TIME Yemen

A 5-Day Humanitarian Cease-Fire Has Begun in Yemen

Mideast Yemen Saudi
Hani Mohammed—AP Fire and smoke rises after a Saudi air strike in Sanaa, Yemen on July 13, 2015

Security officials said the situation on the ground has quieted

(SANAA, Yemen) — Saudi-led coalition airstrikes came to a halt in Yemen early Monday after a five-day humanitarian truce went into effect, witnesses and security officials said.

However, ground fighting broke out almost immediately in the restive city of Taiz following random shelling by Shiite Houthi rebels in three neighborhoods, they said.

Security officials said ground fighting has also erupted in Marib province and in the area surrounding the strategic al-Anad military base in Lahj province.

Random shelling by Houthis and their allies hit northern and western areas of the port city of Aden after the cease fire, security officials and witnesses said.

The Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition of mainly Gulf Arab countries has been waging an air campaign since March against the Iran-supported rebels, who control most of northern Yemen and the capital, Sanaa.

The pause declared by the Saudi-led coalition began at 11:59 p.m. (2059 GMT, 4:59 p.m. EDT) Sunday. It is intended to help allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to ease the suffering of civilians in the Arab world’s poorest country.

The coalition made the unexpected announcement about the humanitarian pause on Saturday. The statement, carried on Saudi state media, said the coalition will cease military operations, but that it will respond should Houthi rebels or their allies conduct any military actions or movements.

The rebels, known as Houthis, have expressed doubt over the truce. One Houthi official said it will likely mark “the beginning of a new war.” Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, the head of the Houthi’s Revolutionary Council, said Sunday that the group had not received official notification of the truce from the United Nations.

Two previous humanitarian truces in Yemen did not hold.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the coalition’s announcement of the cease-fire and urged the Houthis and other parties to suspend military operations and “maintain the humanitarian pause for the sake of all the Yemeni people,” Ban’s spokesman said. Ban also urged all sides “to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to all parts of Yemen.”

Earlier on Sunday, Saudi-backed Yemeni troops and their allies clashed with Houthi rebels in a strategic town north of the port city of Aden, security and military officials from both sides of the conflict said.

The pro-government fighters had withdrawn from the town of Sabr earlier in the day after fierce battles with the Houthis. They returned hours later following the arrival of military reinforcements and wrested control of a large portion of the town, security officials said.

The officials said five pro-government fighters were killed and 15 wounded in the battle. Local medical officials said eight rebels were killed and 20 wounded.

The running battles in Sabr, which is on a key supply route, have lasted for more than a day after troops stormed it in their push north from Aden toward the strategic military base of Al-Anad, which is held by the rebels.

Security officials and residents of Sabr said the situation on the ground has quieted after the cease-fire took effect.

The Yemeni troops fighting in Sabr had been training since April in military camps in al-Buraiqeh, the port city west of Aden, military officials from the Saudi-led coalition said. Saudi, Emirati, Egyptian and Jordanian military advisers there have set up the camps and trained hundreds of fighters, they added.

The fighters also received over 300 armored personnel carriers from the United Arab Emirates by sea. These sophisticated carriers are largely driven by non-Yemenis, the military officials said. Two Emirati officers have been killed in battle in Yemen since the Saudi-led coalition’s latest offensive, known as the “Golden Arrow,” started on July 16.

Al-Buraiqeh is also home to the Yemeni Fourth Military Base, which is in charge of all military operations in Aden.

The foreign military advisers, officials said, arrived in al-Buraiqeh by sea more than a month ago and serve as intermediaries between the Yemeni troops and the coalition leadership in neighboring Saudi Arabia. They also supervise the distribution of weapons and give coordinates for coalition airstrikes, military officials said.

All the officials spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to brief reporters.

TIME Media

Saudi TV Just Got a Lot More Feminist

Sponsored Women Saudi Show
Courtesy Rotana Network Sponsored Women

An edgy drama about four young women who move to America is a surprise hit over Ramadan

At first glance, the four stars of a new Saudi television drama, “Mubta’ethat” or “Sponsored Women,” look a little mis-matched. There’s Salma, a chic tomboy with short hair and red lipstick, Raghad, a glam-girl with confident strides and princess curls, Sara, a feisty hijabi with colorful clothing, and Alia, a cautious girl who wears a black niqab (covering of the hair and entire face, with only slits for the eyes). But they have one thing in common: They’ve each got a U.S. visa page in their green passport. It is their golden ticket to leave their homes in Saudi Arabia to pursue an education in Philadelphia.

The show highlights how these Saudi women fluidly adapt to a Western world while maintaining their Eastern ideals. They enroll in English classes, move into their own apartments and learn how to drive a car. They all steer their own lives for the first time.

The script plays with the obvious contrasts inherent in the plot–the girls are almost as different from each other as their culture is from the one they’ll encounter in the United States. It manages to also dig into stereotypes about America or women in veils.

During the 30 episodes, the women are forced to identify with each other and confront their own biases. Their friendship can be compared to that of a certain all-female cult HBO show from the 90s. The now classic formula of bringing together very different girls with strong personalities and courageous adventures still works. This time, with a Saudi accent.

The program debuted on June 17, the first day of Ramadan, and was broadcast in Saudi Arabia every night through the Holy month which ended in mid-July.

The show enjoyed a steady viewership over the course of the month. Each night, the episode would be uploaded on YouTube after it airs, and the comment section would quickly populate. “These girls don’t represent any Saudi girl I know and I’m a sponsored student,” reads a comment. “This is an amazing series, can’t wait for the next episode,” reads another. The positive reviews seem to outweigh the negative ones. Since it is broadcast during the Holy Month, this revolutionary show is representing millennials in a way that Saudi TV hasn’t otherwise seen.

The show has an impressive pedigree: Directed by Oscar-nominated Saudi superstar, Haifaa Al Mansour and written by her sister, Noura Al Mansour, it was produced by Rotana Khalejia, a company that is partially owned by Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal.

The characters are from key parts of Saudi and represent different lifestyles and social temperaments. Surely, young girls in Saudi can identify with qualities found in every one of these women.

Salma is from the liberal West Coast, Raghad is from the luxurious capital, Sara is from the moderate East Coast and Alia is originally from conservative Al Qassim.

Each family reacts differently to the departure of their daughter to the faraway continent. And while each girl has at least one family member closely watching over them in Philadelphia, letting go is still nerve wrecking for the families.

In one comical scene, Alia’s mother is seen stealthily stuffing stacks of (imported) ramen noodles and sacks of rice into her daughter’s luggage before departing from Saudi. “They have that food in America!” her frustrated husband protests. “No! It’s laced with drugs there!” the exasperated mother replies. They are nervous about sending their only child, a daughter, to the unknown.

“It smells like freedom! Of course, it tastes like nicotine,” Salma, says on the phone, as she cautiously drags a puff from a cigarette upon arrival to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Despite being a few continents away, she maintains the Saudi fear of being seen smoking in public.

Actress Noor Al Badr who plays Salma, is a doctor in real life. She got “the randomest call” from Al Mansour who asked her to join the cast. Five days later, Al Badr was on the plane to Bahrain, where they shot most of the show.

“Of course, most people thought I was crazy. I was a doctor! According to most people in our society, acting is not something to be proud of. I think I’m the first Saudi girl to smoke on TV. I wanted to break the taboo,” Al Badr said.

No Saudi feminist show would be complete without the subject of the hijab. The irony is not lost on the characters. Two of the characters don’t cover their hair and two do. In one scene, Salma says of Alia, “She can see everyone but nobody can see her.” Alia, played by actress Zara Albaloshi, repeats how her covering is the ultimate feminist statement. Perhaps most surprising of all, Alia falls in love with a non-Muslim American, Jason, who lives in her building. He becomes interested in Islam and converts. By the end of the series, Alia, the girl who only reveals her eyes to the world, gives her heart to Jason.

The show’s U.S. location is also telling: Philadelphia is central to the American Dream. It is where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

The women are in the U.S. on an academic scholarship, called the Saudi Scholarship. They are “sponsored,” hence the title of the show. Saudi Arabia has been funding Saudi students in the U.S. since 1960, but the late King Abdullah’s Scholarship Program, which launched a decade ago, was the largest push in encouraging female citizens to study abroad. In just five decades, Saudi girls went from not knowing how to read or write to a 97 percent literacy rate, according to UNICEF.

Although the image of Saudi women has changed over the generations, the outdated impressions haven’t yet caught up with reality. The show makes a point of addressing these issues.

“With 150,000 men and women studying abroad, why is Saudi considered to be a ‘developing country?’ In reality, it is quite developed,” Sara, played by actress Maram Abdulaziz, asks her classmates in one scene.

Actress Noura Assar’s character, Raghad, has her camera at the ready to document the trials and triumphs of her Saudi female friends. An aspiring actress and director, Raghad’s quiet rebellion comes in the form of selecting that area of study. There is no such industry in Saudi Arabia today.

Assar thinks the show is starting a different conversation. “I am proud to say that the image of Saudi women has come a long way from what it used to be; strong Saudi women always existed, however, the image was very much attached to a certain stereotype. The scholarships, I’d say, participated in this change due to the ‘face to face’ method of dealing with others, where people in other countries saw for themselves what these ladies can achieve and become,” she said.

Her co-star agrees.

“Just because we can’t drive doesn’t mean we can’t fly and reach for the stars. Hope the show will continue next Ramadan!” Al Badr said.

TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Arrests 400, Foiling ISIS Attacks, Officials Say

Officials also blamed those arrested for several recent attacks

(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia)—Saudi Arabia says it has broken up planned Islamic State attacks in the kingdom, while announcing it has arrested over 400 people in its raids.

In a statement Saturday carried on the official state news agency, the Interior Ministry also accused those arrested of conducting several attacks, including an Islamic State-claimed suicide bomb in May that killed 21 people in the village of al-Qudeeh, in the oil-rich eastern Qatif region. It was the deadliest militant assault in the kingdom in more than a decade.

It also blames them for the November shooting and killing of eight worshippers in the eastern Saudi Arabian village of al-Ahsa.

The announcement came a day after an Islamic State attack in a crowded marketplace in Iraq’s eastern Diyala province killed 115 people.


TIME apps

Muslims Everywhere Applaud Snapchat’s Live Stream of Ramadan Prayers in Mecca

Issam Madkouk—Getty Images/arabianEye

"Mecca Live" was a hit with Muslims across the globe

Video messaging app Snapchat’s decision to live-stream Ramadan prayers in Mecca was an instant hit with over a million people tweeting about the #Mecca_live event as coverage went viral.

Every year, around 100 million Muslims make the pilgrimage to the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, also known as Makkah, and Snapchat marked Tuesday’s observance for the holy month of Ramadan with a 300-second “live” story documenting prayers in the sacred city.

Snapchat Live curated snaps about Mecca from around the network and placed them in one feed, Al-Jazeera reports. It was the first time the firm had covered the event, and many Muslims are thrilled with the response.

Mecca Live featured worshippers breaking their fasts over iftar meals, panoramic views of Mecca, prayers and even haircuts.

According to Al-Jazeera, the feed has been lauded by some for bringing positive attention to the annual pilgrimage made by Muslims around the world and changing the negative global narrative surrounding Islam.

Some tweeters even went so far as to say that they would consider converting to Islam after watching the video.

Others Muslims were unimpressed with the effusive support for the religion.

And it wouldn’t be a true viral phenomenon without a few cats popping up as well.


MONEY stocks

Why Saudi Arabia Makes So Much Money on Oil

Reza—Getty Images/National Geographic Shaybah, Saudi Arabia. Shaybah oil field at sunrise.

Hint: it has to do with how many new wells the kingdom has to drill each year compared to other oil producers.

A lot of reasons have been given as to why Saudi Arabia is allowing the oil price to not only fall but remain weak. Some suggest it’s because it’s seeking to harm emerging rivals like the U.S. and Russia. Others have suggested that the move is because it wants to keep its regional rival Iran at bay. While both could be true, the reason Saudi Arabia isn’t worried about the oil price is because it doesn’t need a high oil price to justify the drilling costs needed to maintain or grow its production. This is due to the fact Saudi Arabia only needed to drill 399 new wells last year just to keep its daily production at 11.4 million barrels of oil. That’s a simply jaw-dropping number when we compare it to its two closest rivals, which are detailed on the following slide from a Schlumberger Limited SCHLUMBERGER LIMITED SLB 0.8% investor presentation.

Schlumberger Limited Saudi Arabia


As that chart demonstrates, Saudi Arabia needed to drill nearly 90% fewer wells than the U.S. needed last year to maintain its global production lead. To put that into perspective, at an average well cost of roughly $8 million for a shale well in the U.S., it would have cost U.S. oil companies roughly $285 billion to drill those 35,699 wells. Meanwhile, at that same $8 million well cost it would have cost Saudi Arabia just $3 billion to drill the 399 wells it needed. That suggests at a $50 oil price nearly all of Saudi Arabia’s production is generating free cash flow, which the country can use for things other than drilling new oil wells. Meanwhile, at that same price nearly half of the cash flow generated by U.S. oil production would need to be reinvested in new oil wells. It’s why Saudi Arabia makes so much money on oil while others don’t have a lot left over, especially now that oil prices are lower.

Drilling intensity will only grow
Saudi Arabia doesn’t have to drill a lot of new wells to maintain its oil production because its production naturally declines by only 2% per year. That’s a much lower rate than the rest of the world as the global production-weighted decline rate is closer to 7% and heading toward 9% by 2030 according to the International Energy Agency. Meanwhile, the decline rate for shale wells is even higher, with first year production declines of upward of 90% being reported.

Thanks to its low decline rate, Saudi Arabia is in an enviable position as it doesn’t need to drill very many wells each year to maintain its production. That’s not the case for the rest of the world. In fact, increasing global drilling intensity, or drilling more wells each year, was the message of Schlumberger CEO Paal Kibsgaard in discussing the above slide on the company’s first-quarter conference call in response to an analyst’s question. He said:

What they’re saying with that slide is that, over time, basins mature. And in order to firstly maintain production, and subsequently increase production, which I think, in many of the land basins, we will be looking to do that in the coming years, you will have to increase drilling intensity. That’s the basic message. So I think you’re seeing that increase in drilling intensity happening in many basins around the world today. The drilling intensity is obviously generally far below what we are seeing today in North America land. But that’s basically because, in many — in most of the other basins, we are still working within the conventional resource base. And as you move from the conventional toward more unconventional, you will also generally see an increase in drilling intensity from that.

What Kibsgaard is suggesting is that as the world moves from conventional oil production, which is when an oil company drills a well to tap a massive underground reservoir of oil, to unconventional oil production, where the oil is tightly trapped in rocks, it will lead to increased drilling intensity. By increasing drilling intensity it will force countries and companies to divert more of their oil cash flow into new wells, which is what we’ve been seeing in the U.S. in recent years as it has shifted to unconventional wells. It’s a shift that Saudi Arabia won’t need to make for quite some time as it maintains the largest proven conventional oil reserves in the world.

Investor takeaway
Saudi Arabia is making a mint on oil production because it doesn’t need to drill a lot of new wells to keep its production steady. That’s not the case for the rest of the world, as oil companies will need to drill more wells each year just to keep up. It’s a trend that Schlumberger expects will keep it very busy in the years ahead as the leading oil-field service company will be assisting oil producers in drilling many of these wells.

Matt DiLallo has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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TIME Saudi Arabia

Former Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal Dies at 75

Prince Saud al-Faisal speaks to the media in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Jan. 5, 2014.
Brendan Smialowski—Pool Photo via AP Prince Saud al-Faisal speaks to the media in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Jan. 5, 2014.

Was the world's longest serving foreign minister with 40 years in the post

(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) — Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman says Prince Saud al-Faisal, who was the world’s longest serving foreign minister with 40 years in the post until earlier this year, has died. He was 75.

The spokesman, Osama Nugali, announced Saud’s death on his official Twitter feed, saying, “The eye tears, the heart saddens. We all are saddened to be separated from you.” He did not elaborate on the cause of death.

The tall, stately Saud was a fixture in Mideast diplomacy since he was appointed to his post in 1975. He retired in April, citing health reasons, just three months after the death of King Abdullah.

TIME Philippines

Philippines Confirms First Case of MERS

A customs inspector wearing a face mask gestures as she waits for flight passengers arriving from South Korea at the arrival area of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila
Romeo Ranoco—Reuters A customs inspector wearing a face mask gestures as she waits for flight passengers arriving from South Korea at the arrival area of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on June 9, 2015

The patient's home country was not immediately disclosed

(MANILA, Philippines) — Health officials say a 36-year-old foreigner who arrived in the Philippines from the Middle East is under quarantine after testing positive for the MERS virus.

Health Secretary Janette Garin said Monday that several people the foreigner had come in close contact with have been traced. She said one of them, a Filipino woman exhibiting mild symptoms, had been isolated and her test results were being awaited.

The patient’s home country was not immediately disclosed.

Garin said around 200 passengers who were on a flight to Manila that the foreigner took were also being traced. At least seven other people who had close contact with the patient were under home quarantine.

The patient initially arrived in the Philippines from Saudi Arabia but also stayed in Dubai before flying to Manila.

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.


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.

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