Posts Tagged ‘Life in Saudi’

Niqab and Freedom

07/10/2010

Eman wrote in her Saudi Woman blog that she was unexpectedly ecstatic about the french ban of niqab! She goes on to explain that taking this decision away from women by banning the niqab is in fact the best solution to liberate the majority of women who are pressured and forced into covering their faces.

I found myself commenting on her post and not ignoring it for two reasons:

  1. She is an Educated Saudi woman
  2. She is an avid blogger who isn’t afraid to speak her mind which is something to admire about her spirit

In my comment, quoted below, I appealed to her love of freedom and expressed my curiosity in her thought process:

While I respect your right to free speech, I help but wonder how can a liberal educated woman such as yourself wishes and advocates for a decision that limits women’s freedom!

You say we are either with the 1 who chooses to cover her face willingly or the hundreds who don’t. But that is simply not true. It is quite irrational on your part. Can’t I support both of them in making their own minds? Wouldn’t introducing a concept of no forced covering had been a better course of action in your campaign?

You campaign to take away the choice from women to cover their face, just because you hate what it represents, is making you look like some kinda of dictator to me.

peace out

She quickly replied, quotes below, with a proposition and a couple of questions. So, this post represents the alternative Saudi voices blog spirit in providing an alternative perspective on the issue by trying to address Eman’s concerns and highlight the misconceptions in her take on the subject:

The Freedom Insurance Proposition

Once you figure out how you can ensure that a woman fully and willingly chose the niqab, I’ll agree with you. However real life has shown that the majority of women who wear it are pressured and sometimes forced to. Here in Saudi Arabia school doors are guarded to enforce covering the face completely.

First of all, no individual can ensure anything when it comes to a social change. This is the reason for starting such campaigns as hers against niqab. So our voices can be heard, supported by others (individuals, bloggers & traditional media) and generally generating just enough public interest on the subject for law-makers to feel the need to pass a law that will, finally, ensure whatever the objective is! In this case, no forced “niqab”; and even then, it comes down to the society and its willingness/readiness for such change.

Where is your Humanity?

Can you yourself endure a piece of black fabric on your face every time you leave the house? From a humane perspective, do you really believe that human beings were meant to start out their day that way?

No, I wouldn’t dream of enduring a “niqab” but I suspect one can get used to it with time. Also, I don’t think humans are meant to eat their way to obesity or pierce every corner of their body. However, I would find it disgraceful to relish in the fact that any government has seen it fit to deprive the people from their personal freedom which does not interfere with others freedom.

Imaginary Ignorant Muslim Women!

Many simple women I personally know abhor the face cover but endure it because they were informed by extremist shiekhs that without it they are no longer Muslims. Do you consider these women victims of ignorance and misinformation or women who freely chose to cover?

Finally, I think Eman exaggerates when she suggests that “many simple women” believe that they will lose their Islam without their “niqab”. It’s 2010, Eman.. Even the most conservative women would only say that it is a major sin to remove your “niqab”. I Can’t imagine anyone saying that a woman would automatically be considered non-muslim just for uncovering her face. Not anymore sister 🙂 and I would’ve really appreciated it if Eman took a balanced approach in depicting the situation.

peace out

Advertisements

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.

Under Media Attention

06/05/2010

The Economist published lately a piece talking about the changing situation of women in Saudi Arabia. It is not the only time you may read such articles in Western media. It seems like a hot topic that gets the attention every now and then. I have to admit that the situation of women in Saudi Arabia is very exceptional compared not only to other women around the world but to the men in Saudi Arabia itself. The prevention of women from driving cars must sound very odd to people around the world. It sounds so to me as well. However, I never felt that fighting for women driving in Saudi Arabia is not the one of the things I want to put my heart and effort behind. One of the obvious reasons for such attitude is that I am not a female who suffers from not being allowed to drive. Yet, I feel some of the pain since I personally have to take care of many things that could be done easily if my wife is driving.

A less selfish reason is my belief that resolving root causes is more fruitful in the long term. Not allowing women to drive is just a septum that gets the attention away from other rooted issues that deserve to be resolved. Saudi Arabia faces a long list of critical issues which are forced, in a way that seems sometimes to be intentional, to be away from the public attention due to the nonstop fighting over smaller issues, such as allowing women to drive, while issues like the public participation in running the country and transparency in spending the public money.

On the other hand and regardless of how much I try, I cannot take such attention to the Saudi women driving issue in the world’s media at its face value. Why? Because the human rights issue in Saudi Arabia goes way far beyond the issue of women driving in the streets of Saudi Arabia yet it gets less attention by the same media. When such attention is given to the right causes such as people who are in prisons without trials for many years, I’ll feel that the media coverage is candid, fair and objective.

I just wonder how many times Saudi Arabia will appear in the international media if someday oil runs out of our wells or the world finds a better source of energy.

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

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

Worries of a day

04/02/2010

I can define myself as a husband, a father of two, a son, a brother, an employee and a Saudi. All of that feels too much to handle. At the moment I am thinking of many things. I’ll be buying a house using the interest free loan from the company I work for. Yet, the loan will not be enough and I’ll have to borrow some more money since the real state  and land costs in a country full of vast empty land is high rocket.

In the same time, I am looking for a private school for my daughter Joori who will turn five next year. The only sources of information about private schools in my country are either friends and their experiences with schools for their own kids or the discussions boards in the internet!. Opinions differ and drivers for these opinions differ as well. I am not sure where she will end which is not a comfortable feeling at all since I believe that education will be one of the most important things I’ll leave her with.

As a Saudi who cares about what is happening in his country, I cannot stop looking at missed opportunities and things that can be done better. Maybe being an Industrial Engineer enforces such feeling. There is a long list of things that I can criticize, but there are few things happening that can help shaping a better tomorrow.

The above is just a sample of thoughts that run through my head during a normal day. Many more to come soon.

By Ahmed O. Ba-Aboud

So here we start!

02/02/2010

Saudi Arabia is a country that gets a lot of attention around the world for many reasons. However, the Saudi citizens’ voice does not reach around the globe in a similar magnitude. This is a blog I am starting to present to the world more insights and perspectives of life in Saudi Arabia. The blog is titled “Alternative Saudi Voices”. The vision of the blog is to become one of the best available windows to life aspects, issues and dreams in Saudi Arabia.

The blog will be open to any Saudi who would like to contribute. I’ll be only the blog manager. Yet, I’ll not publish anything that calls for violence or hate. So if you are a Saudi who feels that you want to say something to the world regarding: 1) a regular day of your life in Saudi Arabia, 2) internal social and political issues or 3) international topics, then send me your blog to be published to: alternative.saudi.voices@gmail.com and it will be published as soon as possible.

I hope this blog will be one of the good sources for those who have many questions about life in Saudi Arabia.