Now, jumping out of a balloon better than 24 miles above the surface of the Earth takes some courage. Millions around the world watched at Felix Baumgartner did exactly that and went on to walk away from his parachute.
Saudi satellite TV channel Al Arabiya reports on a sampling of Arab reactions to the feat which broke at least two world records: highest jump and fastest jump. He also gave Roswell, New Mexico a better claim to fame than it formerly had.
While more than 5 million people around the world watched with awe Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s conduct the world’s first jump from as high as 39 thousand meters from planet earth, many Arabs where busy commenting on the historic event on micro-blogging site Twitter with a mixture of satire and self-petty.
Most popular were tweets from Saudi Arabia, where the trend “What if Felix was Saudi?” was trending in Arabic.
“If Felix was Saudi, he would have a basket full of notes with his phone numbers to sprinkle on planet earth, to compensate for all of the girls he has been missing,” one tweep wrote in reference of Saudi Arabia’s strict rule of separating between the genders and how teenagers in the kingdom revert to the act of “Targeem” (finding a creative way to give a girl your number) to overcome this obstacle.
Another tweet by another commentator was: “if he was Saudi, his mom would have send food with him just in case he feels hungry.”
While a sarcastic female tweep wrote saying “if Felix was Saudi, he would dedicate his jump to the Royal family and the dignified Saudi nation once he landed.”
There’s a rule in Western etiquette that goes, ‘Never discuss religion or politics’ at the dinner table. The rule was meant to apply to social engagements, not the family dinner table (which had its own rules), and was intended to avoid discomfiting guests. Dinner tables in Saudi Arabia are coming under some strain, though, particularly in the home.
I think it fair to say that Arabs, in general, are greatly interested in politics. Saudis, as Arabs, are interested. Satellite news programs are always on the TV, often multiple channels at the same time.
But politics is seen as a dangerous thing in the Kingdom, for better or worse. The system of government does not include political parties and is, generally speaking, a patriarchal monarchy, one that tells the people what they’re going to do and think. This is a more-or-less natural extension of the family structure in which the patriarch—be he father or grandfather, older brother or uncle—is the one who lays down the rules. To argue is to disrespect. To disrespect is to threaten the social order.
It’s probably wiser for expat workers to keep their political views to themselves, purely for their own personal safety. It’s a pity, though, that Saudis feel the need to watch what they say—or, more properly—who might be hearing them speak.
And the Egyptian, who thinks his 21-y/o son is too young to have political opinions? Unless he raised his son in a box, there’s no reason why that son’s opinions about Egyptian politics shouldn’t be available to argument. And if he did raise his son in a box, then there’s a far deeper problem at hand.
Parents seek to quell blooming Arab Spring — at the dinner table
DIANA AL-JASSEM | ARAB NEWS
JEDDAH: With the Arab Spring blossoming all around, talking politics has reached the Arab dinner table. Over are the times when families avoided discussing the affairs of state. The new generation talks about politics openly and doesn’t shy away from heated discussions.
Interviews in Saudi Arabia show that many families are divided on how to deal with the challenges facing this part of the world.
One camp comprises families that are fine with discussing politics, but only in the privacy of the home. Others try to ban the younger family members from discussing the topic altogether, even going as far as monitoring the youngsters’ e-mail and Facebook accounts, or asking teachers to steer clear of political topics.
Mahmoud Farag, an Egyptian teacher working at a private school in Jeddah, said that discussing the winds of change has very much become part of Arab daily life — but he tries to keep his son from talking about revolution.
“Discussing what has happened in Egypt and what is going on in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria is important, I think,” he said. “I would prefer for my son not to talk politics because he is only 21 years old, but, honestly, what do I do? After January 25, we as Egyptians got complete freedom to discuss and criticize, so my son should know what is going on — but he shouldn’t discuss it in public.”
It’s trivial, I know, but the wrongness of this editorial cartoon appearing in Saudi Gazette just grabbed my eye. Labeled ‘Checkmate’, the cartoon illustrates anything but. Not only is Qaddafi not in a position of being checked by NATO, the UN, and Libyan reformers, he is in a position to remove NATO from the board. Perhaps the illustrator is making a veiled point here. Or, more likely, he was going for a better composed graphic image and missed out on how chess is actually played. At one time, playing chess was strongly disfavored in Saudi Arabia, if not out-and-out banned, as a manifestation of lèse majesté. Perhaps this has led to a general ignorance of the game.
…Pneumonia … Bloodclot…bother
Some Saudis apparently have a difficult time in understanding that when they’re living in foreign countries, they’re subject to those countries’ laws. Here, from Saudi Gazette, is a report on a Saudi who had been abusing his Indonesian domestic worker while living in Ohio. As part of the process of obtaining a visa for a domestic worker to come to the US, the employer signs an agreement that US labor laws will pertain. Those include not only the regular payment of salaries, but limits to work hours and freedom to both leave the place of employment and even to quit. Unfortunately for the Saudi involved, the Ohio court found that his treatment amounted to abuse. He’s been ordered to pay restitution and was sentenced to five years’ probation—a period during which the individual is free of prison, but must behave legally in all matters. If a probationer violates the law, any law, he can be put in prison.
In this instance, that’s unlikely. The Saudi had also exceeded the period for which his visa allowed him to stay in the US. The government is seeking his deportation back to the Kingdom. His maid, most likely, will not be accompanying the family.
Saudi gets 5 years’ probation for housemaid abuse
Saleh Aal Haydar
OHIO – A Saudi man has been given five years’ probation, a part of which requires the payment of $143,000, for abusing the contract terms of an Indonesian woman he hired as a housemaid.
The sentence, passed two weeks ago, followed the arrest of the unnamed Saudi in July over his employment of an Indonesian woman in 2002 in the Texan capital of Houston.
The Saudi was reportedly in the US with his wife so that she could receive medical treatment, and signed a contract with the Indonesian lady stipulating a monthly salary of $1,300 for a six-day week of eight hours per day, in accordance with US labor law.
It might be helpful to point out that this case shows that the Ohio courts are not bending over backwards to help Muslims—an allegation made in reference to the Rifqa Bary case (see post below).
Deaths due to swine flu have now reached four in Saudi Arabia. The two latest fatal infections were acquired in the western part of the country whereas the first two were in the Eastern Province. The capital Riyadh, which has seen the highest number of reported cases, has yet to record a fatality.
This Arab News piece reporting the fatalities also notes that the Egyptian government says that it is treating three Saudis there, though Saudi authorities are not aware of the cases. Too, Iran is considering banning its citizens from taking part in Haj this year.
2 more die of swine flu
Mohammed Rasooldeen | Arab News
RIYADH: The Ministry of Health, for the second consecutive day, announced on Friday two more swine flu deaths among Saudis in the Kingdom, bringing the total number of fatalities to four.
The first victim was identified only as Abdullah, a 32-year-old Saudi nurse, who died at the Al-Nafi government hospital, located 100 km from Al-Ras in Qassim province. Abdullah was working in a hospital in Taif and was transferred to the region on his request three weeks ago. He developed high fever and was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday following complaints of breathing difficulties.
The second victim was a 25-year-old Saudi youth, who died at the Al-Namas government hospital, 30 km from Abha, the capital of Asir province. He was admitted Tuesday to the hospital for a severe sore throat and a chest infection. He was reportedly a chain smoker with bronchitis, which doctors say could have played a role in his death.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report on a fire in a large apartment building housing 1,500 Iranians in Mecca while performing Umrah, or the lesser pilgrimage. All escaped serious harm, apparently.
The vast numbers of people who arrive in the Kingdom to perform religious rituals of Umrah or Haj present unique and massive public health and safety issues to Saudi authorities. Of late, the government has done an exceptional job in preventing catastrophe. Given regional tensions, it’s especially good that nothing happened to these Iranians.
1,500 pilgrims rescued from blazing tower in Makkah
Abdul Karim Al-Murabbi’
MAKKAH – Firemen eveauated 1,500 Iranian pilgrims from their 14-floor residential block early Wednesday morning when an electrical fault led to a fire in the Al-Misfala district of Makkah.
No serious injuries were recorded in the fire, which was reportedly caused by a short circuit, although two elderly women were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.
The holy cities are currently hosting high numbers of Umrah pilgrims in the period leading up to Ramadan, heightening safety concerns in the light of several fires at residential premises over the last year, notably in Makkah. – Okaz/SG
I came across photos of a sandstorm sweeping across Riyadh at The Might of the Pen blog. Here’s a sample, but go to the blog to see the others.
More photos, of Riyadh in the midst of the sandstorm at In partibus infidelium which also provide a link to a YouTube video. There are several other videos, from different vantage points and of lengths from a few seconds to seven minutes to be found on the side bar at the YouTube link.
Writing in Saudi Gazette, Sabria Jawhar (Sabria’s out of the Box) pleads for the continuance of the Jeddah Economic Forum (JEF), an annual get-together of those dealing with the economic issues of the region. While never on quite the same rank as the Davos Conference, the JEF did bring an elite group of thinkers and doers to the Gulf and incidentally pushed a wedge into the question of women’s participation in the public domain.
This year’s JEF was canceled. Its organizer was fired and its sponsor, the Jeddah Chambers of Commerce & Industry shook itself up. I truly have no idea what was behind the problems, though rumors are rife. Jawhar doesn’t know, either, but she notes that the excuses given—lack of permits—doesn’t ring true. Regardless of the reasons, though, the JEF provided a rare opportunity for people to think outside the boxes of their own cultures, something the region can use. Particularly in times of economic crises, the region, the world, needs all the creative thinking it can find.
Jeddah Economic Forum
Sabria S. Jawhar
SOME of the greatest stories I ever covered and some of the most interesting people I ever met were at the Jeddah Economic Forum, the annual event that draws the world’s top economists and government leaders for three days to discuss and exchange ideas that will make the Middle East and the rest of the world economically vibrant.
All of that came to a grinding halt last month when it was announced that 10th JEF has been postponed for up to four months. It’s hard to believe the stated reason for its postponement that JEF officials failed to get the proper permits.
As long as I have been covering the event there always have been nervous comments from organizers that they don’t have the right permits, but the show always goes on.
Really, who is going to say no to people like Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Queen Rania after they had been signed up to be keynote speakers. If there is a will there is a way to get JEF off the ground.
I won’t speculate on the true reasons for the postponement but I hope “postponement” doesn’t mean cancellation because, if anything, Jeddah over the years has become synonymous with the formulas of economic solutions for the region. Granted, it has lost a bit of its luster in the past couple of years with organization a bit more haphazard and details left to chance on opening day.
The Washington Post has a nice article about a group of young Saudi filmmakers who are seeking to make their mark in both cinema and social consciousness. The subject matter for their films—which they hope to enter in the Dubai’s Gulf Film Festival later this year—is certain to rile conservative Saudi society. And that’s a good thing for they address problems within that society that need attention, or at least a considerable amount of thought.
I hope that when the competition is over, the group put their short films up for global viewing… subtitled on YouTube would be terrific! They are saying things that need to be said. They also offer hope to other young Saudis that the world around them is not immutable, that others are aware of things that need to change, and that by working together, change is perhaps possible.
Aspiring Saudi Filmmakers Offer a Different Take
Faiza Saleh Ambah
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Aspiring Saudi filmmaker Mohammed al-Khalif is having a hard time finding a leading woman for his short film, “Garbage Bag.”
Partly, it is because Saudi Arabia does not allow unrelated men and women to mingle and has no movie theaters or film schools, and no culture of actors or acting.
And partly, it’s the subject matter.
“Garbage Bag” is about a woman stuck in a public restroom because her abaya, the black cloak women in Saudi Arabia must wear in public, has been stolen. After an agonizing night in the restroom, she fashions an abaya out of a black garbage bag and walks out.
“It’s almost impossible to find a woman to act in a movie and even harder to find someone willing to wear a garbage bag as an abaya,” said Khalif, a 23-year-old graduate student who sports a goatee and white-rimmed glasses. “My intent is not to insult the abaya, but to use film to ask why it has become such a shackle for Saudi women.”
Khalif is part of a new group of young Saudi movie buffs who are making films that question their country’s strict, puritanical mores and customs and its ban on movie theaters. The group, called Talashi, which means Fade Out, includes a pharmacist, a teacher, a lawyer and five film reviewers, mostly secular Saudis who say their worldviews were influenced by their love of film and the worlds to which it has exposed them.