Tuesday, July 31, 2007

When I Cried This Summer

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

By Sabria S. Jawhar

Yesterday, while I was perusing the local Arabic newspapers, I was shocked to see so many pictures of apparently grief-stricken Saudis staring out at me. At first, I assumed that during my two-day emergency vacation from the Saudi Gazette some crisis had seized the Kingdom and my compatriots had been moved to tears because of it.

I quickly learned, however, that the tears were being shed over the Saudi loss in the championship game at the 2007 AFC Asian Cup soccer tournament in Jakarta. To be honest, I also felt sad that we had lost but I did not shed any tears over it. The fact is that the cup should go to the best team and, clearly, in that particular match, at least, the Saudi national team was not the best. It didn't take an expert to see that the Saudi performance, unfortunately, was not of the championship level.

Nevertheless, the scenes of those misty eyes and tears made me ask myself when was the last time that Saudis cried over something. And what was the motive behind those tears? Speaking for myself, I cried this summer more than any other time this year.

I cried first when my flight landed in Tokyo, Japan, last month and the bus took me through the streets of that beautiful and clean city. At that time, I wondered: what is happening to my beloved country? Who is to blame for the miserable appearance of most of our big cities? Why do some of them look like old, deserted cities straight out of the 18th century?

Why don't we have a transportation system and infrastructure like that of Japan, Seoul or even Dubai? Why does it take us so long to approve a project and much longer to implement it? Certainly, it's not the lack of money or expertise? Don't we love our country enough to dedicate ourselves to developing it?

On my way back from Tokyo, I had a layover at Istanbul airport. What I saw there was far beyond my expectations. The first thing that came to mind was King Abdul Aziz Airport in Jeddah, a once beautiful lady that has lost all but just a hint of the good old days of beauty and glory.

My second stop was at Prince Muhammad Bin Abdul Aziz Airport in Madina and there I experienced my greatest shock. The female waiting area in the airport was like a junkyard. The filth and disarray made it impossible to sit, let alone pray.

That scene brought tears to my eyes. If this is what we are doing to the gateway of the Prophet's Mosque and this is the image that we are projecting to the Islamic world, then it's no wonder that Jeddah airport looks as miserable as it does.

The second time I cried this summer was when I read in an Arabic newspaper about a hot debate, which denigrated the importance of women in the workplace, saying that jobs should be secured for males first. The point seemed to be that the high level of unemployment in the Kingdom was the fault of women. Some people are still demanding that women stay at home and take care of kids. The whole world is progressing. People are talking about knowledge-based economies, high technology, and the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes and we are still fighting over whether women should work or stay at home! Tell me: do I have the right to cry over my own people casting a blind eye to the progress in the world around them while busying themselves with issues as obsolete as the Great Wall of China?

It would have been more acceptable to me if those tearful eyes I saw in Monday's newspapers were a reaction to the deteriorating situation in the region. It would have been better if we all sat and cried over the daily deaths of tens if not hundreds of innocent souls in Iraq that stem from the horrendous miscalculation of the Bush administration.

The situation in Lebanon and Palestine is another good topic to cry over. Some people may think I'm exaggerating but this is why I cried this summer. In the end, maybe my people will find themselves part of a scenario that will move them to tears for reasons other than a lost football match. It could be that Saudis, and Arabs, in general, are saving their tears for bigger things, especially in light of the announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert concerning a new $30 billion defense package to preserve Israel's regional military superiority.

To Keep Homes Intact

Monday, 30 July 2007
Ministry recommends citizenship for foreign mothers of Saudi children

By Sabria S. Jawhar

OFFICIALS at the Ministry of Social Affairs have submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Interior that, if passed, guarantees citizenship or at least permanent residency to foreign mothers of Saudi children, an official said.

"We have submitted the proposal. We are waiting for the Ministry's (of Interior) answer as it is the only concerned authority in this matter," said Nora Aal-Al-Sheikh, director of the supervision office at the Ministry of Social Affairs in Makkah region. She said that with the increasing number of divorce cases in general and among Saudi and non-Saudi couples in particular, foreign mothers of Saudi children should be granted citizenship in order to keep their rights as well as the family ties intact.

This citizenship, she explained, could be with specific limitations in order to prevent misusing or passing it on to those who are not entitled from the mother's side.

They could also be given a permanent Iqama (residency permission) as a temporary solution, she added.

Hadyah, an Arab national who didn't want her full name or nationality published, is only one example of many women who have been victims to misuse of custody and absence of a multilateral or bilateral treaty among Arab states dealing with the enforcement of custody agreements or judgments. She was married to a Saudi man who was 23 years her senior.

The marriage was not a fruit of love or agreement. On the contrary, it was mainly motivated by her impoverished condition and his desire to wed.

"I had to support my family and help them to survive and he was the only one who offered that sort of help with the condition of my becoming his wife," she said.

Unlike most of such kind of marriages that take place outside Saudi Arabia, Hadyah's marriage was legally registered and all of her rights as a wife were kept intact.

At the beginning of the marriage, he was so kind and generous with her as well as with her family.

But the appearance of happiness did not last long as after having two babies, he grew tired of the continuous travel to her country and decided to bring her, along with their children back to the Kingdom.

Hadyah's journey of suffering began here. His behavior, she explained, dramatically changed especially in the presence of his first wife and her children.

"He started to look down on me and treat me like a maid," she said. "Sometimes, he humiliates me by talking about my family's background as if he picked me up from the street."

Having been told that in Saudi Arabia custody disputes favor the Saudi parent and often rules in favor of men, Hadyah decided to maintain her marital status intact as her main concern was to retain the custody of her children and not be forced to leave the country if divorced.

The disagreement between her and her husband reached such a level and he decided to go forth with divorcing her and keep their children under the custody of his first wife.

Since visitation rights under these circumstances are not implemented unless the Saudi parent with custody rights voluntarily puts in the effort to make arrangements, it took Hady ah nine years to see her children again.

This reunion only occurred when she obtained an Umrah visa to enter the Kingdom accompanied with her new husband.

Al-Sheikh said that such kinds of problems are common among such marriages.

Actually, she added, her administration faces such kind of custody problems even among Saudi couples when the father abuses his rights.

Usually, she added, when couples face a crises in their marriage and decide on divorce, the main issue that results in a breakdown of communication between them is with regard to the guardianship and custody of their children.

In most of the cases, she explained, the husband insists on keeping the children and deporting the mother back to her home country without any respect to her feelings as a mother. The woman, she added, finds it difficult to find someone who is ready to sponsor her due to the regulations of the Ministry of Labor that tend to limit the number of visas given to non-Saudis.

The divorce also makes it difficult for a non-Saudi woman to live in Saudi Arabia without having a fixed financial income that allows her to support herself as well as her children in case she is granted custody.

Khalid Abu Rashid, A Saudi lawyer, said that the court does not differentiate between Saudi and non-Saudi mothers when it comes to custody.

"The ruling is usually in favor of the parent who can provide the best environment for the children whether the mother or the father regardless of their nationality," Abu Rashid said.

However, he said, due to the very limited job opportunities for non-Saudi women and means of financial support, they cannot provide their children with a suitable environment.

Based on this, most of the judges rule in favor of the father who, in most cases, is capable of supporting the children financially.

In the absence of the enforcement of the law of alimony in Saudi Arabia, Nora suggested taking the alimony out of the husband's salary automatically every month. She said that there should be a system that keeps the mother with her children after divorce and grants them a good monthly income.

Those children, she added, will be part of the fabric of the Saudi society, thus should be granted a healthy family environment in which they grow up as good citizens.

"Depriving children from their mother's care will create negative emotional states among them to an extent that would increase violence and certainly reflect negatively on the society," she said.

"The system should be developed in a way that serves the society to which it was initially introduced.