Cherie Blair: Lifting of Saudi ban on women driving ‘superb — but more to be done’

Cherie Blair
Updated 20 October 2017
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Cherie Blair: Lifting of Saudi ban on women driving ‘superb — but more to be done’

SVETI STEFAN, Montenegro: British QC Cherie Blair, in an exclusive interview with Arab News, has said the removal of the Saudi women’s driving ban is “superb news.”
Blair, a prominent human-rights lawyer and founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, said she believes the lifting of the ban will unleash new potential for women, but that “there is more to be done.”
In a rare interview with the press, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, “While it is a positive step, it’s not really just a question of driving — it needs to be about women being able to engage in every level of society.”
Speaking from the islet of Sveti Stefan, Montenegro, where she hosted a talk at The Global Citizen Forum, Blair said that “small changes lead to big changes.”
She added: “When it comes to change, most people are pragmatists — men and women alike.
“Even with men, if you can illustrate that women driving will somehow make their lives better or easier, they think ‘oh, this is good’ and then eventually they even become proud of their wife’s new achievements.
“I’ve seen it happen in other countries. This is how small changes lead to big changes. Step by step.”
Blair added that “leadership is lacking in the world.”
“A diverse range of leadership is very important because the problems we see in the world are just people repeating the same mistakes; people are very frightened about taking a chance,” she said.
The QC and philanthropist bemoaned the fact that just 10 percent of the world’s leaders are female. “It matters because it gives people an image of what a leader looks like,” she said. “When women see other women leading, then we start seeing visible changes and we allow that vision to manifest in women.”
Speaking at the same event, Patrick Basham, head of the Washington-based Democracy Institute think tank told Arab News, “The Saudi economy will benefit from literally empowering women in a physical sense because women will be more mobile in all kinds of ways.
“The rest of world sees this as a small step, a tangible one, but it’s a good example of how you don’t have to change the whole of society overnight. If it’s perceived, particularly by Saudi men, as not having brought the roof down they will be relieved and then it’s a question of ‘what’s the next step?”
Basham said one of the first “small steps” would be allowing women to have more of a voice so that their participation “if not encouraged, is at least accepted, so that the repression of Saudi women will be viewed as something from yesterday but not necessarily of tomorrow.”
A host of thinkers, experts, professionals, and world leaders are gathering for a two-day forum at Sveti Stefan on Oct. 19 and 20 to discuss “Global Citizenship in the Age of Uncertainty.”
The forum was established by businessman and philanthropist Armand Arton in 2012 to advocate for a better understanding of global citizenship, to promote discussion around issues of global significance, and to drive philanthropic activities.


Saudi Arabia’s first atelier aims to be a hub for Eastern Province artists

Maysa Alrowaished, founder and art director of ‘Canvash,’ poses with a mural in Alkhobar. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 14 November 2018
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Saudi Arabia’s first atelier aims to be a hub for Eastern Province artists

  • Alrowaished added: “The mural embraces the history of Saudi Arabia’s kings before the Kingdom was unified”

DHAHRAN: The art scene in the Kingdom is growing fast. Artists are being adopted by organizations both private and public. One of the private organizations is Canvash, which aims to become a hub for the artists of the Eastern Region.
“Canvish is Dutch for canvas board,” Maysa Alrowaished, the company’s founder and art director, told Arab News. “I won the award for the best entrepreneurial project in the Eastern Province, sponsored by Princess Abeer Al-Saud, for Canvash, and I am thankful that we were given the first atelier license Kingdom-wide after a journey of some serious persuasion attempts.”
Canvash is different from other art businesses. Alrowaished explained: “We try to target the concept of part-time jobbing where the artist can do their nine-to-five daily jobs while at the same time practicing their passion with a paycheck at the end. Now we have around 17 employees between artists and technical supporters.”
Canvash began with their most prominent project; the mural of “Ahal Aloja,” thought to be the longest national mural in the Kingdom, on the Alkhobar Corniche. The mural was named “Ahal Aloja,” which is Arabic for “the people of Aloja,” after the old name of Ad Diriyah, the capital of the first Saudi state.
“The mural embraces the history of Saudi Arabia’s kings before the Kingdom was unified,” Alrowaished added. “It consists of a group of portraits and achievements of the kings, along with their lingering quotes; it then reaches our present time, including Vision 2030, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The ‘Ahal Aloja’ mural received so much hype that it even became a trend on social media with a number of regional media channels covering it.”
On Canvash’s future plans, Alrowaished said: “Along with other ongoing projects, we aim to participate in international and local contests and exhibitions.
“Success tastes sweeter with challenges,” she said when asked about the challenges she faced as the founder of Canvash. Her biggest challenge was convincing the Ministry of Commerce to issue her an atelier license. “There was no such category as atelier when I requested the license. Canvash went through a lot of discussions and a lot of inducements.
“My dream was to open up an actual atelier and so I went all the way to the office of the Ministry of Commerce in Riyadh to conduct a presentation to the head of the Kingdom’s records. Thankfully my case was convincing, so I received the first atelier license in the Kingdom.
“We encountered a problem with some members of society who cannot understand the importance of art,” she added. “However, we found out that the majority are actually thirsty for art and very excited for all creative projects. Whenever we are working on a project, we always get inquiries from people asking where to find our work.
“You also see people enjoy watching us while we work on individual projects as if these are entertainment events in themselves. This is what rewards us when work becomes hectic and tiring. Society is looking forward to such initiatives.”