Posts Tagged ‘King Abdullah’

In the Middle of the Noise

23/02/2011

The Arab World is going through a very historic time. The head of states in Tunisia and Egypt have had changed after 23 and 30 years in power, respectively. Libyans are strongly pushing for changing their current regime which is lead by Mumar Al-Ghadafi for more than 40 years. The regimes in Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and Morocco are also faced by different levels of popular uprising.

 

Many of the people in the other Arab countries are following what is happening in these countries with mix feelings of fear, hope, excitement and unbelief. People are so fearful of how things might end up and of the number of victims that might be caused by these uprising. Yet they are so hopeful and excited about tomorrow and how it’ll be shaped once the normal people have finally a say over how their countries shall be run and developed. Till this moment I, sometimes, feel that what had happened in a month is just a dream because it was so hard to even think of before.

 

What about Saudi Arabia? Would the world see similar uprising in the land of oil? What do you think about as a Saudi of what is going on?. These are for sure questions in the minds of many people around the world, especially diplomats and journalists. I personally think that what happened in Tunisia and Egypt was not something that can be predicted to happen, then I think that the predictable is not really the norm these days in the Arab World. The predictable in Saudi Arabia is that nothing will happen. Things, regardless of how much I can complain, are very different compared to many other places in the world. However, I believe that there are at least four groups of Saudis when it comes to how a Saudi might interact with what is going on in the Arab World. The first group consists of those who don’t care much because they live isolated from what is going on, either because they are rich and live the elite life or poor enough to have most of their focus on what is in their food table every day. There is no way to really quantify this group in numbers. Yet, as more of this group becomes engaged in what is going on and feel that they must have a say over what is going on, the shift in power then might spark the unpredictable.

 

The second group includes Al-Qaeda supports and alike those who believe in overthrowing the government using violence. I heard many analysts claim that Al-Qaeda is losing ground in the Arab World these days because people can see an alternative to the violence Al-Qaeda adopted in its effort for change. On the short term, I agree. However, on the long term, time only can tell. If things improve in Tunisia and Egypt and the rest of the Arab World, the legitimacy of Al-Qaeda tactics will diminish. Yet, if things don’t improve or the new governments in the new Arab World adopt constitutions that are rejected by Al-Qaeda, more supports might be then following the route of Al-Qaeda seeking change in their countries.

 

The third group consists of those who are hopeful of change that lead to democracy, human rights and the state of institutions. This group in Saudi Arabia includes Islamic reformists, liberals (or so called), many females, educated younger generations and others. The latest calls for change in Saudi Arabia coincided with the return of King Abdullah after a long medical treatment trip. So far, I am aware of three letters that were signed by more than three thousands Saudis asking for reforms. These letters represents the voice of this group and the three letters had many basic common demands including an agreed upon constitution, elections for Shura Council, the release of many long term prisons who are in jail without trial, and Separation of the executive, legislative and judicial the powers. My friend and fellow Saudi blogger Ahmed Al-Omran translated the last of the three letters in the link here (Declaration of a National Reform). This group has been active in the cyberspace for the past few years. The current changes in Tunisia and Egypt inspired this stream and created more followers to its desires.

 

The Saudis who are not comfortable with change and think that things are not that bad represent the fourth group. This group includes various group of citizens who believe in the system and cannot see themselves crabapple or responsible of change. They feel that the government is the sole responsible about what to do to them and for the future of the country. I personally believe that this group is one of the larger groups, however cannot make much of difference since they are passive and expect things to happen to them by the government.

 

The last group consists of those who usually adopt the government and religious clerks. Some friends think that this set of people is getting smaller as people are exposed to more sources of information and discussions. I don’t completely agree since I believe that many Saudis trust the government decisions and look for the opinion of the pro-government religious institution in almost every problem.  

 

The interaction between these five groups and the government will be very crucial in determining the future of Saudi Arabia. It is extremely difficult to predict what exactly might happen, but it is evident that more Saudis demand more changes and freedoms inside their country. So far the government did not show much of understanding of what type of earthquake is hitting the Arab World. A very generous financial support package was announced through Royal Decrees but some Saudis felt that the government is not listening to their hopes. I personally felt very disappointed. In the era of new Arab revolutions, a financial package felt like a bribe that does not address the real constant issues in the country. The package will benefit some Saudis greatly, yet the prominent issue in the past was not the lack of the financial resources but the extremely weak monitoring of how these resources are spent and misuse of these resources.  I am dreaming of a constitution, elections and freedom of speech. If not enough Saudis show their readiness to be in charge of their future and take some risk and pressure the government to adopt change, things will be difficult to move ahead and completely dependent on the government’s choices only.

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.

The Cost of Lifelong Royal Interventions

10/02/2010

The media and Saudi Internet websites have been very active over the past few years discussing almost everything and anything. However, I cannot forget a debate that was raged few years ago between a columnist and former Chief Editor of Al-Watan daily newspaper (Qenan Al-Ghamdi) and a religious clerk (Sheikh Saad Al-Buraik) around the type of state that should govern Saudi Arabia. Shaikh Saad called for a religious type of state while Qenan was calling for a civil state governing the country. The discussion really consumed so much time and energy, yet I strongly believe that such discussions are useless. Why?.  Because a simple reality check of life in Saudi Arabia proves that we have a special kind of state: the individual state, where the King rules without any real checks and balance mechanism by anyone. Such total control and excessive involvement in many dimensions of life in the country cannot be missed when you read about royal interventions in cases such as water shortages in Aseer area or the recent direction to three ministries to provide the required maps for Al-Harameen High Speed Rail project which is supposed to be commissioned in a year time!. Such high level involvement gives the impression that things are not running well and no less than the King himself need to be involved and still there is a chance that things might not materialize!.

Relating to business environment and when designing an organization structure, there should be a reasonable number of direct reporting subordinates to a supervisor to make sure that the supervisor has a meaningful job and in the same time is not overwhelmed by huge number of direct reporting employees. Sometimes it feels like the country is actually reporting to one supervisor.

For a country to be so dependent on an individual regardless of all the great intentions and power at hand, it means that many things will not be executed as they should and many other things will suffer noticeable oversight. In a complex world we live at, the permanent dependence on royal interventions means minimal positive change and missed important opportunities.

Maybe today Saudi Arabia and Saudis are not ready yet for direct citizens’ involvement in managing their life, but there should be a plan to institute such involvement within a reasonable time frame. Those who are not in favor of public participation must remember that a total of 70,000 Saudis are studying abroad and many more will be joining them soon. When these boys are girls are back, most probably that many of them will not be welling to live Saudi Arabia as I know it today.

By Ahmed Ba-Aboud