Highlights of Interview with Jafar AlShayeb on AlHurra TV
ALHURRA TV - 30 / 12 / 2012 - 3:45 am

Thulatha Cultural Forum
In 2000, Thulatha Cultural Forum, which I have been sponsoring, was launched in weekly meetings every Tuesday. The idea of establishing this forum originated, at then, from the sense of the necessity for having regular meetings that gather intellectuals and introduce wider prospects for dialogue in order to exchange different viewpoints between various Saudi social groups.

Since its establishment, the forum had tackled different political, social and intellectual topics, and was focusing on enforcing communications between diverse groups. The forum had, also, presented various issues concerning the Saudi society such coexistence, religious and national dialogue, politics, economy and human rights. It does not adopt a certain cultural orientation, and its speakers, who have been from diverse backgrounds, had delivered lectures on different fields. In Qatif, there are many similar forums due to its political history and cultural activities.

Arab Spring and Political Reform

Reform in the Arab world has been always late because those in power believe that they are absolutely secure and won’t be confronted. Politicians and rulers in the Arab region do not pay any attention to the necessity of reform regardless of all calls, warnings and demands.

Thus, reform demands increases more and more in the society and confrontation and disturbances occur. When rulers, by the time, put these demands into consideration and make amendments and reformative initiatives, it will be too late and, consequently, useless.

The most prominent lesson which can be learned from the Arab Spring revolutions is that populations are the source of legitimacy. Rulers are always underestimating the populations’ capability of incurring transformation but they do have the last decision for transformation. Another significant lesson is that political regimes must avoid fractionating the society, make all social components participate in the decision-making and adopt a comprehensive national program. The third one is that adopting the peaceful approach and avoiding violence had proved that they can protect people and maintain the state’s stability.

Aramco and Reserving Lands

There are many cities in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia such as Dammam, Jubail, Ras Tanoura, Qatif and Abqaiq who are harmed from reserving their lands by Saudi Aramco (Oil Company). Aramco had reserved vast areas of these cities for their plants, refineries and oil pipelines as a precaution.

Of course, no one has any objection to the priority of producing oil and gas, and no one accepts neglecting any safety and security procedure especially in residential areas. However, Aramco’s arbitrary use of authority is depriving those cities from establishing developmental projects, and had aggravated their crisis of housing.

Aramco has to set serious and strategic solutions in this regard. Citizens, in those cities, have the right to have the company constructs alternative residential schemes in suitable sites.

Citizenship and Legitimacy in Saudi Arabia

Values of citizenship, in Saudi Arabia, were not shaped yet in suitable civil forms that make the relationship between the state and citizens basing on clear and sound principles. Thus, there are clashes between different social groups and affiliations, and sometimes, in time of crisis, this situation is exploited in inciting them to turn against others.

The state must be neutral in terms of citizens’ doctrines and affiliations. It must not differentiate between them on the basis of their sects, tribes, regions or beliefs, and must not force them on adopting its own ideology.

It is necessary to change the adopted approach for political legitimacy, which is based on a certain ideology and orientation, because it is insufficient and incapable of stabilizing the contemporary political status. We need more developed civil alternatives that cope with such current transformations like carrying out elections for a legitimate political regime and considering public participation in decision-making as a source for legitimacy.

- Jafar AlShayeb is a Saudi writer, human rights activist, and a member of Qatif Municipal Council.
* This interview was originally broadcasted in Arabic on AlHurra TV.