- Hillary Clinton was in Saudi Arabia. There was lobster and lamb with the King. She was received like a rock star in Jeddah, where she signed autographs but did not talk about women’s rights. Also, more sanctions against Iran, which she said was on its way to becoming a military dictatorship. Madam Secretary did not, however, comment on the flourishing democracies in the Gulf, because, you know, she is so cool!
- Today’s picture: female volunteers at JEF.
- According to the latest report from the Ministry of Civil Service, the government employed 31,000 persons in 2008. 63 percent of those were women, most of them in education.
- We have no movie theaters, but that won’t stop young Saudis from making movies. BBC has a short reportage about these young men. I have met most of these guys who appear in this reportage, and got a chance to watch some of their work. They are talented, creative, and determined. Too bad that our government refuses to acknowledge their talent.
- And speaking of Saudi talents, here’s that latest single from ReD CoasT, a band from Jeddah:
- Surprise! Surprise! BAE Systems will plead guilty to offenses of false accounting to settle bribery allegations made over al-Yamamah arms deals. BAE will pay $400m but only in the US, and not in the UK where the SFO dropped their investigation into al-Yamamah due to a request by former prime minister Tony Blair.
Three weeks have passed since the Jeddah catastrophe. People now are eagerly waiting for the verdict of the investigation commission. While we are waiting, it might be useful to look back and reflect.
The heavy downpour has exposed some nasty things such as the nonexistent infrastructure and the abundant corruption. But like what happens with many other things in life, sometimes we need to see the ugliness before we see the beauty. There are at least two good things I saw coming out of this disaster: the great spirit of the people, and the power of social media.
In the days and nights following Black Wednesday, we have seen more than 7,000 persons who volunteered to help in any and every way they can. I’m proud of Ibrahim al-Kushi who opened his house to shelter the displaced. I’m proud of Bassem Kurdi who decided to stay at the hospital when everybody else told him to go home. I’m proud of so many young men and women who, despite the harassment of some self-appointed guards of morality, rolled up their sleeves and spent countless hours at al-Harthi Exhibition Center to organize, distribute, and deliver the donations to those who need them in the most damaged areas of the city.
The relief efforts have been largely coordinated using the internet and social media tools. One Facebook group in particular was central to these efforts as it acted like an umbrella and a gathering point for volunteers. The group is called Rescue Jeddah, and it boasts more than 9,000 members. The content there is all in Arabic but you don’t need to read anything to see what they have been up to. Just look at the pictures and the videos and you will get a good idea on what they have done so far.
Beside Facebook, people were using blogs, Twitter, and SMS to circulate the latest news. They were also using Flickr and YouTube to document what was happening in real time. Some of the pictures, like the one of the dead little girl covered with mud, were really disturbing. But I think that in crises you need shocking images to make others understand the gravity of the disaster.
As for videos, estimates say more than 400 videos have been uploaded over the past three weeks. Most of these were taken by citizens using their mobile phones, but I have also seen some well-produced videos like this one by Mohammed al-Rehaili. In the end, I will leave you with this short film by Bader al-Homoud, who captures the tragedy but instead decides to focus on the bright human side of the story:
- One of my favourite blog posts about the disaster is this by McToom in which he offers an illustration on the basics of drainage systems. You know, because our officials are too busy to read long blog posts like mine.
- Khaled al-Maeena, editor-in-chief of Arab News, wrote a letter to Makkah governor. “At the moment, the people of Jeddah and the surrounding areas are hurt, sad, anguished and in both physical and mental pain,” he said.
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.
At least 44 people were killed in Jeddah after a heavy downpour. The rains caused a major infrastructure failure and the results were disastrous. My heart goes out to all Jeddawis.
This would not have happened if the people of Jeddah had a say in how their city is run. This would not have happened if there was transparency and accountability in how our country is governed.
I’m beyond angry and disgusted.
UPDATE 27/11/09 2:40: The death toll reaches 83. Keep in mind this is the official number announced by the Civil Defense. The actual number might be higher. More rains are expected on Jeddah tomorrow.