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February, 2009:

2009 Gloom & Doom Update: Protests in Germany and Bosnia

As the situation gets worse in Europe, with unemployment rates reaching new highs, the social unrest (see previous posts) is spreading. Germany is the latest in the string of countries that is seeing protests show up. This is important to note as Germany was one of the first countries that had been working on a stimulus plan and has tried hard to off-set the anticipated problems.

Problems in Bosnia are less surprising as this was not a strong economy to start off with. Given their political precariousness (two regional, uncoordinated governments), this is a country that is possibly in line for a change in administration in the style of Iceland or Latvia.

What to watch out for in the upcoming weeks: collapse of airlines. Several airlines are already facing problems as fewer people are flying (Singapore Air, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines etc)- let us see when some of the weaker players are pushed out of the market or will need to be bailed out.

2009 Gloom & Doom Update: Suicide Rates on the Rise

One of the side effects of the worsening global economy and unemployment is the increase in suicides and suicide attempts. The numbers of cases (high profile and of “normal people“) being reported has increased significantly.

Asian economies like South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong have all reported increases and are planning for more. South Korea and Japan are installing blockades for railway tracks so people do not jump in front of trains. Hong Kong has increased the numbers of operators for its suicide hotlines.

The US is also experiencing an increase in calls to suicide hotlines in places like New YorkTampa, Dallas, Washington DC metro area and California. What is far more worrying is the increase in suicide attempts at universities like the University of California, Santa Barbara. Europe is not spared either with countries like Serbia reporting the highest suicide rates in Europe and 55% of the population shows signs of depression.

The global economy is going to get worse over the upcoming months. If anyone you know is showing signs of depression make sure they get help.

Images of Saudi Arabia: Monkey Crossing

What’s that sign in the distance? Is that really what I think it is?

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MONKEY CROSSING!!!

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Monkey watching people watching monkey

Monkey

Free Tours of Riyadh: Saudi Tourism

SCTA offers free tours of Riyadh
Saeed Al-Khotani | Arab News

RIYADH: The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) started operating free sightseeing tours on Saturday in Riyadh.

The newly appointed executive manager of Riyadh Tourism Development Bureau, Abdul Rahman Al-Jassas, told Arab News that these tours aim at introducing Riyadh’s landmarks to stimulate tourism in the city, increase the number of visitors and encourage tour operators to offer such tours regularly.

He said the tours are conducted in cooperation with the Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company (SAPTCO).

“According to the terms of cooperation, we pay for the costs of tour guides and advertising campaigns while SAPTCO provides transportation on modern, comfortable buses,” he said. “These tours, which operate twice a day, are free of charge for Riyadh visitors and residents and will continue until the end of the week. A tour guide will explain and answer any questions about the city’s landmarks.”

The trips start from Prince Salman Science Oasis on King Abdullah Road, north of Riyadh. The first tour starts at 4:30 p.m., and the second starts at 6:30 p.m. every day, Al-Jassas pointed out.

The tours cover most prominent landmarks in the city, such as Al-Aziziyah, Ghurnatha, the old Diriya town, the Kingdom and Al-Faisaliah towers, the King Abdul Aziz Historical Center, Al-Masmak Palace and the traditional rug market.

2009 Gloom & Doom Update: Protests in Ireland & Latvian Govt Collapse

A few weeks ago, there were reports of protests in Latvia, amongst several other countries (see previous post). Now, the Latvian government has resigned. That makes two governments that have collapsed so far, directly attributable to the economy.

There are now protests in Dublin, Ireland about the economy, and strikes are expected soon.

Let’s see how far the ongoing protests in various countries will go. It is a matter of time before people acknowledge that the recession (2 quarters of negative growth or unemployment increase by 1.5% in 12 months) is actually a depression (GDP declines by more than 10%) in certain countries.

Punishment for Gang Rapists- Saudi Style

Saudi Arabia is becoming harsher with punishments for sexual crimes. Last week a teenager was sentenced to 5 years in prison and 500 lashes for black-mailing for threatening to publish a woman’s photos if she did not go out with him.

Two traffic cops were recently beheaded for gang raping an expatriate woman. It is unclear if the sentencing is because the woman is an expatriate or if this is an indication of longer term changes coming to KSA.

Along with more focus on domestic violence cases as well as child rights, changes are slowly creeping in.

Change in Saudi Arabia- Short and Long Term

As we have all read by now, Saudi Arabia has made some changes in its government and brought in more moderates. Some changes were expected, some were nominal while others are profound.

A lot of people focused on the first woman appointee as it heralds something new, however bringing in women is an inevitable change. No matter how much certain segments of society fight this change, it will happen – and within a generation. The reasons are obvious in a country where women will be majority business owners within a decade: demographics, telecommunications and education. By the way, a week or so before these changes, the first female Saudi cultural attache was announced for Canada.

Some are talking about the change of the Justice minister which is in line with the judicial reform that started a few weeks/months ago. Plans to overhaul the system were put into action several months ago.

Others are talking about the changes in education. This is aligned with the changes in curriculum that have already been started, as well as some of the “experimental” programs that have been tried out.

Changes in SAMA, Health and Info/Culture (along with all the other changes) were necessary for stability. The word is that several people maintained their positions/ranks however they have been reformed by internal pressure- better to reform yourself than be replaced!

The next big area is of course the change in the Hayy’a head (Commission for Promotion of Virtue and  Prevention of Vice). This is where it starts to get really interesting, not because of the change in person but because of the change in status quo in the ongoing tussle between the reform agenda of the administration and the religious right. There is a constant thrust-and-parry dance between society and the Hayy’a; the King has come down on the side of society.

The most profound and long term changes are the ones in the Shoura Council. Changing the head is of  course newsworthy. However this is the first time that all four Sunni schools of thought are being represented in the Shoura Council, not just the Hanbali school. Avoiding a history lesson, Wahabbism/Salafism is an off-shoot of the Hanbali school.

Including the other schools of thought on the Shoura Council dilutes the impact of Hanbalism/Wahabbism/Salafism. This is a long term change that has the potential to change the country in unprecedented ways; it effectively weakens the alliance between the House of Saud and the idealogues of  Ibn Abdul Wahab. There are different extreme end points that can come out of this (over the next few decades):

  • the door can be opened to move from a direct monarchy towards a constitutional monarchy
  • the religious right can feel threatened and destabilize the legitimacy of the monarchy
  • the country moves in the direction of becoming the next Dubai

Reality will probably lie somewhere between these extremes. The reign of King Abdullah has initiated the internal reform process. Crown Prince Sultan will have the choice of continuing on this path or reversing its course.

Several news story that cover the recent government changes are given below:

Images of Saudi Arabia: Raghbah

Raghbah is an old settlement of Saudi Arabia from 1669. Below are pictures of Raghbah Tower (yes we climbed it!) and the old village. P1220050

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Images of Saudi Arabia: Survival of the Fittest

A few lone flowers survive in the cracked, parched ground.

Images of Saudi Arabia: Sunset Over Raghbah