Jeddah, Jeddah, Jeddah

  • The King has received the board of directors of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The JCCI delegation included 3 women. National newspapers made sure to show that in the pictures. During the reception, Saleh Kamel, chairman of JCCI, promised the King to create jobs for new university graduates. Last week, an official from the minister of labor said there are 200,000 unemployed Saudi women; 78% of those women hold a college degree. The official described this as a “sad matter.”
  • File this under good news for transparency and fighting corruption. Saudi Gazette says, “As the Control and Investigation Board (CIB) begins Saturday its investigations into the case files of over 70 persons facing charges related to the Jeddah flood disaster of November 2009, sources told Okaz that the accused would be put on trial publicly. Construction contractors found guilty may also be liable to pay blood money.”

Royal Reaction

While the sky keeps raining dogs on Jeddah, we finally have an official reaction to the disaster. On Monday, King Abdullah ordered the setting up of a high-level committee that will study the extent of the damage due to the calamity. It will also study the causes of the crisis and recommend ways to make ensure that it does not happen again.

The royal decree was particularly interesting because it featured a strong language that is rather unusual for government communications. Many officials in Jeddah, including Makkah Governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal, stressed in their statements that this was a natural disaster and there was not much they could have done about it. However, the royal decree made it clear that the devastation has more to do with the performance of the government than the amount of the rains.

“It is painful that many countries, some with even less potential than the Kingdom, experience similar rainfall almost every day, but there are no devastation of the magnitude we witnessed in Jeddah,” said the decree. “We cannot ignore the fact that there were mistakes and failures on the part of some departments and it is our duty to identify those responsible and take action against them.”

By Saudi standards, this is not normal. Some people even think the whole point of the royal decree and the investigation is to defuse the public anger over the catastrophe. But the firm language of the decree makes me believe that it is going to be different this time.

I certainly hope that this committee will hit hard on the widespread corruption that led to this disaster. Money alone is not enough to compensate the families of those who lost their lives. We must make sure that those responsible for the tragedy are taken to task because this is the only way to make sure that it won’t happen again.

Dirty Games

I never liked the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF). Not just because of their lame policy of erratically and irrationally sacking one coach after another, but also because the overall performance of our sports teams is simply not comparable to the talent pool we have in this country. I can’t think of any reason for this situation other than mismanagement of resources available at the disposal of this federation.

A long running saga of SAFF involves building a new football stadium in Jeddah. The current Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium in the coastal city was built in 1980. I could not find any solid numbers regarding the stadium’s capacity, but Google thinks it’s somewhere between 25,000-35,000 spectators, which is considered medium by today’s standards. Jeddah is the home of two major football clubs in Saudi Arabia, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli, which means a large number of matches is played on the stadium every year. Add to that poor maintenance and lack of any renovation effort and you get an outdated, ugly mess.

Rumors about the new Jeddah stadium, expected to be named after Crown Prince King Abdullah, have been circulating for, I don’t know, like the past ten years or so. SAFF claim that they have all plans ready for the new stadium but they are waiting for the Ministry of Finance to allocate the needed money for the project. SAFF have been blaming MOF for taking such a long time to approve the budget of the project and allocate the money.

However, if what Arreyadi sports newspaper has reported today is true, then I don’t blame MOF for putting the plans on hold. The newspaper cited sources at MOF saying the delay in approving the plans is based on their conviction that the estimated budget by SAFF is quite exaggerated. SAFF say they will need SR 10 billion to build the new stadium.

For the sake of comparison, the construction cost of the Emirates Stadium, one of Europe’s newest and most expensive football venues, is £430 million (~ SR 3 billion). Why SAFF are asking for this exorbitant amount of money when they actually need just a fraction of it remains a mystery, unless we get a chance to see their plans for the new stadium, which better include some architectural miracles and never-seen-before technologies to justify this huge budget.

I understand that Arreyadi is not very friendly toward SAFF for reasons beyond the scope of this blog post, but even if their report is not accurate, it nevertheless sheds the light on an important issue that has been long overlooked. Saudi Arabia has not built any new football stadiums since the opening of King Fahad International Stadium in Riyadh in 1989.