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December 02 2012

On Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter

When I used to live in Riyadh, the Diplomatic Quarter was one of my favorite areas in the city. Clean, organized and quiet, it felt like a secret oasis within the city. In a way, it was. Since the early 2000’s, access to the neighborhood has been highly restricted due to fear of terrorist attacks targeting the diplomatic missions located there.

I have previously complained about how hard it is to enter the Diplomatic Quarter, or DQ for short, for regular people. I have not been to Riyadh in a few years, but I guess the problems in getting to the DQ remain the same despite the fact that the security situation in the country has improved a lot.

Now in addition to being the semi-official newspaper for the country and the capital’s city namesake, al-Riyadh daily also serves as a newsletter for the Saudi royal family. When a prince gets married, al-Riyadh would typically run pages upon pages full of pictures from the all-male wedding. Such weddings usually take place in a banquet hall called Palace of Culture in the Diplomatic Quarter.

The newspaper recently ran photos from yet another prince’s wedding at the Palace of Culture. That made wonder if there are ever any cultural events held at this place. The answer is yes, but very rarely. Most of the time, it is simply used as a wedding hall for the elites.

As I was doing my research on that location, I came across this interesting piece about the planning and building of the Diplomatic Quarter published in Saudi Aramco World in their September/October 1988 issue. The magazine, published by the national oil company, is one of the oldest publications in the country.

Unlike the current the situation where the DQ feels blocked from the rest of the city by multiple security checkpoints guarded by squads of heavily armed and grumpy security forces, the original vision for the area was that it would be a “normal neighborhood.” Mohamed Alshaikh, president of ArRiyadh Development Authority (ADA), who has spearheaded the project when in the late 1970’s, told the magazine:

“Physically, functionally and socially, the quarter is by no means separate from the rest of Riyadh,” he says. In fact, “diplomatic mission personnel will number less than 10,000” of the DQ’s projected 22,000 inhabitants, and the quarter will be “a normal neighborhood of Riyadh, with priority to the diplomats.”

For current residents of Riyadh, the DQ is anything but a normal neighborhood. Alshaikh went on to say that they did not want a “ghetto feeling develop” in the quarter. Planners wanted it to serve as a model for future urban development in Riyadh. That obviously did not happen. More than twenty years later, some would say that the rest of the city feels like a ghetto compared to the much nicer Diplomatic Quarter.

What went wrong? Nothing in the Diplomatic Quarter itself, but almost everything around it.

May 12 2011

Saudi Jeans turns seven

This blog has turned seven a couple of days ago. I said before that when I started this thing I never thought it would last long. But here we are, and I still can’t believe it’s been this long. Now I know that the past ten months were not exactly the best for the blog. I’ve been extremely busy with grad school, which meant Saudi Jeans was neglected and the updates were few and far between. I’m still passionate about blogging, and I still have much to say about things in Saudi Arabia and beyond. Next week I will graduate from Columbia Journalism School, so you can expect to see a higher frequency of posting here. I will probably write a blogpost reflecting on my experience at Columbia and New York, but for now feel free to take a look at my master’s project which examines the rise of Arab American standup comedy.

Thank you all for reading, commenting and just being great over these years. I feel lucky to have a portion of your attention and share my thoughts with you, and hope to continue doing that for years to come.

October 05 2010

I’m Still Here

I’m not dead (and this post is not about Casey Affleck’s movie/hoax). Just been extremely busy. Good busy, for the most part. I usually hate this kind of “why I’m not blogging” blog posts, but I decided to write one to embarrass myself into getting back to the habit of blogging. I promise that I will somehow fit this into my schedule and update the blog regularly. If I don’t, feel free to abuse me in the comments :-)

August 23 2010

Free Entertainment

Students at Columbia J-School don’t have much free time. And when they have some free time they probably don’t have much money to spend on entertainment. Can they have some fun without spending a fortune?

PS. The artists featured in the piece are: Swear and Shake, Liz Tormes, and Lara Ewen.

PPS. This is another piece from my audio reporting class. Not great, but probably better than the first one.

August 20 2010

One Very Small Spot

This is the greatest city in the world; that’s what many proud New Yorkers would tell you about their city. I went to Bryant Park the other day and met one of them.

PS. I recorded this piece earlier today for my audio reporting class. It’s awful, I know. But I thought I would share it anyway. Sorry about the hiatus. More to come when I have more time.

August 11 2010

Ramadan Mubarak

Ramdan Kareem everyone.

PS. I’m in New York. I will tell you more soon.

July 29 2010


Although I was in Beirut six months ago, but I do miss this amazing city. There is something about this place that always makes me want to come back no matter how often I visit it. Soldier is full of Saudis these days, as it is always during the summer, but this is not the reason why I was missing Beirut today. The reason was this blogpost by Susannah Tarbush where she reported on Zeid Hamdan and his effort to create an alternative music scene in Lebanon.

In December 2008 I had a chance to attend one of his shows with Hiba Mansouri, who actually left a nice comment on my post last year. I recorded a couple of videos during that night, and I thought I’d share one of them with you here. In the video you can hear Hiba sings Ahwak, which an old song by Fairouz, and next to her you can see Zeid playing the guitar and fiddling with his laptop. Good times.

July 25 2010

Blocked in UAE?

There have been some conflicting reports yesterday over the blocking of Saudi Jeans in the UAE. The blog Emirates in Style reported the block and provided this screenshot:

When I asked people on Twitter to confirm this, some of them said the blog was indeed blocked, while others said they can still access it. I’m still not sure what exactly is going here here, but I would like to know more. So readers in the UAE, can you please check if Saudi Jeans is blocked where you are or not?

July 16 2010

Welcome to Earth

So today I had to dig into my family’s archive to look for the immunization documents from my early years (long story). While flipping through the papers I found this thing:

It is not a birth certificate. It is a gift from the hospital where I was born. It has my picture, date of birth, and wishes of a long prosperous life. I’m the only one of my brother who has one of these. According to my mother, the hospital stopped giving these away shortly after. My favourite part of it is the polaroid, which is still in a good shape after all these years. The picture was taken during my first few minutes into this world, apparently still inside the incubator. I can only guess what the expression on my face means, but it’s probably a combination of bemusement and boredom. Yeah, I’ve been in this place for like 5 minutes and I was bored already :P

If you liked this one (and seriously, what’s not to like? ;-) you might also want to check these two blogposts where I posted old pics from the days when I was fat and happy. A new header for the blog is also in the works, so stay tuned.

July 10 2010

Give Me

Something. Anything.


Photo courtesy of Nada A.

July 05 2010


I don’t like going to weddings. But in every summer I get to go to more than my fair share of them. It’s just one part of the social obligations that come with the ties we talked about before. And with the high number of young single men in the family, it seems there is always a wedding around the corner. We had one last month, another this week, and we have three upcoming weddings in one household scheduled for later this year. Below is a short video I took during a family wedding two days ago.

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


I’m 26 and I’m still here. I’m still not sure where I’m going next, and I’m still not sure where I will be for my next birthday. I’m not sure about anything anymore. Here’s to the waiting, uncertainty, and lifelong dreams…

May 21 2010

Let’s Ban Everything

If I sound irritable lately, it is because I’m going through withdrawal symptoms. It’s been ten full days since I had shawerma for the last time. “Then go get yourself some shawerma,” you might say. Well, I guess you haven’t heard: shawerma is banned in al-Ahsa!

In a boneheaded move, Al-Ahsa municipality decided to ban shawerma during the summer. The whole thing started last year, when some people suffered food poisoning after they had shawerma at different restaurants in town. Following the incidents, the municipality issued an order to all restaurants telling them they are not allowed to serve the delicacy for the four months of summer (yes, summer here can last four, five, and even six months).

ShawermaI’m actually pissed off, not just because I can no longer have one of my favourite meals, but also because of the way the municipality is dealing with the whole matter. Instead of monitoring the restaurants to make sure they are following safety and health regulation, and then punish those who violate them, they go and ban everyone. They are punishing everyone. There are places they sell nothing but shawerma, and this decision would simply kill their business.

This type of collective punishment is easy for the municipality to inflect because the affected parties don’t have the means to protest. What could they do? Go to the municipal council? Please! Plus, even if they wanted, they can’t because they are not Saudis. You see, although these restaurants are owned by Saudi citizens, they are run by foreign workers. They pay an annual fee to the Saudi owner who does not care what the hell happens to the restaurant as long as he gets his money at the end of the year.

I’m really disappointed at al-Ahsa municipality. They have done some good work in building new infrastructure and improving streets and services. But this decision banning shawerma is just ridiculous. In addition to being irresponsible, it shows laziness on their part. They don’t want to do their job of making sure that the regulations are followed, so they go and issue a general ban.

If we are to use the (il)logic of our municipality, then we should close down restaurants altogether since you could get food poisoning from eating anything. While we are at it, we should also ban cars because they kill so many people. We might as well ask men and women not to marry or have children because, you know, they will die at some point. Let’s ban everything. That would make life much easier for many of us, wouldn’t it?

May 09 2010

Saudi Jeans Turns Six

I celebrate the sixth anniversary of Saudi Jeans today. The blog that I started just for fun has claimed a life of its own, and has in many ways become central to my own life. It has been a great journey. Like a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, turns and twists, joy and fear. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Sometimes nice, sometimes nasty. But always, always interesting.

Some argue that although I say the goal of this blog is to push for change in Saudi Arabia, little has changed in the country and this little has nothing to do with Saudi Jeans or blogging. That could be true, and I’m okay with it. Changing a nation is too great of an endeavour for a humble blog like mine to meet. But for me the question is not if blogging has changed (or can change) Saudi Arabia or not. The question I keep asking myself is: is it wroth trying? And my answer is absolutely yes.

I know that I aim too high. That’s just me. I can’t settle for less, I want everything. I’m greedy like that, but I don’t accept injustice and I believe that we, as people, deserve better. My dreams are big and wild, but I will never suppress them. You can share those dreams, or laugh at them, but you can’t stop me, and you can’t shut me up.

What the future holds for Saudi Jeans? I don’t know, to be honest. After I wrote this blogpost on new year’s eve, some readers had the impression that I was laying the ground to announce later the end of the blog. It certainly wasn’t the case. Saudi Jeans will be around for at least one more year. There is a big chance I might leave the country in the coming few weeks. I will be away from KSA for a while, and I’m still unsure what is that going to mean for Saudi Jeans. I, however, plan to continue blogging from abroad.

Allow me in the end to express my gratitude to my family and friends for I’m nothing with them, and thank you readers for giving me some of your attention over these years.

The kid in the video is my little brother Mohammed. I took this video about two weeks ago in an amusement park here in Hofuf, east of Saudi Arabia.

April 14 2010

I’m Not My Mom’s Guardian

Last year, I drove with my family to Qatar to see the Museum of Islamic Arts that was recently opened in Doha. On the Saudi border, the conversation went something like this:

Customs officer: who is the woman with you?
Me: that’s my mother.
CO: where is her travel permit?
Me: why does she need a travel permit? She is traveling with me, her eldest son, and as you can see my two little brothers are in the back seat as well.
CO: okay, but you still need to show a travel permit for her.
Me: she is traveling with me. You think she would travel with me without my permission?
CO: these are the rules.
Me: well, I don’t have a travel permit for her.
CO: I will let you go this time, but next time you have to bring a travel permit if she is to travel with you or you can’t cross the border.
Me: okay. Thank you.

We have not traveled outside the country since then, but my mom has been nagging me to get a travel permit so we don’t have to go through this next time we are about to go somewhere. I have been putting that off, partly because I’m lazy, but more importantly because of my despise to the male guardianship system. I do not believe that my mother needs my permission to travel, or do anything she wants for that matter. My mom is an adult woman who is capable of making her own decision. I am not her guardian. I simply reject this notion.

But my politically motivated procrastination came to an end yesterday, as I went to the passports department here in Hofuf to get the damn paper.

Me: I would like to get a travel permit for my mother, please.
Passport officer: can you show me the Family ID card?
Me: I don’t have a Family ID. My father has passed away. Here is my ID card. Here is also a paper from the court to prove that I’m the eldest son.
PO: Is Bebi your sister?
Me: No, she is my mother.

The officer took a glance at the papers. He signed the travel permit and stamped it, and gave it to me along my mom’s passport and the other papers. I was glad that it did not take long, but I left the building with mixed feelings. In one hand I felt ashamed because although I hate the male guardianship system, I had to accept it and practice it like this. I felt as if I was a complicit in a crime. On the other hand, what could I have done? Backward and ridiculous as it is, in the end this is the system which governs us and you have to deal with it. Refusing to deal with it would only make life more difficult for mom, and everyone else.

Saudi Arabia has signed CEDAW, with two reservations. But as with all of these sorts of treaties, there is no mechanism to force the government to abide by its protocols, especially that some people in the country still see this as a huge international conspiracy to change our social and religious values.

March 25 2010

My Biggest Fear

… is this:

life cycle of a saudi citizen

I don’t want to enter the cycle.

March 05 2010


Last night we celebrate the seventh birthday of my little brother Mohammed. Don’t let the picture fool you, it was really fun :P


God, I love this kid.

February 26 2010

Today’s Links

  • Note to Arab News: my last name is al-Omran, not al-Omranm. The way you misspelled my name makes it unpronounceable. Another thing: I don’t blog for Saudi Jeans. Saudi Jeans doesn’t pay me any money. Saudi Jeans is my blog. It’s the website where I blog. Also, don’t rephrase what I said and then put it in quote marks. Kthxbai.

  • Fellow blogger Najla Barasain is about to leave KSA soon heading to the US in order to continue her education. She is understandably worried.

February 19 2010


As a big brother, one of my duties is to make sure that my little brothers are entertained, even if I had to pay for it with sever headaches and never-ending arguments. I guess it’s probably just an essential part of a kid’s life to make adults suffer. The important thing is that they have had fun.

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