MTV, beauty queen camels, flirting with books, and more…

  • As part of their True Life series, MTV has broadcasted a one-hour documentary on Saudi youth last Monday. Even before it was aired, Resist the Power, Saudi Arabia has attracted big attention. Over the course of last week, I have received many emails asking me to watch it, and more emails later asking what I think of the episode. I have not watched it yet. I will probably watch it, but only after this silly hoopla dies off. Local media, as expected, jumped in with the usual mixture of conspiracy theories and anger caused by the documentary. Very typical. There are rumors that some people who appeared in the show could be prosecuted, but nothing is confirmed at this point. Many bloggers reacted, and most of what they said have been balanced and well worth a read: here, here, here, here, here, and here.
  • Forget about MTV, and watch this short video by local artist Abdulaziz al-Muzaini which pokes fun at Riyadh rains:

  • Remember the guy who was suing Aramco over the death of his beloved beauty queen camel? He has actually won case. Saudi Gazette reports that the General Court in Khobar has ordered the oil giant to pay 1 million riyals to the heartbroken owner. Aramco’s lawyer said they intend to appeal the verdict with the Court of Cassation.
  • Based on her experience with a public library where she lives in Dubai, Badriya al-Bisher believes that opening more public libraries will encourage Saudi boys and girls to flirt with the books instead of flirting with each other. That’s an interesting theory which I would love to test in Riyadh. It will make for one hell of an experiment.
  • The first patch of graduates from private medical colleges in Jeddah were previously told their can intern in university hospitals. Now they are told they can’t, and that if they want to intern then they have to pay SR60,000. Unbelievable. Shada Ahmadi, a student who is yet to start her internship, told me “it’s a big frustrating issue in our college.” UPDATE: Intern doctors graduating from government universities, who had their monthly reward cut in half by a decision from the Council of Higher Education five years ago, have launched an online petition asking the government to reconsider that decision.

KSA Goes Nuclear and Renewable

The state news agency says:

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued today a royal order establishing “King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy” in accordance with its law. Former minister of commerce and Harvard-trained physicist Hashim Yamani will head the new organization.

I always believed that Saudi Arabia, as the world’s top oil exporter, should invest part of the wealth generated by its vast but finite natural resources to deal with the reality of living in the post-oil era. This is a step in the right direction.

Good Luck with That

Saudi Aramco is being sued for one million riyals. Not over their long time use of natural resources in the EP without considering the environmental consequences, and not over being a country within a country where the rules that govern the rest of Saudi Arabia do not necessarily apply, but over a dead animal. According to Saudi Gazette, Abdullah Al-Saiari is suing the giant oil company for causing the death of an alleged beauty contest female camel which died when she tripped into a big hole that Aramco had dug and filled it up with crude oil in a desert pasture land, 250 km west of Ahsa. 1m SR is probably nothing for a multi billion-dollars company like Aramco, but can a camel breeder win a case against the oil giant? The news item says the General Court in Khobar is looking into the case, but since Aramco is owned by the government, shouldn’t this case be brought into the Court of Grievances? Hmmm…

Aramco the Builders

When King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) was announced about two years ago, one of the interesting aspects about the project was the way it was planned to be developed and built. From the beginning it was clear that KAUST will be independent and not under the umbrella of the Ministry of Higher Education, and instead of relaying on a real estate or a construction company to build the university, the project was handled by Saudi Aramco, the national oil company.

Choosing an oil company to build a world class university seemed strange to many people, but to me it made some sense. The King’s bold vision meant things must be done differently. There are only two construction companies in the country that can handle a huge project like KAUST: Saudi Oger and Saudi Binladen Group (SBG). Both companies are already developing major megaprojects, and both companies have been linked to corruption allegations related to government contracts before.

To turn the King’s vision into a reality in the short time span that was announced, he needed people who are efficient and trustworthy. Many of those people can be found in Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in the world. Now that the KAUST development model has been a success, I guess the King wants to use the same model to pull off another megaproject that has been delayed for years.

I previously wrote about King Abdullah Stadium. The Ministry of Finance repeatedly refused to allocate a budget for the project because proposals made by the General Presidency of Youth Welfare seemed so exaggerated and so… fishy. Rumors have been flying during the past few weeks that Aramco will build the new stadium, but honestly I found that hard to believe. I know that they have done an impressive job with building KAUST, which should be ready to receive students this fall, but I thought that was an exception. Well, I was wrong.

Aramco distributed a statement last week saying the Ministry of Petroleum and Minerals have entrusted them to build the new King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah. According to the statement, the project will include a big stadium, an 18-hole golf course, a hospital and a sports academy.

Is it right to hire an oil company to build a university and a sports city? It is probably not the most conventional approach, but from a pragmatic point of view it is effective and working. This way of thinking says that if this is what it takes to get the job done, then we will go for it. I really don’t mind such approach, but I think it should not make us overlook the problems and circumstances that got us here. Also, this makes me remember some questions and concerns that I have about Aramco, but that’s another post for another day.

Aramco’s Iron Lady

Here is a different face of Saudi Arabia, a face usually not seen:


Meet Nabilah al-Tunisi, aka the Iron Lady, the acting manager for projects, control and support, at Saudi Aramco. She has been recently put in charge of the engineering on a new $25 billion refinery and petrochemicals plant–the Ras Tanura Integrated Project.