On Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter

When I used to live in Riyadh, the Diplomatic Quarter was one of my favorite areas in the city. Clean, organized and quiet, it felt like a secret oasis within the city. In a way, it was. Since the early 2000’s, access to the neighborhood has been highly restricted due to fear of terrorist attacks targeting the diplomatic missions located there.

I have previously complained about how hard it is to enter the Diplomatic Quarter, or DQ for short, for regular people. I have not been to Riyadh in a few years, but I guess the problems in getting to the DQ remain the same despite the fact that the security situation in the country has improved a lot.

Now in addition to being the semi-official newspaper for the country and the capital’s city namesake, al-Riyadh daily also serves as a newsletter for the Saudi royal family. When a prince gets married, al-Riyadh would typically run pages upon pages full of pictures from the all-male wedding. Such weddings usually take place in a banquet hall called Palace of Culture in the Diplomatic Quarter.

The newspaper recently ran photos from yet another prince’s wedding at the Palace of Culture. That made wonder if there are ever any cultural events held at this place. The answer is yes, but very rarely. Most of the time, it is simply used as a wedding hall for the elites.

As I was doing my research on that location, I came across this interesting piece about the planning and building of the Diplomatic Quarter published in Saudi Aramco World in their September/October 1988 issue. The magazine, published by the national oil company, is one of the oldest publications in the country.

Unlike the current the situation where the DQ feels blocked from the rest of the city by multiple security checkpoints guarded by squads of heavily armed and grumpy security forces, the original vision for the area was that it would be a “normal neighborhood.” Mohamed Alshaikh, president of ArRiyadh Development Authority (ADA), who has spearheaded the project when in the late 1970’s, told the magazine:

“Physically, functionally and socially, the quarter is by no means separate from the rest of Riyadh,” he says. In fact, “diplomatic mission personnel will number less than 10,000” of the DQ’s projected 22,000 inhabitants, and the quarter will be “a normal neighborhood of Riyadh, with priority to the diplomats.”

For current residents of Riyadh, the DQ is anything but a normal neighborhood. Alshaikh went on to say that they did not want a “ghetto feeling develop” in the quarter. Planners wanted it to serve as a model for future urban development in Riyadh. That obviously did not happen. More than twenty years later, some would say that the rest of the city feels like a ghetto compared to the much nicer Diplomatic Quarter.

What went wrong? Nothing in the Diplomatic Quarter itself, but almost everything around it.

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Saudi Jeans turns seven

This blog has turned seven a couple of days ago. I said before that when I started this thing I never thought it would last long. But here we are, and I still can’t believe it’s been this long. Now I know that the past ten months were not exactly the best for the blog. I’ve been extremely busy with grad school, which meant Saudi Jeans was neglected and the updates were few and far between. I’m still passionate about blogging, and I still have much to say about things in Saudi Arabia and beyond. Next week I will graduate from Columbia Journalism School, so you can expect to see a higher frequency of posting here. I will probably write a blogpost reflecting on my experience at Columbia and New York, but for now feel free to take a look at my master’s project which examines the rise of Arab American standup comedy.

Thank you all for reading, commenting and just being great over these years. I feel lucky to have a portion of your attention and share my thoughts with you, and hope to continue doing that for years to come.

I’m Still Here

I’m not dead (and this post is not about Casey Affleck’s movie/hoax). Just been extremely busy. Good busy, for the most part. I usually hate this kind of “why I’m not blogging” blog posts, but I decided to write one to embarrass myself into getting back to the habit of blogging. I promise that I will somehow fit this into my schedule and update the blog regularly. If I don’t, feel free to abuse me in the comments :-)

Free Entertainment

Students at Columbia J-School don’t have much free time. And when they have some free time they probably don’t have much money to spend on entertainment. Can they have some fun without spending a fortune?

PS. The artists featured in the piece are: Swear and Shake, Liz Tormes, and Lara Ewen.

PPS. This is another piece from my audio reporting class. Not great, but probably better than the first one.

Ahwak

Although I was in Beirut six months ago, but I do miss this amazing city. There is something about this place that always makes me want to come back no matter how often I visit it. Soldier is full of Saudis these days, as it is always during the summer, but this is not the reason why I was missing Beirut today. The reason was this blogpost by Susannah Tarbush where she reported on Zeid Hamdan and his effort to create an alternative music scene in Lebanon.

In December 2008 I had a chance to attend one of his shows with Hiba Mansouri, who actually left a nice comment on my post last year. I recorded a couple of videos during that night, and I thought I’d share one of them with you here. In the video you can hear Hiba sings Ahwak, which an old song by Fairouz, and next to her you can see Zeid playing the guitar and fiddling with his laptop. Good times.