Aramco ExPats

Category Archive: Opinions & Editorials

KSA Needs Land Reforms

23 April 2014 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest countries in terms of landmass spread over an area of around one million square miles with a population of about 30 million.

In other words, we have enough space to accommodate any expansion in any city without much difficulty. We do have obstacles and challenges of different kinds like the nature of the land, climatic conditions and severe shortage of water resources. In addition to these natural obstacles, we are faced with the issues of inadequate planning and mismanagement and a lack of efficient infrastructure especially in the rural areas.

We all know that many countries faced similar situations but they overcame all obstacles. The Netherlands is situated below sea level but with proper planning, large polder areas are now preserved through drainage systems. Singapore and Hong Kong overcame the problem of being densely populated tiny landmasses. Japan with its relatively high number of earthquakes also adapted to the phenomena with special building mechanism. So, why do we, the Saudis, need land reforms, land management and new building codes?

The Saudi population is growing at a rapid pace. And urbanization is also at its peak with more Saudis striving to move to cities for better prospects. Due to rapid urbanization, cities like Riyadh have grown into one of the largest cities in the world with a population exceeding the 5-million mark. With this burgeoning population in a city like Riyadh, is there enough land to accommodate these millions without witnessing any hike in land prices.

During the past few days, my classmate and former Shoura Council member, Dr. Ihsan Bouhiliqah, has raised this issue in a number of his columns in an Arabic-language daily. Last week, at an informal gathering at the majlis of another friend, Saleh Al-Humaidan, who is also associated with the newspaper industry, I was surprised to learn that there is one vacant, unused and unutilized square meter for each used, occupied and utilized square meter in many of the cities in the Kingdom. In other words, the hike in land prices is artificial due to which owning a decent house has become an uphill task for many Saudis.

There is a need for implementing rules and regulations for land usage in addition to establishing land utilization department to oversee proper use of lands, which are vacant and many of the owners just wait for the land prices to go up. It is fine because it’s their property but they don’t pay property taxes and this way, many large unused plots of lands are in the middle of already developed areas and these areas are becoming very congested while the owners of lands are not selling or developing these large areas in the middle of many major cities.

So, it is very necessary to implement a tax regime to utilize the large vacant lands. This will drive the prices down and make it easier for Saudis to own a home and help the government in planning for future. Isn’t it ironic that despite being a country with a huge landmass, we don’t find space to construct a school in some cities of the Kingdom?

The government has taken many steps to help citizens buy homes, which includes interest-free loans but without land reforms that include taxing landowners, it will be difficult to bring land prices down. Or if the government doesn’t want to impose any form of taxes then there should be rules about developing the land within a given period like for example five years and if the land is not developed then heavy taxes should be imposed.

There is another issue, I would like to highlight here. Many Saudis build their houses in such a way that it is hard to maintain. There are houses, which are more than 5,000 square meters. Due to the size of the houses, the consumption of water and energy increases. In other words, we waste many resources not out of necessity but due to old habits that have to be changed.

We must change our lifestyles keeping in view our future needs. We should think about our future generations. Many countries as I have mentioned adapted to the changing situation so we have no choice but to change and adapt. Our youths must be taught that oil will not remain forever.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. KSA Needs Land Reforms reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Arab News: A Turning Point for Saudi Media

20 April 2014 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

After the start of the Saudi economic boom in 1973, there was an influx of expatriates into the Kingdom.

They came from many different countries and spoke different languages.

But the common language of communication between Saudi nationals and other nationalities was English.

At the same time, those expatriates were in great need of following local and international developments and most important, the news about their home countries.

In 1975, there were no quick means of communication like the Internet.

In 1975, Saudi Arabia had many papers that covered news, but, those were in Arabic.

So, there was a great need for an English-language newspaper in the Kingdom.

In addition, with massive development projects under way, people outside the country were very keen to read news articles about the Kingdom and the Saudi point of view.

So, in 1975, Mr. Hisham Ali Hafiz and Mohammed Ali Hafiz came up with the brilliant idea of launching the first English newspaper in Saudi Arabia. And their dream became a reality.

Today, Arab News is one of the 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

The paper was an instant hit from day one. It was a window on the world.

While professionals were involved in the making of its track record, the newspaper provided a training environment for many Saudi nationals and others in the field of journalism.

Arab News was one of the best public relations platforms for Saudi Arabia during the biggest economic boom and it highlighted the nation’s rapid progress to the outside world.

The newspaper gave extensive and in-depth coverage to important events that happened in the Kingdom and the region.

An example is the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Extensive coverage was given by Arab News of both Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations. After the terrorist attack of 9/11, Arab News was rated as one of the most authentic sources of balanced news about the region and Saudi Arabia.

At the end of the day, Arab News was a vital news source for millions of expatriates who work, live and travel to the Kingdom.

It is being used as a source of information for many foreign missions and companies.

My association with this paper has been since its launch in 1975. I used to read Arab News while on vacations in the Kingdom between 1975 and 1983 when I was attending schools in the US.

From that day I wanted to be part of it, but, I only decided to write for this newspaper after my retirement from the Saudi Royal Navy a few years ago.

At that time, the editor in chief was Khaled Almaeena who is considered as one of the leading media managers not only in the Kingdom, but the whole Arab world.

After he left, the Arab News had Abdulwahab Al-Fayez as its editor in chief. Abdulawahab Al-Faiz gave the paper a different approach.

And later on Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi became the editor-in-chief, an experienced journalist.

After I started writing for it, I was overwhelmed with joy of the wide scope of readers the newspaper has. I have seen many articles from Arab News being republished and translated in many countries.

In other words, the Arab News became the window for Saudi Arabia.

And in a few months after its foundation, Arab News became the main source of reference to many think tanks because of its extensive coverage and analysis of events.

The most positive impact that Arab News has on Saudi society and millions of expatriates is that it promotes open dialogue between citizens and foreigners.

The newspaper became the voice of millions of expatriates. It provided a platform for them to express their appreciation and grievances.

It helped in the solution of many cases of expatriates and the issues were initiated by writers and readers of Arab News.

Some of the expatriates were even given the chance of reading part of the newspaper, written in their native language.

And most importantly, Arab News helped in healing the homesickness of many expatriate workers when they arrive in the Kingdom for the first time.

Arab News was and still is a very successful newspaper even in the era of Twitter and Facebook.

The amount of responses received reflects its popularity among readers from all over the world.

Now, 39 years have passed since Arab News was founded and it is still adapting to the many changes that are affecting the media industry.

Just a few years ago, it launched state-of-the-art new facilities at its main headquarters in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam.

We wish Arab News, the first English Saudi newspaper, and its staff many successes ahead.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Arab News: A Turning Point for Saudi Media reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Drug Trafficking: Nip the Evil in the Bud

15 April 2014 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

Every now and then we read reports about security officials thwarting attempts to smuggle narcotics into the Kingdom. The trend shows that these substances are in demand here. The big question is: What measures are being taken to check this menace?

One is really surprised at the audacity of these drug traffickers. The world knows the strict punishments meted out to such people in Saudi Arabia and yet they make such attempts. Drug trafficking is punishable by death or at least life imprisonment. Before we move further, let us look back at the alcohol prohibition period in the United States.

Since the 1800s some people were trying to pass a law prohibiting the sale or consumption of alcohol in many different parts of America. State after state, the law was passed until it became a national act in 1920 when the 18th Amendment was passed. At that time thousands of agents were hired to enforce the law. However, in 1933 the prohibition ended when the 21st Amendment was passed legalizing the consumption of alcohol. The prohibition didn’t stop people from drinking but it boosted illegal production, transportation and distribution of alcohol and in the process there was an increase in organized crimes. During that time alcohol was given nicknames such as Tennessee Shoes for its bad smell. In other words, as long as there are consumers, there will be producers and suppliers. Just few days ago, the Saudi security forces foiled attempts to smuggle more than 22 million amphetamine tablets worth SR1 billion ($260m). Is this the biggest drug bust in the world? I really don’t know the answer to this question. But why do we witness such incidents in the Kingdom?

Saudi Arabia is a very huge country with borders stretching thousands of miles bordering eight countries. Saudi Arabia has one of the most stable economies in the region and its citizens always have enjoyed high incomes and this is what drug dealers usually look for. Just like the South American drug cartels whose eyes are always on the American payday.

The first step to check this menace is to thoroughly study the depth of all aspects of the problem. After that a comprehensive long-term national strategy is required because this problem cannot be eradicated overnight. We need a plan to reduce it by percentage each year and look for ways to know as to why the market for drugs is thriving in the Kingdom. Without a concrete plan it would be like mopping the floor every time water overflows from a bathtub. If one needs a permanent solution, the faucet has to be turned off.

In addition to that we must stop blaming others. It is true that there are people, countries and organizations that would like to harm the social fabric of the Saudi society but we must realize that drug trafficking is a real business for many around the globe.

In Afghanistan, the hard drugs’ market is almost $9 billion a year. That equals to almost the Jordanian national annual budget. So, it is business and if Saudi Arabia is a good market, they will continue to come over and try to cross our borders. Or, do they need to cross the Saudi borders? In the last mega drug bust, there were five Saudi nationals arrested during the operation. Drug trafficking shouldn’t be looked at as a foreign conspiracy because if we look at it from this perspective, then we will be providing the young drug addicts with an excuse who will end up blaming others. The Saudi drug enforcement agents are fully equipped to thwart any drug smuggling bid and they are very dedicated to their jobs but at the end of the day it is the duty of the family members to watch over their children’s behavior.

Staying up late for no reason and doing poorly at school are signs, which have to be watched carefully. Today’s children are different from the past. Their needs and behaviors are different due to the presence of many ways of communications and easy mode of transportations. At the end of the day, it is the individual who is behind the drug trafficking. If you don’t do drugs, then the smugglers will not try to sneak into your country and will look for other options.

Drugs don’t harm only the addict but affects the whole society. And it is your future that can be harmed by drugs. Drug traffickers don’t use it and neither their children, so, why should you?

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Drug Trafficking: Nip the Evil in the Bud reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

A Day at an American University

13 April 2014 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

A few months ago, I received an invitation to lecture at Bridgewater University, which is located in the suburbs of Boston. The visit, though brief, brought back many memories.

Last year, the National Council on US-Arab Relations had organized a forum in Washington, D.C. I had the honor of taking part in that event where I met a young talented Iraqi-American professor, Dr. Jabbar Al-Obaidi. He has been helping building bridges between people from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

The minute I arrived in Boston, I was met with the genuine Bostonian hospitality and was given the honor to exchange ideas with very intelligent faculty members. I was surprised to learn that Bridgewater was probably the only American university with no Saudi students even though it is well known for its high standard of education. Initially the university was established as a schoolteachers’ training institute.

Established in 1840, it is one of the oldest schools not only in the United States but also in the world. Around 12,000 students, both local and foreign, are enrolled at the varsity. The campus is beautifully designed with impressive buildings. I fell in love with the library.

Before the lecture, I was invited as a guest speaker at a 45-minute discussion on a local TV channel. During the discussion, hosted by Obaidi and Dr. Michael Kryzanek, we exchanged views on a host of issues. Truth be told, that discussion helped me with my lecture, as I got the chance to gauge my hosts’ views and the current issues under discussion in that specific area.

The brief stay at the university was reminiscent of my student life at the State University of New York, Maritime College.

Most of the young people across the world usually nurture a dream of attending schools in the United States. The American schools, undoubtedly, are cultural melting pots. American system of education has made learning fun and enjoyable. In the morning you are in the classroom, at a social event in the afternoon, watching some sports event in the evening and at night you find yourself surrounded by friends at some casual get-together.

In American schools one meets people from around the world speaking different languages with different accents and different cultures. In addition to that, one could see people attending religious events at different places of worship and engaging in multi-cultural chats.

But, what about my lecture and what was it about? I spoke in general about the Middle East. It was about democracy and prosperity. It was my first visit to Bridgewater and I hope I lived up to their expectations. For the information of the readers, I gave the lecture when I was still suffering from jet lag and the resultant sleeping disorder.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. A Day at an American University reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

What if We Leave Afghans Alone?

10 April 2014 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

Prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, this landlocked country largely remained away from media spotlight. It all started in 1973 when Daoud Khan overthrew King Zahir Shah in a bloodless coup to become the first president of Afghanistan. That kicked off a series of coups and countercoups. In April 1978, the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan took over. In September the following year, President Nur Taraki was assassinated in a coup orchestrated by Hafizullah Amin, who assumed presidency. In the December of 1979, Soviet Special Forces assassinated him. In the aftermath Babrak Karmal became president and subsequently Soviet troops entered the rugged terrains of Afghanistan and the rest is history. Since then this country has always remained in the news.

Afghans have earned praise from across the globe for defying Taleban by going to vote in droves. Several deadly clashes were reported but the Afghans appeared determined to exercise their right to choose their leadership. I wonder what if Afghanistan had been left alone after the Soviet invasion.

In the aftermath of the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan became the final battleground for the Soviet Union and the United States. The world was divided into two blocs, the eastern and the western due to which many other players got involved in the conflict that proved to be the final round of the then lingering Cold War. Had the world not interfered then, the Soviets would have pulled out within a few years. The USSR was on the brink of a financial collapse. There would have been destruction and collateral damage but not of the magnitude that we witness today.

Above all there would have been no Taleban or Al-Qaeda and who knows maybe 9/11 would have never taken place. In other words, we turned a peaceful country into the most dangerous place on earth where apparently people just want to fight. It became a place where Muslims are fighting among each other, attack other Muslim countries and when possible attack non-Muslims. Ironically many of the dead westerners killed by Taleban in Afghanistan were there to help the Afghans and wanted to show the world the other side of the story and expose the Taleban. In other words, the world only saw the dark side of Afghanistan.

Until the 1970s, Afghanistan used to be a beautiful country with advanced social and political cultures. All you need is to look at the old photos of Afghanistan and its people and you will see beautiful clean streets, modern hospitals and university campuses. Now, Afghanistan is at a crossroads. It is only the Afghans who can bring back security and stability to their country. It is impossible to run the clock backward but it is never too late to rebuild a country, although this needs an iron will. Those Afghans who are fighting along the Taleban side must realize that they can never achieve anything through coercive measures.

Afghanistan is a country with people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. It is a country with fertile lands and enough water for irrigation and has large deposits of minerals such as iron and copper. Afghanistan can go back to the good old days, the days of stability and prosperity. At the end, I wish the world leaves Afghanistan alone to deal with its internal problems. As a matter of fact, the world’s superpowers should leave smaller and poorer countries alone. The US and the then USSR lost tens of thousands of their finest young men and women in the aftermath of their interventions in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

There still are chances for Afghanistan to become an effective member in the international arena. The internal disputes between various tribes and factions will only bring more bloodshed. The more stable Afghanistan, the faster the country can be rebuilt.

It is imperative that the next Afghan president focuses on rebuilding the country’s civic and economic infrastructure. The Afghan people can do it and the whole world is ready to extend a helping hand. But the Afghans are the ones who must take the first step.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. What if We Leave Afghans Alone? reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Aramco Travel Club

Have You Joined?

Learn More
  • Travel around the world with your fellow ExPats.
  • All trips organized through a professional travel agency.
  • Activities like Scuba Diving, RV trips, Skiing, Cruises, and more!

Become a Member Today!