Egypt uprising, Wahabi numbers, Khashoggi, women in municipal elections, and other stuff

  • The uprising continues in Egypt, where protesters in Tahrir Square remain defiant. Sandmonkey, one of the demonstrators, has two good blogposts that you should read. Many people have been asking me if what happened in Egypt could happen in Saudi Arabia. The short answer is no. Saudi Arabia, and the other five GCC countries, are politically and economically more stable. That doesn’t mean things are not happening in the magic Kingdom. With more than 3.5m people on Facebook, and a rise of Twitter usage by more than 400%, young Saudis are becoming more engaged than ever in the effort to reform.
  • Blogger Saeed al-Wahabi has this really interesting post about the generational divide in Saudi Arabia between the leadership and the population. Al-Wahabi did some simple math to calculate the average age for officials in different parts of the government, and these are some of his findings: the average age of ministers is 65; the average age of governors is 61; and the average age of Shoura Council members is 61. Similar numbers are found when we try to see the ages in the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Ulema Council, and even members of King Abdul-Aziz Center of National Dialogue. Now compare the aforementioned numbers with these two numbers: 70% of the population is under 30, and average age of Saudi citizens is 19 years old.
  • Arab News reports that a group of Saudi women has launched a Facebook campaign calling the government to allow women to participate in the upcoming municipal elections. Arab News, being the dead tree paper that they are, failed to link the group. Here is a link. This is not the first time we hear of such calls. Problem is, the elections that were originally scheduled for 2009, have been indefinitely postponed. The paper says the elections will be held this year. I see no signs of that happening.
  • Jamal Khashoggi, the former editor of Al Watan daily, is working with Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, the Saudi billionaire and country’s richest man, to launch a news channel. No word on when the new channel will start, but from what I heard they are still in the very early stages of planning and they have not hired anyone yet. Contrary to rumors that surfaced earlier, there won’t be a partnership with Fox News. That makes sense. A source close to Khashoggi told me that they are seeking to partner with Bloomberg, but no deal has been signed yet.
  • New Scientists: “Almost two thousand potential archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia have been discovered from an office chair in Perth, Australia, thanks to high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth.” I wonder what Sultan bin Salman and his friends at SCTA have to say about this.
    Having your first name as your handle on Twitter, like I do, is cool. But it comes with a cost: you get a lot of random replies that are not necessarily directed to you.
  • The minister of justice said his department is drafting a law that would allow female lawyers to argue legal cases in court for the first time. Progress, I guess.
  • Finally al-Ahsa is getting its share of the development cake. I was hoping that SAGIA would choose the region for its new project, but it’s actually SCTA that decided to invest here. Al-Oqair beach, one of my favouirte spots on the east coast, will be the home for a SR50b tourist city that is expected to create 80,000 jobs and generate SR100m in annual revenue.

Wild Dreams

When you live here long enough, you become so accustomed to the absurdities of life in the magic kingdom that nothing can surprise you anymore, and you can come across the oddest of news stories without a flinch. Some recent examples…

Saudi Gazette says that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MIA) has held a closed door meeting in Riyadh for “interpreters of dreams and visions.” As if it is not enough that our government has been trying to tell you who you can (or can’t) marry, now they are trying to tell you how you should interpret your dreams.

We have no constitution or written laws; our human rights record is dismal and corruption is becoming a common practice in the public sector, yet here is our government holding a closed door meeting to help us interpret our dreams. How about helping people to actually make their dreams come true? Oh, sorry, I guess that’s not on your busy agenda.

Speaking of dreams, a paper presented at the Saudi Travel and Tourism Investment Market held in Riyadh said the country’s expanding tourism sector will provide 900,000 new jobs for young Saudi men and women by 2020. No disrespect to the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), but this seriously wild dream calls for some extensive interpretation by the MIA people mentioned above.

What tourism are they talking about?

I have a suggestion for SCTA. Before embarking on your unrealistically huge ambition of making Saudi Arabia a tourist destination and invite millions to come, you, as well as many other government departments, may want to try make life more tolerable for those of us living here. I’m not talking about the enormous megaprojects you like to brag about so often (economic cities, techno valley, blah blah blah).

What I’m talking about is much more simple. Basics, really. People should able to meet freely in public without fear of being prosecuted. Organizing cultural and artistic events should not be a state security matter. Also, have you ever heard of public transportation? Yeah, we don’t have this.