France and Saudi Arabia to ‘invest in the future’

Saudi Arabia's crown prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) arrives at Le Bourget airport, north of Paris, on April 8, 2018, ahead of a state visit. (AFP)
Updated 08 April 2018

France and Saudi Arabia to ‘invest in the future’

  • The transformation of the Saudi economy, society and political life is under way.
  • The tour of Crown Prince Mohammed is more focused on security, economy and business.

LONDON: The visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Paris will include meetings with French business leaders and plans to build trade ties focused on “investments in the future.”
The two countries have a strong history of bilateral trade relations within the defense, infrastructure and aerospace sectors.
Former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls signed €10 billion worth of contracts in October 2015 in the fields of aerospace and military contracts on behalf of Airbus, transport, energy, health and food markets with French companies. France is also a major arms supplier to the Kingdom.
“We want a new cooperation, concentrating less on contracts and more in investing in the future, especially in digital and renewable energy, with a common vision,” the French presidency said on Thursday.
This statement suggests that the royal visit is about more than economics and looks to a deepening of cultural and political ties.
“Part of his visit will be economic, to say the least, but Saudi Arabia will also want to promote its Vision 2030 approach,” Scott Lucas, professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham, told Arab News.
The professor said he expects to see more alliances and deals forged with the French technology sector as Saudi Arabia continues the high-tech momentum from the crown prince’s recent visit to Silicon Valley. Lucas added that there could also be more deals for weaponry, infrastructure and clean energy. “There is a wide range of areas for possible cooperation,” he said.
Dr. Khalid Bin Mohammad Al-Ankary, Saudi ambassador to France, wrote on Thursday in the French publication L’Opinion that “the regularity of the bilateral visits testifies to the solid partnership between France and the Kingdom, which is based in particular on common strategic interests: The fight against terrorism and for international stability, the search for a convergence of views on regional crises in the Middle East and the Sahel.”
Al-Ankary added: “This visit has particular importance and meaning. The transformation of the Saudi economy, society and political life is under way. A young and connected country. What modernity would be possible without openness to tourism and culture?”
Chris Doyle, director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the cultural “opening up” of Saudi Arabia with new licenses for concerts and museums “presents a wealth of opportunities for countries with cultural exports, such as France.”
The crown prince’s visit will also be about building ties against terrorism and building educational and cultural ties beyond economic deals alone, Doyle said.
“Saudi Arabia hasn’t yet had many touristic visits from Europe, but as Saudi Arabia opens up there may be a possibility that this happens,” he added. Doyle highlighted renewable energy as another potential area for KSA-France collaboration. “Saudi Arabia has recently highlighted green energy as absolutely vital. Now green energy is experiencing such a rise, it’s only sensible that Saudi Arabia invests in it and that means partnering with the world’s renewable energy leaders.”
Doyle added that the crown prince has a major political agenda. “People aren’t sure where Saudi Arabia’s direction is going and he’s trying to explain his strategy to his three most important Western allies — the US, the UK and France.”
He said the true success of the crown prince’s trips to the West as regards how Saudi Arabia is perceived would be measured in the medium-to-long term. “The dividends of this trip may not be seen immediately, however, in the short term, there were no pitfalls or massive clash that undermined the visit — it went fairly smoothly,” he said.
“The tour of Crown Prince Mohammed is more focused on security, economy and business,” said Dr. Ibrahim Al-Qayid, a founding member of the Riyadh-based National Society for Human Rights. He said that the crown prince has lent all his support to “encourage entrepreneurship and foreign investment, and privatize state-owned industries... The crown prince’s support to women with an aim to integrate them into the workforce has started paying dividends.”

An ongoing debate: Shops closing for prayer in Saudi Arabia

Updated 19 January 2020

An ongoing debate: Shops closing for prayer in Saudi Arabia

  • The issue has been under discussion in many settings among members of Saudi society as of late

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has recently announced allowing commercial activities to function for 24 hours, in a new string of promised boosts of business and provide services for all. While the change solves many problems, such as congestion and loss of potential income, many Saudis still debate whether or not it will include the custom of shops closing during prayer time, five times a day. 

A custom that has uniquely defined Saudi Arabia among all Muslim countries, which typically require shops to close only during the weekly Friday prayers, this practice has long been discussed and disputed in society. 

For over 30 years, commercial businesses in Saudi Arabia have shut and locked their doors as soon as the first call of prayer is heard. Cars would queue waiting petrol stations to open, pharmacies were closed, restaurants and supermarkets as well with patrons and visitors forced to wait outside in a manner deemed inconvenient to most people. Prior to the recent reforms which have checked the powers of the now regulated Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), or religious police as they were commonly known, officers of the CPVPV had the power to arrest and punish shopkeepers for even delaying closing their stores for a few minutes. Punishments ranged from detention, lashing and even deportation if the shop attendant was not Saudi. 

The debate to keep shops and businesses open has been a topic of discussion in many settings amongst members of Saudi society as of late. From Shoura Council members, to businessmen and women and everyday ordinary citizens, with many wondering if the law would stand for all hours of the day.

However, the bigger question is being asked by a new generation of the country’s youth, which form the majority of the population of the Kingdom: Why is it that Saudi Arabia is the only country that enforced this kind of practice, as opposed to just Friday prayers? 

Executive regulations

In 1987, the executive regulations of the CPVPV were issued by the General President of the commission, and the second paragraph of the first article cited the following: “As prayer is the pillar of religion and its hiatus, then the members of the commission must ensure its performance at the specified times in mosques, and urge people to promptly respond to the call for prayer, and they must ensure that shops and stores are closed, and that sales are not done during prayer time.”

Speaking to Arab News, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ghamdi, the former director of the CPVPV in Makkah, said that the document allowed members of the religious police to take the necessary measures, and many opted to apply what should have only been applicable to Friday prayers to all prayers of the day. 

“This second paragraph of the first article of the Commission’s executive regulations was a discretionary procedure that was not based on a system, as the executive regulations of the Commission are issued by the General President of CPVPV, and its body system does not oblige closing shops during prayer times,” said Al-Ghamdi. “It became a practice that has been established by the Commission, according to the second paragraph of the first article without relying on an established order.”

Dr. Issa Al-Ghaith, a judge, Islamic scholar, a member of Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council and the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue, has spoken about the matter a number of times. In a recent article published in Makkah newspaper on Jan. 1, 2020, Dr. Al-Ghaith explained that there is no religious or legal base.

“There is no legal base for closing shops for prayer after amending the bylaws of the authority, noting that forcing shops to close their doors and people to pray right at the beginning of prayer time, and to do this in a mosque, stands no ground neither in Shariah nor in law,” said Dr. Al-Ghaith.

“It is rather a breach of both of them, and an infringement on people’s religious rights (right of Ijtihad and freedom to follow a reference) and worldly rights (freedom of movement, shopping, benefitting of services round the clock without being forced to abide by judicial matters subject to conflict and differences).”

Dr. Issa Al-Ghaith

Religion and laws aside though, it seems there is no clear verdict within society on whether or not the practice of closing shops during prayer times should continue or not.

Speaking to Arab News, a number of female retail workers at one of Jeddah’s biggest shopping malls told of the benefit of closing shops during prayer times. The group of females who requested to stay anonymous told Arab News that it’s not all that it seems to be when shops close.

“Many believe we actually take a break and lounge around for the 20-40 minutes when stores close for prayer times. Rarely do we have that freedom to be honest,” said 25-year-old S.K., a Saudi working in the store for 7 months now. “The mess that customers leave behind is too much to handle during regular open store hours so we take advantage of the time we have and reorganize the store, clean up and replace all clothes on the racks.”

“I agree with my colleague,” said 29-year-old M.A. “We don’t mind the closing hours as things get really hectic especially on holidays and as you can see now during the sale. So we do take the opportunity sometimes and either try to relax in the quiet before we finish whatever it is we need done during that time. We understand people’s frustrations but it helps us.”

“I don’t have the luxury of time unfortunately,” said Rawan Zahid, a mother of three girls and a worker at a private company. “I live close to an hour away from my office and my youngest is 4 months old so I don’t have the luxury of time to go shop after work as the call for Maghreb (sunset) prayers are called and I would rather go home and spend some time with my daughters.”

While juggling her job and family life, Zahid believes that it’s difficult to sustain this for long. “It’s unreasonable in my opinion,” Zahid said. “I think it’s too much of a burden on many people especially those who work long hours of the day. For those who don’t have help to care for their children, it’s very difficult to run simple errands and it’s extremely tiresome.”