How they see us

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Irrespective of the fact that we became the first country to grant citizenship to a robot, the fact remains that we are not immune to criticism from different quarters for the best of our intentions. Sophia, the Saudi robot, became the target of many long-term residents and sons and daughters of Saudi mothers who felt annoyed that citizenship was granted to an artificial being.

“This robot has gotten Saudi citizenship before kafala workers who have been living in the country their entire lives,” said a foreign journalist. A Saudi mother was upset that her children remained without their mother’s nationality while “something made of metal and wires has more privileges to call this place home.” And a Lebanese journalist, Kareem Chahayeb, chimed in that “A humanoid robot called Sophia got Saudi citizenship, while millions linger stateless. What a time to be alive.” The robot will undoubtedly be the subject of debate for some time to come.

Moving on, for months now I have been observing the progress of a villa being built very close to mine. I couldn’t help it. I had to navigate through treacherous terrain of wood beams, cement blocks and metal rods and every other imaginable roadblock to get to my place.

It seems that every other week since the foundations were laid for the villa, there has been some modification or alteration to the style of this structure. One week, there were two narrow entrance gates. Sometime later, it was changed to one large gate, and one narrow one. There were square window openings in the beginning. They were soon changed to oval ones. There was a rocky and stony façade all around the villa. That too went off the drawing boards to be replaced by smooth walls.

On several occasions, I would notice the prospective tenant and his family visiting the site accompanied by the contractor. No sooner would they leave than another modification was put into effect. And this on the exterior alone! And there were many other such changes. Continuing sagas of build and tear down. This was getting to be a costly affair!

Finally, my curiosity got the better of me, and one day on my way home, I stopped the Bangladeshi watchman living on the site. I asked him why there were so many changes. Was the contractor not building according to the agreed specifications? Was the original building plan not being followed?

“No, no, no,” replied the Bangladeshi with a vigorous shake of the head. “Saudi fuloos katheer, mukh galeel, (Saudi much money, little brains),” he deadpanned in earnest. “Kullu yom (every day) change design.”

Wow! I had to withdraw with a smile. But just before I left, I looked him square in the eyes and replied, “Listen, don’t be surprised if you find more and more Saudi mukh katheer, fuloos galeel (more brains, less money) nowadays”.

On another theme, Sameer, a middle-aged Saudi professional who has been out of a job for the past 18 months met up with me the other day with a despondent look on his face. Over coffee at a seaside hotel, I inquired, “No luck yet, Sameer?” With a glum nod of his head, he went on to tell me that he had left his resume at over 50 establishments, but had yet to get a concrete or positive response.

Most of these companies after giving his resume a quick glance mentioned that he was overqualified for the position. He is a graduate in Business Administration from Florida State University, has worked here for 20 years, and the positions available were mostly entry level. With the exception of a few Saudis or Westerners, most of the decision makers in the human resources department at these companies were Arab expatriates, he added, and were usually very quick in reaching their decisions.

“Come now, Sameer,” I replied. “You don’t mean to say that they are deliberately stonewalling your application?” I asked. “Job security, Tariq. Job security,” replied Sameer wearily, as he sat across from me sipping his coffee forlornly.

And finally, on yet another note, the sporting community of cricketers of Saudi Arabia recently managed to pool their resources and put together an impressive function with attendees from all corners of the country. I was encouraged by the participation of young Saudis taking up this sport, albeit in small numbers so far.

The approach to sports through the myopic path of soccer somehow needs to be re-evaluated. Let there be more choice, more avenues, and more forums for all other sports. Invest in basketball and tennis courts, in swimming pools and gymnasiums and have them easily accessible to the masses. Not all Saudis are Maradona wannabes!

— The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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