Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

Two Sides of a Sword

16/05/2012

 

Saudi Arabia is known as the country with the highest oil reserves and as the largest oil producer. The country started exporting oil since 1939 which means it is been more than 72 years since then. The infrastructure of the country was significantly developed and the face of changed as a result of the income of exporting oil for all of these years. However, corruption was there along the way resulting in a lot of waste and improper management of the huge available income.

 

More people are aware today of the fact that more than 30% of the Saudis are less than 15 years old. In the other hand, King Abdullah is about 90 years old and none of the ministers is less than 50 years old with one single exception. In many countries people talk about Generation Y and how much different they are compared to Generation X and older generations. Saudi Arabia is not an exception here. Younger people in Saudi Arabia have their own needs and expectations. Without meeting those needs and expectations, things in the future might get more difficult in different aspects.

 

As unemployment is on the rise and more youngsters are graduating from universities not only local ones but also prestigious schools from around the world, the pressures are getting more tense on the government. The fresh graduates who choose to come back home were exposed during their years abroad to new cultures and political systems that are faraway from what they’ll find home. Surely not each one of them will have the guts, time or interest to demand implementing similar changes in their country. However, some might find it the most important thing they could give back to their country and to their future kids. Many of these students are actually females. Given the current situation of females in Saudi Arabia, I don’t expect many of those female graduates to accept the statuesque. Not only the government will struggle with that, but also the more conservative groups of the society as well.

 

Social Media brought to Saudi Arabia a vibe of change like nothing else in the past ten years. Many people experienced the freedom of saying what they really feel without a lot of concern. Many realized that the country is not what they personally believe in and that others might not share with them the same views. With the impact of the Arab Spring, individuals in Saudi Arabia know that they are part of the equation and ignoring them is not really an option. It is true that Riyadh streets did not experience any protests, but many use Social Media as Saudi Arabia’s Tahrir Square. Almost nothing could stop that. The question is how far and for how long such protests will remain a cyber-phenomenon.

From another angel, such challenges to the future of Saudi Arabia can be considered as strengths and catalysts for change and better future for the country. The financial wealth available is great, however the real assets of any nation is its own people. The country has no choice but to bring more inclusion of its citizens in running things. The Royals cannot run everything and might not have the right people in the near future who have the wisdom to keep things together. Going into the future without a vision will make the country very vulnerable to any internal or external risks. The stability Saudi Arabia experienced for many years might be at risk very soon.

 

Oil and money can be here today but they are not assured for the future. Educated and dedicated citizens will not ensure the sustainability of any country. Saudi Arabia today is facing the two sides of a sword. Either it will bring prospers future or it might mean the end of any hope in the future.

 

 

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A Man Like No Other

02/03/2012

Saudi Arabia is known in the Western Media as the Kingdom of Silence. I can agree with such claim up till the time when the Internet was first introduced in the country. By the end of the 90s, many Saudis started using the Internet. It was the first time many of them had a chance to say whatever they wish without being worried. It was time when you could say anything you wish so freely. Everything was up to discussion including politics and religion.

Things escalated a bit more than what expected when the Internet was used as a media to gain support for Al-Qaeda inside and outside the Kingdom and to express some extreme opinions either against the Saudi regime or against some of the local minorities like Shia. However, that was not the only negative aspect of the Internet dialogues and discussions. Some Saudi Internet sites adopted very aggressive points of views against the Wahhabi ideology which is a pillar part of the society and political system. It seemed that nothing is away from discussions even the concept of Allah, Prophet Mohammed and Islam itself. The Government cracked down very successfully all Al-Qaeda support websites mainly after the attacks that took place inside the Kingdom back in 2003. However, the more “liberal” Internet forums had their ups and downs but without any cases of arrests of the ones behind them, as I know.

The new freedom of expression developed through the Internet forums brought to the local intellectuals the ideas of human rights. The Kingdom was regularly under the radar of international human rights agencies and NGOs for its less than good record on human rights. The new thing since 2001 was that locals started giving the issue some more attention. Issues like the handling of house maids and “kafeel” system got more criticism by the opinion writers in local newspapers and Internet forums. The blogs also played a very good role in spreading the appreciation of the ideas and values of human rights. Nowadays more Saudis talk about human rights and can clearly see some obvious violations to these rights in many aspects of day-to-day life. The case of detainees who are still in jail without prosecution or specific charges got during last year a lot of attention. The hash tag #e3teqal in Twitter was very active with many stories and news about those detainees. The number of these detainees is not really known but some sources talk about 30,000 of them. The apparent reason for detaining most of them is their potential links to terrorism.

It is unfortunate that the Western media is not covering such stories . It might seem a bit difficult to cover the stories of hundreds or thousands of detainees. But would it be difficult to cover the story of one man? I guess it should not!. This man is called Mohammed AlBjady. Mohammed was not detained for any potential links to terrorism. He now spent a year in detention because he joined a group of detainees’ families in a rare protest near the Saudi Ministry of Interior demanding the freedom of those detainees. Mohammed AlBjady is really a rare case in a country like Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed AlBjady

He is educated and possesses a good financial wealth. However, he always stands by his values and what he thinks is right for him country. He is a father of Lara and Turki. He had no reason to stand by the rights of those detainees except that he believes it is the right thing to do. No one really knows how long Mohammed will stay in jail before joining his wife and kids. No one knows how many others like Mohammed will be needed to really make the issues of human rights in Saudi Arabia of higher priority to both the government and the citizens. What I am sure about is one thing; Mohammed is a man like no other. Mohammed started 12 days ago a hunger strike demanding his rights for a fair trial. Mohammed is really demonstrating a new wave of activism Saudi Arabia never seen before. The question is how much such sacrifices will inspire others in the future to act as bravely.

In solidarity with Mohammed AlBjady two new hash tags started lately in Twitter which are #Albjady and #AlbjadyHungerStrike with the hope of making them trend internationally. More details can be found about the campaign and Mohammed himself through Twitter account: SaudiDetainees

Your highness: If you put your kohl on one day, remember us…!

14/07/2011

This post was first published by the Saudi blogger Hala Al-Dosari. I am re-publishing it in the blog hoping to spread the word about the case of some detainees in Saudi Arabia

This is a translated letter from the mother of the prisoner “Fahad Al-Saeed” to his royal highness, The Prince…

I wondered once about the meaning of a homeland, about its mercy, its compassion for its children, Is it possible for a country to torture its children, to squash them, to steal the flower of their youth?  Can a true country throw its children in the prison with indifference?! After the arrest of Fahad, many things have changed in me, they told me so, my voice became sad and hoarse, my eyes are crying in uninterrupted silence, my face… deep are its scars, so deep they can’t be reached by helping hands, but I asked you by God and my motherhood, If you ever dwell between your cushions, your throne, between your family, your loved ones, I ask you by God… If you ever put the Kohl on (Arabic expression of festivity) please, please … remember us…!

I think you don’t know my son Fahad -your highness-, maybe he is a no body, from the commoners, no one cares for him, even if he dies in one of the deserted alleys, if he dies inside his cell, at your prison, no one will sympathize with him or hear about his story!

They arrested him your highness ages ago, maybe before seven, eight, or nine years, I can’t recall memories anymore, the years of frustration and deprivation in my eyes are all the same… They raided our home by force, they scared me, they scared my daughters, those details are inscribed in our hearts.

After all those years…Is he a lost case your highness? Did you forget about him? Did you sentence him for eternal death?

You did not try him, you did not find him guilty, and you did not set him free, until when is this going to last? Until he ages in your cell and die?

His name is Fahad, he is the only son I have in this world, I cannot see anyone but him, I did not have any aspirations, or ambitions, or wishes, my only wish was … to celebrate his wedding one day, to see my grand children jumping around me, weeks before his arrest we were preparing for his engagement, his fiancé’ -your highness- is still fasting and feeding on deprivation, do you know that he is still waiting for her and she for him? She visited him once in the prison, they insulted her, and degraded her until she earned few moments with him…

Do you know me your highness?  I am his mother, his heaven and paradise; did you have a mother your highness?  Do you realize what motherhood is?  Do you know what is oppression and deprivation? How should I explain the meanings? You have never been subjected to injustice in your life, you never tasted its bitterness, you never been consumed by its fire… I know that my letter is exceedingly emotional, maybe you do not recognize emotions in your world, the world of strict and lethal rigor, but my heart despite all that is a heart of a mother, it’s bustling with passion…

Passion, do you know its true meaning your highness?

I will try to explain to you” the feelings of deprivation” your highness… It is heartburn, it’s a tear that tarnish the hands, like eyes averting from everything, it’s … weeping, weeping, and more weeping…

Do you want me to be honest with you your highness?  Your doors -as you claim- are open after all?

I will be honest, I -by God- Do not like you, and I do not imagine that I would ever like you one day, I will not be a hypocrite, I will not lie to you, and I will not say anything but this, I know -your highness- that you couldn’t care less for the affection of a sixty something woman like me, her soul is close to grave, no one cares about my emotions, I know that, but maybe you will care to know about what I am going to say, my children, no… not just my children, but all my relatives, all of them without an exception, they are sympathetic with us, all of them… They hate your security system, they hate the same system that is supposed to protect the country, they hate particularly certain names, and they loathe them and wish for their demise

I know that is an illegal request, but I vowed for honesty, before… we really used to like you, we never let anyone come in your way, we had an innate sense of protection and loyalty, a naive feeling coming from our heart.. And now I’m starting to lean toward everything that is said in secret against you, I lean toward believing and adopting it and spreading it…

Your highness, please show me your hand…!

They say it’s soft and lush and feels like silk, some of those who shook hands with you have told me, I am not envying you, and I do not wish that you have  a change of fate, but I wanted to tell you about my own fate, my own hand!

My hand -your highness- is convoluted, I swear it’s dead; it lost its vitality along the days…  I go to my son Fahad’s room, my lovely Fahad, I feel his bed, the traces of his foot, his shadow, his smell, maybe he ‘s back, every night I promise myself his return, I watch for his shade, my hand has weathered an blackened from heartbreak…

I do not cry alone your highness; every night…my prayer rug and my black cloak are crying along, they pray with me to find justice from those who wronged us…

My eyes your highness, I started to feel they are weathering and dimming too, am I going to be blind? Cannot see anything but darkness, O’God… I pray to you to let me see Fahad before my eyes go to sleep…

No, I will not be exaggerating and say that my son’s Fahad’s memory is accompanying me every minute, every second, No… I may at few times forget him or force myself to forget him, and I may even have moments where I actually smile, or laugh, but I swear your highness, that every time I laugh at I feel a lump in my throat, a rattle,  a deep pain, and then what?…  The laugh dies on my lips and I see my beloved Fahad’s face… What your highness?… Are we going to forgive you if you release him? I will, I am an old woman venturing in my sixties, I am aged now and tomorrow I will leave, I have lived enough, I do not fantasy more living, maybe we will forgive our humiliation, the terrorizing of my daughters, all the bitter sorrow moments, but….!

But your highness… Do you think Fahad’s heart will forgive you? The flower of his youth? His twenties? The best years of his life, his future… you squashed them, would he forgive you?

Can you bring back his youth that weathered behind the bars of oppression? Men’s oppression?

I wondered once about the meaning of a homeland, about its mercy, its compassion for his children, Is it possible for a country to torture its children, to squash them, to steal the flower of their youth?  Can a true country throw its children in the prison with indifference?

Do you ask me about Joy?

After the arrest of Fahad, many things have changed in me, they told me so, my voice became sad and hoarse, my eyes are crying in uninterrupted silence, my face… deep are its scars, so deep they can’t be reached by helping hands…

Fahad…

My beloved, you know how weak I am, you know for certainty how insignificant I am, I can o nothing to help you, I am a lonely woman, I cannot reclaim your rights, I cannot support you, or take your revenge, but I will do everything I can for you… I will cry for you!

My beloved, I know that tears will not serve you any good, but I will cry for you, that’s in my capacity, that’s what I can, I will write about you, I will plant your story everywhere, I will fight so that people can hear my voice!

But… I will continue to cry for you

I will not hold it from you my beloved, I used to carry a rose in my right hand, a bright white rose, it represents hope and good omen, but.. I no longer hold it, it fell from my hand, no Fahad, my heart did not yet reach despair from God’s mercy, but… my hand is getting weaker, it is shaken, engulfed by tiresome, I have carried that rose long, so long…

Do you know the ultimate hope for me your highness?

No… It is not to release Fahad and the men like him, No your highness, my ultimate hope is to take my revenge from those who treated me with injustice, by Qisas (eye-for an-eye), to reclaim rights, not here, nothing will cure me except standing you and me and all who treated me with injustice together in front of God, to find refuge in his presence, to shout out loud, to pray, to cry, to say… God they burnt my heart, they burnt my blood, they burnt my beloved’s Fahad’s heart, Serve us with justice, heal my heart, God, the just among all just… my God…

I grow tired of complaining your highness…!

I only complain to God alone…

But I plead with you by God and my motherhood, if you ever dwell between your cushions, your throne, between your family, your loved ones, I ask you by God… If you ever put the Kohl on (Arabic expression of festivity) please, please … remember us…!

Written by: the mother of the prisoner Fahad Al-Saeed

For the original letter as published in Arabic:

http://www.alasr.ws/index.cfm?method=home.con&contentid=11937

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.

A historical day

11/03/2011

The 11th of March 2011 is a historical day in Saudi Arabia regardless of if protests will be take place or not and how things will develop in case these protests happen. It will be a historical day because of the following reasons:

·         Some Saudis finally got introduced to new terms, maybe they did not hear about before, such as demonstrations, constitutional monarchy and reforms.

·        Breathed life into some concepts that I thought are less popular by now such as sectarianism, native and non-native citizens and the idea that the government is always right and any call for change and reforms is coming from agents of other countries such as Iran

·          The major government media show against the call for protests today gave a chance to many Saudis to know what are some of the legitimate reasons behind the call for these protests and the fact that protests are normal practice in many countries while they are prohibited in their own country.

·        Some Saudis got a chance to listen to different views that are different than the local media views through some of the impartial TV channels such as BBC Arabic and France 24-Arabic in addition to social media networks such as twitter

·        Increasing the gap of confidence between some of the Saudis and the government religious establishment such as the Council of Senior Scholars and other religious scholars who completely supported the government position against the protests and sounded as speakers on behalf of the government

·        So far the government clear policy is not to listen and confront the appeals for reforms and change that came lately from different groups of Saudis

·        Among the advocates of reform and change, the continuity of the demands for reform through the development of institutions, the constitution and elections

 

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.

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