GCC official wants Arab League to set realistic goals

Updated 22 January 2013
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GCC official wants Arab League to set realistic goals

Abdul Aziz Al-Owaisheq, assistant secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for negotiations and strategic dialogues, has urged the Arab League to be realistic and practical in its decisions and declarations, because impractical rhetoric does not lead to economic success.
“The Arab League can only maintain its credibility if it succeeds in abandoning exaggerated statements on ambitious projects, which the league and its member states cannot implement within the time-frames specified,” Al-Owaisheq said in a statement to a local newspaper.
Four years ago the Arab League decided to expand its responsibilities beyond its political character, launching the first Arab economic summit. According to Al-Owaisheq, “The Arab League’s decision requires a radical shift in its style of rhetoric, because economic decisions are different from political statements.” He also stressed that making announcements about launching ambitious projects, without following through with concrete implementation steps will damage the organization’s credibility. 
He said he did not observe any noticeable progress in the implementation of the league’s past economic summit declarations. He referred in particular to the announcement made during the first summit in 2009 to launch an Arab customs union by 2015. Another example he cited was the declaration to establish an Arab common market by 2020.
On the other hand, he expressed hope that the successful economic integration of the GCC countries would serve as a model for the rest of the Arab world. 
“The GCC experience can serve as a learning platform in terms of establishing an Arab customs union and other joint institutions,” he added. 
Regarding the reasons hindering mutual trade between GCC and Arab countries, Al-Owaisheq attributed it to the fact that they trade with the outside world more than among one another. In addition, the bulk of exports from GCC and other Arab countries remains petroleum, which means there is a lack of diversification in terms of traded goods. 
Other causes for the poor mutual trade between Arab countries include lack of good transportation facilities and the absence of a unified customs union. 
Al-Owaisheq also ruled out the development of a greater Arab free trade zone, due to the zone’s definition of locally produced goods, which stipulates that a product is considered locally manufactured only if 40 percent of the product’s content is of indigenous origin. Most of the goods produced in the Arab world do not fulfill this stipulation and are therefore unable to enjoy the free trade zone amenities.
Furthermore, the absence of unified standards and specifications in the Arab world, except in the GCC region, poses an additional obstacle in the way of achieving extensive trade exchange between the Arab countries. Even the North African countries and European Union have unified standards and specifications that govern their commercial activities, while the Arab countries have still not reached a common understanding among themselves.
In order to attract private investments there must be a safe investment environment and assurances for profitable returns. Unfortunately, for the time being the investment climate in the Arab world is neither safe nor profitable, he said. Lack of fast and hassle-free transportation is another factor that discourages investors. These are major problems the Arab League has to resolve in order to achieve greater economic integration and investments.
He also stressed the need for modernizing the infrastructure and telecommunications sectors and establishing investment-friendly political administrations.
Highlighting the issue of assistance given to less-advantaged countries, the GCC official said he expected the summit to apply pressure on the wealthier Arab countries to offer financial aid to their fellow counterparts. However, he expressed reservations that the assistance would be limited and therefore urged poor countries to strive hard to attract private sector investors from richer Arab countries. He pointed out that the GCC countries offered $ 5 billion in aid to Jordan and Morocco to implement developmental projects and a similar assistance package to Yemen.
In his concluding remarks, Al-Owaisheq said he firmly believed that this summit would deliver realistic declarations because it is hosted in Riyadh and the Kingdom’s leadership is practical in its words and deeds.


‘Because I can’: ride-hailing app welcomes Saudi women drivers

Updated 25 June 2018
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‘Because I can’: ride-hailing app welcomes Saudi women drivers

  • The Dubai-based ride-hailing app, along with global behemoth Uber, say they would begin to hire women
  • Seventy percent of Careem’s customers in Saudi Arabia are women

RIYADH: Reem Farahat waited for a ride request. Her phone pinged. “I’ve already cried twice,” she said, heading out to work as one of Saudi Arabia’s first female drivers for Careem.
The Dubai-based ride-hailing app, along with global behemoth Uber, reacted to Saudi King Salman’s September announcement of an end to the Kingdom’s ban on female motorists by saying it would begin to hire women.
On Sunday, when the king’s decree took effect, nearly a dozen Careem “captainahs” — all Saudi women — were ready to pick up riders.
“This morning, when I got in the car, I felt the tears coming,” Reem said as she stocked her car with chilled water bottles for her riders.
“I pulled the car over and cried. I could not believe that we now drive... It’s a dream. I thought it would be totally normal, I’d just get in the car and go. I was surprised by my own reaction.”
She took a long pause.
“I didn’t expect it,” she said. “I’m doing this because I can. Because someone has to start.”
Seventy percent of Careem’s customers in Saudi Arabia are women, according to company statistics, a figure largely attributable to the Kingdom’s now-obsolete ban on women driving.
Uber puts its equivalent figure closer to 80 percent.
At Careem’s offices on Sunday, staff gathered to celebrate the women’s first day on the job.
Farahat’s first ride request came just hours after the ban was officially lifted.
“This is my first ride. I’m excited. I’m excited to know who I’m picking up, what their reaction is going to be,” she said.
The driver — who also works with her father as a quality control consultant, is training in life coaching, and scuba dives with her sister off the Red Sea city of Jeddah — picked up Leila Ashry from a local cafe.
Walking toward the car, Leila spotted Reem, did a little jump of joy on the sidewalk, and was already chatting as she opened the door.
“Oh my god I can’t believe it’s you. I can’t believe you’re here. I can’t believe I’m here,” Leila said.
“I’ve been tweeting to my friends that my ride is coming and it’s a woman! And you’re so pretty! And I can sit in the front now — wait, can I actually sit in the front next to you?“
Some 2,000 women have signed up to get their Careem licenses since September, said Abdulla Elyas, co-founder and CPO — “chief people officer” — of the ride-hailing app. They are all Saudi women, from their 20s to their 50s.
Uber also plans to introduce women drivers to their service this autumn.
“They come from completely different backgrounds,” Elyas told AFP.
“We have women who have degrees, a master’s degree. We have women who have no degree at all. We have women who want to do this full time. We have women who want to do this part time (for) an additional income, who are already working.”
Most of those who had been licensed by Sunday, like Reem, had permits from foreign countries, enabling them to skip driving courses and take the final exam for a Saudi license.
The “captainahs” can pick up any customer, man or woman.
Both the driver and rider have the right to end the ride at any point.
Leila, a young medical student with a pixie cut and bright smile, says she would still choose a woman.
“This automatically feels a lot safer... being a female and dealing with sexism on a day-to-day basis. There’s just something about it that feels wonderful. But it’s not only that. It’s also women joining the workforce,” she said.
Sitting in the front passenger seat, she recalled previous rides with male drivers.
“Before, sometimes they would stare at me from the mirror,” she said.
“It’s just like that thing we share with women, where we just automatically understand what it’s like to be in that position where you feel their eyes on you but you can’t say anything, you can’t do anything against it.”
She turned to chat to Reem, and sang a riff from a West Side Story tune before saying: “If you can do it, then I can do it.”
“See? That’s what I was talking about,” Reem said. “It’s that ripple effect.”