Saudi-US relationship, Graduates taking jobs they don’t want

  • King Abdullah will meet the American President Barack Obama in the White House next week. In this piece for The Majalla, Caryle Murphy examines the changing nature of the Saudi-US bilateral ties over the past 20 years. The previously so-called “special relationship” has become what both countries now refer to as a “strategic dialogue.”
  • Rima al-Mukhtar, who recently said she hates free lance [sic], reports that many Saudi college graduates are taking on jobs that are unrelated to their degrees due to a lack of available opportunities and a loathing for being unemployed. Boo. But seriously, only seven percent of jobs are available to Saudi women?
  • KAUST’s Museum of Science and Technology in Islam (MOSTI) has redesigned their website. The Museum celebrates the contributions of Muslim scholars to science and technology during the first Golden Age of Islam. Admission to MOSTI currently is limited to the university community and its invited guests. No word on when it will be open to the public.

Found footage

Check out this old video of King (then Crown Prince) Abdullah catching a pigeon in the football stadium of Buraida, Qassim. Next to him you can see the late King Fahad. The video was probably taken in 1988.

Royal Mixing

King and Royal Prince with women

Amidst the current debate and controversy over gender mixing that is taking place in the country, this picture made it to the front pages of some local newspapers today. The picture shows King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan surrounded by female participants at the National Dialogue in the southern city of Najran. Although the photo was taken on April 11, it was only published today which may indicate the green light to publish it was only obtained recently. Al-Watan daily published what they called the story of the picture, along with the full names of the women who appear in it.

  • It took a handshake between Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the UK and US, and Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon to settle a seating spat at the Munich Security Conference. Depending on who you are, this may or may not be a big deal. Here’s the video:

  • King Abdullah is popular in Egypt and Jordan. Yipee! Woohoo! The King is also very popular here. What I really hope for is that he would take advantage of this popularity to push for more radical reform in Saudi Arabia. People say he has to be cautious, but I disagree. If you are this popular then you can certainly afford to make some bold moves.
  • Two TwitterCamps in Jeddah and Khobar today. Twitter users in the country are invited to discuss Twitter services, features, tips and tricks, as well as twitter clients.

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.

Our ‘State of the Union’ Address?

King Abdullah will open the new cycle of Shoura Council with a major speech that he will give on Tuesday. The speech is expected to highlight the goals, programs, and aspirations of the government for the current year. The King will also speak to the Shoura members about his vision for the country’s domestic and foreign policies.

But let’s pause for a moment and go back to April of last year, when the King addressed the Shoura, and many were anticipating significant announcements. Unfortunately, that speech carried nothing major. Is this a good reason not to expect much this time around? Maybe, but the recent changes in the government could be a sign that we are in for something different this year.

This is all speculation, of course. Many rumors are flying around town but no one is certain about anything. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Not holding my breath, though.

UPDATE: No big announcements in the King’s speech. Focus was on Arab unity and the international economical crisis. Read more…

Form for the Other Saudis

I don’t care if Mohammed al-Mussaed, aka Green Tea, and his likes call me a rafidi because the opinion of extremists is not of value to me. Now of course people like him would argue that “rafidi” is not meant as a sectarian slur but merely a description, but to me as well as many others this term has very negative connotations because it has been used for a very long time to degrade the group of Muslims to which I belong. But as I said, I could not care less.

What I care about, though, is how the government treat those so-called “rafida.” I expect our government to treat all citizens with justice and equality. This is what King Abdullah promised this nation, “a land of justice and moderation far removed from hatred and extremism.” And I still vividly remember his first speech as a King when he vowed justice for all.

When I was a young student, I was taught in school that all citizens of Saudi Arabia are Muslims, period. That’s why none of the official forms and papers used for Saudis here contain an item for religion. If you are a Saudi, you are automatically, er naturally, a Muslim. Or at least this is what I thought until I stumbled upon this form:

Form for Saudis

This form bears the logo of the Ministry of Health and it is used by the directorate of health affairs in Ahssa for those who apply for a job at government’s hospitals. The headline in this form clearly states: “Form for Saudis.” However, a few lines underneath that title there is a space where applicants are required to provide their religion and sect. So what’s going on here? Is this form only used in Ahssa or is it used throughout the Kingdom? I don’t know, but I can confirm that this form is not fake because I personally know someone who had to fill it when he applied for a job.

I have heard many people talk about sectarian discrimination at the healthcare sector in my hometown of Ahssa, but as a good citizen I always choose to ignore them and believe the government who insist that they don’t discriminate on sectarian basis. I would like to think that there no such thing as institutionalized discrimination here, but I think there are some individuals who use their power to pass discriminatory practices.

In this era of sectarian strife that is taking the region, it is high time for our nation to eliminate all practices conveying prejudices and for the government to take strong measures to stop discrimination on all levels. It is only with unity and solidarity that we are able to stand and overcome the challenges facing our country. Now let’s put the words into action.