libya speaks at OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria on Nov. 27, 2014.

If prices don’t recover, and U.S. is not making big cut backs on shale production, the grumbling within OPEC could grow louder

The six-month clock is up. OPEC is convening this week in Vienna, as it does every six months, to discuss and decide on how the group will coordinate.

The November 2014 meeting was one of the most widely covered in years. After leaving its collective output quota unchanged for several consecutive meetings in a row, much of the world watched for a major policy change. The glut of oil had led to a crash in prices, falling from well over $100 per barrel, down to the $70 range. As it had in the past, surely the cartel would pull the production lever downwards, switching off a million barrels per day or so in order to stop the bleeding?

That decision never came. In a move that shocked the oil markets, and enraged many of OPEC’s own members, production levels were not touched. Saudi Arabia looked into the history books and realized what happened the last time they cut production during a glut. In the 1980’s, prices did not recover, and Saudi Arabia merely lost market share and revenues.

Not eager to make the same mistake, this time they went full speed ahead, fighting for every piece of the market it could capture. Saudi Arabia has even boosted production by 700,000 barrels per day since then, increasing output to 10.3 million barrels per day as of April 2015.

As it quickly became clear, Saudi Arabia hoped to force out higher-cost producers (i.e. U.S. shale) and maintain market share, allowing prices to eventually adjust upwards on the backs of others.

So what should we expect from OPEC’s upcoming meeting on June 5? More of the same. Having made the decision to fight it out, there is almost no reason to back off now. U.S. shale producers have hung on longer than many anticipated. OPEC has inflicted a lot of damage across the U.S. shale patch, but it hasn’t yet struck the deathblow that it had wanted.

Rig counts have fallen by 1,000 (more than 50 percent) since October 2014, production has largely come to halt (although not really declined), and fewer wells are being drilled. Importantly, a few smaller companies have gone bankrupt, and others are struggling under mountains of debt. That portends a larger adjustment in the months ahead, but for now, the market is in limbo.

OPEC’s strategy could still work, but will need more time. That points to a stay-the-course approach heading into the June meeting and beyond.

Still, it is not clear how long OPEC members can hold out. Many are not as well endowed as Saudi Arabia, nor do they have the massive rainy day fund that Riyadh does. Several members – most notably Venezuela and Iran – loudly called for a cut in output last time around. Their arguments didn’t win over Saudi Arabia in November, and they won’t again in June, but at some point the pressure could mount.

The Wall Street Journal reported in May that OPEC is starting to come to grips with the possibility that oil prices could remain below $100 per barrel well into the next decade, a troubling prospect for oil-producing countries that had become used to the super profits associated with three-digit oil prices, and many have budgets that only break even in that range.

An internal OPEC report sees oil prices at $76 per barrel in 2025. And that is the group’s most optimistic scenario. It also considers the possibility that oil drops below $50 per barrel in the 2020s. $100 oil does not figure into the group’s considerations.

OPEC disputed that it put together such a pessimistic outlook, but if the WSJ report is correct, the implications would be profound.

The WSJ believes that OPEC, under this scenario, would consider returning to production limits in order to prop up prices. If prices stayed low, the group probably would not be able to produce flat out and wait out US shale for a decade. Internal pressure would be too great.

For the June meeting, however, the Saudi strategy should carry the day. November’s meeting could be a lot more interesting though. If prices don’t recover, and U.S. shale is not making big cut backs, the grumbling within OPEC could grow louder.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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TIME Saudi Arabia

College Student Killed Trying to Stop ISIS Attack Called a Hero

saudi arabia dammam mosque attack
AFP/Getty Images Saudi security forces inspect the site of a suicide bombing that targeted the Shiite Al-Anoud mosque in the coastal city of Dammam on May 29, 2015.

He confronted a suicide bomber who was trying to enter a mosque in Saudi Arabia

A college student who was killed in Saudi Arabia on Friday after halting a suicide bomber who had attempted to enter a packed mosque is being remembered as a hero.

Abduljaleel Alarbash, an undergraduate who was studying electrical engineering at Wichita State University, and his cousin were working security at the mosque in the port city of Dammam, roles for which they volunteered after a recent mosque attack, The Wichita Eagle reports. Alarbash became alarmed when someone dressed in all black attempted to go inside—women had been told to remain at home due to safety. The bomber was reported to have blown himself up, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), after Alarbash tried to turn him in.

“They saved a lot of lives,” Yagoob “Jacob” Alsarouj, a close friend of Alarbash and recent graduate of WSU, said. “What he did was a selfless act … that’s something really to be proud of.”

Abduljaleel, 22, had returned to Saudi Arabia to get married and was due back to school in the fall, according to a professor who taught him in the spring.

“I am not surprised that Abduljaleel did what he had to do to save the lives of all those people by giving up his own so readily,” said Preethika Kumar, one of Alarbash’s professors, in a statement. “In my faith, when someone is able to love God so deeply to the extent of putting their neighbor before themselves always, even to the point of laying their life down, he or she is a saint.”

TIME Saudi Arabia

World’s Biggest Hotel to Open in Mecca in 2017

mecca-mega-hotel
Dar Al-Handasah

It'll have 10,000 bedrooms and 70 restaurants

The world’s biggest hotel is set to open in Mecca in 2017, offering an unprecedented level of luxury to travelers and royalty alike in Saudi Arabia.

The Abraj Kudai will cost about $3.6 billion, featuring 10,000 bedrooms, 70 restaurants and four helipads, the Guardian reported on Friday. At 45 stories tall, the desert fortress-style hotel boasts 12 towers atop a 10-story podium, which contains a bus station, food courts, a shopping mall and an extravagant ballroom. But five floors will be off limits to the most guests — they’re reserved exclusively for the Saudi royal family.

The Abraj Kudai was funded by the Saudi Ministry of Finance and designed by the Dar al-Handasah group.

[Guardian]

TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Is Looking for Executioners to Carry Out Public Beheadings

A mock execution scene in protest of Saudi Arabia beheadings in Dhaka October 15, 2011
Andrew Biraj—Reuters A mock execution scene in protest of Saudi Arabia beheadings in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Oct 15, 2011

How long before they bring in the headhunters?

On Monday, eight new job openings for “religious functionaries” tasked with “carrying out the death sentence according to Islamic Shari’a after it is ordered by a legal ruling” appeared on the website of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Civil Service.

Capital punishment is administered for crimes like murder, rape, adultery, witchcraft and drug offenses in the Islamic kingdom, which is currently witnessing an uptick in beheadings under Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman, the New York Times reports.

In 2015, the pace of executions accelerated to 85 in just a few months — already set to eclipse last year’s total of 88 beheadings. It is not clear why there has been a sharp increase, but new judges have swiftly been plowing through a case backlog, according to Reuters.

The vacancies do not specify educational credentials or required skills, but the executioners are ideally adroit swordsmen, as the most common execution implement is a curved scimitar.

TIME Middle East

These 5 Facts Explain the Troubled U.S.-Arab Relationship

Obama Hosts Gulf Cooperation Council Summit at Camp David
Kevin Dietsch—AP Obama encourages Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah to make a statement alongside Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, following the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. summit at Camp David on May 14, 2015.

A summit in Camp David shows the growing gap between the U.S. and its Arab allies, thanks to changing oil politics and aging leaders

President Barack Obama just concluded a two day summit with America’s Arab allies. The meeting wrapped up a rocky week that started when Saudi Arabia’s King Salman publicly withdrew from the summit and sent his son and his young nephew in his place. These 5 stats explain the tense relationship between the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies, and the challenges those alliances will face going forward.

1. It’s the Oil, Stupid.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia comprise the grouping of monarchies in the Persian Gulf known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). They are all major oil producers, with Saudi Arabia the heavyweight of the lot. Together they account for 24% of the world’s crude oil production. But after decades of critical dependence on their oil, America, thanks largely to the mid-2000s shale boom, has surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia to lead the world in oil production. The GCC has felt this acutely—Saudi Arabia saw its oil exports to the US plummet 23.74% between 2008 and 2014. The Saudis are not content to take this lying down. Riyadh is busy ramping up its own production (achieving a record high of 10.3 million barrels per day this past April) in an effort to drive down oil and price more expensive U.S. shale producers out of the global market.

(Middle East Monitor, Bloomberg, Energy Information Administration, Financial Times)

2. The Paradox of Plenty

While Saudis are increasing production largely to strengthen their long-term market position, the gambit poses significant short-term risks. Oil prices had already been tumbling for months, and the price of oil directly affects economies like that are heavily reliant upon the commodity. 45% of Saudi Arabia’s GDP comes directly from oil and gas, 40% of the UAE’s, and around 50-60% each for Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. By keeping production high, Saudi Arabia is helping to keep oil prices low.

Economists often talk about the “resource curse,” when a country’s abundance of natural resources stunts the rest of its economy. In a healthy and balanced economy, the private sector should drive research, development and innovation. But only 20% of Bahraini nationals work in the private sector. The rest of the GCC are worse: a pitiful 0.5% of UAE nationals have the misfortune of private employment. The GCC countries have relied so long on oil that their workforces can’t compete in a globalized world. The ruling powers are keenly aware of this fact.

(Forbes, OPEC – UAE, OPEC – Qatar, OPEC – Kuwait, EIA, Al Jazeera)

3. Arab Spring, Still Blooming?

The GCC countries had a front-row seat to the Arab Spring. Beginning in 2011, countries throughout the Arab World erupted in demonstrations and protests, even bleeding into Bahrain and Kuwait. One of the main drivers of the movement was mass unemployment, which afflicts the affluent GCC as well. Ernst & Young estimates that unaddressed unemployment of youths aged 20-24 could eventually reach 40% across GCC member states. Those are numbers ripe for revolution.

The only thing scarier than the uprisings to the Gulf monarchs must have been the U.S. response to them. For years the understanding was that so long as the Gulf countries would keep the world market flush with oil, the U.S. would provide them with protection. Egypt had a variation of this type of relationship with Washington, but Obama wasted little time in throwing Hosni Mubarak under the bus in 2011—at least as the GCC see it. If Egypt could be sacrificed at the altar of democracy, why couldn’t Saudi Arabia be next?

(Bloomberg, Ernst & Young)

4. The Threat of Iran

Looming over the GCC Summit is America’s reengagement with Iran. Washington’s greatest leverage over Tehran is the possibility of lifting sanctions in exchange for a nuclear deal. Experts estimate that Iran’s economy could grow anywhere from 2% to 5% in the first year after lifting sanctions, and then 7-8% the following 18 months. Those are rates on par with the remarkable growth of the ‘Asian Tigers’ in the 1990s.

It’s not just the additional economic competition that worries the GCC. Saudi Arabia has spent the better part of the last decade combatting Iran’s influence across Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, even Bahrain—the end of sanctions would give Tehran additional financing to escalate the regional rivalry. Further destabilizing the region are serious threats posed by groups like ISIS. This is why the GCC sought a formal, Japan-style security alliance with the U.S. The leaders who showed up in Washington couldn’t get the pact they wanted—a treaty requiring Congressional approval is a nonstarter—but they did get assurances of America’s continued military support and significant arms sales.

(Financial Times, Vox, Reuters, Economist)

5. Age Matters

The absence of the Saudi king, along with his counterparts from the UAE, Bahrain and Oman, sent the message that the status quo in the Middle East cannot continue. Their snub of Obama was intended to project an image of strength in the region. But the reality is that the oil-dependent GCC countries have serious structural problems that will take generations to solve. Instead of dealing with four rulers with an average age of 75, Obama sat across from representatives with an average age of 56. This younger generation is poised to lead their countries for decades to come. After 70 years of intense engagement, it is clear that the GCC countries need America as much as ever. The question is how much America needs them.

(Crown Prince Court – UAE, Kingdom of Bahrain (a), Kingdom of Bahrain (b) AlJazeera, Reuters, BBC, Forbes, Al-Monitor, White House )

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