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Category Archive: Opinions & Editorials

The Never-Ending Arab Spring

10 February 2016 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

The term “spring” is used to describe a popular uprising against a political system. It is mainly used in Europe. In the recent history of mankind, the term was used to mark a period of a few months in 1968 when political protests in then Czechoslovakia erupted. It was called the Prague Spring. However, the Soviet Union crushed the protests with its invasion of the country and all intended reforms were rolled back.

We all know the rest of the story. We all are aware of the fact that like any other political uprising, the Prague Spring lasted a few months but it is beyond comprehension that the so-called Arab Spring appears to be never ending. It seems as if somebody has pushed the Arab world into a bottomless pit of violence and unrest. These so-called revolutions started jolting the region around five years ago and its aftershocks continue to shake the Arab world until today — using the term aftershock maybe an understatement because truth of the matter is that the unrest is increasing in its intensity and morphing into a global threat.

This so-called Arab Spring began on Dec. 18, 2010. It all began in Tunisia in a very dramatic manner and subsequently took Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria almost by surprise. The winds of that so-called change not only swept across the Arab world but also threatened the entire world. During these five years, the world has witnessed the emergence of the biggest threat to the regional and global security and stability.

Since the start of the Arab Spring many countries across the Arab world have seen riots, violent and peaceful demonstrations and full-scale civil wars. Arab Spring was supposed to bring about political and social change in a country. It was meant to usher in a new era of democracy, social equality, prosperity and an end to endemic corruption. But, as it turned out, the countries that were plagued with the Arab Spring saw more corruption, more social inequality and much more violence. So, who is really to blame?

Ironically, many Arab men of letters blame others for the beginning of the Arab Spring or for its perceived failures. The usual suspects are the Americans, Europeans, Israelis and practically everyone other than the inhabitants of those countries that were hit by those revolutions calling for a change. As the Arab Spring gathered momentum, it turned out that instead of working for the establishment of a democratic political order, the forces or players calling for a change in the system got involved in a game of revenge and counter-revenge. It turned out that the masses in many Arab countries didn’t only have negative feelings toward their leaders; they had no feelings for each other. People in most of the Arab countries are not homogenized and they had never been. Many of them were just waiting for the right moment to burst and the general situation in these Arab countries didn’t help. Wealth was not distributed justly. The divide between the haves and the have nots was getting deeper. Arab Spring was a movement in waiting but few expected it to be that violence with no end in sight.

In the past few years, the region saw the rise of the most atrocious terrorist organizations and saw open interventions by foreign powers. The destruction of this magnitude and atrocities of this nature are never seen before anywhere in the world. Atrocities committed by and among people who used to be friends and neighbors. The more killings and atrocities, there will be bigger scars that may take decades to heal.

Now, it is time for all the warring sides to set their personal interests aside and to give priority to the wellbeing of their respective countries and their people. We are seeing countries that are swept by the Arab Spring sinking into chaos that will eventually end but after many more casualties. What is more, the world saw the most extensive destruction of places of worship, archeological sites and destruction of the environment. Lands in Syria will need years to be cleared from left over ammunition and people in Iraq are holding their breath regarding the possible collapse of the Mosul Dam that could kill many people and destroy fertile lands in addition to the wastage of huge amount of water that many countries in the Arab world are struggling to get and even paying billions of dollars to produce through desalination plants. In other words, the Arab Spring is not only pushing many of the Arab countries backward but it is also depriving the area from essential assets and commodities. Arab world has many riches and wealth and we didn’t need an Arab Spring to utilize these assets. Arab Spring was not about democracy and social equality it was all about revenge. People in the region are growing tired of the ongoing chaos, atrocities and killings. And countries in the area have become unsafe due to foreign interventions. We must seek ways to end this cycle of violence.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. The Never-Ending Arab Spring reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.

No Light at The End of The Tunnel?

4 February 2016 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

Just a few years ago, the Syrian people wanted democracy, social equality and a better quality of life. They revolted against their government, which is ironically led by a president who is a doctor by profession.

Syrian despot received his higher education in London. When he took over as the president of Syria, many around the world expected him to introduce sweeping reforms in his country and to work for the betterment of his people. It was thought that due to Assad’s education background and the time he had spent in the West, he would prove to be very different from his predecessor. It was expected of him to have a better understanding of democracy and liberalism. Being a doctor, he was supposed to be a very compassionate and caring person. Contrary to all expectations, Bashar Assad proved to be a bloodthirsty monster. He proved to be a power hungry man whose sole aim is to remain in power at the expense of his own people. He believes that his presidential palace is worth more than all of the Syria and its people.

At the beginning of the uprising, many had expected Bashar Assad to either take drastic measures to address the problems of the Syrians or to step down like a gentleman respecting the will of the people. Instead, he pushed the country into chaos. He proved to be a selfish and heartless person who is only interested in maintaining his rule in a country whose inhabitants don’t want him to continue as the president. Since the beginning of the popular revolt against Assad, almost every city has been turned into ruins and thousands of Syrians have been killed and many more have been forced to flee their homes seeking refuge in the neighboring countries or in Europe. Thousands of Syrians have been transformed into refugees with uncertain future. Thanks to Assad and his cronies, thousands of Syrians are forced to live at the mercy of others. They are forced to rough it out in foreign lands.

The Syrian refugees are not only hungry and left high and dry to fend for themselves in chilling winters and sultry summers; they are used, abused and very sadly, humiliated at the hands of other people. The Syrians are very proud people but the extreme circumstances are shaping their behavior in their host countries. Unfortunately, some of those posing as innocent refugees are hardened criminals, soldiers of the regime and members of terrorists’ sleeping cells. It is true that there is no excuse for the bad behavior of the few at the beginning of the year but it is a dilemma that the world will be living with for some time. We are talking about millions of refugees scattered in many countries that are different from Syria. Refugees are always subject to the harshest forms of social shocks and adjustments in their daily lives. It is very hard for them to become part of a society that is alien to them and many of them don’t know how long they will be in the host country and whether they are going to become permanent residents or not. In other words, many of them are desperate and scared.

Currently, a conference is being organized to discuss the Syrian issue. Representatives from all Syrian sides will meet but we are looking at a country that lost about quarter of a million people. UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura has met Syrian government delegation in Geneva for talks aimed at ending the conflict in Syria. And there was also a meeting with officials from the opposition group. But, at the end of the day, the Syrians don’t need a UN mediator or any other negotiators from anywhere. It is the Syrians who should sit together and decide what is best for their country. Bashar Assad has no place in any future political setup in Syria because he had done so much damage to the country and created a wide gap between its people that it will take decades to reconstruct the country.

Now, it is hard to imagine the kind of lives the Syrians are forced to live as refugees. It is sad to see the Syrian leadership’s willingness to use lethal weapons against its people. Many of the refugees and the internally displaced people are facing all forms of hardships and threats from the government forces, Al-Nusra front, the rebels, Hezbollah and Daesh.

Those forced to flee their country are also facing a tough time because of the changing attitude of Europeans toward them. They are now subject to longer waiting periods and possible deportation. Syria and the Syrians deserve better and it is sad not to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. No Light at The End of The Tunnel? reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.

Is Civility Dead?

4 February 2016 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Khaled AlmaeenaKhaled Almaeena

Are civility, good behavior and manners relics of the past? I read occasionally in some London papers and even American ones of the distributing decline in social graces and correctness.

Well, I got a local example in Jeddah last Friday at a sandwich shop when a customer came in and hurled abuses at the counter clerk. This young man used vulgar terms and then just walked away. The clerk smiled at me and said that there were many like him and that the staff had got used to them.

You see examples of the decline in courtesy and politeness almost twenty-four hours a day. There are hundreds of such incidents: a car parked right in front of your driveway or some bloke blowing the horn late at night or early in the morning to announce his arrival seemingly oblivious to the fact that people have cell phones now.

And, of course, the lack of care, courtesy and even common sense exhibited by drivers on the roads in the Kingdom is well known and often leads to tragic consequences.

So where does all this leave us?

As someone recently remarked, “religion” for all these violators is only in the mosque. Their pious looks quickly turn into glaring stares when they are out jostling, pushing, breaking lines and disturbing others.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the hallmarks of our society today.

So how then can we recapture some of our pristine values? The mosque imams are not the ones to turn to. Their focus is only on teaching without reference to everyday life. They forget that spirituality is far more needed than religiosity. And besides many of them do not possess the communication skills to relay written plans and programs.

Schools are the first stop. A well-planned education system that incorporates knowledge and character building can ensure a more civil society in the next decade.

Here the media should also play a role and together with sponsorship from major companies, a program should be initiated to rethink and reshape our behavior. It’s no use discussing the ills of our society in closed rooms.

We have to act. We cannot play the role of parents, as many of them need parenting themselves, but we can mentor young people individually or on a national scale to improve societal behavior.

— Reprinted with permission of the Saudi Gazette and Khaled Almaeena. The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at kalmaeena@saudigazette.com.sa and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena

Heavy Reliance on Saher System

4 February 2016 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

Two reports that I came across recently left me confused or should I say sad. According to one report quoting the traffic department, the number of road accidents and fatalities has substantially decreased after the introduction of Saher.

On the other hand, insurance companies have announced a dramatic increase in the automobile insurance premium. Now, will someone explain this to us?

Sadly enough, Saudi Arabia’s roads are known to be one of the most dangerous ones in the world. It is not because the roads are narrow or mountainous and Saudi weather is also not the kind that hampers the ability of motorists to drive. Most days of the year, Saudi skies remain sunny. Our roads are dangerous not because of some inherent technical flaw but mainly because our youth have developed very bad driving habits. It is not about speed. I am referring to the reckless driving with total disregard for traffic laws. Due to reckless driving, Saudi Arabia has lost thousands of men and many more are left physically and mentally crippled thus overburdening our health-care system. This is in addition to the tens of billions of riyals in vehicles’ damages. Saudi Arabia is reported to be a country with the highest fatalities on the roads. Is there any solution to this problem?

In order to check road fatalities, our government has taken various measures. One of those steps was the introduction of Saher, which is a speed-tracking system with a camera. Some of those cameras are installed on various thoroughfares and some are mounted on cars and are mobile.

On Saudi roads or highways, one would always see drivers coming from the opposite side of the road flashing high beam to warn other drivers about the presence of a camera along the way.

Saher is making a lot of money from motorists found guilty of violating traffic rules but it is said that it has had no effect on the number of road accidents. Many motorists usually slow down in areas, which they know are covered by Saher cameras and once they pass by that area they change their speeds.

We all know that the main cause of accidents is not only 10 or 20 km/h above the speed limit; it is the dangerous way of driving. In other words, Saher has become a financial burden on many citizens and expatriates without any tangible results. The main reason for this is that with Saher, the traffic police are not seen and roads are not properly monitored.

The traffic police have to be present with more authority to prevent any wrongdoing one the road. We are seeing an increase in joyrides called (Tafhit). Many lives have been lost and many expensive cars have been totally damaged. Many of our youth don’t know the value of the vehicle because their parents normally buy cars. This has to change and young men have to be taught to start working at an early age as part-time employees. This will teach them the value of money. Road accidents are becoming a national disaster. Due to the continuous rise in road fatalities, there is a need to prepare a national plan. Under the plan, lectures should be given in schools on road safety and capabilities of our traffic department be upgraded. This can be done through intensive training of the traffic department personnel. There is a great need to increase the number of traffic officials on the roads to control and monitor traffic and drivers’ behavior. The impact of Saher system should also be reevaluated. Instead of solely relying on this system, it should be used as a tool in the arsenal of the traffic department.

We have to look closer in the hike in insurance premium due to irresponsible drivers. The increase is a burden on many people who are law-abiding citizens and drivers. At the end of the day, many changes should be introduced to the traffic rules in the Kingdom. Saher is not the ultimate solution. We can’t leave our roads to be monitored by a standstill camera.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Heavy Reliance on Saher System reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.

Misuse of Social Media is a Threat to Our Society

1 February 2016 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Khaled AlmaeenaKhaled Almaeena

The advent of social media in the region has had several positive effects. No longer can the guardians of media suppress information, incidents or narratives that previously could not see the light of day. As a result several incidents concerning the public have come to the fore and errant officials have been taken to task by the authorities.

However, there is another side to this sudden new found freedom – a more negative and at times sinister one. It can be used to create prejudice and spread misinformation, lies and rumors to attack other people one does not agree with, other sects and ethnic groups. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Snapchat are being used for malicious purposes to undermine people’s honor and character.

When a Jeddah businessman made a statement concerning the budget that was misunderstood, many attacked him with vile criticism and abuses were hurled at him. His personal life was unfolded on the social media platform.

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” as the saying goes and those who had no idea what was behind the businessman’s statement joined in the fray. It was a free-for-all and went on for several weeks revealing a dark and ugly side of our society.

Apart from this, there are miscreants who post a comment attributing it to someone else. The so-called “good citizens” begin tweeting it, linking to it and even disseminating it through emails. They even fax it and take delight in disparaging the victim.

In our society, such practices are initiated to propagate one’s loyalty and patriotism. These are all false attempts in self-aggrandizement. Many believe them and the victim becomes an object of scorn. What is more dangerous is the call by some of these self-appointed “guardians of the nation” to arrest the person who is falsely believed to have put his views on social media.

Evidence is ignored, conspiracy theories are cooked up and these miscreants plaster their victims with accusations. They use false accounts to add followers. Anyone disagreeing with them is termed a traitor. And because we are not a politically mature society, many of us fall into the trap. In their eyes, anyone not following their viewpoint is termed a betrayer.

However, we cannot all be parrots. Some of us have our own opinions. And I tell them that we not only have them but we also have empathy for other people. Things are really getting out of control.

A couple of days ago, a woman tweeted calling for my arrest. I ask these people: Are you the sole agents of patriotism and loyalty?

Social media is a good and speedy platform and it should be put to good use to create better understanding and to highlight our values and ideals. Anything else will only serve to plunge us into a dark abyss.

— Reprinted with permission of the Saudi Gazette and Khaled Almaeena. The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at kalmaeena@saudigazette.com.sa and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena

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