Egypt uprising, Wahabi numbers, Khashoggi, women in municipal elections, and other stuff

  • The uprising continues in Egypt, where protesters in Tahrir Square remain defiant. Sandmonkey, one of the demonstrators, has two good blogposts that you should read. Many people have been asking me if what happened in Egypt could happen in Saudi Arabia. The short answer is no. Saudi Arabia, and the other five GCC countries, are politically and economically more stable. That doesn’t mean things are not happening in the magic Kingdom. With more than 3.5m people on Facebook, and a rise of Twitter usage by more than 400%, young Saudis are becoming more engaged than ever in the effort to reform.
  • Blogger Saeed al-Wahabi has this really interesting post about the generational divide in Saudi Arabia between the leadership and the population. Al-Wahabi did some simple math to calculate the average age for officials in different parts of the government, and these are some of his findings: the average age of ministers is 65; the average age of governors is 61; and the average age of Shoura Council members is 61. Similar numbers are found when we try to see the ages in the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Ulema Council, and even members of King Abdul-Aziz Center of National Dialogue. Now compare the aforementioned numbers with these two numbers: 70% of the population is under 30, and average age of Saudi citizens is 19 years old.
  • Arab News reports that a group of Saudi women has launched a Facebook campaign calling the government to allow women to participate in the upcoming municipal elections. Arab News, being the dead tree paper that they are, failed to link the group. Here is a link. This is not the first time we hear of such calls. Problem is, the elections that were originally scheduled for 2009, have been indefinitely postponed. The paper says the elections will be held this year. I see no signs of that happening.
  • Jamal Khashoggi, the former editor of Al Watan daily, is working with Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, the Saudi billionaire and country’s richest man, to launch a news channel. No word on when the new channel will start, but from what I heard they are still in the very early stages of planning and they have not hired anyone yet. Contrary to rumors that surfaced earlier, there won’t be a partnership with Fox News. That makes sense. A source close to Khashoggi told me that they are seeking to partner with Bloomberg, but no deal has been signed yet.
  • New Scientists: “Almost two thousand potential archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia have been discovered from an office chair in Perth, Australia, thanks to high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth.” I wonder what Sultan bin Salman and his friends at SCTA have to say about this.
    Having your first name as your handle on Twitter, like I do, is cool. But it comes with a cost: you get a lot of random replies that are not necessarily directed to you.

Egypt: Domino Effect in Action?

I have been glued to the TV (and the laptop, the iPad and the iPhone) over the past few days, closely watching the events unfolding in Egypt. Thrilled to see Egyptians uprise against Mubarak, and concerned over the safety of my friends in the streets of Cairo. The regime has been trying to cut off the country from the rest of the world by shutting down the internet and mobile telecommunication. Obama statement was very disappointing, but I guess that doesn’t matter now. What matters is that the Egyptian people are standing up for their rights, and I hope that they won’t stop until they get them. Al Jazeera English is providing a great coverage, and CNN International is also doing a decent job, but I pay most of my attention to what people are saying on Twitter. This is the domino effect in realtime. Below are some pictures that I took during a demonstration held near the UN here in New York earlier today:

Royal Gifts

King Abdullah was by far the most generous gift-giver to President Barack Obama, his family and administration, according to documents released by the State Department on Tuesday. The King gave Obama, his wife and daughters nearly $190,000 in luxury items in 2009, including the single most valuable gift reported to have been given to U.S. officials that year in 2009: a ruby and diamond jewelry set for Michelle Obama worth $132,000.

However, don’t expect to see the first lady wearing the fancy gems anytime soon. By law, most gifts to American officials must be turned over to the government and the jewelry has already been sent to the National Archives. Why do they accept these gifts if they can’t keep them? According to the documents, “Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and US Government.”

See a list of the most interesting gifted items after the jump.

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Tunisia is Free

Today was a huge, huge day for Tunisia. After four weeks of street protests, president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country. This is probably the first time we witness an Arab leader toppled by his own people. Very happy for the Tunisian people, and very proud of them. I’m especially thrilled for my friends Sami bin Gharbia and Slim Amamou, who worked tirelessly for years to see this day. The only thing that annoyed me was that Saudi Arabia welcomed the ousted dictator to find refuge in our homeland. But for now, let’s just live this historical moment. Here’s to a domino effect all over the Middle East.

PS. This is my favorite video of the day. I don’t know what’s more amazing: the man screaming “Tunisia is free” in the middle of the street, or the woman crying while shooting the video with her phone.

48+ hours in Riyadh, crazy fathers, Khalid Alnowaiser, Saudi Starbucks

  • Reuters does Riyadh. If you want to read more about what to do and where to go in the Saudi capital, please refer to the Riyadh favorites category on this blog.
  • gulfnews: “A Saudi groom cancelled his wedding ceremony at the last minute after the bride’s father insisted on getting half of his daughter’s salary as long as he lived and on writing a clause to the effect in the marriage contract.”
  • I’m not sure how I missed this when it was published in December, Saudi lawyer Khalid Alnowaiser has a really, really good piece in Arab News. He know what he is doing. He begins, “I realize I am taking up a very sensitive subject. I also understand that I would be stereotyped as liberal or secular, but I don’t care as long as this article provokes readers to consider thoughtfully the future of our country.” Do read the whole thing.
  • One of my fav expat blogs is this photo journal by Laylah, a Scandinavian nurse working in Riyadh.
  • Starbucks has a new logo. Fellow blogger Roba Assi has a funny infographic comparing the evolution of the Starbucks logo in Saudi Arabia vs the rest of the world.

MOCI new law, women’s driving, marrying (and cheating) foreigners

  • One thing that I failed to mention in my last blogpost about the new online media law is that MOCI has broken one of their promises. Back in March 2010, Abdulrahman al-Hazza said the ministry has no plans to pre-approve the editors of news website like they do with newspapers. The text of the law that came out on Saturday listed the approval of the editor-in-chief by the ministry as one of the conditions to register an “electronic newspaper.” MOCI keeps saying that they are extending a hands to us and we should trust them, but how are we supposed to trust them when they can’t even keep their word?
  • Over 100 Saudi citizens signed an open letter to the Shoura Council, asking the Council to discuss the issue of women’s driving. I know, I know. It is indeed sad that we are still discussing this, but that’s Saudi Arabia for you. The signatories suggested a trial period for women’s driving, where women are only allowed to drive in a certain city during a certain time of the day, among other conditions and restrictions. I see what they are trying to do, which is to find a practical approach to implement this, but honestly I hate this gradual oh-let’s-consider-the-feelings-of-our-super-senseitive-society way to do things. A basic right is a basic right. Let’s get this over with and move on.
  • American Bedu has a nice interview with Tariq al-Maeena, columnist for Arab News. I met Tariq in Jeddah during the Saudi BlogCamp. I find it strange that despite being married to an American, he does not encourage Saudis to marry foreigners and thinks the government should have some stringent demands before approving a Saudi’s request for a foreign partner.
  • It rained in Jeddah again, and again it was pretty bad.
  • During my time in Riyadh I had a chance to closely watch the expat community there. One fascinating aspect of that community, of course, was the relationships between men and women. The interaction between the expats and the social restrictions of the city creates an interesting dynamic, although I have to admit that listening to their gossip sometimes felt like watching some lame soap opera. But if this is your thing, then you should read orchidthief’s blogpost about cheating among the expat community.