Monday, April 03, 2006

Another Saudi Arabia

We in the west have a stereotypical view of Saudi Arabia as a country filled with obscenely rich "sheikhs." The reality is quite different. And while Saudi Arabia, as a country, has been doing very well as a result of high oil prices, those riches haven't trickled down to all.

John Burgess patiently and methodically blogs away, informing his readers about ordinary realities in Saudi Arabia not flashy enough or politically correct enough for the Western media. A feature in Arab News catches his attention.

Still awaiting assistance promised to him by the Muslim World League months ago, he could be seen washing cars last Friday, not far from the homeless camp in which he now resides.

Last week, Ali greeted me at his tent flap, but couldn’t invite me in as the space was cramped. Instead, he walked me out to a plastic tarp laid out on the concrete a few steps away.

There, he introduced me to two other Saudis, Maher Naif Al-Assaf, 36, and Ali Ibrahim Asiri, 38 — his friends and neighbors.

Maher had left Tabuk bound for Jeddah, three months ago, also hoping to find work. Not finding a job within a month, he also bought a tent and set up camp here hoping to somehow make enough money to renew his fishing license, now three years in arrears.

Maher is particularly pleased today because he was able to convince a truck driver to angle a trailer closer to his tent. Now sandwiched between two trailers, Maher can enjoy his bucket baths almost completely out of sight.

Ali, from Jeddah, came to live at this camp three months ago after losing his job. Today, he is considered the luckiest among the three after landing a new job as a security guard just last week.

Eagerly awaiting his first SR1,600 paycheck in six weeks, he looks forward to renting a room somewhere. He is already making plans to get married.

Too proud to beg or borrow, and too honest to steal, these three men are almost always without money and must depend on charity for their single daily meal — but they have to walk two kilometers each way to get to it.

Taking a cue from another piece that takes a light-hearted look at a serious question, the meltdown of traditional extended families resulting from "future shock," he comments...

It's a tongue-in-cheek look at a serious social issue: a tremendous decrease in the number of marriages in the Kingdom. This is one of the many facets of social disruption that are accompanying modernization in Saudi Arabia, issues that frighten the average Saudi and discourage momentum toward more change.

Other disruptions include a breakdown of the extended family, being replaced by more nuclear families living on their own, distant from their larger families. There's been a breakdown in family care for orphans, the elderly, and the disabled as well. Now, state organizations are required to provide care.

Modernization is hitting Saudi Arabia like a speeding freight train and it is causing disruptions left and right. It's no wonder, really, that Saudis become paranoid about the pace of change and its direction.

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