Aramco ExPats

Category Archive: Opinions & Editorials

From Dhahran to Las Vegas

31 August 2015 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

Before I write about what happened in Las Vegas, let me first tell you about Dhahran Toastmasters. A few months ago, Saleh Alghamdi, a member of Dhahran Toastmasters, invited me to attend one of their sessions.

Honestly speaking, I was not interested in attending the event because I was under the impression that it would be a simple local gathering. Or perhaps, I did not want to sit with a crowd of youngsters calling me “sir” and where I would be made to sit in the front row due to my age. Contrary to my expectations, it turned out to be an international organization and group of vibrant well-meaning people. The young members of the organization hail from a wide range of backgrounds with the ability to refine one’s speaking capabilities and could easily evaluate one’s conduct in a group.

Let us be frank, if the place is not good for older people like this writer, it is surely not a place for someone who stutters while speaking. Speech evaluation is an embarrassing thing for someone who has some kind of speech disorder. In addition to this, when somebody is stuttering, it is embarrassing to take involuntary pauses. But there are always exceptions.

Just a few weeks ago, Mohammed Alkhalfan, a friend from Al- Ahsa and a former Aramco employee along with Nazeem Alqaem, another former Aramco employee, told me that they were heading to Las Vegas.

Don’t get me wrong. They were not heading to Las Vegas for the slot machines. They were going to Las Vegas to be by the side of a Saudi competing for an international award for speech ability. One might say, fine, so, what? Well this Saudi whose name is Mohammed Al-Qahtani pronounced his first word only when he was 6. He had been suffering from severe stuttering. With an iron will, he overcame his handicap and ended up in Las Vegas for the world championship and won the number one title.

Later on, I saw his name and achievement in the local papers, due to which I became too eager to see him speak. His talent, his courage and his sense of humor amazed me. He started with the funniest opening line I had ever heard. His talent surely impressed me and I was not alone.

Al-Qahtani is a grown man now and I really want to see some of the faces of his childhood friends who used to laugh and make fun of him. Now, he is an internationally recognized talent. But, let us not forget members of his community who supported him and stood by him. The question is: How many people like Al-Qahtani suffer from minor or major disability or handicap?

In the past, this writer has written about the need for special classes and schools for children with special needs. There are many talented children suffering from various disabilities. Such children need special attention to overcome their disabilities and to cope with peer pressure and sarcastic remarks from other children poking fun at them. Such remarks have a negative impact on the psyche of a child and sometimes such kids become introverts and also leave schools. Al-Qahtani is not only a talented speaker but he is a perfect example of human determination.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. From Dhahran to Las Vegas reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.

N-deal: It’s All About Business

27 August 2015 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

Do people remember the time when the United States or should I say the “Great Satan” moved one of its aircraft carriers with its task force just a few years ago to the Arabian Sea as a warning to the Iranians that America was not fooling around and it really meant business?

Well, the US surely meant business but it was not about unleashing lethal weapons on Iran in case it did not adhere to the western demands of halting work on its nuclear program. At that time, Iran was hungry for American and western products and parties on the other side of the fence were preparing their balance sheets. And, what about self-inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities? Well, that is the role of the IAEA, which should actually stand for “Iran Appeasing Every American.”

Simply put, why should the US go to war over Iran’s nuclear program when the American companies are eyeing trillions of dollars worth deals to capture Iranian market? Those deals will make the current Iranian regime look good inside and outside Iran. Oh, accept my apologies. Did I single out the US? Well, I meant all the western countries want to do business with Iran. Why would the West implement sanctions against Iran if it could make billions of dollars out of business deals that require just a few pieces of paper? The nuclear deal means nothing.

So the erstwhile “Great Satan” to Iran i.e. the US and its western allies are currently busy finding ways to establish commercial ties with the not-so-long-ago evil state. We are talking here about deals to the tune of trillion dollars. That is trillion with a “T” not “M” or “B.”

Iran has billions of dollars in frozen assets worldwide. Some economists put the figure as high as $100 billion. So, do people really think that the US and especially Europe has the stomach to give Iran all this money back? The answer is certainly no. So, why not make a deal and rebuild Iran’s outdated oil and gas infrastructure and open up other businesses in Iran. The Iranian youth are hungry for western goods. And in addition to the frozen assets, Iran suffered from years of boycotts, sanctions and years of war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988 and many things have to be built from scratch. Iran needs bigger roads, hospitals, modern airports, more electricity and of course modernized oil and gas facilities. So, what is the next step for Iran?

Just a few days after the announcement of the nuclear deal between Iran and the West including Russia, top politicians and company CEOs already booked flights to Tehran. The world was not surprised to see British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Iran shaking hands in a press conference with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in a historical announcement to restore full diplomatic relations and reopening of the British Embassy in Tehran. It is business so never mind and forget that four years ago Iranian protesters had stormed the British embassy. But do people really believe that protesters in Iran could storm the British embassy without the nod from their supreme leader? I don’t think so. But again, what is the next step that could change the dynamics of the world politics. The answer is simple. The US just restored its relations with its once archenemy Cuba after half a century of enmity so why can’t the same be done with Iran?

I don’t care what the Iranians say about America. I went to schools in the US in the 1970s and knew many Iranians in my school and still cherish their friendship, they all loved America. And I have met many Iranians in Saudi Arabia who come for business, or to perform Umrah or Haj. They all love the US and many of them buy many American products from Saudi Arabia to take back with them to their friends and families. I think restoration of full-fledged US-Iran ties is now just a matter of time. We are talking about trillion-dollar business so American companies’ CEOs will forget about the 444 days that the Americans were held hostages and the Iranians will forget the skirmishes that occurred between the two countries’ navies and the Iranians will forget that America took the side of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran war.

Iranians want American friendship and goods and the Americans want access to Iranian market. And let us not forget the hundreds of thousands of Iranians living in the US (and the West) who will leave no stone unturned to facilitate those business deals. At the end, the Americans will get the Shish Kabab and the Iranians will have a taste of the juicy Big Macs.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. N-deal: It’s All About Business reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.

Time For Economic Reforms

24 August 2015 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

These days, a few questions keep on popping up in my head. Are we really a rich country? Is relying on a volatile source of income economically healthy? And how low the price of a barrel of oil could sink before we feel the real crunch?

Indeed, Saudi Arabia is a rich country but only when it is compared with other countries of the region. Being an oil-producing country, we have been enjoying high income. But it is one of the most volatile and unpredictable commodities on the market. Despite oil being the lifeline of the global economy, the world never stopped its search for alternative sources of energy. We could see an increased number of solar panels installed around the globe ensuring production of cleaner and cheaper electricity. We regularly read about new and improved models of electric and hybrid cars in industrial countries. In short, we are a rich country but it is high time we spend our wealth wisely.

Saudi Arabia has a large population reaching 30 million people including all the expatriates. We are blessed with oil reserves but face a huge water shortage. Our government has to bear expenditure to the tune of billions of dollars over the production of water through desalination plants. In Saudi Arabia, a bottle of water is expensive than grade 95 fuel.

Saudi Arabia is one of those countries of the world, which braves harsh weather conditions. The mercury during the summer usually touches the 50 degrees Celsius mark, which means we have to spend billions of dollars for air conditioning and consumer millions of barrels of oil daily. Being a huge country, Saudi Arabia’s civic infrastructure needs continuous expansion. These are the reasons that call for effective budgetary allocation and proper planning to spend our funds wisely.

It is no secret that the world’s economic landscape is rapidly changing. Being part of this world, the Kingdom naturally cannot remain immune from these economic ups and downs. Our main problem is our heavy reliance on a single source of income. We never really diversified our economy and we never taught our youth to make the best of the opportunities that our government so generously provided them with such as free education and free health care. For many decades, our youth did not really work as hard as others to earn a living. In other words, we offered them free lunch and the government stood by them to guarantee a steady source of income, free education, free health care and huge subsidies to ensure an easy life. The government is paying billions of dollars in subsidies for many kinds of food, water, fuel at the pump and electricity. It is true that we should appreciate our government for its role but it is time to change all that due to the winds of change sweeping across the globe. Most important is to change our spending habits and to start using our available resources wisely. This could be done by ensuring closer monitoring of the public funds spending, eradicating corruption and checking misuse of public funds.

In addition to that we must make our youth realize the importance of hard work and the true meanings of patriotism. True patriotism has nothing to do with cheering for one’s soccer team and waving national flags in the streets. True patriotism is all about working hard to get the best education and to take part in the development process of one’s country.

Keeping in view, the sliding oil prices we should change our attitude toward life. In today’s world, only a corruption-free country could prosper in the true sense of the word. We need to effectively fight graft. The world is faced with economic crisis and it has almost reached our shores. We have to work on economic reform for the sake our future generations. Today, we are witnessing low oil prices; tomorrow there could be no oil left. It is time to introduce massive economic reforms and their effective and transparent implementation.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Time For Economic Reforms reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.

At 50, Singapore is Young, Prosperous

19 August 2015 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

It is said that a poor and weak man used to live in a makeshift shack. He was sound asleep one night but woke up in the middle of the night and decided to make his shack bigger. He also decided that he will work hard, earn money and become a billionaire and the sheriff of the town. The moral of the story is that what this poor and weak man wished came true. He became a billionaire without taking money or handout from anyone. He also became the sheriff of the town without even carrying a gun. He made his shack bigger without grabbing any space from his neighbor. Well, the above lines tell us the very brief history of a country called Singapore.

Singapore celebrated its Golden Jubilee a few days ago. It is not easy to dwell on the accomplishments of a country like Singapore in a few lines, but there are a few things that make many people around the world admire this little country. Singapore in only 50 years grew from a swampland to a country with skyscrapers and state-of-the-art infrastructure. It even grew in size not because they invaded other territories, but because they utilized science and technology in the best possible way for land reclamation. It has become one of the richest countries in the world without taking other people’s resources. The Singaporeans simply utilized and made the best use of their very limited resources and turned it into a country with unlimited resources in 50 years.

Singapore has become a powerful and influential country. It was the smallest Asian country 50 years ago. Now it is the second smallest country in Asia with a population of about 5 million. This very small country has one of the most sophisticated military arsenal with the most advanced technology that an army can build or buy. Singapore has a trained and advanced army, air force and navy. In terms of military strength, Singapore is a small country, but they think big.

People around the world and even those who have never been to Singapore wonder how did a country that was one of the poorest in the world just 50 years ago has become one of the richest in the world capable of having a say in the world economy! Simply put, it is very hard not to admire Singapore and Singaporeans for their achievements.

In the past, Singapore was not left alone. Even though it was poor, without any tangible resources and mostly a swampland, there were presence of foreign powers. Firstly, the country was under Japanese control. Then the British took over. Merger with Malaysia took place in 1963. In August 1965, it became independent. Lee Kuan Yew became the first prime minister of Singapore. After that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. You work hard and build the country no matter where you come from.

When you are in Singapore, you can see the whole world. You can be in little India, China, Europe, Arab world and all corners of the world. People and countries can learn many things from this little country. It was and is capable of bringing together people of different backgrounds and ethnicity. Even though the country had very little resources, they all lived in harmony and peace. Now we see many countries and societies with far more resources divided on the basis on ethnicity, race, etc. Despite their vast resources these countries have not been able to bring their people together. I think Singapore has achieved outstanding success because its people worked together to build the country. They have established the best education system and implemented an effective work ethic. But, most importantly it is hard work that has contributed to the success story.

It is true that Singapore is a young country, but it also has a rich history and culture that date back to hundreds of years. Why would anybody really admire Singapore, a country that started to develop just 50 years ago? It is both because of its achievements in such a short time and its continuous march toward advancement and prosperity. As a matter of fact, as far as I know, it is the only country in Asia that has top AAA rating from all major credit rating agencies. Singapore celebrated its Golden Jubilee, and the world said, Congratulations.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. At 50, Singapore is Young, Prosperous reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.

New Arab Order Should Make Meritocracy its Priority

17 August 2015 | comments (1) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Khaled AlmaeenaKhaled Almaeena

The Arab world is passing through its darkest phase in history. Even the most diehard optimist would find little to cheer about. Arab political pundits and newly self-appointed social media analysts have come up with many theories, mostly bizarre, for the predicament we are in.

They blame everyone under the sun but have not bothered even to give a cursory glance at what has led us to this sorry situation. Let’s be frank. All what has happened to us is of our own doing. Right from the so-called Arab independence movement through post independent stages, most Arab leaders failed their people as self-appointed generals, presidents for life and others were more focused on consolidating power through oppressive measures rather than uplifting their population.

I grew up hear messages blaring on radios haranguing Arab masses, and highlighting imperialistic plans to gobble up the Arab world. We saw a number of coups and counter coups, and the slaughter of thousands of innocent people because the new general was suspicious of them. But even then there was always hope.

However, today there is almost no light at the end of the tunnel. Bomb blasts, beheadings, massacres are a daily feature of our news diet. The Arab Spring, which was supposed to usher hope, has engulfed us and thrown us in the dark recesses of a world that has turned into a tumultuous frenzy, while prompting some Arab states to take sterner measures to stifle dissenting voices.

Can we continue like this? The answer is an emphatic no! Arab states should take examples of other states where discipline was maintained but voices were heard. Singapore and South Korea are but two examples that have shown there can be no progress without a free and responsible press. There can be no viable state if the leader does not lead from the front, implements good governance, demands accountability and transparency beginning with himself and leads the change against corruption.

The media should be viewed as a partner and the ruler should know that criticism would be constructive and can serve the state. That is the role of journalists to alert the state of the shortcomings. A society should be created where free flow of ideas and information could help create an atmosphere where the focus is on growth.

A new Arab order should make meritocracy its priority. We have been damaged by years of nepotism and corruption. We have been hindered by the inaction and the incompetency of those in charge. We cannot afford to procrastinate.

Dangers lurk where there are gaps and vacuums in society, we should not allow this to happen. There should be trust between all members of society and Arab government. An atmosphere of trust and accountability should prevail for the state to progress, and in order to create trust we must put an end to the divisive ways practiced by a certain section to hold sway over society.

Women are an important segment of society and they should be allowed to play a leading role. The voices of extremist and obscurantists should not be allowed to drown the voices of those who seek progress. Provincialism, tribalism and ethnic favoritism should be eradicated totally from the minds of those in power.

The Arab governments should take a lesson from their own history. They cannot rule by sheer force and absolute control in an age of social media. Also great advances in technology, where a chip can be planted in humans to read each other’s thoughts, it will be futile to try to control the masses.

The Arab people are like their peers elsewhere they want to live in peace and dignity. In today’s world it is inevitable that everyone works to achieve peace and all are accorded dignity. The sooner our leaders realize this, the faster we will develop and progress.

— 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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