Aramco ExPats

Category Archive: Opinions & Editorials

Indoor Winter Olympics!

21 October 2014 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al‐MulhimAbdulateef Al‐Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

Hosting a sports event is considered a major achievement of any country especially if it belongs to the Third World.

But there are some events, which can only be organized in a few countries such as the Winter Olympics. Since the beginning of major international sporting events like the Summer Olympics (1896), the Winter Olympics (1924) and the World Cup (1930), many countries literally run from pillar to post to host these events.

With the passage of time, the FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) emerged as the two most powerful and influential sports organizations. Interestingly, these are considered more powerful than the United Nations. That is why; their decisions usually create a stir in the media with numerous columnists coming up with analysis and commentaries. On the basis of some recent developments, a question comes in ones mind: Are various countries losing interest in hosting such events?

Until now, countries lobby fiercely to host the World Cup and the Summer Olympics. However, hosting of the Winter Olympics is a different story altogether.

This event is usually held in rich industrial countries mainly European. It is mainly due to its unique requirements. As the name suggests, holding of this event requires special weather conditions like snow etc. In addition to that sufficient infrastructure and special accommodation are also required.

These conditions restrict the options for holding this event. And this is why the world saw the Winter Olympics being held more than once in the same place such as Lake Placid in New York State.

Few days ago and to the surprise of many sports commentators, hosting the Winter Olympics enthusiasm is getting colder than the air in the Olympic villages. Earlier this month, Norway withdrew its bid to host the 2022 edition of the Winter Olympics.

When one sees Norwegian children skiing, one would think they were born with a pair of skis in their hands. Other countries like Sweden and Ukraine have also withdrawn their bids. There are rumors that German city Munich is also not interested in hosting the event.

Is it because people are losing interest in the Winter Olympics or is it the behavior of the IOC?

Many international sports watchers say that the IOC is becoming a Jet Set organization rather than an organization caring about and bringing the world youth together. Norwegian and other European media reports criticize the initial requirements of the committees visiting the bidding cities. According to those reports, when members of the Olympic committee visit the bidding cities, they would set many conditions, which have nothing to do with sports but for their personal prestige. For example, they want to stay in best hotels, priority traffic lanes during the events, red carpet arrival ceremony and mobile phones for their use. With these kinds of requirements, it is very easy to lose transparency, which results in corruption.

Due to these reasons, many European cities have lost interest in the event and the IOC is left with just two options for the 2022 event — Almaty in Kazakhstan and Beijing.

Many people have started to raise a question what if the Winter Olympics are held indoors. In such a case, the event can be organized anywhere across the world. Would there be any country willing to pay for the expensive super huge indoor facilities? Many experts say it is possible.

With the advent of social media, any sporting event could expose the host country’s achievements and the truth about life inside the country. Oh, I forgot to mention that Poland and Switzerland are also not enthusiastic about hosting the Winter Olympics. In the past decisions were coming from the top about hosting an international sporting event, nowadays, it is the ordinary people who decide. The IOC has to change the rules or it will find no takers or the future Winter Olympics games will be held indoors and the Summer Olympic will be played using simulators such as the PlayStation.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Indoor Winter Olympics! reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

The Italian Pirate in Saudi Desert

19 October 2014 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al‐MulhimAbdulateef Al‐Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

Last few weeks saw oil prices nosedive in such a manner that had left many economic analysts baffled. During the same period, this writer also wrote on the unusual decline in the oil prices. In response to one of those write-ups, this writer received an email from an Italian journalist, Federico Simonelli, who writes for the Italian newspaper, Il Secolo XIXI.

Truth be told, the only thing I knew about the paper was the fact that it was the first newspaper that switched to color printing. The Italian journalist wished to seek this writer’s opinion on the reasons and the impact of the decline in the oil prices.

Anyways, we had a nice telephonic conversation and discussed the issue of oil prices. The conversation, which was in English, went well despite the issues arising from this writer’s Saudi accent, Simonelli’s Italian accent and the static during the call.

The conversation somehow forced to ponder over Italy’s ties with Saudi Arabia in various spheres of life. The two countries enjoy strong ties.

There was a time when Italian products were a craze among Saudis. This writer still remembers those FIAT cars roaming Saudi streets in the past. One wonders as to what happened to those cars and where have they vanished.

Now let us focus on the famous young Italian in the Saudi desert known to many old Aramco pioneers as the Italian pirate. In the mid 1940s, there were more than 2,000 Italians working at the Saudi oil installations. According to a book titled, The Caravan Goes On, by Frank Jungers, after the end of WWII, Aramco hired many Italian workers who were stationed in Eritrea. They were hired on single status like many other nationalities because the lack or shortage of family housing for Aramco employees. The Italians were housed in two places, one in Dhahran and the other in Ras Tanura. They had their own kitchen staff and their own recreation facilities. For the Italians, Saudi or American food does not work. We all know about the unique and delicious taste of the Italian cuisine. They were very talented.

Among them was a 24-year-old man with a good sense of humor and a camera. During those days, it was unique thing for the local population, as most of them were unaware of the technological developments taking outside of the Kingdom.

His name was Ilo Battiglli. He was basically a draftsman but during his daily work he used his camera more than any other tool. He was a bright photographer who recorded very important moments in the history of the Saudi oil industry. Workers in Aramco changed his name and started calling him “Ilo the Pirate” because he had his studio on the beach. Many people saw his work and the valuable photographs that he took at many different places. He was seen photographing Saudis, Americans, Italians and many others, which reflected the benefit of putting hands together. His and the work of some other workers helped preserve the story of discovering the most important commodity in today’s history, which changed the fortunes of Saudi Arabia. This Italian photographer or as he is called the Pirate by his coworkers 70 years ago showed us with camera shots the importance of working and living together no matter what part of the world you come from. As for the price of the oil barrel, well, we should leave it to the experts.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. The Italian Pirate in Saudi Desert reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Victim of Mismanagement

14 October 2014 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al‐MulhimAbdulateef Al‐Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

When people discuss Yemen, they usually refer to the large southwestern area of the Arabian Peninsula strategically sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Oman with thousands of miles of beautiful and pristine seashores. Whenever Yemenis are discussed, they are seen as one people bound by centuries of tradition sharing a common ideology.

However, those well versed with true situation in Yemen knows fully well that the case is otherwise. It was until recently that Yemen was divided into two countries: North and South. Both sides, unfortunately, spent years fighting each other. Suddenly, we saw them getting united. That unity did not come cheap. Many Yemenis paid with their lives for that unity. The bloody game is far from over in Yemen; internal disputes continue to haunt this Arab country.

Historically, People’s Republic of South Yemen was more stable and prosperous as compared to its northern counterpart. Aden was famous for its beautiful streets and advanced civic infrastructure during the 1960s at a time when many major regional capitals even lacked basic amenities. It was years ahead of various Gulf cities such as Dubai and Doha. This ancient seaport continues to enjoy strategic importance in the region.

In 1967, it was seen as the future center of the so-called capital of the Middle East free zone. Simply put, Aden had more potential than Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait City and Doha put together to become the regional trade hub. Aden was destined to be the Hong Kong of the Middle East. But, communism took over and instability became the second name of South Yemen.

North Yemen was, however, different. There was no strong central government. Only the capital Sanaa, Taaz and Hudaidah had some traces of a government. The rest of the country remained beyond the control of any authority. Tribal infighting and bloody coups cost Yemen thousands of lives. North Yemen also had the potential to emerge as a prosperous country due to its rich and fertile land and easily accessible Gulf markets. It just needed construction of three major highways. Instead of utilizing its historical dam and rich soil, they grew Qat.

People grew poorer and as time passed got more desperate. Unfortunately, Yemen never utilized the billions of dollars of financial aid that they received from the Gulf states especially from Saudi Arabia and the US, Japan, Europe and many other countries. North and South Yemenis are considered the most skilled and hardworking people in the region. It was the Yemenis who built most of the infrastructures in Gulf countries but they simply forgot to build their own. They were busy chewing Qat and fighting each other. South and North Yemen got united in 1990 and later on a brief but bloody civil war erupted in 1994.

Whatever happening in Yemen is a result of years of instability and turmoil. Truth be told, Saudi Arabia and other friends of Yemen had been making all-out efforts to help Yemen but Yemenis don’t appear to pull themselves out of this bottomless pit of violence and instability.

Despite the availability of various raw materials and fertile land, Yemenis are unable to cooperate with each other to develop their country. As long as Yemenis belonging to different hues from across the country don’t sit together and iron out their differences, no foreign power can help restore stability in Yemen. The uplift of Yemen depends on the Yemenis. The money they waste on chewing Qat in one year can help build hospitals, schools and road networks. Yemenis could make hundreds of millions every year by just opening their archaeological treasures.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Victim of Mismanagement reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Time to Switch to Public Transit

12 October 2014 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al‐MulhimAbdulateef Al‐Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

With the ongoing development works under way, Riyadh is gearing to become one of the largest cities of the world.

Like any other city across the Kingdom, the concept of a world-class public transportation system is alien to Riyadh. However, due to the growing population and the huge expansion of the city from all sides, the need for a public mass transit system is being greatly felt.

Most of the streets in Riyadh witness massive traffic jams round-the-clock. It would not be an exaggeration to say that rush hours in Riyadh continue 24/7. The authorities are finally realizing the importance of a mass transit system across the Kingdom but the situation in Riyadh is very worrisome, as it can’t handle more than five million people and millions of cars roaming the streets.

Saudis are wont of owning cars and prefer to use their own vehicles to go to work and malls etc. Many people say that Saudis have adopted this habit from the Americans. However, this habit — good or bad — has become strongly associated with the Saudis nowadays.

The trend in the West has reversed due to expensive fuel prices and high insurance rates. People in most of the developed countries are turning to the use of public transport system. Keeping in view the burden on their civic infrastructures and public comfort, many countries had started developing public transport systems. In the United States, most of the major cities have a comprehensive mass transit system. Apart from the major cities, however, one has to rely on his vehicle to move around or rely on cabs and end up paying skyrocketing fares.

We, in Saudi Arabia, are also facing a similar situation. Actually, we have never thought about a public transport system due to obvious reasons: Fuel prices are very low and there is no import tax on cars, there is no parking fee in the cities.

Due to the above reasons, owning and maintaining a car is easier in the Kingdom. That is why the idea of public transportation never appealed the Saudis. On the contrary, keeping a car is very expensive in other parts of the world — fuel prices are high, one has to pay toll taxes and parking fee.

The transport authorities in the Kingdom should try to educate people about the importance of public transportation system especially in major cities like Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

Keeping in view the growing population, it is imperative to plan mass transit systems across the Kingdom. This will not only help ease traffic congestions on streets but will also help improve the environment and check air pollution.

Riyadh can also use public transportation system, such as the metro, as a tourist attraction. The presence of metro system is a sign of development. It is true that nowadays Riyadh appears like a huge workshop as various uplift projects including, the multi-billion dollar Metro project, are under way. It is important to create awareness among the masses on the use o public transport. The authorities should launch a campaign in this regard at the earliest.

Riyadh should also have another mode of public transport i.e. public buses to help ease the stress of driving on the capital’s streets.

And at a time when the construction of this mega transportation project is in full swing, the traffic department should start serious measures to implement and change many traffic rules and regulations and must train their traffic personal to cope with the increasing number of cars on the roads. Driving and movement in Riyadh is becoming slower, more hectic and with it comes lack of patience. And it is important for the residents of Riyadh to start to learn how to use the public transportation. It is more fun and cheaper. Cheap energy and automobile driving in the Kingdom will not be here forever, so, we need to adapt to public transportation.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Time to Switch to Public Transit reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Learning From Journey of Lifetime

5 October 2014 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al‐MulhimAbdulateef Al‐Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

All Muslims are required to perform Haj — the fifth pillar of Islam — once in a lifetime, if he/she is physically fit and have no financial constraints.

Since the beginning of Islam, Haj is the biggest and most important gathering of Muslims. It is a religious journey wherein all Muslims from across the world converge on Makkah and perform all the rites in tandem without any discrimination. Haj pilgrimage consists of several steps.

Muslims are required to follow a fixed pattern from the time they arrive in the holy city of Makkah. When a pilgrim arrives in Makkah, he/she is supposed to circumambulate the Kaaba, do the Saay and then proceed to Mount Arafat, then Muzdalifah and Mina. On the 10th day of Dul Hijjah, Muslims celebrate the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid Al-Adha). The question is: What can and should Muslims learn from the Haj pilgrimage?

Each year millions of Muslims come to Saudi Arabia to perform Haj during Dul Hijjah, which is the last month of the Islamic calendar. This is a time of year when Muslims from different areas of the world with different cultural, linguistic, ethnic and financial backgrounds gather in a relatively small area. However, it is difficult to distinguish between them on those lines, as everybody is clad in similar white robes known as Ihram, as a sign of modesty. During this huge event, there is no segregation between men and women. Poor and the affluent perform the same rituals and nobody receives any preferential treatment.

The most amazing thing one witnesses during Haj is the exemplary unity and love between Muslims from every nook and corner of the world. People usually wonder as to why the same feelings are not witnessed after Haj or between the Muslims world in general.

The Haj rituals need strict discipline and organization and it is heartening to note that pilgrims act in a very proper manner. One fails to understand as to why we lack proper discipline in our daily lives. Haj, like other acts of worship, teaches us to lead our lives in a proper manner. It is kind of a training program for Muslims to spend the rest of their lives in a proper fashion. It instills spirit of brotherhood among followers of different schools of thought. We see people adhering to different schools of thought praying together without any problem. Why then we start bickering over petty issues once we complete Haj?

During Haj, Muslims show respect for time and the environment, they should try to do the same after Haj and in their respective countries. All pilgrims stay patient during the entire exercise, they should try to do the same after Haj, as this will help resolve many of our issues.

Haj is a golden opportunity for all Muslims to renounce violence and hatred. The world is witnessing violence and chaos in various Muslim countries. Unfortunately, it is Muslims killing Muslims for apparently no reason. Each side is claiming to be on “the right path,” but when these same people perform Haj they live in the same tents in Mina. During Haj we see movements of millions of people in a very synchronized and orderly manner in very short time so it is very essential to learn many things from such massive movements in our daily life. Haj is not only a religious duty but it is a way of teaching Muslims how to act in their routine lives. The main purpose of Haj is to instill in Muslims a spirit of brotherhood, unity and teaches them to live in harmony with one other and with people of other faiths.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Learning From Journey of Lifetime reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

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