- Photographer Reem Al Faisal mocks the ban on women driving in Arab News by calling women to start riding… camels. “OK, we give up and allow the men to drive cars and allow us what was never denied our grandmothers – camels. Let every household own as many camels as they wish or can afford. Open up schools to teach women how to ride and house and maintain a camel.”
- Head of the human rights committee in the Shoura Council said the topic of women driving is not open to discussion, even though some citizens have presented a petition to the Council about it. “Women driving is a minor issue,” he said. “It is not a priority for the Council.” This contradicts what his boss said last week. I will ask again: why are we talking about this as if Shoura matters?
- Farzaneh Milani: “The Saudi regime, like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the military junta in Sudan and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, ordains the exclusion of women from the public sphere. It expects women to remain in their “proper place.””
- Good to see Saudi comedians featured in the New York Times. They are doing some really interesting, creative work. They deserve all this attention and more. Related: my piece on the rise of Arab American standup comedy.
- This chart from The Economist has been making the rounds on the interwebs. It basically shows the biggest military spenders in the world. According to the chart, Saudi Arabia spends 10.4% of its GDP on defence.
- Last week I started a summer internship at NPR in Washington DC. My first byline on appeared on their website last Saturday. You can read the story here. As an intern, I’m not allowed to post opinion online. I will still be posting stuff here, just not my personal opinions.
- Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. But when they go outside the cities they usually get behind the wheel for fun. Sometimes, accidents happen. This week, a young woman in her twenties died along with three female friends when her car overturned outside Riyadh.
- King Abdullah arrived to the US on Monday for treatment of a herniated spinal disc and a blood clot that is causing him back pain. Worrying news for the Saudis, no doubt. Interestingly, the royal court seems pretty transparent about the King’s health situation. By Saudi standards, this type of transparency is quite unusual.
- Residents of the Middle East who are heavy viewers of Arab television news networks like Al Jazeera are more likely to view their primary identity as that of Muslims, rather than as citizens of their own country, a new study suggests. Huh?
- Lou K has been on a roll lately. His latest: How to create a Viral Email (Saudi Edition).
- Katherine Zoepf was in Riyadh earlier this year to report on women’s issues. Her latest piece on Saudi female athletes was published on the front page of the Times last Saturday. I actually never bought the argument that the IOC would ban Saudi Arabia from competing in the Olympics because of the restrictions it puts on women’s sports.
- Have you heard of the Air France flight attendant who was arrested for robbing passengers? Muhammed al-Ahidib provides four reasons why this woman would not have been able to steal if she were working for Saudi Arabian Airline.
- Here is another good review for Routes d’Arabie, this time from Bloomberg.
- Nasser Weddady offers another fine rebuttal to Rami Khouri’s op-ed in NYT. At the end of his blogpost, Weddady comments on a part of Khour’s article that I chose to ignore, which is about the “hypocrisy” of US government’s interest in social media while it supports the very same dictatorships that crush liberties. This is an old and overused argument, and something I have touched on in my op-ed in the same newspaper last year.
- The Saudi Routes of Arabia exhibition in Paris has been receiving some pretty good reviews. Hundreds of artifacts never before seen outside Saudi Arabia are currently on view at the Louvre. I have seen most of these pieces at the National Museum, and I’m glad the whole world is getting a chance to see this part of our history. I wish they would do more to promote the museums and exhibitions like this inside the country for the locals who only get to hear about such events when they take place abroad.
- Rami Khouri thinks the new media in the Middle East synonymous with the Al Jazeera effect of the 1990s, i.e. it is merely venting and therefor will not lead to any real change in the Arab political landscape. I’ve heard this rhetoric many times before. If he thinks that the current wave of activism is useless, then what exactly does he suggest? Should we just sit down, keep our mouths shut, and wait for his generation to bring about change? Based on their history, this seems pretty unlikely. But lamenting this whole phenomenon as merely venting is naïve. Khouri and other old media people obviously still struggle to understand new media and their influence. I never said blogging will change everything, but I think it is the start of something good, something that our predecessors were not able to do. The evidence is his comparison to Al Jazeera, which is a one-way medium just like the one he comes from, unlike new media where people are actively engaged and involved and not simply passive consumers.
- My friend Ben has been living in Saudi Arabia for a year, and now he is back to the US and is suffering from a “reverse culture shock.” Thankfully, he says, his condition is treatable. The doctor has prescribed him movies, lots of bacon, and a few happy hours.
Last week, the New York Times asked me if I would be interested in writing for the newspaper about the Obama visit. Of course I was. Today, NYT publishes my article as part of seven views from the Middle East about what Obama should say in his much anticipated speech in Cairo tomorrow. Check it out. Here’s a picture of the voting paper that I mention in the last paragraph:
Here’s yet another piece about joy riding, aka drifting, aka tafheet, aka total nonsense. Yes, we are bored. Yes, we are young and we are not amused. And yes, we live in a place that severely lacks proper entertainment outlets for the youth. But is this a good reason for you to go drive your car recklessly in public roads? I hate to repeat myself, but here it goes:
Bored? Go read a book, rent a movie, go swimming, or even go wank yourself for all I care, but please oh please don’t get behind the wheel to jeopardize our lives. Driving in these roads is dangerous enough, and we already have seen much blood spilt on the asphalt, we don’t need idiots killing themselves and others just because they were trying to have some fun.
Oh, and a word to Robert Worth and other foreign journalists who fall for the usual traps and fail to see the big picture: instead of trying to fit everything you see here in your ready-made frames, please go and try to find some new frames for your Saudi stories. Or, even better, how about no frame at all? We are really, really sick of being pictured like aliens. It is probably much easier to write about car drifters than write about people like Waleed Abul-Khair, Najla Barasain, Hashim al-Refaie, and Amna Fatani, but that’s a lame excuse.
Maybe we are not what you would call a normal country, but I think there is more about us than this.