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-Hababi

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.”