Riyadh, June 27: The French have a saying: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (The more things change, the more they stay the same). This was the conventional wisdom in Saudi Arabia whenever there was any talk of change. This has now been turned on its head by a series of changes that have taken place over the past year.
The reforms, brought in by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, popularly known by his initials MBS, have seen the ban on cinema being lifted, women being allowed into sports stadiums, entertainment activities being openly promoted, and avenues for tourism being assiduously sought out and tapped.
Today there is a new-found enthusiasm in Saudi Arabia. Young people, who are the majority of the population, are very happy about the changes that have taken place. Those who once went abroad for education are coming back because they feel there is an atmosphere conducive to innovation.
The leadership in Saudi Arabia realises that the young must be encouraged in their entrepreneurial efforts. The crown prince is passionate about the private sector taking the lead; he has often spoken of how the most successful companies — Apple and Google, for instance — began with only two or three people and went on to become international conglomerates, creating thousands of jobs. That is part of his Vision 2030 for innovative young Saudi entrepreneurs and for making Saudi Arabia investor friendly so that corporations can come in and have a real stake in the country.
At the stroke of midnight on June 23, women were allowed to drive and Saudi Arabia was no longer the only country in the world where only men could drive.
There is a much-told story of when the late King Faisal fought to establish girls’ schools and how many people at that time, especially the religious conservatives, opposed him. Gradually, however, most families sent their daughters to school and now women are among the most educated groups in society. There are even universities that are exclusively for them. It is true too that the scholarships the Saudi government gives to students are awarded to a large number of women.
Changes have been very slow, indeed admittedly almost glacial, in Saudi Arabia. In the past year, however, we have seen that the crown prince’s new young leadership has moved quickly to introduce changes and reforms. And not only to introduce them but to see that they were implemented within a specified timeline.
For decades, there was talk of weaning the Saudi economy from its dependence on oil. Things would move slowly in that direction but every time, they seemed unable to change and the country went back to square one. Changes and reforms were talked about but were somehow never transformed into practice.
On the other hand, this time the reforms were deep-rooted and, most importantly, there was a schedule for their implementation. For example, about nine months ago, it was decided that women would be allowed to drive. It was more than a mere announcement and so a proper infrastructure was created. Driving schools were set up; universities were asked to run training courses so that women could be taught how to drive. Female driving inspectors were appointed and trained. In other words, the introduction and implementation of these reforms included precise methodologies.
The crown prince is known for his own brand of meticulous management. He believes in key performance indicators (KPIs). This is a totally new kind of management that the traditional hidebound Saudi bureaucracy was unaware of. In the past, people would wait and wait for a decision to be made, a step to be taken, or a change to be implemented. Time passed and nothing happened, so people would say that nothing would happen and that the ideas and innovations had suffered and died on the altar of bureaucracy.
If you go to any Saudi city, whether Jeddah, Riyadh or Dammam, you will see that young people are excited about the changes that are happening. By itself, the matter of women driving may not be the most important thing from the Saudi point of view, but it is surely the most symbolic for the simple reason that it is the one which can be most easily seen.
No one would or should pretend that the road is short or easy to navigate. What they would agree with is that he is moving ahead and making progress. He is absolutely sure about what he is doing. People here often quote Mahatma Gandhi who said of those at the forefront of change who have to struggle against those who are simply against any change at all. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you; then they fight you, then you win.” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is surely set to win.( Coutesy HT)
Not holding simultaneous elections will impact voter turnout in LS polls: Experts
Srinagar, Mar 19: Not holding Assembly and Parliamentary polls together is likely to impact the overall voter turnout in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in the valley, claim valley based experts in politics.
This year many new parties have come to the fore and the Centre is likely to enhance its deployment of forces in Kashmir to ensure “violence free elections.”
However with spontaneous disturbance across the valley coupled with delaying of the Assembly elections by the Centre, the experts claim a major proportion of the people are likely to keep away from casting their votes.
“Parliamentary election in Kashmir usually invite low voter turnout. Had it been both Lok Sabha and General Assembly elections held together in the state the voter turnout could be expected higher. As of now, we don’t see chances of any major turn out in voting ahead especially in Kashmir,” said Prof Gul Muhammad Wani who teaches Political Science at Kashmir University.
Wani expressed doubt over the participation of newly formed parties in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
“I am not sure if these smaller parties will field their candidates. Even if their leaders file nomination, people won’t vote for them in huge proportion compared to the two main political parties of Kashmir (NC and PDP),” Wani said.
“Many parties will use this election to mobilise people for the upcoming assembly elections,” he said.
In 2014 LS polls, 49.7 per cent voter turnout was recorded in Jammu and Kashmir. Barring Jammu, people mostly in Kashmir prefer to choose boycott over ballot as only 11.46% voter turnout was recorded in summer capital.
In 2017 by-polls, the turnout in Srinagar dipped further to only seven percent as violence and killing gripped the valley on poll day.
Prof Noor Ahmad Baba, another expert in politics, claims the parliamentary elections in Kashmir won’t be a “bigger affair” as he believes that there are less “reaction” votes from the valley.
“In other states people vote to express their dissent, which is not in case of Kashmir. Some people will vote here positively. The turnout is expected to be higher in Assembly polls ahead,” he said.
Prof Baba said the emergence of new parties too won’t woo many people to cast their vote for them.
“These new parties won’t have much impact immediately. Sajad Lone has no appeal outside Baramulla and Shah Faesal too can’t make a bigger difference. However, if NC and Congress form an alliance then some may come out to vote,” he said.
Slow repair work halts cross-LoC trade in Uri
Traders fear losses in crores
Srinagar, Mar 19: The Cross-LoC trade in Uri has hugely suffered due to snail-paced repair work on the Kamaan Post Bridge, traders rued on Tuesday.
As per them, around 116 trucks are stuck at Uri road in north Kashmir while 24 others are stranded at Traders Federation Center Salamabad. The stranded trucks are carrying delicate items including fruits and vegetables which cannot be preserved for long course of time.
Aggrieved over the losses, the Cross-LoC Traders Association claimed that the delicate goods in stranded trucks have been damaged due to the delay.
Speaking to The Kashmir Monitor, Hilal Turki, chairman, Cross-LoC Traders’ Association, said the items in the trucks have almost “perished” as around two weeks have passed since the repairing work started.
“The losses might be in crores as there are 140 trucks stranded. We have written to the Director General of Police to seek the intervention for speedy repairing of the bridge,” he said.
In a letter to government authorities, the association stated: “Our traders mostly deal with fresh items and the value of those items is in millions of rupees, here we would like to bring in your kind notice that most of the products come from all over the country and as such our loaded fresh trucks remain in transit for a week or more due to this uncomfortable situation our traders are desperately waiting for speedy repairing of Kamaan Pull so that heavy losses can be saved.”
Earlier on March 9, police communicated to the concern authorities that due to the sustained use of Kaman Aman Setu for cross-LoC trade for a long period, the bridge has suffered some damages which requires immediate repair to prevent further deportation.
“Inspection of the bridge was carried out on March 8, 2019, which indicated that the bridge needs urgent repairs and maintenance to ensure its longevity. The repair would require minimum 10-15 days,” he said.
However, around two weeks after, the repair work is still on at a very slow pace.
Riyaz Malik, SDM, Uri told The Kashmir Monitor that the resurfacing work in Kamaan Post bridge is going on. “Trade is suspended since then as work is going on and it will take 10-15 more days to allow traffic on the bridge. We have advised the traders to get the items down some where in Srinagar,” Riyaz said.
Cross-LoC trade and the bus service between India and Pakistan were suspended last month too, in backdrop of the Pulwama suicide attack in which 49 CRPF personnel were killed.
Centre misusing NIA to target Kashmiris: Soz
Srinagar, Mar 19: Alleging that Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre was misusing National Investigation Agency (NIA) to target Kashmiris, senior Congress leader Prof Saifuddin Soz on Tuesday said this will be useless and counter-productive.
The former union minister supported chairman of Hurriyat (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who has asked NIA to question him in Srinagar as he cannot travel Delhi for security reasons.
In a statement here this afternoon, Prof Soz said, “I give credence to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s stand that he should be questioned anywhere in Srinagar and not asked to travel to NIA headquarters in Delhi”.