Runaway woman, La Yekthar, Wikileaks, censorship, sectarian violence, and more

  • In a story that would probably work perfectly for a Saudi action movie, a woman in her twenties has fled her husband and lived for two months in the guise of a man, mixing in male company, driving a car, and praying with males in the mosque.
  • Meanwhile, my good friends Fahad al-Butairi and Ali al-Kalthami continue to impress with their comedy show La Yekthar. Below is the second episode. Can’t wait to watch the next one.

  • Wael says “It is no wonder that Saudis moved into the cyberspace to vent out their frustrations and dreams; nowadays, they are all over the social networks talking about their daily lives, sharing links with friends and even organizing some kind of virtual remonstrations on twitter, Facebook and blogs.”
  • Faisal Abbas: “You see, what this cable is telling us is that an American informer based in Riyadh actually sent back classified information to his superiors in Washington DC to say that Saudis watch and enjoy American television programs. Seriously? Did it really require an informer to “discover” this? What’s next, a team of American anthropologists revealing that Saudis eat at McDonalds? Drive GMCs? Or Wear Levi’s?”
  • The holy city of Medina has witnessed some sectarian violence last week on Ashura. I was sad to hear the news, but I couldn’t wait to see how local media would cover the event considering its sensitive nature. Not surprisingly, none of the local papers wrote about the real reason behind the violence. This kind of censorship can lead to a hilarious form of reporting, if we can call it such. Take this gem from al-Riyadh daily for example:

    Informed sources have asked the authorities to shut down some websites that have continued to instigate the two parties at certain times by historically linking them to ancient events and demanding to retaliate from the grandchildren under banners that incite differences to serve suspicious parties that aim to shake the stability in the land of security and safety. Some imapassioned young men from the neighborhood who were dressed in ‘black’ have followed these banners, broken into doors, and frightened the people, which made them resist and call the security forces who remained in the neighborhood until dawn.

    Here is an idea for Saudi media: if you can’t cover a story properly, don’t bother covering it at all. Okay?

  • Speaking of censorship, columnist Abdullah al-Maghlooth, who wrote a profile of yours truly a couple of months ago, is reportedly banned from writing after al-Watan daily published his latest article which posed an interesting question: “Who is the youngest official in Saudi Arabia?” I guess an old official didn’t like that question.
  • Apologies for the hiatus. Last week was the last week of the semester, which means I had a lot of work to finish, and I was also moving from my place in the Bronx to a new one near Columbia. A lot to catch up on. Here we go. Scroll up!
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Unacceptable

Sheikh Namer al-Namer is back at it again. After his idiotic statements last summer he was detained for a while and later released, but he was banned from leading prayers and speaking in public. The recent tension in Madinah made him break the restrictions and he came out with even more idiotic statements.

In a speech he gave last Friday in a mosque in Awwamiyah, Sheikh al-Namer said that Shia should seek independence if the government continues its discrimination against them. “Our dignity is above the unity of this country,” he added.

What a moron!

Instead of trying to sooth the tension and calm the public down, he is openly calling for a civil war. During difficult times you expect some people to step up and rise to the occasion, show wisdom and leadership. Unfortunately, we have seen none of that during this crisis. Both the government and Shia leaders have failed to show the needed sense of responsibility to deal with the incidents and their aftermath.

However, I’m glad that I’m not alone in rejecting al-Namer’s divisive statements. People like Tawfeeq al-Saif has come out to denounce these statements. “They are totally rejected,” al-Saif said. There are conflicted reports on the web regarding the fate of al-Namer after his fiery speech. Some websites say he was arrested, others say he managed to escape the security forces that came to arrest him.

He will be arrested and then he will be released. But the truth is that his words will harm the Shia community and the national unity in Saudi Arabia much more than they will cause him harm.

On Madinah

I did not want to write about the tension in Madinah over the past few days and the reason is simply because there was no reliable, trusted news sources that I can use to draw any conclusions or make an informed opinion. Mainstream media were sticking to the official story which, as usual, played dumb and pretended that it was no big deal. Websites on both sides, Shia and Sunni, were extremely biased and that was expected considering the sectarian nature of the incidents.

So what is the truth about the tension in Madinah? I’m not sure if anybody knows.

But here is what I know: what happened is serious and unacceptable under any circumstances. All parties involved were supposed to respect where they are and exercise some form of self-restraint. The Prophet’s Mosque is Islam’s second most holy site, and the least they could do is to emulate the prophet manners and ideals. Sadly, they all failed to show any respect to this great religion that they claim to represent.

Now I could delve into some of the disturbing details, or cast blame on either party, or analyse the long lasting effects of these sorry incidents. But I don’t want to do that because it will not make any difference.

Let me just finish by saying this: I’m truly and deeply ashamed to see what happened in Madinah. It should not have happened, and we must make sure it will not happen again.

P.S. I’m turning off comments because I will be traveling with my family for a couple of days. I will turn them on after I come back. Comments are back. Please be rational and respectful. Offensive comments will not be tolerated.

International Knowledge Forum in Madinah

Knowledge Economic City (KEC) in Madinah is one of many megaproject launched by the government in recent years to diversify the country’s economy and decrease dependence on oil.

The Economic Cities concept include five other projects, three of them have been launched in Rabigh, Hail and Jazan, and two more are expected to be launched later this year in Tabuk and the Eastern Province. It is still not known where exactly in the EP they plan to build the economic city, but I hope they choose either Qatif or Ahssa as both regions has not received the development they deserve in the past.

Building huge projects like these is a big challenge, and making them work efficiently is a bigger challenge. SAGIA, the government’s arm that oversees these projects, have a vision for the economic cities contribute between a quarter and a third of the aspired national growth rate, to create over a million jobs, and to become home to 4-5 million residents by 2020.

KEC, with a total investment worth US$ 7bn, is particularly interesting because it will focus on knowledge based industries, tourism and services. As part of their effort to raise awareness and create excitement around the project, SAGIA are organizing the first ever Islamic Conference for Science & Knowledge (Noor). The event will take place later this month in Madinah.

I hope that some bloggers from the Western region would register to attend the event as it will tackle some topics of importance to them such as healthcare and information communications technology. I would like to attend but I won’t be done with my finals until the 23rd, and on the 25th I will leave the Kingdom to attend the GV Summit 08 in Budapest, Hungary.