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November 13 2012

When Foreign Officials Visit Saudi Private Girls Colleges

During his visit to Saudi Arabia last week, British PM David Cameron made a stop at Dar Al-Hekma College (DAH) in Jeddah. The private girls college held a roundtable with students and alumnae to welcome the visitor from England.

Private higher education institutions in Jeddah have become a usual stop on the schedules of foreign dignitaries who come to Saudi Arabia in recent years. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a large town hall meeting with students at DAH when she visited the country in February 2010.

In both occasions, the Western visitors praised the intelligence and determination of the female students, and in both cases religious conservatives attacked.. well, everyone: the visitors, the colleges and the students.

As soon as photos from Cameron’s roundtable at DAH surfaced online, religious conservatives started spewing venom. Elderly cleric Abdulrahman al-Barrak described the scene of DAH students shaking hands with the British PM as “disgrace, scandalous, and shame.” He said DAH is only interested in “Westernizing Muslim women.”

Nasser al-Omar, another cleric, asked how is it possible for “those who organized, permitted or participated at the meeting of our girls with a Christian official” to be loyal to our religion, country or people?

More people on Twitter made similar remarks, using even coarser language. This prompted a number of DAH students to say that they will file a complaint with the court against what they described as defamation on the social network, according to Saudi Gazette.

When Cameron visit’s to DAH was first announced, Hanan al-Shargi asked: “Why did the private girls colleges in Jeddah become a regular stop for foreign dignitaries?” Why don’t they visit the public King Abdulaziz University (KAU), for example? Are we embarrassed by KAU students, or is their English not good enough? she added.

Those questions should probably be directed at those foreign officials, but let me take a shot at guessing some answers.

First, there is the political gain that Western politicians can easily achieve by such visits.

When Cameron visits Jeddah and meets with the students, he can come back to tell his parliament that he did not just go to Saudi Arabia to sell arms and ignore their dismal record on human rights. He can go back to London and say that he didn’t just discuss human rights with the Saudi government, he has actually met non-government actors and visited a girls college known for empowering women.

Second, logistics and bureaucracy. Most of these visits are usually proposed by the embassies of those foreign countries, and for them it is far more easier to deal with a small private college than a big public university where they have to go through a lot of red tape. Speaking to foreign diplomats over the years, many of them told me that public universities remain off limits to them.

The Education Office at the US Embassy in Riyadh has been for years seeking permission to organize activities at local universities to help Saudi students prepare before they fly to the US to study on government scholarships. No permission was granted, despite the fact that more than 70,000 Saudi students are currently seeking degrees in America.

Then, there is the general perception that those small private girls colleges in Jeddah are more liberal and progressives than public higher education institutions in the country. A perception that many people would agree with. Even though these private colleges are women-only, they don’t have a problem welcoming male speakers every once in a while.

Now compare this with the “crisis” in Dammam University two months ago when a German female professor entered the engineering building of the male students and gave her first lecture in the semester to the students who were apparently freaking out. Some of them reported the incident to the dean who asked the professor to leave the classroom immediately. It turned out that the professor was confused about her schedule, and that she is only supposed to teach female students.

This is one of these these issues that is a non-issue, really. But then again, it is the kind of thing that conservatives enjoy the most: an issue that involves women, especially one where they don’t have to worry about a direct confrontation with the government.

In the end, it is the control of the social arena that they seek the most. As long as they don’t choose to challenge the government, the government would gladly let them have it.


June 26 2012

Covering Up

Niqab-less Norah al-Faiz

Norah al-Faiz is supposed to be a symbol of progress in Saudi Arabia. She was appointed deputy minister of education by King Abdullah in February 2009, making her the kingdom’s highest-ranking female official. At the time, many observers hailed the move as a sign of reform.

But controversy has dogged Faiz since the beginning of her tenure. Continue reading at Foreign Policy

Update 6/27/2012: Saudi state press agency published this new photo of al-Faiz, reportedly taken in Riyadh last night during her visit to an Aramco cultural event. She is the first from the left in the black abaya.

Norah al-Faiz in Aramco cultural event in Riyadh


March 08 2012

Saudi Female University Students Protest in Abha

At least 53 female students from the college of arts at King Khaled University in Abha, southern Saudi Arabia, were injured in a protest today, local daily al-Watan reported. Other sources said one student died in the hospital of a status epilepticus condition that she suffered during the protest, after the university security guards attempted to force the students to disperse.

The students were calling for the improvement of the learning environment after local news sites published photos of trash piles in the campus.

This video shows the students in their black abayas screaming:

Weal Abdullah, a medical student at the university, said his sister was among the protesters, and she told him that security guards used clubs to beat the female students.



UPDATE 21:25: Wael Abdullah posted more details on his blog:

On Wednesday Morning , My sister says that they were banned from bringing in or buying any water bottles or Any other refreshment; the dean instructions they said to punish them for throwing it at the guards. Around 10:45 AM the Guards grabbed one of the girls accusing her of hitting the guards and breaking the law, they were pulling her hair and dragging here on the stairs in the most humiliating way screaming and crying for help. Her friends, my sister included, rushed to help and pushed the guards away. This incidence triggered the demonstrations in the whole campus which was already sick of the corruption and ill-treatment of the dean and heads of departments . The girls were calling for an end to the university president Abdullah Alrashid’s era and held him responsible for all the ongoing corruption and deterioration for 13 years now.

The students were protesting for the second day when violence broke out. A local news site published photos of the students on campus during the protest. Photos also showed security forces and religious police patrols outside the school building.

Prince Faisal bin Khaled, governor of Assir province, has ordered a probe in the events at the university.

In a statement released by the media center of King Khaled University, the school administration said the students gathered and acted in ways that violate the rules then escalated to attack security guards, staff and the faculty. “The university will investigate the causes that led to this and address them according to the common good,” the statement said.

On Twitter and BlackBerry’s BBM, messages have been exchanged calling the students, male and female, to hold a demonstration on Saturday calling on the university president to resign.

“Personally, I think that If the government didn’t act and act fast, they could risk losing control over the whole situation;” Wael Abdullah wrote. “I know that We’re all used to be let down by our own country when it comes to rights and freedoms but lets just hope that it won’t this time.”


January 12 2011

The Arab World Demographic Dilemma: Young, Unemployed, and Searching for a Voice

Arab youth confront daunting challenges, including a lack of economic opportunities, constraints on their freedom of expression, and the complex and shifting nature of their own Arab identity. How the Arab world meets these challenges will have significant ramifications for the Middle East and the world. This special panel discussion marks the release of America Abroad’s three-part public radio series on youth in the Arab World.

Moderator Deborah Amos, foreign correspondent of NPR News who has covered the Middle East extensively, started by saying that as a reporter in the region you notice the young population, but most of the people she interviews are usually over 30. “If you overlook this generation, you miss something essential about the Middle East,” she said.

Marc Lynch, aka Abu Aardvark, Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies, George Washington University, believes that one thing is clear: sheer magnitude of the crisis facing youth in the Middle East. Lynch said many in the West focus on a small group of activists and bloggers, but miss the silent struggle of tens of millions of people. Those people are and their issues are also ignored by their own governments, who seem to think that as long as they can keep these young people off the street then they are doing a good job. Lynch said the recent events in Tunisia and Algeria is particularly interesting because it could have a domino effect all over the Arab World. But when it comes to political ramifications of these events, he wonders if it is going to lead to a substantial change in policy, or just to more repression and bloodshed. This kind of spontaneous uprising and dissent has no place to go because there are not political or social movements involved in it. Lynch said the greatest single thread that combines what is happening in the Arab World right now is the failure of the system to deal with systematic problems, as well as the failure of outside intervention plans. “The tools we have might not be appropriate, and the dynamics are don’t look familiar,” he said. “It’s exciting and troubling.”

Christine Capacci-Carneal, is the Education Development Officer of USAID, and she works primarily with USAID-funded programs in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen. Based on her experience in youth development programs, Capacci-Carneal said that youth are a sophisticated group with many subgroups, and that’s why a problem-based approach is less effective than a comprehensive approach. “Problem free is not fully prepared,” she said. As an example for working with that approach, Capacci-Carneal talked about Youth:Work Jordan, which tries to engages youth directly, but also tries to solve systematic issues by targeting youth in poor districts and working with local organizations. She commended the efforts of the program, but admitted that one of the problems they faced is that they have had a hard time building political will and institutional capacity to sustain that effort. Other challenges facing such programs include how to address building a stronger youth voice and a stronger sense of identity then let local organizations join in that effort. Also, how do ensure that your using the available funding efficiently? Capacci-Carneal said USAID is working to develop better research tools to know what works best.

Lina Khatib, who runs the Good Governance and Political Reform in the Arab World at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law in Stanford University, wanted to focus on youth and freedom of expression in the Arab World. She said that social media has opened up further space for views on many topics that were considered once taboo such as politics, sex, and religion. “No doubt interactive media pushed the boundaries for what’s permissible,” she said, and that young people are no longer willing to accept the status quo as the norm. Khatib has also given the recent example of Tunisia, where Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in what she described as “a desperate plea for the issues of arab youth.” But she added what gives her hope is that young people have not given up and continues their struggle, and thanks to the fact that we live in a world of globalized media, and no authoritarian regime in the Middle East can fully stop the circulating of information. “Youth need a strategy to reach goals,” she concluded, “not just enough to say what they want, but also a way to find what to do.”

Diane Singerman, the associate professor at the American University School of Public Affairs, decided to focus on a slightly different angle on the issues facing Arab youth today. This issues, she said, was extremely ignored: the question of marriage. In the Arab World, adulthood equals being married. However, it is very expensive to get married, and because of the high unemployment rate it is difficult for young people to work and save for marriage. This leads to what she called “wait-hood,” the stage between childhood and adulthood that can only be reached by getting married. Signerman cited the example of Egypt, which has the latest age of marriage anywhere in the world outside china. According to studies, 50 percent of men in Egypt are unmarried, and when they do get married they get married later and later. That’s why youth unemployment should be seen in the lens of getting married, Singerman said. Young men are political excluded because of repression, economically hurting because of unemployment, and because they can’t make money to get married they become socially excluded.

Apologies for posting much later than expected due to some technical difficulties.


October 13 2010

Scholarship students complain, Saudis big on the net, new header

  • The BBC website has this nice audio slideshow about the visit of Princess Alice Countess of Athlone, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, to Saudi Arabia in 1938.
  • Saudi scholarship students in the US complain that high living costs force them to take on part-time jobs. Welcome to the real world, kids.
  • According to a recent study, people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and China are the busiest and most enthusiastic internet users, a study of the world’s online habits has revealed. So yeah, I guess we are big on the internet. Yay.
  • I have changed the header image. The new image is actually not very new. This photo was taken in New York three years ago.

October 06 2010

Columbia

Probably most of you already know this by now, but I was actually planning to post about it earlier and did not have a chance. It is long overdue, but I guess better late than never.

Earlier this year I was accepted to the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. However, until the last week of July I was not sure that I will be studying here. My uncertainty had nothing to do with my desire to come to Columbia. It’s just that coming up with the needed finances to be here proved to be much, much more troublesome than anybody anticipated. But in the end everything somehow worked out, and shortly after that I put myself on a plane flying across the Atlantic.

I arrived to New York just a few days before school started on August 9. I was hoping to arrive a couple of weeks earlier to settle down and get used to the city before we start but that hope unfortunately evaporated due to the mentioned above problem and visa delays. I have basically hit the ground running, and have been running like crazy since then. The J-School is a lot of work, but for the most part I’m enjoying it. It is hard to believe that two months have already passed, but here we are, overwhelmed by deadlines, assignments and projects.

This is the reason why I have been neglecting the blog lately, but it is certainly not an excuse. As I promised two days ago, I will try my best to keep the blog up while I’m NYC.

That’s all I have to say for now. Before I go, I need to thank some many people. This will sound like a very, very long acceptance speech, so please bear with me…

I am indebted to Beth Franklin and Karen Bauer from the education office at the US Embassy in Riyadh. This would not have been possible without them. I also want to thank Ambassador James B. Smith and his wife, as well as the rest of the embassy staff, especially Ben Peracchio, Dina Badawy, Catherine Schweitzer, and Marion Ram.

I am very grateful to Senator Joe Lieberman for his great assistance with this matter. Special thanks go to Vance Serchuk and Maggie Goodlander from the Senator office in DC for all of their hard work and for the Congress tour.

From the Saudi Embassy in the US, I must thank Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir for his support. I also want to thank Cultural Attache Dr. Mohammed al-Eisa and Dr. Saad al-Swailem, as well as the staff of SACM. You guys are doing a great service for this country, and your efforts are much appreciated.

I also want to thank my friends who have been really awesome throughout this journey. Thank you: Faiza Ambah, Robert Lacey, Caryle Murphy, Abdulmohsen Al-Madani, Abeer Allam, Adwan al-Ahmari, Aysha al-Kusayer, Ebtihal Mubarak, Fouad al-Farhan, Hamdan al-Ajmi, Hasan al-Mustafa, Ibrahim al-Kushi, Qusay Fayoumi, Aaliya Makki, Iman al-Qahtani, Maha al-Faleh, Katherine Zoepf, Kelly McEvers, Michael Slackman, Murtadha al-Mtawaah, Ramy Alani, and Taki Turkistani.

Last but not least, allow me to say thanks to my great family for I’m nothing with them: Mom, Hassan, Abdullah, Hussain, Hadi, Qusai, and Mohammed.


June 23 2010

Saudi TV staff not paid, MOE strange transformation

  • Why state tv channels suck? Because people are not getting paid. Arab News says the producers and presenters of the early morning show “Good Morning Saudi Arabia” on Ch1 have not received their salaries for the last two months. The production company that makes the show said it has not been able to pay workers because it has not received payment from Saudi Television. I’m not surprised. I have heard many similar stories from people I know who have worked in the past with Ch1 and Ch2.
  • According to Saudi Gazette, a crowd gathered at the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Riyadh on Sunday to express their objections on “Shariah grounds” to the visit of deputy minister Norah al-Faiz to a boys’ school in Al-Zulfi last week. The Ministry issued a statement on Sunday saying that deputy minister Faisal Bin Mu’ammar met with the protesters who submitted a range of proposals related to the work of the ministry which will be studied. I can’t help but share the amazement of Khalaf al-Harbi at this soft stance and really strange transformation of MOE, which just a few days took a very strict, some even said aggressive, stance against the teachers who have been demanding the ministry for what many people view as fair demands.

June 22 2010

Saudi-US relationship, Graduates taking jobs they don’t want

  • King Abdullah will meet the American President Barack Obama in the White House next week. In this piece for The Majalla, Caryle Murphy examines the changing nature of the Saudi-US bilateral ties over the past 20 years. The previously so-called “special relationship” has become what both countries now refer to as a “strategic dialogue.”
  • Rima al-Mukhtar, who recently said she hates free lance [sic], reports that many Saudi college graduates are taking on jobs that are unrelated to their degrees due to a lack of available opportunities and a loathing for being unemployed. Boo. But seriously, only seven percent of jobs are available to Saudi women?
  • KAUST’s Museum of Science and Technology in Islam (MOSTI) has redesigned their website. The Museum celebrates the contributions of Muslim scholars to science and technology during the first Golden Age of Islam. Admission to MOSTI currently is limited to the university community and its invited guests. No word on when it will be open to the public.

June 14 2010

Advice to KASP boys & girls, letter to King Abdullah, more families only

  • Fouad al-Farhan wrote a very good blogpost, analyzing the different types of Saudi students abroad, and offering some invaluable advice to the boys and girls of KASP. What I find incredibly disheartening and slightly funny is how some commenters there totally ignored the whole gist of the post and focused instead on Fouad’s choice of words, despite the fact that the words they found objectionable were not meant for a specific person(s). It just shows you how some people here can be extremely oversensitive, unbelievably easily offended, and absolutely thin-skinned.
  • Last week coincided with the fifth anniversary of King Abdullah’s ascend to the throne. Many congratulatory ads have been published in newspapers. Many overly praising items have been written and broadcasted. But leave it to fellow blogger Ahmed Ba-Aboud to put things in perspective. “King Abdullah, don’t listen to them,” he says.
  • Two guys at the grocery store checkout counter. Their groceries include a large soda bottle aka “family size” bottle. They are told they can’t buy it because, like many other things in the country, it’s for families only. Hilarious, but I won’t be too surprised if it happens in real life. It is exactly this kind fanaticism we are particularly good at.


    The video was created by the awesome Malik Nejer. More of his work can be found here.


June 10 2010

MOE news, colorful abayas

  • The Ministry of Education has started investigating a school incident where a public high school teacher made his students play a theatrical scene representing detailed postmortem procedures like how to wash a dead person, cover him, and then laid him to rest. In other news, the ministry issued on Wednesday a circular to all schools in the Kingdom ordering that no music or dancing be allowed during upcoming graduation celebration, which must take place in the morning within the last three weeks of the academic year, and that no cameras should be allowed in schools. Last week I attended my brother graduation ceremony from intermediate school (that’s junior high for you American folks). The celebration took place at night, there was no dancing, and the music was “Islamic” aka nasheed. There were hundreds of cameras, including a video crew brought in by the school itself. Below is a video I took during the graduation:

  • Out of the 198 members of FIFA, only 32 countries can play in the World Cup in football (that’s soccer for you American folks) every four years. Saudi Arabia did not make it to the tournament that will take place in South Africa and starts on Friday. This, of course, will not stop business owners of trying to make money on the occasion anyway they can, including selling World Cup themed abayas. Non-black abayas was one of the topics which appeared in that now infamous MTV video. Speaking of such nonconformist abayas, Khalaf al-Harbi wrote a hilarious article earlier this week on Okaz about the Blue Abaya Controversy.

May 29 2010

MTV, beauty queen camels, flirting with books, and more…

  • As part of their True Life series, MTV has broadcasted a one-hour documentary on Saudi youth last Monday. Even before it was aired, Resist the Power, Saudi Arabia has attracted big attention. Over the course of last week, I have received many emails asking me to watch it, and more emails later asking what I think of the episode. I have not watched it yet. I will probably watch it, but only after this silly hoopla dies off. Local media, as expected, jumped in with the usual mixture of conspiracy theories and anger caused by the documentary. Very typical. There are rumors that some people who appeared in the show could be prosecuted, but nothing is confirmed at this point. Many bloggers reacted, and most of what they said have been balanced and well worth a read: here, here, here, here, here, and here.
  • Forget about MTV, and watch this short video by local artist Abdulaziz al-Muzaini which pokes fun at Riyadh rains:

  • Remember the guys who was suing Aramco over the death of his beloved beauty queen camel? He has actually won case. Saudi Gazette reports that the General Court in Khobar has ordered the oil giant to pay 1 million riyals to the heartbroken owner. Aramco’s lawyer said they intend to appeal the verdict with the Court of Cassation.
  • Based on her experience with a public library where she lives in Dubai, Badriya al-Bisher believes that opening more public libraries will encourage Saudi boys and girls to flirt with the books instead of flirting with each other. That’s an interesting theory which I would love to test in Riyadh. It will make for one hell of an experiment.
  • The first patch of graduates from private medical colleges in Jeddah were previously told their can intern in university hospitals. Now they are told they can’t, and that if they want to intern then they have to pay SR60,000. Unbelievable. Shada Ahmadi, a student who is yet to start her internship, told me “it’s a big frustrating issue in our college.”

May 14 2010

Arabizing the private sector, more on discrimination at KAUST

  • Essam al-Zamel has a very insightful post discussing an important part of the unemployment puzzle in Saudi Arabia. Employers in the private sector avoid recruiting Saudis because they accuse them with lack of productivity. Essam believes this lack of productivity is not related to education or scientific degrees, but rather due to their inability to communicate in English. “How can we expect anyone to be productive when they work with a language different from their mother tongue?” he asks. We can either change our first language to English and make it the main language for communication and eduction even if that means losing our identity, or we can Arabize our economy especially at the private sector to make it more suitable to our youth
  • After Nathan, here is another KAUST blogger writing about discrimination in the new community. “The problem is that the way KAUST is now run, the university is a beacon of oppression and exploitation to many,” says Richard Denny. Yes, I do realize that such practices are widespread in the country. However, I believe this is not a good excuse for such thing to happen at KAUST.

April 10 2010

MOE hiring process, al-Nujaimi mingling saga

  • The Ministry of Education (MOE) is hiring. Out of the 34,000 people who applied for teaching jobs, only 21,000 managed to score more than 50% in the Qiyas test aka the Saudi SAT. Today, those 21,000 candidates were interviewed by MOE in order to “inspect their ideological tendencies.” What MOE means by the words between quote marks is actually this: make sure those teachers-to-be are not extremists who will spread their poison in schools and produce future terrorists. Sounds like a good idea, right? Not really. I mean, can’t those extremists conceal their extremism for a brief interview just to get the job? Can’t they pretend to be tree-hugging, peace-loving, dialogue-embracing, upstanding citizens for the duration of a short encounter with their potential employers?
  • Shiekh Mohammed al-Nujaimi, who once described segregation as one of the fundamentals on which the Saudi state was built and then took a U-turn after al-Shethri fiasco, was recently rumored to be mingling big time with unrelated women during a conference in Kuwait. Interestingly (or maybe not) al-Nujaimi has praised the infamous al-Barrak’s fatwa in which he called for opponents of the kingdom’s strict segregation of men and women to be put to death if they refuse to abandon their ideas. After pictures and videos of his mingling made their way to the web, he first denied what the pictures and videos suggested, and said some of them were photoshopped, which is something the organizers of the event considered so insulting that they threatened to sue him.


    Today, al-Nujaimi finally admitted that he mingled, but he said he did it for all the right reasons: to prevent vice and help those misguided women find the righteous path. This should go well with those women, I guess.


April 02 2010

Noura al-Faiz cut out, Op-Ed writers do interviews

  • So Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, the minister of education, had a meeting with teachers. Present at the meeting were senior officials at the ministry, including Noura al-Faiz. At the end of the meeting, photos were taken. Few days later, the PR department at the ministry published special print materials to mark the occasion. However, there was something wrong with the the cover photo: Noura al-Faiz has been cut out! Prince Faisal said he was unhappy that this happened.
  • Ashraf al-Fagih thinks it is so strange that an op-ed writer like him would do an interview. The writer in question is his fellow columnist in al-Watan daily Mahmoud Sabbagh, who prepared the questions for an interview with an STC executive that was published two weeks ago. I agree with most of Ashraf says. Most Saudi journalists are unprofessional and lack basic skills. However, I don’t think that opinion writers are exempt from doing journalistic tasks like conducting research and doing interviews. Indeed, I believe this must be at the heart of their writing.

March 23 2010

Education reform, Hassawi bisht, women in pharmacies

  • When the Saudi cabinet was reshuffled on Valentine’s Day last year, I said let’s not be overoptimistic. I thought the new ministers will need time before we can evaluate how they performed. About one year later, the minister of education asked today for three more years in order to “turn our ideas and visions for education development into reality.” I would happily give him these three years and then some more if he can really fix the education system, because if he could that would be the best thing to happen to Saudi Arabia since sliced bread.
  • Asharq al-Awsat has a short piece about the bisht, the cloak men wear over the white thobe in Saudi Arabia. Particularly, the Hassawi bisht that is made here in my hometown of Ahsa. It used to take about ten day to sew one of these by hand, but new technology allows you know to make 10 of them in one day. However, some people still prefer the handmade ones. Oh yeah, and the prices can go from $260 to $7000.
  • The minister of health is studying a proposal to allow women to work in community pharmacies and optics shops. Currently, female pharmacists and optics technicians are only allowed to practice their jobs inside hospitals. The proposal was made by Jeddach Chamber of Commerce, who said they will keep pushing this proposal over the next three years. Aysha Natto, member of the Chamber, denied that this proposal is challenging the social norms in any way. Natto says the men who deal with women inside hospitals are the same men who will deal with them in community pharmacies. “It doesn’t make sense to continue viewing men in our society as wolves that look for women in every place,” she added.

March 05 2010

Why KASP is Flawed?

King Abdullah Scholarships Program (KASP) is an impressive undertaking. More than 70,000 Saudi students have been sent to many different countries around the world to continue their education. The program is fully paid for by the government, and it is said to be designed in a way to cover the demands of the job market in the country. Although it has been deemed mostly successful, the program has some issues. These issues, however, are usually dismissed by officials at the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) as minor.

For example, 1073 students on KASP have been recently sent home for reasons related to their behavior, religious observance, or academic performance. And there is a fourth reason related to the nation that I don’t quite understand. The ministry says this is such a small number compared to the overall number of students who study abroad, but I think the fact that they had to return more than a thousand students indicates a problem with the selection process.

A friend of mine was recently traveling to the US. On the plane, he met with 15 Saudi students going on scholarships. Only one out of the fifteen could actually read English, and was able to fill out the customs form.

I think some of the problems with KASP have to do with the philosophy behind the program which I believe is flawed. Limiting the program to a small set of technical and medical majors just to supply to the demand of the job market is not a the right strategy to develop a modern state. Yes, our country needs engineers and doctors. But we also need artists, philosophers, linguists, sociologists, and graphic designers.

Unfortunately, MOHE is highly allergic to criticism. When a student wrote a blog post about the Saudi Cultural Commission in Canada last year, he had to take it down few hours later. Mohammed al-Khazem, who wrote a book about higher education in the country, says MOHE is seeking attention at the expense of doing what is really important. That is, to help the 20 universities in the Kingdom to become better institutions.

There are high hopes that KASP will transform Saudi Arabia. The students who studied abroad are expected not only to come back with degrees, but also with a change in mindset that will push the country to the next level economically, socially, and culturally. But there is also fear that these high hopes might turn out to be false. We sent thousands of students in the ‘70s and ‘80s to study abroad and when they came back they did not change much. Is it going to be any different this time?


March 04 2010

Today’s Links

  • Saudi novelist Abdo Khal has won the International Prize for Arab Fiction, aka the Arabic Booker, for his novel ‘Tarmi Besharar’ or ‘Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles.’ The novel was withdrawn from Riyadh Book Fair yesterday by the censorship committee, but half an hour later was returned to the publisher. An official from MOCI said the book was withdrawn “for inspection.”
  • King Abdulaziz University (KAU) students launched an online campaign against a number of university’s regulations, including a ban on electronic equipment that have cameras and wearing pants or on abayas on the women’s part of the campus. Way to go. I wonder what the kids at KSU think about this…

February 28 2010

Today’s Links

  • CITC has blocked islamlight.net, the website which hosted the infamous fatwa by Shaikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak. Although the fatwa can be considered hate speech and a call to violence, I’m generally against such censorship. CITC should stop this practice of making decisions on our behalf on what we should, or rather should not, read on the web.
  • Corinne Martin is an artist who lives in Saudi Arabia and makes these awesome paintings based on vintage pop culture icons.
  • Music concerts are rare in this country. Music concerts in universities are super rare. But hey, what do you know? Jeddah Legends, the band of which Qusay is the lead singer, have recently performed a concert in KAUST. Why oh why KSU never hosted any concerts?

January 30 2009

January 29 2009

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