Rights: Home and Abroad

Summer is here, and thousands of Saudis are getting ready to depart the country to spend their vacations away from the insane heat. Swine flu has certainly affected tourism around the world, but some people insist that they won’t let infectious diseases and global pandemics ruin their holidays. “I’d rather die of Swine flu somewhere nice than die of this hot weather in Riyadh,” a friend of mine half-jokingly said a couple of weeks ago.

With the large numbers of Saudi nationals traveling, the Ministry of Foreign affairs issued information guidelines of the varying nature of legal procedures abroad and how best to protect their rights when traveling or studying outside the Kingdom. The guidelines advise Saudis involved in legal cases to only speak in the presence of a lawyer and ensure attendance at court hearings to avoid in absentia rulings.

Sound advice, no doubt, and it is a commendable effort by the foreign ministry. But this piece of advice should also apply equally to citizens inside the country, and it is important that people here know their rights before the law. Unfortunately, little has been done to promote these rights among citizens. I believe that the government is responsible for protecting their citizens abroad and home alike.

Worth mentioning here is the Know Your Rights series published by the National Society of Human Rights. I personally don’t leave the house without a copy of this Rights of the Suspect (PDF) booklet. An English version of the booklet is available here (RTF).

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.