Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Alicia Ali: A Kinder, Gentler Saudi Arabia

Alicia Ali's name might sound familiar to you if you are a regular reader of this blog. Back in June of this year, I published an interview with two "Doulas" in Jeddah, and one of them was Alicia Ali. Now I want to introduce you to another side of Alicia - her creative, artistic, and passionate side. Through her colorful, bold art and her ethereal poetry, Alicia's expressions are an inspiration for Saudis and people abroad. She emphasizes "the need to embrace culture and adopt a pluralistic outlook, and encourages Saudis to share their artistic talent with the global community."

A native of Canada with Hijazi roots, Alicia and her Canadian husband have been living in Saudi Arabia for the past ten years. This busy mom of three founded an artists' network in Saudi Arabia called Arabian Jewel, which in collaboration with vital voices, hopes to profile artists (Saudi and non) in the Kingdom. Alicia also offers holistic services and education through her website called Your True Nature.

Noting the negative images that come to mind when people think of KSA, Alicia has a passion to present "the other side" of Saudi Arabia - a kinder, gentler side, if you will. Yet she says it can only be done by when artists work together sharing the same vision. An important part of her work here is to help bridge cultural gaps between expats and locals through the medium of culturalization. Promoting art and culture has served as an excellent tool in the education process. Her carefully selected themes such as love, wine and the soul, to name a few, may raise eyebrows here, yet she says she is adamant in "crossing ideological boundaries through the art of poetic expression in order to achieve a sense of humanistic equilibrium and unity. The hearts and minds open up when words encapsulated in tablets of love touch the soul, a healing effect." All her works are expressions of her personal experience in the "Land of Love," which is the title of a poem she wrote and recites in the video below.

If you are an artist in the Kingdom and would like to get your work profiled, Alicia welcomes you to contact her personally at: essentialfitra@yahoo.ca

Alicia Ali, artist for non-violence from Tayie Rehem on Vimeo.

Embrace Culture
... A Poem by Alicia Ali

To embrace culture is to embrace humanity
Embrace humanity and live in harmony
To achieve harmony within humanity
Is to live in a state of Unity
We are one human family
With all our diversities apparent and hidden
In essence we all come from the first man.


  1. Thanks for posting something very positive, Susie. :)

    I hope there will be more such info in the future.

    When searching through the Arab News culture section it seems that most of what is printed there is cultural news of the West. Very rarely is there an article on anything cultural happening in the kingdom. Compared to the other countries in the region and the world, KSA appears to be a cultural wasteland. Often, when there is an article on any sort of culture, the featured artist is not Saudi. Travel guides give virtually no info on cultural venues.

    What cultural outlets do people have? Are you able to go to museums, concerts and art galleries together with your family? Are movie theaters allowed yet? What about historical sites? Does one still have to get a permit to travel within the kingdom?

    King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, c. 1930 said: ” My Kingdom will survive only insofar as it remains a country difficult to access, where the foreigner will have no other aim, with his task fulfilled, but to get out.”

    It seems to me this isolationism mentality is the issue. As Alicia Ali’s poem illustrates cultural openness is the way to live in harmony with humanity:

    To embrace culture is to embrace humanity
    Embrace humanity and live in harmony
    To achieve harmony within humanity
    Is to live in a state of Unity
    We are one human family
    With all our diversities apparent and hidden
    In essence we all come from the first man.


    An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world. —George Santayana

    Perhaps it is a fear and suspicion of the actual world that holds Saudi art and culture back?


  2. Susie,
    Found your blog recently...as an American woman who has lived "most" of the past 20 years in Jeddah I find ngs I agree with, others I do not..As the saying goes "to each his own"..I have some very strong views on changes within the Kingdom and really object to many outsider opinions of change..it sould come from within and bit by bit, change and progress is happening..I will be in Jeddah by October, inshallah.. take care and a very happy Ramadan to you and your family...it is one of my favorite times in the Middle East..the celebrations, energy (or lack of while fasting), excitement is spectacular.. Would be wonderful to meet you while I am in Kingdom...

  3. Oh wow ! So much of what Marianne has commented on are such stereotyped images...seems to research much of the problems but very little of reality..
    1. Reply to the quote from King Saud in 1930...have you considered that this remark was made not long after the end of the Ottoman Empire...and was meant as a sign of newfound national unity..yes tribal unity.as opposed to having been under Ottoman control for centuries.
    2. Arabia has many great mathematicians,scientists, philosophers, authors, etc for hundred, perhaps thousands of years...can't refer to them as Saudi pre King Saud now can we...
    3. Museums, history, etc...Again, do your homework..some of the most incredible historical sites are located within the Kingdom..the Nabatean sister city to Petra is in Saudi Arabia..Madain Salah IS a tourist site..while it does require permission to visit that is done thorugh very simple procedures..perhaps not as easy as going to a US national park and getting a permit at the entrance..who cares..it is still possible. Guided tours are available in Jeddah at Al Balad, gibven by an extremely well known academian. Art exhibits continue to flourish. I could list so many others, but one can simply google ...
    4. Change does not come overnight..it must come from within and does not have to meet the time frame of any person or outside country influence..give KSA time..I have seen amazing changes in the past 20 years..Marianne, recall our own American history of liberation..it has taken a 100 years to give equality to African American, same for WOMEN...I personally DO have great respect for the changing lives of Arabians..
    5. KSA is a monarchy, like it or not.. Masalama Mama !

  4. Apparently Memee does not read Arab News nor has she made herself cognizant of Saudi current events or its history. Clearly she has also not read any of the links that I posted. Perception is Memee’s reality, but is clearly not based in facts.

    Turkish occupation of the middle east: Muslims continuously beat the dead horse of Western colonialism, which lasted a couple of hundred years and brought development to the backward middle east, while pointedly ignoring Islamic colonialism. The Turks occupied the ME for over 400 years and brought little development. Memee should read the history of Islamic hegemonic expansion and learn what Muslim imperialistic colonialism was all about.

    Arabian mathematicians, scientists, philosophers, authors: While there have been many Muslim mathematicians, scientists, philosophers, authors in the distant past, there have been very few Arabs among them. Most Muslims of note, especially in science and literature were Persians. Surely Memee can name just a few world class contemporary Saudi or Arab mathematicians, scientists, philosophers and authors? How about a few Nobel Prize or Pulitzer Prize winners?

    Historical Sites: It is a well known fact that the Saudis are destroying their historical sites and neighborhoods, in particular if these predate Islam. Arab News has stories regarding this all the time. Saudi Arabia is not open to world tourism! In fact, until recently tourist visas were not available. The Saudis force nonMuslims to behave and dress as Muslims, especially the women, with the gender-apartheid system and they are very restrictive as to how one can travel in the country. It is NOT safe for any woman to travel alone in Saudi!

    Change: The West had a Reformation, a Renaissance and an age of Enlightenment. Those have brought humanity the current unprecedented age of prosperity from which Saudis benefit mightily without having contributed much of anything. Where were the Arabs if they were so far ahead of the West? While the rest of the world has been moving toward modernity in the 21st century, the Saudis have been going backward. Buying Western technology and consumer goods is not progress, it is dependency! Islamism is driving certain Islamic states into the barbaric past.

    Please, Memee, while you may have a lot of Saudi and other Arab friends and personal relationships, please check on your facts! The whole of the 22 Arab League nations have a GDP that is less than that of Spain. This includes the oil producing States. According to the UN Reports on Arab Development, written by Arab scholars, the only nations doing worse than Arab States are those of subSharan Africa.

    The facts are that many Arab States are failed States; if all the expats left tomorrow many of the Arab States, especially Saudi Arabia would collapse. The Saudi work ethic is non-existent according to countless Arab News stories. Saudization is an abject failure. If the oil disappeared the Saudis would be living in the dark ages.

    What Memee and some Arabs are claiming are actually the stereotypes of the fantasy of the superiority of Arabs, when all the facts point in the opposite direction.

    Yes, Saudi is a monarchy, a very recent monarchy with thousands of “princes” and self-appointed “royals” who are not being fair or decent to their subjects. How very nice that Memee has “respect” for a nation that does not permit women to even leave their homes without the say-so of a superior, male mahram, to choose whom to marry, to study, to drive, to work, to vote all are denied women. Then there is the issue of expat abuse. All of the foregoing have been documented by Human Rights Watch. Most decent people believe this is shameful and nothing to be proud of or to respect.

    Saudis are going one step forward and two steps back. Everyone can see that. Arab News, honest Saudis, expatriates and observers corroborate those facts. How many more hundreds of years will it take for half the population to gain equality?

  5. You read Arab News..have you EVER lived in the Middle East?? You seem to obsess on the negative..I maintain that nothing will change overnight..as you seem so compelled to have happen..
    As for archaeological sites, many are studied and thousands more are discovered..true that some have been bulldozed, hasn't that happened in all parts of the world..
    I laughily disagree that if expatriates left that the kiingdom would collapse.
    One would suspect that perhaps you, or someone you know, has had a bad experience in KSA..
    How unfortunate for you to only take heed on what you read in Arab News...do you speak Arabic, if so try Al Jazeera, Saudi Gazette..
    I respect the Arabic people in their on-going efforts in the name of change..meantime, rave on, I seriously doubt change will come in the time you so fervently desire..Masalama...

  6. Marianne, you are so out of touch...anyone can cut and paste articles from any news forum..
    One must guess on your background as either being a disgruntled employee or perhaps a prior military member who has experienced some sort of negative repsonse ...either way you seem to have the imperialistic Bushism attitude that as America is such a world power that we can FORCE freedom and change on any objecting entity..I doubt the change which you want implemented will ever occur during your lifetime, so take a deep breath..don't exhale...Masalama...

  7. Marianne.."take a deep breath..don't exhale"...that could be taken out of context also..a bit too ambiguous..What I meant is that you expound so fervently on many topics of which you don't understand that perhaps you SHOULD take a deep breath and not exhale right away ..else you might find your exploding from your angst...
    Susie..I sure do like your music..simply entertaining as this blog is intended.. Masalama...

  8. Memee, you have yet to refute one single, solitary fact that I have posted with anything substantive. Your opinion is irrelevant. Facts are what count.

    I have lived in a number of different countries and have travelled all over the world including Islamic nations—not with the military. I doubt very much that you speak any reasonable Arabic or any other foreign language fluently, since you are an American. I speak a number of languages, fluently and am competent in a handful. It is not necessary to speak Arabic, because, Arabic is not an important language in the world of commerce and science or technology. Regardless, the news gets out. Of course, the kingdom of humanity does censor. So, perhaps you are not as aware as you could be of the goings on.

    Regarding obsessing on the negative, for that you need to take Arab News and the other Gulf papers including Saudi Gazette and al Jazeera to task. I read most of them. They write in English. Evidently you miss the majority of articles, which tend to focus in the (very negative) facts. Every single blog and forum of expats living in the kingdom, this one included, reflects the very same sort of (negative) facts.

    Facts are interesting things. You can object to them and rail against them, but you cannot get rid of them. They remain, as they are—hard, cold, irrefutable facts.

    You may laugh and fantasize that if the expats all left everything would be just fine, but that is not the consensus. The Saudiisation project is because of the fear of collapse. There are about 5,576,076 expats in the kingdom of humanity. That is one expat for every 5 Saudis. In the UAE about 80% to 85% of the population is expats, Kuwait about 50%.

    Saudis and many other wealthy Arabs cannot even get out of bed without expats, much less steer their own economies. There is a 30% unemployment rate in Saudi and a dearth of skilled Saudi workers for the Saudiisation project. The Saudis and other Arabs have had hundreds of years to change, right along with the rest of humanity. Most clearly do not want to do that. Many of those who demonstrate for change are arrested, imprisoned, tortured and often killed.

    I could not care less whether Saudi ever changes. Their choice! What I care about is Saudi minding its own business and not spending countless millions to influence Western lawmakers. I also care about the fact that Saudis/Muslims incessantly denigrate the Western way of life, while unashamedly taking everything that the West has to offer.

    “…Saudi Arabia, one of the most powerful foreign interests here, spent about $1.5 million in 2009 on Washington firms, and it has a $600,000 annual contract with Hogan Lovells aimed partly at fighting legislation and litigation that would challenge OPEC’s influence over oil prices…” Lichtblau, Eric (2011-03-01).

    ”Arab Uprisings Put U.S. Lobbyists in Uneasy Spot”><. The New York Times. Lobbyist Thomas Loeffler has gotten $15 Million from Saudi’s since 2002 to lobby American Congressmen such as John McCain. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/05/18/politics/politico/main4105052.shtml

    Mid-East unrest: Arab states seek London PR facelift
    “…Over the past two months, as unrest spread across the Middle East, from Tunisia to Bahrain, many Western journalists were discreetly contacted by PR agencies acting for Arab leaders trying desperately to stem the flow of negative headlines…”

    I am hardly of touch, Memee, you OTOH... I am highly educated, worldly and cosmopolitan, free to do my work, travel and live where I choose—rather than my mahram. I do not just go to Paris, Milan or Tokyo to shop, as do Saudis. I detest Bush and his cronies. I also am very much against trying to give or force democracy unto Muslims because, Islam and democracy are completely incompatible!

    Making so many erroneous assumptions must have something to do with living in the kingdom of conspiracy theories. ;)

  9. Been traveling for the past two years, had to go back and review the rantings of Marianne...disappeared from view it appears!

    1. I haven't deleted anything. I do see comments here from Marianne.