Thursday, September 27, 2012

Princess Ameerah al-Taweel on Saudi women driving, Islam, women's rights

A Washington Post video interview with Princess Ameerah al-Taweel about her philanthropic activities, Islam, and women's rights in Saudi Arabia. She begins focusing on women's rights at about 8:20 into the tape. Lee Hawkins is the interviewer.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Threat seen in Saudi women trying to learn to drive

OK, this is pretty funny. Someone in the U.S. State of Arkansas got all in a 'tither' because 20 female Saudi college students wanted to take driving lessons! Story is below and a link is here....
Fortunately they decided that women wanting to drive was no security threat.

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management issued a general threat warning recently based on a report from a driving school in Northwest Arkansas that 20 Saudi Arabian women were seeking driving lessons. They were students at the University of Arkansas. Cooler heads decided there was nothing to worry about.
According to the Department of Emergency Management, the students e-mailed the school Sept. 3 requesting driving lessons, but did not respond to a query for more information. The e-mail came from the Saudi students organization at the University of Arkansas.
But the fact that female Saudi students wanted to learn how to drive — which is prohibited in their country — was not deemed a credible threat by any of the agencies that ADEM contacted about the driving school's report. That would be the Department of Homeland Security, the ATF, the TSA, FEMA, the FBI and the Secret Service. (See jump for text of DEM report.)
Kimma Harper, president of the driving academy, declined to talk to the Times right away, saying she needed to check with someone and call back. We also couldn't reach any of the Saudi students. We don't know yet if any lessons have begun.
Chad Stover, the public information officers for ADEM, said it was probably the number involved that triggered the threat message. He said the checklist that ADEM uses before it issues such an alert does not use nationality as a trigger. He said the duty officers who take the calls take into account the concerns of the caller. "If they were worried about 20 Baptists [for example], we would have gotten involved in the same way," he said.
"We would encourage people to get driving lessons," he said.
Public Threat - General Benton Co
The Driving Academy of Northwest Arkansas reported 20 Saudi Arabian women are requesting to learn how to drive. She received an email requesting driving training on September 3. She replied back on September 5 stating she had some questions for them. They haven't answered back. They stated in their request that they are with the Saudi Students Organization at University of Arkansas. (Notified: Local Coordinator, Area Coordinator, Deputy Director, Director, Hazmat Program Manager, PIO, Fusion Center, ATF, Department of Homeland Security Protective Security Adviser, ESF 2, ESF 8, FBI, FEMA Region VI, JTTF, TSA, U.S. Secret Service)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Road accidents in the Gulf: the fastest way to die in the region

The crash in Oman late last month that wiped out seven members of an Al Ain family has highlighted the daily carnage on the roads of GCC nations.
Saudi Arabia's official accident figures tell the grim cost of driving standards in the kingdom, both human and economic.

According to the Interior Ministry's annual report for 2010, the economic cost from accidents was an estimated 21 billion riyals (Dh20.6bn), while the number of fatalities rose by 10 per cent in just a year.

That works out at an average of 19.1 deaths a day on Saudi roads, making them among the most dangerous in the world.

On any given day, motorists can be seen running red lights, speeding, racing, or driving in a reckless and aggressive fashion.

"Just drive for a few minutes and you will see someone running the red lights," says Said Khouri, 36, a Lebanese contractor who lives in Jeddah. "Then drive on the motorway and see how people pass you speeding on the shoulder, or get up on your rear. It's very, very dangerous."

A Saudi resident is more likely to be killed or injured in a traffic accident than in a murder or an assault, according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council, a US government body created to promote security cooperation between American companies abroad and the US Department of State. It is an indicator that Saudi Arabia is a relatively safe country, save for its driving habits.
According to the council's 2012 report: "One common denominator among reported accidents throughout Saudi Arabia is speed, which increases both the number of accidents and their lethality. Aggressive driving is often paired with high speed, with drivers racing, driving on the shoulder to pass, weaving through traffic, and cutting off other drivers."

The report says road rage is common and sometimes leads to physical violence. Texting while driving is also common, and when combined with high speeds and heavy traffic leads to numerous accidents.

Lax enforcement of traffic laws is also blamed.

"We face a major problem here in that the police do not enforce the law," said Faris Al-Ghamdi, 37, a Saudi engineer who suffered a fractured spine three years ago when a driver running a red light ploughed into his sports car. "The other problem is that drivers here think they are above the law, almost invincible. They do whatever they want. Look what all the kids have done about Saher."

Two years ago, Saudi Arabia introduced Saher, an automated traffic control and management system that covers major cities and uses digital cameras linked to the Ministry of Interior's national information centre to register violations. Although it has been credited with saving countless lives by forcing the vast majority to slow down, it is easily foiled.

Motorists of all ages are covering up their front and rear licence plates to make it impossible for violations to be recorded against them.

Zaid Al-Hamzi, spokesman for the Jeddah traffic police, confirmed that Saher was unable to register violations against vehicles with altered licence plates.

"We are using the unmarked traffic patrols cars to find cars that have their plates covered. When part of the licence plate is covered, the cameras are unable to register the violation. But when our secret patrols find a car with its plates covered, the vehicle is impounded for at least a week and the driver is forced to pay a heavy fine."

According to Mr Al-Ghamdi, that is not happening.

"You will see so many cars with their plates covered. That speaks volumes about the average Saudi motorist's respect for the law and its enforcement," he said.

One factor that makes Saudi driving unique is that there are no women drivers. Instead women must rely on the males in the family or a driver to take them places. Regardless, many women do have a view on driving standards.

"I hate going out on the road, they are so congested and full of bad drivers," said Hala Al Qurashi, 32, from Khobar. "Only recently I have started taking the taxi when my husband or driver can't come to pick me up at the time I need to leave. But I am not always lucky and end up with a bad taxi driver so I sit and pray I arrive in one piece."

The mother of two would prefer to drive herself and her children to school, believing she would be a safer driver.

"They are not the driver's children and so he wouldn't be as careful as I would be on the road with them."

Mrs Al Qurashi was in a major crash as a child on her way back from school, when a car ran a red light and smashed into a car carrying her and her two sisters.

"Thank God we were in a big car and only had minor bruises and neck problems," she said. "We could have easily been killed."

Another Saudi woman said she has seen a dramatic improvement in road safety in Jeddah in recent years.

"The cameras they put up along the roads are working, you don't see many drivers racing between themselves over 180 kilometre per hour inside the city streets," said Dr Nouf Al Ahmed.
She believes one of the core problems is that many young drivers do not have a driving licence, or if they do, have obtained it through "wasta" instead of a real test.

"You see kids on the road, some that look 11 years old, behind the wheel. Where are the parents? Where are the police? They are very dangerous and end up killing people."

Alia, who asked for her last name to be withheld, lost her father 10 years ago in a crash when he was driving to Mecca from Jeddah.

"He was left there by the car that hit him, with the police finding him two days later. That is unacceptable," she said.

"He could have been saved if someone stopped and checked on him. There are no manners on the roads here, everyone is out for themselves."

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Don't Bother Yelling "Taxi!" In Saudi Arabia Anymore

The LA Times writes about a new law in Saudi Arabia, which has yet to take effect, that will prohibit taxis from cruising the streets of the big cities for fares. The story asserts that it will affect women most of all. I'm still not sure how it will work for women who use cabs to go shopping. I'm sure the powerful retail merchants of the Kingdom won't want any limits on the ability of female customers to get to their stores.

A link to the story is here and the text is pasted below.
September 1, 2012
Saudi woman boards taxi in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia's Transport Ministry has come up with a novel way to cut traffic in the kingdom's congested cities: Taxis will now be banned from cruising the streets and picking up passengers without an advance booking.
The new policy, announced Friday, is part of a major revamping of the taxi system that will require drivers to install an Automated Vehicle Locator in their cars. The Big Brother-like device will allow authorities to track their every movement. Unauthorized stops, excessive speeds or driving without an assigned passenger pickup can lead to fines up to $1,300 or license revocation for repeat offenders,  Al Madina newspaper reported.
The new monitoring system was necessary to limit the number of vehicles on busy streets in the two main urban centers of the kingdom, Riyadh and Jeddah, where 31,000-plus taxis are licensed to operate, the newspaper said.
The change is expected to primarily affect women, who are prohibited from driving in Saudi Arabia and banned from bus travel on most urban routes as well.
Anyone wanting a taxi -- even from heavily traveled venues like airports and shopping centers -- will have to call in advance to get a car dispatched, Al Arabiya news agency reported.
Neither news story specified when the new tracking system would go into effect.