We Want Apple Saudi Arabia

apple-saudiIt is about time that Apple opens an office in Saudi Arabia. It is time we stop relying on crappy distributors that offer crappy services. Yes we are talking about Arab Business Machines.

That’s why We Want Apple Saudi Arabia was created. We are asking Apple to have a real presence in Saudi Arabia. Go to the website and sign the petition now! (via Khaled)

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NY Times on Saudi Youth

I am often asked what does it mean to be a young man living in Saudi Arabia, and my answer has always been that this is a tough question to which I have no clear answer. So when reporters from the New York Times came to Riyadh last year to explore the question, I sarcastically told them, “good luck with that.”

They spent a few weeks in the Kingdom trying to find some answers, and today they published their first piece on Saudi youth on a special blog they set up in order to collect reactions from readers. The piece is the second installment of an ongoing series on Arab youth published by the Times. They started with Egypt, and now Saudi Arabia. A second piece from Saudi Arabia will be published shortly and will focus on young women.

NYTimes

The interesting story, somehow unconventional and unusual for stories from the Kingdom, features two cousins, Enad and Nader, aged 20 and 22, respectively. Nader is also engaged to Enad’s 17-year-old sister, Sarah.

I believe the story portrays to a good degree the kind of identity crisis that many Saudi youth go through. They found themselves born in a time when their country is changing, and they are having a hard time trying to define themselves in the midst of changes. That leads to the huge amount of fear and uncertainty I see when I look at the mirror or talk to my friends.

In particular, the piece nicely captures the contradictions — or dare I say the hypocrisy — that govern the the lives of our youth. Nader, the guy we see at the beginning of the story trying to hook up with the girl at the front desk of a dental clinic despite the fact that he is engaged to Enad’s sister, shares his disgust at the woman they saw at a restaurant because they thought she was not accompanied by a man, and when a man, apparently her husband, joins her they keep making gestures at them until the couple moves to another table.

Now the important questions is, how much these two young men are representative of the male youth in the country? That’s a whole different story. In a country as large and as diverse as the Kingdom, it’s really difficult to make a general assumption based on an article like this one. True, Nader and Enad are not the kind of people I would usually hang out with, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. How many of them out there, though, is an open-ended question.

One more thing: the NY Times are doing some sort of an experiment with this series. They are posting the stories on their Arabic blog in order to get feedback from Arab readers, and they will try to include some of the readers’ comments when the piece is published in the newspaper later this week. So if you can read Arabic go there and let them know what you think.

Top Ten Saudis I Want to Meet

Five days before Fouad al-Farhan was detained, he posted a list of ten least favourite Saudis that he does not wish to meet. At the end of that post, he wrote: “Coming soon: top ten Saudis that I love and wish to meet.” As a tribute to Fouad, I decided to give it a shot.

I thought it would be a piece of cake; and oh boy I was wrong! I was unpleasantly surprised that I could easily come up with 3, 4 or 5 lists like Fouad’s, but I could not find 10 Saudis that I really would like to meet. It did not help that I’ve already met some people who would otherwise have been on my list.

After borrowing the brains of few friends and several attempts to write and rewrite this list, I present you with my list of the ten Saudi personalities that I would like to meet in person:

1. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz
Although I’m pretty sure that his majesty’s schedule for the coming four years is totally full, I would really like if I get a chance to meet him, and if I ever get this chance, it would be one of the rare occasions where I’m looking forward to meet someone in order to talk to him more than listening.

2. Abdul-Rahman Al Lahim
A fellow blogger once called the human rights lawyer an “angel,” and I think that her description is not far from truth. Despite all the hardships that he has had to go through, including jail and travel ban not to mention being severely attacked by some ignorant idiots, he stood firm to defend the defenseless.

3. Khalid Al Dakhil
I’ve been a fan for the sociopolitics professor for a long time. When he was having a chat with Washington Post readers I was lucky to get to ask him a question, and I even have had a chance to talk with him on the phone last year, but I’m still waiting for the right time to have the pleasure of meeting him in person.

4. Sheikh Hasan Al Saffar
After spending some time as a dissent in exile in the 80’s, he returned home in the early 90’s and emerged as one of the most prominent Shia leaders in the country. Today, he represents one of the few voices here calling publicly for tolerance, moderation and a greater role for civil society.

5. Ghazi Al Gosaibi
You can say whatever you want about his performance in his different ministerial positions, but my admiration of Al Gosaibi has more to do with his writings as a novelist and a poet than his work for the government.

6. Maram Meccawy
Our newspapers are filled with aging editors and writers, the kind of people Fouad used to call “dinosaurs.” This is not the case with this young columnist and, I’m glad to say, fellow blogger who represents a breath of fresh air and gives the rest of us hope that the future of this nation may not be completely dark after all.

7. Buthaina Al Nassr
After being the first Saudi female news anchor to welcome viewers on Al Ekhbariya, she left the deteriorating channel and now works with Al Hurra. We spoke on the phone a couple of times and because she know that I’m constantly consuming junk food in Riyadh she was nice enough to invite me to try her cooking; something I’m looking forward to as she is also known for being a good cook :-)

8. Samia Al Amoudi
A brave, courageous woman who fought breast cancer and then made it her mission to raise awareness about this disease that kills hundreds of women in a society where talking about such issue is usually surrounded with shame.

9. Ebtihal Mubarak
The Arab News reporter has been described by CNN as “fearless” and her work on many stories during the past few years is simply groundbreaking. Ebtihal comes from a conservative background but that did not stop her from becoming one of the leading female journalists in Saudi Arabia.

10. Abdullah Al Hamed, Matruk Al Faleh and Ali Al Dumaini
The three reformists who were jailed for demanding a constitutional monarchy and later pardoned by King Abdullah soon after he ascended the throne are some of the most courageous political activists in the country. Al Hamed, and his brother Eisa, are now jailed in the aftermath of the women’s demonstrations in Qassim last summer, while Al Faleh and Al Domaini continue their efforts to promote human rights in the country.

Honorable Mentions: Turky Al Hamad, Badria Al Bisher, Wajiha Al Huwaider, Dima Al Azem, Othman Al Omair, Sami Al Jaber and Hatoon Al Fassi.

How about you people? Who’s on your list?

Blood on Asphalt

Reuters runs this story on the Saudi fascination with the video-sharing website YouTube. Now this fascination is not limited to Saudis as YouTube has become an international phenomenon in short time, but as with almost everything else, outsiders seem to think that our country is a piece from outer space and not a part of this world, and anything we do is worthy of attention and newspapers headlines.

The story touches on the dangerous car stunts by Saudi youth that can be found on the site, and quotes a university student saying that teenagers immerse themselves in these acts because they have nothing better to do. This is an excuse I hear so often when people try to explain this stupidity: “they are bored,” I’m told.

I admit it: this country lacks proper entertainment outlets for the youth. There are no cinema theaters, extracurricular activities in schools and universities have little to offer, and sports clubs are poorly managed and can’t cope with the large numbers of youth in this fast growing nation. However, and no matter how many excuses some can come up with to explain why young men here are into cars ‘drifting’, I still think that there is no justification to put the lives of others in danger.

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.

The Siege of Mecca

Although the uprising of Juhayman Al Otaibi in Mecca in 1979 played a crucial role in shaping politics and culture in modern Saudi Arabia, few details are available to the public about the sorry events that took place in the dawn of the current hijra century. I was born in 1984 and the first time I heard the name of Juhayman was only a few years ago following 9/11 and the terrorist attacks in the Kingdom. That’s why when I visited the US in September I made sure to purchase a copy of The Siege of Mecca, a book that tries to investigate the uprising in Islam’s holies site. The author is Yaroslav Torfimov, a staff foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

Once I started reading the book I was hooked and I could not put it down. The kind of fine details Torfimov provides were thrilling and sometimes even shocking to me. I was expecting this book to be a dry recount of the events based on some declassified documents the author obtained from the American archives but I’m glad I was wrong. The background of Juhayman, the way he led the uprising, and how the government dealt with the assault in addition to the historical context of the events made this book a very interesting and action-packed read.

Since many people who were involved in the uprising are still among us, some of them even serving in the very same positions, the book should give you a better understanding of the forces and ideas that influence the current situation in the country and the ongoing power struggle between them. Also of note is the secrecy that remains one of the most visible aspects of Saudi politics to this day.

The book goes into detail regarding concurrent events such as the attacks on US embassies in Muslim countries. These details may be more interesting to the American audience than readers like me, but these are not any less important because they help to explain the reasoning behind the US foreign policy in the region for years to come. The author also dedicated a chapter to the uprising in Qatif and how the government pulled out some forces from Mecca to crack down on the revolutionaries there.

One the most striking findings for me was the role of the official religious establishment. Believe it or not, most of the rebels were actually arrested a few months before the attack but the government released them based on instructions from the religious establishment. You would think that such thing would make the government lose its faith in the clerics, but surprisingly the horrific events led to a deal that empowered the religious establishment, making way to the rise of extremism and later the birth of Al Qaeda.

Due to the sensitivity of the subject here, I don’t think the book will see the daylight in Saudi Arabia, but I guess you can order it from Amazon or buy it when you go abroad. Highly recommended: 5/5.

Related Links:

Al Ekhbariya: Fresh (On) Air

When Al Ekhbariya was launched few years ago people thought this was MOI’s attempt to compete with Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. This did not turn out to be the case. Instead, Al Ekhbariya focused on national issues and local news stories. You would think this is the least you can expect from a government-owned television channel, but looking at the history of Ch 1 and Ch 2 it is understood why we were impressed by the local coverage of Al Ekhbariya. Ch 1 and Ch 2 were so disconnected from reality (Ch 2 has improved lately, Ch 1 still sucks).

But media junkies in the Kingdom should have realized that early on when Mohammed Al Tounsi was chosen to head the new channel. Al Tounsi, who came from the print media empire SRPC, is largely known for transforming Al Eqtisadiah from a dry economic publication to a popular newspaper mainly by featuring local issues that get no coverage in other newspapers.

I have had the pleasure to meet Al Tounsi earlier this year in his office in Riyadh, and he talked about the channel, reform and the social changes that our country is going through. We usually listen to leaders like him talk about these issues, but what about the regular men and women walking down the street? Enter So’al Al Youm (Question of the Day), a show on Al Ekhbariya where reporters go out and meet people in streets and shopping malls to ask them about their opinions in all kinds of issues.

The program is the brainchild of Al Tounsi. The idea occurred to him right after one of the terrorist attacks that hit Riyadh not a very long time after the launch of the channel. He sent a crew to record people’s direct reaction and it was a success. If you have followed the program for a long time you can observe the change in people’s attitudes. “At the beginning people were afraid to appear on TV and speak out. Now when they see the the reporter and the cameraman they run to them to ask if they can participate,” Al Tounsi said.

In a country where you don’t have reliable tools to measure public opinion, a simple television program like this could help to detect trends and changes in people’s mindsets, especially on polarizing issues such job opportunities for women and misyar marriages.

Also of note on Al Ekhbariya is a show called Hazrat Al Muwaten (Dear Citizen), where you can find some of the best local reporting work on the screen. I like Buthaina Al Nassr and I like her improvised yet elegant style of work where she won’t simply settle for the comfort of a chair in an air-conditioned studio but rather would go to poor neighborhoods and smelly places like the fish market to bring stories of very normal people who truly struggle to make a living, just like the rest of us.

Buthaina, who recently left the channel and joined Al Hurra to work on a new talk show to be aired later this month, says she never watches the show after she is done working on it. “I put a lot of work into it and I can’t watch it after they edit many things out,” she told me.

However, Al Ekhbariya lacks an important factor for any television channel to gain a larger audience, especially a news channel. Simply put, Al Ekhbariya has no stars. I don’t mean to undermine the value of teamwork and I totally agree that the quality of the end product is more significant to viewers than the individuals involved in producing it. But on television you always need familiar faces that people can relate to, and to a large extent this is still missing from the channel. Also, there are so many talk shows on the channel but little is done to distinguish one from another, so I think they should put more work on that.

Al Ekhbariya’s arrival to the media scene of the country was groundbreaking on some regards and not-so-groundbreaking on others, but it has nevertheless introduced a long-awaited breeze of fresh air in a desert that enjoyed silence for so long. It was shocking to some, but for many of us this amount of disruption and controversy, little as it may seem, was just what we needed.

Driving While Drunk

You would think that in a country where the consumption of liquor is illegal, drunk driving won’t be a problem to deal with, but Molouk Ba-Isa got some news for you. She, like many who live near King Fahd Causeway, aka the Johnny Walker Bridge, is complaining that they have to deal with impaired drivers every weekend, and it gets much worse during the Eid week every year.

king_fahd_causeway

She goes into the details that I’m not sure if most of you need to know, but here is the money quote: “The problem is a lack of enforcement.” On both sides of the causeway, little is done to prevent the potential dangers of drunk drivers. Sadly, some people don’t know how to celebrate without putting others and themselves in danger.