Sunday, March 28, 2004

More Dancers for Saudization

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

The goal of Saudization is to provide more jobs to more Saudis. The best way to do so, in my opinion, is not to force more Saudis on private businesses but to improve their qualifications so they become more attractive to employers, and to increase the size of the dance floor so more dancers can fit in.
Training programs (public and private) in the areas where they are most needed will help graduates of an education system not geared to the job market to acquire skills like foreign languages, software programming and electronic maintenance.
Companies with good social service programs, like Abdul Latif Jameel, Abdul Rahman Fakieh and Alrumezan are setting up training facilities; sometimes for free, other times linked to contracts, and in the case of Jameel on interest-free loans.
Many good businessmen and women are giving away scholarships to poor students. Others are providing consulting facilities and interest-free loans in cash or kind to help them run their own small businesses.
Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabian Airlines and most banks are providing intensive training programs to new recruits with on-the-job training afterwards.
Japanese and Saudi car companies set up a sophisticated training facility, and so did the authorities of the industrial cities of Jubail and Yanbu and many of their factories. The results are very encouraging.
Thousands of Saudis graduates now work in sophisticated, highly paid jobs. Many are learning that working in blue-collar jobs is not a shame. The shame is to stay unemployed waiting for office or military jobs.
Increase the dance floor means opening up to investment. We have the biggest market in the Middle East and the greatest potential for tourism. Pilgrimage alone, if properly managed, can bring millions more pilgrims and Umrah visitors.
We have the longest shorelines on the exotic Red Sea and a variety of cultural and topographic attractions in a land the size of three quarters of Europe.
All we need to do is improve our business environment with encouraging regulations, a responsive judicial system, world standard infrastructure and services, tax breaks, and easier labor movement.
With well-trained Saudis, billions of dollars worth of investment and millions of job opportunities will solve our unemployment problem without the need to force anyone in, or anyone out. Ask Dubai and Malaysia, they did exactly that.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

I Wish We Had

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

I wish we had made the creation of an open, global and friendly business environment one of our development strategies. Investments and jobs would have been plentiful. We wouldn’t have needed to send experienced expatriates home and force ill prepared Saudis into jobs. We could have asked Singapore, Malaysia and Dubai about the virtues of good business.
I wish we were better people, adhering to our Islamic teachings. We would then be more hospitable and no guest would be treated as a “stranger.”
I wish we had recognized that our education system is a creature living in a world of its own: too theoretical, unfeasible and almost surreal. Our schools’ produce is impractical, unreliable and too out-of-date to cope with market requirements. Our curriculum is like a up-sized fast food meal — generous in quantity, stingy in substance. I hope, as we realize this defect, that our response will not be “too little too late”.
I wish we had not allowed ideology to influence our education as much as it has during the last 25 years and that we used a more tolerant version of Islam in providing our kids with their daily ration of sanity.
Yes, our schools don’t make terrorists; most of us aren’t, but some books and teachers certainly helped. By teaching suspicion of the “other”, whether non-Muslim or non-Shiite, non-Saudi or non-Arab, some educators delivered the audience to preachers of hate.
I wish we had treated with more understanding and sympathy our ex-Mujahadeen — providing them with better decommissioning programs. Most left before finishing schools and returned to a tougher environment, where work is scarce and suspicion of them is abound.
I wish we responded less defensively and more responsibly to the facts of 9/11. Fifteen of nineteen terrorists were Saudis. They represent many more. The driving force behind their actions is an extreme version of Islam that is not uncommon.
We needed to combat the hate theories rather than invent conspiracy theories. Too much time was wasted in defense, with less in offense.
We started late in the game, but we still can win. All we need is well-defined goals and a strong determination. Allah will help us with the rest.
I wish we thought earlier of the national dialog and reforms. We wouldn’t have faced so many needs, in such a short time, with so limited capacity. Still, the national debate is a good start. Justice, equality and human dignity should be basic rights for all. That should include the less privileged, especially women, Shiite and non-Saudi. Transparency, representation and democracy should be on our “first things first” reform agenda.
Yes, we lost decades, but it is never too late to do the right thing.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

‘Our’ Western Reforms

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

My last article “Reforms? What Reforms?” brought many intelligent and enlightening responses. Since space is limited, I chose a couple here (abridged) from two countries calling for democracy in “The Greater Middle East” — the US and Britain.
A British Mideastern expert wrote: “I quite like the airplane analogy for the current debate on Saudi reform and fears that the West has some kind of reform master plan.
It’s important to understand that the West has not decided which route the plane must follow.
We just recognize that the plane needs to fly well and more quickly. It is in our interests that it lands on time and safely. We are willing to help by training the pilots, showing how to make sure the plane is technically safe and secure and ensuring that the crew know how to respond to passenger requests.
But the passengers bought the tickets, not us or the pilots, so they should decide the route, long or short.
We’re quite happy if you want to begin the journey with a prayer. We don’t usually, but don’t mind if you do.
“On the other hand, we aren’t ready to help the passengers storm the cockpit if they don’t like the route; but we are willing to send messages from our air traffic controllers (although we’d prefer that you use yours).
And, unfortunately, we will shoot down the aircraft if the pilots decide to crash the plane on us.”
An American expert wrote: “I enjoy reading your opinions, even when I don’t agree with them.
I happen to agree with this one. It is, however, so basic that there is little to argue with.
“You are right that justice requires all positions be taken into consideration. But minorities who hold the Saudi people hostage through threats and acts of violence do not deserve a hearing.
“What you say about people vying ‘for better seats’ and ‘captains’ needing to listen is true, especially in a democracy.
However, a good leader also leads his followers in the direction he knows to be best, even when they may be too timid to go on their own.
And a people who accept minority intimidation deserve the kind of government they get. Also, a plane that flies in circles will eventually run out of fuel and crash.
“You say that Saudi chose to run a diverse country by building consensus. This is fine for a family and a small tribe. But it will not suffice to rule a nation, save under free elections.”
I agree with most responses and I welcome more, especially those who differ from me. Thank you all.