The New Saudi Arabia

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New Saudi Arabia — sophisticated, moderate and happy

Time: May 01, 2018

“WHAT is going on in Saudi Arabia?,” asked my Lebanese friend. “Too many things are happening at the same time. Why now? What are you trying to prove to the world? Or is it to yourselves?

“Recently, you had sports, chess and even card (Baloot) tournaments; international and national marathons; women racing and bicycling; operas, and musical shows; cinema and theater; even one of the world biggest wrestling events — Royal Rumble 2018,” he counts.

“King Salman has just laid the foundation stone at the Qiddiya entertainment park near Riyadh. The project is considered to be the largest of its kind in the world. The 334-square kilometer project would rival Walt Disney and include high-end theme parks. It is one of three Saudi “giga projects,” including NEOM and the Red Sea project, launched by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman.

“That is a lot by any count,” my intellectual friend pronounced. “Still, it seems there is more to come. And all in a year or two! What is going on? Has Saudi Arabia suddenly decided to change its soul? Will this phenomenon last? Can your society afford such fundamental changes?”

I told him: Simply we just want to reclaim years of our lives that were wasted in barren-like environment, by barren-minded people. It is like we were finally freed to release our best, realize our potential and enjoy our blessings. Now, our best half could showcase their capabilities, our young may take the lead, and our gifted may present their talents.

Why not? That is the real question that bothered me for ages. We have it all —trained, ambitious, energetic human resources; historic, colorful, diversified culture; and vast, rich, untapped lands.

We are not new to civilization and leadership. Our nation had built an empire that stretched from the gates of Paris to the Great Wall of China. Our holy cities have enlightened the world. Through the ages, billions of people have been inspired by the book we carried, the knowledge we taught and the message we delivered. They have followed our lead, honored our status and prayed towards the House of God we served.

Now, it is high time we awakened our legacy and fired up our torch that was stolen for decades by narrow-minded, shallow-thinking, self-serving topologists. They reinterpreted our holy Qur’an, re-wrote our Islam and redefined our mission. Instead of enlightenment, they took us to darkness. In place of science, they advocated prescience. As a replacement of the culture of life, they proposed the culture of death.

People may tolerate the absence of living for sometime. They could live without joy for few years. They might accept depression as a fact of life for a long while. But sooner or later, they would wake up to the reality that they could do better, be better and live better. If not for themselves, certainly they wish for their children to be happier. A new generation would want change, demand change and get change. In an interconnected world, you cannot build an “Iron Wall” around their minds and hearts. They would know better. They would fight to get themselves out of your cage. They would, eventually, rejoin the free world.

Fun is not necessarily bad. Fun is not, by definition, sinful. Fun is what our nature demands. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: The deprived hearts become blind and hateful. He encouraged some moments of leisure. So, whom are we following when we regard a hearty laughter as wrong, if not sin. Why should we always be reminded of death, hell and the hereafter, and not good life and paradise? Why do our kids learn only about the afterlife but not how to make their lives, and ours, worth living? And how come we call ourselves Muslims and do not follow the example of our Prophet (peace be upon him) who instructed us, (work for your worldly life like you would live for ever, and work for the hereafter like you would die tomorrow). And (If the doomsday came upon you, while you were about to plant a tree, plant it!).

A wise leader should appreciate his people’s aspirations and devout his career to help them realize their dreams. He would provide for his people a way out and above — orderly and peacefully. Why should they be looking around for a better life? Why would they be jealous of their neighbors? And why would they leave their country whenever they have a chance to get what they were denied at home — entertainment?

King Salman and his Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Salman, have decided to bring us back the true version of Islam; to lead us forward to the new age; to give us hope, path and freedom to pursue happiness, prosperity and development. Ladies and gentlemen—I give you the New Saudi Arabia!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi

This article was first published Saudi Gazette

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link Saudi Gazette

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A congregation for all in Saudi Arabia

Time: April 28, 2018

Friday prayers at the mosque nowadays are not simply about going through the motions for Muslims. They are a necessary part of bonding with other Muslims from around the neighbourhood, many of whom are tied up with work or other assignments. Friday prayers are also an opportunity for Muslims to listen to the sermons of the preacher who leads the prayers in hope of enlightenment to their spiritual being.

As I make my way to the mosque for Friday prayers in Saudi Arabia, I often find myself wondering what the sermon of the day would be. The topics of recent times have not been inspiring enough. I must admit that I have found myself becoming increasingly dissatisfied at some of the topics that the preachers choose to dwell upon.

I am sure that other readers would agree that sermons on historical incidents that hold little relevance to today’s times have little to do with us and do not necessarily address the real-time issues facing us collectively in Saudi Arabia.

And for those inclined to learn more about such material, there are plenty of well-researched books on religious history that provide a much more thorough analysis.

Nor am I interested to hear about the goings-on in the Middle East or anywhere else on this planet, in a prayer hall. We have live TV and other media outlets for that and they are often lucid enough to leave no question unanswered. In view of that, I do not want preachers to dwell upon the ills of the East or West, when we have plenty of our own to contend with!

I would, on the other hand, welcome sermons that focus on subjects that residents of Saudi Arabia have to contend with in their everyday life. Themes on social and civic responsibilities that seem to have been either ignored or forgotten. A clear stand

I would like to hear a preacher address the evils of corruption and neglect of duty, especially among those in the civil sectors whose duty is to provide efficient public services. While our media often carries such news, very little about those ills, on which our religion has a clear stand, is brought up in the prayer halls. The rights of workers is another theme that I would like to hear being spoken about more often during the Friday sermons. Islam offers us many examples of righteous and humane treatment of those under us, and these must be hammered out regularly to get the message across to those who continue with abuse of power and authority.

The respect for law and order is a theme that also needs to be stressed. Many pay just lip service by nodding their heads during such sermons, only to be seen flinging trash out of their car windows once they are seated inside on their way back from the mosque.

The protection and cleanliness of our environment is another area that our religious scholars should emphasise upon. A drive around the city convinces me that this is an area of concern that should be raised during Friday sermons. Those callous enough to be unhygienic should be alerted about the evils of such habits.

Our propensity to promise but failure to deliver and our lack of discipline and ethics in the workplace should be topics for our preachers to expand on.

Tired sermons

Our respect for laws on roads or in queues should be another subject for discussion. It is Islamic to be respectful of one another in such situations, and yet how often do we actually observe such dictums?

Tolerance of one another, regardless of faith or background, is something very important and it has been enumerated in Islam. Preachers ought to think out of the box and talk about these issues, instead of harping on topics that we are tired of hearing.

And while we are at it, I would like to see translated copies of such preaching distributed to those attending sermons and whose Arabic understanding is limited. A glance around any mosque during Friday prayers confirms a sizeable percentage of expatriates. Copies in Hindi, Bangla, Malayalam, Bahasa Indonesia, English and Tagalog would facilitate a better understanding of Islam and its virtues among people. Preachers should understand that their patrons come from all walks of life and from diverse professions.

Friday congregations, when the majority of Saudi Arabia has its ears tuned to the exhortations from the pulpit, should thus be more tailored to address present-day issues and concerns. With such a captive audience, it would be a shame not to take full advantage of it. They are, after all, a congregation of open ears.

This article was first published Gulf News
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An Arabian future

Time: April 27, 2018

In 1918, the 1,320-km Hejaz railway line between Damascus and Madinah, which took three days to traverse, began to be closed. A century later, the new 453-km Haramain high-speed railway project between Makkah and Madinah will open, taking three hours to reach its destination.

 

But that no longer suffices. In 2018, the Kingdom also announced its formal interest in its first ultra-high-speed Hyperloop, with the near-1,000 kms between Jeddah and Riyadh traveled in 76 minutes. Disruptive change is, therefore, being harnessed to forge an Arabian future, which is now accelerating at tremendous velocity.

 

Saudi Arabia is in a chrysalis-like state, as the Kingdom commemorates the biennial anniversary of the launch of Vision 2030, its socio-economic strategic plan with a timeline to nearly match four US presidential terms. In 2010, the United Nations recognized the Kingdom as the fifth most transformed country over the previous 80 years. Saudi Arabia is, once again, in a state of transformation, led by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman who launched the Vision on April 25, 2016, but this time, the pace of change has been strategically disrupted, accelerated and consolidated.

 

The words of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz about Vision 2030 at its outset suffice. His first objective was for “our country to be a pioneering and successful global model of excellence.” Vision 2030 is also built around three themesabout the future of the Kingdom: a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation, so the aspiration of the global model of excellence is imbibed with these.

 

A vibrant society

 

What could further help to make the Kingdom a vibrant society? In two words: human development. In Saudi Arabia in 2011, McKinsey & Company launched the 3Es –Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship policy initiative to tackle youth socio-economic challenges. The 3Es were subsequently adopted globally by the EU, World Bank and OECD, and championed by Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum, making them as applicable today.

 

On education, one key principle of the world’s top-rated education system in Finland, which matches traditional Arabian learning, is of facilitating play-based informal and heuristic learning for children till the age of seven. On employment, whilst promoting vocational skills is required for a growing population, a need also exists to develop a generation of Arabian talent which has “life-readiness” skills such as financial literacy and active citizenship and a sense of purpose and mission based on concepts such as “Ikigai” and “Lima Khuliq”. Then, as LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner says, the dam will break.

 

In healthcare, with over three million cases of diabetes in the Kingdom, the imperative to encourage healthy eating and exercise is underway, but wearable health tech to measure physical activity could become the norm. Sustainability as a principle can also permeate every household, from the greater deployment of renewable energy, greenery and the sustainable use of water, both desalinated and underground. With urbanization on the rise, municipalities can also further enable knowledge transfer between the Kingdom’s cities, from traditional centers like Jeddah and Riyadh and future metropolises like King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) and NEOM.

 

Arabian hospitality is world-renowned. This originates from basic human kindness in sharing water with a stranger in the Arabian desert to welcoming travelers for centurieson all coasts of the Arabian Peninsula.

 

The faith of Islam is being revivified within the Kingdom itself, following the first official visit from the Vatican in April 2018, a drive for women empowerment and to demonstrate an appreciation of diverse schools of jurisprudence. The Kingdom’s faith is its greatest soft power, at the forefront of a potential global narrative represented by the Maldives and Dubai, architecture like the Taj Mahal and Petronas Towers, sportsmen like Muhammad Ali and now Mohamed Salah, and Britons like Professor Timothy Winter and Sadiq KhanThirty million Muslims will visit Makkah and Madinah for the Haj and Umrah pilgrimages by 2030, representing a rainbow-like kaleidoscope of the faith, with forthcoming initiatives for green cards to live, reside, work and invest in the country.

 

Since 1706, the English-speaking world has known of the captivating storytelling in the Arabian Nights. As such, the Kingdom aims to invest $64 billion in entertainment in the country over the next decade, which, with the Saudi Film Council, can witness the first $100 million Hollywood blockbuster shot in Saudi Arabia going global, as content becomes king in the Kingdom.

 

A thriving economy

 

What then can help the Kingdom, a G20 member, have an even more thriving economy? Hard infrastructure, particularly, in transport, is most welcome in the Kingdom. But whilst the Hyperloop may be an equivalent of yesteryear’s Arabian stallion, there is still a need for transport which is as convenient as the Arabian camel, such as future-proofing a public transport network to be in walking distance of most households. For soft infrastructure, initiatives can focus on facilitating the “Ease of Doing Business” where the time to start and operate a business as an entrepreneur is near instantaneous. Dubai’s Islamic Economy Initiative can also come home to the Kingdom and be scaled.

 

Arabian philanthropy can be institutionalized for SWFs like Public Investment Fund and individualized for people, so development funds such as zakat (compulsory alms) are allocated at a granular-level and at scale. Mineral resources representing tangible wealth such as gold and silver are in abundance in the Kingdom, with some of the largest sovereign purchases forecast. The Kingdom’s energy pillar of oil and gas can be diversified to build industries for solar, wind and nuclear power, which can be harnessed, stored and exported.

 

Home ownership is an aspiration in the Kingdom, be it for Saudis as citizens, for Muslims in the Holy Cities or across the Red Sea for everyone, a thriving economy can be facilitated with induced maturity of the real estate sector. With technology deemed “The Great Disrupter”, significant opportunities for leap-frogging growth stages exist, embedding and harnessing digitization, artificial intelligencerobotics and nanotechology. In fact, the new $500 billion mega-city, NEOM, is the Technopolisembodiment of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

 

An ambitious nation

 

What can help to make the Kingdom an even more ambitious nation? Arabian ambition and Arabian governance are also world-famous. A faith born in Arabia, Islam had only around a 100 followers in its first five years, but today stands at 1.8 billion adherents

 

The United Nations remains the main international body and can act as a strategic partner to determine which causes the Kingdom should champion to achieve their global ambitions. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the world’s second largest inter-governmental organization after the UN, can also be potentially allocated greater resources in line with a wider vision, enhancing its base in the Kingdom.

 

Whereas the 20th century witnessed an eastward focus on the Arabian Peninsula towards the Arabian Gulf, there have been concerted efforts, led by the Kingdom, to turn westwards towards the Red Sea area, which accounts for 13 percent of global trade. This has been supported by the United Arab Emirates, through knowledge transfer initiatives like “Khalwat Al-Azm” and through the stake of Dubai’s Emaar in KAEC, whilst partnering with Egypt and Jordan on NEOM. Further socio-economic cooperation and integration could envisage the Gulf Co-operation Council start to resemble a nascent Arabian Union.

 

Building and achieving King Salman’s vision of a global model of excellence, as delivered by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, across the three themes of Vision 2030 is not only possible, but critical. In terms of measuring the perception of success and actualized influence to genuinely realize this envisaged Arabian future, will, therefore, necessitate quick wins in the short term, big wins in the medium term and legacy wins in the long term.

 

Talal Malik is the Chairman and CEO of global conglomerate Alpha1Corp, an adviser on governance, strategic intelligence and influence, and a dedicated humanitarian.

 

This article was first published Saudi Gazette
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The Gulf States are not Iran’s biggest victims but we ignore it at our peril

Time: April 27, 2018

 

The perpetual regional dispute with Iran is often portrayed as a political row between Tehran and the governments of the Gulf states and Israel. But the biggest victims of vilayat-e-faqih — the doctrine that advocates a guardianship-based political system — and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) includes states and governments beyond the Gulf.

Most of the people of Lebanon — more than any other Arab country — have suffered from Iran’s hegemony and abuses for a long time, including the Syrian occupation, which was part of the alliance between Tehran and Damascus. Hezbollah is merely an Iranian “police station” in Lebanon, performing the “duties” for which it was founded and financed.

Across the border, the people of Syria have had the greatest share of pain inflicted on them by Tehran. It has cost them more than half a million lives, and resulted in more than 10 million displaced people. Had Iran not intervened in the war, this tragedy would not have happened.

Iraq, too, has had its share of suffering. A year after the US invasion, Iran intervened on two fronts: Through support for the armed Sunni “resistance” and terrorist organizations brought from Syria to western Iraq, and through armed Shiite groups in the center and south.

Iraq’s continuous failure is partly due to the IRGC’s weakening of the country’s central authority, and its support for political forces and armed groups that reject the principle of the center’s sovereignty.

The people of Yemen are the latest victims of Iranian intervention, which ejected the government from the capital using armed groups brought from northern Yemen to rule via firepower and extremist ideologies. But those worst affected by the regime in Tehran are the Iranian people. More than 70 million have lived in a closed country run by militias since the 1979 revolution.

 The situation in Syria can only be resolved by getting rid of IRGC chief Qassem Soleimani and his militias, and imposing a political solution that is supported both regionally and internationally.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

So the situation in the Arab Gulf states is not as bad as the aforementioned countries, even taking into account the few and relatively small restive groups in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Lebanon will be among the first to benefit if Hezbollah is disarmed as a consequence of ending Tehran’s influence. This will ensure Lebanon’s stability and make it an economic hub once again. But the situation in Syria can only be resolved by getting rid of IRGC chief Qassem Soleimani and his militias, and imposing a political solution that is supported both regionally and internationally.

As a rich oil-producing country, all Iraq needs is for its legislative and executive institutions to operate without Tehran’s intervention. And Yemen’s war would end within an hour of removing Iran’s influence over the Houthi militia. Gaza, a victim of Iran’s dominance, would become like Ramallah — fit for human life, which is the least one can expect.

The whole region would enjoy relative peace. This is not a figment of the imagination, but the situation that prevailed before the Iranian revolution. In this context, efforts by the international community to change Tehran’s behavior, rather than only curb its nuclear program, would be an important project for both the region and the world.

The possibility of achieving this remains remote unless the US is determined to act, with the support of some governments in the region and Europe. Pressuring Tehran could yield tangible results as the regime is suffering badly already, though it is trying to hide its pain.

Even though there are currently fewer demonstrations in Iran than before, they have not ceased, and are now more organized and dangerous than the previous spontaneous ones. In these organized demonstrations, people nationwide are rejecting social restrictions and the way the country is run.

The regime in Iran has consumed itself — the more oppressive its practices, the more the people reject it. Given this ongoing internal pressure on the regime, if international pressure is also applied, it would be possible to change Tehran’s behavior. If the regime continues to resist, it may be replaced.

 This article was first published Arab News
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Opinion: Saudi Arabia needs to spread the word

27 Apr 2018

Hard work is needed to turn the kingdom’s tourism dreams into a reality

As GCC countries adjust to lower oil prices and strive to diversify their economies, one sector in particular looks set to experience exponential growth and play a prominent role: tourism.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Saudi Arabia, which for the first time in its history, is swinging open its doors to non-religious tourism. When the kingdom begins issuing tourist visas – an imminent and significant milestone – the country will begin a new chapter that has the potential to completely transform the kingdom.

Natural attractions

Luckily for Saudi, it has an enormous advantage in that it comes with ready-made attractions that will appeal to travellers of all kinds. There were plenty of reminders of this fact at last week’s Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, where promotional posters of the country’s attractions covered every column. From stunning archaeological sites such as Mada’in Saleh (above) to natural wonders like the Al Wahbah volcanic crater and diving in the Red Sea, the country has plenty to offer.

“The kingdom is a very big treasure,” Saudi tourism chief Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz said in a recent interview with AFP. “We’re not just oil traders.”

Saudi Arabia’s mission now – and its challenge – is to promote these sites to a world that is still largely unaware of them, as it did at Arabian Travel Market. Just as important, however, will be the kingdom’s efforts to shrug off a long-standing perception that the country’s tourism sector is limited to religious pilgrims and business travellers with a day or two to spare.

For companies involved in the travel, hospitality and tourism businesses, the opportunities are enormous. Saudia CEO Jaan Albrecht for example, says that he expects “glory days” for the airline as it works to accommodate an influx of non-religious tourists, and many hotel brands have announced significant expansion plans for Saudi Arabia. Chief among them is the UAE-based Rotana, which by the end of this year will have seven hotels in the kingdom, with three more in the pipeline.

Economic imperative

For Saudi Arabia, the implications of an enlarged tourism sector are enormous. Aside from the obvious benefits of tourism revenues to GDP, travel and tourism will help alleviate some of the kingdom’s unemployment rate, which in recent years has hovered around an alarming 12 percent. Tackling this issue forms a major part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reforms, and the tourism sector has the potential to create 1.2 million jobs, which primarily will go to Saudis.

Making this dream a reality will, of course, require hard work from all stakeholders involved in the industry, from airlines, to hotels, tour agencies and the government. The visa rules might have relaxed, but as I can personally attest after a painful application process for a work trip, there is much room for improvement.

So it will also require enthusiasm and a heavy dose of informal promotion. There are no better ambassadors for Saudi’s tourism sector than those involved in it, and those who have seen the country’s attractions with their own eyes.

It is up to them now to spread the word.

This article was first published in  Arabian Business

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arabian Business Home

The fantasy film Black Panther holds a magnifying glass up to real life issues of race and gender

Apr 26, 2018

From China to the US and Saudi Arabia, the movie asks challenging questions and lays the groundwork for radical change

The film Black Panther has broken records and milestones. It has grossed in excess of $1 billion, beating the record by Titanic to become the third highest-grossing film ever in the US and the tenth worldwide.

China is the top overseas market and has brought in more than $100 million. And now it is about to become the first film on general release in Saudi Arabia. Last weekend a VIP screening was held and in the coming month, it will open to the public.

The film – and more importantly, the reactions and commentary around it – tell us a lot about the current world.

It is set in the fictional land of Wakanda, which is light years ahead of the world in terms of technology and development because of a special resource it holds called verbanium. To protect its people and the power of the metal, it has kept it a secret. The film opens with the myths of Africa and the power of the African people.

I had goosebumps watching it. My own family traces its heritage to Tanzania and I felt overwhelmed by emotion at the domination on the global platform of an African story.

In the US, the initial celebration gave way to an emotional and even angry discourse. There was jubilation at the central commentary on the black experience and a cheer that Hollywood had finally produced the film that was wanted and needed.

But the discourse also asked why the heroes were from Wakanda, self-contained and separate from white America. Why was the black American who sought global revolution and a righting of historic oppressions cast as the angry, villainous thug? The answer was resounding: the American experience, even from the perspective of a black character, does not need to detract from the African experience.

Predictions about its reception in China were preconceived: it was assumed Hollywood could not lead the box office in China with black characters. In the promotional materials for Black Panther, the imagery of black characters was played down.

But Chinese writers themselves reacted by pointing out that box office takings showed the film was one of the most popular ever.

Women, especially black women, have cheered at the depiction of strong female characters, who are given nuance and variety.

The selection of the film to lead the reimagining of the cinema industry in Saudi Arabia was also fascinating. It was not about righting the wrongs of racism, about gender or about rebalancing the global narratives of different people. The chief executive of the theatre operator that organised the VIP screening explained that the choice of film was not random: “It is the story of a young prince who transforms a great nation”.

It would not be too far a stretch to join the dots. With recent announcements of the women’s driving ban being lifted, female robots being given citizenship and futuristic cities being built run by artificial intelligence, is the subtext that the future of the Kingdom is a kind of idealistic Wakanda in the desert?

But cultural choices have unexpected, difficult and unpredictable ripple effects. The choice of airing a film that centres on a black perspective in a region which has a deep-rooted and challenging history when it comes to Africa will surely ignite conversations, even as former taboos are being broken.

The fierce female characters – their clothing, their military prowess, their leadership, their directive decision-making, their wit, their technological leadership – all elevated through the status offered by the superhero paradigm and the real world adulation of the film itself – cannot but lay the groundwork for a radical change in the discussion of women’s roles in real life.

Such cultural shifts are characterised as soft rather than hard power, which is governed by military power. Vision, aspiration, emotion and even love underpin soft power. China is already redefining its place with these softer, more subtle, cultural approaches and distancing itself from cultural stereotypes with a more globalist approach.

The vision of Wakanda, in a region where many of the themes of technology, gender and race still remain questions to be answered, is a complicated one. It just remains to be seen where the verbanium is hidden.

Shelina Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World

 

This article was first published in the The National

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A Saudi in Paris: Key lessons from the French

Apr 24, 2018

 

Upon visiting Paris, one is immediately struck by the beauty of the city, especially by how the city presents both the magnificence of the past and a spirit of modernity.

To the ears of many, the French language is one of the most romantic-sounding. It is equally effective at describing the pleasures of gastronomy, at facilitating philosophical explorations, as it is at showering other drivers with flowery expletives. In that sense, it shares a great deal with the Italian and the Arabic language.

Its ability to be at turns very elaborate, very modern or very lyrical, effectively describes Paris and the history and culture of the French people. One element that is perhaps lacking in the language and the culture however, is the straightforwardness of English and the corresponding plain-speaking salesmanship of Americans, as the French are regrettably unable, despite their creativity and great products, to sell themselves or their products effectively outside of the realms of tourism and fashion.

Learning from the French

France has played a key role throughout world history, from the conquests of Charlemagne, to the French Revolution and the European project. More than most countries, France is a country of ideas and ideals, yet it is not an ideological country. France is a proud depositary of universal human values, it takes its slogan of ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ very seriously, but there is no attempt to evangelize others on the French Revolution for example. French history is also marked by – often very proximate – highs and lows. Its Emperor of Italian origin, who had his own approach to European unification, was just as rapidly deposed and his Napoleonic Europe again broken up. The shrewd Talleyrand however still ensured through the Congress of Vienna that France remained one. At the height of World War II, the French opted for surrender over seeing Paris destroyed like so many other European cities. To me, this is one of the most remarkable decisions in French history, matching the courage of one Charles de Gaulle announcing that Algeria is not a part of France some two decades later.

Emmanuel Macron is attempting to combine his youthful vision, a modern sense of management with the strengths and talents of France and its people to ensure that France’s contribution to the world remains relevant long into the future.

Hassan bin Youssef Yassin

Saving timeless Paris from wartime destruction ultimately preserved this beautiful forward-thinking city, marked both by monuments of the past and bold visions of the future, for us all. After the tragedy of two world wars, Paris attracted the world’s greatest artists, writers and thinkers. International conferences came to Paris, as did Hollywood, most memorably Gene Kelly in an American in Paris and Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in Funny Face. No other city could match the attraction of Paris, perhaps until this day. France is also a leader in science and engineering, as I am reminded every time I drive into Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport, passing alongside a stadium that looks more like a spaceship come down from the heavens, then glancing upon the diverse landmarks of Paris, from the Eiffel Tower to the bold constructions ordered by its successive presidents. The Louvre and its modernist Pyramid illustrate that very French juxtaposition of an incredibly rich history stepping into modernity.

The politics of France have often flirted with paralysis, as the political system gets blocked or the French assert their heritage of the French Revolution by walking out on massive strikes. But nor will they surrender to that continuing search for the needle in the haystack. France does not want to give up on its universal access to healthcare and education, on its protection of the poor, or on its multiplicity of cultures and religions. France is a nation constantly bubbling, constantly searching, never reaching the ending, but always reaching for something greater and intangible. France is busy trying to bring together and structure the best of Western civilization. Its young leader, Emmanuel Macron is attempting to combine his youthful vision, a modern sense of management with the strengths and talents of France and its people to ensure that France’s contribution to the world remains relevant long into the future.

This article was first published in the Al Arabiya

What the Crown Prince didn’t say!

SOURCE: Saudi Gazette

Saturday April 14, 2018

AGAIN, we make headlines! Again, our Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman “MBS” is making waves in world media. And, again, Iran and company are in a media blitz against the prince and his nation.

“Tomorrow is going to be fully full!,” says Nabeel Maghrabi, the studio engineer responsible for TV satellite transmission at one of the top Jeddah providers. “I’ll be standby for the whole week, starting Monday. We had a lot of reservations and expect back-to-back recordings. Most of our clients are new. US, European and Asian TVs are taking every available spot, day and night,” he explains.

He is not alone. Other providers are busy, too. Commentators, like me, are expecting the same thrust. Not that we mind — not at all. We love to talk about our young prince and his “vision.”

In three years, he managed to realize an overdue list of hopes and dreams — not just for the young and women. He took our breath away with the scale and scope of his projects. They cover a wide variety of developmental, economic, political, cultural and even religious dimensions.

MBS is undoing lots of what has been done in the last forty years. His relentless war on corruption alone was undreamed of only few months ago. Not in our wildest dreams we expected the untouchable becoming so touchable, or that stolen public money that made a whole class of people multi-billionaires would be fully returned to state covers.

“No one is above the law? No one at all? Say that again, for I never thought it was at all possible — not in my lifetime!,” or so would Saudis express their astonishment at the level and speed of the anti-corruption campaign.

Religious extremists who hijacked our society and polluted our culture for ages had looked so secured in their ivory towers that we wouldn’t dare to even question their stands. Whenever I did, they called me all kinds of names, from corrupt liberal to Godless atheist. Today, I could revisit their literature, criticize their methods and question their motives, and still be a good Muslim!

Women, in particular, are celebrating a whole new chapter in their lives. So many doors and windows are opened to them for study, work and entertainment. The army, police and other male-only positions in the state and public sectors, like the courts, airports, passport departments, as well as political, diplomatic, finance, social, sports and religious sectors are now available to our women. They could even fly — literally. Airlines have started training and hiring female captains! A new law is expected soon to guarantee equality of salaries and benefits, MBS announced in his “60 minutes” interview, this Sunday.

In what seems now a distant past (like in 2015!), we used to envy Dubai for its miraculous economic achievements. We are the bigger Arab market, we argued, and one of the world biggest economies — a member of G20. Located in the heart of the world, connecting Asia, Africa and Europe, Saudi Arabia (2,149,690 km²) equals Western Europe and is more than fifth the size of the United States.

Ours is a rich land with everything a civilization may need to prosper — seas, lands, airspace; deserts, mountains, valleys and costs; oil, gas, gold, phosphate; great history, diversified culture, with highly educated and trained young workforce. And above all, we have the holiest land on earth, and the most sacred cities—Makkah and Madinah. In short we have all it takes to occupy a higher and larger place in the world map. So why are we not there?

Saudi Vision 2030 is about to change all that. The best part is we won’t do it alone. We are opening up to the world, and inviting all to join our march. NEOM, for example, is an international project, hospitable to investors, explorers and dreamers. The same can be said about other mega projects in different parts of the country. In addition, huge military industry is being built today, in partnership with the world top manufacturers.

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The End of Saudi-Style Stability

SOURCE: NY Times

Nov. 8, 2017

For decades, Saudi Arabia was a stable and reliable economic and strategic partner of the United States. That country no longer exists.

The Saudi Arabia that preferred caution to confrontation in international affairs, that emphasized stability at home and that kept royal family disputes private, has been disassembled by the ambitious young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has seized control of all instruments of policy and power in the kingdom.

With a flurry of arrests of princes and business tycoons over the weekend, the crown prince jettisoned the longstanding practice among Saudi rulers of seeking consensus, or at least acquiescence, from all branches of the family and from the country’s business elite. Can the consensus of the family and the business leadership that they forged survive?

If the Saudis are looking at their own history, they should be worried.

After the 1953 death of the country’s founding king, Abdul-Aziz al-Saud, Saudi Arabia was crippled for a decade by a power struggle between his successor, the profligate King Saud, and Crown Prince Faisal, a leader respected for probity and self-discipline.

The arrests over the weekend, and the dismissals of senior cabinet officers, were presented as a crackdown on corruption, and accepted as such by the docile Saudi news media. But their effect is to consolidate the crown prince’s grip on the country and to warn any potential opponents to stay silent.

It is richly ironic for a ruling clan that has benefited from corruption for decades to now declare it unacceptable. And it is difficult to believe that was the true motivation for the ouster of Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, son of King Abdullah and commander of the National Guard, a 100,000-strong elite force that is the cornerstone of the country’s domestic security. Until the weekend, the Bedouin-rooted National Guard was the only component of Saudi Arabia’s security forces that Prince Mohammed did not control, and thus represented a potential rival power center. That threat has now been neutralized.

The National Guard has been trained by American military contractors since the 1970s. The regular armed forces — which Prince Mohammed also controls as defense minister — are also largely American-trained and equipped. In the short term, there seems to be no reason to think that the turmoil in Riyadh will jeopardize the kingdom’s partnership with the United States on military and strategic issues. President Trump was immediately supportive, writing on Twitter that the anti-corruption campaign was overdue and that “They know exactly what they are doing.” But the purge is unlikely to encourage the foreign economic investment upon which the crown prince has staked the kingdom’s economic future.

Amr Moussa’s book and his understanding of the region

Time : September 17. 2017

Mashari Althaydi

Veteran Egyptian diplomat Amr Moussa recently published his first memoirs. The book stirred controversy and sparked political and media battles.

Moussa was an envoy and minister and also former chief of the Arab League. As he has occupied many positions, he knows a lot about the region’s secrets and he is actually a part of many such secrets.

He did not write his memoirs after decades of retirement as he has been active during Egypt’s recent developments when he headed the committee to draft a new constitution after the end of the Brotherhood’s and Mubarak’s rule. His memoirs angered some people, particularly Gamal Abdel Nasser’s supporters, and perhaps also Anwar al-Sadat’s supporters.

Also read: Gamal Abdelnasser and the Al-Gama’a series

The Nasserists’ anger is usually fiercer though. They got angry because Moussa described President Abdel Nasser as a dictator who caused Egypt’s biggest political disaster, i.e. the 1967 defeat. Moussa also strongly refused to call this defeat a relapse. Moussa, who worked at the Egyptian embassy in Bern, also wrote that Abdel Nasser used to order special food from Switzerland.

He also commented on the popular protests held in support of Abdel Nasser after he stepped down, and said they were a charade. This statement specifically angered Abdel Nasser’s secretary Sami Sharaf who responded via MP Mustafa Bakri and challenged Moussa to prove his allegations.

Any Arab politician who writes his memoirs must be thanked for having done so, especially amid this darkness resulting from all the suspicion

Mashari Althaydi

Book launch

Moussa’s book launch was attended by prominent Egyptian diplomats such as Ahmed Abul Gheit and Mostafa El Feki. Here are excerpts of what Egyptian author Alaa Abdelhafez published in Almasry Alyoum.

-Sadat viewed himself as bigger than the entire Egyptian diplomacy

-Information conveyed to us through an Egyptian party stipulated that secret meetings were held between the Syrians and the Israelis in the Swiss capital of Bern

-If it hadn’t been for President Mubarak’s sudden action to propose voting on condemning the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait – during the emergency Arab League meeting on August 1990 – and if he hadn’t counted the votes himself then announced the result, the decision would not have been made and supporters of the Iraqi invasion would have organized themselves to prevent it.

Also read: Amr Moussa hints at Egypt incursion into Libya

We do not know if Moussa talked about his role in the Arab League, especially after Sheikh Zayed al-Nahyan’s initiative to get Saddam Hussein out of Iraq after the American invasion in 2003.

Any Arab politician who writes his memoirs must be thanked for having done so, especially amid this darkness resulting from all the suspicion. We wish this good habit spreads more in the Gulf. We will passionately read Moussa’s book “My testimony.”

This article is also available in Arabic.
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Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists. He tweets under @MAlthaydy.

This articl was first published in  Alarabiya

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