Education reform, Hassawi bisht, women in pharmacies

  • When the Saudi cabinet was reshuffled on Valentine’s Day last year, I said let’s not be overoptimistic. I thought the new ministers will need time before we can evaluate how they performed. About one year later, the minister of education asked today for three more years in order to “turn our ideas and visions for education development into reality.” I would happily give him these three years and then some more if he can really fix the education system, because if he could that would be the best thing to happen to Saudi Arabia since sliced bread.
  • Asharq al-Awsat has a short piece about the bisht, the cloak men wear over the white thobe in Saudi Arabia. Particularly, the Hassawi bisht that is made here in my hometown of Ahsa. It used to take about ten day to sew one of these by hand, but new technology allows you know to make 10 of them in one day. However, some people still prefer the handmade ones. Oh yeah, and the prices can go from $260 to $7000.
  • The ministery of health is studying a proposal to allow women to work in community pharmacies and optics shops. Currently, female pharmacists and optics technicians are only allowed to practice their jobs inside hospitals. The proposal was made by Jeddach Chamber of Commerce, who said they will keep pushing this proposal over the next three years. Aysha Natto, member of the Chamber, denied that this proposal is challenging the social norms in any way. Natto says the men who deal with women inside hospitals are the same men who will deal with them in community pharmacies. “It doesn’t make sense to continue viewing men in our society as wolves that look for women in every place,” she added.
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Too Centralized?

One of the courses I’m taking this summer is Pharmacy Law. The current law was issued few years ago to replace the first law that regulated the profession of pharmacy in Saudi Arabia which has been used since the 1960’s. There is no such thing as a perfect law, and this one is no exception. My professor has repeatedly criticized it throughout the classes, pointing out many of its loopholes and shortcomings.

While many of the law’s problems lie in the details, one major flaw stands out because it is not limited to the pharmacy law but rather universal and is directly related to how our government is functioning.

Many (all?) laws regulating different professions in the country are issued by a single authority that is the Council of Ministers, chaired by the King. Saudi Arabia is a huge country, and this centralized approach of governing is overwhelming to the Council of Ministers which has to approve every little detail in a very wide variety of laws and regulations. Even a tiny change in one article of a preexistent law takes years to be approved and implemented. Keep in mind that we don’t even have a parliament which could stop the government from doing whatever they want to do. Yet, the process remains slow, and this slowness is bad for people and bad for business.

The government should consider moving some from their responsibilities to other entities such as civil society organizations and independent government bodies. Unfortunately, we severely lack such institutions in our country.

Saudi Arabia has recently passed a new law for regulation of civil society organizations. The new law has received a lukewarm response, but hopes remain high that it would propel the creation of new organizations and bodies. However, the concept of civil society is closely connected to democratic systems. Considering the current political situation in the country, it is debatable if civil society can flourish here and lead to significant changes.