Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Americans in Riyadh

Riyadh is at hand...and it is not what we thought it would be. The constant appearance of modern skyscrapers, malls, and jazzy automobiles juxtaposed with men and women dressed in traditional clothing defies a label. Each day in Saudi Arabia is forcing us to face our own ethnocentrism and stereotypes we carry within.

The Shurah Council, KSA's Representative Body of Government

As part of our tour, we were given a behind the scenes tour of this council, which acts much like parliament or congress. It consists of 150 members composed of professors, businessmen, and members of elite society. If citizens have a concern about government, they approach their local council representative. Visiting the Shurah council piques our interest as Westerners because of the frank answers from our hosts.

Shurah Council Dialogue
No question we asked went unanswered. This conversation could have lasted hours, but instead, we were moved to our next appointment with Prince Faisal, head of the Oil Ministry.
What role do you foresee of women in government? "Women are being trained to assume future roles in goverment."
Is U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestine conflict a problem or a solution? "It is a complication."

Does Saudi Arabia want to experiment with democracy? "What does democracy mean? If it means participating in society and decision making process, people do this through Shura council." This comment made me think about our low voting rate, and how the people we select for government reflect the votes of the minority, not majority of U.S. citizens.

What has been the effect of the U.S. war on Iraq? "It has destroyed that country from A to Z. and created more terrorists against us and you."

The Prince of Oil
Prince Faisal was a very affable person who was also very open with our questions. At times, it seemed lie our accomplished group of educators were BBC reporters! I continue to be impressed with the caliber of my colleagues, and the diplomatic way in which they phrased their answers.

Ms. Infante Meets Royalty

Faisal acknowledge that petroleum as a fossil fuel will not last forever. For this reason, Saudi Arabia is researching other industries such as solar energy, gas, mining, and fertilizer industries. Economic Development zones are being created throughout the country to offer citizens more jobs, especially to prepare for the disproportionate number of youths who will need to enter the workforce.

Finally, Prince Faisal had an interesting opinion about womens rights. He said women should have all of the same rights as men. "Oil changed everything at such a high speed that the culture could not keep up. We must find a way to progress while maintaining the culture."
It is interesting to note how most of the leaders of the ministries are members of the royal family.