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An Argument Demanding A Second Look

13 February 2016

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Many Saudi visitors to the UAE on their return to the Kingdom are heard to mutter: Why them and why not us? The country has in recent times become a draw for Saudis wanting to escape abroad for a short holiday. Tourists have been flocking to the UAE by the hundreds of thousands. And they don't visit only once. Families make up the bulk of visitors, but there are also a sizable number of single males and females who venture to the Emirates on their own.

What is it that attracts these visitors from a nearby country? It is certainly not the weather as there are no significant climatic differences between the two countries. Nor is there a dramatic change in topography that might induce some to visit. Shops and restaurants are not much different in both countries. Yet in the balance of travel, visitors from the Saudi side most likely outnumber their UAE counterparts by 10 to 1.

There are significant reasons why Saudis would make the trip from the Kingdom to the UAE. The first is that they find the UAE more similar than different from their own culture. And besides a host of other reasons such as world class entertainment, there is the compelling draw of a country that places no unjustified restrictions on its women.

A resident of Jeddah explained her own reasons why she chooses the UAE during the holidays rather than spending her time in the Kingdom. She says: ''It's all about personal freedom. The UAE is an Islamic country which follows a similar code to Saudi Arabia, yet allows women choices that we find denied here. And the number one irritant and nuisance to all women here is not allowing them to drive their own cars. Perhaps we can attempt to get a discussion going in the Shoura Council pertaining to this matter by using a different logic; perhaps the argument of conservation?''

Her novel argument went as follows: ''The fastest and least expensive way to conserve water and other resources in Saudi Arabia and save some of our outbound tourist dollars would be to allow women to drive! Where is the connection? Allow me to give an explanation in a very rough estimate of figures: If women were given the right to drive, approximately one million drivers could eventually be sent back to their home countries. Each one of these men uses about 300 liters of water a day, (about 1/3 cubic meter).

That's 300,000,000 liters per day for a million drivers. That's 90,000,000,000 liters per year, with allowances made for their vacation time. That' 90,000,000 cubic meters per year of water consumed by drivers alone.

''The desalination plant in Saudi Arabia produces 1,000,000 cubic meters of water per day. That's 365,000,000 cubic meters a year. If we had a million less drivers we would only need 275,000,000 cubic meters. The Shuaiba desalination plant would thus have 25 percent surplus water for people to use if women could drive their own cars. Double check the math.

''The same approximate figures would hold true for electricity consumption.

Even if drivers were to be slowly phased out, this would amount to an enormous saving for the country in terms of water, energy, and of course finances as well. The employment of drivers is becoming an increasing financial burden. Some women's salaries are spent solely on a driver. Should women then not receive government subsidies for each household, as compensation for the expenses of having to pay recruiting agencies, visas, air fare, medical check-ups, driver's licenses, traffic tickets, extra living quarters, furniture, insurance, meals, medical bills and medication, and of course water and electricity, etc., in addition to drivers' salaries?

''What a huge financial burden for a country with a shrinking middle class, and with minimum wages not much higher than that paid to a driver brought in from a developing country, many of whom have never driven a car before coming to work in Saudi Arabia. That brings up the safety issue as well: safety on the road, safety allowing one's children day in and day out in the presence of a stranger.

''Which leads me to my next point. The burden of women being banned from driving is also of a psychological and social nature. How has a conservative society such as Saudi Arabia ever allowed itself to bring total strangers into their homes, not knowing the slightest thing about their past, or their moral conduct? It's a mystery. The whole issue of the ban on women driving is a mystery and a paradox. And you wonder why we all escape to the UAE? Perhaps it's because they have got it right!''

And thus the woman concludes her argument with new reasoning. The fact that she has chosen an original slant to a social issue indicates that this issue will simply not go away. Nor will those marginalized by these restrictions remain silent. The issue should not be blanketed by the traditions and beliefs of some. One must not be dismissive of her arguments but look at the overall impact through the eyes of this woman.

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

  EsinIslam.Com

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