Discussion Panel on Diversity at KSU

What: Diversity in the Saudi Society
Who: Khalil al-Khalil and Abdullah Dahlan
When: Saturday, January 10, 2009. 10:30 AM
Where: Building No.7, Auditorium 7A
RSVP: Attending

In a conservative, conformist society like ours, diversity is not a popular term. Its opponents have always tried to make diversity look like a threat to national unity. That’s total bull, of course. Because our diversity only makes us stronger.

Hopefully this and other interesting ideas will be tackled in this discussion panel hosted by the Literary Club at KSU next Saturday. The speakers are Khalil al-Khalil and Abdullah Dahlan, both members of the dead Shoura Council. It is an open event and everyone is encouraged to come. The discussion panel will also be broadcast live to Khadija Bin Khuwailed auditorium in Olayisha campus for girls.

We Would Like to Breathe

For some reason, Arab News chooses not to name KSU when they write about the stifling restrictions Saudi Arabia’s oldest university impose on their female students. Considering how this country is obsessed with segregation, there is no surprise here. And the ironic thing is, they say the university “is supposed to be a place where young women experience greater freedoms.” Says who? Wake up girls! This is freakin’ K of SA you are living in. The university, as you may expect, claim that the point of these restrictions is to protect the students. Again, no surprise. Welcome to Saudi Arabia, where everyone claims moral authority over the rest.

In the other hand, the newspaper chooses to name another university in Riyadh, Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University, which supposedly is even more strict than KSU. It is said that IMSIU is to launch a new college of medicine, but according to Ali Al Mousa in Al Watan daily, the university president could not answer the question of whether female students would be accepted in the new college. Al Mousa tends to cut the president some slack because answering that question might put him in confrontation with the extremists who would, for sure, use the ‘segregation’ card. Let’s wait and see how this drama is going to play out.

And in case you didn’t know, the extremists are not only controlling the campuses in Saudi Arabia, but they also managed to extend their notorious control to the press in neighboring Kuwait, where this article by Dalaa’ Al Mufti was banned from Al Qabas daily, apparently because Al Mufti dared to comment on the ridiculous decision of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to spend SR 700,000 on a study that examines the mingling of the sexes and its “harmful effects” on the society. I’ve told you that these people are obsessed, right?

More on KAUST

The groundbreaking of KAUST was the biggest news in Saudi Arabia during the past two weeks. King Abdullah officially broke ground for the promising project in a huge event attended by thousands of dignitaries. I wasn’t invited, but fellow blogger John Burgess was there and he wrote about it here.

Since I have been offline for the past few days I have not closely followed what has been said about it, but I have written previously about KAUST, way before anyone in the local media had the slightest idea what the acronym KAUST stands for. I have a few more things to say, though, so here it goes.

kaust_logoThere is no doubt that if KAUST delivered all of its promises, it will be the most important achievement that King Abdullah will be remembered by, and many people here feel that the king is very determined to make it happen. But not all people are excited, as some are afraid that a huge project like KAUST could be plagued by the three common symptoms of higher education institutions in the country: corruption, bureaucracy and mismanagement. Now I don’t want to be skeptical, but I think a certain amount of skepticism is required to keep people’s feet on the ground in order to turn big dreams like this one into reality.

Nevertheless, most of the initial indications are good. For example, KAUST will be independent from MOHE. Actually I was surprised that MOHE was not involved in the project at all, but it was a good kind of surprise as MOHE never really impressed me. It was Saudi Aramco who engineered this project from scratch. Despite what many people, including some Aramco employees, say about how Aramco changed to the worse after the Americans left, it remains one of the few government bodies that I trust and expect to preform excellently.

Now I have speculated before that megaprojects such as KAUST and the new economic cities might change the culture of the country. However, it seems that such change may not be a result but rather a condition for these projects to success.

For instance, Saudi Arabia used to be a very closed society with a what can be viewed as hostility towards foreign ideas. On the day after groundbreaking, KAUST hosted a special academic symposium discussing the role of the research university in the 21st century, and the keynote speaker was Dr. Charles Vest, President of the National Academy of Engineering and President Emeritus of MIT, who said: “science can flourish only in an open environment.”

It is the hope that KAUST would produce a positive effect on the economy, education and culture of the Saudi society, but hope is not enough. This a huge undertaking to our country and there is a lot of hard work to be done here by everyone. Let’s not blow it.