Today’s Links

  • Shoura Council finally decided to open its doors to citizens. Shoura said it is ready now to hear the voices of concerned citizens through its Human Rights and Petitions Committee. The King is scheduled to deliver the annual royal speech launching the second year of the the Council’s fifth term Sunday. Unlike Saudi Gazette, I don’t think it would be anything like the State of the Union address.
  • In other news, the King has received the Jeddah Investigation report. I’m eager to hear the news of some heads rolling. I’m also curious to read the report but I doubt it will be made public.
  • Okay, so Fox News published a story on Saudi bloggers, but as SUSRIS blog correctly notes, the story has some holes. No surprise here, I guess.
  • I disagree with almost everything published in Lojainiat, but blocking the website is simply something that I’m not okay with. CITC should stop acting as policemen on our brains.
  • Typical case of Saudi flirting using text messages. A pretty lame attempt if you ask me. But hey, I never been into this kind of thing so maybe you don’t want to take my word for it.

Professional Brain Explosions

Whenever someone asks me about the Shoura Council, I quickly respond: “Shoura is dead to me.” I have lost hope that anything good for the people would come out of this institution. Some think I’m being too harsh on them but I beg to differ. Now this is old news, because a couple of days ago Dr. Fahad al-Aboud, a member of the Shoura Council since 2001, offered yet another reason to take the council less seriously.

In his weekly column for al-Riyadh daily, Dr. al-Aboud wrote about a new iPod from Apple. That confused me a little bit because last time I checked Apple’s latest iPod was introduced in September 2009. So I figured maybe he meant the iPad, which was unveiled by Steve Jobs last month. The “revolutionary device,” he said, is a “tablet” computer. Okay, it’s the iPad then, I thought.

But in the next paragraph he adds, “the new device is 3-in-1: a mobile phone, an iPod, and an internet browser.”

Um, I’m confused again. The iPad indeed includes an iPod app and an internet browser, but can’t make phone calls. The iPod Touch is, well an iPod, can browse the internet, but also can’t make phone calls. The iPhone, on the other hand, can do all that, but it’s not exactly a tablet. So what’s up Doc?!

Aboud iPad

Dr. al-Aboud, who holds a PhD in information sciences from Florida State University, goes on and on about the new mysterious iPod that we have not yet seen, saying the new nonexistent device has given Apple “a psychological victory over its peers.” He then asks the all important question: “how far this amazing technological advancement will go?” It is safe to say, he concludes, that the human brain will have a hard time keeping up with or following this advancement.

Well, I can tell you that my brain is exploding from all this gibberish that I’m reading.

But on a more serious note, I believe this article, in addition to showcasing the incompetency of Shoura members, also says a lot about the state of media in the country. The minister of information and top editors here keep talking about how blogs and internet websites lack professionalism and credibility, presumably compared to their newspapers, and then they go and run utter rubbish.

Publishing an article like the aforementioned shows clearly that these newspapers do no fact-checking whatsoever. Do they even know what fact-checking is? Have they ever heard of such thing? They should. They are, after all, professional.

Women, Diversity and Jails

A member of Shoura Council said that he would like to see a woman minister in the government. Khalil al-Khalil also said he would like to see women work “side by side” with men in the Shoura Council.

Al-Khalil was speaking during a discussion panel on diversity in the Saudi society which took place this Saturday at King Saud University, where he was supposed to be joined by his fellow Shoura member Abdullah Dahlan. The latter, however, was a no-show. The discussion panel was typical of events at KSU. It started 30 minutes late and the attendance was low. The speaker’s talk was too general and he admitted later that he shied away from tackling specifics to avoid controversy.

Al-Khalil said we should not be afraid of diversity because it is “not a Western invention,” and because even the most powerful governments cannot erase it. That’s why we should protect diversity by legislation, he added.

I agree with him when he says that the government needs to step up and take its responsibilities on this crucial matter, and I think that they have failed to do so in the past. He claims that the government has a clear policy when it comes to religious diversity that is based on justice but I really don’t know what clear policy he is talking about.

Al-Khalil, who heads the security committee at Shoura, ended his remarks by saying that if we want to promote diversity then we need to build more universities, not jails. Well, it is a very interesting thing to say considering that the government just announced last year they will spend SR1.7bn ($450mn) to build five new high-tech jails around the country. Not that he and his colleagues could have done anything about it but…

Discussion Panel on Diversity at KSU

What: Diversity in the Saudi Society
Who: Khalil al-Khalil and Abdullah Dahlan
When: Saturday, January 10, 2009. 10:30 AM
Where: Building No.7, Auditorium 7A
RSVP: Attending

In a conservative, conformist society like ours, diversity is not a popular term. Its opponents have always tried to make diversity look like a threat to national unity. That’s total bull, of course. Because our diversity only makes us stronger.

Hopefully this and other interesting ideas will be tackled in this discussion panel hosted by the Literary Club at KSU next Saturday. The speakers are Khalil al-Khalil and Abdullah Dahlan, both members of the dead Shoura Council. It is an open event and everyone is encouraged to come. The discussion panel will also be broadcast live to Khadija Bin Khuwailed auditorium in Olayisha campus for girls.

The Old Turtle

turtle-clipart_2Mazen Baleelah, member of the Shoura Council, has been working to pass a new law criminalizing sexual harassment in the workplace. Some people supported him in his effort saying it is long overdue; some other people thought he is exaggerating and that sexual harassment is not yet a pressing issue that we need to deal with by legislation. However, the most surprising reaction so far has come from some female academics who spoke to al-Madinah daily last week. They objected to the proposal because they think such law would encourage mixing of the sexes in workplaces. Baleelah was quick to respond that although none of the six articles in the new law encourages mixing of sexes, such mixing is a reality of our everyday life in this age that we need to address properly if we want move forward.

What do I think about all of this? Well, the Shoura Council is dead to me so I’m not expecting anything good to come out of that place. Also, it seems ironic that some women are standing against a law that should protect women, but hey, what do I know? Finally, are we moving forward? Yes we are! We are moving forward, but really really slowly, like an old quadriplegic turtle.

Want to Marry a Foreigner? Over Their Dead Body

The Shoura Council is an advisory body comprised of 150 members appointed by the King and serves as a quasi-parliament. Those members are academics, technocrats and businessmen. They are, in other words, the intelligentsia of the Saudi society, the crème de la crème, the elite, the… well, you get the idea.

However, I find myself rather gobsmacked by some of the conclusions they make and the recommendations they reach on some issues. Here’s a recent example: after being equally split over a need to simplify the regulations of Saudi marriages to foreigners, the newly appointed vice president Bandar al-Hajjar rejected the proposal. What a disappointing start for Mr. al-Hajjar who was just a few days ago the president of the National Society for Human Rights.

I do not understand the harsh restrictions enforced on citizens who want to marry foreigners. Why should the government bother with who one chooses to marry? I really do not understand the government’s obsession with interfering in the minutiae of people’s personal lives.

The argument offered by the proposal opponents is embarrassingly weak and wrongheaded they should be ashamed of themselves. “Such recommendations would greatly increase the number of Saudis marrying foreigners while we are fully aware of the complications that such marriages create,” they said. They also said changes would only exacerbate the problem of spinsterhood in the Kingdom. Are they trying to convince us that by taking these unfair measures they are actually protecting Saudi women?

As for the “complications” bit, the best response comes from Sabria Jawhar who says, “Well, those complications are created by the Saudi government in the first place. Perhaps minimizing the complications that exist in the law would help those marriages.”

Now how can a large group of supposedly intelligent people all agree on taking such an unintelligent position is just beyond me. Sadly, it is not the first time and this is not an isolated, single case. Remember the weekend thing?

Around one year ago, my good friend Khaled said that we should not get all worked up over the nonperformance of the Shoura Council because it is nothing more than a dead body that we should respectfully leave to rest in peace. I guess he was right all along.