Evolving Saudi women are only just getting started

Time: September 23, 2018 

Sunday’s 88th National Day was a perfect opportunity to reflect on the last year and how it has brought about many inspiring achievements by Saudi women across the Kingdom, which have also been witnessed around the world. There is much to be said as to the underrepresentation of Saudi women by the international community. Despite constant criticism painting a tarnished image of their ability to participate in society, Saudi women have taken steps that prove their empowerment, skillful abilities and positive contributions to Saudi Arabia and the world.

It is thus of the utmost importance that we recognize the historic accomplishments that Saudi women have achieved. While international attention has been drawn to women’s participation in society in Saudi Arabia, it is our duty as proud Saudi citizens to acknowledge their achievements, therefore encouraging future generations of women to fulfill their potential.

As part of Saudi Vision 2030, ambitious efforts are underway to increase women’s employment from its current rate of 22 percent to 30 percent by 2030. As a result of social and economic reform, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development reported earlier this year that women’s employment has already risen by 140 percent over the last four years — a clear sign that the female half of the country is now more engaged in the economy than ever.

Even though these numbers are encouraging, it should be obvious that we have yet to see the full potential of Saudi women. Industries such as engineering, financial technology (fintech), commercial services, and even government policy continue to present budding opportunities for Saudi women to contribute their talents and excel.

Inspiring Saudi women have elevated the ceiling of achievement over the last year and empowered others to pursue their dreams. Mishaal Ashemimry, an aerospace engineer and CEO of her own company, MISHAAL Aerospace, last year became the first Saudi woman to join NASA, fulling her dreams of working in the aerospace industry.

She states: “My fascination with space started while gazing at the stars in the Unaizah desert. Since then my focus has been to become an aerospace engineer and contribute to the development of space vehicles and rockets.” As she has fulfilled dreams and broken barriers for Saudi women, she continues to be a public advocate for the Arab youth to pursue their dreams.
The Saudi National Day is a reminder for us to cherish the achievements Saudi women have accomplished, as well as look forward to what the future holds. Most importantly, we are just getting started.
Reem Daffa
It is impossible to talk about Saudi women’s empowerment without addressing this year’s most historic development, when women started to obtain driver’s licenses in Saudi Arabia. But Saudi women getting behind the wheel has not stopped with operating vehicles on the road — just last month five women were issued pilot’s licenses by the General Authority of Civil Aviation for the first time. This trajectory only leaves room for exponential growth in the aviation and engineering sectors, invariably increasing women’s employment opportunities.
In a recent interview with Al-Arabiya, Yasmine Al-Maimni, one of the newly licensed pilots, described her determination to break this barrier, stating: “Why not in Saudi Arabia? I am currently working in an airline in the department of safety and security, but I did not give up on my demands to get a job as a pilot.” Al-Maimni’s courage to pursue a career previously untapped by females displays a unique form of activism and empowerment, which is inspiring to all women in Saudi Arabia.
The voices of women such as Al-Maimni are even being heard in the highest advocacy board in the Kingdom, the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia — otherwise known as the Shoura Council. According to the World Bank, women make up 20 percent of the council. This is an even greater percentage than that of women in Congress in the US.
One of the most outstanding trailblazers paving new paths for Saudi women to pursue is Princess Reema bint Bandar, Vice-President of Development and Planning at the General Sports Authority. Not only is she a key advocate for developing women’s participation in Saudi society generally, but she also recognizes the transformative effect of sports in particular. By facilitating participation in a variety of sports, she knows she will help to foster the competitive spirit that will enable women to pursue their entrepreneurial endeavors.
She has said: “I am building an entire sports ecosystem: From the athletes to the female ushers and security guards, we’re going from the micro to the macro to the triple macro. Every sector in the country requires a down chain.” Her advocacy on behalf of Saudi women is empowering, as her position in the GSA allows Saudi women to break stereotypes and realize their true potential.
Sunday’s Saudi National Day was a reminder for us to cherish the achievements Saudi women have accomplished, as well as look forward to what the future holds for our transforming society. When reflecting upon 88 years of our history, we should always remember to maintain this positive evolution, never caving in to outside forces that demand that Saudi women go through a revolution. Most importantly, our National Day not only reminds us that our social cohesion is incorruptible, but that Saudi women are just getting started.

• Reem Daffa is vice president and executive director of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC).
Twitter: @ReemDaffa

This article was first published in Arab News

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Why today is about Saudi Arabia’s future, as much as its past

Time: September 22, 2018 

Cynics would argue that any country which stumbles upon a vast wealth of oil would have ended up the same way. Of course, all these cynics need to do is just look at Iraq and Iran, for example, and they will find out that their argument doesn’t stand.

On National Day, local newspapers typically publish stories reminding the public of why we should be proud of our past. However, we at Arab News have decided to mark this occasion differently this time.

In 2016, Vision 2030 was announced by then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Promising to rid the Kingdom of its dependence on oil through introducing social and economic reforms, the vision quickly emerged as a blueprint to Saudi Arabia’s future.

 

On National Day, us Saudis typically celebrate our past. However, we at Arab News decided to envision Saudi Arabia’s future under Vision 2030 – and it looks bright.

Faisal J. Abbas

It wasn’t too long after that we started feeling the change.We finally had a young leader who spoke our language, empowered by his father, King Salman. It was uncommon for Saudis to hear the terms “Project Management Office” and “KPIs” from their leaders. Then suddenly, international companies were granted licenses to operate without the need for a Saudi partner. The religious police’s powers were curbed for the first time, and their role restricted to a somewhat advisory one.

A government entertainment authority was established and we – like any normal country – started having concerts and live shows. For instance, this year’s National Day will be celebrated by a special performance of Cirque du Soleil, who are visiting KSA for the first time.

In 2017, Mohammed bin Salman was appointed Crown Prince; with greater powers, he accelerated his reform plans. Only a few months ago, cinema theatres re-opened, a Culture Ministry was established, and women were allowed to drive and enter sport stadiums.

Vision 2030 has also unleashed the potential of Saudi women: From government positions, to CEOs, to Uber drivers, there is no disputing that they are now driving much more than just cars.

In a symbolic gesture, MBS – the man who will one day become Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques – also met with the Coptic Pope in Egypt, the Archbishop of Canterbury in England and with Christian and Jewish leaders in the United States.

Of course, with change comes teething problems. And there is no doubt that not everyone will be at ease with these fast and drastic reforms. Will the vision achieve all of its targets? Certainly not – but the idea is to reach for the stars anyway.

Needless to say, we as Saudis were never used to paying VAT or having unsubsidized utility bills – and of course, many people would rather this not be the case.

However, if we want to be a normal country, we must start behaving like one. For the first time, we in Saudi Arabia are minding our spending, switching off unnecessary lights and considering gasoline bills before we buy our next car.

It is also significant that the government launched ADAA (The National Center for Performance Measurement). In today’s issue, we interview the head of ADAA, Husameddin AlMadani, who tells us that their aim isn’t only to monitor government body performance, but to allow citizens to have a constant say in it too.

As government officials constantly review and amend the targets and deliverables, we at Arab News decided to dedicate today’s National Day coverage to imagining how Saudi Arabia could look in 2030.

With the introduction of artificial intelligence, renewable energy, the completion of mega-projects such as NEOM and the restoration of ancient heritage sites such as Al-Ula, our journalists envisioned Saudi Arabia’s future – and it looks bright.

This is why we are also proud to introduce Road to 2030, our new online section dedicated to tracking and reporting on Saudi reforms and Vision 2030.

As such, today we celebrate the Kingdom’s past, present… and future.

 

• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News.

Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

 

This article was first published in Arab News

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Caring about individuals’ rights is the goal

Time: September 21, 2018 

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote ‘Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is’ when he was ill and tired and in a state of disgust. His work however was not random in focusing on man as the “individual” in the philosophy of Nietzsche occupies an important place, as he is the one who should live “high up” right there near the “spring” with the “cold winds and eagles” embracing the mountains and confronting the sunrays with his fiery heart.

Nietzsche wishes that this superior state can take man away from false morals, bad habits and a hypocritical social system, because such a system suppresses instincts of the body and the boldness of the spirit.

In his ‘Social Contract’, Jean-Jacques Rousseau built his theory on society and the civil state on the principle of ‘contract’, which cannot come about without an authorization from the “individual”. As such, although the transition to the “city” resulted in something of an apparent limitation to the freedom of the individual, it was within the context of preserving and consolidating it, and creating a healthy legal and social environment in which the individual lives.

The preservation of people’s safety in society and the safety of those detained in prisons are responsibilities that have the same value because everyone is a citizen, with the same rights and duties, living in a legal entity which is the “state”

Hassan Al Mustafa

The Kingdom and preserving human rights

This centrality of man in modern philosophies was the main reason for writing my last two articles in the Riyadh newspaper about the Binaa program for detainees at the General Intelligence Prison in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom. I am mentioning this because someone asked me a question about the purpose of writing about this program.

The preservation of people’s safety in society and the safety of those detained in prisons are responsibilities that have the same value because everyone is a citizen, with the same rights and duties, living in a legal entity which is the “state”.

In the year 1435 H, the Kingdom issued the Code of Criminal Procedure. According to Mohammed al-Muadi, the official spokesperson of the Human Rights Commission, “the Kingdom is a party in five conventions and three optional protocols of the United Nations’ basic international human rights conventions and is also a party in many regional charters pertaining to human rights.”

The laws and treaties referred to have not been signed as a luxury, but rather to be executed and developed. They are part of the culture and the therapeutic behavior on which modern approaches to “prisons” have been built and transformed into rehabilitation centers and spaces for intellectual reviews and discussions rather than punitive places.

The modern state is far from the concept of “revenge” because it is an entity that cannot coexist with the concept of “hatred”. One of its most important functions is to regulate the lives of citizens and guarantee their rights, including those who have violated the law. The failure of some people to abide by these regulations does not permit others or even institutions to react to this by non-compliance, otherwise the “law” will lose its meaning, and society will return to the life of the jungle.

During a discussion with a number of the ‘Binaa’ program team, I found that they had an open mindset about the importance of the individual and expressing his problems without coercion during the sessions of the rehabilitation courses. This is one of the strengths of the program and a key factor behind its success.

Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.

This article was first published in Al Arabiya English  

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To those who did not live in the moment

Time: September 18, 2018 

“Learning never exhausts the mind!”

I often wonder about this Da Vinci quote. At what creative stage of his life did he write it? Before or after he had reached artistic maturity?

If the aim of learning is to work and achieve, then something Greek philosopher Aristotle said in 322 BC is still relevant today: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

If I want to share some ideas I’ve have learned, in the possibility that I will one day implement them, it’s as if I am a doctor treating his patients when he himself is ill.

Hence I find me dragged towards advising myself and recommending others to make use of their day. Do not underestimate this small piece of advice as there’s nothing harder than managing the next moment, let alone tomorrow or the next ten years. If you can improve your day, then know that the entire life is made up of days and you can hence be kind and create every day.

No wonder that all timescales go back to the moment that escapes from you now.

It’s great to have a long-term vision with constant preparation for surprises, but trust those who have done so and realized that the most difficult part was the art of managing the day. He who is not good at managing the day will not be good in managing upcoming days.

Those who get used to dealing with each day and then master it repeat this pattern. We call these the people of awareness and mastery. Look wherever you want and you will not see a successful man without a habit. This is why Arabs said in the past: “The habit is deep-rooted”.

Speaking of preparations for the path’s surprises, always remember Thomas Jefferson’s quote when he briefly said – and he’s a master in that – “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Let go of the past completely, and focus on the present moment as this moment alone is the most capable of hiding and escaping.

Turki Aldakhil

If the adventure of even managing a single day is difficult for you, don’t be upset. Greek Philosopher Aristotle has met such men and women and he beautifully criticized them when he said: “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing”. He’s honest here as the river sweeps the little rocks which have not decided their path in advance before the flood reaches the town.

Prince and poet Badr bin Abdul Muhsin seems to have a different opinion that opposes Aristotle’s as it looks like fame weighs heavily on him. The extremely kind and humble prince, as all those who know him say, decided to support those forgotten, the ordinary men, when he said:

Oh how lucky he is whom no one knows
If he is kind, he will be thanked
And if he is bad, he will not be blamed

This is not the first time that Badr is biased to ordinary men. Few years ago, I asked him about the emirate and poetry and which was closer to his heart. He said that he inherited the emirate from his father who inherited it from his father, hence, he has not asked anyone about it, and as for poetry “it’s everyone’s essential need, a collar that people embrace you with.”

When you look for wise words – which by the way I am fond of collecting – you’d realize how similar they are. Sometimes it’s difficult to attribute a saying like: The only way to achieve the impossible, is to believe it’s possible” to Charles Kingsleigh as all civilizations have poets, politicians and writers who directly or indirectly called for avoiding thinking about the impossible and ignoring it so the possible replaces the impossible.

If I hadn’t written about the greatness of the imagination recently, I would have repeated my idea which I don’t get bored of repeating. Let go of the past completely, and focus on the present moment as this moment alone is the most capable of hiding and escaping. As for the future, please do not choose a path other than optimism. Don’t be negative and don’t look at tomorrow with the eyes of a fearful man. If fear of the future yields results, everyone would have feared it.

Imagine the threat of seeing the mirage instead of the right path, and when the road comes to an end and doubt overwhelms you, you select another road although everything indicates you are in the right direction. You have dealt in the world of ideas with what’s absent, a mystery – which you could have granted confidence – with fear and worry, and when you believed the latter two, the road repudiated you.

Ancient Arabs are known to have said:

What is gone is gone
What is to come is a mystery
And what you have is the hour you live

About the moment, habit and all that, Robert Louis Stevenson sums me in his famous saying: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

It’s beautiful to get used to planting these seeds, so we and our people constantly wait for a beautiful harvest in the future.

Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.

 

This article was first published in Al Arabiya English  

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Can humans develop without imagination?

Time: September 11, 2018 

It was a conversation on a flight returning to Dubai two years ago. I was exhausted and dreaming of a pillow as we boarded. Nothing would have changed my mind about a deep sleep, were it for the cover of a book that a passenger near me had.

The conversation would not have started if it hadn’t been for my curiosity that I first inherited from the media and secondly from my passion in books which people like to read in airplanes, airports and transportation services.

I happened to see some of these books in the best-seller reviews, which western periodicals publish and which are later translated into Arabic. Checking these reviews was like witnessing the market – with my usual curiosity – by reading or having a conversation with a friend who is also curious.

My conversation with the passenger next to me lasted the entire trip and I arrived home without sensing any boredom and I was still exhausted as I did not get to sleep for even one minute on the plane.

I am fascinated by how smart people attract you with one sentence. Steven, who was the passenger next to me, had just finished reading the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

He congratulated me because it has been 113 years since the airplane was invented – that idea which was transporting us from London to Dubai within hours.

Steven added that the adjustable seat, which you incline on now because you are tired, is just another small detail created by another imagination. Then he turned around as the plane took off and asked: “What do we know about the history of humanity?”

The scientific revolution which prospered in Europe made the elite braver and more capable of acknowledging its ignorance

Turki Aldakhil

History of sapiens

Yuval Noah Harari divides the history of sapiens into four major parts, and he’s not the only one who has divided it as such.

He goes back to 70,000 B.C. and confirms that the most important moment in the history of mankind is the moment when our grandparents decided to use imagination as with it, man have managed to communicate to later organize himself, specify his needs and learnt how to attack other species using innovated fighting methods hence mankind dominated the top of the pyramid of species on the planet.

“Think about religions, legends, illusion, odors and colors. According to what we know, only sapiens – thanks to imagination – can strip all this information to use it in throughout their simple day and they alone can organize themselves in groups that believe in the imperceptible to transform it into ideas and doctrines. And they love, hate, fight, make friends and develop hostilities over them and for their sake”, Steven said.

Large number of people can co-exist and integrate after believing in a common legend or narrative. Do not ever underestimate masses when they adopt a specific narrative. History’s path in any part of the world can change just thanks to one complete story that the group adopts. The imagined reality is not a lie after the masses believe it!
No one can end the reader’s passion in a book he just finished as even the hostess who brought dinner and gently smiled inspired Steven to talk about 10,000 B.C. noting that it’s a good time to shift the conversation from the topic about the moment when our grandparents began using their imagination to the moment when agricultural technologies synchronously spread throughout the world.

He was amazed that Harari repeated that this began in Africa and that people stopped hunting and transitioned to agriculture. Man’s tools became bigger so he became more stable and civilized and less brutal with other living things, of course since agriculture is a pure human act.

Another passenger joined the conversation. He smiled and said: “10,000 years ago, people were less private but they were not as lonely as they are today.”

After the agricultural revolution and the imagination’s enrichment of human knowledge, people began to ask more questions and the individual thus gradually transitioned from individualism to the group until the scientific revolution 1,500 years ago.

Common individualism

At this point, doubts shook the certain and at other times it led to the certain. Evidence and proof made people more doubtful and worried but they accomplished more and naturally individualism became more common even though they lived in large groups!

The scientific revolution which prospered in Europe made the elite braver and more capable of acknowledging its ignorance. The fruit of knowledge is modesty; hence, the elite became more capable of looking and searching for answers although they stopped viewing answers as final.

The second passenger who joined the conversation asked Steven about happiness and what the opinion of the author whom he’s defending his ideas is. The question came at the right time as we were halfway through and Steven had not yet made it to the 19th century during this conversation that deprived me from the chance to sleep.

Steven did not hesitate to say that man’s happiness today – with all these inventions – is much more than before as the first humans did not have the luxury to write and document and there were no seats for happiness researches in the university of life before the 21st century.

Nothing interrupted Steven except the captain as he asked us to fasten our seatbelts because there was turbulence. I expected him to rest a little but intellectuals do not miss chances like this.

He fastened his seatbelt, turned to me and said: “Imagine that man only developed the idea of fearing the weather after he mastered agriculture!”

Man’s history is wondrous and its development is even more wondrous. If it hadn’t been for imagination, innovation and search, humans would not have been distinguished from the rest of the species.

Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.

 

This article was first published in Al Arabiya English  

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Saudi Arabia is not UAE

September 10, 2018

Muhammad Hathoot

Makkah daily

I WAS having coffee with a group of my friends when one of them started talking enthusiastically about NEOM project saying that “it is a copy of Dubai city in Saudi Arabia.” I gently disagreed with my friend and told him that it is a mistake to repeat the same experience of Dubai in the Kingdom, simply because Saudi Arabia, historically, economically and culturally is not UAE.

The elegant UAE dress has its own taste when you are walking in city walk and it has its own beauty when someone is cruising down Shaikh Zayed road. Saudi Arabia has its own style, with the ancient road of Al-Thumairi and Al-Masmak fortress and the modernity of the boulevard. Riyadh is a different city from Dubai, the same way Paris is different from Los Angeles, not because one city is more beautiful than the other but because Paris has its own unique magic.

From my managerial and strategic point of view, the talk about repeating the Dubai experience in Saudi Arabia is a failed idea. No one can compete with Dubai when it comes to attracting thousands of companies and minds from all over the world. They have cut a long distance in that.

Dubai is not a place of tampering, as a man in his 20s may think. Dubai is an integrated system that succeeded in attracting a segment of businessmen and earned the reputation of being the ‘jewel of the Middle East’. I was honored to work with colleagues in Dubai government. Honestly speaking, Sheikh Muhammad Bin Rashed is a unique character when it comes to management, delegation of authority, accomplishment and persistent ambition. One can imagine that Dubai police are doing marketing work far better than what we see in the private sector locally and internationally. The luxury cars of Dubai police was one of the most successful marketing campaign strategies, despite its cost but it succeeded far beyond expectations. With all that said, I still say Dubai is not Riyadh.

There is a customer who loves Samsung products and at the same time his brother prefers an iPhone.

The administration and marketing logic affirms that the first step toward making NEOM project successful is to identify the segment targeted and what is the joint value between the project and this segment. The slogan of Vision 2030 is “The Arab and Islamic depth … a pioneering investment force that links the three continents”. This only indicate that the Islamic spirit is present in all future projects. That it why I see it logical to attract Muslim and Arab businessmen. Activating religious tourism is more suitable to Saudi Arabia than marketing and consumption tourism in Dubai. Each one has its own audience. I repeat what I said to my friend here that Saudi Arabia is not UAE and Abu Dhabi is not Riyadh.

This article was first published in  Saudi Gazette

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Small goals can lead to big dreams

Time: September 10, 2018 

Nada Al-Tuwaijri

I have always had this fantasy about traveling the world and trying every traditional dish of each country and then writing a book about it. Sounds like “Eat, Pray, Love” doesn’t it? I think this passion toward various cultures was something I developed as a child, and when I say a child, I mean 15 years old.
From a realistic point of view, my dream sounds expensive, doesn’t it? It requires a minimum of six months of traveling, jumping from one plane to another, and spending a lot of money on accommodation, transportation and so forth, so my better bet is to postpone the idea and pursue it whenever I decide to retire (which will probably be at the age of 40).
To me, this sounds like a rational, traditional, realistic way of thinking. But, wait a second, I thought we were over that as a generation and our attitude toward “it’s impossible” shifted to “it’s actually very possible but should be done smartly.” Therefore, the right way to approach your “big” goals is to start “small” — how contradictory does that sound? Without forgetting, of course, the one golden rule that I just invented (or probably heard somewhere): “There is no such thing as too soon, too late or I don’t have time for that.”
Today, I have a dream. My dream is to travel the world and experience food, but how can I achieve that within my circumstances? It’s a question I asked myself when I figured that I cannot take a six-month holiday to travel the world, yet I still had the urge to fulfill at least a percentage of it. So, the question now is what did I do instead? How did I become the next Christopher Columbus?
I took a “wise” decision to experience at least two new countries every year with a hungry mind and a curious soul by mainly investing my time in understanding various cultures and, more specifically, their habits in eating, which I can assure you has put me in some very difficult situations, especially with spices and foamy dishes. The bottom line is that I found myself enriched after every trip — I learned something new every time, which automatically reflected on my bigger dream/vision/goal. Plus, I always have a story to tell in awkward situations.
Now that I have told you about my dream, I want you to start with yours. No matter what it is, the way to approach it is to start small and grow big, be patient in an impatient era, find ways to fulfill this dream on a daily basis and, one day, you will find yourself in it. Remember, your dreams are much closer than you think.

Nada Al-Tuwaijri is the communications managing director at the Misk Art Institute.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Interreligious relations, looking for a common ground

Time: September 10, 2018 

Interreligious relationships constitute the subject of an ongoing debate in conferences and seminars, especially when there isn’t any international common ground for easing hostilities among the followers of world religions. Such discussions peaked in the latter part of the 20th century over conflicts and dialogues among civilizations and religions.

A large group of thinkers such as Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington and Eric Hobsbawm participated in this debate. The new millennium brought disturbing events, which projected Islam on the world stage as a faith in whose name radical and bloody operations are conducted.

For the first time, a group of philosophers took part in a discussion about the relationship between Islam and its followers with the West, drawing theses from Jacques Derrida, Jürgen Habermas and Edgar Morin, among others. All discussions agree that there is a state of tension between Muslims and the West.

Bernard Lewis et al.

In a lecture delivered on March 7, 2007, Bernard Lewis — consistent with his historical view of the relationship between Muslims and the West — stated that the West is undergoing the most deadly attack on it today, adding that ever since it left the Arabian Peninsula, “controlling the house of infidelity and undermining its political life was its first goal.”

Organizations can, even if on the long run, contribute to decreasing tension between sects and religions, promoting understanding and public discussion and going beyond war tactics and conflicts.

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Lewis notes that modern dialogue attempts have taken other forms. “We have seen in our own day the extraordinary spectacle of a pope apologizing to the Muslims for the Crusades. I would not wish to defend the behavior of the Crusaders, which was in many respects atrocious. But let us have a little sense of proportion. We are now expected to believe that the Crusades were an unwarranted act of aggression against a peaceful Muslim world. Hardly. The first papal call for a crusade occurred in 846 C.E., when an Arab expedition from Sicily sailed up the Tiber and sacked St. Peter’s in Rome.”

Dialogue the only option

The Lewis model comes in line with him being a classical historian. It is a model that formed a strong impression about Muslims and that make dialogue with the symbols of Islam and its followers a dream that’s difficult to achieve and that makes attempts to open dialogue futile and reaching an understanding with the Islamic situation with its troubled relations with the West an impossible task.

Nevertheless, there are other more modern points of view with an understanding that wasn’t available to Lewis who is a traditional philologist with an Orientalist approach. Other philosophers have been able to theorize that dialogue among followers of religions is the only method for reducing tension and bloodshed and for establishing a front to face extremism and obduracy of all Abrahamic religions’ symbols in particular.

I followed up on the Meeting for Friendship among Peoples that took place in the Italian city of Rimini with interest. Political and religious leaders participated in the conference which showcased academic and intellectual presentations in the presence of more than 5,000 people.

The statement of Secretary-General of the Muslim World League Mohammed al-Issa clearly voiced the importance of favoring the logic of reaching agreements when it comes to conflicts pertaining to relations between people and religion.

“Evil was not satisfied with this idea; it launched hatred, ignited wars, and initiated injustice, classifying people based on racism and oppression. Evil raised the slogan of the clash of civilizations and made conflict not peace or harmony, the first tenet on our planet. Evil founded a theory that difference and diversity mean clash, and no one should enjoy dignity except his religious, ethnic or partisan groups, whether it declared this precept or exercised it without declaration,” he said.

He added that it is neither logical nor fair to reduce Islam to an extremist group that does not exceed according to the Muslim World League’s statistics, one in 200,000 Muslims who represent moderate Islam.

“Religious and cultural differences among humans are undeniable facts, no matter how large the gap in some of their origins or branches might be, it should not, however, justify turning the world into an arena of conflicts. This difference falls within the Creator’s plan in the reality of pluralism and diversity, the latter must never clash with the importance of co-existence and cooperation; for, kindness and love for all must be a basic condition to live free in peace and harmony,” he also said.

What’s more significant is that a scholar such as Mohammed al-Issa pointed out that this open vision of the world reflects the general Muslim view, and not just a personal opinion. If anyone examines the content of his speech, he would find that it has views that are more progressive than the methods offered by some of the more traditional clerics who preach starting with a provocation of the other. I honestly think that Issa’s speech is tantamount to a new address which it’s quite rare that a Muslim scholar writes it in such a conscious language.

Organizations can, even if on the long run, contribute to decreasing tension between sects and religions, promoting understanding and public discussion and going beyond war tactics and conflicts.

Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

Last Update: Monday, 10 September 2018 KSA 17:01 – GMT 14:01

 

This article was first published in Al Arabiya English  

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Qaradawi: Politics is more important than Hajj!

August 31, 2018

Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi

This year’s Hajj was one of the most successful and distinguished Hajj seasons as it is evident via the testimony of more than two million pilgrims and the praise of Arab and international media outlets and via the astonishing development of the services provided to the pilgrims. In spite of this success and distinction, political disputes dominated the minds of some people, especially in Iran and Qatar.

No matter how much the Muslim Brotherhood members study sharia, they could never be considered jurists because their understanding of Islam differs from what Muslims have known for centuries. The Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam jurists have jumbled up the priorities as while Islam focuses on faith and worship, they can only understand this religion from an angle of politics and partisan interests.

The tutor of terror

One of the most striking examples of this mindset is demonstrated by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has adopted the Qatari nationality and who is considered one of the most important Qatari weapons for spreading chaos and terrorism around the world via his extremist fatwas, violent political positions and incitement to kill and destroy.

After the four Arab countries boycotted Doha, the latter continued to adopt its stubborn and arrogant approach. Hence it went in the direction of Iran and Turkey and sought to find any means to support terrorism and extremism. This is what Qatar did after the anti-terror quartet put it under international scrutiny to monitor its relations with terrorism in Sunni and Shia countries, and this is why Qatar attacks everything related to these four countries as for example it went as far as preventing its citizens from performing Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, with the threat of imprisoning and punishing them.

OPINION: The dangers of apocalyptic discourse

In order to satisfy and align with the Qatari policy, Qaradawi wrote a tweet in which he underestimated the fifth pillar of Islam and people condemned it. He justified the Qatari move of preventing citizens from performing the obligatory religious duty. This is normal for Qaradawi and political Islam jurists. They prioritize the interest of the party and the organization over Islam. To them, Islam is a means to grab power and authority.

Agent provocateur

When he was a young member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qaradawi wrote a poem in which he praised Abdel Meguid Hassan, the killer of Mahmoud El Nokrashy Pasha. The poem which the Brotherhood youths echo says:

“Respect and salutations to you Abdel Meguid,
you have become a role model for the youth
You poisoned a dog and another dog came after him
and for every dog we have someone to poison him”

Qaradawi then fled from Abdulnasser’s oppression to Qatar. He played a dangerous role in many of the Muslim Brotherhood organizations in the Gulf. After the Vilayat-e Faqih revolution in Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and Qaradawi supported it, and when the Brotherhood-Iranian axis of resistance was formed, it was supported by Qatar and Qaradawi.

Qatar established the International Union of Muslim Scholars for him to compete with traditional religious institutions. It gave Qaradawi millions to gather followers across the world and in the virtual world. Qatar sought to announce him as a religious reference that resembles the Vilayat-e Faqih reference in Iran to a great extent.

Qaradawi was one of the most famous figures to have who allowed suicidal operations and encouraged youths to execute such operations. All violent religious militias emerged after the issuance of his fatwas — starting with Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram to ISIS and dozens of terrorist militias who kill Muslims and peaceful people around the world. He fully supported the terrorist Lebanese Hezbollah and the terrorist Hamas Movement in splitting Palestinians and exploiting the Palestinian cause in order to serve Iran and its axis of resistance.

His bloody and terrorist ideology was fully exposed at the onset of the fundamentalist spring, which is known as the Arab Spring. At that time, Qaradawi seemed to have lost his balance and his terrorist voice grew hoarse. He went to Egypt and hijacked Tahrir Square under the protection of the Muslim Brotherhood.

There he talked about fundamentalism and extremism and spoke of an agenda that had not occurred to any mind there. He started to issue provocative remarks and unfounded fatwas based on the Brotherhood’s concepts which believe that taking over power is religion’s most important pillar and that restoring the Islamic Caliphate is the most important duty.

Purveyor of violence

During this ominous ‘Spring’, Qaradawi was live on television when he issued a fatwa to kill Muammar Gaddafi and encouraged everyone around him to kill him. This reflected a shameful compliance with the Qatari policy which was in support of terrorism and its groups in Libya at that time. Qaradawi thus issued this fatwa without any hesitation. Any true jurist, however, that has nothing to do with politics and its games would have never done so.

OPINION: When the Brotherhood’s ‘bankrupt’ speaks!

The ominous ‘Spring’ was a significant stage that exposed the jurists of political Islam, its groups and movements as this is when they realized that their time has come, and they must emerge to the surface and grab power in every country they operate in. Their political statements and positions started to become clear, and this cautioned countries and governments to the real danger represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and its branches across Arab countries and the world.

Interpreting Islam by making politics its core and main duty is a pure concoction of the Muslim Brotherhood, an approach that has never been seen in the history of Islam. It all started with Hassan al-Banna who manipulated religious texts to serve his project, organization and group. At one time, he denounced politics and at another he made it central in his rhetoric.

Any serious researcher can track his contradictory statements on politics and religion, as well as his praise of fascism and Nazism. He established the secret organization and ordered assassinations of politicians, judges and figures who opposed him. Yusuf al-Qaradawi is one of his disciples and group members who resumed the path after him to spread terrorism and extremism.

Qaradawi has lured a lot of the unspecialized intellectuals to his fold by issuing some tolerant fatwas on sub-jurisprudential matters. Some of them thus saw him as a symbol of tolerance and simplification. However, Qaradawi’s equation is clear, simplification on sub-jurisprudential issues and extremism in politics. Qaradawi is an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology in general but he became one of the major symbols of this movement.

Qaradawi is the Brotherhood’s bard of modest talent. Whoever reads the poems in his book Nafahat wa Lafahat or any of his other books would not miss the extremism and terrorism in his writings from his famous ‘Nouniya’ poem till his last poem. They are all highly provocative and incite terrorism and destruction.

Finally, Qaradawi and his ilk are mere cogs in the wheel of the Muslim Brotherhood which only finds in Islam what serves its political project.

This article is also available in Arabic.

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Abdullah bin Bijad al-Otaibi is a Saudi writer and researcher. He is a member of the board of advisors at Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center. He tweets under @abdullahbjad.

This article was first published in  Alarabiya

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Women in the driving seat

August 27, 2018

Satyavrat Pendharkar

By Satyavrat Pendharkar*

THE reforms that Saudi Arabia has experienced so far in 2018 have laid the groundwork for the road the Kingdom will travel in years to come. While opening up entertainment will undoubtedly change the social landscape of the country, there is one new law in particular that will have a significant impact on the nation’s economy – allowing women to drive.

Being able to get into a car and go is something that many of us take for granted. The ability to drive offers us convenience, flexibility, choice, freedom, and, most importantly, opportunity. This is something that many women in Saudi Arabia are experiencing for the first time.

Lifting the ban on women’s driving marked a momentous occasion in Saudi Arabia. It also represented a vital step towards meeting the objectives laid out in the Thriving Economy pillar of Saudi Vision 2030, and to realizing a diversified economy.

Being empowered to self-drive will increase access to employment for women who previously had to rely on potentially costly hired drivers or ride-hailing services, or who did not live within easy access of job opportunities. When women work, economies thrive; according to UN Women, ‘An increase in female labor force participation—or a reduction in the gap between women’s and men’s labor force participation—results in faster economic growth.’ As of last year, only 22 percent of the workforce in Saudi Arabia comprised women, but now, with cars of their own, women can venture further afield to find meaningful employment. Money that would previously have been dedicated to either a family driver or taxi service can now be invested elsewhere.

To revert to the goals of Saudi Vision 2030, the country aims, among a number of ambitions, to increase women’s participation in the workforce to 30 per cent, and to lower the rate of overall unemployment to 7 per cent. Increasing women’s mobility will no doubt contribute to this for the above-mentioned reasons, but there is also a role for the private sector to play in ensuring that there are plenty of job opportunities available for eager women.

PepsiCo has long been a keen supporter of creating opportunities for women to not only work, but to experience a thriving career with potential to grow, both professionally and personally. To date, 15 per cent of our employees in Saudi Arabia are women, and we aim to create a workplace environment that provides even more opportunities to everyone.

As part of our commitment to support the Saudi Vision 2030 Women Empowerment Agenda, we wanted to prepare our female colleagues to hit the road when the driving ban lifted on June 24th, 2018. More than 45 women from our head office and plant in Riyadh joined us for a driving simulation, giving them the chance to learn how to control a vehicle in a safe environment.

Additionally, PepsiCo announced that it will take care of all the expenses associated with driving training and license issuance. We’re also planning to invite women to join our Saudi-wide team as drivers of sales vehicles and forklifts, opening up an entirely new range of job possibilities that were previously gender-restricted. This aligns with our commitment to being an equal opportunities employer on a global scale, as guided by the principles of our Performance with Purpose strategy. Through this, we aim – amongst other intentions – to develop and maintain an exceptional talent base, to create a workforce that reflects the diversity of our consumers and local communities, and to respect human rights throughout our value chain.

In order to ensure that we provide gainful employment to as many women as possible in Saudi Arabia, we hire women across all functions as managers, engineers and on the frontlines, where they work on a specifically developed ladies-only packaging line in our plants. Today there are dozens of women working in what is fondly called the ‘Pink Line’, with many more working throughout our offices, warehouses and facilities elsewhere in the Kingdom. We have even established a nursery in our Riyadh office to provide mothers with the support and encouragement they need to return to the workforce, with the knowledge that their children are safe and sound.

Women bring immense value to the workplace, the community, and the economy. PepsiCo understands this, which is why we are determined to ensure equal opportunities within our company, and why we are so proud of the changes that Saudi Arabia is making. By acknowledging the immense potential of women, in PepsiCo, in Saudi Arabia, and worldwide, we are setting ourselves on a path of positive growth for the benefit of not only our business or national economies, but for the benefit of global society.

This article was first published in  Saudi Gazette

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