Posts Tagged ‘Change’

I am a Dreamer

09/07/2011

For ages the question about the suitability of democracy in the Arab and Islamic countries was raised. With the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, the question is coming back with hopes and fears of what path these revolutions will take. During my trip to Germany I attended the Global Media Forum organized by Deutsche Welle where many of the attendees showed a lot of interest in knowing more about what is going on. Many questions were raised such as; why they are happening? Why the Gulf countries are not seeing such revolutions and how these revolutions will shape the future of the region and, probably, the world and many more other questions. I enjoyed the discussions with people from around the globe. Yet during three different occasions, three Arab attendees insisted that Arabs are not ready for democracy. Two of them were so pessimistic about the chances of implementing democracy in the Arab World. They predicted that democracy will not flourish in this region before 50 to 300 years. My response to them was “My daughter Joori is about six years old; I hope, wish and want her to participate in the elections of the Saudi Parliament before she is twenty six years old”. Am I dreaming? Sure. But what is life without dreams?

Saudi Arabia is known to be the biggest oil producer and it possesses largest oil reserves in the world. Parts of the financial returns of selling the oil helped in establishing the country’s infrastructure, raised the level of education among the citizens and enlarged the middle class significantly. On the other hand, the country suffers on many other aspects. Saudis live under strong security grip and corruption is unprecedented. The performance of many government entities and agencies is generally below the expectations of citizens. About half of the population is below 25 years old and many of them are unemployed.

The Saudi society values are partially inspired by Islam which is demonstrated in some occasions through positive behaviors such as assisting the needy, dignity, magnanimity and others. Yet, the society has been suffering from issues such as racism, sectarianism, favoritism, the situation of women and others. As a result of all of these issues, there are portions of Saudis (that cannot be really quantified due to lack of data) who agree on the need for change. However, the details and direction of such desired change are not agreed upon and can be very controversial.

The above is a personal attempt to reflect the reality of Saudi Arabia today. Such reality is also shaped and impacted by the structure of the state and society and the relationship between them. When the power is limited to the hands of a few while the vast majority of people do not have much of influence on the country present and future, in addition to the weak – or lack of – feeling of citizenship and feelings of belonging, we find that we are facing a complex reality which might at any moment lead to unexpected developments that no one can expect their extent or outcomes.  Also, the society’s view of itself and the quality of relationships within it and its relationship to the state and its system helps in the formation of the current image of Saudi Arabia and increases the difficulties for the change or major developments.

With such gloomy view, some may find it impossible to think about democracy in a country with all of these challenges and complications. But the world around us today clearly shows that democracy is the most effective system of governance through an agreed upon Constitution that enforces the separation of powers, equality of all citizens and the participation of the people in choosing their representatives freely. Thus we, in Saudi Arabia, either belong to the faction of people, who use democratic means to rule, or we are totally different than that faction and we actually belong to another faction that has nothing to do with a majority of human beings on this planet. Can we be so different?.

I personally think that the pursuit of democracy in Saudi Arabia would be one way to address the serious structural defects in the state and society. The struggle to democratization in Saudi Arabia will help facing what must be changed and reformed through the interaction of citizens with their problems and working together to confront them and find solutions. For example, nowadays discussing the issue of the detainees for long periods without trial is widespread in the channels of the new media in Saudi Arabia which demonstrates that concepts such as the state of institutions and rights began to spread among younger generation who are the group that will make the future on their own and will be making the changes that they want despite the enormous challenges that might be faced.

But democracy today, to me personally, is not an end in itself but a means for the result I want to see in Saudi Arabia. I do not care much how long it will take as long as we will be able to move in the direction I hope for my country. The future dream I see for Saudi Arabia is a modern state that ensures public participation and equality of all citizens and at the same time economically able to face the enormous challenges ahead of the country. The road to democracy in Saudi Arabia will also be a means to dismantle parts of the obstacles and barriers that have been injected into the body of the state and society and resulted our present. What we live in today is the result of long years of mistakes that will not disappear automatically, but will need the hard work and real participation of everyone, or at least the believers in the necessity of change and who those willing to pay the price to get it.

When talking about democracy, usually the discussion involves talking about the West and the liberties practiced there which might be in contradiction with some basic values of Islam and the Saudi society. I do not think that we are obligated to the introduction of a Western model of democracy as it is. Every society should strive to reach their own model that suite their needs and values. Therefore, I know that our society is very different from other communities around the world, so we may evolve to a model of democracy that is not like any other model which may resemble or differ from other models in the world. We do not have to reinvent the wheel as they say, but we need to benefit from our own experiences and mistakes as well as from others experiences and mistakes until we reach the result that we want for this country.

I am definitely dreaming and I will keep doing so, not because I am a romantic person, but because we are in front of a sad reality that does not present much of encouraging options and without dreams the present will be difficult to bear. Also, I really believe that part of any change is the dream that brings disciples of change as seen through the great Egyptian revolution. During the eighteen days of the revolution I lived something like a dream, and even now I feel the dream is not over yet. Though I realize that only the head of the snake is been chopped and still there is a long way to remove the snake’s spirit from the body of Egypt and the Egyptians.

So I dream of democracy in Saudi Arabia, and not after 100 years, but in the near foreseen future. Because those who deny our readiness for democracy today do not offer much of alternatives except the present which is not desirable. They do not have much of influence into shaping the future except waiting for the gifts of the state which might not ever come. We might not be ever ready for the democracy, but silence and stillness will not make us ready tomorrow. But promoting awareness and stimulating debate among people helps imagining and forming a better future for our children.

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The Mirage of Saudi Reforms

05/10/2010

King Abdullah, the Custodian of the two holy mosques, is widely popular in the country. I clearly recall when he became the King more than 5 years ago that many Saudis demonstrated their deep strong feelings towards him by voluntarily posting the King’s photo on their cars with slogans praising him. Today I see such photos much less frequently.

Changes took place in the country during the past five years. Yet, I hardly can identify any which directly impacted majority of Saudis in their daily life. I can claim that the changes were either in the appearance or satisfactory to a factional “war”. How?

Some of the most important changes that the King pushed for are in education and juridical system. Fruits in such areas need a lot of time before being felt. Yet, indications especially in education are not promising, I believe.

Another tool used to enforce the change were the Royal Decrees Some of these Decrees created hope when announced, while others created controversy to say the least. After the death of 120 people in Jeddah back in November as a result of moderate rain followed by a flood, a very strong worded Royal Decree was announced ordering detailed investigations of the reasons of the tragedy. It really cooled down the public mood which was so shocked of what happened. However, it is been almost a year and no real action took place against those involved in corruption that killed innocent people. What is more important is that the investigation results are still not published and kept secretive.

Though the King seemed supportive to dialogue (including dialogue between religions) and local newspapers got more critical of the performance of the ministries, the Royal Decree dismissing one of the members of the highest religious council after criticizing KAUST because of the mix of sexes in the University caused a lot of argument and was considered as a factional victory for, the so called, Saudi Liberals. Few weeks ago, another Decree was announced limiting the public fatwa to the members of the highest religious council. Keeping in mind what happened to their colleague few months ago, I doubt that the council will be in position to announce any fatwa that might not be liked by the King.

The two controversial Royal Decrees demonstrate to me that Saudi Arabia is still far away from a period of real reforms and that many things happen behind the scene causing a high level of public anxiety and create a feeling of uncertainty of the future.

When would reforms in Saudi Arabia be real reforms and not the gift of the King?. It is when those reforms focus on finding solutions to the real issues of the country rather than creating more fictional wars. On my personal view, the list of real life issues include, but not limited to, unemployment (currently at 10%, at least), homeownership (at least 40% of Saudis do not own their houses), the inflation especially as a result of greed and lack of regulations over monopoly. That might be just the tip of the iceberg because of the chronic issues such as; lack of transparency on the government income and spending, lack of public participation in governance and the accountability and finally the separation of the authorities in the country.

In a country with more than 50% of the citizens below the age of 25 years old, challenges can be turned into opportunities by taking the right strategies and inclusion of the young generations into building their own, and the country’s, future. However there is no enough evidence that such thinking exists among the ones leading the country.

Living out of the bubble

22/03/2010

For about 13 years, I lived in one of the best compounds in the country. It was not the best only because of the excellent infrastructure but also because it saved me the hassle of morning crowded streets and gave me a chance to sleep till 6:20 am and yet I can get to the office by 7:00 am.

Less than a week ago all of that changed. I moved to a new house I bought benefiting of a great home ownership program supported by the company I work for. As I started experiencing more of the life outside the camp, I realized that I used to live inside a bubble. Many things used to be easier and well organized. Today I need to take care of things I almost never worried about before. I need to make sure that the water tank is full and if it is not, I have to coordinate with a company that delivers it for a fee. The water I used to get in that compound is not the best but the municipality water I currently get is actually underground water and not the desalinated water that gets processed in a plant not far away from my new house!.

Other points that I noticed since I moved to the local community in Al-Khobar are:

–          Yesterday and for an hour the electricity was off in the house. No one informed the residents of the neighborhood that such thing will happen. During about 13 years, it happened only twice in the compound I was living at.

–          The highway between Al-Waha district in Al-Khobar (where my house is located) and Dhahran (where I work) turned to be a racing arena for many drivers regardless of what time I drove on that highway!.

–          It is very normal to drive the car in the wrong direction when you are in Al-Waha district

I believe many other things will happen within the coming months which will be enlighten of how much of a life I should expect out of that compound.

Trying to think deeper into the situation, I felt that anyone can live inside such a bubble. We can choose to experience only the easy things within our comfort zone and, more risky, develop perceptions that direct the way we look at life. As such views of the world, which might not be based on actual experience or deep knowledge/ thinking, get deeper into our system, it becomes very difficult for them to change.

For example, many Westerns develop their perception of Islam and Muslims through what they watch on the media either in the news or the movies. As such picture gets deepen into the unconscious and less challenged by other views, it becomes very difficult to be changed. An individual can choose to live within such bubble and refuse to challenge it. Others, who want to be fair and logical, might start to be cautious of such views and start to look for parts of the reality. The same can be said about how many Arabs and Muslims look at Westerns and life there. Many depend on media provided info and short trips visiting the West and expect that we know it and can develop positions on almost everything happening there.

It might be time for each one of us to grow less sensitive to what we believe and be more open to life outside the mental bubbles we create.

By Ahmed Ba-Aboud

What is next?

06/03/2010

A friend of mine asked me: “What is your problem with Saudi Arabia?” Well, I said: Justice, Equal Rights, Choice, and Trust

We live in a country where people abandon their rights because they believe they will never have them. We lack trust in our government, and we lack trust in our judicial system.

I don’t want to force people to follow my believes, yet I want to have the freedom to follow my own. I want to be able to walk in the street without covering my face and without others whispering behind my back: “Astaghfor Allah,” Muttawa shouting at me, and people judging me based upon what’s on my head! I want to have the choice to go out with my cousins to any restaurant without fearing that Muttawa would come arrest us and sentence us to 50 lashes each. I don’t want to be judged because I don’t fear putting my pictures on Facebook. I don’t want to be judged because I deal with men. I don’t want to be judged because I don’t mind appearing on TV. I don’t want to be judged because my father allows me to travel alone. I don’t want to be judged because I sit with my male cousins. It is a choice! I am not bad because I am different. I am just different.

“Your father trusts you,” she said. “But the society doesn’t.”

“Show our women that you trust them, as much as you in fact depend on them” Woodrow Wilson once said. You should trust that we can, and will make the right decisions. Trust us, because we are your partners in life. We gave, we sacrificed, we suffered, we accepted, we listened, and we obeyed. Why are you willing to make us partners in suffering but not in rights?

Now is the time for us to be full partners. Trust us, and believe in us. Having our rights doesn’t mean excluding men from our lives and disrespecting them. It means sharing the responsibility and become equal partners.

The problem is that women are afraid. Afraid of the responsibility, because they have been taught and they believed that they are useless, and that they can do nothing but cook, clean, and raise children which I think the biggest responsibility of all. Women want to be in the safe side, and they rather not face the world as long as there is someone who can face it instead of them. Well, one day there won’t be anyone and you will have to do it on your own.

Rights are taken, not given. And if we don’t take them by force we will never have them. Sitting behind our computers and writing these blog posts and making online campaigns will do nothing. We tried it and it didn’t work.

What is next?

By: Najla Barasain