The Rains of Corruption





It seems as soon as something goes wrong in Saudi, people are quick to point the finger of blame at the government, and allegations of corruption are born. A sudden storm last week hit the Holly City of Makkah causing flash floods and wreaked havoc throughout different parts of the city. Minutes after the downfall of rain, people took to social media and posted images of vehicles swept away by the flood waters while spectators watched helplessly. Without any real investigation and within hours of the floods, people on social media were venting their anger, quick to charge the authorities with corruption and complain about a general inability for the government to react.


The main frustration arose from not understanding how 45 minutes of rain could cause such havoc. It seems pointing the figure at the authorities is ‘fashionable’ in light of the Arab Spring, with many arguing that the authorities have steamrolled ahead with huge projects of glass skyscrapers in Makkah, which they argue have had a detrimental effect on essential infrastructure spending such as sewage system upgrades. But is this even true, or are these just baseless allegations to fuel the fire?


In a sense, people’s anger is perfectly natural considering the damage caused, especially as flash floods affects, directly and indirectly, public health. While infectious disease from flooding in the Saudi is limited, health risks from flooding include accidents and injury, significant stress and mental health impacts from the exposure to dirty, sewage and debris, contaminated water and loss of property. This has enraged portions of the Saudi community who cannot comprehend why a country with vast amounts of wealth is unable to deal adequately with prevention measures.


It seems that people were more enraged that this occurred after just 45 minutes of rainfall. However people must not forget that rain is not measured by time but rather the amount of precipitation over a set period of time. It seems people are quick to link last week’s flash flooding with the 2009, 2011, and 2012 floods of Jeddah, Tabouk and Riyadh. But we really should judge and treat every event independently.


However, I find it troubling that we find it difficult to assess the causes behind floodwater damages in a more transparent way, and it bothers me that the authorities aren’t always forthcoming with facts. What I also find difficult to understand that we have created a habit to point the finger at the authorities whenever something goes wrong. It seems some people have missed the fact that flash floods and the havoc it causes is not a phenomenon that is limited to Saudi Arabia, but a global issue that many developed and rich nations are struggling to grasp solid solutions for.


Over the last couple of years, I have visited and lived in countries that experience torrential rainfall on a regular basis. In Brazil, the 7th richest country in the world, an Amazonian country that has invested in huge sewage systems due to regular rainfall, fell on its knees only a few months ago with the death of 44 of its citizens with flash floods that also left tens of thousands homeless. In the United Kingdom, a country that has spent over $200 Billion US dollars in the last 12 years alone in sewer systems, has found it self struggling year-on-year with flash floods.


It needs to be stressed that blaming the inability of Makkah’s infrastructure to drain off floodwaters simply does not stand for three main reasons. The first being the geographical location and composition. Makkah is different to that of the costal town of Jeddah and other cities in the Kingdom that has previously been affected by floods. Essentially the Holy City of Makkah sits in a valley where water naturally drains towards the centre of the city, making it harder to shift the water fast enough. I am not saying this can’t be done, but only saying the speed in which water shifts through the pipelines out of the city has a limit.


The second essential point to be made here is the pressure to build and expand the city’s infrastructure on new land in order to accommodate over 2 million Muslims at any one time. This subsequently decreases surface areas where water can be absorbed by the soil.


The third reason behind flooding is us, and how we treat our planet. A cause we often exclude maybe because we are directly to blame. With a population of under 30 million, Saudi Arabia ranks 12th in the world based on fossil-fuel CO2 emissions, we are beaten in the list by some of the worlds most populated areas including China, the United States, India and the European Union.It is clear that the world climate system is definitely warming, and humans have influenced that climate change. But is this enough to convince an angry public? Unfortunately, I don’t think so.


Whilst I do not disagree that there could be a more transparent system of governance when it comes to government spending on infrastructure projects, I do think we need to be slightly more objective when reacting to natural disasters.





Why are magpies attracted to shiny things?

In light of the recent announcement of the newly purchased gold plated sound system, I saw this comment lurking in the darkness looking to be shown the light! These are not my words, but I have sought permission to post….
Let me know what you think?
P.S. To set the scene, why don’t you play Hotel California in the background.
“Hotel Caliphonia”
On a dark desert highway, hot wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitis, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
There he stood in the doorway;
I heard the maghreb adhan
And I was thinking to myself,
“This could be Makkah or this could be Dammam”
Then he lit up a kaffir and he showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say…
Welcome to the Hotel Caliphonia
Such a holy place (Such a holy place)
Such a holy base
Plenty of room at the Hotel Caliphonia
Any time of year (Any time of year)
You can find it hereHis mind is tawhid-twisted, he got the Non-Sufi bends
He got a lot of pretty, pretty boys he calls friends
How they lash in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some lash to remember, some lash to forgetSo I called up the Custodian,
“Please bring me my scotch”
He said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since…ooh golly gosh!”
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say…Welcome to the Hotel Caliphonia
Such a holy place (Such a holy place)
Such a holy base
They livin’ it up at the Hotel Caliphonia
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise)
Bring your alibis

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne in the fridge
And he said “We are all just prisoners here, of our own patronage”
And in the muttawwah’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They put on their party thobes
And pretend it’s without yeast

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax,” said the prayer man,
“We are instructed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!”

Welcome to the Hotel Caliphonia
Such a holy place (Such a holy place)
Such a holy base
They livin’ it up at the Hotel Caliphonia
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise)

…. I don’t know… ask a magpie!


The Internets future debated at NetMundial

This article was published by Saudi Gazette and then “surprisingly” deleted after the print edition went out due to “technical” issues…

“The NetMundial meeting that was created to determine how the Internet should be governed concluded last week in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The meetings goal was to agree to “shared international principles and highlight specific issues that could form the basis of later Internet governance discussions” the meetings executive committee highlighted. However, while it is unlikely that the two-day event will change the way we use the Internet, it is expected that it will influence the future of Internet governance. This said, deciding who gets to govern the Internet was why the attendance list included 80 countries, with 850 government officials, academics, civil society groups and technical experts, including World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Internet inventor Vint Cerf.

From a government perspective, the meetings opening was attended by heads of state, United Nations (UN) Under Secretary General, heads of inter-governmental originations, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and other Ministers of state among many other government delegations, however Saudi Arabia’s delegation was less impressive as it was headed by the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC). This arguably affects Saudi very negatively, as the ‘non-diplomatically trained’ delegation (along side with Iran, Russia and China) headed the status quo opposition at the international negotiation table (with very little, if no input from Saudi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

The Internet has ran effectively for over 25 years because the United Sates (US) ensured that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a global non-profit group, that assigns domain names that runs an essential part of the Internet infrastructure, is run with no governmental influence. However, following the US National Security Agency (NSA) allegations of monitoring phone calls and emails of many heads of states, the US has been under pressure to react. To that affect, U.S. President Barack Obama, and the US Department of Commerce announced on 15 March a crucial decision on Internet governance that by September 2015 it would give up oversight of ICANN. While mostly symbolic, the move is widely seen as an overdue step toward a globalised administration of the Internet.

Saudi, like Iran and China, wants a strong state presence in the decision-making process of Internet governance. However, Neelie Kroes Vice-President of the European Commission at the meeting said: “The Internet is now a global resource demanding global governance.” However, speaking at the summit, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff stated the need to govern a safer, less US “centered” Internet – “The Internet we want will only be possible in a scenario of respect for human rights, in particular the right to privacy and freedom of expression,” she said.

It was very evident that most countries agreed on a multi-stakeholder governing system approach that involves the technical community, academia, civil society and the cooperate sector. Large global Internet companies like Google voiced their concern about governments using the NETmundial meeting to push for regulation and interference that could inhibit investment and ultimately harm Internet users.

Talking on behalf of the Saudi government, the CITC delegate announced, “international public policy in regard to the Internet is the right of governments and that public policy should be developed by all governments on an equal footing.” Thus making Saudi Arabia one of a small minority of countries in the world that does not involve all interested stakeholders in its Internet policy-making process. It is my understanding that the Saudi position is essentially a CITC position, because there has been no announced prior inter-governmental consultation on the matter and how it impacts our domestic or foreign policy.

While no binding decisions were expected from Brazil last week, the high profile triggered a high-level debate on possible reforms. However, the meeting was concluded with the production of a “consensus” document that asserts: “The respective roles and responsibilities of stakeholders should be interpreted in a flexible manner with reference to the issue under discussion.” Furthermore, Michael Daniel, special assistant to President Obama, stated that “from the U.S. perspective, NetMundial was a huge success.” But it’s no accomplishment when countries that have long sought power over the Internet embrace the U.S. invitation for them to seize it”.”