Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shameful! Jeddah Crippled by Rain Yet Again

It rarely rains in Jeddah, but when it does, it reeks havoc on this city of almost 4 million people.  Schools are canceled.  We lose internet service.  The streets flood.  Hundreds of homes and cars are damaged.  And people get electrocuted or drown - and some die.  The municipality has absolutely no drainage system.  There is no where for the rain water to go.  It's ridiculous that a city of this size is literally crippled and brought to its knees from a little rain.  Promises have been made for years that this issue has been addressed, yet every time it rains, it's the same old thing once again.

Saudi Arabia imports unskilled laborers from poor countries to do cheap and shoddy construction work and if the job is not closely supervised, as many are not, the quality suffers, of course.  It may look pretty good at first glance, but it's always a shock when that first rain comes.

The quality of construction work in this region would be shocking to most of you.  Can you believe that it is not standard procedure to seal all doors and windows?  So with all the dry dust and sandstorms, you can imagine how filthy homes get here if the sealing is not taken care of.  But when it rains, doors and windows leak and it's a mess, not to mention how it ruins the walls and finishes as well as creating mold problems.  People move into nice newly constructed apartments or villas, and then when the first rain comes, they are shocked at the damage and mess. 

To alleviate the horrendous traffic problems in this congested city, a series of tunnels and bridges have been built to replace major intersections and roundabouts.  But trying to solve the traffic problem this way has created an even worse problem when it rains, as the tunnels fill up with rain water.  Many people have died in the tunnels in the past few years.

My husband and I spent several hours yesterday bailing out at least 15 big buckets of water from our stairwell to the rooftop. It's a large area that has windows all around the top and is covered by one of those fiberglass outdoor tent style roofs.  None of it is sealed.  The leaking happens every time it rains here.  For some reason my husband won't have the roof replaced or sealed up.  Thankfully he did have the doors and windows to our flat sealed up after the first rain we experienced when we moved in. 

I lived in Florida for many years, where there are hurricanes and sometimes, even normally, it rains for days on end - and I cannot believe that something has not been done about this situation in Jeddah.  It's shameful for the citizens of Jeddah in this oil rich county to be made to suffer like this with such crappy infrastructure that can't handle a little rain.

I did not take most of these photos (many I found online at this website), but many of them were taken not far from where we live.  It rained for 1-2 hours yesterday morning - that's it.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Meet Saudi Arabia's first women election candidates

The following article was published in The Telegraph.UK on Nov. 9, 2015, and was written by Richard Spencer

Their election leaflets cannot contain photographs, and they are not allowed to address men directly at campaign meetings.

But in a breakthrough moment for Saudi Arabia, a country known for neither voting nor female emancipation, the names of first women to nominate themselves as election candidates have been published.

The elections for local councils next month are the third in the nation’s modern history, but the first in which women will be allowed to both vote and stand, under a decree by the late King Abdullah.

Loujain al-Hathloul  

Loujain al-Hathloul spent 73 days in prison after taking part in the campaign to allow women to drive.

Their duties should they win will be the mundane tasks of councils everywhere, such as supervising road maintenance. But the opportunity has been seized by some of the country’s most prominent women’s rights activists, as well by others who see themselves as apolitical but wanting to improve their local community.

More than 1,000 women have nominated themselves across the country, far more than many expected.

“I’m not excited by the idea of winning,” said Loujain al-Hathloul, who earlier this year was released from 73 days in prison after taking part in the campaign to allow women to drive. Now she is Candidate Number 1 for Riyadh District 5. “I’m focussed on increasing the number of women who stand in elections.”

King Abdullah, who died at the age of 91 in January, won a reputation in his later years for increasing opportunities for women in the kingdom, previously notorious as one of the few countries that forces all women to wear the hijab, or headscarf, and requires them to seek permission of their “guardians’ - father, husband or brother - before they travel.

The number of women at university overtook the number of men, while he also ordered that women be allowed to work as shop assistants, since when an estimated hundreds of thousands of women have joined the workforce.

The kingdom has also given 750,000 students scholarship to study abroad in the last decade or so, many of them women, and the change is often most noticed by them when they return.

Haifa al-Halabi 

Haifa al-Hababi has noticed a change in Saudi Arabia

“Since I returned I have worked, I travel, and no-one has ever asked for my permission from a guardian,” said Haifa al-Hababi, an architect who studied and worked in London and Glasgow before returning to Saudi Arabia two years ago.

She is now standing as a candidate for Riyadh District 4, has a column in a local newspaper under hijab-less picture byline and is happy to meet a male journalist at home wearing a teeshirt with the slogan “Punk’s Not Dead”.

Although both women are among those who have studied abroad, they represent different factions. Mrs Hababi, 38, and married to a lawyer, says she is standing to put her architectural principles - that good design is a way of life - into practice.

She sees the campaigns for women driving and to end the guardianship as part of “old generation feminism” that is ceasing to be relevant for the many Saudi women who have education and jobs.

Mrs Hathloul, on the other hand, who is married to one of Saudi Arabia’s best-known comedians, has herself become one of its best-known activists.

She was arrested last year for trying to drive from the United Arab Emirates - where there are many fewer restrictions on women - across the border. This "international" act of civil disobedience was seen as particularly provocative, and she was at one time threatened with terrorism charges.

She says she is able to do what she does only thanks to a liberal father, who has backed her campaign and despite being a former navy officer sat in the passenger seat with her while she broke the law.

The two women also have different attitudes to some of the rules instituted for these elections, including that banning the use of photographs and the one preventing candidates addressing members of the opposite sex.

Both apply to men and women, but for the activists, this is a clever way of discriminating against women while appearing to be equal: if candidates can only effectively campaign in private, that gives the advantage to men who have more opportunities to spread their manifestos through work and social networks.

Mrs Hababi however says the ban on photographs is a good thing - it prevents people advertising their religiosity through the length of their beard, discouraging hardline Islamism.

Nassima Al Sada  

Naseema Assada comes from the minority Shia community

For Naseema Assada, one of nine women among 62 candidates for 12 seats in the eastern town of Qateef, the election is even more sensitive. She comes from the minority Shia community, and Qateef is a hotspot of anti-government Shia demonstrations.

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, the young protester whose sentence to death by beheading and crucifixion was condemned by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, provoking a row with the Saudi ambassador to London, is also from Qateef.

Her involvement in the women’s driving movement stemmed from her work in publicising cases of arrested protesters.

The protests in Qateef in 2011-12 triggered a government backlash, as did all the events of the Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia. A whole swathe of civil society activists were arrested and sentenced to long terms.

“I was interested in human rights first,” Mrs Assada said. “One of our human rights is our political rights, and political rights for women are also very important.”

She has twice been “called in” by police and urged to “speak softly” when it comes to the government.

She admits that in some ways the election is a “play”, as she puts it. Other activists are boycotting them altogether, like Aziza al-Yousef, a veteran feminist. “Things are actually getting worse and worse,” Mrs Yousef said, referring to fears that the new king, Salman, with a reputation as a conservative, will halt his predecessor’s reforms.

“I think we need to change the whole system. We don’t need revolution but we need evolution, to change the structure of government.”

The number of women going to university had just created a “well-educated prison”, she said.

But Mrs Assada said it was still worth participating as a way of showing both men and women what was possible.

“It’s just baby steps, and the people want more and more,” she said. “It’s not that they are giving us our rights. But it’s not too hard a way to educate women and people in general throughout society what our rights are.”

Monday, November 9, 2015

On Gender Equality

“However much people might indulge in tall talk, in no country or age were women given full freedom in religious and social matters, nor are they given their rights even to this day!”   P.R. Sarkar

My husband and I had a conversation today about laws and how he thinks laws should be respected and obeyed, no matter what.  This is far different from the rebellious young man I first met back in the 1970s.  As he has matured, his views have conformed with the status quo.  I happen to believe that there are many laws on the books that are not good and not fair.  My view is that not all laws deserve respect and we should take measures to change the bad ones.  Our conversation led to the fact that Saudi Arabia does not grant Saudi citizenship to the children of Saudi women, unless the children’s father is Saudi.   This law has been in effect in Saudi Arabia since way before DNA analysis was available.  It diminishes and dismisses many women and their children as full citizens of this country.  

My take on religion, politics, and government is that these things widely provide men with a platform to control and marginalize women.   I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have rules or laws governing society.  I am saying that we need to have rules and laws that treat everyone equally and fairly.  Many of the laws governing society place restrictions on women and their bodies under the guise of “protecting women” for their own good and treat women as if we are inferior and not capable of making the right decisions for ourselves.  Sadly in many societies, women are only seen as lustful, sexual temptresses, only good for procreation.  Even in the Buddhist religion, monks are given some 250 guidelines on how they should behave, while Buddhist nuns are to abide by over 350 rules of conduct.   Why so many more rules of conduct for women?

There are many instances in the Bible that denigrate women to where they are always the lowest on the totem pole.  Things like how husbands shall rule over women, and how women should be submissive and obedient.  The Q'uran and the Torah also contain many like-minded statements. 

While men are obviously, and unfortunately, physically stronger than most women, females are always made out to be lesser beings in many other ways than men – less intelligent, less competent, less tough, less capable, and less in control of our emotions.   For example, in Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to visit cemeteries because we "are too emotional.”  Women in Saudi Arabia also have a legal male guardian their entire lives, effectively rendering all women in the country at the mercy of that one man in her life who makes all decisions for her.  Some women are lucky and their guardians allow them the freedom to travel, to get an education, to work, or to marry the person she chooses, but many Saudi women are not that lucky.  This guardianship system basically means that Saudi women are totally powerless over their own lives and destinies unless their male guardian allows them that power.  

The ban on women driving here in Saudi Arabia still continues, even though Saudi women have been trying to get that basic right for 25 years now.  The reasons for why women cannot drive here are so tiresome and ridiculous, but mostly focus on our personal safety – as if we women are far safer with a man behind the wheel.  Saudi Arabia ranks among the world's worst countries for traffic fatalities.  It's what happens when only men are allowed to drive.  I find these excuses insulting and condescending.  Despite the fact that I have driven safely in the United States since I was 15 (that’s almost 40 years!), in my eyes I am not allowed behind the wheel in KSA simply because I don’t have a penis.  

Laws in America exist in many states to restrict women from making decisions about their own bodies regarding women’s health issues and in limiting their reproductive choices.  Women in most countries are uniformly paid less than their male counterparts for the same work. While many women, who have been abandoned by men, are raising children on the own, paying men more is still justified because men are still considered the family breadwinners.   Women in politics are subjected to scrutiny that male politicians aren’t, such as trash talk about her hairstyle or what clothes she is wearing, instead of focusing on her stance on important issues or on her voting record.

Blaming women for the woes of the world dates back to the first woman on earth, Eve.  Isn't it time that this way of thinking stops?  The sad truth is that in the 21st century women around the globe are discriminated against and seen as inferior to men.  Many men prefer wars and violence to resolve differences, whereas most women favor peace and compromise.  

Women have been held back for centuries by men – and quite frankly, men in power have made a real mess of things the world over.  My husband says that may be so, but he turns it around on me by saying that we women “allowed” it to happen.  I know he is teasing me when he says that, but it still makes me mad. Throughout history, gender inequality has resulted in women not being given the chance to be productive, to make decisions, and to make a difference.  While a few women have managed to rise above these man-made limitations, most have not been able to.  And I think it’s a shame. 

Thursday, December 10th is Human Rights Day 2015.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

From Saudi Woman: F.A.Q. About the Saudi Women Driving Ban

My friend and fellow blogger, Eman Al Nafjan, AKA Saudi Woman, has written this blog post to answer frequently asked questions about the women's driving movement in Saudi Arabia, which began 25 years ago.  In 2015 Saudi Arabia still remains the only country in the whole world that denies women the right to drive. 

This post has been Reblogged.  It was originally posted on Saudiwoman's Weblog:

Today, November 6th, is the 25th anniversary of the first protest against the women driving ban in Saudi Arabia.

On this occasion, it’s apt to answer all those questions Saudis usually get when the ban comes up:

Why is there a ban on women driving?
Any answer is pure speculation. The government arrests and/or punishes not only women who drive but also anyone who attempts to raise this issue. Simultaneously, all official statements concerning the ban relate it to be a societal issue that the government does not want to interfere with. The Minister of Foreign Affairs insisted that it is a societal ban and not governmental when asked by British journalists in 2007.

It has no basis in religion. Even the most extremist interpretations of Islam such as ISIS’s do not ban women from driving. Even if an Islamic reason is forced, that does not lead to a government…

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

BBC Radio: Do We Need to Rethink Our Relationship with Saudi Arabia?

This morning I was contacted by BBC radio to participate in a radio program entitled "Do We Need to Rethink our Relationship with Saudi Arabia?"  The hour long show will only be available to listen to online for 28 days, so if you are interested in learning about Saudi culture from Westerners' perspectives, do tune in.

Susie in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2015
Guests on the program presented their personal experiences of living in or visiting Saudi Arabia.   One topic discussed is the case of UK pensioner Karl Andree, age 74, who has spent over a year in a Saudi prison since being arrested by Saudi religious police for transporting homemade wine in his car.  Alcoholic beverages are strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia and punishments are harsh.  Andree has been sentenced to 360 lashes.  It should be noted that Andree has lived in Saudi Arabia for 25 years, so he was well aware of Saudi's prohibition on alcohol when he broke the law.

One guest related his disturbing confrontations with the Saudi religious police during his visits to KSA for Hajj, the religious pilgrimage all Muslims are required to make during their lifetime.  

Other topics touched upon during the program include human rights, public beheadings, women's issues, culture shock, and hypocrisy. 

I was the final guest on the show and I can be heard at about 53 minutes into the show.  Please CLICK HERE to listen to the program, but be sure to do it before November 10, 2015.

Monday, October 12, 2015

"Historic Jeddah" Documentary Film Trailer

"Historic Jeddah" is a documentary film produced and directed by Jameelah Rose del Prado Liness, a Filipino filmmaker and film instructor who was born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  Her documentary is the only film from Saudi Arabia chosen as an official selection in the upcoming International Film Festival Manhattan from October 22 through 25 in New York City.

Her film is up for two awards: The Best Documentary Film and The Best Documentary (Short) Film. Another category she is hoping to win is the Most Popular Film in IFFM.

In order for her film to win in the Most Popular Film category at the film festival, you can help by watching her trailer.  The more times you watch it, the more votes her film will get.  If you do watch it more than once, please Refresh your Page each time first instead of just hitting Replay.

As you can imagine, film-making in Saudi Arabia is not an easy undertaking.  There are strict privacy laws which, if violated, can quickly land one in prison, not to mention governmental bureaucracy and red tape.  And just being a female in Saudi Arabia adds yet another layer of complicated cultural issues.  Throw into the mix the fact that there are no public movie theaters in Saudi Arabia (although the latest movies can be watched on pirated DVDs bought off the street) and one can see that there are many obstacles to overcome if someone wishes to produce a film within Saudi Arabia.

Here is what Jameelah had to say about her experiences with film-making in KSA -
When I was doing my thesis film, I chose to do a documentary. I flew to Jeddah to shoot my film. I had nobody to help me. I had no crew. It was just me and my mom. It was very challenging and rewarding, but at the same time uncomfortable. I remember that I had to pause/stop recording every time people came into the frame, especially if it was a woman. I was uncomfortable because I always had to look and check if it was okay for me to shoot or not. My mom would tell me if somebody was coming, and I would have to stop recording. My mom also carried some of my equipment while I filmed.
It was particularly very tough shooting outdoors. I am always concerned about whether someone might take my camera from me and confiscate it, or worse, smash it. This resulted in my outdoor footage becoming unsteady and very short. I had a difficult time editing it. I have already made 3 documentaries about Saudi Arabia.
The first time I ever watched in a movie theater was when I first went to the US in June 2011. The first movie I ever watched in a movie theater was Harry Potter the Deathly Hallows Part 2. I was 18 at that time. The second time I watched inside a movie theater was a year after that. I'm not really used to going to the movies and somehow, growing up in Saudi Arabia, I prefer to watch movies on my laptop or on TV.  I have only been to a movie theater twice in my life at the moment. It is quite ironic since I make films and yet I don't really go to the movies frequently.

Jameelah is a graduate of the New York Film Academy in New York City.  At the moment, she is a freelance filmmaker doing production works in Jeddah and she also teaches film-making privately.  She offers a 4 week or 8 week film-making program.  If you have any inquiries regarding her classes, you can email her at : 

Friday, July 3, 2015

From the Kitchen to the Podium


by Rayeesa Tabassum

This year, our city, Jeddah, had the privilege of hosting the Saudi Arabian Toastmasters Annual Conference: SATAC 2015.  It was a grand affair, bringing together the best speaking talents from all over the country. Abdullah Al Jurfi emerged as the winner in International Speech Category. He will go on to represent Saudi Arabia at Toastmasters International Convention in Las Vegas, in August, to win the coveted title of  “The World Champion of Public Speaking.”

Jeddah Elite ladies toastmasters pose with their trophies at their club contest.

Saudi Arabia is also called district 79 and boasts of over 200 clubs, including Arabic, English and other languages too. There are approximately 40 clubs in Jeddah alone. Among them are corporate as well as community clubs and a few exclusive ladies clubs too. Jeddah Elite ladies toastmasters club prides in being the first ladies only club in the city and has been instrumental in bringing women from the kitchen to the podium. 

Founded by Shanti Lakshman, an experienced toastmaster, in June 2013, it won the prestigious president distinguished club award in the very first year of its formation. This year too, the club shone in the division level conference with its members winning 2nd prize in each of table topics, humorous speech and evaluation contests. 

Ladies from different countries and professions meet on alternate Thursdays, in Aziziyah, to improve their communication and leadership skills. A general meeting has three components: Prepared Speeches, Evaluations and Table topics.  In the first session, members present prepared speeches based on the projects from “Competent Communication Manual” provided by Toastmasters International. Each speaker is assigned an evaluator, who provides constructive and helpful feedback to the speaker to improve her speech. 

In table topics, a “topic” is given on the spot and members are required to speak about it for 2-3 minutes.  At every meeting, members take up different leadership roles such as Toastmaster of the Evening, Table Topics Master, General Evaluator, Grammarian, Timer and Ah Counter. The whole educational session enables members to improve various skills like impromptu speaking, listening, evaluation, providing feedback, organizing and time management.

Jeddah Elite ladies club has made stars out of homemakers. Members with English as their second language have used this platform to gain confidence in their spoken English skills. TM Ajitha Saleem, a non-native English speaker, began her journey of Toastmasters, with table topics speech in her mother tongue. In just one year, she has transformed from hesitant, nervous speaker to humorous speech champion.  

At Jeddah Elite Ladies Toastmaster meetings, learning takes place in a fun, comfortable setting. Ladies in Jeddah who are interested are welcome to attend a meeting to get a first hand experience of toastmasters.  To find out more information, please use any of these ways to contact Jeddah Elite Ladies Toastmasters:  

Twitter        :  @jedeliteladies_
Email          :
Facebook   :   JeddahEliteLadiesTM